Sunday, December 30, 2007

Memories

Recently I mentioned the job I had in college, serving as youth minister in a small town about 45 minutes from my school. I drove down on Fridays after class, stayed with a family in the church and drove back after Sunday evening services. The town had a population of 450 and about half of them were connected with the Baptist church in one way or another. Almost every kid and teen in town was part of our youth group and it was a wonderful place to learn how to do ministry.

My favorite people in the church were Leon and Jeanne. They were in their sixties, which seemed sooo old to me at the time. Leon had unruly white hair and a constantly grizzled appearance. He could be abrupt and dismissive and at the same time as warm and kind as anyone I've ever met. He loved the kids in the church (unlike many of his contemporaries) and went with us to camp as the boys' sponsor every year. In fact, he was the sponsor the year the boys brought fireworks to camp and were threatened with being sent home, which is how I got to know C, which is another story . . .

Anyway, Leon and Jeanne loved me and invested in me and encouraged me and helped me learn to navigate the world of church politics without being cynical or bitter. I would stay sometimes at their house, a little two bedroom, story-and-a-half white wooden frame home with a wide, inviting front porch. Jeanne did just enough housekeeping to free her up to do the things she really loved--her plants, her dolls, her books, her friends.

The rest of the time, she sat with Leon in the den and talked. I had never seen a couple so close, even though they hinted at difficulties in their early years of marriage, probably due to being so different from each other. They were openly affectionate, even humorously suggestive, and they obviously enjoyed being together. They were the first people I told that I was engaged and showed off my ring. Jeanne talked with me about the importance of commitment and perseverance, telling me that there might be a day when I would absolutely hate my husband (and it might even last longer than a day), but that the rewards of sticking it out would be immeasurable.

She was also the one who told me not to fear getting older. She said, "When you get into your 40s, all of a sudden, you won't care about pleasing everyone anymore. There will be a few people you will do almost anything to please and everyone else can go jump in a lake!" Jeanne was about the only person in those days who could correct me, and I remember a handful of times when she gently showed me that I had been thoughtless or critical or unwise and I was able to listen. I even took Jeanne and Leon home to meet my parents, wanting my favorite people to know each other.

Leon died about ten years ago, leaving Jeanne alone in the old house. I went by to see her and she said that she missed him but that she was happy, that she had many good memories. The occasional visit turned into the occasional letter which dwindled down to the annual Christmas card. This year, my card was returned--"Unable to forward" and no card ever came from Jeanne. I will miss just knowing that she is in the world.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

May you receive the good gift of laughter
May you feel the love of your friends near and far
May you be filled with the joy of the season
And may there be peace in your home and your heart.

May the Christmas star light your way
Even today, even today
May the angel choir ring in your ear
Christ is here, Christ is here.

May the one who has come guide you and keep you
May you seek his face as all wise men still do
And may Bethlehem's road rise up to meet you
Til you find him and see that God is with you.

May the Christmas star light your way
Even today, even today
May the angel choir ring in your ear
Christ is here, Christ is here.

Christmas Blessing by Carolyn Arends on Christmas: An Irrational Season

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Christmas list

What I want for Christmas: for things to stay exactly the same as they are right this minute. Both my children still live at home and enjoy their parents' company. I still have two of my much-loved grandparents. My parents are in reasonably good health and I have a wonderful relationship with both of them. My husband is happy, challenged, and fulfilled at work. God is at work in our lives and in our ministries. I can still see without bifocals. I have the most wonderful friends I could ever imagine. I wish things would never change.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Riding the brake

I used to get frustrated with C because, in our last ministry, he would "ride the brake," squelching his creativity and passions in order to fit into a system that couldn't keep up and didn't enjoy the ride. I had known him for almost a decade before, when he was full of ideas and enthusiasm. Even though he knew that most of the ideas wouldn't (and probably shouldn't) see the light of day, he just enjoyed the creative process. And then slowly, one disappointment at a time, he shut down, accepting reality and no longer fighting against it. It was a good survival skill but it made me sad.

As C comes back to life, what's making me sad now is the realization that I do the same thing and have for even longer than he did. Coming out of the safe, affirming cocoon of my childhood home and into the bright, unforgiving daylight of adolescence taught me very fast that I thought too much, cared too much, talked too much (well, actually, that part was true), was "too much." God, how many times did I hear that I was "too intense," that I needed to "be cool," "tone it down." Nowadays, I would be told to "chill." So, I did. Thank God, I stayed warm and relational and interested--but I also seriously disengaged.

College just reinforced the message that it was possible to be too smart, too passionate, too enthusiastic. (It was not, however, possible to be too color-coordinated or too conformist. These were the eighties.) I had a job in college that I LOVED, serving a little rural church as their youth minister. I'm not sure that I have ever in my whole life, before or since, cared as much about a job as I did that one. I poured myself into it without reservation. But on Sunday nights, when I came back to the dorm after my weekend away, when my friends or boyfriend asked me how it went, I smiled and said, "Great!" Because I'd learned to be cool, to tone it down.

I want to unlearn this. I want to be free to give myself completely to a passion (other than my children) without the censor in my head telling me to rein it in, play it cool, not care so much. More recently, the little voice has added new reasons for its admonitions. For one thing, I work more and more often with men and men typically don't like a woman who is too enthusiastic because it borders on that pejorative "too emotional." For another, I've noticed how seriously passionate people have trouble with balance in their lives and with maintaining relationships (see Lance Armstrong or Ken Lay.) I don't want that, so I hold the passion at arm's length. It makes it easier to fit in.

But it also makes it harder to live wide open, harder to feel completely alive, harder to fully engage. I still believe that it puts people off, that they feel overwhelmed by intensity and passion, that a person who is fully engaged is an oddball. I just don't think I care as much anymore.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My acting debut

Sunday was MBC's Christmas play and I took my first and last turn on stage as "Ma," a depression-era Manchaca farm wife. I wore a floral housedress and an old apron and said lines like, "Justice weren't served til we got a blue-ribbon prize winner to take our place!" and "Gal, what you're doin' is gonna make that ol' barn smell good" and "I'm just taken aback when I think of why the Lord who made the stars above would come here Hisself--and as a lil 'un." After obsessing about my lines for days, the mike didn't even come on! I gave it all I had but I don't think I'll be winning any Tony awards.

They wanted a mother-daughter pair and Boo wanted to do it so badly, so I agreed. You'll notice, though, that none of you got an invitation and I even told Mowgli not to come to church. Boo had a wonderful time, though, and just loves being onstage. Those of you who remember her little shy performances as a little girl would be amazed!

It was a sweet play, though, written by church members and celebrating God's faithfulness through the years. I'm sure the more senior members of the congregation were really touched. I hope so.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

God's wish list

I really think you'll enjoy the latest post on my friend Jim's blog. Go to www.faithwalking.blogspot.com and read the post "A Different Kind of Christmas Wish List." A great perspective for the holidays . . .

Monday, December 10, 2007

Peace

As I was scheduling with a client this morning, I realized that two weeks from today is Christmas Eve. Honestly, I had no idea! As of this moment, I have bought exactly one Christmas gift. You can imagine the waves of panic that I was feeling as this realization sank in.

Just now, as I read through my Advent devotion, I was convincingly reminded that Jesus' coming is about peace, not strife and conflict. Whether it is the inner striving we all experience or the warring between nations, Jesus' coming was meant to remind us to make room in our lives for peace.

If you don't already have an Advent practice, I would invite you to check out www.followingthestar.org for my favorite. Use it slowly, quietly, and prayerfully--and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I promised pictures . . . here they are!

This is the outside--my office window is downstairs left.


This is the waiting room I share with my landlords, two Ph.D. LPCs:

These are client chairs with window in the background.
This is the bookshelf I found at Pier One--a little funky! The whole office only measures 8.5 x 9.5. So, as you walk in the door, the bookshelf is on the left hand wall, client chairs are right in front of you, and my chair is on your right.



This is my chair:

So, when do you think it will feel like home?
(I made my rent for December! That's all, but still . . . it's a start!)








Friday, November 30, 2007

Musings

I just saw on the news that Austin has been named the number one "up and coming" city in the US. I don't know what that means--for me, for MBC, for the city--but it's interesting.

On another note . . .

I know now why they say that if you need something done, ask a busy person. As you know, I haven't been all that busy lately. That's not to say that I don't have things to do or that I'm not actually doing those things. But I have about half the schedule that I'm used to . . . and half the energy, half the focus, half the efficiency, half the productivity.

I'm learning some things about how I'm wired. For one thing, I'm definitely not a Type A personality. C used to say that I am a Type A personality trapped in a Type B body. That's probably as true as it is funny.

I've always thought that I was a self-starter (and, truthfully, I probably am.) But I've learned that, without the structure of a schedule and deadlines and expectations, I'm pretty useless! I lose the focus of my day pretty quickly, get distracted, waste time piddling around, and then wonder where the day went, especially since I've been pseudo-busy all that time. It's amazing how the day's tasks expand to fit the time available. How is it possible that now that I have more time, I actually have LESS time?

So, I've decided to cut myself some slack for not being uber-productive during my little hiatus these last few months. I've enjoyed the slower pace immensely and, even though I don't have much to show for it, I feel rested and healthy. But I'll be ready when the pace picks up. In the meantime, focus, focus, focus . . .

Better get to livin'!

I love this video! I love the images and I love Dolly's sheer feminine power. I love the carnival barker at the beginning. I love the faces of the women in the audience.(Disclaimer: I know there is plenty of very real suffering in the world and the last thing we need is to tell women not to feel what they feel and to just "get over it." I don't think that's what Dolly's saying here and . . . I love this video!)

http://www.cmt.com/videos/dolly-parton/191306/better-get-to-livin.jhtml

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Spreading a little cheer

Having absolutely no concept of the Thanksgiving stress that women are under, Mowgli was telling us horror stories about how badly behaved some women are at the grocery store where he works. (Just a friendly reminder: you think you're being righteously indignant when the store is out of your brand of fake turkey gravy. The teenaged boy who is helping you thinks you're ridiculously hilarious and will describe your theatrics to his family later that night. Just thought you should know.)

Anyway, I told him about how a teenaged clerk was very helpful to me yesterday when I was trying to find a certain kind of mashed potatoes (they were out) and Mowgli said, "You should have gotten his name and told the manager." I told him I'd never done that but that I had emailed kudos to a store or restaurant when an employee has been very helpful. I said that I never really knew if it was helpful. Mowgli assured me that it was, saying that he had gotten bonuses based on customer comments.

So, this year, as we're doing our uber-stressful holiday shopping, let's be sure to thank the people who help us out and even go the extra mile and brag on them to their bosses. According to Mowgli, it really does make a difference.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Country Parson

This morning, C went to his third funeral this week--part of being the pastor to an older congregation. He officiated the first, provided hours of pastoral care for the second, and then officiated again today. Two of the funerals were out of town, all three were for elderly people whose descendants are also members of our congregation.

One thing I love about C is that he invests himself in this work of marrying and burying and everything in between. He sits with patients in hospital rooms and worried families in ICU waiting rooms and with the grieving in their living rooms. He goes with them to the funeral home to make arrangements and he goes to their 50th anniversary parties and helps them renew their vows. He drives long hours to visit with college students at their universities, to offer them encouragement in their own setting and then he does their premarital counseling when the time comes. He listens to couples as they repair their marriages and as they end them. He talks patiently with little children when they think (or their overanxious parents think) it's time for them to give their hearts to Jesus. And he welcomes them all--truly welcomes them--at the end of the aisle when they come forward during the invitation, ready to hear what God is doing in their lives right now, even as they are speaking.

I'm aware that none of this is fashionable these days. I've heard more than one pastor express to me with disdain, "I don't do hospitals." Pastors are supposed to cast vision, to act efficiently, to exchange the mundane for high leverage opportunities, to lead strategically. All this is true (and all things which C pays attention to on a daily basis)--and yet . . . I can't help wondering if maybe C has it right. I've seen the lives changed--the generations changed--because of his patient, quiet work at deathbeds and at children's baseball games. He seems to understand that the kingdom is often not where we think it is, that the last will be first, and that people are more important that anything else. He not only understands it, he lives it and, he tells me, he loves it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

All but 1 inch of Mowgli's hair is sitting in a grocery bag on my desk, waiting to go to Locks of Love. As most of you know, his hair was long and curly--past his shoulders. Now it's gone. I have no earthly idea why this makes me sad, but it does!

Bigger than a breadbox (but not much)

I bought a new lateral filing cabinet to go in my office. Since it was "real furniture" I had to borrow a pickup and go get it at the furniture store across town, took it back to the office and . . . it didn't fit. You know the office is tiny if a filing cabinet won't fit in it. (Actually, it would fit fine if I didn't want to open the drawers. But I do. So . . . ) I promise photos as soon as I find another (tiny) filing cabinet and get it all set up.

What SHE said

If you found my last post at all intriguing or interesting, go to www.talkwiththepreacher.com and read what Pastor Amy had to say yesterday called "Jesus Through the Cracks." She says what I was trying to say, only better.

Monday, November 12, 2007

What I've been thinking about . . .



I've been reading this book, Choose The Life, by Bill Hull for quite a few weeks now. I've been reading slowly, for better absorption, in the mornings during my quiet time. It's both a simple book and a challenging one: simple in the sense that it's easy to read and to understand and challenging in terms of living it out.

Here is the summary sentence: "Ours is a gospel that calls every person to believe what Jesus believed, live as he lived, love as he loved, serve as he served, and lead as he led." It emphasizes the spiritual disciplines and radical community in the context of (mostly) the existing church.

One of Hull's premises is a familiar one: that the church has lost its understanding of discipleship and has lost its way. So this made me wonder whether there has ever been a time in which the church as a whole--or even the majority of Christians--has really lived the disciple life, at least since Constantine baptized the entire Roman Empire (whether they wanted it or not).

Of course, there have always been movements of God in every era and they continue into our own. But we start with about 1000 years of darkness, superstition, ignorance, paganism and violence. We emerge from that, after wasting quite a bit of time on the Crusades, into the highly structured, segmented church that gives birth to the Reformation, which gets off to a wonderful start until the Reformers, having escaped being killed for their beliefs, start killing each other. Then all God's children--on both sides of the religious schism--take turns killing each other based on whichever monarch happens to have manipulated his/her way to power with the blessing of whichever Church he/she happens to belong to. Meanwhile, the average Christian continues to be ignorant and superstitious.

Blessedly, the Enlightenment comes along to give us another option and things settle down for awhile but certainly no one would say that we were leaning toward following Jesus. Instead, we become very impressed with ourselves and our intellectual and creative abilities and modernity gains a foothold, leading us to the very recent past, in which the church emphasizes doctrine over transformation, "living right" over love, church membership over discipleship. Now, some say, we are at the end of the modern age and postmodernism--if we can ever figure out what that is--is the way of the future.

All this to say, I'm not sure the "good old days" have ever truly existed in the kingdom of God. A woman was once lamenting the state of our culture to me (I think she was upset about not being able to pray at football games) and said that we can just look at what is happening in the world and see that God's judgment is obviously on us since it has never been as bad as it is now. I wondered (silently, since I'm not THAT big of a dork) what she would have done with the 14th century, when almost half the human population of Europe died in a plague and the rest descended into darkness and ignorance and endless war.

I'll acknowledge that in our own culture, a couple of generations ago, we at least had a common spiritual language, a common ethic, a common cultural religious experience. I agree that the loss of that commonality is something to mourn but maybe we have glazed the past with a Norman Rockwell-esque patina. I don't believe that--at the time--it necessarily transformed us into followers of Jesus who lived his life with passion and love.

Actually, realizing that there isn't anything to go back to is good news. It reminds me of Jesus' message, which rejected efforts to reestablish the days of Moses or David in favor of a new kingdom of radical love that the world had never seen before. Maybe it's time for us to give up on the idea that followers of Jesus must be a majority (in our culture or in our churches) and instead embrace the challenge to follow Jesus on the fringes, where God has always seemed to be most powerfully at work. Rather than trying to reclaim an ideal past, we are called forward to change the future. To me, that feels like good news.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Don't know whether to laugh or cry

This actually happened.

It was my very first call from a potential client, referred to me by a woman who heard me speak last Friday. I was very excited. She said, "I want to make an appointment with you." She asked, "What is your fee?" She said, "But there's a complication . . . I actually live in Houston."

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sabbath in Late Fall

Sabbath in Late Fall
by Ruth Haley Barton

For everything there is a season...

Sometimes on the Sabbath
all you can do is
settle into the soft body of yourself
and listen to what it says.

Listen to
the exhaustion that is deeper than tired-ness
the hunger that is for more than food
the thirst that is for more than drink
the longing for comfort that is more than physical.

On the Sabbath
body and soul reach out for time of a different sort

Letting go is hard,
letting go of that which no longer works
that which no longer brings joy and meaning
that which is no longer full of life.

It seems cruel
That something that used to be so beautiful
should fall to the ground
sinking into the earthy mud along with everything else that is dying,
no longer recognizable for what it used to be.
It seems cruel but it is the way of things.

One generation gives its life for the next.
One season slips away so another can come.
One crop of fruit falls from the tree so that more can be borne.
One wave recedes while another gathers strength
to crash upon the shore.

It seems cruel
but it is the rhythm of things
And rhythm has its own beauty.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

What I heard at BGCT:

"It is impossible to bear witness to your own cleverness and the Lord Jesus Christ at the same time." --quoted by Joel Gregory in his preaching workshop

"Where there is no vision, the people perish; where there are no people, the vision perishes." --Joel Gregory, commenting on the church growth movement

"When you pray for the peace of Israel, also pray for the peace of Palestine and for the peace of the Arab Christians." --David Coffey, president, Baptist World Alliance

"If you want God's blessing on your life, if you want God's blessing on your ministry, you have to care about what he cares about." --Rick Warren, in Monday night sermon

"But I loved the Japanese, so I ate them." --Rick Warren, proving that even the most gifted communicators don't always say exactly what they meant to say

It's a start!

I got up and went to work this morning for the first time since May! Of course, I was done by 10:00, but it's a start. Once I have it put together, I'll post photos of the new office.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Please pray

You may remember my post about my elderly friend who answered her door in only gloves and slippers (a couple of you accused me of planting a mental picture you couldn't get rid of!) My friend called me Friday to tell me that she is in the medical center awaiting surgery to amputate her foot on Monday and to remove a breast on Wednesday--as she put it, "if I survive Monday." She was very frightened, particularly of being so alone.

I called her today to visit and reassure and she was almost unable to speak on the phone, able only to make unintelligible noises. It turns out she had a stroke last night. After some effort, I was able to understand some of her speech and her nurse told me that she understands everything that is said to her. I can only imagine how much more frightened and frustrated she is now. The surgery will still happen tomorrow.

I promise not to misuse this blog for prayer requests but since I introduced you to her, I'd like to follow up. Please pray especially for the supernatural comforting presence of God and for him to call out compassion in the nurses and health care workers she encounters. I am less concerned about her health problems and more concerned about her profound aloneness and her fear. Thanks so much--

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Big sigh of relief . . . Aaaaahhh . . .

I'm done! No more speaking gigs, no more traveling, no more workshops, no more being away from home . . . til the end of the year. I can't tell you how relieved I am! As much as I love every bit of it, it had piled on lately. And as of right now, I'm done! Well, except I have to teach Sunday School tomorrow and I haven't studied my lesson due to aforementioned speaking gigs, traveling, workshops, and being away from home . . . . Still, I'm very happy!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

BGCT musings

For the first time, Texas Baptists will be led by a woman.

I don't know why I don't feel more like celebrating. Maybe because, for the first time in a long time, another camp ran a viable candidate primarily so that they wouldn't have to vote for a woman. Maybe because the vote was one of the closest in history even though Joy Fenner easily and clearly represents the best of Texas Baptists and even her opposition said they could find no fault with her service to missions over the years. Maybe because there was not a single woman (or minority or young person, for that matter) to stand behind the podium the whole time I was at the meeting. In all fairness, I wasn't there today, but there was none on the program. Maybe because Southern Baptists are behind every viable denomination except the Church of Christ on this issue and we're losing our best and brightest to the Methodists and the Episcopalians.

There was much to celebrate. OK, maybe not much, but some. Everyone said that both candidates conducted themselves with graciousness and kindness and God was glorified by that. And change is in the air, which is a good thing. And the addresses by the president of Baptist World Alliance and by Rick Warren called us to a truly global perspective and challenged us to rethink our assumptions about the world and the gospel. And in spite of the heaviness and negativity surrounding the meeting, there are many, many good people who remain passionately committed to caring for children, feeding the hungry, and seeking the lost in Texas.

One more thing: They showed a video to celebrate the outgoing Executive Director of the BGCT, Charles Wade (you know the kind--starts with baby pictures, ends with nice things being said by his friends and kids). As it ended, I looked around the arena to see several grown adults sitting with their arms folded, scowling, refusing to applaud with the rest of the crowd. They looked like five-year-olds. I am sure there is plenty of room for disagreement with Wade's policies and maybe even reason to dislike him personally (although I've never heard of any reason for the latter--but he is only human, after all). But to refuse to politely acknowledge the decades of contributions by a brother in Christ on behalf of us all . . . for crying out loud, grow up!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

I'm headed to Amarillo this time for the annual meeting of BGCT. They're experiencing quite a bit of chaos right now so it should be interesting from a systems point of view. The keynote speaker is Rick Warren (think: The Purpose Driven Life) and I'm looking forward to what he has to say about missions. I'm really hoping he'll talk about Africa.

I'll be doing a workshop on The Leader's Relationships for ministers who are already in their leadership training program. I'm also hoping to network, network, network--with BGCT people and with Austin people. I'll be home on Tuesday.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My Latest Reading

We had a little family outing to BookPeople a couple of weeks ago and C picked up The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I, of course, promptly stole it and just finished it on my trip to Chicago. I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. A. J. Jacobs, a lapsed New York Jew, takes on the challenge described in the subtitle for one year and describes both his efforts and his thoughts and feelings. He separates the fibers of his clothing, stones adulterers, goes to great lengths to avoid contamination on the NY subways, and covers up all the "graven images" in his apartment with masking tape.

It was fascinating to follow his efforts to follow the law rigorously and even more interesting to follow his corresponding spiritual search. It added to my understanding of what the Pharisees were up against and maybe why they were so grumpy and it (unintentionally) made wonderfully clear the gift of grace in salvation through Christ. It's terrific to run across a book that is interesting, funny, and meaningful. I guess I'll give it back now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

So glad it's over!

Chicago was fine. Don't let the fact that I can't stop obsessing about it fool you.

It didn't take long at all for me to figure out that I was going to be a disappointment to the organizers of the event. Two things: one, I tend to be a little "too much" for intellectual, introverted men (and these were Mennonite Bowen theorists. Nuff said.) Two, I had underestimated the knowledge base and sophistication of the participants.

But, my presentation seemed to be really well received, especially by the women. [A quick aside: One thing I've noticed at these events is that the men seem to be pretty well distributed across the spectrum of competence and self-awareness but that the women (probably because they have to do ministry backward and in high heels) tend to be remarkable and delightful. This time was no exception. The saddest part of the experience was having to leave without getting to know them better.]

So, anyway, I lacked the sophistication and depth that the participants were expecting and deserved. But on the other hand, the presentation was interactive, entertaining, and not boring. So, like I said, Chicago was fine.

The story of my life

So I'm in Chicago in a cab going from O'Hare to some suburban destination (I never really did know where I was). The driver, from Uzbekistan (a first for me), is chatty and asks me what I do for a living. When I tell him, he says, "I don't know what that is. What do you DO?" I answer, "I help people with their problems." Big explosive sigh . . . "Oh, boy, I have problems . . ."

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not a sight I'll soon forget!

So this last weekend I was back in Houston to help with the Center for Counseling fundraiser and had some extra time on Saturday. I decided to go by and see the elderly lady that I visit with and look in on from time to time. When I called her, she was absolutely thrilled that I was coming by and I told her I'd be there "in a little while." When I knocked on her door, she answered it--wearing only her house slippers and latex gloves!

After I helped her get into a housedress, we had a very nice visit. She was high on enthusiasm and low on delusions, so that helped. Her delusions have remained very stable in the 8 or so years I've known her and I have wondered if maybe they are not age-related. Fortunately, most of them don't cause her distress and they are pretty entertaining for the rest of us. She believes that she is a Romanoff descendant and will receive a large inheritance any day now, that her head is shrinking (she'll squeal, "Look at me! My head is the size of a walnut!" but it doesn't seem to bother her any), that her neighbors come in and cook on her stove (again, doesn't seem to be a problem), etc. She "knows" everything about all her neighbors and tells long stories about the lives of strangers--it's very entertaining. And I love her laugh--she is the only old lady I know who cackles!

What's amazing, though, is how sharp she is. She remembers everything she learns on PBS and on the news and can hold forth at length about just about any topic. She remembers things about my family and about her own past. She was a holocaust survivor (documented at the Holocaust Museum where you can see her name on the wall) from Lithuania as well as a Ph.D. in botany. She worked for years at the medical center before retiring when she went blind in her late 50s.

Unfortunately, due to her disabilities, she lives in literally filthy conditions and there's not much anyone can do about it since she is unable to get along with caregivers for long and the agencies end up "firing" her. I used to take her food but can't now, of course. This is where her resilience and resourcefulness kick in, thankfully, since she has the ability to get almost anyone to do almost anything she needs. She remembers phone numbers (since she's blind, she can't look them up) of almost everyone she's ever talked to on the telephone, including government agencies, lawyers, and the media.

On the one hand, it is truly sad what life is like for the elderly who literally have no family or real friends. On the other hand, it has been delightful to know such a remarkable person.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Help!

Does anyone know anyone who can do a very basic (and I do mean basic) and affordable website for me? What I want is so simple that it can be done with a template, I'm sure, and I don't want to spend a ton of money. If you know someone that would be a good fit, please email me and let me know. Thanks!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Getting my life back

I have an office! C and I went to look at it on Friday and liked it very much. It has all the advantages--location, price, waiting room, nice landlord, handicap accessible, new paint and carpet, amenities like access to a group therapy room and a break room and a rest room in the suite. Only one disadvantage--it is TINY! Even a little smaller than my Houston office, if you can imagine.

As we were leaving the office on Friday, C asked me, "Do you feel like you're getting your life back?" The answer is "YES!"

So today I went in and paid the security deposit and got a copy of the lease, to be signed tomorrow or the next day. Now that I have an actual address, I can start working on business cards and other promotional materials and go out and talk to pastors. I'm very excited!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Anti-miracles

Power failure
By what anti-miracle
have we lamed the man
who leaped for joy,
lost ninety-nine sheep,
clutched the lunch fish
until they rot in our hands,
turned wine back to water
and bread to stone?
--Luci Shaw

Monday, October 8, 2007

Angry and sad

I've always wondered about cruelty--fascinated by it because it seems to foreign to my life. And the question that always forms for me is "Why?" Why do so many people choose to add to the cruelty in the world? Why don't they feel an inner longing to bring healing to the world rather than to participate in its destruction? But psychology, religion, and literature all remind me over and over that we are just not wired that way.

Mowgli gave me A Thousand Splendid Suns (a story about women in Afghanistan) for my birthday and, shame on me, I'm just now getting to it. I'm three-quarters of the way through and I'm afraid to keep reading because I can tell it is just going to be too, too sad for me to bear.

This is one of those books that brings to mind all the trite book-review phrases--"haunting," "compelling," "heartbreaking,"--but it is never trite itself. The genius of this book is that it brings into focus the great cruelty that we humans are capable of alongside glimpses of hope and redemption. (but never confuse hope and redemption with happy endings.) There are few evil people in this story, only complicated ones. The loving father betrays his daughter. The contemptible husband beats his family and also feeds them when starvation sets in. The mother abandons her daughter only after she has sacrificed everything to raise her.

Early in the story, a mother reminds her daughter that a woman's only option in life is to endure. The book reminds me of how many women on this planet have no real choices, only the path of endurance or not, and how much courage it takes just to be a woman in some places. I've been angry lately about the sexism in my life--and particularly in the lives of women I've come to care for.

The other thing that struck me was how quickly things can change--how a country can go from normalcy to utter chaos in an instant. Women were doctors, politicians, teachers one day and the next, they were hidden at home and in burqas. It's happened so often--in Iran, in Rwanda, in Nazi Germany--from order to chaos, from normalcy to insanity in the blink of an eye.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Political rant update

I was reading an article in Smithsonian magazine this morning about a website where individuals can make microloans to establish small businesses in developing countries. Turns out that Americans especially like to make loans to . . . Iraqis. Maybe some of us do care a bit after all.

Conversation with my grandfather

Grandaddy: Did you get a book about animals in the mail last week?
Me: No, not recently.
Grandaddy: Do you want one?
Me: Well, I don't think so . . . the kids are kind of old for that but thanks anyway.
Grandaddy: Great! Well, I think it's a good deal, so I'll order it right now and send it to you.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Milestones

Mowgli sent off his first college application yesterday, to the University of Chicago. His goal is to get out the application to University of North Carolina today. Then there is a common application for Vanderbilt, William and Mary, and Guilford. The countdown has begun . . .

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My first political rant

As I ate my cereal this morning, the Austin American Statesman informed me that a private security firm in Iraq has been involved in the shootings of more than 200 Iraqis, most from the front seat of a vehicle while driving away. While some were surely self-defense, at least a handful were cold-blooded murder, including the death of a bodyguard of the Iraqi vice-president by a drunk Blackwater employee who was then spirited out of the country by--get this--the State Department and never prosecuted. In other questionable and not-so-questionable cases, the families of the dead were paid off to keep them from complaining. The circumstances of the shootings were not routinely investigated until the media brought attention to them.

I'm tired of feeling outraged and powerless about what is being done in my name. I knew at the beginning of this that innocent men and women, both American and Iraqi, would tragically die in this war and I was willing to concede that it might be necessary. I know that the circumstances of our action there are far more complex and tragically complicated than we even imagine, that the lines between "innocent" and "insurgent" can be impossible to see. I believe that the daily sacrifices of many of our military and civilian representatives serving there are heroic and meaningful.

But . . .

But I wanted to believe that we would care--that we would care about the tragedy of Iraqi dead at least enough to officially count them, that we would care about the humanitarian crisis that we have helped to create enough to increase, not dramatically decrease, the number we allowed to emigrate to our own country, and especially that we would care enough to refrain from trying to buy their silence when we kill them.

Mowgli has wondered aloud why American evangelicals who defend the sanctity of human life believe that God values American lives more than Iraqi lives, why we think we matter more to Him than they do.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Well, when you put it like THAT . . .

All of you are so good at helping me know what I think . . . right now, I'm really grateful to several of you who took time with me over the past few days to think through my next move.

As you know, I'm still trying to answer the question that was posed to me by a local city-reaching minister--"So, why did God bring you to Austin?" And, as you also know, the answer hasn't been at the end of a straight line, like I thought it would be.

So, step one was getting very clear in my own mind what I feel called to and what I enjoy. Step two was meeting everyone in Austin that would talk to me. Step three was supposed to be stepping into an already existing position or group and picking up, basically, where I left off in Houston. As you know, that didn't work. But at least I now know what I want to do and who I don't want to do it with. : )

So, in a conversation with a dear friend and mentor, I put it this way: "I think I had three options . . . one, find really sharp, quality people who are doing what I want to do and join them, two, find people who will let me do what I want to do, or three, just go do what I want to do." We agreed that option one seems to be off the table. Then I heard myself say, "I guess I can settle or risk."

Something significant changed when I heard those words coming out of my mouth. As all of you know, I don't like to risk. I don't have whatever it is that makes people want to jump out of airplanes or ride roller coasters or wear really high heels. But I remembered a night at LeadersEdge several years ago when several of the key people in my life spontaneously prayed for me that I might have courage and I have truly tried to live more courageously since then. I guess this is the next logical step.

Another precious friend was listening to me whine about being afraid and asked me what I was afraid of. I told her that I wasn't really sure but that it seemed related to failure. She astutely pointed out that there wasn't really a way to fail at this . . . and she's right.

So this week is devoted to pressing ahead, making arrangements, having different conversations with more people--please continue to pray that I will have courage.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

I love this house

I'm not sure it's okay to love a house as much as I love this house! But it is perfect for our family, both our needs and our wants, and I have enjoyed every minute of living here. It's hard to think of it as God's provision, since I'm always of aware of those who aren't similarly provided for, but I can say that I feel constantly grateful.

The two things I love most: Because of the open floor plan, we are all together, even when we're doing different things. Someone's in the kitchen, someone else is working at the kitchen table, and someone else is watching TV--and we're all together. For a family with two teenagers, that's a big deal. The other thing I love is also due to the openness--Last night we had the staff and their spouses over for dinner and everything was just so easy--the warmth, the flow, the laughter, partly because we could all be in the same room without having to sit on top of each other. I love it.

My Sunday School class was here for breakfast earlier this week and I looked around at these young couples and thought about how much they need each other and watched them milling around, getting acquainted in ways we just can't do at church and I was so grateful for a place to help make this happen. Later that day, one of them came back, tearful, to talk about her marriage, and we were able to move into the tiny front room to talk, where she could have privacy and safety. Did I mention that this is a perfect house?

Now we're working on hosting a cookout for the cul-de-sac and getting some couples from church together that we know need to meet each other and having dinner for some of the folks that I met on my trip to London who are now here in Austin. So far, everyone who has been here has been someone I already care about, someone who is more or less easy to love, but I'm looking ahead to the day when the people around our table may be more broken, more needy, more difficult to care about. I know from experience how hard that is, and feel an inner resistance to it and a calling as well.

So, since I don't have anywhere else to go today, I'll be here, all day, in my wonderful house, enjoying every minute of it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dead ends and possibilities

More dead ends, more disappointment . . .

C and I sat at the kitchen table for a long time Friday, going back over my options for ministry here in Austin. We eliminated the options that no longer seem to be options and added a few new possibilities to the mix, including the one I've been resisting--trying to launch something completely on my own.

The best part of the whole conversation was the fact that I was doing this with my best friend who loves me and believes in me and struggles with me. He even shared with me his Sacred And Magical Legal Pad, helping me to organize my next steps. He reminds me of who I am and gives me courage to be that person. I'm beyond blessed.

The worst part of the whole thing is accepting the reality that I can't make the world give me what I want!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

We've come a long way, baby . . .

Two things that happened today that seem unrelated, but aren't:

I spent the afternoon with three other women in ministry. As it happened, I was the youngest woman in the room--which rarely happens anymore. (Some of you may remember the last women-in-ministry gathering I attended, at which I was tearfully thanked for "paving the way." I felt like Marie Curie or Billie Jean King.) Anyway, I had a rich and nourishing afternoon with these amazing and lovely women who have each found their way into deep and meaningful ministry--after midlife and despite being, at first, undereducated and insecure in very sexist church structures. I marveled at the grace of God who called all of us together in one room to share our stories of brokenness and healing, rejection and affirmation, fear and faith. It was an unforgettable afternoon.

Later, I was surfing the internet, checking out two of my favorite blogs: http://www.talkwiththepreacher.com/ (a young woman, Baptist minister in Washington D.C. who was in our college group in Waco) and http://www.beautytipsforministers.com (who is one of her friends). Reading their blogs is one way I stay up with the generation behind me and marvel at the grace of God in a different form. Anyway, I learned today that there are now clerical shirts (blouses) made in maternity and nursing mother styles--and in a variety of colors and sizes! Because there is clearly a market for them! Because the world is truly changing!

So, from the time when I couldn't find a license to ministry with the word "she" on it (when I was licensed in 1983) to this . . . I'm thrilled to get to see it happen. I'm sad that I missed out on it for myself but oh, so happy to see it happening for these gifted, hilarious, gutsy young women. May their tribe increase . . .

Monday, September 17, 2007

Wanted: one crystal ball

Had long conversations this weekend with friends who are also colleagues and mentors. I still can't see the future but I feel mostly encouraged and energized . . . ready to get things done and make things happen. Still fighting to stay on top of disappointment and uncertainty, but I think it's leading me to new clarity about the maturity God seeks to form in my life. At least I think I know the next steps and can summon up the courage to take them. If any of you have a crystal ball you could loan me, though, just let me know.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

My postmodern son

Mowgli is getting ready to go to Austin City Limits this weekend. He thinks he has died and gone to heaven! As we were discussing it, he said in total seriousness, with a great deal of bewilderment in his voice, "It's weird, but I've noticed that when it comes to music, you and dad and Boo really like melody."

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Having too much time on my hands

We have a leak in the front yard and so we had to call a plumber. The plumber is English, his company is named "Union Jack Plumbing" and--get this--the sign on the truck says, "The British are plumbing, the British are plumbing." I laughed so hard!

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mother Teresa's faith

The media has been very interested in Mother Teresa lately and the revelation that she struggled mightily to hold on to her faith, even her conviction about the very existence of God. Although some have labeled her a hypocrite, most seem alternately puzzled and pleased that a modern-day saint would question her relationship with God while never releasing her hold on a sacred calling. I'm pretty sure that most people of faith smiled wryly at the news and said to themselves, "Well, yes. Of course. Nothing so dramatic there."

Mowgli, who is something of a Christian agnostic (he can identify more of what he doesn't believe than what he does at this point, but retains a basic love for Jesus), was very excited by the news. One of his great complaints about church (and there are many) is that it has always felt inauthentic to him--people claiming to experience God in ways that seemed to him to be better explained by psychology or wishful thinking, or worse, emotional manipulation. So, the recent revelations about Mother Teresa have given him new enthusiasm about his own faith and doubt and commitment to mysticism as a spiritual path. I imagine that's true for many people.

There are a couple of things that have captured my attention, though. As I've read some of the excerpts of Mother Teresa's letters, I've noticed that she has a personality that seems to lend itself to narcissism and grandiosity. She describes wanting to love Jesus as no one has ever loved him before, to achieve things in his name that are beyond human comprehension. I think it makes sense, then, that her own sins seem to her to be worse than anyone else's, that her struggles to feel God's presence seem to her to go beyond what others experience.

As I read the excerpts, I think I also detected a certain amount of self-rejection--as if Christian self-denial meant denying herself even the comforts of faith. She sees herself at times as helping Jesus to carry out the work on the cross by remaining in a state of being forsaken by God.

The other thing is a little more personal. Back in May, while we were staying in the little apartment, I realized while talking with a friend that my life with God had recently felt more alive, a little easier. The doubt that always grips me seemed to have me by the ankle instead of by the throat. I understood intuitively that my easier faith was related somehow to not working every day--less busyness, more time for contemplation, for example. But I realized in a flash of deep awareness that what had changed was my daily exposure to the deep suffering of hurting people. I had never realized what a heavy burden that was for my faith to carry and how weary I had become.

So, I would never compare myself to Mother Teresa but I do have great sympathy for her. I, too, can be very narcissistic in my faith and in my doubt. I can try to help Jesus save me and others by denying myself forgiveness and consolation. And I sometimes find the enormous pain and suffering in the world to stand like an ominous sentry between me and faith, denying me entrance.

I am not at all surprised to know that Mother Teresa suffered in her quest to know God, only sad that she was not able to find comfort in it, sad that her requests for privacy were not honored, and sad that many have judged her harshly. I feel great mercy for her. I believe God does, too.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

This is the Scripture that has been floating in my mind and heart for a few weeks, ever since reading Brennan Manning's book:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, forgiving wickedness and rebellion and sin.

I love the richness and the abundance--a God who is compassionate AND gracious, abounding in love AND faithfulness, forgiving wickedness AND rebellion AND sin. I can sense in this verse that I will never come to the end of God's goodness.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Message from a sad happy person

When I wrote my last post, I was deeply disappointed and very sad. I was lonely for all of you and was grieving the life I had in Houston. I'm much better now.

First, I was able to talk it over with my mom (who is the world's best person to talk to, btw--you should call her!) Then C and I did some strategizing and evaluating, which restored the illusion that I'm in control here.

But the best thing was just remembering what I believe--most specifically, that I really do believe that the gap between the preferred outcome and current reality--what we call "creative tension"--really is a very good place to be. I'm not much of a risk-taker and I don't particularly like tension--even the creative kind--so it's easy for me to forget what I believe about this.

(Of course, I am doing my best to resist the temptations of this particular journey--the temptation to close the gap by either compromising on the preferred outcome or minimizing my current reality. And in exchange, for my efforts, I get to have lots of anxiety! But I'm sure it's very creative anxiety . . . )

As kc noted in her comment, creativity flourishes in chaos. And, fortunately, as rob pointed out, I really am a very happy person. But don't stop praying for me, OK?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Happiness is not a math problem

People smarter than I am say that happiness can be quantified as a ratio of expectation to reality--that is, what you expect to happen divided by what actually happens. By that definition, I am not happy.

I expected that I would be working by now. I expected to come to Austin and fit in pretty seamlessly with a counseling group. I expected that the people I wanted to work with would want me to work with them. I expected that my denomination would be happy to have me. I expected that I would work with sharp people in a quality organization. I expected to be moving forward today, not backward. I expected that it would be easy.

I can see now that some of my expectations were grandiose and others were unrealistic. Some were reasonable, though, even though they aren't being met.

Now I have to figure out what I want, given the reality of my options. I need to lean into the creative tension in this gap between my desired outcome and my current reality and let it work for me. Ask God to give me wisdom.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Keeping you posted

We've had such a restful weekend that I'm practically in a coma. Mmmmm . . . I'm going to rouse myself enough to catch you up on the latest of my professional forays.

I've done lots and lots of research and have been contacting counselors and counseling centers for a few weeks now, garnering a few interviews along the way. The funny thing is that the group that I thought I would instantly mesh with--they would want me and I would want them--never even got back to me, even after an enthusiastic interview with a board member. Turns out that's okay--based on what I'm hearing third-hand, that might not be a good fit.

I've also learned that counselor-types aren't necessarily very good listeners--surprised and frustrated me how hard I had to work to break through the assumptions they brought to our meetings--meetings that were supposed to be informal and exploratory. A couple of times I just gave up, listening to someone go on and on about the problems they were experiencing in their organization, knowing that in many ways I would be able to help with those problems, but unable to get a word in edgewise to say so. Smile and handshake and move on.

I have had one firm offer from another denomination, but the organization seems disorganized and without focus. Someone told me that their reputation is "rudderless" and that certainly fit my experience with them. I haven't turned it down yet, though, just in case. A second group really, really, really impressed me and they expressed real interest . . . but there's just one catch: they have made an agreement not to hire anyone new until May. A third group also really impressed me and also expressed real interest and even offered to give me their therapist training for free (I've always wanted to take it but never did.) I may do some work for them part-time. They are very sharp but they only do one thing and my personal sense of mission is broader than that.

Which brings me to the latest . . . On Thursday, I made a proposal to the local association of my denomination after discussing it at some length with the executive director. He is taking my proposal to the governing board on Tuesday and will let me know of their response on Wednesday. Essentially, I have proposed a situation in which I create my own job, keep my own fees, and have the whole region as a ministry focus. Preparing for the meeting with this executive helped me gain more clarity and focus than I have ever had about my calling and mission and if my proposal is accepted, I will be able to lean into each of the areas to which I feel called. (I also think it would be a good deal for them as well, by the way.)

So maybe in a few days, I will have some idea of what I'll be doing professionally. Or some idea of what I won't be doing. Either way, it's about to wrap up, I think. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A good day

I guess a angiogram is the closest thing we have to a little window into the heart. Unfortunately, it's a real pain to take a peek! C's heart cath went very well, leaving us relieved and reassured. The doctor said that all the arteries are "wide open" and that the stents are in good shape. He told us to go home and not worry and didn't even keep C overnight. We felt incredibly loved and supported by all of you. It was a good day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Good news, bad news

The good news is that we love our bathroom remodel--it's beautiful! The bad news is that it's leaking through the ceiling into the den downstairs.

The bad news is that C is having what they euphemistically call "chest discomfort" again, pretty much every day. The good news is that his cardiologist is going to do another heart cath on Friday to see what's going on.

What I'm Reading

A couple of you have asked me to keep you up to date on what I'm reading, so here's the latest list:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
Why the Christian Right is Wrong by Robin Meyers
Miss Julia Strikes Back by Ann B. Ross
The Best Place to Be by Lesley Dormen
To My Dearest Friends by Patricia Volk
Sights Unseen and A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

As you can see, quite a bit of fiction, mostly for enjoyment. I've deliberately avoided "work-related" books, but that will change soon. Kaye Gibbons is one of my new favorite authors, so I get something by her every time I go to the library. Ellen Foster is the best place to start. I really enjoyed the political book but, as usual, it overstates its case and offers little in the way of remediation. Mowgli has challenged me to read more classics, so I'll be reading from his list soon. (He had me reading Salinger and Huxley earlier this summer.) And Boo wants me to finish reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to her--we started during the move and never finished. So, that's the latest . . .

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

An Almost Holy Picture

We went to see a play last week, trying to figure out some of the cultural scene here in Austin. Tiny, tiny theater--in the round, four rows deep--so it was very intimate. Because the theme of the play was one man's struggle to recover his faith in the midst of deep suffering, the intimate setting was very uncomfortable, being so close to a stranger's pain, but I think that was partly the point.

The play is called An Almost Holy Picture and it was essentially a one-man show--the story of an Episcopalian priest who leaves the ministry after a tragic accident and then recovers his faith slowly after the birth of his daughter, who is mysteriously covered with luminous white fur. Honestly, it was a little odd and yet touching. By the end, he finds his faith again in a paradox--the commitment to live the life he has created for himself (his "real life" as he puts it over and over) fully and without shame and, at the same time, the willingness to relinquish the person who is at the center of his life and his happiness.

He says at one point that our longing is an arrow that points us to God. At another, he reflects that we love life so much that it is almost a sin (which startled me, as I realized that my tradition has literally taught that loving our lives is a sin).

So, we're beginning to get out and do some things (I'll report on the Bat-fest this weekend) and enjoy our new home.

Monday, August 27, 2007

And I didn't even cry!

Today was the first school day in 13 years that I didn't take at least one kid to school. For the first time, I stood on the porch and waved as Mowgli and Boo drove away.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

I guess we can unpack now . . .

Well, it looks like we'll be staying. Last night, C came home from work and said, "I've had a hard day and I just want Mexican food." (BTW, he's been doing really, really well on his heart-healthy diet lately.) So we went to a little place in a little house in the little town south of here and it was wonderful. Small portions so you don't feel stuffed or guilty, fresh ingredients, a little bit of a unique flavor and great prices. When we finished, C said, "We finally have a place for Mexican food. Now I can feel settled."

Actually, I have been wondering how long it will be until this feels like home. I feel as if we're where we're supposed to be and there is a certain amount of "home" in that knowledge but at the same time, I'm always looking for things ("Where's the Pier One?" "What street is this?" "Why can't I find anything in this dumb grocery store?") and everything takes a little more thought and effort than it did when everything was familiar. The adventurous feeling is fun--it doesn't take much to make me feel adventurous--so I'm not complaining. Just wondering.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Smarter than her mother

Boo and her friends are getting ready to start high school, including buying new clothes and shoes. Her friend emailed her the question, "What brands do you wear?" Boo emailed her friend, "I don't wear brands; I wear clothes."

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Plowing my heart

God is plowing my heart with a little book by Brennan Manning called The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus. Even though it is deeply convicting, I have been able to read it without guilt because Manning has been a voice of grace in my life for years. One exerpt that has stayed with me:

The only possible way to move out of our obsessive self-awareness and into the life of Christ is to surrender ourselves and let God be God. Such a surrender involves mining the field of our hearts and searching for this pearl of God's truth hidden deep within us: we belong to God. This precious discovery makes security, pleasure, and power look like cheap painted fragments of glass (Philippians 3:8) . . .

This loving awareness of being the child of the Father moves us out of a life spent pursuing our base desires and frees us to pursue the kingdom of God . . . We can present ourselves simply to others: "Here I am. It's all I've got." In humble self-awareness and sovereign freedom, we can truly be for others without fear of rejection or concern for their usefulness to us."

I read this page the night before a meeting with a man whom I really wanted to impress--so that he would want to work with me, so that I could position myself professionally for future gain, so that I would feel good about myself. I was consumed with how I would present myself, what I would say, how I would manipulate him into thinking well of me.

Reading this excerpt put everything in my heart right again, as though something that had turned upside down was put right. Without guilt or self-condemnation, I was reminded of who I am--and Whose I am--and that I don't have to fear rejection from others or look for ways to make them promote my agenda. I can simply be a child of my Father and allow him to reveal to me what comes next.

I went to my meeting and then to another similar meeting the next day and in both cases, I was able to be my best self--the self that rests in Jesus--and to care for the person across from me without being obsessed with what they could do for me professionally. This little book, hard to read on several levels, has been a real blessing.

Friday, August 17, 2007

22 years and counting . . .

Today is our 22nd anniversary.

C: Happy Anniversary! We've been married a long time!
Me: Too long.
C: You don't want to be married?
Me: No, I want to be younger

We're taking a little trip next week to San Antonio where we went for our honeymoon. This time, though, I won't make C go to the all the missions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Taking the next step

I met today with a denominational leader here in town and am very, very encouraged. It appears that there will be as many opportunities for me as I am able and willing to create for myself. I am still talking to other people about possible employment but this is the most excited I've been since we moved. Those of you who know me well know that this is the point where I either get motivated and make things happen or get paralyzed and disappear. I'm really not feeling the paralysis; just the opposite, actually--creative and focused. Pray for me to know the next steps and to pursue these opportunities with wisdom.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

If anybody asks . . .

. . . this is what I plan to say to the people I am talking to about ministry in Austin.

I'm passionate about ministry with and to the local church and its leaders. There are three ways I express this:

One, I have almost 20 years experience in counseling with church members and leaders and providing a reliable and safe referral source for pastors. Seeing lives transformed is the most rewarding thing I've ever done.

Two, I offer quality leadership development for pastoral staff and lay leaders, partly based on a book I wrote with two colleagues; I also have a tender heart for congregational leaders and want to provide pastoral care and counseling for them.

Three, I passionately believe that the most important way we can change the future is to better prepare couples for marriage and to offer them better relational tools and support once they are married. We are uniquely positioned to do a better job at this and I want to make that happen.

Just in case anybody asks . . .

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Join the club

C called yesterday and said, "Well, I've finally made someone here mad at me." It's the same-ol' story: someone is (choose one):
a. ill
b. bereaved
c. having surgery
and the pastor doesn't:
a. visit
b. call
c. send a card
and so the person is:
a. angry
b. hurt
c. moving his membership to another church

Anyway, C was out of town last week and never got the word that this person had a need. Meanwhile, the other staff stepped in to minister, the Sunday School class brought meals, friends from church visited to console and comfort. But the letter to C arrived yesterday--"we thought you were going to be such a good pastor but now we realize how wrong we were about you." When he called to explain, the response was, "I have a hard time believing you didn't know."

So, of course, I get defensive for C--I mean, what does C have to deliberately gain by snubbing this family?But then I get defensive for the Church. We often talk about the difference between club values and discipleship values. Club values sound like this: "I pay my dues and I'm a member, so I should get the perks of my membership (including my own personal chaplain when I need one.) Discipleship values recognize that Jesus called us to follow him in a community in a way of life, seeking the Kingdom. In this case, the community did exactly what it was supposed to do--the family of God surrounded this couple and loved them in the middle of their need. But it wasn't enough. I wonder if the Church will ever learn to seek the kingdom together as long as club values dominate. I know, I know, this is nothing new, just what I'm thinking about today.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Big question . . . no answer (yet)

Friday, I found myself chatting with a very nice man who runs a cityreaching ministry here in Austin. I wasn't job hunting exactly, just trying to get the lay of the land in terms of Austin and ministry to and with the church in the city. We'd talked about a lot of things--Katrina and its impact on Austin, maintaining good relationships with city officials, the more prominent African-American congregations in the city, etc.--when he looks at me with a fairly intense expression and says, "So, apart from your husband's job, why did God bring you to Austin?"

I stammered some lame but acceptable answer and we continued the conversation, but geez louise, I guess that's what it all comes down to, doesn't it? It's not just about finding a job but finding my whole calling here (which, of course, we already knew but still . . . ) You know, I've learned through the last three moves that when God moves C, he doesn't forget about me and this time I was able to skip right through all the self-pity and doubt and get straight to a pretty enthusiastic and expectant faith.

But I still have to find the answer to this question and it's reverberating in my head, even in my dreams . . . So why did God bring me to Austin?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Missing you

Our friend from Lubbock was here all weekend and when she left, I found myself getting a little teary. I miss my friends. I miss all of you. Don't take offense, but for the first time since we moved, I really, really miss you. It seems like that April and May were spent with countless goodbyes, which, although it was sad to say goodbye, also meant that I got a lot of time with you--good, quality time when we were relaxed and ate really good food and said all the things we needed to say. So, it took a little while for all that wonderful emotional fullness to empty out and make me hungry again. The good news is that some of you have already come to see me and some of you are coming soon. I've talked to some of you on the phone and I'll see some of you if/when I make it back to Houston (I'm planning trips in August, September and October, so I'll definitely be in touch.) But mostly, I just wanted you to know that I love you and I miss you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Getting back to work

Two things:

In the last week, I've had three de facto counseling sessions and I've learned something: This is what I do. This is what gives me life. I know, I know . . . "duh." But I've had some time off and I've really, really, really enjoyed it and I was starting to dread going back to work. Now I remember why, a lot of the time, it doesn't even feel like work. It's time to get busy again.

Which brings me to the second thing:

I have an interview with a board member from the Samaritan Center Friday morning at 10 a.m. Ask God to give me wisdom to discern whether this is the place for me. The friend who set up the meeting said, "I think Samaritan will give you a big enough backyard to play in." Ask God to help me know the truth and especially the unspoken truth.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More books I've read lately

Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli is the last collection of his writing before he died. It's good but not great; kind of a cross between Donald Miller and Max Lucado. Too "inspirational" for me, but thought-provoking and perfect for lots of people I know.

OK, so on to two books that have really stayed with me:

Between Two Worlds is Elizabeth's Marquadt's clinical study into the experience of adult children of divorce who grew up with both parents involved and who show up in other studies as well-functioning. Although clinically, these children weathered their parents' divorces with few symptoms and minimal disruption, their answers to questionnaires and interviews tell another story.While Marquadt acknowledges that divorce is sometimes necessary and that it is preferable for both prents to stay involved, she describes the lack of place and identity that the children of even "good divorces" experience. Her subjects describe how children feel incomplete at each parent's house because the other parent isn't there; how they often feel required to split themselves in two psychically in order to survive emotionally at each house; how even under the best of circumstances they feel unable to resolve within themselves the very differences that their parents couldn't resolve in the marriage. This isn't a book about divorce but about children and I'm glad that Marquadt gave them a voice.

I also finally read Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor and I'll just put it this way: I had dog-eared 8 pages before I finished the first couple of chapters. This is not really the story of leaving church entirely but the story of a gifted Episcopal priest examining her journey into vocational ministry, her wrenching burn-out, and her decision to exchange the pulpit for a secular teaching position. She captured me in the introduction when she writes that there are really only two stages of faith for the Christian: a cycle of finding life and losing life and then finding life again. There are the best descriptions of the hidden motivations and subtle manipulations of ministers that I have ever read, followed by a deeply poignant description of what it means to burn out in ministry that made me want to cry for all my brothers and sisters who find this path unbearably difficult and painful. In the end, she finds life again and finds it abundantly and I'm glad, but also sad. Sad that she had to find it away from the ministry that promised so much life, away from the worshipping community that she clearly loves, sad that the church that birthed her couldn't nourish her. I'll reread this book several times, I imagine, before it finally sifts through all my own ambivalence and settles in to my own rhythm of finding life and losing life and finding it again.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Stuff

I've spent the last 6 months sorting stuff, cleaning stuff, painting stuff, giving stuff away, selling stuff, packing stuff and moving stuff. Then I unpacked stuff, bought new stuff, cleaned more stuff, gave more stuff away, painted stuff, organized stuff, and decorated stuff.

I'm afraid that when I finally meet Him, Jesus will say to me, "What part of 'Don't store up treasures on earth' did you not understand?"

Saturday, July 14, 2007

My face hurts from smiling

Craig took me to hear Martina McBride in concert tonight. Not everyone knows this, but I am a big fan. Her music touches my heart and always, always makes me smile.

Surprised?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

I don't have time for this, but . . .

My to-do list tells me that I really don't have time to fiddle with my blog right now, but I'm hoping that a little writing will unstick my brain and unparalyze my spirit and free me up to do what I really need to be doing.

Which is getting ready for tomorrow night.

Which is the night I'm supposed to speak for the first time at MBC.

The women's ministry asked me back in the spring to do a retreat-type thing for them and I said okay. Asked how many we would have and they said 40 is a really good turn-out.

100 women have bought tickets to the thing tomorrow night. If I call the church secretary, I'll probably find out it's over that now. The fellowship hall won't even hold that many.

OK, so why do I feel like throwing up? I've spoken in front of groups that big and far bigger. I'm using material I've done before and really like. I feel passionate about my topic. I like these women. So . . . what's up?

Part of it is that every comment I hear just increases the pressure. The women's ministry committee is so excited because they've never had this kind of interest before and they keep saying, "You're such a draw! Everyone's coming to hear you!" I've heard, "My marriage is falling apart but I just keep thinking that if I can hold on til Friday night, I'll be okay." "My daughter-in-law isn't a Christian but I just keep thinking that if I can get her there Friday night, something might happen! Look for her, okay?"

You all know that I love being a pastor's wife, right? But this is the part that I don't love: people project so much onto you that there's no way to live up to their expectations. So this is the part where I remind myself that living up to other people's expectations isn't what I'm all about and that their disappointment isn't the worst thing that can happen.

So, what is the worst that can happen? Well, for one thing, we might all forget that God has some thoughts about what the night is supposed to be about and none of them begin and end with me! Another "worst" thing is that everyone could actually be impressed with some image of me and want to keep that little illusion going indefinitely. And here's what I heard way back in the back of my brain as I was walking today: "The worst thing that could happen is 100 women wanting to be my best friend." Which is another thing about being a pastor's wife that is hard for me.

So, now I've come full circle. Now I need to ask the corollary question, "What's the best thing that could happen?" Well . . . I'm thinking . . . the best thing that can happen is that we get to know each other a little better, that most of the women leave feeling encouraged and like maybe they know me a little bit better, and that God gets all the credit for such a relaxed and wonderful evening at church.

Am I unstuck? Maybe . . . I'll go work on my talk and see. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thanks, Dad, for everything

I spent the day today with my dad--a rare and lovely gift. He came over to see the house for the first time and to help me put shelves in the cubby above the computer. Most of you don't know my dad and that's a shame. I truly hope you at least know someone like him--thoughtful, humble, generous, wise.

For one thing, he knows how to do things like put up shelves. Mowgli and Boo still refer to him as "really, really smart." He's retired, which for him translates, "free to do things that have meaning and lasting value that you can't necessarily get paid for." He has ideals and values in the truest sense of the words and he works as hard as anyone I know to live up to them; he often looks confused when others don't. He's going to be really embarassed when he reads this post because he'll think of all the ways he's not who he wants to be, which says something important about who he is.

Like all of us, he's "wonderfully flawed" and I was immeasurably blessed to grow up to be his daughter.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Breaking in the house . . . literally

Finally just got rid of 21 teenagers and 6 adults and 1 toddler and 1 baby . . . It was such a blessing to see the house full (and I do mean full) of kids wanting to pray together and study together . . . and we are exhausted! The house survived, except for a broken back door, which a youth worker is coming back to repair. We're still not sure how it happened! I took the kids through a session of lectio divina and they actually seemed to enjoy it. (I think it was a lot shorter than the typical youth Bible study.) Pizza before and brownies after helps draw them in and builds community, but they seem to really crave the quiet and the prayer and the discussion. We feel blessed.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

15 years ago, at 9:53 p.m., the doctor held Boo up, almost Simba-style, wet and wailing, and I, having surrendered my contacts t0 the nurse at 7:00 that morning, asked, "What is it?" "It's a girl!" A girl! Throughout the pregnancy, I had imagined a boy--a little brother for Mowgli, two little boys playing together in the backyard, heads bent over the sandbox. A girl! Then suddenly: Well, of course she was a girl! And she's been my little girl--and now my big girl--ever since. Happy Birthday, Boo!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

New beginnings

As some of the crazy-busyness subsides, I'm back to reflecting on the questions that many of you have asked me and that I also ask myself. They seem to organize themselves around two big questions: "What does it mean to be a disciple--a follower of Jesus--in your new setting?" and "What do you want to do differently in the new place than you did in the old place?"

I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle the first question in writing just yet . . . the thoughts I have are "formless and void" right now--which, of course, is the perfect primordial soup for creation. But no "big bang" yet, so I'll set that aside for now.

The other question really grabs my attention because I'm such a sucker for new beginnings. I always LOVED New Years Day, the first day of school, the first day of summer, even Mondays! New Years Resolutions, new notebooks and newly sharpened pencils, turning the calendar to a new month or day--all opportunities for starting over fresh. I love it!

So I don't want to miss this opportunity to start over, to do things differently. Here are some things I know:

I want to focus more on the inside than the outside. I've spent my whole life trying to look right, act right. I've prayed more than once, "Lord, let me be the person people seem to think I am." I love my friend KC for one lifechanging moment: Shortly after the book came out, I was obsessing about my hair. (You women may understand the connection between these two things. The men probably won't.) Unfortunately for KC, I was obsessing out loud. I finally got it down to the bottom line: "I can't figure out if I look more credible with straight hair or curly hair." She turned around and looked at me straight in the eye and said in her lovely Tennessee twang, "Honey, if you're depending on your hair for credibility, you've got more problems than I can help you with."

Anyway, what I'm trying to say, is that I have this tendency to get lost in the external and the superficial and I'm trying to change. Here--in this new place--I want to remember that God looks on the inside, that there is always a danger of being a mile wide and an inch deep, that much of what I think matters doesn't. I want to be more prayerful, more reflective, more present, more real.

I want to focus more on authentic and intentional relationship and less on programming and scheduling. More being, less doing. More conversations and fewer lectures. More hospitality and less cocooning. I used to think that making disciples was about quality programming, usually involving a workbook and a speaker and refreshments. I now think that making disciples is more about community. I made the mental-model shift years ago, but couldn't always make the merry-go-round stop so that I could get off. Now I'm off, and I'm committing to not getting back on.

So, challenge me when you see me: Ask me who has been in my house lately, ask me who I've listened to, ask me if I'm having conversations with people who are nothing like me, ask me who I'm having coffee with who has nothing tangible to offer me in return.

I want to live a life of love. These are the scriptures that are calling to me these days: "Above all, live a life of love." "Nothing counts but faith expressing itself in love." "Love never fails." "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another." "Love your enemies."

I've relied more on looking like a loving person than actually being a loving person. (Thankfully, sometimes acting loving can be a path to the real thing!) My CPE supervisor said to me once, "You know how to impress people and you know how to help people. It's time to expand your repertoire." That stung, but it put me on a lifelong journey that now has me wanting to get serious about learning to love. I'm praying that God will enlarge my heart, making more room for the people he loves, helping me to be more about openness and softness and less about needing to control or to change.

I want to cook more and eat out less. That's also about being more reflective, more hospitable, but also just one of the wonderful advantages of being in a home again. I love home!

So, there you go . . . the best I can do with the questions that some of you are asking and the questions I'm asking myself. I hope you'll be able to find your own new beginnings . . .
Love to you all!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The bride wore white



and the minister wore blue! Here are two photos from the wedding--the first is watching the ring bearer (who was four) walk down the aisle. The second is with my sister during the reception.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Boo on the big day


See my beautiful girl! What you can't see is the bling around her neck, dangling from her ears, and in her hair. She was sparkly inside and out!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Two books

Two books I've read this month and really enjoyed:

The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog is the most interesting and readable book I have ever run across in mental health (with the exception of Mary Pipher's books, I guess). In this book, Bruce Perry, child psychiatrist, focuses on how trauma changes the functioning of the brain and disrupts normal development in dramatic ways. His case studies include the Branch Davidian children who left the Waco compound before the fire as well as other children who have been traumatized in ways that are, sadly, "normal." I was especially touched, though, by his passionate belief that trauma is best healed in loving, appropriately nurturing relationships, ie., "in community." Although this book's focus is on children, it helped me think in new and creative ways about the role of trauma in adult dysfunction and family dynamics.

I bought Take This Bread by Sara Miles because a reviewer said the author reminded her of Anne Lamott (so, of course, I bought the book the next day!) I'm such a sucker! Actually, though, I can see the comparison--Miles does a beautiful job of telling stories and then gleaning the wisdom out of them. Here's the plot-line: Miles is a left-wing revolutionary journalist who is also a chef, an atheist and a lesbian. Her spiritual quest eventually takes her into an Episcopalian church that is dedicated to offering the eucharist to all. She has a mystical experience with Jesus through the bread and the wine, then begins a food pantry to feed the hungry in the neighborhood surrounding the church. Her stories reflect on the importance of sharing food in spiritual community, the sometimes painful intersection of social ministry and established church, the difficulties of relationships across socioeconomic and cultural lines, and what it means that the gospel is for everyone. Here is one paragraph she writes about community and the food pantry:

" . . . It meant mistakes, sure, but also the opening up of genuine
participation to all kinds of people. We had homeless guys and women with
missing teeth and a couple who only spoke Tagalog come join us; a transsexual
with a thick Bronx accent, some teenagers, an ancient Greek woman from across
the street, and a dapper man from St. Gregory's choir who came and played the
accordion during the pantry. They were all people who, like me, had come
to get fed but had stayed to help out. Who, like me, took that bread and
got changed. We were all converting: turning into new people as we
rubbed up against one another."


Monday, June 25, 2007

Small miracles

Saturday night, I sat in a candlelit banquet room and watched small miracles emerge like stars popping out of a late evening sky:
  • My little sister, radiant and beautiful, and her tall and handsome groom, still glowing from the outdoor wedding just minutes before
  • My Baptist deacon father and my prefers-the-background mother dancing the first dance with the happy couple, significant because both learned to dance for the occasion, for no other reason than love for their daughter
  • Boo, making her debut as a glamour-girl, dressed in a still-on-sale-after-prom dress that she chose herself--royal blue--and lots of bling and even some mascara and lip gloss--having a wonderful time being a girl
  • My brother, whose life was not-too-long-ago sad and unstable, dancing to SuperFreak with his teenaged daughter (whose own life has gained stability since going to live with her dad--there's a miracle right there)--both of them looking happy and content
  • My other brother announcing that he has a new job as superintendent of the construction of a large apartment complex--go figure!
  • My uncle and his two college-aged daughters, their relationship recently ravaged by a wrenching divorce, dancing with abandon, enjoying every minute. My fifty-something uncle even break-danced for their benefit (I guess you never outgrow embarrassing your kids!)
  • My other uncle, having lost a teenaged son and his vivacious wife of almost 30 years, also on the dance floor in the arms of his new wife beaming up at him, both of them obviously happy despite multiple recent (and serious) health problems

Those of you who have prayed for my funny family (and some of you have for years)--thank you. The miracles of new beginnings, redemption, celebration, and love . . .

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Our end-of-week ritual is to watch Studio 60 together and, during the commercials, talk about what a funny, smart show it is, how much we like the characters, etc. Until we learned that it is being cancelled. Now we watch it together every week but during the commercials, we kvetch about what a stupid country this is, full of stupid people, who can't keep a funny, smart show like Studio 60 on the air for even one season.

To add insult to injury, at every commercial break, they advertise its replacement: a reality show called "Age of Love" in which a 30something hottie dates women in their 20s and their 40s and makes observations about the differences between younger and "older" women. At the end of the season, he will choose one of them to be his "lady"--and we all know that he'll narrow down the field to one young woman and one "mature" woman (who doesn't look like any of us look at her age)--and then he'll pick the young chick and talk about how hard it was to decide between them.

Meanwhile, Studio 60 isn't coming back and we are very, very, very sad.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Update

Good news, everyone--No philosophical musings in this post; just an update on things on this end. We took possession of the house on Saturday, a day early. We walked through it that afternoon and let Mowgli and Boo pick out their rooms. They are so ready to have their own rooms again and doors they can close, they can hardly stand it!

Sunday, I went to evening services and C came over to sit by me. I leaned over and said, "How was deacon's meeting?" and he said, "Really, really great." That felt like a small miracle!

This week, I'm focusing on painting, cleaning, buying all the miscellaneous stuff you have to buy for a new house (ie., our kitchen trash can doesn't fit under the sink here), even buying some really fun stuff (like a new TV!)

Saturday is moving day and I think almost all of the church will be on hand for the move, either bringing food or helping to move or driving the trucks or just coming out of curiosity. It's wonderful to have so much help.

So . . . that's the latest here. What's new with you?

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wednesday night I was standing in the hallway at church, waiting for Boo to get out of the youth group. I noticed another woman also waiting. She was shabbily dressed and disheveled and her front teeth were missing. I started to make small talk, asking if she was also waiting for a teenager.

She said no, that she was waiting for the teacher, who is also the deacon in charge of benevolence. Then she started sharing a hard-luck story that matched her appearance--jobs lost, government benefits delayed, health problems, and so on. You know, I immediately recognized the feelings that bubble up when I find myself in that situation--sympathetic but also from an uncomfortable emotional distance.

I had been asking God lately to enlarge my heart, to expand my capacity for love, and so I began to quietly pray and sure enough, my anxiety subsided and I listened to her story with more empathy, making all the right sympathetic noises and offering the occasional helpful response. Her story was not even a creative variation on the sad stories we hear over and over, but she was very nice, engaged, interesting. We chatted for about twenty minutes until the youth meeting let out.

That night, as I was going to sleep, I thanked the Lord for helping me to respond more lovingly to her, when a deep spiritual awareness brought me up short: love, or at least the beginnings of love, would have asked her about her family or what she enjoyed doing or how long she had been a church member or whatever questions I ask other people--less pitiful people--when I'm trying to make a connection or begin a friendship. Why didn't I do that with this woman? I was so disappointed when I realized that even though I am intentionally creating friendships right now, I never even for one moment thought of this woman as a potential friend or peer. That made me really sad.