Thursday, December 24, 2009

Glory to God in the highest
and on earth, peace . . .

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It is SO not beginning to look a lot like Christmas around here . . . yet

How did I do this to myself AGAIN? I want to blame some kind of elaborate Christmas conspiracy but it's pretty obvious that it's my own darn fault. Christmas comes on the exact same date every year. It's just not possible for it to sneak up on me and yet, every year, it does. Every year, I end up in a holiday frenzy (during what is invariably a super-busy time for me at work)--wrapping presents in the middle of the night, wandering around the mall wondering about who wants what, paying exorbitant shipping fees for faster delivery.

I am actually smart enough to understand that if something keeps happening over and over, there's either a thinking problem or a system problem and so this is what I've come up with: even though I know that Christmas is over there lurking at the end of every year, just waiting to pounce, I stay in denial about it until the end of November. "I don't want to get ready for Christmas while it's 85 degrees outside," I insist. "I LOVE to do my preparation during the Christmas season, when the carols are playing and the decorations are up! I'll just wait til then!" I'm an idiot.

So, the new plan is to change my thinking and get started on Christmas early next year, at least by October (when, come to think of it, there may be Christmas carols and decorations in at least some over-anxious stores.) In the meantime, I'll try to keep the self-flagellation at a minimum. I was being pretty mean to myself this morning and C reached over and patted me. "Sweetie, you're only 45 years old; don't be so hard on yourself." I love this man.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Not that I'm anxious or anything . . .

Mowgli comes home in one week and 14 minutes . . .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Just pondering . . .

Two men worked late tonight, not by choice. Both of them called home and informed their wives that they wouldn't be home at the expected time. One wife snapped, "Fine. All you do is work. If you don't want to be home then don't come home. I don't care" and hung up. The other wife said, "Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry you have to work again. Come home when you can and I'll fix you a bowl of ice cream, okay?"

So . . . what makes the difference? Is the difference in the quality of the husbands and the level of devotion and love they inspire in their wives? Is the difference the quality of the wives and their level of maturity? Maybe the difference is in how loved the wife feels overall--does one wife interpret her husband's late hours as a lack of love while the other wife doesn't question whether she is loved and sees the late hours as an unavoidable nuisance but nothing personal in the context of the whole relationship? Or is it more about their families of origin and the emotional baggage each brought into the relationship? Maybe it has to do with self-awareness--the ability to know how one is coming across to others and to send the message one intends to send. Maybe it's about expectations. Or habit. Or the effects of a capitalistic system on marriage.

I think about this stuff all the time and I have all kinds of books that postulate all kinds of theories. Do we look at attribution theory? What about attachment theory? Maybe we need to think systems. Maybe we need to do a genogram. Or maybe we need to talk to everyone involved about how they were potty trained. Do we intervene by teaching communication strategies or by teaching empathy? Do we try to raise the level of civility or the level of maturity? Is the second marriage actually more likely to survive?

Counseling is always an art and a science. There is real hard data to help us help couples. There are all kinds of theoretical frameworks to light the way. It's my job to be familiar with all of that and to keep it consistent. But then it comes down to intuition and the mystery of what unfolds in the moment as I work with couples . . . I guess that's why I love my job.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Back when we were young . . . and stupid--A Thanksgiving Story

It was 25 years ago this week that C took me home to Houston for Thanksgiving with his family (my family was going out to West Texas for the week and I had to be back in time to work. Or at least that was my excuse . . .) We had only been dating since the late summer and only exclusively for 3 months. Before we left for Houston, I was telling my roommate that I thought that C was getting pretty serious, that it seemed strange to be going home with him for a holiday. She told me that I was being dramatic, that three months wasn't very long, that I could always slow things down if I wanted to.

Suffice it to say that I apparently didn't want to. On Thanksgiving night, C and I stayed up late talking. He ventured the first question casually: where was I thinking about going to graduate school? Did we have any schools in common? And then, as the conversation got more serious: how soon could I graduate? Would I like to get married?

Turns out, I did. We kept talking, our plans for the future getting more and more elaborate. I went to bed eventually with my head swirling with romantic dreams. I woke up in a sheer panic. Oh, my God, what have I done?

Apparently, that night, I made the best decision of my life--without even knowing it. I was 20 years old. I had been at Baylor for less than a year and a half. If you've done the math, you've realized that I was exactly at the place in my life that Mowgli is now. I had no idea. We say all the time: we were young and stupid but God was good. So so so very good.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Robert de Niro's new movie Everybody's Fine isn't getting great reviews, apparently because it doesn't ring true, it isn't realistic. Duh. The plot of this movie--the demanding, neglectful father visits each of his four children one by one in an effort to reestablish a relationship with them after their mother dies--is pure fantasy. In fact, I would venture a guess that this is the ultimate fantasy, one that trumps any scenario involving superheroes or Angelina Jolie in a bikini. The fantasy is that Dad will eventually get it, that he will see the pain he has caused, that he will reach out to connect and that he will take responsibility, thus freeing the adult kid from the shame of not being good enough for dad all those years. (Disclaimer: this isn't my own personal fantasy since my own dad didn't cause me a lot of pain and he is great about connecting in loving meaningful ways and he definitely takes responsibility. But I promise, if there were more dads like my dad, I would have a hard time making a living.) I'm glad the movie isn't believable because if it were, there would be just be more pain--why can't my father do something like that? why can't my dad say those things? Every now and then I have the rare opportunity to ask a father to write a letter of blessing and affirmation to a child, usually a son. I can't even express how healing that is to the child. But dads also say they will and then never get around to it. Or they try to bless but they just can't hold back the judgment. Oh, but when it happens, it's like magic.

Friday, November 6, 2009


Like everyone, I'm sad about the massacre at Ft. Hood. Learning that some of the dead and wounded were recently returned from overseas was almost too much to absorb. I understand how an unstable, paranoid person becomes obsessed with killing a public figure. I understand how an immature person, in a fit of rage, kills an intimate partner. I even understand how someone can nurse a grudge long enough to become murderous. What I absolutely cannot understand is how someone goes out and kills strangers who have never done anything to him personally. It just doesn't make any sense to me. Which I guess is a good thing.

Here's another thing that makes me sad, although in a completely different way. Just about an hour ago, the CNN commentator said, "We're still trying to determine the shooter's nationality . . . " and I've heard several others say almost exactly the same thing. Let's all take a minute to remember that this shooter, like McVeigh and Klebold and Harris and most of the others, was an American. He may turn out to be a particularly evil or sick American but he is one of us. There seems to be this pervasive sense that there are "real Americans"--white, Christian, native-born--and then there are "not really Americans"--in this case, brown, Muslim, born to immigrant parents. It reminds me of the appalling moment 20 years ago when the chief of the LAPD referred to "black people" and "normal people." If we're going to be the nation of immigrants that we've always been, we've got to figure this out, even when one of our own has committed the ultimate betrayal.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One thing at a time

I think I have self-induced ADD. I don't want to take lightly the struggles of people who actually have the neurological disorder that causes attention deficit but I think I have a similar behavioral disorder and I think I brought it on myself.

I seem to have completely lost the ability to do one thing and focus completely on that one thing. (One exception: seeing clients. I have an almost creepy ability to be fully present to clients while they are sitting in my office.) I read a little bit and then remember something I have to do. I start to check email and want a snack. I start to cook but during a lull, I'll open a magazine. I address envelopes or iron or pick up clutter while I watch TV.

Almost 15 years ago, I developed a seizure disorder that required me to take high doses of a really potent medication. For almost a full year, I couldn't do two things at once. Multitasking was impossible. I couldn't even doodle while I talked on the phone or write letters during the commercials on TV. For that year, my world was very small (for half of it, I couldn't even drive.) My pace was very slow. Even the smallest tasks took every bit of my attention. I don't want to go back to that, but I do want some of the mindfulness that I had back then.

Brain-based psychological studies tell us that multitasking is really an illusion anyway. Apparently, people who think they are good multitaskers are actually unitasking really fast. The brain is not able to do more than one thing at a time; it can only do one thing at a time really fast. And people who describe themselves as effective multitaskers are actually less efficient than the plodders who do one thing at a time.

The problem with ADD (even the self-induced kind) is that it inhibits "flow," that super-creative state that we get into when we're fully absorbed in what we're doing. I need less productivity in my life and more flow. I'm intrigued by the idea the flow is the antidote to some kinds of stress. So, the new experiment is to do one thing . . . then do another thing . . . then another . . . one thing at a time.


Life is short and we do not
have much time to
gladden the hearts of
those who travel with us.

So be swift to love and
make haste to be kind.

Go in peace.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sometimes the last are first

It used to be that pastors were the spiritual guides in the important transition points in life. They did what southerners call "marrying and burying," meaning that they incarnated the presence of God--that they became a means of grace--at births and baptisms and marriages and especially, always, deaths.

This is now a quaint, old-fashioned way of doing pastoral ministry. Pastors who spend a lot of time on pastoral care--especially with the elderly--are dismissed as "chaplains." Sitting by bedsides isn't considered "strategic leadership." Praying with old people isn't "high-leverage." Comforting the grieving isn't "missional."

C came home from a midweek joint worship service tonight only to be greeted with the news that Mrs. So-and-so was dying and the family was hoping he would come. You need to understand that Mrs. So-and-so and her family are not important members of our church. They don't have much to give, either financially or in terms of service. They aren't well-known. But they are a sweet Christian family and they wanted C to come pray.

When he walked back in the door two hours later, he told me briefly about his visit. Mrs. So-and-so had died while he was there and he had helped each family member begin their own unique journey of grief, offering to do the funeral even though it involved a trip out of town (way out of town) on his day off. He described their deep gratitude for his pastoral presence as they faced one more grief in a long string of family griefs.

We both know how this kind of ministry is perceived by those who are more visionary about pastoral leadership. Maybe that's why C said reflectively, with a little laugh, "You know, tonight was high-leverage in the Kingdom; if it really is all about love, this matters." I think he's right.

Being a leader is a hard job. Being a leader in the Kingdom of God is really a hard job. I don't even pretend to know how a pastor is supposed to do it all, including providing strategic, high-leverage, missional leadership (which is all important, even if I'm not exactly sure what it all means.) But I'm grateful for the many, many pastors who remember that in this Kingdom, everything is upside down and what seems unimportant is often most important and what seems insignificant changes everything.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Adventures in missing the point

C and I were at the mall yesterday and picked up a new mixer (after the one we got for our wedding finally bit the dust, 24 years later.) When we got it home and opened it, we found a Christian tract inserted into the packaging.

So, first, we learned that there are people who think it is an effective use of their time to go around poking these tracts into boxes of appliances at major department stores. I assume these are the same people who give out tracts in lieu of candy on Halloween or leave them on the table at restaurants in place of a tip.

Second, upon examining the tract itself, we learned that 1) evolution isn't true and that 2) if we can just be persuaded that evolution is a false, liberal lie, we will immediately want to give our hearts to Jesus. Seriously. 11 of the pages of the little booklet were about evolution. The last page offered a prayer one can pray to become a Christian.

So, here's what gets me: I know the kind of person who thinks that Christian tracts can change people's lives. They tend to be very sincere people who really want other people to have eternal life. Do they really believe that disproving evolution is the path to spiritual transformation? Really? If you're going to spend a little money and who knows how much time to spread the message of the Christian faith via little booklets left anonymously in the home appliance department, why would you not use literature that was actually about Jesus? Maybe something about forgiveness and grace or the remarkable life of the Son of God? I can even understand something scary about hell and eternal damnation and ways to avoid it, if that's your thing. But evolution? Seriously?

It reminds me a lot of when I was working in a nursing home and realized that many of the residents were looking confused about the religious tract they had been handed by a visiting preacher. I asked one lady to show me her booklet and found that it was entitled "The Sin of Licentiousness." I laughed out loud and then offered to dispose of it for her. She told me that the print was too small anyway and she couldn't read it. I assured her that she wasn't missing anything.

Anyway, we trashed the tract and are enjoying the mixer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Today's prayer

My spiritual director gave me this prayer today after a hard session. It was customized for me but I'll share it with you:

Bless us with a strengthening of our wills that we may pass beyond resolve to doing, and beyond intention to action, and beyond action to being in JOY with Jesus. Amen.

Monday, October 12, 2009


We were driving to the gym in the rain when we passed a man walking to work. By the time we both saw him, it was too late to stop and the street was too busy to easily turn around. This was the conversation:

T: We should have picked up that man.
C: I know . . . I didn't see him in time.
T: I feel bad.
C: Well, technically, we don't have to pick him up until two religious leaders have passed him by first.
T: Um . . . I think that's us.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Sick or tired

This morning, when Boo came down for breakfast, she was pale and a little listless. We talked a little bit about how she didn't feel so good but thought she should go to school. I was about to ask, "So what do you need to do to take care of yourself?" but then didn't because I had the thought: "She's not sick, she's just tired."

Fast forward two hours when it finally hits me: why is it important to encourage her to take care of herself when she is sick but not when she is tired? Why is it okay to take care of ourselves when we're sick but not okay when we're "just" tired? I have some learning to do here, I think.

By the way, she texted from school at lunch and (eventually) said she needed to come home so I went and got her. I don't know if she's sick or tired but she's up in her room asleep, listening to music. Which is exactly where she belongs.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


At our last church, the associate pastor did a really interesting class on world religions that involved field trips to different sacred sites. One Saturday morning, about a dozen of us found ourselves gathered in a downtown mosque, looking around, waiting for the tour to start. My friend and I were gazing appreciatively at the ornately carved wooden ceiling, admiring its intricacy and beauty, remembering that we learned in class that Muslims don't create art of images of people or animals or other created things but that their art tends to be geometric or symbolic. We thought that the mosque's ceiling was a perfect example of how lovely that kind of art can be. During the tour, I raised my hand and said, "Please tell us more about the carving of this beautiful ceiling." The tour guide looked at me, perplexed, glanced up, and shrugged. "I dunno; this building used to be a bank."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Writer's block

I may have run out of things to say.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Made me laugh right out loud

We have a rare free night tonight and C suggested that we do something fun. I, on the other hand, wanted to stay home.

Me: Thanks, sweetie, for being a good sport about me not wanting to do anything tonight.
C: No problem; I understand you wanting to stay home.
Me: But I'm afraid that if the tables were turned--if you wanted to stay home when I wanted to go out--I would probably pout and roll my eyes.
C: (eyes twinkling) That's okay; I've had a lot more practice being mature than you have.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I love Date Night! Love, love, love it! I worked all day today and wasn't feeling well at all, but when Date Night was over, I was feeling great. I love the idea of it, I love the couples, I love the possibilities, I love the energy.

Date Night was born when Steve Capper at Mission Houston asked a group of us at a luncheon: "What is your part in changing the future?" (That's the short version of what I heard--I have no idea what he actually said!) We know that children do better in almost every way when their parents are reasonably happy in their marriages and healthy in their relationship skills. We also know that most couples can improve their marriages significantly by learning and practicing those skills and by paying attention to their relationships. So, that's my passion.

Date Night is one attempt to deliver marriage education in a way that is accessible, affordable and nonthreatening. So far, I've done 4 with a total attendance of about 100 couples. I have 3 more on the calendar between now and November. When the room is full of people who don't know each other and don't know me, when people are bringing their friends and family, when half of the couples don't attend church, when we figure out a way to include couples who are poor or marginalized, that's my dream come true.

Tonight wasn't my best night--I was very distracted, got my note cards out of order, had a couple of brain freezes--but the best thing about it is that it doesn't all depend on me. Somehow the energy of the event itself takes care of itself and everyone has fun, laughs a lot, and most people stay late. I love it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Baptist pastor Steven Anderson was on all the networks yesterday (and all over the internet), spewing his hatred of Barack Obama and praying and wishing for his death. As an aside, you know the video of the young black man you've seen over and over, carrying an automatic weapon over his shoulder outside an Obama speech? Attends Anderson's church.)

Anyway, Anderson and other like-minded people object to the idea that Christians are not supposed to hate. They point out that Scripture teaches that God hates and that we should hate what and who God hates. Whether they have it right regarding what and who God actually hates is another subject. The point is that they're right: Scripture indicates that God does hate.

Which is exactly as it should be. I trust God to handle hate. I trust that he always gets it right. I trust that since God is love, his hate must be very different from mine. Human hate is devoid of love; God's can't be. So whatever it means that God hates, I am absolutely confident that it doesn't mean what I mean when I hate something or someone. I'm also confident that, whatever it is, God can be trusted with it.

I don't trust human beings with hate any more than I would trust a three-year-old with a chain saw. Surely God knew that when he told us not to do it, when he told us that hatred is at least as bad as murder, when he told us to always, always, always reserve vengeance and judgment for him. I know that I can't be trusted with hate. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but you can't be trusted either. And neither can Steven Anderson.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reflecting on the week

It seems to me that the life of Ted Kennedy is as good an argument as any for the possibility of transformation--especially the kind that is painful and messy and takes a lifetime. (Is there any other kind?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm pedaling as fast as I can!

On my way home from the gym this morning, I passed a man riding a bike on the side of the road. He was pedaling fast and hard and it looked like he should have just been flying down the road but the bike was actually moving very slowly. I know it has something to do with gears and all that but my only thought was, "Yep, been there, done that!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Health Care Debate--part 2

Okay, boys and girls, today we're going to just try to get things straightened out so that we can have the conversation about health care (see the last post). Since this is my blog, I'm going to start with a few of my assumptions:

1. The debate isn't so much about health care as it is about health insurance. Those things are linked but they're not the same thing, so we need to be clear.

2. "Socialized medicine" means that the government is the owner and manager of health care delivery. The government owns the hospitals and employs the doctors. (An example would be the VA hospital system.) That model isn't on the table for the general population.

3. "Single payer health care" means that the government purchases health care from the private sector and then provides it to citizens. (An example would be Medicare.) That's not on the table either.

4. What is on the table is a hybrid system by which the government would regulate the private sector more than they have previously been regulated and in which the government would become one purchaser of health care among many.

5. Most Americans have no idea what they are talking about, including me. The health care system is so complex, so interrelated with other parts of the economy, so vulnerable to unintended consequences, so dang complicated . . . it's hard to know what is possible, what is smart, what is workable.

6. Too many Americans are just plain ignorant. I just read that almost half of Americans don't realize that the government runs Medicare. That scares me.

7. The biggest problem may be that most Americans don't trust their representatives to try hard to find workable solutions. We don't trust Congress to do the best they can to understand and then address the health care problems we face. We don't trust that they will think for themselves, stand up to special interests, do the right thing. We don't trust that they will abandon the sound bites for real, complex, collaborative problem-solving.

8. I don't know what the solution is. I believe that making health insurance portable would be a huge step in the right direction. I believe that finding ways to make health insurance affordable to those who are unemployed or underemployed or self-employed is a good idea. I think we can have a uniquely American system of health care that works without resorting to universal health care. I think I'd support that.

9. I also think that many Americans are unrealistic about what health care costs. A woman complained to me that she is paying $164/month for health insurance for her family, with a baby on the way. She felt that was completely unfair. I think she may be just a wee bit unrealistic about what it's going to cost her insurance company for her to have that baby.

10. I want to believe that we can solve all this with honor and grace. I want to believe that we can come together as Americans--in our characteristically messy and boisterous way--and come up with a solution that will work for most of us. I want to believe that the lying and labeling will stop. I want to believe that we can come together and seek the common good. I may be an idiot.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Health Care Debate--part 1

We're all grown-ups here, right? So how about a little conversation about the health care debate? No town hall meetings, no yelling, no lying, and no guns. Sound good?

First of all, let's be honest: our stories inform our opinions. So what if instead of spouting off all our opinions, we told our stories instead? At least at first . . . since the whole health care thing is so huge and so complex that none of us really understands it, we might as well start with "Once upon a time . . . "

So here are a few of my stories: One, I am really, really lucky to have health insurance at all. Our insurance company tried to drop me when I developed a seizure disorder back in 1995 and for years we ended up paying more for health insurance than we paid for our mortgage. Now that we are able to get group coverage even though we are technically self-employed, it's a little less expensive and a little less scary but it also limits our options. For example, if we were to leave Baptist life, would I still be able to get coverage? No idea.

Here's another story: I was a chaplain in a geriatric care facility for three years. It was my first job out of seminary, the first "church" I ever served. Mrs. K was in her nineties and lay in a bed curled into a fetal position all three years I worked there. I never saw her open her eyes, never heard her make a noise, never had any indication that she had any cognitive functioning at all. One day, I saw her being wheeled out of the home on a gurney, toward a waiting ambulance. Since her face was uncovered, I assumed she hadn't died and asked a nurse what was happening. With undisguised disgust, she told me that Mrs. K's son had authorized a hysterectomy for her, treating recently diagnosed uterine cancer. According to her, he said he "wanted to keep her alive at all costs." He did.

Later, I worked in a large teaching hospital. When someone I knew came to that hospital to have a baby by Caesarean section, I assumed I could visit the next day. When I showed up in the maternity floor the next morning, I discovered that she had already been discharged, along with the baby. I asked a nurse, "How could she already be gone?" The nurse asked, "Did she have insurance?" "No," I answered. "I think she was on Medicaid." "That's why, then. They don't keep them more than 24 hours."

One more: when C started having chest pains a few years ago, he made an appointment immediately with his doctor. She looked at his family history and sent him to a cardiologist. The cardiologist decided to do a stress test "just to be sure." When he flunked the stress test, a cardiogram was scheduled. When the cardiogram showed two 95% blockages and one 100% (the artery had created its own bypass), two specialists immediately did a heart cath, unquestionably saving his life. If we had not had health insurance . . . I don't even want to think about it.

So those are my stories. I have more and so do you. Let's be honest: our stories form and inform our opinions. If we had different stories, we would have different opinions. This is why we need to hear from everyone--our wisdom lies collectively in the sum total of our stories, not in the rightness of our opinions. At least that's my opinion.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Anniversary musings

For our anniversary date tonight, we went to see "Julie and Julia"--and loved it. It's only partly about the cooking and the blog and Paris; it's really a movie about passion and healthy marriages.

In particular, it's about intense, passionate women who are loved well by gentle men--which, of course, is the story of my adult life. C and I have often said that a big part of the success of our marriage is that we decided a long time ago to be happy. Another important part is this: we have done our best to make it easy for the other to pursue passions and enthusiasms, whether for the noble goal of advancing the Kingdom of God or just to have fun.

The movie also stirred up some early marriage memories for me. When I went home at Christmas during my third year at Baylor and told my mom I was getting married, she "let" me make dinner every night for two weeks. I had always helped in the kitchen and knew the basics as well as a few specialities (biscuits or pizza out of a box anyone?) but this was my first experience with being in charge of a meal, day in and day out. Honestly, I liked it and it didn't dissuade me from getting married so young.

The first few months we were married, I actually took pictures of the dinners I made, almost every night. I have a whole album interspersed with photos of meatloaf and roast chicken and fried chicken and boiled chicken and sloppy joes. I'm still not sure exactly why I did that. Heaven knows we didn't have the money to waste on film and photo developing. But it's funny (and a little sweet) now.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Happy anniversary to us

On Friday night, C took me on a date to see The Wonder Bread Years, a hilarious two-hour comedy show about the years we grew up in. As the comedian riffed on everything from lunch boxes and Big Chief tablets to Pop Rocks and TV test patterns and Toughskin jeans, we laughed our way through our own childhoods til our cheeks hurt. Thanks, sweetie, for a fun night out!

Suffer the little children

Starting today, I'll be participating in the Week of Prayer for Children and Youth and I'd like to invite you to join in. You can go here for a prayer guide and here for more information. Even if you're not from Houston, you can dedicate this week to praying for the children of your community.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Meet Chloe

You may remember that Jasmine was lost when a realtor let her out one weekend while we were in Austin. It was harder on all of us than we would have thought. A couple of weeks ago, Boo decided she was ready to have another cat and so we went to the Town Lake Animal Shelter (after several PetsMarts) and came home with Chloe. Chloe had obviously read the book "How to Get Adopted by Teenaged Girls" since she immediately hopped on Boo's lap and turned her head around in a coy little move (I promise, she was smiling). As we were leaving her cage to look at kittens, she put both paws around Boo's ankle and licked her feet. She obviously knew what she was doing because we ended up taking her home. She's about 12 months old and still has a lot of kitten in her but is much calmer (most of the time) and knows her way around a litter box. She really is a sweetheart and we love her. Welcome to the family, Chloe!

Friday, August 7, 2009

What laypeople don't understand

It's not the negative complainer or even the angry bully that sucks the life out of your minister. It's the twenty people that stand by passively and just let the complaining and bullying happen.

It doesn't help, after a difficult meeting, for you to come by your pastor's office to commiserate if you kept your mouth shut during the meeting.

Monday, August 3, 2009


The funeral went two-and-a-half hours, then to the cemetery and back. The family is still eating at the church, almost 6 hours later. It was a long day for C and everyone else, but it was all good. This was a good kid, a young man who had a chance. His parents did what all of us who love young adults do: they prayed that he would survive his foolishness and outgrow it--like all the rest of us did. But he didn't. So sad.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not about anything in particular

It's easy to identify problems.

It's hard to be part of the answer.

It's easy to say, "Well, I don't know what I want but it isn't THAT."

It's hard to work toward imperfect solutions and then stand by them.

It's easy to tell people how they should do better.

It's hard to figure out how I can do better . . . and then do it.

It's easy to be resigned and cynical.

It's hard to nurture hope.

It's easy to look for quick fixes.

It's hard to persevere through deep change.

It's easy to say, "Well, somebody ought to do something about that."

It's hard to be "somebody."

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Missional Marriage

This time last week, we had just gotten home from a retreat near Houston where JTH and I presented the debut weekend of Missional Marriage. I've been working on this for months, thinking of ways to apply the principles of Faithwalking to marriage. It's nice to have the first one behind me.

It seems that couples get tripped up in one of two ways: some are so busy living missionally (or even just living lives of ministry and service) that they neglect their marriages; honestly, sometimes one or both partners may be using missional living as a way of avoiding going home and doing the hard work of being a couple. The other pitfall is the one C and I most often fall into: life together is so good and so appealing that we lose momentum for mission; why can't we just hang out together all the time, you know?

So Missional Marriage is an attempt to help couples navigate that precise point where mission and relationship intersect. We discovered on the retreat that it's hard to even define the variables, even for people who are living them. We also discovered that the point of intersection is unique for each of us. Taking these things into account while trying to hit the needs of each couple was a challenge.

I have to say, I love this work. I was anxious on every level, feeling insecure and inadequate after overcoming the paralysis that sets in when I get scared. On the other hand, I got to learn once again the powerful lesson that the antidote for insecurity is passion. When I focus on the task at hand or, even worse, the reactions of other people, I'm sunk. When I connect to the passion I have for couples and for ministry and for God's redemptive mission in the world, I come alive on a level that is hard to describe.

The best part of the weekend was having C with me, partly because he helps me make that connection when I can't get there by myself. He encourages me, literally, by putting courage into me and also by letting me talk things out so that I can know what I think. We did a lot of our own work, especially on Saturday, refining and restating our own vision for our lives. Thankfully, we didn't have much relationship work to do--what a blessing!

So anyway, that's something I'm working on these days, trying to nurture a dream into reality. Life is good.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tolerating tolerance (or not)

Mowgli and I have been having an ongoing conversation this week about tolerance. First, we tried to define it. In its most basic form, it means (we decided): "Even though I passionately disagree with you, I won't kill you or burn down your house." At first, we thought that was TOO basic until we realized that much of the world isn't even on board with even that much.

At one point, Mowgli asked, "So what does tolerance mean for a follower of Jesus?" and we added a few extras: the follower of Jesus says, "Even though I passionately disagree with you, I will not only refrain from killing you or burning down your house, I will also pray for your wellbeing and serve you with a sacrificial love."

But now, the plot thickens. If I disagree passionately with you out loud and on purpose, am I being intolerant and disrespectful? Even if I am also refraining from killing you and I am serving you in love? If I believe very strongly that you are WRONG and I express that opinion to your face and even oppose you politically, can I still be tolerant?

This is what is being discussed at our house this week.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak

C has done it to me again. I TOLD him I would not be sucked into the Twilight Zone marathon on the SciFi channel. I told him that none of his lures would be effective. I made it very clear that I had things to do and wouldn't be watching old Twilight Zone reruns with him. But then there was the one about the pool champ and then the one about the mannequins and, oh yeah, the one where the girl meets her double in the bus station and everyone thinks she's crazy. My husband is truly diabolical.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Two things I know for sure

1. It's not all about me.
2. Down deep, I think it is.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Honey, this goes in the sitcom!

We always joke about church work being great fodder for a television dramedy--here's the latest installment:

C got up early this morning to meet with an elderly man before a hip replacement and then went to church, where he was in charge of our church's VBS program. Then he raced home to grab his suitcase and head to Houston for a funeral tomorrow morning (he was planning to meet with the family tonight). Three-plus hours later, he had just gotten to Houston when the family called to say that the funeral is off--apparently the funeral home forgot to cremate the body in time for the service. Don't you just hate it when that happens?

Monday, June 8, 2009

So what DO I do?

When I'm getting to know someone, it's not uncommon for my new friend to ask tentatively, "So what does a counselor DO?" It's a question I've asked myself many times through the years (almost 21 years now, if you can believe it). In most professions, a job description is pretty clear--make money for the company, for example, or sell widgets, or write copy or fix plumbing. But because therapy is an art as well as a science (and shame on the counselors who don't take both aspects seriously), it's important that we're constantly refining and defining the subjective nature of what we do in the secrecy of the counseling room.

I was taught in graduate school that my job would be to identify people's faulty thinking and help them make adjustments that would lead to better mental health. There's a lot of truth to that--faulty thinking is actually the root of many problems people have--and I spend a lot of time doing it, but it's not really at the heart of what I do.

As a beginning therapist, I thought it was my job to help fix people. I wouldn't have said that out loud but I know this is what I thought because I remember the anxiety I felt when people wouldn't cooperate and get fixed or when what was wrong wasn't fixable. To be honest, I still understand a part of my job to be solution-focused--people should be able to point to something that happened in counseling that made things better. That's what they're paying for and it borders on the unethical to poke around in people's psyches and indulge our curiosity about what is going on in their lives without offering them real and practical help.

I sometimes think of myself as offering the emotional version of physical therapy--I diagnose and then help a person regain function--sometimes I can help a person make adjustments that lead to better health and other times I help them cope by learning new ways of doing things. As with physical therapy, there's no magic--it's hard work and the client has to do the bulk of it. That's a good analogy and does accurately describe a large portion of what I do as a counselor. But it's definitely not the whole picture.

A few years in, I started thinking about the heart of therapy as hospitality--creating safe and welcoming space where transformation can occur. The earliest mental hospitals were actually inns formed in the deserts by monks and nuns as places of refuge for those who were mentally and spiritually broken. I still use this model as a way of understanding that my role is often actively passive--I work hard to create that safe and welcoming space in my office (it's harder than it looks!) and then I wait and wonder with the client to see how healing will come.

It's hardest to understand my role in the face of the deep pain and anguish that my clients often bring and pour out into my lap. That's when the self-doubt can get vicious--who do I think I am, anyway? What on earth do I have to offer?

I've been deeply touched lately by a paragraph written by Ziya Meral, a human-rights advocate who stands faithfully and often helplessly with the oppressed and persecuted. He writes, in part:

"Whenever I look into the eyes of people who suffer and I have the privilege to be welcomed into their most intimate hurts, I know all too well that there is no quick fix for their afflictions. No smart line from a pop-psychology book can ease their continual pain. In such moments, God often reminds me to shut up and simply be present. I stand as desolate as they, and choose to stay awake in their Gethsemane, hold their hands, pray, and cry with them."

Did you catch the key phrase? " . . . choose to stay awake in their Gethsemane . . . " This is what I do.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Just reread the last post and realized that I said that I remember "winning" to an Asian boy named Andy--actually, I LOST to him. Freudian slip? A little wishful thinking? Just wanted to clear things up.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spelling bee memories

A long time ago, C and I found the national spelling bee on one of the ESPN channels while we were on vacation and we ended up postponing dinner until it was over because it was just so funny in an endearing way. Since then, we've watched it several times with the kids--all of us do color commentary, choose our favorites, guess the words and laugh ourselves silly.

Well, tonight I not only picked the winner, I could spell the winning word! (It was "Laodicean," by the way, and it was about the only word I could spell.) Most of you know that I'm a spelling nerd and have been all my life. What you may not know is that I was my elementary school's spelling champion in 5th grade. I have absolutely no memories of the spelling bee at my school but I have vivid memories of studying for hours and hours preparing for the city-wide bee sponsored by the local paper. I would stretch out on the floor while my mom called out the words to me from a booklet given to us by the national spelling bee organization. The official rules stated that if there were still contestants standing after every word in the booklet had been asked, the judges would begin to use words from the dictionary. I faithfully studied every single word in that booklet over and over but I refused to study the dictionary.

Anyway, I also vividly remember the city-wide spelling bee and the room it was held in (some public building, maybe the lobby of the newspaper office). There were molded plastic chairs in rows for the contestants and also for the parents and other onlookers and cookies and punch on a long table against one wall. I remember being so nervous but also excited, I remember the exhilaration of being one of only two left standing, I remember winning to a 6th grade Asian boy named Andy, and I remember the word he won on ("chary"). I don't remember the word I missed to give it to him.

Anyway, I was reminiscing about that tonight as we watched the national spelling bee (on network tv now), thinking that my kids will one day say to their kids, "My parents were such dorks, we watched the spelling bee every year," but they'll say it with a smile and have some fond memories.

Friday, May 22, 2009


The first ever South Austin Date Night was officially a success! I had been so worried that no one would come or that it would fall flat. Well, we had 22 couples in the party room of a local Mexican restaurant for enchiladas and marriage enrichment and the "buzz" was terrific.

There was one couple who had been married 56 years and another who got married last month and 20 couples in between. According to the anonymous evaluation forms, everyone had a terrific time and learned a lot and every single person indicated that they would come to the next one and bring friends. This could really happen!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A transformation poem

Passover Remembered

Pack nothing
Bring only
your determinationto serve
andyour willingnessto be free.

Don't wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey,
but eat standing,
be readyto move at a moment's notice.

Do not hesitate to leave
your old ways behind
--fear, silence, submission.

Only surrender to the need
of the time -- to love
justice and walk humbly
with your God.

Do not take timeto explain to the neighbours.
Tell only a few trusted
friends and family members.

Then begin quickly,
before you have time
to sink back into
the old slavery.

Set out in the dark.
I will send fire
to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire
and I will be with you in the cloud.

You will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely to that place
you have not yet seen.

The stories you tell
one another around the fires
in the dark will make you
strong and wise.

Outsiders will attack you,
and some follow you,
and at times you will get wearyand turn on each other
from fear and fatigue and
blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing
for this for hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the wilderness
to make a new way and to learn my ways
more deeply.

Some of you will be so changed
by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends
will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.

Some of you will not change at all.
Some will be abandonedby your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those
who have known you since birth
and feel abandoned by you.
Some will find new friendships
in unlikely faces, and old friends
as faithful and true
as the pillar of God's flame.

Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow confused
and lose your way.
Continue to call each other
by the names I've given you,
to help remember who you are.
You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.
Touch each other and keep telling the stories.

Make maps as you go
remembering the way back
from before you were born.

So you will be only the first
of many waves of deliverance on these desert

It is the first of many beginnings --
your Paschaltide.
Remain true to this mystery.

Pass on the whole story.
Do not go back.
I am with you now
and I am waiting for you.

- Alla Bozarth-Campbell

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mother's Day

I love to preach on Mother's Day but I really try to stay away from Hallmark card sermons about motherhood. It seems to me that "theme worship services" should be used sparingly. I'm really not even crazy about the obligatory God-and-country services we have on either side of the Fourth. Many years ago, a headline on the front page of the Waco paper read, "Worship service to honor Grant Teaff." That always seemed just a bit off to me (and probably made Coach Teaff uncomfortable as well.)

Anyway, that's not what I wanted to write about tonight. I had a sweet day with my kids today. Mowgli came to church and stayed through the whole service because he knew that would mean a lot to me. They gave me a gift card for a massage (YES!) and we had barbecue for lunch so I wouldn't have to cook. Tonight C made pancakes to give me another break. And the kids did all the dishes--both meals--even though our dishwasher is broken and they had to hand wash everything. I love my kids!

I also really love my mom. I don't remember ever giving her a nice gift for Mother's Day when I was a kid. I remember bringing her breakfast in bed at least once--I can only imagine what she had to choke down! I liked to make her things like cards and things made of macaroni and so forth. I remember various coupon books for things like helping around the house or hugs. (She probably would have rather had coupons for not talking back or rolling my eyes but that was more than I could deliver on.) I also went through a stage where I liked to wrap up things she already owned and "surprise" her with them. And guess what? She was always surprised!

Anyway, the point is that I have a great mom. There was never one single moment in my growing up when I didn't know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was deeply and unconditionally loved. That is an incredible gift to give a child. I always believed that she loved being my mom, even when it was hard. She would listen to me talk and talk and talk and never told me (like I told Mowgli once), "My ears are too tired to listen any more." She is warm and kind and has a wonderful laugh.

As a teacher, she always cared most about the kids that struggled. Even in retirement, she gives back in some way every single week--delivering Meals on Wheels or spending the night at the homeless ministry or helping sign in kids for basketball at church. She and my dad taught me (and continue to teach me) that you should always be part of the solution because they live that way. She always taught me to see the other person's side of things (which has turned out to be a marketable skill--who knew?) and to try to remember that I'm not always right (that one was really hard!)

Mom was the first one to see that I was in love with C and the first one to understand why. She has loved my kids so well and they know it. Both have said, "Grandma's awesome" fairly recently--and they're right.

So Happy Mother's Day, Mom--I love you so much.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Home from Michigan

We're back from Michigan! This is a photo of some of the leadership teams we were working with in Holland, MI this week. We coached the pastors first and then their congregational leadership teams arrived on Friday and we worked with the larger groups.

Our trip to Michigan coincided with Tulip Time, the annual tulip festival. Here are some photos that JTH took while we were there. Imagine tulips lining the streets and in flower beds everywhere in every possible color. (JTH and I decided that the burgundy and purple tulips were too dark and serious for such a happy flower.)

This is me in front of our hotel. You can see the beautiful flowering tree behind me as well as the tulips. The flowering trees were also everywhere, in several different colors.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another update

Faithwalking was such a blessing again this time. For those of you who pray for us, thank you. Each time we get better at the teaching part and each time we see lives touched and, hopefully, changed. I have a wonderful life.

I'm heading to Michigan in a few hours. Those of you who know me well know that I've looked at the national weather map (it was an accident--I was watching the Today show) and that I've seen all the thunderstorms between here and Chicago. I'm sure there will be quite a bit of turbulence and maybe some delays but I've got two magazines and two books and a pad of paper and my MP3 player so I should be okay.

I'm going into this energized and fatigued. The days in Michigan are 12 hour days with pastors and their leadership teams. C and I are team preaching again on Sunday morning (after I arrive in Austin Saturday night). I'm truly not complaining--I love this life God has blessed me with. But if you thought to pray for me, for stamina and for the ability to stay present and focused, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The latest update

It's Faithwalking time again! I'm headed to Houston in just a few minutes to be ready to start with a new Faithwalking group at 8:00 tomorrow morning. This is always such a special weekend and I always come back changed. On Wednesday, I leave for Michigan to spend time with the Reformed pastors there and their leadership teams--about 125 people in all. You may remember that we were last with them in February here in Texas.

If I've counted right, by April 30, I will have traveled somewhere for speaking/consulting 7 times since the beginning of the year. That's definitely a busier travel schedule than I'm used to but it pretty much comes to a screeching halt on May 1. I have one or two things this summer and one or two in the fall.

An unfortunate byproduct of my travel schedule is that I stopped "shaking the bushes" for new clients after the first of the year. In addition, the clients I had are doing better and therefore coming to sessions less frequently. As a result, my counseling schedule has tapered off quite a bit. May has to be all about getting clients and generating name-recognition. If you have ideas, please share them!

C continues to love his ministry at the church and the good people we serve here. We are team-preaching right now--we preached together last week, he's on his own this week, we'll team up again next week and then I'll be on my own the week after that. We really enjoy working together this way and the feedback we get is terrific.

Also, the vision team for the young adult ministry I lead is coming together in a really exciting way and I'm excited to see what God is about to do in that arena. The challenge is not letting more urgent things distract me from patient leadership with these young adults.

Boo is doing great as well. She's overwhelmed with homework right now but that should taper off soon. She still loves dance and will be in three dances in the spring recital. I just talked to Mowgli last night and he is working really, really hard to wrap things up for the semester and will be home in less than two weeks! He'll work at HEB and go to summer school.

So, that's about it--just realized there is a lot going on and I hadn't updated you in awhile.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Everything you never wanted to know about me

I've been tagged by the electric monk to answer these questions on my blog. If you blog, consider yourself tagged.

The rules: Answer the questions on your blog, replace one question you dislike with a question of your own invention; add a question of your own.

Why do you blog?
It started as a way to keep up with friends after I moved. I've since learned that most of those friends have no interest in the blog (not sure what that means) so it's become more of a journal and a means of self-expression. I'm enough of a writer to need and enjoy that and I appreciate having the outlet for it. Of course, I'm also pretty narcissistic!

Do you nap a lot?
I used to be a world-class champion napper but I've lost the touch.

Who was the last person you hugged?
People in my Sunday School class as they left the house last night.

Have you ever had an altercation with the police?
Are you kidding? I'm the biggest rule-follower ever.

What was the last thing you bought?
Contacts solution at Walmart (for my new bifocal contacts!)

What are you listening to right now?
Podcast from Blog

What is your favorite weather?
60's or 70's, blue sky, low humidity

What’s on your bedside table?
Lamp, book (reJesus), hand lotion

Say something to the person/s who tagged you.
I need you to teach me how to post videos on the blog.

If you could have a house totally paid for, fully furnished anywhere in the world, where would you want it to be?
Fully paid for? How about Austin, TX? No . . . something on a secluded lake somewhere, Tennessee or North Carolina would be beautiful but Texas is fine, too.

Favorite vacation spot?
See above

Name the things you can’t live without:
Books. Magazines. Dr. Pepper. C. The internet.

What would you like to have in your hands right now?
Plane tickets to NYC for all 4 of us, along with hotel reservations and Broadway tickets

What is your favorite tea flavor?
Christmas blend.

What would you like to get rid of?
30 pounds

If you could go anywhere in the world for the next hour, where would you go?
North Carolina, to say hi to Mowgli

What did you want to become as a child?
A nun or a missionary. A "brain doctor." A writer.

What do you like better, e-mail or telephone calls?
Email for getting things done, telephone for friendship.

What do you do when you get time alone?
Read. Piddle. Watch movies. Organize things.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Just what I needed to hear

This was my email devotional on Monday. It's by Eugene Peterson, author of The Message.

I want to simplify your lives. When others are telling you to read more, I want to tell you to read less; when others are telling you to do more, I want to tell you to do less. The world does not need more of you; it needs more of God. Your friends do not need more of you; they need more of God. And you don't need more of you; you need more of God. For we do not progress in the Christian life by becoming more competent, more knowledgeable, more virtuous or more energetic. We do not advance in the Christian life by acquiring expertise. Each day, and many times each day, we need more of God. Back to Square One.

The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out –
but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

l JOHN 2:17

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What church could be

I haven't yet learned how to put a video here so just follow this link:

I hope it touches you and inspires you like it did me.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I believe in mindfulness and learn about it. I teach it. I try to practice it. I truly believe that it is one important answer to most of our human problems.

Well, let me just say that there is nothing like finding a rattlesnake in the garage--which is part of the house!--to make a person mindful! I was the last to snap to the fact that the sound we were hearing was actually a rattlesnake. I was distracted, looking for something, on a mission to accomplish something like I usually am. So I heard it but didn't even look, didn't even notice.

Needless to say, now I am mindful. I watch where I step. I listen. I pay attention. I am more fully aware.

If only I could learn to be this mindful looking for God . . .

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter excitement

We heard the rattling before we actually saw the snake. Dad held it down with a rake while C chopped it in half with a shovel. Now I'm steering clear of the garage. Does anyone know if rattlesnakes travel in pairs?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday

Have you ever seen anyone prepare a body after death? When I was a hospital chaplain, I was sometimes privy to the small rituals that nurses perform after the death of patient, especially when the family is coming in to view the body. They close the eyes and arrange the mouth, adjusting the angle of the bed if necessary to let gravity help. They wash the body with professional tenderness--in the ER, this is particularly important. Sometimes they arrange the hair or the hands so that the person appears more natural, less ravaged by the disease or the trauma that took her life.

I have long been fascinated by the story recorded by John (19:38-42) about the treatment of Jesus' body after his death. It seems that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (both well-respected and probably affluent religious leaders) were concerned about what would happen to a common criminal's body after it was removed from a pagan cross. Even though he was a heretic and a traitor to his religion, they wanted him to be treated in a way that would reflect his Jewish heritage and life. They asked for his body, prepared it for burial with spices and oils, and then laid it to rest in Joseph's own family's tomb.

This intrigues me. We know almost nothing about how closely they followed him during his public ministry but we know they were not in his inner circle. What, then, gave them the courage to identify with him after his execution? When his true friends were absent with fear, what made them want to keep following, doing the only thing that was left to do? When the story of Jesus had apparently ended in the most disillusioning way possible, why did these two men care whether he at least had a proper burial?

We can safely assume that these two men had never prepared a body for burial before. For one thing, that was the work of women (as we see when the women come to the tomb the next day.) For another, touching a corpse made a person ritually unclean and these were two religious leaders. In fact, this story almost certainly takes place during the Sabbath. This act of friendship is also a subversive act, an early skirmish in the revolution of grace that is about to begin.

Can you see them working together in awkward, mournful silence? Can you picture the intimacy of their ministrations as they use herbs and spiced oils to soften the skin of the broken body of their friend, now heavy in death? Can you imagine the breaking of their hearts, the tears running silently into their beards, their occasional sighs full of loss and grief? Can you see their love?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday memories

We're heading out the door for Maundy Thursday services in just a couple of minutes. C always does a simple, Scripture-focused silent communion service for this day of Holy Week and it is truly lovely. When Mowgli called earlier this week, he remembered with fondness the Thursday services and said they were always his favorite. His exact words: "They were very Quaker-like."

Many years ago now, it was at Maundy Thursday services that Boo first expressed her desire to be a Christian. I was at work that night so C told her to wait for Mommy. As it turned out, we all piled onto her bed on Easter Sunday morning and she bowed her head and folded her hands in her lap and gave her heart to Jesus. Sweet memories . . .

Another excerpt from Wendell Berry

I will remember 2009 as the year I discovered Wendell Berry. My only regret is that I don't seem to be able to slow down enough to read him as slowly as he deserves to be read. Here's another excerpt (from Jayber Crow):

One Saturday evening, while Troy was still awaiting his turn in the [barber] chair, the subject was started and Troy said--it was about the third thing he said--"They ought to round up every one of them sons of bitches and put them right in front of the damned communists, and then whoever killed who, it would all be to the good."
There was a pause after that. Nobody wanted to try to top it.
It was hard to do, but I quit cutting hair and looked at Troy. I said, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you."
Troy jerked his head up and widened his eyes at me. "Where did you get that crap?"
I said, "Jesus Christ."
And Troy said, "Oh."
It would have been a great moment in the history of Christianity except that I did not love Troy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Today's rant

I'm asking myself the same question that Leonard Pitts so eloquently posed in yesterday's editorial: "How fat is a woman allowed to be before her opinions no longer matter?"

Apparently Laura Ingraham knows the answer but she doesn't seem to be sharing exactly where the line is between an acceptable appearance (and therefore a right to have opinions and express them) and an unacceptable appearance which disqualifies a woman from the same. Presumably, the line is somewhere between Ms. Ingraham's own weight and that of Meghan McCain's.

Here's the story: John McCain's daughter blogged that she found Ann Coulter "offensive, radical, insulting and confusing." Laura Ingraham immediately responded by marginalizing Meghan McCain by calling her "plus-sized" and implying that her opinions don't matter for that reason. (Remember, Meghan was blogging, not giving speeches.)

The part that bothers me is not that Ms. Ingraham wanted to defend Ms. Coulter. It's certainly her right to do so. It's more about that way we go about marginalizing women by reducing them to their weight and their appearance. We see it in the public arena all the time--Hilary Clinton being the most recent example of a capable woman being diminished by how the public's opinion of how she looks in a pantsuit. (If you don't believe me, go read any comment thread on any mainstream website.) I think Oprah Winfrey was initally embraced by women everywhere because she was a large woman who dared to say what she thought and acted like she thought she had a right to.

Since I think Hilary Clinton and Oprah can take care of themselves, however, I'm even more disturbed, when it shows up in women's personal lives. I can't count how many times I see smart, caring women reduced to shame and self-doubt when people in their lives call them "fat bitches" and "stupid cows" and "ugly." It's as though women ourselves buy into the poisonous myth that being overweight or being older or not being pretty disqualifies us, marginalizes us, and lessens our worth and our right to speak our minds.

By the way, Meghan McCain is about a size 8. What does that say about the rest of us?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Aaaaahhh . . .

Remember the sound of the Nestea plunge? That's how I've felt since Sunday at noon. On Sunday, I took Mowgli to the airport to send him back to NC, sent Boo off on a Spring Break mission trip and then left with my sweetie for two nights in San Antonio. We meandered on the Riverwalk, ate two fabulously self-indulgent dinners (steak one night, fish the next), took naps and remembered what it was like to be on vacation!

I took my new camera and spent quite a bit of time learning to use it but ended up not taking any real photos because it turned out that I wanted to be unencumbered and that meant not even carrying a camera. So no photos here . . . instead, I want to leave you with a quote from the book I took with me--Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I have to say, I am going to carry the memory of this book with me for the rest of my life. I'm stunned that I never found it before now.

Anyway, Hannah speaks about the intimacy of a long marriage this way:

The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together. You come together to the day's end, weary and sore, troubled and afraid. You take it all into your arms, it goes away, and there you are where giving and taking are the same, and you live a little while entirely in a gift. The words have all been said, all permissions given, and you are free in the place that is the two of you together. What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room?


Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sic 'em, bears!

Yesterday was a big day for our household. The Baylor Bears beat UT for the chance to play in the Big 12 championship--completely shocking even to the die-hard fans in this family. C still gets so animated that he scares the children! The only time our kids have ever heard their dad yell is when the Bears or the Astros are playing and the stakes are high. Also, Guilford College (where Mowgli goes to school) advanced from the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight in Division 3 last night. UPDATE: Guilford is now in the Final Four.

Let me just say: when I married this man, I had no idea what a role sports would have in my life. Ok, honestly, I guess I had an inkling that he "liked sports," whatever that meant . . . but no reference point to understand the passion, the loyalty, the heartbreak, the obsession. In my house growing up, the only sport I ever remember being on TV was golf, which was as much nap-inducing as anything else. Anyway, let's just say that the two men in my house are very, very happy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Relationships and technology

We're on our way to the ATT store to upgrade our phones and change our plan to one with less talking and more texting. Actually, we're currently charged for our texts individually (at about 20 cents each!) because we've got the only two teenagers in the world who don't like to text. But that's changing because Boo's friends like to text, leaving her little choice, and because my clients are increasingly choosing to contact me that way.

That reminds me of something I've been noticing more and more. I am amazed at how much delicate relational work couples are doing through texting. I actually watched one couple negotiate at least half of their decision to divorce through text messages, back in the days before qwerty phones, when they had to do it all with their thumbs.

One thing I'm noticing now is how one or both partners have the expectation that their spouse should be immediately available by phone 24 hours a day. This is a common scenario: the wife will text her husband something innocuous like "how r u?" but doesn't hear back. This makes her anxious so she starts sending messages questioning his love for her, expressing her insecurity and eventually her fury. By the time he gets back to her to tell her that he was in a meeting or on a phone call or (in one case) laying carpet, she is feeling so abandoned and angry that repairing the damage seems impossible. Although it's sometimes the husband and not the wife, I am seeing this pattern on at least a weekly basis.

I also see couples who bicker by email (or now texting) all day long, leaving them both emotionally exhausted and angry by the end of the day when they reconnect. Understandably, they're just so tired of all the negativity that they want to end the marriage without even noticing the toll that technological accessibility is taking.

More and more often, I'm prescribing no texting, no cell phone calls and no emailing for couples during the work day, making them earn back the privilege with "good behavior." Twenty years ago when I started this work, I never imagined!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

And it wasn't even Friday the 13th!

Let's say it's Friday morning and you have to leave town at noon to drive to another town to see friends, go to a party and lead a retreat on Saturday morning. And say you waited til the last minute to make copies of all your handouts. I know, I know, none of you would actually do that but just pretend that you had a couple of really good reasons for waiting til the last minute.

And say that you had exactly enough time to get everything copied and get packed except that then your printer black ink cartridge ran out halfway through the first set of copies. And then say that you got a frantic call about a client emergency that was going to take at least an hour to manage, not to mention all the worry and concern you're now consumed with. And say that, even though you're running an hour late, the printing job is going smoothly, what with the new ink cartridge and all. And then say, the power goes out.

I'm home now and all went well.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lenten lessons

What I've learned during Lent so far is that every bit of my vitality, my joie de vivre, my zest for living apparently comes from caffeine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I want to write something about Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent but it's all swirling around inside me and doesn't want to be formed into words just yet. Something about how sobering and helpful it is to be reminded of the importance of true repentance which I'm going to define for now as grief about the brokenness of our world and my own life and a deep, genuine desire for transformation.

I want to write something about how my friend--a very devout Roman Catholic--used to get so excited about realizing it was okay to pray extemporaneously and how she loved to "just pray her heart," as she put it, a whole new practice for her. That was happening right about the time that I was realizing that sometimes the ancient prayers expressed my heart better than my own words could--that somehow my heart would rise and expand to fit the beauty and truthfulness of the prayers of others.

I would write about how blessed I've been to add to my life from the traditions of Christians around the world and throughout time and how grateful I am that they are available to me. And I would say something about how nervous I am about my Lenten experiment in making choices and how challenged I feel by it. If I could just put it into words, these are some of the things I would say.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


My experiment has shown me that I don't really intend to make consistently good choices on a daily basis. I certainly intend to make more good choices than bad choices and I'm very committed to avoiding really bad choices but when it comes to moment-by-moment decision making, I tend to go by what I want in the moment. I'm planning to expand and intensify the experiment during Lent--no shame, no guilt, just a heightened awareness about how I make decisions and what it would look like and feel like to genuinely intend to live differently. I'm starting to feel the power of the word "intend."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Baby steps

C and I went to the gym this morning and did the treadmill for half an hour. C has been going just about every single day--I'm very proud of him. Me, this was my first trip. I've been waiting to get completely back on my feet--after massive doses of Advil for four days, I think I'm finally there.

Anyway, can I just say that working out is not my thing! Now that I've gotten that out of the way, though, I think I'm learning to enjoy it just a bit more. I definitely have more energy when I exercise and I like the social aspect of it, visiting with my friend PB and with C. Actually, half our church has joined this gym, so the social aspect may be about to change dramatically. (Notice that I didn't say which way! We'll wait and see . . . )

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The second experiment

A few years ago, my friend JTH said that he was praying to live so that anytime God whispered into his ear about a decision or a choice, he could immediately respond in obedience. He referenced Isaiah 30:21 about how we will hear "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, you will hear a voice saying, "This is the way, walk in it."

So, I decided to try it for a day and see what happened. I always wake up with good intentions but I also tend to be unfocused and maybe just a tad cynical about my ability to consistently live well. So, on Friday, I gave it a try. I made the commitment that no matter what happened, I would do my best to make the best choice in that situation.

So, I didn't eat the extra bowl of cereal for breakfast. I spent some time with God and my Bible instead of wasting precious morning time surfing the net. On my way to work, I listened to a CD I love instead of the negative, aggressive radio show that I usually settle for. I was extra tuned in to my clients and saw them through a particularly loving lens. For lunch, I drank water and had extra vegetables and thoroughly enjoyed it.

It didn't fall apart until about 7 p.m. and it happened before I even realized it. I was very tired, had just gotten home from traveling and was in pain from a fall earlier in the week, so by the time evening came, I was on autopilot mode--and autopilot mode is about doing what's easy and not making choices. I didn't eat supper but snacked mindlessly standing at the counter. The TV was making noise but I couldn't tell you what was on. I didn't make eye contact with Boo when she came through the room, absentmindedly asking how her day was.

I thought about how many times I disconnect from my choices because of fatigue or . . . well, disconnection. I guess it really is a self-reinforcing cycle. It seems that the key is not just making good choices but keeping up the awareness that I am making choices, even in autopilot.

I'm planning to try the experiment again in a day or two, when I'm not so tired and see what happens. In a way, it seems like a less tiring way to live because there would be no agonizing about those small decisions. the better choice is usually evident--I just waste a lot of energy sometimes resisting it! Anyway, just thinking about how it all works together . . . as usual, it's all more complicated than it looks!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias

When I was in college, I had a social psychology text by Elliot Aronson that just floored me. I even thought about ditching ministry for research just so I could do more with social psychology. Well, Aronson has a new book out and it is just as fantastic.

The title is "Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Mistakes, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts." It's a cute title but the book is a systematic and comprehensive look at cognitive dissonance, something that has fascinated me all my adult life. C teases me about my compulsive need to be "consistent," which is directly related to the fact that I can see cognitive dissonance all the time but I can't do anything about it except in my own life.

Basically, cognitive dissonance is what we experience when we are confronted with two conflicting beliefs and we feel the internal pressure to resolve the conflict by making one of them go away. A few examples: The fact is that I had an affair. I'm confronted with two beliefs about myself that are in conflict: "I am a good person." "A good person wouldn't do what I did." Now begins the justifying process. Either I can decide that I'm not really a very good person (rarely happens) OR I can think of reasons why a good person would do what I did (and it usually has to do with blaming my spouse.)

Here's another example: You're a prosecutor in a rape case that convicts a man and sends him to prison. 20 years later, you learn that the DNA evidence exonerates him of the crime. You have two conflicting beliefs: "I am a good and competent prosecutor who would never send an innocent man to prison for 20 years." "The DNA evidence indicates that this man did not commit this crime." You will try to lessen this conflict (or dissonance) by deciding that the man may not be guilty of this crime but he is clearly a bad guy who needed to be kept off the streets for 20 years or by deciding that he obviously wore a condom and the semen in the rape victim is inexplicable or . . . whatever you have to do to hold on to your belief that you are a good and competent prosecutor. You may even decide that DNA evidence isn't all that reliable (even though you frequently use it when it will convict a suspect), never realizing your own inconsistency.

One of my favorite experiments has to do with cheating. Two people who believe that cheating is wrong but who are faced with the opportunity to cheat in order to pass a very important class make opposite decisions (one decides to cheat and one decides not to). Although before the they had very similar responses to hypothetical questions about cheating, stress, honesty, etc., now their answers will be very different. The one who decided to cheat will now believe that honesty is overrated, that most people cheat, that it's a necessary evil. The one who decided not to cheat is now even more firmly convinced that cheating is wrong and has even less empathy about the stress that might motivate someone to cheat. They start out very close together but that one decision drives them very far apart. You might think that the cheater would have respect for the guy who resisted temptation but he is more likely to feel contempt. Likewise, you might think that the noncheater would have empathy for the guy who gave in to temptation, having been tempted himself, but he is also far more likely to feel contempt.

Here's one more and then I'll quit: If you take a group of Israelis, say, and you present a peace plan to them that is actually the peace plan favored by Palestinians but you tell them that it is opposed by Palestinians, they will like it very much. Same with Republicans and Democrats or with people of opposite religious views. We like the ideas that come from people we think agree with us and vice versa, even when those views are reversed. We can't handle the dissonance that is caused when someone we dislike has good ideas.

This is a wonderfully fascinating and challenging book. The frustrating part is that you will suddenly see it everywhere (like psychics see ghosts) but you won't be able to do anything about it because people are mostly incapable of seeing their own self-justifying thinking. If Rush Limbaugh reads this book, he will either think it's bogus OR he'll think it applies to everyone except him OR his head will explode. That would be interesting.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Round and round

In the last 13 days, I've spent 4 days in Houston, on the teaching team for Faithwalking (one of those days was travel and preparation), 3 days in Dallas at the Leadership Network Innovation conference (and visiting my sister and her sweet, sweet baby and trying not to kill myself on all the ice), and 4 intense days with the pastors from Michigan (which went great!). Oh, yeah--and in the middle of that I gave a church-wide baby shower for a staff wife. I just got home about 4 hours ago and I'm home to stay until the end of the month.

Remember when you were a kid and you would spin around and around and around until you couldn't stand up anymore and then you would collapse on the ground and watch everything spinning around you? That's how I feel. I'm going to go finish dealing with email now and then I'm going to bed.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Two experiments

I'm trying something new. When it comes to speaking or preaching, I have always stayed very closely tethered to a manuscript and to what I've memorized. I tend to work on the language I want and then try to get pretty close to word-for-word. I'm aware, though, that the best work I do is as a teacher, when I almost always go by an outline rather than a manuscript.

So . . . for this week with the pastors from Michigan, I'm not taking a manuscript. I've thought through everything--nothing is new to me, so I'm familiar with everything I'll be saying--and I'm going to try teaching extemporaneously. I'm trying to remember that I know this stuff--I've done it in one form or another for years and there is no reason not to be confident, even without my training wheels.

I'll tell you about the second experiment when I get back.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

This week

This week I'll be with JTH and a couple dozen Reformed pastors from Michigan at Camp Tejas near Giddings, TX. We'll be talking leadership and transformation, of course--this time in the context of their denomination's efforts to strengthen their young leaders and identify churches that have the potential to be successful. Over the next couple of years, we'll be working with these pastors as well as their leadership teams which feels like a huge privilege. I'm looking forward to meeting the pastors (we already know the denominational leaders from previous trips to MI) and building relationships. Unfortunately, I have a really cruddy cold and I'm definitely not at 100%--disappointing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gotta run, catch me later

Just ran in from Faithwalking in Houston after being away since Thursday--washing clothes as fast as I can to leave for Carrollton tomorrow. I'll be home late Wednesday night and will stay home until Monday, when I leave for Camp Tejas (gathering with 25 Reformed pastors and denominational leaders) til Thursday. It's all exciting and I'm having fun!

Monday, January 19, 2009

My favorite quote from 2008

Heard on NPR on the day after Election Day:

The interviewer was talking to a group of young black men standing on a street corner in the south side of Chicago, talking about the election of Barack Obama the day before.

Interviewer: So what does the election of Barack Obama mean to you?

Young black man: It means that anybody can do anything if they try hard enough, that anything is possible. (His friends are laughing and cutting up in the background.)

Interviewer: Does it change anything for you personally?

Young black man: (pause) Yeah, it makes me want to pull up my pants! Yeah, makes me want to wear a belt, maybe!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

16 Things About Me

I've been tagged with "16 Things About Me"--tagged from two places, as a matter of fact. It should be fun--Here goes:
  1. I love to talk about myself! Those of you who know me well already know that! But I often get feedback that I'm "reserved," that I don't share freely, that I'm hard to get to know. I don't know what to do with that, but I'm pretty sure it is related to how safe I feel with someone.
  2. When C and I got married, I didn't know if I wanted to have kids. Really.
  3. Having Boo and Mowgli is the best thing I ever did and I have absolutely LOVED being a mom.
  4. Some days the whole God thing just doesn't make sense to me. Most days it does, mostly.
  5. I love to read. I read all the time. I almost always read standing up. I often read several things at once. I'm weird.
  6. I get about a million magazines every month. My favorites are Time, O, and Christianity Today. Next is The Week, Redbook, and The Psychotherapy Networker.
  7. I think empathy is the most important quality for a person to have. I believe it is the number one predictor of maturity.
  8. I really, really hate violence in movies or TV shows. I look away unapologetically. It can make me profoundly sad.
  9. I have way, way too many pairs of black shoes, black boots, and black sandals.
  10. I love to sleep late--it's my favorite hobby--but I'm losing the ability to do it. I can't nap either. It's a great personal loss.
  11. My Meyers-Briggs profile is ENFJ. Anyone surprised?
  12. My biggest challenge is managing the balance between tasks and people--getting the essential tasks done while placing the priority on people.
  13. I don't really like dogs. I mean, I like them in theory a lot but they scare me. And they smell. I'm kind of a wimp about these things.
  14. When I was in high school, I worked at a country music radio station, reading the news on Saturdays. It was a pretty cool job.
  15. I have really awesome parents and wonderful friends.
  16. I am absolutely madly in love with my husband.

If you blog (electric monk, this means you), consider yourself tagged.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Hmmmmm . . .

Some things resonate with such clarity that we use inadequate euphemisms like, "I felt like someone punched me in the stomach." Whatever. I'm still breathing but I feel like I can't catch my breath. This is what I read: "If you cannot set and keep good boundaries, you will always fear the added responsibility that comes with more success." All I know is that the author is Cheryl Richardson and she apparently has been poking around in the parts of my mind that I can't quite get to.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Barack Obama on leadership

I have been fascinated by reading the accounts of the "embedded" reporters in the major political campaigns over the last 18 months or so, published in Newsweek after the election. They described the chaos of the Clinton campaign (assumed at the time to be the winner) and its infighting and power struggles--staffers quarreling over titles, key advisors who refused to speak to each other even about strategy and policy, personnel that could not be in the same room together.

When the Clinton campaign folded, the Obama campaign swooped in to snag some of the best and the brightest to continue working for a Democrat victory. They apparently came into the Obama circle ready to continue their old ways, negotiating for more prestigious titles than those already working in the campaign, continuing their old feuds and so on. The article described the difficulty they had adjusting to an organization where conflict, if it occurred at all, took place behind closed doors, where people were identified by function rather than title, where everything was about the mission--streamlined, efficient, focused. As someone said, "No-drama Obama is in charge here."

So I was interested to see what the president-elect had to say (in Time magazine) in his own words:

"I don't think there's some magic trick here. I think I've got a good nose for talent, so I hire really good people. And I've got a pretty healthy ego, so I'm not scared of hiring the smartest people even when they're smarter than me. And I have a low tolerance of nonsense and turf battles and game-playing and I send that message very clearly. And so over time, I think, people start trusting each other and they stay focused on mission, as opposed to personal ambition or grievance. If you've got really smart people who are all focused on the same mission, then usually you can get some things done."

"I'm not a shouter. I find that what was always effective with me as a kid, and Michelle and I find it effective with our kids, is jsut making people feel really guilty. Like "Boy, I am disappointed in you. I expected so much more." And I think people generally want to do the right thing, and if you're clear to them about what that right thing is, and if they see you doing the right thing, then that gives you some leverage . . . Now there are exceptions. There are time when guilt doesn't work and then you have to use fear."

"Outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, "Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a president and an administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on fact and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient.' "

Obama appears to be an exceptional leader but, of course, he has never led the free world--he has a lot to prove. Still, I want to use the word . . . hmmm . . what is it? Self-differentiated? Yeah, that's it.

In lieu of a blogroll, part 3

When life is hectic and crazy, I like to go over to this blog and just wander around. I especially like the pictures but Brin is a good writer too. I know her life is hectic and crazy too, but she manages to capture a vision of serenity and beauty that touches me. Enjoy!

Real life resumes

I can tell because I found myself yesterday sitting at the desktop computer with my laptop on and open on my bed, talking on the home phone while my cell phone was ringing.

Saturday, January 3, 2009


Are you watching the horrible video coming out of the middle east? I'm turning off CNN because it's just a continual loop of bombs and fireballs and flames against the night sky. It makes me so sad to see what we do to each other. Watching the representatives of each side battle it out on cable television makes me just as sad. It reminds me of marriage counseling--each side so deeply wounded that they can only focus on their own hurt and have no empathy for the hurt of the other, each side so angry about their own grievances that they have no insight into their part of the conflict. Lord, have mercy.

In lieu of a blogroll, part 2

Here's another blog for you to check out: Real Live Preacher is actually Gordon Atkinson, a San Antonio pastor and writer. Here's a recent post I really enjoyed. He has a new format that I'm still getting used to but you can check out some of his most popular posts in the box on the right hand side of the front page of the blog if you like his writing. Again, thought-provoking, challenging and discomfiting--which is why I read it!

Friday, January 2, 2009

In lieu of a blogroll

There are about 8 blogs that I read on a daily-ish basis. Several of them are just keeping up with friends of mine and so I probably won't share them with you. But a couple consistently post things that make me think or laugh or enjoy my day just a little better and I want to introduce you to them this year. Consider it a new year's gift (or a curse, depending on whether you have time to "waste" on the internet.)

Today, I'm sending you to my friend Jim Herrington's blog, particularly to his most recent post, here. (If you're one of my technologically challenged readers, just move the cursor to the place where the text changes color. That's a link and when you click on it, it will take you to the other blog.)

Jim is one of those people whose life has been transformed before my very eyes and who has consistently challenged me to open myself up to transformation as well. He has invested in me, invited me, rebuked me, encouraged me and taught me. God has used him powerfully in my life (as well as in the lives of countless others.) Jim sees around corners and has an entrepreneurial faith that changes the world.

His compassion runs deep and his integrity even deeper. This post is challenging and uncomfortable. If you look back at his blog, you'll see his commitment to children in HISD public schools and to the poor and to unity in the church in Houston, TX--all things he actively works for and advocates for.