Friday, December 31, 2010

Meet Jorge and Annie

In order to understand the work of Ciudad del Refugio and the reason for our trip to Guatemala City, you need to meet Pastors Jorge and Annie. You need to see them in tireless action: preaching, leading small groups, feeding hungry alcoholics, caring for their children and grandchildren, organizing an always expanding household, praying, and always, always smiling. Here is Jorge, talking with a group of men during one of the parenting classes I taught. And here is Annie, encouraging her group of young women and children during the same parenting class:
You also need to know about their lives before they moved to the slums and started this church. Jorge was pastor of a middle-class Baptist church that didn't want to hear his prophetic message about caring for the poor, so he left. He told us that the biggest problem in Guatemala is that the middle-class is so afraid of the poor people that surround them and they tend to consolidate their newfound power by building gated communities and clustering themselves in middle class enclaves.

Jorge is a wonderful communicator, whether he is preaching or encouraging or making announcements or counseling. He clearly cares deeply about the people in his congregation
as well as the other pastors he connects and mentors. He is extroverted but not overwhelming, energetic but not manic, intense but in an engaging way. Before he began this church, he served a church in this run-down neighborhood but they, too, saw church as a way to avoid the needs of the neighborhood, not to move toward them. He and Annie left there, too.

Annie is a true Proverbs 31 woman--not in the "Christian Martha Stewart" way that is often idealized in evangelical culture--but as a powerful force of feminine love. On the day that this picture was taken, Annie was managing a crisis: four young children had been abandoned by their mother who wanted the church to take care of them while she pursued her own life. Apparently, this had happened before and on this occasion, Annie went to court to ask a judge to give her guardianship over the children. This took several hours out of an already jam-packed day; I honestly don't know how she did it. The judge ruled ambivalently: the children would be returned to the mother but she would only be given one more chance to keep custody of them. Annie was discouraged and disappointed but trusting God.

To really understand this story, you need to know an earlier, mores surprising story. This one takes us to the jungle of El Salvador where Jorge and Annie met, when he was a teenaged guerilla leader and she was part of his security detail. They fell in love and escaped with only their lives after a price was placed on Jorge's head. They went first to Mexico and then to Guatemala with a young daughter and Annie's mother. Somewhere in the middle of those adventures, while they were separated from each other, each came to know Jesus in a personal, life-changing way. They went on to seminary together and continue to be deeply in love, caring for their own children and grandchildren as well as the children and young adults that God brings them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


As I said before, the main reason I went to Guatemala was to continue my search for the answers to the questions "What is a missional community and how do you create one?" I had heard quite a bit about the work that Jorge and Annie were doing in Guatemala City and that it took place in the context of authentic missional community and I wanted to see it for myself.

So, what is a missional community? On the simplest level, we start with a group of people who are deeply committed to each other, to God, and to the world. Then we see that group of people learn to share life together (no lone ranger Christians, after all) and learn to reach purposefully into God's world to bring the light of God into dark places. All those biblical ideals like unity and sacrificial giving and unconditional love and so on are given a place to come to life.

It's easier to look at the world and say what missional community is not. It's harder to find places where it is actually lived out and describe what it is. That's what I wanted to do in Guatemala. I'll write more later this week about the story of Ciudad de Refugio and Jorge and Annie Cerritos.

On the most fundamental level, missional community--and in fact, satisfying life itself--seems to be about hospitality. I don't mean Southern Living, Martha Stewart hospitality, although there's nothing wrong with that if you can pull it off. I can't.

Hospitality is the act of welcoming, the lifestyle of creating space, the commitment to draw others in rather than shut them out. At it's core, missional living is no more complicated than this. Here are some stories of hospitality:

This is Won, aka Juan, who has come all the way from the Pacific Northwest to love Guatemalan children. He lives in the large house next to the Cerritos' home and cares for the children who live there and who pass through. While we were visiting, a mother abandoned her four children at the church. It was this young American man who stopped everything he was doing to care for those frightened children until things could be resolved.

This woman lives across from the church and is likely in her eighties. She took in four abandoned children and is raising them in the loving community of Ciudad del Refguio. She feeds and clothes them on her limited resources and loves them well. The children are bright and talented and go to school. More about them later. Without the love of this woman, though, they would live on the streets like so many children do.

Part of what hospitality means in the Cerritos household is the constant making of meals, cleaning up after meals, planning for meals, shopping for meals, and thankfully, eating meals! There are about 15 people who eat at the Cerritos table regularly (three meals a day, 7 days a week) as well as visitors like us and others who show up from time to time. As you can imagine, the work is constant and unromantic and hard. Abuelita (Grandmother) on the left and Sandra are making pupusas here on a griddle on a portable propane stove.

This is Norma, with one of the many children she loves and cares for on her shoulders. Norma is the oldest daughter of Jorge and Annie, educated in the United States and now sharing a room with Abuelita in her parents' home. She works all day in a children's home in another part of the city and then returns home to take her part in the ministry of Ciudad del Refugio.
While we were there, Norma ran a large VBS at the church, cared for the children who were always at the center of life at the Cerritos' home, translated for us, encouraged her parents and still went to work every day. One of our team told me about a conversation she had with Norma in which she asked Norma, "Don't you ever get tired of not having your own space? Don't you get tired of not having your own time, time for yourself?" Norma responded with genuine confusion: "Who owns time? Who owns space? I don't own time. I don't own space. Time and space belong to God." I don't believe that this conversation was just a breakdown in translation. I believe that Norma understands on a level I never will what it means to live a life of hospitality. Her relaxed openness to whatever life brings, her posture of welcoming and accepting is what hospitality is all about. I become more and more convinced that hospitality is what the gospel is all about.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

I used to be the "Christmas Queen" around here (ho, ho, ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls . . . ) but that seems to be a thing of the past. These days, "good enough" has to be good enough.

This year, the best part of the season has been having all of us together for the first time in six months. In one week, Mowgli came home from India/China and Boo got her official acceptance letter to UMHB. It was an exciting week!

I have to think that was a cherished part of Mary's first Christmas as well. There was no real reason for her to accompany Joseph to Bethlehem except that maybe she just wanted to be with him, to be together in whatever adventure God had planned for them.

Of course, it turned out to be so much bigger than just Mary and her beloved husband and their new baby. This poem has captured my attention this year and it illustrates all that Christmas represents for us on a larger scale, reminding us that Jesus did not just come into the world so that I and my family could go to heaven when we die but so that the world might be reconciled to God and to itself. This prayer/poem is my Christmas gift for you:

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss. This is true: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction. This is true: I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word. This is true: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world. This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the church, before we can be peacemakers. This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young shall see visions and your old shall dream dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for the liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity, of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history. This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

So let us move from Advent to Christmas with hope,
even hope against hope,
Let us see visions of love and peace and justice.
Let us affirm with humility, with faith, with courage:
Jesus Christ, the Life of the world.

~by poet, peacemaker and Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize many times.

Peace on earth and merry Christmas~

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The first thing people ask is, "So why did you go?" The truth is, I'm not sure exactly why I went to Guatemala. The simple answer is, "Because JTH asked me to." A little more complicated answer is, "I'd been thinking and praying for awhile about adventure and I thought maybe the invitation to go to Guatemala was related to that. A more profound and truthful answer is, "I went to Guatemala to learn."

The next thing people ask is, "What did you do there?" Well, I met some really amazing people, spent a lot of time waiting for the next thing, taught three parenting classes (sort of), spent some quality time with some other amazing people including my friend PB, washed quite a few dishes and experienced the wonderful hospitality of the Cerritos family and Ciudad de Refugio church. And yes, I learned. More about that later.

Eventually, people ask, "Have you posted any pictures online yet?" There are more on Facebook but here are a few:

This is the church--Ciudad de Refugio (City of Refuge). It meets in the garage of a family whose lives were transformed by the power of the gospel. The man with the microphone is Jorgito Cerritos, the son of the pastor and our host for four nights.

This is PB and Ryan and Juli, along with Abuelita (Grandmother) and Flori. Abuelita and Flori work nonstop to feed all the members of the household (upward of 10 and always changing). Here, Abuelita is making puposas for a special supper.

This is one shot of the view from our roof. The natural beauty of Guatemala is wonderful.

This is Annie and Jorge Cerritos who pastor Ciudad de Refugio. I'll tell their story later. This photo was taken at Pizza Hut.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sustained but not sustainable

I have a dear friend who lives a very rich and full life who, when asked how she is doing, will sometimes say, "Sustained." It's not an overly precious answer. It's an honest assessment of how she lives her life and how she feels at that moment.

If you asked me right now how I am doing, I would take a page from Shawn's book and say, "Sustained," with deep gratitude. I feel sustained by a Source beyond myself, a stream of living water, a waterfall of abundant life.

When I look at what's going on--a deep commitment to Boo and being her mom, four trips to Houston in three weeks, including 3 three-day retreats, a full counseling practice that doesn't go away just because I'm out of town, curriculum to write and notebooks to finish, billing that isn't going to do itself, a growing group of young adults to teach and love and lead in missional community, an upcoming trip to Guatemala--I can feel an immediate wash of exhaustion and a rising sense of panic. However, when I ask myself in any given moment, "How am I doing right now?" the answer has so far always been "I'm doing really well. I'm feeling fully alive and grateful and awake. I have everything I need . . . for right now."

I'm really happy that I've learned more over the last few years about how to live in the now. "Be here, be now" has been my mantra for awhile now and I'm learning to live into it and the peace it brings.

On the other hand, I also know . . . I am sustained but this is not sustainable. Pray for me as I figure that part out. Bill Hybels said, "I am doing the work of God in the world at a pace that is destroying the work of God in my life." That is a very real and present danger. At the same time, that's not my current reality. Pray for me as I figure out how to say yes to God and no to all the other good ideas. Pray for me as I learn to step courageously into this life without settling for well-meaning busyness.

Life is really good right now . . .

Friday, October 15, 2010

A perfect evening in London

Everyone told us to see a show in London while we were there. As much as I would have loved to see Les Miserables on the London stage, we were doing the budget version of this trip and we do see shows as often as we can in Houston, so we decided to forego the "theatah." What we did do was to get fantastic seats at the Globe Theater for Henry IV on a beautiful Sunday evening, with clearing evening skies after a gray and rainy day. Here are some pics:

One of the best things was seeing original drawings and paintings of the Globe in the National Gallery and realizing how much the original integrity of the theater was preserved. I had never seen Shakespeare live before either and that was amazing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Perfect Protest

In her new book, Brene Brown writes, "Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield we carry around because we think it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing preventing us from taking flight." Over on her blog, she is following up by spearheading a Perfect Protest and asking her readers who blog to take part. The motto: "Authentic is the new perfect." The method: Taking a picture of yourself with your own protest against perfectionism.

Here's mine:

Have you ever wondered about the title of this blog? I need to tell you a story.

A long time ago, when the kids were really little, I was completely overwhelmed by life. I wanted to do everything right--be the perfect mom, the perfect pastor's wife, the perfect therapist, the perfect friend and daughter and wife, and of course, the perfect Christian. Unfortunately, I felt like I wasn't coming anywhere close. (The sad thing is, when I look back, I think I was pretty amazing!)

Anyway, C came home one day and found me in full-blown meltdown mode. I recounted to him all the failures of the day which led to a litany of all the ways I was failing to measure up on pretty much every scale. He tried to talk some sense into me but I was determined to argue him out of his high opinion of me. Eventually I wailed, "I'm just so flawed!" Silently, deliberately, he walked over to me, looked deep into my eyes and said, "Yes. Wonderfully flawed."
That moment changed my life. It became the title of this blog and the north star of my life's navigation. And now it's my perfect protest. Because authenticity really is the new perfect.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Another favorite

I also really enjoyed seeing Westminster Abbey. It feels a lot like a mausoleum and a crowded one at that, filled with carved stone memorials to every notable British person you've ever heard of and a lot you haven't. So, it had the weight of history but the hourly call to prayer reminded us that it is also a living parish church.

After we toured, we went back to the high altar to sit and contemplate what we had seen. While we were sitting there, we could watch a young artist painstakingly restore the thousand-year-old floor of the high altar and we could almost touch the place where every British monarch of the last 500 years has been crowned. Surrounded by all this monument to centuries of British dominance, the altarpiece reads, "The kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our God."

A priest in long black cassock came over to greet us and welcome us and we took the opportunity to tell him that we were both clergy and to ask him what it is like to serve a church that is mostly visited by tourists. He was delighted to talk to us and sat down on the steps of the high altar as though he were sitting on a sidewalk curb and shared his conviction that his presence at the Abbey is "a witness" and how the hourly call to prayer and the sacred space speak to thousands of tourists every year.

On Sunday, we came back to the Abbey for evensong. To our surprise, we were seated in the choir along with a visiting choir from an English village church who seemed just as impressed by the Abbey as we were. The service was a little more contemporary than the one at St. Paul's and the organ and choir were beautiful.

Part of the evensong service every day is the singing or chanting of the Magnificat. Here we were, surrounded by the coronation site and place of burial of every British monarch and every prominent royal, admiral, general, scientist and author of the last 500 years, each memorialized with elaborate stone carvings and statues and listening to the words of the gospel reverberate: "He has scattered those who are proud in their thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty . . . " The contrast with the kingdoms of this world and the Kingdom of our God was a startling reminder of the upside-down, subversive nature of the gospel. I wonder if anyone is listening?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tower of London

The flat we were borrowing (thanks, Shannon!) was just a few blocks from the Tower of London so we saw that first (and every day on our way to the Tube). You may or may not know that Boo is obsessed with all things Elizabethan right now and so we knew more about the Tower than we would have otherwise and we really enjoyed seeing it through her eyes and texting her photos. The British aren't as kitschy as we Americans are and thank goodness they haven't Disneyfied their historical sites, but they do make it fun, what with all the palace intrigue and the beheadings and the sex scandals and so on. I really wanted to see a castle on the trip and this was pretty close.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

London . . . finally!

I know, I know . . . I promised London photos and commentary weeks ago and haven't done anything about it. As always, I get paralyzed by the scope of things and end up doing nothing. So, it finally occurred to me: I could do a little bit every day! And it only took me two weeks to come up with that brilliant idea.

So. The first photo I'm posting is St. Paul's cathedral from my seat in a little cafe across the street. Why St. Paul's? Well, because everyone kept asking me, "What was your favorite part of the trip?" and I think I'd have to say that except for having 7 days with my sweetheart of 25 years, St. Paul's was my favorite.

I can't really put into words the soaring, sacred feeling it gave me. The sheer massiveness of it is breathtaking, of course, but that wasn't really it. I think that what I felt when I stood under the dome, under the canopy of mosaics and paintings, was exactly what Christopher Wren intended for me to feel. The scale of the cathedral is clearly meant to express the transcendence of God but the art is all about God's immanence.

First, we audio-toured the cathedral with all the tourists (I was really impressed at how well the audio described Christian theology for the unfamiliar visitor). Then we went back and sat under the dome and we were quiet. We walked up to the dome itself and then we went down into the crypt. At 5:00, we were there for Evensong which turned out to be a lovely but austere service because it was a bank holiday and the organist and choir were gone. Then, on our last day, we went back to the cathedral and paid the entrance fee again, just so I could see it and feel it one more time.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The latest on Mowgli

So, as most of you know, Mowgli's passion for all things Tibetan has taken him to western China and India this summer and fall. He's now in McCloud-Ganj in India (yes, I'm having lots of fun with GoogleEarth) and will pretty much stay put until he comes home in December.

He spent ten weeks with a group from school in western China, hiking up to almost 19,000 feet, living for a week with remote mushroom farmers and traveling another week with mountain nomads. The best story we've heard so far involves Mowgli hiking in a very remote area and encountering a Tibetan holy man from a very remote village . . . who just happened to be carrying in his robes a business card of the only westerner he knew, who just happened to be Mowgli's professor.

Currently, he lives in a hotel in a room by himself with a bathroom (with a bucket shower) and a TV for $2.50/day. He says the food is wonderful and the scenery is gorgeous (valley in front, Himalayas behind) and the constant presence of other westerners as well as very friendly Tibetans and Indians has made him feel completely comfortable.

He had the opportunity to hear the Dalai Lama teach last week and will be sitting in on three days worth of his lectures this week. He also is studying at the archives, taking Chinese classes and volunteering with two NGOs, one working on issues related to peace and nonviolence and the other helping Tibetans in India learn English and western culture through social interaction with westerners. In interacting with the locals, he said that he apparently resembles a particular Bollywood actor and that has been interesting; also, those who don't speak English will come up to him and shake his hand, smiling, saying only, "Obama! Obama!"

We miss him, of course, but can hear in his voice that he is truly having the time of his life. He can call pretty regularly from a phone booth at an internet cafe where he also picks up email, so we feel much more connected (We had very little contact during the time he was in China). This photo is of him the day he left, carrying only a backpack and a camping pack--only one change of clothes and a jacket and rain pants. When we talked to him last night, he said he had only bought one set of traditional clothes and otherwise just has the limited amount of things he left with.

That's pretty much what we know about Mowgli. Next post will be an update on the rest of us, since I've been gone so long.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I'm back

I've decided to come back to blogging . . . right after I get back from London! I'm sure I'll have pictures to post and stories to tell and I'm feeling like writing again. I might even make this a completely public blog--we'll see. Just wanted you to know what's coming . . . thanks for staying with me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Today's bossy idea

If you're not already reading, you should.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Well, I think I'm done here.

I said all along that I would stop when it stopped being fun. I think we're there.

Check back in a couple of weeks. I'll make it official then. And if I do stop blogging here, I'm sure I will be blogging somewhere and I'll let you know where and share all the details.

If you've been reading this and I don't know you and you want me to keep in touch, just leave your email address in the comment section and I'll make sure you're in the loop.

Otherwise, let's take a two-week break (which is really a month-long break because it's been so long since I've posted anything) and see where we are.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

I'm trying to learn to live differently--and Faithwalking has been a big part of that. The next retreat is coming up fast on June 4-6. If you'd like to go, check out for all the information (or just let me know what questions you have.) Spiritual formation that results in missional living . . . that's what Faithwalking is about.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Look at my new toy!

I have a new iPhone! I've been drooling over them since they came out but decided not to get one and then turned off my "wanter." (Does anyone else ever do that besides me? Decide not to want something you want if you're not going to get it?)
Anyway, I got paid more for something than I expected and decided to spend it on an iPhone. Can I just say . . . this is so fun!
It's not that I didn't like my Blackberry but one, it wasn't connected to the internet (as C says, that is so embarrassing) and two, it was all about functional and none about fun.
I'm still trying to figure this out, so if you have ideas, let me know--apps, shortcuts, things you wish you had known sooner, etc.
We went to see The Eggmen last night at South Park Meadows and if I had remembered my phone, I could have taken a picture and posted it here, all while sitting on the side of the hill watching the concert. But I forgot my phone, so sorry, no pics. It was fun, though. One of the things that has gone along with being married to C is that I have seen Paul McCartney twice and Ringo Starr once and I know all the words to the old songs and can recognize and sing along with most of the new ones. (The White Album and Revolver, not so much.)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Tea parties

I'm actually not opposed to the tea party movement even though I sometimes get really frustrated with their antics. I actually share a lot of their concerns about our country's fiscal situation, if not their anger and their obsession with President Obama. I've also been fascinated by the media's fixation with them--as though southerners and conservatives and religious people are some kind of grass-roots side show.

But here's something I've wondered from the beginning: what if the scenario were just slightly different and the tea party crowds demanding "Take back America!" were 90% black instead of 90% white? If it were black people converging on town squares carrying signs demanding revolution, if it were brown faces cheering while their speakers encouraged the overthrow of Congress, if it were an African-American politician who challenged her followers, "Don't retreat--reload!"--how would the story be different?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A link, if you want it

Well, I promised I would let you know how to find the link to the talk I gave in San Antonio, so here it is: Just click on "Resources" and scroll down to my name. I have mixed feelings about this--things never sound as good out of context and you can't feel the energy that was in the room. Also, this isn't my normal teaching style. Also, I hate the sound of my own voice. But anyway, here it is.

Wondering . . .

I wonder sometimes: what would we be like if our emotional wounds showed on the outside? What if, when we hurt, we bled? What if, when you were embarrassed, a hot rash of humiliation spread across your skin? What if, when I hurled harsh words at you, a bruise appeared on your cheek? What if every racial epithet left a scar? What if lonely people walked with a limp? Would we be kinder? Would we be braver?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

"In Treatment" on HBO

I'm in love. I'm completely infatuated with the HBO series "In Treatment." (We don't have HBO; I'm watching DVDs from Netflix. But I might be calling our cable company.) Here's the premise: psychotherapist Paul Weston sees clients. That's it. One client (or couple) per episode. All the action takes place in Paul's office. Actually, there is very little action. And it's absolutely riveting. Every fifth episode or so, Paul is actually the client in a session with his supervisor, sessions in which he is every bit as petulant and resistant as his own clients are with him. I'm in love with this show.

I'm also insanely jealous. In every episode, the session ends on time. In fact, it is almost always the patient, not the therapist, who says, "Our time is up." At least so far, no matter what kind of drama is unfolding, no matter how upset the client is, Paul walks him/her to the door and says, "See you next week." In real life, at least in my real life, that's wishful thinking. Maybe I have some boundary issues. Yep. Probably.)

Monday, April 19, 2010

A little melancholy

I'm melancholy today, missing Mowgli more than I have since he left home almost two years ago. I'm not sure why today. The gray skies and cold temperature don't help. Neither does the fact that he'll be spending most of the rest of the year in Tibet and India. I'm so proud of him . . . but I miss him. Some of you know exactly how I feel and that helps. So, just a little blue today . . . but okay.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

First-ever recipe on the blog

This is one of my favorite new dishes--it's so easy, so healthy, and so GOOD! You can find the recipe here.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

This week's adventure

A year ago, I was asked to be a keynote speaker at a large mainline demonination's conference in San Antonio. I never knew where the invitation came from but I definitely knew, as my friend JTH said, that I would be "standing in some tall cotton." So, of course, I fretted about it all year and also looked forward to it with all the mixed feelings that these things always stir up in me.

As always, I piddled around getting the talk written and let myself get paralyzed with anxiety until it actually came together and then I was awed by how much I loved what I had been given to say and how grateful I was to get to say it.

When people have asked me, "How did it go?" I haven't known exactly what to say. The two things I most dreaded the night before--that there wouldn't be a lectern on the chancel for my notes and that only two people would come to my breakout session--both happened.

On the other hand, I grabbed a music stand for my notes at the last minute and it worked fine and the two people who came to the breakout were lovely and we had a really nice conversation that I think was helpful to them.

I think the best answer to the question is "I had a lot of fun" because I really did. The things that made me panic, like being told minutes before the session started that my talk was actually supposed to be on a different topic (it wasn't), turned out to be okay. I enjoyed being part of the conference and getting up to say what I had to say was exhilarating. The church's pastor (who I later realized was the person who invited me) told me, "That's exactly what I knew you would do" and a leading expert on family systems said publicly that I "did a wonderful job." That kind of affirmation feels great.

But really, when it comes right down to it, it was so much fun. I met some great people and got to see what God is doing in another part of the Body of Christ. I got to talk about my favorite things about Jesus with people who knew what I meant and I think they were blessed. C and I attended the worship service together that night (something we never get to do) and got to worship without responsibilities with a wonderful choir and orchestra and we got to hear a gifted African American woman preach. We stayed in a lovely hotel and had some rare time together, knowing Boo was fine at home with my mom and dad.
I know how blessed I am to get to live this life and I know that the only thing that can steal it away from me is my neurotic, anxious self-centeredness . . . and yet, even that is okay, because it eventually got me exactly where I needed to be.

Oh, and by the way, what you can't see in these photos are the three ginormous screens behind me. I didn't look.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Getting a little help from my friends

Thanks for all the offers of milkshakes! Some of you even offered (by email, mostly) to let me beat up on you a little bit if it will make me feel better. And thanks for understanding that I wasn't writing about ordinary conflict or defining self or advocating for important values or "saying what's so." I'll keep trying to learn to do all those things maturely and appropriately and courageously . . . when it counts. In the meantime, I'll try to stay out of brawls and arguments!

A friend called me to point out the incongruity of the last two posts . . . "I'm tired of people and I want to fight with them" juxtaposed with "I have the best friends in the world--in two cities!" There you go--that's my life!

Friday, March 26, 2010


These are the beautiful tulips that showed up at my house unexpectedly on Friday last week, brought by a dear, dear friend here in Austin to encourage me at the end of my spring break. I started this blog three years ago solely to keep up with my wonderful friends in Houston when we moved. I wanted them to know what was going on in our lives and only later did it become a forum for my more random thoughts and writing. I could never have imagined then that there were other wonderful friends waiting here in Austin and that I would come to love them deeply.
In order to really understand this, you have to know that friendship was really, really hard for me as a kid. Almost every really painful memory I have from childhood came from peer relationships, especially with other girls. I eventually learned how to fake it, and I did make some friends, but I left high school not really caring if I ever saw anyone there again. I wasn't much better at friendship in college and often felt jealous of the girls who seemed to find their soulmate, not in a dating relationship but in a friend. I had friends but I was never anyone's best friend and I felt like I was on the outside looking in.
When I married C, I married someone who knows how to do friendship well and I learned a lot. Gradually, after we moved to Waco, I started to make real friends (whom I love to this day) and then in Houston, my life just exploded with the most awesome people who wanted to share life with me. And when I left them behind, I was desperate to keep the connection alive (hence this blog), not even dreaming that there would be people here in Austin that I will keep for a lifetime.
I am so blessed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Feeling contentious

I'm itchin' for a fight. Seriously. I want to have an argument. I never get to have arguments. C and I never fight. My serious discussions with my friends sound like this: "I hear your thoughts about that and I just have a concern . . ." and "I don't disagree with you but I see this one thing differently" and "I see your point and I'm just wondering . . . " We're just so darned nice.

I want to have a knock-down-drag-out debate with points and counterpoints. I want to vigorously defend my point of view from a totally polarized position without having to think about the merits of your point of view. I don't want to see the other side. I don't want to have empathy for my opponent. I just want to slug it out and let the best (wo)man win. I want my opponent to be a worthy adversary. And when the fight is over, I want to go out for milkshakes.

As a moderate who tips progressive and who goes to a Baptist church in the south, I know there are lots and lots of people I love who disagree with me. Of course, they have no idea. They like me, so they assume I am like them. And I don't disabuse them of this idea. Sometimes I say, with a smile, "I see that differently." They blink, startled, and then go on with their thoughts. No one has yet asked me to explain. I don't even offer that much when I know there is no chance for real dialogue. I just steer clear. Usually that works for me. I'm not a person who seeks out conflict--in fact, it makes me sick to my stomach.

I guess what's got this bee in my bonnet is Facebook. These past few weeks, I have learned that my friends think I am a fascist, a false Christian, a diabolical liar or a sheep (take your pick.) They don't know they think that about me but I know. And I want to defend myself. And I want to experience the exhileration of a spirited debate and still be friends at the end. I just don't think that's possible anymore.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Thirty years ago today

This is a flyer from the youth revival at which C preached his first sermon. His text was the story of Ananias and Sapphira but he doesn't remember what the application was. 30 years later, God is still using him in the pulpit every Sunday and all the days in between.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spring Break so far

Well, my fantasy was a whole week of vacation without having to take care of anyone--a whole week to just be myself and do what I wanted to do and think about what I wanted to think about. The problem with fantasies is that they are, well, fantasies.

I have had a wonderful break so far, though. I spent two nights in a hotel in Houston, thanks to the couple whose wedding I officiated on Saturday. I was on the 11th floor of the Hilton in Clear Lake, with an overstuffed chair overlooking the lake and a comfy bed and some time to myself.

Then C met me in Houston and we stayed at a downtown boutique hotel, saw a play at the Alley and had a really fabulous steak dinner and lots of conversation and time together. We also visited my lovely in-laws and headed home on Tuesday.

The rest of the week won't exactly be the kind of vacation I hoped for, but it will be productive and definitely more leisurely than a normal week. Boo has been on a mission trip all this week but she will be home on Saturday and we'll have Sunday together before it all starts up again on Monday. One thing I have learned: I need to take time off more often. Not sure how that will happen, but I think I've got to do it.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Last night

Last night, I had the privilege to bring the message for the Lenten service at St. Richard's Episcopal. (Isn't this a pretty church? It's even prettier at night.) My dear friend Mary is the rector at St. Richard's and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see her in her element for the first time as well as she led the service after my message.

The message was about thirst--and then the Scriptures in the service were also about thirst. If they came from the lectionary, that was quite a coincidence! I'll have to ask Mary about that. I was frazzled, having gotten sidetracked trying to get out the door and then driving an hour to the church. But just walking in the door into the narthex was calming. Friendly people were eating soup and chatting; they welcomed me and showed me into the sanctuary. After my talk, the liturgy was deep and rhythmic and inviting. (Worshiping in a liturgical church always feels to me like going underwater in a calm, cool lake. I can hear the chatter overhead but it's muffled, far away, and I feel enveloped in peace.) The congregation was lively and engaging. It was just a lovely way to end a very stressful day.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

What a rich and full life looks like

This morning, between 9:30 and noon, I rehearsed with a trio, taught my Sunday School class, mediated the effects of a thoughtless remark between two young adults, scheduled a breakfast and a lunch with church members for the coming week, screened a young woman for depression and referred her to a doctor, helped a Bible study group consider new curriculum, worshipped (great sermon, C) and sang in church! And then we went out to lunch with my class.

The best part is, I didn't feel overwhelmed at all (a bit rushed sometimes but not freaking-out-anxious) and I had a great morning. But looking back . . . it may have been a bit much! No, actually, the best part was the 2 hour nap I took when I got home.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I love this man!

I was standing in the kitchen, pouring out my heart to C--the crummy day, the impossible schedule--when I heard myself say, "It's all just so unmanageable." Tears welled up in my eyes. Here's the rest of the conversation:

Me: (Repeating, letting it sink in.) My life is unmanageable. *Long, poignant pause* You know, that's the first step in AA: "We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable."

C: Maybe you should start drinking.

And then he helped me with my wedding homily.

Speaking of ugliness

I just watched a short video shot at a small demonstration in an impoverished neighborhood in a large city. One group gathered in a peaceful (mostly silent) protest, explaining what they were protesting while another group surrounded them shouting boos and insults. Both groups were made up of people who would identify themselves as Americans and Christians. When the protesting group began to pray the Lord's Prayer, saying just briefly that they wanted to pray that God's kingdom would come on earth, the other group began to sing-shout "God bless America," drowning them out. Based on what I see in forwarded emails, in in Washington, even from my friends on Facebook, this is the America we live in now. I'm sad.


It's Thursday evening and the end of the week and I am unbelievably glad. This was a day of ugliness--of hurt people hurting each other--and I'm glad it's over for me and I'm sad that it's not over (and may never be) for them.

Tonight I'm sitting alone at home, trying to muster up the courage to write a homily for a friend's wedding and enjoying the silence. Tomorrow, I'll go shopping with another friend and out for breakfast to belatedly celebrate her birthday. Tomorrow night, my mom and dad are coming to town for dinner and to go with Boo and me to see Fiddler on the Roof. Saturday, I have only a few hours to get ready for the next week but I think it will be enough. (Poor Boo has to take an SAT practice test in the morning and then an SAT prep class all afternoon--that's enough to make me glad I'm me and not her!)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lenten leadings

Sometimes God gives the answer before we even ask the question. When I wrote last week that I was fumbling for an appropriate Lenten practice, I had already committed to a deeper focus on the spiritual disciplines in my life--but only because that's what you're supposed to do during Lent.

But it became almost audibly clear to me this weekend: this year, Lent is not a time for giving up something but for expanding my capacity to hold something. This year is not about getting better but about growing bigger--big enough to hold the life that I've been given.

Since that realization, my practice of the spiritual disciplines (such as it is) has been infused with new life, new enthusiasm and has been drained of obligation. The answer was there in front of me all the time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent again

"Overheard" on Facebook:

J: "I was born and raised Catholic but now I'm a practicing Baptist. Can I still participate in Lent?"
M: "If you are a practicing Baptist, you don't have anything to give up."

I laughed out loud! I wanted to reply to J (an acquaintance of mine): "Yes! Definitely participate in Lent! First of all, it is a Protestant observance too. Second of all, observing the church calendar has brought so much richness and depth into my spiritual life. I can't imagine coming up to Ash Wednesday without preparing for Lent."

Having said that, I still haven't resolved what my Lenten practice will be this year. Boo and I and a "practicing Baptist" friend (actually, I'd have to say, she's not practicing, she's perfected!) are going to St. Alban's here in Austin for Ash Wednesday services tonight. Boo requested a service with a female rector and it appears from the website that St. Alban's fills the bill.

But beyond that, I don't know . . .

You may remember that last year Boo and I drank only water for all of Lent--no tea, no lemonade, no milk or juice, and especially NO DR. PEPPERs! It was a really useful practice, part of a challenge to remember those who lack clean drinking water around the world, but I never was able to connect it to my spiritual life beyond the theoretical. I want something different this year, but I don't know what.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

From Brene Brown's latest post, which you can see here

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

25 years later

25 years ago today, I woke up for the very first time with an engagement ring on my finger. The night before, C took me to his parents' hunting land near Waco for our first date in awhile, ostensibly to celebrate Valentines' Day early. Both he and his family had tricked me into thinking that we wouldn't be getting engaged anytime soon so I was truly surprised. He brought chicken and chips and a pan of brownies he had made himself. After we ate supper, he brought me the pan of brownies which I opened to find--tah dah!--the black velvet box with my ring inside (and a hardback copy of Improving Your Serve by Chuck Swindoll which he put in the brownie pan to weight it down and fool me into thinking it really was a pan of brownies but which was truly confusing to me for several seconds as I figured out what was happening. And now, as I think about it, was wonderful foreshadowing of our life together . . . hmmmm . . . ) I cried and cried and nodded "yes" and then we drove to see some long-married friends of mine in a nearby town to show it off. I remember sitting in a large lecture class, staring at my ring, thinking, "I'm getting married" and waiting for the reality of it to sink in. I've said it a million times: we were so young and so stupid and God was so good.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Reality (aka, The Most Pathetic Blog Post Ever)

I'm weary.

No, I'm not complaining. I was tempted once to complain about how busy this season is and I realized that if God heard me and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry! I never meant to overload you. What would you like me to take away?" I would immediately straighten up and say, "Nothing!" (Of course, as long as He was feeling so accomodating, I might ask for a few extra hours in a day . . . never hurts to ask, right?)

But the reality is that I've exceeded my ability to manage it all. And I'm tired. And sick. And poor Boo was eating a hunk of Parmesan cheese for breakfast the other morning because, in her words, "When you're gone, we have no food." In fairness to C, that's not at all true but I think it feels that way to all of us sometimes. (I made her oatmeal, by the way, which she loves.)

Rick Warren said, "Doing the work of God at this pace is destroying the work of God in my life" or something like that. He's scads busier than I am, but we all only have the same 24 hours and the same 7 days.

My mantra for this season has been "Be here, be now" and I can honestly say that I've done that. And my word for the year is "wholehearted" and I'm managing that most of the time too. I'm just tired, physically and emotionally. And overwhelmed. And way behind. (I'm positive that when I finally get around to sweeping, there will be enough cat hair in the dustpan to make a whole new cat. And don't even get me started about my paperwork and my billing.)

Once I really was complaining about my schedule to a new friend who frowned and said, "Why does your secretary let this happen?" When I told her that I didn't have a secretary, she blurted out, "You do this to your SELF?"

I don't have a day off until next Saturday (the 13th) at which time I plan to either sleep all day or be incredibly productive, I haven't decided which yet. And don't leave me any comments, either, because no matter what you say, I'll wish I hadn't posted this. But sometimes people say, "I don't know how you do it all!" and I just wanted to be honest that sometimes I don't.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Boy, I wish I had had a camera!

JTH and a friend MD and I finished up the latest retreat for the Michigan folks and were hanging out in the lobby of a Country Inn and Suites waiting for a taxi to take us to the airport. We enjoyed the quiet, the free wi-fi and the coffee for awhile, getting more anxious when the taxi didn't come.

When they finally confirmed that they weren't coming in time and JTH's efforts to get another one didn't go anywhere, we were all starting to vibrate quite a bit. After all, we were in Kalamazoo and missing our flight meant staying overnight and trying again on a Sunday. I said, a little loudly, that I would pay fifty bucks to anyone who would take us to the airport. The woman behind the counter (we later learned that her name was Nancy) said, "I'll do it!" She put up a sign that read "Be right back" and ran out to her car to get it ready for us while we all pooled our cash.

Let's just say that both Nancy and her car had apparently had hard lives, and the car was tiny. I sat in the front seat with my suitcase, my laptop, my purse and a large pizza (not mine) on my lap. Poor MD is tall and had to squish himself into the backseat along with his suitcase and JTH was behind Nancy with all his stuff on his lap too. Then Nancy said, "I'm not sure where the airport is." Excuse me?

JTH, fortunately, had been paying attention and got us there in time for our flight and we all got home safely. I was laughing and saying that it was fun, that it was an adventure and JTH correctly pointed out that if that was an adventure, we lived a pretty boring life. It was still fun, though!

Monday, January 25, 2010

My new Baptist identity

A very hip-looking mixed-race couple came to Date Night at St. David's Episcopal last night and I walked over to visit with them. They are not members of the church but came by for Date Night. As we talked, they asked me where I went to church and I told them. They both frowned. "Baptist? Like Southern Baptist?" I said yes and smiled. You could see the wheels turning behind the frowns. After a long pause, the husband said, "But you're like a Jimmy-Carter Baptist, right?"

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sometimes I just can't believe my ears

I was driving to work this morning listening to a popular, local radio show when a caller said (no kidding), "Those people in Haiti need to quit running around with their hands in the air, crying "Help us! Help us! (mocking voice)" and they need to bust their butts helping themselves." The conservative host agreed while the mostly impotent moderate host protested.

Later, trying to find something other than that station, I was scanning when the radio stopped on a national program just as the host was asking whether Muslim defendants in U.S. trials would swear to tell the truth on "the American Bible or the Koran." The "American Bible?" Sheesh . . . the willful ignorance in this country astounds me.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Update for 2010

Well, several of you have asked me, "What are you up to lately?" More of you are probably asking yourselves, "Where's our Christmas card?!" Nobody's getting a Christmas card, sorry, but if you still want to know what I'm up to, keep reading.

Of course, first there's the family: Mowgli is back in NC where he belongs. He won't be home for Spring Break (going to Seattle, Vancouver and Yellowstone with friends) so it was hard to let him go. He's so happy there, though, so that helps immeasurably. Boo's doing great--school is stressful but show me a high school junior that isn't stressed out! She's still dancing for fun and enjoying the church youth group. And, of course, all the children at MBC love her!

C and I are still very happy in Austin. The church is full of loving, enthusiastic people and we love the town. He's leading the church in a couple of ways that could be game-changing for the future, long after we've left here. That's the hope, anyway!

I'm spinning even more plates than usual. I'll try to describe some of what I'm doing without boring you to death.

Of course, there's my counseling work. My schedule is now full, after a lull in the summer that scared me a bit. I'm actually referring people out now, trying to keep my schedule from becoming a tsunami that I can't manage. I work late two nights but I take off Fridays (my favorite day!)

You know that I've been working with Faithwalking for a couple of years now. Mission Houston has now contracted with me to to continue to teach Faithwalking retreats (including Missional Marriage) but to add curriculum development and project management to that. These are new skills for me and I'm very excited about supporting the mission of Mission Houston.

Another thing you already know about is the work JTH and I are doing with Reformed churches in Michigan and surrounding areas. In the first 5 months of 2010, we'll be in Michigan 3 times, in addition to Indianapolis and Chicago. It has been a wonderful adventure and an amazing opportunity to work with the same leaders for a couple of years, exploring and experimenting with personal and congregational transformation.

One developing piece is the ministry to strengthen marriages. I'm doing 5 Date Nights at St. David's Episcopal Church in downtown Austin. They have a record crowd and lots of enthusiasm. Also, there are several other Date Nights scheduled for other churches and one for South Austin in general. I've saved some money to hire someone for a bit of help with publicity and admin and that will open up more possibilities.

You can see that there is a lot of travel involved here and that is always fun and always hard. I'll be traveling 9 weeks out of the first 20 of the year and that feels overwhelming to me. On the other hand, every single opportunity is wonderful and I love my life. I've reminded myself to "stay here, stay now" which helps immeasurably and I've taken steps to take care of myself and Boo, especially. And I think every day about how incredibly blessed I am to have C in my life, who unfailingly encourages me and believes in me and makes it all possible, even when it makes his life so much more complicated. And, of course, most of all I'm deeply grateful to God, who called me to this work, equipped me and now sustains me. He has given me the desires of my heart. (Ps. 37:4)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

I did it!

Tonight, I did a polar bear swim! I'm a member of a birthday club made up of women from my church and each month, the birthday girl gets to choose the activity. When Holly decided that we would do a polar bear swim in the pool behind her house, we had no idea that the second Saturday in January would be a weekend of record cold! This picture sets the stage:

There were four of us who decided to actually do it and here we are before:

And here we are after:

Just for the record, last night's low was 19 degrees. Today's high was 41. As you can see, the sun was going down when we did this at 6 p.m. It was so fun!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Making a life

I got out my calendar yesterday--the big kind, not the daily calendar on the Blackberry--and noticed that I am out of town at least 9 times in the first 20 weeks of 2010. In addition, I am doing at least 8 Date Nights during that time, leading young adults at MBC and, oh yeah, running a counseling practice.

In that context, I just read Brene Brown's latest post. In case you don't want to read the whole thing, here is the line that made me close the blog window and walk away from my laptop, just trying to absorb it: (after saying that she chooses not to advance her career at the expense of her family) "It's not that I don't care about my work--I do. I'm passionate about my work. I believe in the things I talk about. So much so that I want to make a life out of living them, not just a career out of talking and writing about them."

Don't get me wrong: I don't regret at all the opportunities I have to travel this spring. Every one of them represents something important and meaningful to me. And every one of them represents a portion of the tuition for Mowgli at Guilford College, which is a key goal for this season of my life. And, I'm very aware that spring won't last forever and then there will be a long lull.

But I'm grateful for the reminder to "make a life out of living [my values], not just a career out of talking and writing about them." And I'm grateful for another role model for this crazy working-mother life I live. And I'm especially grateful for all the people who support and surround me and my family and make it possible for me to live this life right now. I love my life.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy new year!

It's a new year! I've always loved the idea of a new beginning--new years, new school years, Sundays marking the beginning of new weeks, new notebooks and new pencils. Appropriately, then, I've spent most of my adult life making elaborate new year's resolutions, listed, color-coded and cross-referenced. I don't do that any more.

What I do now probably looks similar but is fundamentally different. I look for small ways to make big changes--points of leverage where small adjustments or additions to my systems or routines can have disproportionate results. For the past five years, I've found at least one and it really has been amazing to see what is possible.

Anticipating an absolutely insane winter and spring, I intended to take all day today for solitude and quiet, to focus on the possibilities of 2010. I guess you could say that I've had solitude and quiet today but it has mostly been in the bed, wishing I felt better. I haven't taken a day off to be sick in ages, so this was something new. I've learned that the daytime tv offerings on New Year's Day are pitiful but if all you want is distraction, it will do the trick. Other than that realization, today has not been productive at all . . . unless, of course, you want to count allowing my body to rest and heal, which I have decided to count.

One small change I want to make in 2010 is to blog 6 days a week. Since I post to 3 blogs, that shouldn't be hard except that some days, I have no idea what I want to say. Let me just go ahead and apologize in advance for the occasional drivel that I'm sure will result. But, as Anne Lamott says, you have to let yourself write "sh**ty first-drafts" if you want to be a writer, so I'm going to take it on faith that that's true. It certainly seems to be true in many other areas of life.

So, anyway, I'm rambling. Maybe when I feel better, I'll come back and edit. For now, I'm giving thanks for chicken noodle soup and for Sprite and for the son who went to get said Sprite even though he laughed at my firm belief in its medicinal properties. I'm grateful for my comfortable bed and my television with cable and I'm especially, especially grateful that I'm not throwing up. Next time I have a bad or stressful day, I hope I can remember what a wonderful blessing that is.