Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The holidays were happy!

I hope your holidays were as happy as ours were this year. We were so thrilled to have Mowgli home--and still are! He is thriving at Guilford and it is so fun to hear the details trickle out over meals or while watching TV. And Boo got her grades today--all A's and B's, including Physics/Chemistry and geometry. To those of you who have walked with her and us all these years--she has had the biggest and best cheering section imaginable!

We spent three days in Houston with C's parents and brother and his family. I have to say, my mil is one of the most gracious people I've ever known and it's a joy to visit there. We visited, had barbecue and her world-famous au gratin potatoes (a fabulous Christmas dinner if you ask me), went bowling and, of course, made our pilgrimage to James Coney Island for hot dogs.

After a quick (I do mean quick) turnaround, we headed to Belton to be with my wonderful parents and sister and her husband and baby J. Mostly all we did was look at the baby, which was perfect entertainment. Oh, and we got a new camera--I'll be posting photos as soon as I figure out how it works! Mom and Dad dressed up as Santa and Mrs. Claus--I have the best parents--and we opened presents one at a time which was fun for everyone. Mom invented a game that required each recipient to guess what was in his present before it could be opened. We had lots of fun.

This year was also the year that it became evident that everyone is aging, particularly our 90-plus year old grandmothers. C's grandmother is almost completely unable to hear and misses out on a lot of the interaction. My grandmother is rapidly losing her memory--she is still a good conversationalist but it is evident that she's compensating and faking it quite a bit. Both still live alone and we hope they can for awhile longer still but it's clear that time is taking its toll.

We got to be here in Austin for Christmas Eve service and Christmas morning. Most of what Santa brought was low-key and practical--it's very different with older kids, isn't it? We had a wonderful time, though--also low-key, which is definitely what everyone needed. Now we're looking forward to a few days OFF before things get started back up next week.

(BTW, I noticed on sitemeter that my readership dropped last week from the regular 85 or so hits to 55--probably because I've been neglectful! I'll try to be more diligent about keeping up--I have lots to say!)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

And his name shall be called Emmanuel, which means "God with us."

Wishing you peace and joy for the season of Christmas and the new year.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All I want for Christmas

I want to be one of those Energizer bunny people, the kind that can keep going and going and going . . . I want to be just a little bit manic, you know--super-productive, full of energy, turning all my ideas into reality (okay, now that I think about it, that might not be such a good idea.)
Seriously, I want to live a life full of balance and rest and sanity and at the same time keep moving all the time getting everything done efficiently and then moving on to the next thing . . . all without sacrificing sleep or fun or play. Think Santa will deliver?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mowgli is home!

As I write this, he is downstairs trying to figure out how to mail the textbooks he sold online. In a minute, he'll bound up the stairs and ask my opinion or go in his room and close the door and play bass for awhile. Later, he'll want to have long philosophical conversations without actually telling me anything I really want to know. He may go listen to music at Stubb's or play ball with friends or hang out here. And any minute now, he'll be hungry again. It's wonderful!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Camera grief

This week our camera died. It was old--maybe not so much in calendar years, but in electronic gadget years it was ancient. Also, it wasn't technically the camera that died but the software. So you can take all the pictures you want, you just can't get them out of the camera.

Anyway, as I was still in the first stage of grief--denial--I got out the booklet that came with the camera (aren't you impressed that I could find it?!) and started looking through it for help and it hit me: there was so much more to this camera than I realized! All those buttons that I never pushed because I didn't know what they did? Well, it turns out that they were really useful!! All those night pictures I took in London that were blurry? They didn't have to be! The camera was smart enough to take fabulous photos--I just didn't pay attention enough to know how to do it and now it's too late.

Feels a lot like getting older. Here I am at mid-life (if I'm lucky) and I'm constantly being reminded to pay attention, to remember that there is so much more to life than is immediately evident, that it never hurts to push a few buttons and see what happens. I don't want to get to the end and realize that there was so much more that went untested, unlived, wasted.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Merry Christmas to Me!

OK, so C and I are in the bathroom getting ready, just chatting and visiting, thinking about all the details of the day ahead and I walk out of the bathroom and this is sitting on the bed, waiting for me:

Turns out that my sweet husband has been saving all his wedding and funeral money for more than six months to get me my very first laptop and he couldn't wait to give it to me for Christmas. Well, he says it's so that I would be able to either save up or use my Christmas money for all the things he couldn't get to go with it, but I know it was because he was too excited. Just a few days before, I had to come all the way home from work during a break just to check on an email from a client and not for the first time either. This will make my life so much less complicated. I feel so blessed by his sacrificial thoughtfulness. Thanks again, sweetie!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Considering Advent

I want to respond to pb's comment on the last post. I also grew up in a tradition "devoid of liturgy" and wasn't exposed to Advent until I was an adult.

I have to start by saying that I observe Advent completely wrong. People who really understand Advent would be pretty much appalled at how much Christmas seeps into my Advent-keeping. It's a little bit like the Advent calendars we had as kids--they were mostly a countdown to Christmas.

For purists, Advent and Christmas are kept strictly separate. Advent begins 4 Sundays before Christmas and is a time of waiting. The mood is somewhat somber, the hymns are all in a minor key. Churches reflect this by keeping the sanctuary bare--no poinsettias, no trees or lights or decorations--and no Christmas carols or Christmas sermons. The signature Scriptures for Advent are from Isaiah; the patron saint is John the Baptist. The idea is that we identify with God's people through the centuries, waiting for redemption, longing for Messiah, and suffering as they waited.

In the old days in the old country, people bought their Christmas trees on Christmas Eve--ever noticed that in a lot of the old movies? Also, this is the reason for "Midnight Mass"--At midnight, Jesus is born and Christmas has come! Now is the time for carols and decorations and celebration. In some traditions, everyone goes home from church and eats a huge celebratory breakfast and then they all go to bed and wait for St. Nicklaus. These were also the days of the "12 Days of Christmas," which are actually on the church calendar and not just part of a silly song, and not the contemporary "12 hours before I have to go back to work after Christmas."

Of course, many churches and most Christians fudge on all of this. We go ahead and start the Christmas carols and sermons on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving, and honestly, I like it that way--it helps put all the stress and fun of the prolonged Christmas season in context for me. When our kids were younger, we would light the candles every night but after a few false starts, we focused on different aspects of the Christmas story (not much from Isaiah.) As the kids got older, they prepared their own devotions. We would pray and sing a carol or two and look at the Christmas tree and talk quietly.

Personally, I like the prolonged celebration of Christmas at church and with the kids. But in my own devotional life, I try to settle in around the themes of Advent: hopeful waiting, the "now-and-the-not-yet," anticipating redemption, suffering in the absence of Christ. I use the devotional guide Watch for the Light but this year, I was so looking forward to Nancy Guthrie's new devotional for evangelicals, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. Unfortunately, it seems to be sold out (or never delivered) to the stores around here and by the time I get it from Amazon, Advent will be over. I've just learned about a new resource--a free Advent devotional guide at www.bgct.org/baptistwaypress. And pb, I'm giving you a booklet that my friend gave me--I hope you enjoy it.

So, all this to say that my observance of Advent is completely in error--I do it all wrong--and yet, it has blessed me as much as anything I can think of. Sounds like God at work, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Catching up

I know, I know, it's been more than a week since I've written anything. I just don't have anything to say right now. (All of you laughing your heads off . . . stop it right now!! I mean it! I'm not kidding!)

Thanksgiving was busy and bustling, pretty much like every other Thanksgiving at my parents' house, except that this year we have Baby J. (Pictures to come, I promise.) It's so sweet to hold a new baby, especially one that still curls up in a tiny ball a la in utero, especially one that isn't yours to get up with at 3 a.m.! The group that gathers at my folks' every other Thanksgiving is amiable and easy to be around but not particularly close knit. We catch up and eat (the food is the most amazing--I'm sorry, yes, it's better than the food at your Thanksgiving) and then some chat, some watch football, some go outside and play, some play games at the table.

Mowgli wasn't with us this year--too expensive to bring him home. He ended up going home with his friend, his next-door neighbor on his hall. He called us on Thanksgiving morning to say that the Atlantic Ocean was right out the front door, that they had been on the beach all morning so far. So I think he is doing fine. I wanted to remind him to make his bed, take a gift, be sure to say thank you . . . but I didn't. I keep reminding myself that he's an adult--and it doesn't make me cry anymore! He'll be home for a month on Dec. 10.

I'm working a lot--with everything put together, it's definitely 40 hours. This is a blessing but I also find myself resisting the new demands on my time and, especially, on my heart. And I continually find myself amazed by how much time and energy it takes to be a pastor's wife. I don't know why I keep forgetting this.

So I'm a little depleted . . . and therefore so grateful for Advent this year. The hopeful waiting, the quiet reflection, the stillness amidst the chaos. I have a little booklet my spiritual director gave me and then the old standby Watch For the Light. What are you doing (or not doing) for Advent this year?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Everyone, meet Brene Brown. Brene, this is everyone.

For some time, I've been wanting to introduce you to one of my new heroes, Brene Brown. Brene is a shame researcher at the University of Houston and is the author of I Thought It Was Just Me: Women Reclaiming Power and Courage in a Culture of Shame. She was the reason I was in Houston a few weekends ago for a two-day workshop on shame and resilience. Anyway, I finally found a brief piece from Brene's blog that I think will give you a taste of why I find her work so fascinating. Here it is--enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


  • Our friend in Iraq finds out that he will not be coming home for Christmas as scheduled a year ago when he left home. In fact, his stay in Iraq is now indefinitely extended. He responds with frustration but also characteristic grace, saying, "If you want to be someone the organization needs, you have to be there when they need you."
  • Another dear friend--a kindergarten teacher in a low-income, inner city school, stays late at night to help with a "reading lock-in" so that children in her school can associate fun with reading and school. When I marvel at her dedication, she says, "The children really need this."
  • Many, many friends are turning to www.adventconspiracy.org this year for inspiration in seeing Christmas differently--as an opportunity to forego gifts to each other and give to meet the needs of "the least of these" around the world.

I've been thinking a lot about sacrifice lately. Last week, JTH, founder of Faithwalking, reminded us that one difference between an organization and a movement is sacrifice. Louie Giglio used to always remind us at Passion that passion can be measured by the level of sacrifice that we are willing to make for the thing we are passionate about.

I look at my own life. I get paid well to do what I love and so does my husband. We live in a beautiful, comfortable home. We have plenty of time for rest and fun. Our children have everything they want (granted, they are very easily contented!) We almost never face opposition and we never face persecution. It's easy for us to worship at the altars of convenience and comfort, power and influence, approval.

So what does sacrifice mean for us? The dictionary definition says that sacrifice means giving up one thing for another thing considered to be of greater value. It's hardest for me to give up time and I often hang on to it selfishly. It's also hard for me to give up money, but not nearly as hard as time. But too often, the thing of greater value that I seek is actually second-rate--the approval of someone else, say, or a place at the table of influence or the ability to think well of myself.

Jesus said repeatedly that the Kingdom of God is worth every sacrifice that might be asked of us. That's hard for me to imagine sometimes. The Kingdom often feels like a vague ideal, like World Peace or Santa. It takes intentional mental discipline to see it differently . . . and then as soon as I think I've glimpsed it, it's gone again.

I don't intend to go out looking for random sacrifices to make in the name of some noble quest. But I am trying to keep my eyes open, to see the places where sacrifice might be called for, to reject the assumption that my preferences and comfort are the most important value at stake. The spiritual disciplines help with that. So does the intentional giving of time and money to things and people I care about, especially when I try to consciously remember why I'm doing it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

When Mowgli was a baby, our pediatrician was a woman. When he was about 4, I took him to a different doctor and used the word "he" to prepare him for the appointment. He rolled his eyes and said, "Mommy! BOYS can't be doctors!"

It occurs to me that a very young child today could go through his whole childhood while Obama is still president. Will he wonder what all the fuss was about? Will he just take it for granted that presidents can be black? Will it seem strange to him if Obama's successor is white? Just thinking . . .

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Baby J is here!

Isn't he beautiful? Mom (my sister) and Dad and baby are all doing well.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A moment of silence

OK. It's over. Now let's all stop talking. Stop analyzing, chattering, accusing, pontificating, predicting. Stop blathering, punditing, jesting, and boasting. Let's all just be quiet. Shhhhhh.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get me

As a counselor, I'm interested in how people feel. But, honestly, I'm more intrigued by how they think. As this election has gotten closer, I've spent too much time reading editorials, looking at message boards and discussion threads online, and listening to people talk--just paying attention to how they are thinking (not so much what, but how) about the issues and the candidates.

It's pretty clear that there are ideologues on both sides. Both sides can be black-and-white in their thought processes and wildly inconsistent in their reasoning. Both sides seem to be equally likely to call names, insult their opponents, and assume the worst. Both sides need to work on spelling and grammar. But, just from listening, I'd say that one side seems to have cornered the market on conspiracy theories and paranoid beliefs and that worries me.

When so many people seem to move beyond disagreeing on the issues and take up bizarre speculations, I don't know how we will come together behind a new leader. It's one thing to say, "I think Obama's wrong on _____" (and we all do disagree with something, I'd wager.) It's another thing to say, as a member of the state board of education did, that he will cooperate with America's enemies to instigate a major terrorist attack and then impose martial law to take over the country. It's one thing to question Obama's experience or policy. It's something else to assume that serving on a board with William Ayers (or even being a political acquaintance with him) makes him a Vietnam-era terrorist sympathizer. Also, which is it? Is he a middle-Eastern terrorist sympathizer or a domestic terrorist sympathizer? Is he a Muslim (as 25% of Texans believe) or is he a follower of a dangerous Christian preacher? Can ALL the conspiracy theories be true? I know people personally who genuinely and literally believe he is the antichrist.

I don't believe for a second that most Obama opponents oppose him for these reasons--most are rational people who have sincere disagreements with the Democratic party-- but enough do to make me despair that we can ever come together enough to work for America's future. Every four years, some Americans say, "I think this is the wrong choice but I accept him as my president." I don't think anyone will say, "I believe he is a Muslim terrorist who hates America but I will support him as my president." John McCain just implored us to offer the new president our "good will and our earnest efforts." I hope we find a way to do just that.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hearing the other side

Remember when I said that I just wanted to hear from one of the people who got us in this mess? Well, here it is--a terrific article that gives us just a tiny window into the thinking of a Wall Street money man. The part that made me draw in my breath just a bit too sharply:

After he was forced to fire his 60-person staff eary this year, shortly before he was fired himself, he played with his toys for a couple of months--his cars, his boat, his collection of 10 Les Paul guitars. "I just bought Slash's signature Les Paul guitar," he says excitedly. "Look, I lost 50 grand at Lehman. I'm not going to deny myself a $3000 guitar." In fact, he also recently bought a Piper plane. "The day after I was fired, I was like, 'F--- it, I'm going to get a plane,'" he says.

I've said--and I mean--that I have no problem with people making lots of money, especially if they have taken risks or made investments or invented something really useful or somehow added value to the world. I still, though, don't understand why the executives of these failed companies "deserve" their obscene salaries--they aren't inventors, they aren't entrepreneurs, they are employees hired to do a job. Why does the CEO of Lehman Brothers deserve $22 million this year? Why does the CEO of Goldman Sachs get $54 million? The CEO of Boeing--which made a $4 billion profit this year, by the way--gets "only" $13 million. Meanwhile, the earnings of the middle class have dropped every year for the last seven. How does any of this make sense? And why are we not madder?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tim, we really miss you.

How are we supposed to have an election without Tim Russert? We need him and his marker board to tell us about the results.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Is it a full moon?

Maybe it's Halloween. I don't know. Tuesday, one client no-showed. Wednesday, two clients no-showed and one showed up at the wrong time. Today, one client no-showed and then I no-showed! I'm thinking maybe we should all go back to bed.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

In case you were wondering . . .

. . . the lunch went fine. The icky parts were that the other minister talked too much and that he introduced me as "a licensed professional counselor gal." But there was an upside: I had the best spinach salad I've ever had and I met a nice woman who I'll probably never see again. But no, the project isn't going to go forward and I've decided that there are some people I probably just shouldn't work with.

Happy Fall

Isn't this an incredible picture of fall? I found this photo on another favorite blog www.messythrillinglife.blogspot.com and wanted to share it. Brin, the blogger, lives in East Texas and I'm assuming that's where this photo was taken. Water, and streams and rivers in particular, have been a powerful spiritual symbol for me for years. I want to step into this photo and follow the stream and see where it takes me.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Making things more complicated than they have to be

I got a phone call earlier this week from the counseling minster at a big-steeple church in our part of town. He told me about a project he was working on and an upcoming lunch meeting with a woman in our area who may be able to take the project to the next level. I thought he was about to say, "I know from our conversation at the Marriage Summit that you are interested in this project so I'd love for you to join us." What he actually said was, "Our church has a policy that we don't meet with women alone and so I was hoping you would come to the meeting to be the third person at the table."

I'm vibrating with frustration. I'm frustrated that I said yes. I'm frustrated that he couldn't just talk to me like a professional colleague (his subsequent email said, "Thanks for helping me stay above reproach"). I'm frustrated that I'm not going to call him out on it.

Sarah Palin's emergence on the political stage has held up a fascinating mirror to our culture and to women. I have shuddered when foreign dignitaries from countries unfriendly to women leer at her during photo ops. I was repulsed when a gross old man in Alaska said to a reporter, "If she wasn't married, I'd definitely bang her." I get irritated when young men talk about how they will vote for her because "she's hot." I've been encouraged by conservative women's willingness to embrace her as a working mom and I've been disheartened by liberal women questioning the same.

I've also been intrigued by the nation's response to her overt femininity. Hillary Clinton is derided sometimes as a "strident" feminist and ridiculed for her wrinkles and her pantsuits and other reminders that she is an "older" (meaning, post-feminine) woman (although I think she also garners respect from women for the same thing.) Condoleeza Rice is widely respected but is portrayed as asexual, which seems to put everyone at ease. (Last winter, when she was photographed wearing high-heel knee boots, you would have thought she had taken up pole dancing!)

So here is a woman who is young, beautiful and knows how to use her feminine power. Men all over America think she winked directly at them during the debates. As Amy Poehler observed, when she is backed into a political corner, she becomes "even more adorable." Being a PTA mom (a form of community leader, by the way) is suddenly taken seriously by many. I think that's an improvement. I'm interested to see where this all takes us.

So, back to my lunch today with a secular professional woman in business and a well-intentioned ministry guy. If I get there and realize that I'm part of the team and that the project will go forward, it will be a win for everyone. If I realize, though, that I'm just there as a chaperone, I'll cut my losses and move on.

I'm working to get the chip off my shoulder. As a wife and as a Christian protecting my own integrity, I appreciate his commitment to avoiding temptation and/or avoiding compromising appearances. I just wish that these guys didn't bring it up every time--and I do mean every time--we have a conversation, especially since we have only met in public conference rooms and lobbies. It implies that there is something illicit about our working together and reactivates the archaic Christian view of women as "temptresses." Surely we can do better from both ends. And, I really do believe that if I'm not willing to talk with him directly about it, I'm not allowed to hold on to all this resentment. That's passive-aggressive and unfair. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I've been waiting forever for Emily Giffin's new book Love the One You're With--got it from the library yesterday and just now finished it. I have thoroughly enjoyed all her books and am mostly sad now that there won't be another one for awhile. Like Elizabeth Berg, Giffin has an uncanny way of describing how normal people feel but don't know they feel until they read it in a sentence.

Now, this is not literary fiction, since literary fiction is mostly about tortured, neurotic people. But it's not "chick lit" either (well, especially Berg)--just real writing about real women (or women that seem real and make you wish they were real). This is the hardback printed version of comfort food--fried chicken and mashed potatoes and watermelon--eaten with friends, laughing in somebody's den . . .

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

This is more like it!

I have 15 clients scheduled for this week and it looks like 15 for next week, too. That's three short of my ideal but two over my "minimum acceptable." This feels like a place of momentum, like maybe the place where the fly wheel takes over. I also have several lunch meetings coming up having to do with connecting with people who may help form vision community for future projects (two lunches in one day, actually, not to be confused with C who once had two dates in one night. Before we were married. But I digress . . . )

So, slightly less than one year after I signed the lease on my office, I seem to be getting there. I've talked to everyone in town that anyone has told me to talk to. I've been to meetings, joined coalitions, attended summits, served on panels, and learned my way around Austin. Even better, I've met some terrific people and had a chance to see what God is doing in this "weird" city. And as far as I know, my friends in Houston have forgiven me and still love me. This is good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

NOT a political post, really

This is from the comments section of a post made on one of my favorite blogs: www.peacebang.com. The commenter's username is janeybird and I have no idea if this is original with her or not. Also, this is not intended to be nor should it be read as political commentary. Instead, I'm interested in how it surfaces some implicit assumptions we have about race and class. Here it is:

Ponder the following:
What if the Obamas had paraded five children across the stage, including a three month old infant and an unwed, pregnant teenage daughter?
What if John McCain was a former president of the Harvard Law Review?
What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?
What if McCain had only married once, and Obama was a divorcee?
What if Obama was the candidate who left his first wife after a severe disfiguring car accident?

What if Michelle Obama was the wife who not only became addicted to pain killers but also acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?
What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?
What if Obama had been a member of the Keating Five?
What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?
What if Obama couldn’t read from a teleprompter?
What if Obama was the one who had military experience? What if that included discipline problems and a record of crashing seven planes?
What if Obama was the one who was known to display publicly, on occasion, a serious anger management problem?
What if Michelle Obama’s family had made their money from beer distribution?
What if the Obamas had adopted a white child?

Again, take off your political hat and put on your sociological one (you do have a sociological hat, don't you? Sheesh . . . ) and it's an interesting and thought-provoking exercise.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Mowgli is home!

We're so happy! Our house is noisy this week. We're so quiet with him gone but when he's home, he shakes the house playing his bass and he bounds down the stairs with big thumps and he calls in his deep voice from room to room and it's wonderful!

For those of you who know him, you'll be happy to know that he loves Guilford--loves the challenge of it, loves the opportunity to know his professors (which he's obviously taken full advantage of), loves the independence. His grades are good (I was ready to talk about whether he needs to drop his physics class since he had mentioned how hard he was struggling with it, but no, he's doing great) and he has lots of friends. We're just so happy for him.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This poem is beautiful and haunting and heartbreaking and you must read it if you have any little girls in your life, even if (especially if) your little girl is almost a grown woman now or if you have any compassion for all the little girls everywhere who never have a chance.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Narrowing it down (part 3)

Here's my last post about the books I read this year. Someone has pointed out that I don't actually read that much in my field and in a sense, that's true. I have a large stack of books that I'm currently skimming and even more that I use for research and I have a favorite journal (The Psychotherapy Networker) but I'm not typically reading books in counseling/psychology. A few exceptions: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog was terrific for professionals and lay readers alike. The author, who was the psychiatrist who treated the Branch Davidian children as well as other notable traumatized children, explores the role of trauma in the child development. Revisiting Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Golman was also important to me this year--and it is as interesting and as relevant as it was when it came out more than a decade ago. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Jamison was given to me by a client who said that it described her struggle with bipolar disorder perfectly and I can see why. And all the books I read about marriage were excellent--I'm not sure why I didn't list them. Anyway, the Marriage Makeover by Joshua Coleman is great for partners who are staying in unhappy marriages that are unlikely to change (for example, for the children or for religious reasons) and How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It by Love and Stosny is also excellent.

All the rest of the books I enjoyed fit no particular category, so I'll just give them their own random paragraph. Parting the Waters: The King Years by Taylor Branch was fascinating to me. I wish it had been shorter and more concise but the parts that were powerful were really powerful: the spiritual dimensions of the civil rights movement, the factions within the movement and the leadership King had to provide in the midst of that, the stories of brutality I had never heard, the "behind the scenes" of the "I Have A Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial. Lincoln's Melancholy was another historical book that I would have rather read in a condensed version but was a fascinating description of Lincoln's likely depressive illness and the way his culture and his personality gave him the tools to rise above it. Also, The Year of Living Biblically was fun and interesting: What would it be like to follow the Old Testament law perfectly, to the letter, for a year? It made me deeply grateful for grace. A beautiful book given me by a dear friend is The Beautiful Ache by Leigh McLeroy--definitely the kind of book that has to be reread before it can be fully absorbed. Two more challenged me spiritually: Live the Life by Bill Hull (see my review here) continues to challenge me, as does Amish Grace, which explores the Amish school shooting and the subsequent forgiveness as a response made possible by the consistency of Amish culture.

As you know, I love to read. Reading nourishes me, entertains me, challenges me and transforms me. I'll try to keep the recommendations coming.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

This quote from Richard Rohr meant far more to me than the debate results:

Jesus and Francis (of Assisi) had no pragmatic agenda for social reform.
They just moved outside the system of illusion, more ignoring it than fighting
it, and quite simply doing it better.

Don't waste any time
dividing the world into the good guys and the bad guys. Hold them both
together in your own soul
--where they are anyway--and you will have held
together the whole world.

You will have overcome the great
divide--in one place of spacious compassion. You, little you, will have
paid the price of redemption. God takes it from there . . .

Two kinds of people

I think an election year spotlights one thing: that there are people who are aware of their prejudices and people who aren't. I find myself seeing my candidate more favorably than the other candidate, even when they are doing the same thing. I think, "Well, my candidate wouldn't have done that if his opponent hadn't done it first." I am more outraged when the other party does slimy, outrageous things. I have a different name for it when my party does them. In fact, they don't usually seem slimy or outrageous at all.

Social psychology has consistently shown this. When football fans are shown tape of a game, they overwhelmingly notice the unfair calls against their team and rarely notice the equally unfair calls against the other team. When poor tippers are given an opportunity to comment on other poor tippers' habits, they justify their own behavior and condemn that of others.

It's indisputable that this is what happens during an election. How else to explain the way that sincere voters, who describe themselves as "objective," almost always shake out along party lines when they are asked to evaluate a debate or a campaign commercial? And voters who say they're undecided? Actually, we can predict with almost 100% certainty how they will actually vote just by looking at a scan of their brains. The primitive, emotional part of our brains know how we will vote before we do.

So, it seems that the best we can do is to be aware of our prejudices, our mental models, our distorted lenses and learn to take them out, look at them from different angles, evaluate their ultimate truthfulness as best we can and listen to people who differ from us. Especially that.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Just in case you thought $700,000,000,000 was a lot of money

700 billion dollars is only 7 percent of the US national debt, which is now $9.8 trillion.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Narrowing it down (part 2)

Today's book list will come from the category: fiction. Someone asked me if I buy all the books I read and the answer is "no way!" I get almost all the fiction I read from the library. Even Half-price Books would be too pricey, I think. Our library system allows you to request the books you want, so even bestsellers make their way to you eventually.

I read or reread three series this past year or so and they are all favorites. In order of "favorite-ness," the Mitford series (Jan Karon), the Harmony series (Philip Gulley) and the Yada Yada Prayer Group series (Neta Jackson.) All three series are now completed, which means no more installments to look forward to.

As for stand-alone fiction, Mowgli gave me A Thousand Splendid Suns (Khaled Hosseini) for my birthday last year and it took me awhile to work up the courage to read it. Like his previous book The Kite Runner, it was heartbreaking because its setting, Afghanistan, is heartbreaking. The characters in this one are even more poignant and unforgettable, probably because they are women. It took me weeks to completely recover from this book; at the same time, it is hopeful and inspiring, too.

I also really enjoyed Digging to America (Anne Tyler) and East of Eden (John Steinbeck). I also enjoyed reading all of Kaye Gibbons' books (they're shorter than average). The Preservationist (David Mains) was hilarious and interesting and I'm looking for more from him. The Shack (William Young) may have to have its own post.

Boo and I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (a childhood favorite of mine) together and we read the final installment of the Harry Potter series (I thought it was a winner, but I love the whole series, so I'm biased.) Reading with Boo is a joy . . . her dyslexia makes it necessary, but her enthusiasm for reading makes it a blessing.

It makes me sad to read back through the titles of novels I know I enjoyed but now don't really remember. I guess that for me, reading fiction is an in-the-moment experience. I wish I remembered more about them, though. Does anyone else have that experience?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Church wars

I'm loving this: http://www.collegehumor.com/picture:1830811

I don't understand

I spend a lot of my time working to understand people--to understand how they see things, what motivates them, how they feel, how our lives overlap. I'm often called to try to understand things that defy understanding: child abuse and addiction and mental illness and the deep places of rage and despair. I try really hard and people tell me I come pretty close. "I feel understood" is one of the greatest compliments a client can pay me.

But this I don't understand: how smart and capable men can knowingly destroy their own country's economy while stuffing their own pockets, how they can continue to gorge on their own obscene excess even after their greed has been exposed, how they seem to have no remorse. I am sick and tired of hearing economists and pundits on the news. I want to see just one CEO or CFO come on TV and tell us his point of view. I just want to hear him describe what this is like for him, how he feels about it now, how he sleeps at night. Does he feel any remorse? What was he thinking? I just want to hear it from him.

Don't get me wrong. Wealth itself is not the evil here; greed is. When someone risks their money in the stock market and it goes their way, they should make money. When someone risks their own capital to start a business or create a product, they should walk away with the gains if their idea works. I have no problem with Bill Gates being the richest guy in the US. But corporate executives are employees hired to do a job. How is it that they walk away with obscene amounts of money--even if they fail? That can only be about a greedy form of cronyism and an insanely inflated sense of self.

What I don't understand most is the lack of concern for the common good. Before I voted for the first time, my father gave me a brief but memorable talk about how important it was to vote for people and policies that would benefit the country, not just those that would benefit me and people like me. So . . . I don't understand.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Asking a favor

Hi, everyone--I need a favor. I've put a few posts onto a new blog and I'd really appreciate it if you'd go over there, look around and then (1) leave me a few comments on that blog that make it look like people are actually reading it (NOT personal comments to me) and (2) actually read it and let me know (via email or comment on this blog) what you think. Can you tell what the purpose of the blog is? Do you have ideas for it? Do you know how to actually navigate the secret workings of wordpress and will you share your special knowledge with me? (Wordpress is a lot harder than blogspot, that's all I have to say.) Thanks for your help!

New blog is: http://www.austinmarriage.wordpress.com/

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Update on Ike

This is a photo of Ike, taken in Clear Lake by someone who didn't evacuate (obviously). C went to Houston this week to check on his parents and grandmother. They live in the northwest part of town and still don't have power. Neither does Mamaw, who lives on the east side near the ship channel.

They all went over to Mamaw's house to check out the damage (mostly a large tree that fell from a neighbor's yard and is blocking her front door) and clean out the refrigerator/freezers.

Then he went out to Clear Lake, delivered some milk and produce to friends and then drove by our old house and church. He said that most houses look mostly undamaged but that there is debris piled 6 feet high all along the streets. Traffic lights are still askew, blown sideways by the high winds. Many trees and fences are down or damaged. Quite a few businesses were open but didn't have everything in stock. He talked with our friends who did have catastrophic damage; they are still waiting to see what will happen next.

To really get a feel for what things are really like, read this blog, written by my friend Robert, who is the pastor at a "sister church" in the Clear Lake area. I think he captures the in-the-moment-ness of the aftermath.

Narrowing it down

Several of you have told me that the list of books on the sidebar is overwhelming and asked me to recommend a few. So . . . you're right, the list is overwhelming and I'm not even sure where to start.

I know that I have really enjoyed reading spiritual memoir this year and so I will start with that genre. I loved Take This Bread by Sara Miles and have reread it twice since the summer of last year (I remember when I first read it because we were living in the one-bedroom/study apartment before we moved into this house.) Sara was a non-religious liberal radical who found a relationship with Jesus when she participated in the eucharist at a progressive Episcopal church near her home in San Francisco. Out of gratitude for being "fed" spiritually, she began to feed people literally, giving away food and starting food pantries. This book reads like Traveling Mercies (a favorite), although it is a little less whiny and occasionally a little more preachy. Her understanding of how the church is supposed to work is breathtakingly inspiring and her description of how the church actually does work will make you nod knowingly.

OK, so what else . . . I also enjoyed Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. In this book, she weaves together the story of the tragic death of her husband and her ministry as a chaplain. Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor has also stayed with me this year. Beautifully written with Taylor's characteristic depth, it was also sad for me because it so poignantly describes the way that we leave our ministers empty and burned-out and the way they want to please us so much that they let us. eat pray love by Elizabeth Gilbert was a trip--literally! It's a fun and sometimes thought-provoking travelogue-meets-spirituality book by an extraordinarily self-absorbed author. But as you read, you get to visit Italy, an ashram in India and a guru in Indonesia and I enjoyed the ride.

And I know you might think it's cheesy but I really, really, really liked The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, especially after I saw the video he made for Oprah and then the piece that Diane Sawyer did after his death. It touched me in a deep place and I keep going back to it.

So that's all for now. I'll choose another genre tomorrow and try again. I hope it's helpful.

A tale of two candidates

Both presidential candidates made their first truly executive decisions this last month in choosing their running mates. One chose someone who makes him better, who has additional expertise, knows things he doesn't know, complements his weaknesses and can help him govern. And one didn't.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


Yesterday I saw 5 clients in 6 hours, which beats the record for clients seen in one day since we moved. (The previous record, set in Houston, TX, was ten.) I have twelve clients scheduled for the week (9 down, 3 to go), which is also a record for me in Austin. This is good news because it means that things continue to move forward and may have reached a tipping point.

It took much longer for me to build this practice than I imagined it would when we moved. I've done a good job of meeting people and then meeting the people that they suggest I meet and then the people that they suggest I meet and so on but the referrals were slow coming in. I now have about 25 clients referred from more than 15 sources and my name-recognition is definitely improving. Also, I have two events coming up that should showcase my ministry and lead to more referrals. And, thankfully, I've kept all but one of the clients who have come to see me (and I really think I'll hear from the one soon.)

Yesterday, I was happy to see that my stamina was still intact since I hadn't seen clients back-to-back since moving here. I have to say, too, that having a lighter load was a blessing--I've been doing some of the best work of my career, partly because I've had the time and emotional energy for it.

Since moving here, I've often prayed, "Lord, I know there are people here in Austin who need the ministry I have to offer. But you have to help them find me!" It appears that prayer is being answered and I'm grateful.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We definitely like this side of evacuating better

The good part was having so many friends from the Gulf coast to Austin show up in church on Sunday and the wonderful, surprising time we got to have together. The bad part was sitting on the sofa with our friends-like-family who rode out the storm at our house and watching TV as the bad news from home and our anxiety mounted in tandem.

The good part was that almost everyone reported less-than-catastrophic damage--beautiful trees down and no power for days on end but no one hurt and homes mostly intact. The bad part was learning that several dear friends and family had severe damage to their homes due to rising water and falling trees.

Now everyone from Austin has returned to Clear Lake and we're getting updates by the hour as people work to rebuild their own lives and, especially, the lives of others more devastated by the storm.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The offer still stands

If you're running from Ike, we're happy to have you here in Austin. Just give us a call!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Today I declared two marriages dead or dying. This is most painful part of my job. It happens so rarely that to have it happen twice in one day--and in back-to-back sessions--felt brutal. Every time I do this, I flash back to my days as a chaplain, sitting with the family beside the bed of a dying loved one. Everyone knew it was about to end, although no one knew exactly when or how and everyone's reaction was different. A dying marriage feels very similar to me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

We might as well get this over with . . .

Well, everyone, what do we think about Sarah Palin? She's clearly charismatic and engaging and intelligent and interesting--exciting to see in any political candidate and especially in a female candidate. She's tough, too--tough enough to handle the snarkiness required by the VP nominee, so that the top of the ticket can keep his hands (mostly) clean. She's mostly an unknown and untested politician and so it will be exciting to watch as she tests herself and finds out what she's capable of. I wish her well.

What interests me even more, though, is the cultural reaction to her candidacy. We have progressive and liberal women expressing deep concern about her children, wondering how she will devote enough time to them, angry that she is exposing them to the public eye while conservative and traditional women cry, "Sexism!" It's enough to give you whiplash!

Speaking of the divide between liberal and conservative, I was sad to see the almost universally-held liberal opinion that Christian conservatives would turn on her and eat her alive once they found out her daughter was pregnant. Now, let's be honest--if she had been a liberal candidate, they would have--but in general, conservative women can be wonderfully compassionate and Christian women can be full of grace, especially toward individuals (as opposed to classes of people.)

And, of course, almost everyone feels compelled to comment on how pretty she is--I've even heard the word "hot"more than once--unless they are ridiculing her hair, her glasses, her outfits, whatever. It reminded me immediately of the conservative pundit who said derisively about Hillary that no one wanted to watch a woman get old in the White House (never mind that he was supporting a 72-year-old man).

It's funny and sad how this has resurrected the "mommy wars," although everyone seems to have switched sides. I heard one Democratic woman say that it was fine for her to want to be VP but that she should have waited until her children were older. How often do you think you get the chance to be VP in one lifetime? If you're a woman, I think, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

The good news, of course (and it is really, really good news) is that Sarah Palin gets to have her chance, just like anyone else. We now have two candidates who can show what they have done and two candidates who will show what they can do. That's exciting to me.

From the beginning of this campaign (which began in the fall of 2004 at the Democratic National Convention as far as I'm concerned), I've been less interested in what the candidates think and more interested in how they think. So for this election, we are choosing between someone who is complex and nuanced (unless you see it as wishy-washy and elitist) and someone who is firm and courageous (unless you see it as stubborn and cavalier.) It has little to do with age or color or gender or even ideology but with something deeper and something rarely examined: how we see the world, how we filter our experiences, how we label what we feel but can't always articulate. That fascinates me at least as much as the campaigns do, which is to say, ALOT.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sometimes I wonder if my relationship with God is growing nostalgic, like visiting someone I used to love.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


That is the sound of me keeping my mouth shut and not blogging about politics. For now.

A different perspective

Sacrifice is not giving up something to get something you want more. Sacrifice is the art of drawing energy from one level and reinvesting it at another level."
--Robert Johnson

Sunday, August 31, 2008


So now all the people who were trying to convince us that Barack Obama isn't experienced enough to be president (a fair criticism) are insisting without a hint of irony that Sarah Palin is. It reminds me of Clinton's critics who were shrieking about how a politician's immorality made him unfit to hold public office until Newt Gingrich got caught with his pants down and then, nary a peep, except the occasional half-apologetic use of the word "unfortunate."

(I'm positive that the hypocrisy works the other way, but right this minute I can't think of an example.)

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Need a home away from home?

If you're in Gustav's path and need a place to stay, let us know--we have room! You can email me at myfirstnamemylastname@austin.rr.com. (Obviously, that's not a real email address--you'll have to modify it yourselves.) We'd be happy to have you. Keeping our fingers crossed . . . take good care of yourselves and your families.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

I'm tired but it's a good kind of tired

My mom and I worked all day today and at the end of the day (believe it or not, by 4:00), we had made 36 meals to put in the freezer! (Thanks, mom!!) I wanted to take a picture to post here but I was too tired. Anyway, maybe we have a chance now to actually eat at home more often, even if it is just the three of us (or maybe because it is just the three of us.) We made taco meat and chicken tortilla soup and homemade spaghetti sauce and sloppy joes and hamburger patties (which do double duty in hamburgers and in snowy peaks*) and meatloaves and meatballs and lemon grilled chicken and barbecue chicken and just plain grilled chicken and King Ranch chicken casserole . . . I'm tired and happy.

*"snowy peaks" are Boo's favorite, invented by C's grandmother. Just put a hamburger patty on a saucer, then a slice of cheese and then a big dollop of mashed potatoes and then a sprinkling of shredded cheese on top.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The 2008 Olympic games are over now, consigned to history--unforgettable history. We are Olympics junkies and always have been. We watch team handball and table tennis and gymnastics and soccer and swimming (Can you believe Michael Phelps, the dynamo who shrugged and said, "I don't know, I just like swimming fast.") and boxing and diving (although C did finally say one night, "Obviously, there are people who watch prime time Olympics coverage who are more into diving than I am.") We watch the qualifying events and the medal competitions. We watch the medal ceremonies as the national anthems play. On our trip, we drove hard every day and ate in our hotel rooms so we could watch every minute possible.

We fell in love during the 1984 summer games and have been watching the Olympics faithfully ever since. If your kids are the same ages as our kids, chances are you've been to one of our Olympic parties, usually consisting of watching the opening ceremonies with family-style events during the commercials--Q-tips for javelin throw, cotton balls for shot put, wrestling with the daddies in the middle of the den floor. Then the adults would finish watching the festivities on television while the kids conked out on the sofa, after many New Years' Eve-style protestations that they could stay awake until the end.

This year's games were maybe the best I can remember. The opening ceremonies never looked so good, a combination of the insane amount of money the Chinese spent and the fact that we've never watched them on humongous, flat-screen TVs in high def before. To be fair, the Chinese did a terrific job--so innovative and bold. We found ourselves amazed that they thought of such creative ideas and then even more impressed that they were able to execute them. I was miffed that some of it was CG (and even more frustrated that NBC didn't tell us) and I thought the inclusion of Chinese soldiers was chilling (as the narrator intoned, "The Chinese military who will insure the future of China's children . . . ")--Yikes.

And let's just get the negative stuff out of the way: The IOC assured us repeatedly that China had promised to pay attention to human rights issues and then completely dropped the ball. Supposed "terrorists" (can you say, "dissidents"?) were publicly executed before the games. China did keep its promise to allow designated areas for protesters--areas which remained empty because everyone who submitted a request to protest was arrested (an old Mao-era tactic). I had sincerely hoped that the IOC would make sure that the promises made were promises kept but I was wrong--apparently the ends really do justify the means.

But the Olympics are, above all, a terrific symbol of hope. We saw Georgian and Russian athletes competing fairly and then embracing. We saw the American-born daughter of Russian gymnasts compete against her best friend, who was trained by a Chinese coach from Beijing. We saw small, insignificant nations win their first medals ever. And we saw, over and over, the "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" and win or lose, we admired the focus and the dedication of the world's best athletes. As Raffi sings in the McDonald's commercial, "The more we get together, the happier we'll be."

Monday, August 18, 2008

I'm back!

We did it! We drove Mowgli all the way to North Carolina and left him there . . . and we all survived. I think it helps that he had been working almost 40 hours a week and then running or playing ball in the evenings. We miss him but we're okay.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Small consolation

Several years ago, I heard the story of Christians in Asia who were tortured for their faith. I especially remember the story of pastors who were confined in coffin-like boxes, with little to no room to move. I was horrified and have even had nightmares about that since. Imagine my horror then, to learn that my government uses this particular technique on Iraqi and Afghan prisioners (and possibly those at Guantanamo, as well). The only consolation is knowing that no matter who wins the November election, America will no longer be in the business of torture.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Your tax dollars (not) at work

On July 29, the big story on the front page of the Austin American Statesman was about a state agency whose building is largely inaccessible to persons with disabilities--ramps were too steep, doors were too heavy, counters were too high for people in wheelchairs, and so on. Turns out the agency not only lacked most recommended accomodations for the disabled, it was at least 15 years behind the code (the same code that private businesses have to abide by or face fines and punitive action, by the way). Biggest problem: the agency was the Health and Human Services Commission, the same state agency that administers programs for people with disabilities.

This made me think of two things: One, I was reminded of the absolute impossibility of depending on the government to do anything. I am infinitely grateful that I am not dependent on welfare or an immigrant (documented or otherwise) or waiting for disaster relief or disability services. Even just getting Boo a driver's license has turned out to be completely overwhelming.

Second, I thought about the wider implications of accessibility. For example, since it hits close to home, how often do we invite people to find spiritual answers at church and then make it almost impossible for them to find what they are looking for. We force them to navigate our rituals and our jargon and our social cliques and our petty infighting and then tell them, "Y'all come back now!" and wonder why they don't.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Everyone is back where they belong! C and Boo got back late last night from their mission trip to the border. In C's words, "it was a perfect trip." They did VBS for about 30 children, completely renovated and repaired a home belonging to a single mother and her children, bought her a refrigerator and food to go in it, helped serve food for relief groups, and I'm not sure what all else. C has pictures of standing water left over from the flooding and says the bugs are terrible. Surprisingly, except for Boo and the staff, none of the team had ever been on a mission trip before (actually, the construction supervisor had been to the border 20 years ago) and they were deeply touched and challenged. And, of course, C is so good at helping them process their experience with Scripture and questions. Boo took more than 600 pictures. Here are two.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

No regrets

The day I turned 41, I couldn't stop crying. I had weathered 40 without even a gulp but 41 turned me inside out. It all started when I heard a quiet voice inside my head say, "Someday it will be over." I want it all to last forever.

I've been feeling melancholy all day--maybe because it's a week and a day until we take Mowgli to NC (ya think?!) and I'm realizing this is over. Some of you are really anxious right now because you want me to understand that I'll be fine, that it gets better, that they never really leave, it's a new beginning . . . I get it, I get it. But this is over.

When C was sick with meningitis (before we knew what it was) and he was having what appeared to be what is euphemistically refer to as a "neurological event," he gripped my hand and said through his locked jaw, eyes intense on mine, "I have no regrets. I have no regrets." We repeat those words from time to time, when things are scary or sad.

I've been thinking about that a lot today. I was not a perfect mom. I wish I had known then some of what I know now. There are things I would have done differently. But I left it all on the field. And I have no regrets.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Could these things be related?

I just read that May is the month in which the most suicides occur. May is also the month when upwards of 15,000 psychiatrists gather for the national APA meeting. That seemed like an interesting coincidence to me. Could there be a connection?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mission Trip news

C and Boo left yesterday for the Valley--MBC is doing a mission trip in a colonia near McAllen. It started as your ordinary border mission--some building/remodeling projects and VBS--but has turned into much more. After Dolly blew through, they were asked to help with roofing and other repairs and they are helping at a Red Cross shelter. On Wednesday night, they will give a block party at a local park for the 100+ people who will come and get food. Not everyone has power and it is muddy and there is still standing water but C says that the destruction is not widespread.
Yesterday, they added three hours to the expected time for travel due to two blowouts on the trailer and an accident on I35 but C says that everyone was safe and in good spirits and that today was "the perfect day." As college minister, he was able to take students on one and sometimes two mission trips a year for 8 years but as pastor of our former church, he never got to go on even one because the church required that one staff member be in town at all times and the associate pastor and the youth minister were always the logical choices for mission trips. He thoroughly enjoys getting to be part of front-line ministry as well as equipping the members of our own team and helping them process their experience.
He says that Boo is having a great time as well. She'll be doing VBS Tuesday through Friday and the block party on Wednesday. You know she'll fall in love with all the little kids she meets. I'm so glad she has this opportunity.
Everyone will be back home on Friday evening since the trip to Padre Island was cancelled due to the whole island being closed to tourists. Keep them in your prayers.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I've found a new spiritual director (thanks, MJO, for your help with that). It feels like I can breathe a little easier, knowing that someone else will be walking this journey beside me again. She is Episcopalian and meets with her directees in a lovelyhilltop sanctuary surrounded by Texas hill country not too far from my house.

She is like so many of the spiritual directors I have met through the years--restful and quiet and kind. Just being in her presence makes my blood pressure drop, my breathing deepen, my mind turn toward God. This ministry of spiritual friendship is a deep blessing for the Church and for me.

I'm still not sure what I want from the process this time . . . maybe I'm learning to wait and see what will come. I know that I long for someone to do for me what I do for others--to create space for me to explore and wonder and gather. I also know that I have to grapple again with the doubt that always threatens to knock me over and grab me by the throat--that sometimes gets so scary that I can't breathe or think or pray and I have to disconnect. Disconnected isn't a place I want to live in. I'll need someone sturdy and brave to help me with that.

I also love the way that spiritual direction helps me to live mindfully, to live with the end in mind, to take my choices out and look at them and make sure they're taking me where I want to go. That alone is priceless.

Monday, July 21, 2008

This seemed appropriate

When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.
--Rachel Naomi Remen

So what do you do when

you get the invitation to the going-away party but you only glance at it because you know your husband has all the information and so you don't read all the way to the part that says that it is a surprise and so you say to the person who is going away, "I'll see you tomorrow" and she waves at you and says, "OK" and you don't realize until the next day that she didn't know what you were talking about because it's a surprise and now you're afraid that you let the cat out of the bag and you are so sick and tired of your mouth always getting you into trouble?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

This is Milner Hall at Guilford College, Mowgli's new home for the next year. He'll be on the third floor with mostly other first-year students--coed by room, meaning that his next-door and across the hall neighbors will likely be . . . girls. (Baylor Bears, remember "open dorms" on Sunday afternoons from 2-4?) The dorm has a large lounge downstairs with a big-screen TV and each floor has a kitchen and on-hall bathrooms. There are laundry facilities in the basement. He has a roommate but all we know is his name and that he's from South Carolina. We leave on August 8th to head east.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What happened after the "sit-down" chord

I have no idea how old I was when I first went to Vacation Bible School but I vividly remember marching into the opening assembly (and how lucky you were if you got to carry one of the flags--the American flag or the Christian flag, it didn't matter) anticipating the rest of the morning. After the pledges and the hymns--and they were hymns ("Holy Bible, Book Divine" being one I can remember)--and finally, the "stand up" chord and then it was off to our classrooms for Scripture memory, crafts that usually involved popsicle sticks, papier mache or a wire clothes hanger, and watery Kool-aid and vanilla sandwich cookies. In those days, VBS was heavier on the "school" side of things than it is now--memorizing and worksheets and maps--but that was fine with me. I loved it.

I was 7, I think, when I decided to give my life to Christ during VBS (we called it "asking Jesus into your heart" and I was actually just making it official). And it was during VBS when I first heard the call to ministry as an earnest nine-year-old. I still remember that moment in time-slowing detail and it guides me even today. I still remember going to VBS at the Lutheran church on the hill and at the Church of Christ and at my grandparents' churches--all different places, different faces but essentially the same.

I started helping my mom when I was a young teenager, old enough to know I didn't really like kids but I liked ministry. Then there were Backyard Bible Clubs in shabby neighborhoods on every youth mission trip throughout my teenage years. In college, I was the youth director at a small-town church in a nearby town and one of my main duties was directing the Bible School. I felt very important and also very humbled--after all, these church women knew so much more than I did about it. Now I know that none of them wanted the job and were more than happy to watch me run around like a crazy person buying pipe cleaners and making copies and spray painting posters.

After that, I took a short break from VBS--the year we were married and the next year and then I taught every year after that until last year with the single exception of the year we moved to CLBC. Since we had just moved the week before, I didn't have a job at VBS so I just went and sat in the teachers' snack room every day and got to know just about every woman in the church over cookies and soft drinks as they took a short break from the hardest volunteer job the church has to offer.

In the last 15 years, I have been a site director for 13 teaching sites--there was the general store, the Arctic explorer's post, the jungle tent, the desert island (we moved about 30 pounds of sand into the choir room for that one). There was the Bible-day market (ours ended up looking a lot like the set from a harem movie) and the secret agents' lair and the mountain climbers' cabin. Every year the kids got older but because we stayed in one place for so long, we got to watch them grow from little ones to teenaged helpers. Recently I attended the wedding of a boy I first taught the year we were all spies on a secret mission.

This year, I provided snacks (I tried to make really good snacks) for the teachers in VBS at our new church. I dropped Boo off and looked around at all the sets and tried to be encouraging and enthusiastic. And then I left. And, shhhh, don't tell . . . it felt wonderful!

Thursday, July 10, 2008


At last!

Sweet Sixteen

Boo turned 16 on Tuesday, if you can believe it! We reminisced about when she was a newborn, how she would cry and then abruptly fall asleep, as if someone had flipped a switch. About how Mowgli was convinced that she would be a girl and then she was and about how tenderly he loved her . . . until he lost interest because she couldn't play with him. We talked about how much she blesses our family and about what good things her future holds.
That night, she had a swimming party at our neighborhood pool. It was a beautiful, cool night and the sky was gorgeous all around us as the sun went down. About 20 kids and adults showed up and Boo glowed the whole time. Here are a few photos:

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Catching up . . .

Well, I promise, no politics, no philosophy for awhile. Here's what's going on:

We still love Austin, even though we don't get a chance to do much. Between grand jury and meeting pastors, I've learned to navigate the city pretty well. Remember when I used to be terrified to drive on the freeway in Houston? That seems like a lifetime ago. I get places early because I forget that "the other side of town" is a LOT closer than it used to be. On the other hand, in Houston, only the Katy Freeway and part of 290 can compare traffic-wise to Austin.

We are still without several staff positions so C is working all the time but has gotten much better at protecting his heart and his time. We'll be happy when the staff is complete again, though. He still loves it here and feels effective and creative.

No vacation this year--just an 8 day trip to get Mowgli to North Carolina, get him settled and drive home as fast as we can so C can preach on Sunday. He starts school on August 13. I'm doing okay, thanks for wondering. I was really sad at the first of the year but I'm doing much better. He's so excited about it, that helps.

I'm seeing about 7-9 clients per week, with about 12 clients total. I still need to double my client load and don't fully understand why that's not happening faster. The good news is that my current load pays the bills and a little more; the bad news is that it won't for the long term.

I'm also working on some other projects:
  • a community-based marriage preparation program designed for couples from small-medium sized churches as well as couples who don't go to church, "Happily Ever After." I'm pitching it to local congregations and trying to raise money.
  • a marriage support format called "Dinner and a Marriage"
  • marketing my skills and experience in counseling ministry leaders
  • creating a leadership development program for a small denomination headquartered in Michigan
  • continued work with Faithwalking
  • putting together at least one group for women ministry leaders connected to the Pastors In Covenant ministry here in Austin
  • maybe even doing some writing . . . haven't given myself over to this one yet, but

And then, of course, there's home. We're teaching Boo how to drive and making sure Mowgli knows everything he needs to know before he leaves home. If your children are little, go kiss them on their sweaty little heads because it will be over before you know it.

At church, I'm playing a pretty traditional ministry wife role, trying to get to know people and hear their stories. We're also transitioning from my Young Married Sunday School class to a comprehensive Young Adult Ministry and I'll be helping to head that up. I try to stay active in Women's Ministry without actually serving on the committee, so I'm having a book club at my house in August. You know that in Houston, I never sat in the same place on Sunday mornings, preferring to move around and sit with different people. But here, every week, someone says to me, "I haven't seen you in ages," which means they're telling other people, "I love our new pastor but his wife doesn't come very often," so I think I'll pick a spot and stick with it. Live and learn!

For the first time in my life, I'm exercising regularly and I thoroughly enjoy it. I can't seem to make myself get up early to go work out, but maybe that will come as I get busier.

So I'm doing well but miss all of you more than you can imagine. I know, I know, we have technology nowadays that can help with that--I'm terrible--but I just wanted you to know. Love to all--

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Am I wrong?

A year or so ago, a neutral media watch group did an analysis of Fox News and found that their news coverage is actually pretty bias-free, which surprised a lot of people who assumed that there was a conservative bias. I paid attention to that and stopped making snarky comments, even sharing the results of the study with others.

But what about lately? Well, first there was the commentator (white, female) who was talking about the Clinton's unfortunate comment implying that Obama might be assassinated before the election. This pundit then says that "some want to 'knock off Osama . . . Obama . . . (laughing) well, both, if we could." I don't remember which Fox personality said that he didn't want to "go on a lynching party" against Michelle Obama, then added, "unless (unless??) there's hard evidence" that she holds what he would consider anti-American views. Then there was the referral by a Fox News anchor to the Obamas' "terrorist fist jab"--what?! A banner headline at the bottom of the page refers to Michelle Obama as "Obama's baby mama"--that one can't even be attributed to an accidental gaffe since someone actually wrote it down and thought it would be okay. And don't even get me started about Ann Coulter.

I guess what bothers me most is that this is the most popular cable news source in the country and that there just doesn't seem to be much outrage on the part of its viewers. Sean Hannity defends some of his more outrageous comments by saying that he received no negative mail about them. Is that because the kinds of people who watch Fox News aren't offended by these things? Am I too sensitive because I am? Don Imus's comment about the Rutgers' womens' basketball team was not substantially more racist or sexist than the idea that Michelle Obama--an accomplished attorney and businesswoman--can be reduced to "Obama's baby mama." He lost his job, his show, and his reputation. People at least pretended to be outraged. I just don't get it.

I make it a point to make sure I'm getting my news and opinions from a variety of sources, including those that don't typically reflect my views, which means that I occasionally listen to a particular talk show that makes me want to shoot my radio--it's good practice in self-differentiation and I do actually learn something from time to time. I worry about people who only go to the news channels and websites that support their views (something you couldn't really do when your only options were the national ten o'clock news and your local daily paper) and I worry about the culture they form.

Monday, June 30, 2008

We're done!

According the certificate I received today, I have spent the last three months--and I quote--"materially contributing to the maintenance of Liberty Under Law through the Fair and Impartial Administration of Justice." Wow.
My term on the Travis County grand jury ended today and although I think we all enjoyed our service and learned a lot (although one juror did say, jokingly, that he was saving the last bullet for himself), we were mostly glad it was over.
As you probably know, grand jury proceedings are secret. We all took an oath to the effect that we "would not reveal by word or sign" the details of our work. So, as I process aloud in this forum, I will only describe those things that are a matter of public record or my own personal subjective experience.
So if you could be a fly on the wall during the proceedings of the 2008 grand jury of the 331st district court, what would you see? Well, first, you would see 12 people with the best of intentions--all "upstanding citizens," a fact to which we swore three months ago when we were impaneled. (The only other test for service was that we were eligible to vote in Travis County.) You would see a group that ranged in age from younger than Barack Obama to older than Moses--but no one under 40. You'd be pretty impressed by the ethnic diversity, which reflected Travis County demographics pretty accurately.
You'd see these 12 people devoting an average of ten hours a week assembled in a large horseshoe behind the kind of desks that you see city council members at on public access TV. Each grand juror has a legal pad, a pen, and a list of prosecutors and cases scheduled for the day. As each prosecutor presents cases, describing the offense and the evidence linking the offense to the accused, grand jurors listen carefully, ask questions, take notes. Sometimes someone has brought food to share and breaks are used for socializing and complimenting the recipe. More often, grand jurors have brought their own drinks and snacks, used as much for staying alert as for nourishment. Sometimes there are witnesses or photographs or videotapes. More often, there is just an offense report and subsequent interviews.
Once the prosecutor has presented cases, he or she leaves the room and deliberations begin. At the beginning of the term, you would have seen the group fumble for direction and proceed cautiously. You would almost see the question, "Are we doing this right?" forming in thought balloons above each head. Soon, though, you would be amazed at how efficient and well-ordered the process became--in part due to our foreperson who had a hard job that only got harder over time. As you watched her, you would learn a few things about leadership and you would be reminded of how easy it is to critique someone else when you're not actually having to do the job yourself.
You would see both the democratic ideal and textbook group process emerge as individuals with vastly different points of view and cultural experiences struggle together to determine what justice is, never forgetting that the lives of individuals are at stake (both victims and defendants). You would also see them constantly bringing themselves back to the task at hand: Is the level of probable cause in this case reasonable enough to warrant an indictment and a trial? You would be surprised at how difficult it is--given people's natural emotions, such as curiosity or outrage and their over-exposure to crime shows and police dramas--to focus on probable cause and you would be really proud of how well this group did.
Then you would see a series of votes, taking each allegation separately, giving it the attention it deserves. Although it only takes nine votes to indict, you probably wouldn't be surprised to see that most votes are unanimous and efficient since most of the time, the facts are not really in dispute. But, of course, you'd remember the difficult cases, the cases framed by debate and ambiguity and reflection and you'd be amazed at how often consensus could eventually be reached and how decisions were respected by the dissenters.
So how does this story end? Well, we heard over 1000 cases. Most we indicted (true-billed), some we no-billed and some we passed on for various reasons. And now we're done.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The strangest movie that I've ever seen that I'll never forget

What if you were part of a community of people that were willing to love you no matter what? What if, no matter how odd you were or how inappropriate or how uncomfortable you made them feel, they were committed to care for you like family? What if they asked themselves, "What would Jesus do?" and then did it--just for you? Don't you think that kind of love might win the day?

Tonight we watched a quirky, eccentric film called "Lars and the Real Girl." I won't even describe the plot because it would come across as farcical and absurd. It's a ridiculous premise that, in the hands of wise writers and actors, becomes a gentle parable about how the foolish teach the wise, about how real community expressed creates love, about how there is no reason to feel ashamed because we all have something, because "these things happen." It's a sweet love story like you've never seen before.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Agreeing to disagree (with myself)

I reread my untitled blog entry from May 28 and decided I don't really agree with it after all. (That's really something, to disagree with yourself!) I had several opportunities to listen well last week--with dear friends, with hurting people, with family--and the truth is, I love it. I love being able to offer to the people I care about something real--the space to think through their own thoughts and a caring place to feel what they feel. And I don't really feel deprived of that in my own life--if you're reading this blog, chances are that I could pick up the phone and have your loving attention in a heartbeat.

So what was it that I was trying to say? I think I was frustrated with feeling used. It's probably the same way that accountants feel when people pump them for free tax advice at parties or the way doctors feel when people say, "Could you just look at this place on my back real quick?" It's when I sense that the other person has no interest in me or in a real friendship (maybe it's the fact that they talk for hours without ever asking?) and when they demand my time and sympathy. I think maybe it's the "pastor's wife" label--it makes people think they're entitled to it and frankly, sometimes it makes me feel as though I have to give it to them. So maybe that's what I was trying to say. Or maybe not. We'll see . . .

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Would you believe . . . ?

The first thing you need to know is that we hardly ever watched TV when I was growing up. When I was really little, the TV was up on the top of a tall cabinet (seemed tall to me, anyway) and it was hard to see, but I remember Sesame Street and--my favorites--the Electric Company and Zoom. All public television, of course. There were also Saturday morning cartoons, which I watched from the test pattern until 10:00--except for Road Runner. I hated Road Runner and turned it off. The Jetsons was my favorite with Scooby Doo as a close second.

Then when I was a little older, I was allowed to watch the introduction to "Mission Impossible" just before heading off to bed. "Your mission if you choose to accept it . . . " Remember? And the briefcase with the photos in it and then the smoke at the end? I never actually saw the show but my dad watched it which is why I got to see the intro, I guess. Later I watched "The Waltons" and my sister watched "Little House on the Prairie" and we could watch game shows if we were sick. (My favorite was "Password," hands down.) Every now and then, we could watch "Gilligan's Island" when we got home from school. And my parents even let me stay home from church once a year to watch "The Sound of Music" on Sunday night. Anyway, the point is that I didn't grow up watching a lot of TV, which was actually a pretty good way to grow up.

But when C and I were first married, he introduced me to all the TV shows that I had missed. That first year, we had so much fun watching old reruns together. It was fun for me to watch them for the first time and fun for C to watch me watching them for the first time. I found out pretty quick that I had outgrown "Gilligan's Island" and that "Leave It to Beaver" was more interesting than entertaining. We laughed every day at "The Dick van Dyke Show" and "I Love Lucy." I fell in love with "Andy Griffith" and have now seen every episode umpteen times along with my kids. But one of the shows we watched together that first year was "Get Smart," which you probably know just came out in theaters as a movie starring Steve Carrell as Max and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99.

We went to see the movie tonight and had so much fun. It is silly, silly, silly but in a clever and nostalgic way. And of course, the last line of the movie? "Missed it by that much!" Lots of silly fun.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Pomp and circumstance and all that

We started with this: C and I had visions of graduation photos, announcements, a party to celebrate, maybe even prom. Mowgli had visions of skipping graduation altogether. Somehow, we managed to meet in the middle with a minimum of disappointment on both sides. When Mowgli wanted to know why he had to walk across the stage, I told him, "Because it's a rite of passage; you didn't have a bar mitzvah, so you have to do this." He maintained to the very end that it would be a much bigger deal if he DIDN'T graduate from high school. Fortunately, by Thursday afternoon, he seemed to decide to make the best of it and I think he actually enjoyed graduation day and the low-key gathering at our house later.

Here, before the ceremony, we have Mowgli and Boo, reversing roles.

And this is at the party afterward, as Mowgli opened his gift from Boo (a picture frame with a photo of both of them from last Christmas). The smile is awesome! A word about the outfit: We told him he could run upstairs and get more comfortable. We didn't realize he would get THAT comfortable! And no, that's not a UT shirt--it's a free shirt from a Houston Dynamo match.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Who's that masked ballerina?

I don't have the photos from Mowgli's graduation yet, so I'm posting photos from Boo's dance recital last weekend. She danced to " Masquerade" from Phantom. You may remember that her biggest grief in the move was the loss of her dance studio so this was an answer to prayer and the result of many, many tears. She had a great day! Boo is back center (second from left) in this first photo:

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Sexism vs. racism

As I've told you, we've been obsessed with politics here . . . and I do mean obsessed. Mowgli and I have had many conversations about which is more insidious--racism or sexism. Mowgli's opinion is that sexism is more prevalent but that racism is more virulent. Mowgli also sees sexism as more benign and less dangerous, rarely seeing gender discrimination where I do. It's a generational thing. When Mowgli was about four, I took him to see a male pediatrician for the first time. He rolled his eyes and said, "Mom! Boys can't be doctors!"

I would love, love, love to see a female president and I do think that a lot of the sexism toward the Clinton campaign went unchallenged. When the frat boys showed up at her rallies with the signs that read, "Iron my shirts!" we all laughed. Can you imagine the uproar if those boys had shown up at an Obama rally with signs reading, "Shine my shoes!" And while female commentators denounced it, male pundits and comedians tended to give too much attention to Clinton's appearance, especially early on--what she wore, signs of aging, etc. Pantsuits became a joke, even though there is no good alternative for women. (By the way, what IS the female equivalent of khakis and a golf shirt? This stumps me ALL the time!)

Ultimately, though, I don't think that Clinton lost because she was a woman. After all, she was a woman when she was the front-runner, when she made all the big headlines, when Obama was considered a flashy upstart with no chance. She was a woman when she amassed the largest campaign war chest of all time, and she was a woman when she won millions of votes. No, I don't believe that sexism torpedoed her campaign.

Instead, I think she lost for all the same old reasons: she failed to read the climate of the country, she underestimated her opponent, she allowed infighting and conflict to drain her campaign of energy, she miscalculated the importance of caucus states and younger voters and her early vote for the war, she relied on an outdated top-down approach to campaigning, and she made some serious gaffes. When a woman can lose the White House for all the same old reasons that the male contenders do, we've come a long way, baby.