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: (a young woman, Baptist minister in Washington D.C. who was in our college group in Waco) and (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.