Thursday, December 29, 2011

The real deal

This photo was taken on a night that Boo describes as "one of the best nights of my life."  Sandra, the woman on the right, is the founder and director of the Fundacion Salvacion orphanage in Huehuetanango, Guatemala where C and Boo and a team from various churches work for a week every January.  At some point during each visit, Sandra opens up her home to the team and creates a climate of hospitality that leads to belly-laughing fun and soul-nourishing warmth between our team members and the Guatemalan staff and translators.

When Mowgli took this trip a few years ago, he was fairly cynical about the church but he returned from Guatemala singing Sandra's praises, saying, "She's the real deal," which is the highest praise he can offer another person.  Just today, he commented on her authentically loving relationship with her husband, saying how much they love each other and how good their marriage seemed to be, which in Mowgli's eyes, is pretty rare.  For Mowgli, the fact that Sandra, a psychologist married to a doctor, could live a self-centered consumerist life and instead gives her life away to support and care for orphans makes her an example of the best our faith has to offer.

So we were so, so sad to hear today--the day before our team leaves DFW for Guatemala--that Sandra was killed in a car accident, which her husband survived.  She leaves behind three young adult daughters, several grandchildren, the husband Mowgli described and about 70 children who live in a home full of love because of Sandra's vision and sacrifice.

It seems like a real blessing that our team will be arriving on Saturday, ready to occupy the children while the staff and volunteers begin their grieving.  I'm sure that C and others on the team will be called on to offer pastoral care and comfort to the people that they work with every year and have come to love.  He is fighting illness and fatigue and both he and Boo are dealing with sadness and grief.  Please remember all of them this week in your prayers.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's my blog so I can brag

Everyone is home!  Tonight, we sat down together at home for the first time since early June, including one child who is a brand-new graduate of Guilford College and the other who just finished her first semester at UMHB with flying colors.

Mowgli took a day and a half to get home from North Carolina with all his worldly goods packed in his back seat (with room to spare) and his trunk completely full of books.  Even though he and Boo had already made several trips into the house, I had to take a photo:

So what's next, you ask?  Well, Mowgli got his old job at HEB back today and will pile up money before going back to Asia this summer.  (By the way, he's open to all kinds of other kinds of work, from manual labor to babysitting to help out.)  Sometime during the spring, he'll hear back from the five graduate schools he applied to and he'll also start looking into elementary teacher certification programs.  He's very aware that he has his whole life in front of him and he's ready to start making the big decisions and supporting himself.

With her characteristic hard work and good attitude, Boo did a great job in her first semester and has decided to go back and do it again!  She did well with 15 hours of classes, joined a theater ministry, taught missions at a small church, got involved in the college ministry of a different, larger church, and made lots of friends.

The best part of having the kids back for the holidays is just realizing how much we really like both of them.  If they weren't ours, we'd still be pretty crazy about them and who they've become.  Those of you with grown children know what I'm talking about.  I loved every developmental stage when they were kids and I'm really loving getting to know them as adults.

Friday, December 9, 2011

There's Still My Joy - Indigo Girls

This video goes with yesterday's post. "There's still my joy" is one of the more melancholy songs of Christmas and Indigo Girls offer it here in a low-key, understated way. This video is clearly personal and amateur and I'm guessing that it memorializes the people that are missing from the creator's life. Many of the other images are beautiful as well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Have a very gentle Christmas

"Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  ~Plato

It's no secret that this is a hard time of year for many people. Some churches have "Blue Christmas" services for people who lost loved ones in the last year or anyone else who is struggling with their grief amidst the hollyjolly and hohoho and mistletoe.

It's not just the bereaved that have a hard time at Christmas.  Whatever you don't have and wish you did--love, money, a partner, children, a job--this time of year just makes the empty place emptier.  Every TV commercial, every carol on the radio, every happy family at church just intensifies the pain.

I love Christmas and I celebrate with enthusiasm.  Maybe you do too.  We don't need to apologize for that or dial it back.  But we can be sensitive and gracious and avoid assuming that everyone else is having the same experience.

And if you're having a hard time this year, be kind and gentle . . . to yourself.  Take care of yourself and let others know how to take care of you.  Show yourself some compassion and find someone else to show compassion to as well.  And know that the original message of Christmas came to "those living in darkness," people like you.

Dear Mr. Gingrich,

I'm not going to take your comments about poor children cleaning their schools seriously as potential public policy because we all know that's not what's going to happen and that's not what you intended.

But I just want to ask you:  when you said that people in poor neighborhoods don't work hard, where do you think the people who clean your offices live?  Where do you think the people who bus your tables live?  The people who mow your lawns and trim your shrubs?  Where do you think they live?  All those people leaving the center of every city every night, collapsed into their subway seats in their soiled uniforms with the dirt under their fingernails . . . where do you think they go home every night?

And the kids . . . the kids who get themselves up and to school because mom isn't home yet from her overnight job at the grocery store (yes, I know those kids) and the child who walks home and locks herself in the house until her mom gets off work at Walmart and takes the bus home to her house in the neighborhood you dismissed so cavalierly, the kids who go without when their day laborer dad can't find work because it's raining and the manual labor he depends on isn't available . . . what about them?   That's not to mention what happens to the family of the "unionized custodian" who loses her job because she is being replaced by a fourteen-year-old.

Insulting the poor is a good way to get elected in some circles.  It worked for Ronald Reagan and his "welfare queens," even though that particular stereotype doesn't hold up to statistical scrutiny.  Herman Cain tried it by telling the unemployed that if they don't have a job, they have only themselves to blame.  He got a lot of applause for that.

The truth is that 3/4 of poor adults work, most of them full-time.  A sizable portion of the rest are either disabled or elderly or work for cash under the government radar.  There are infuriating, frustrating exceptions, I know.  But Mr. Gingrich, to use a broad brush to paint the poor as lazy is not only cruel and unfair but incorrect . . . and it will probably get you votes.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Of Gods and Men

The tears on my face have hardly dried after watching "Of Gods and Men."  This beautiful, heartbreaking film won the grand prize at Cannes in 2010, putting to rest the myth that the arts and the gospel are at odds with each other.

I want to say that this is more of a Christian movie than anything that's been shown in American theaters in the last few years but I fear that would diminish what it really is.  Also, I want to say that it is a Christmas movie but the themes are of violence and waiting and only distant hope and so it would be truer to say that it is an Advent movie.

The film observes the same rhythms of the Trappist monks it portrays--silence, prayer and conversation in rhythmic repetition, making it a meditative experience to be entered into as much as a movie to be watched.  It begins in the days before Christmas and continues to the days before Easter, as the monks look back to their experience of the Christmas mass after their great fear comes upon them and as they look forward to the resurrection hope of Easter.

In between, they face the decision to stay or leave their tiny monastery in an insignificant village in Algeria in the 1990s, knowing that the violent confrontation between Islamist terrorists and corrupt government forces will eventually invade the monastery walls.  As the anxiety increases, they struggle to define themselves--to themselves, with each other, with the village outside the monastery walls--with the kind of courage that incarnates the love that brought them to Algeria in the first place and that bears witness to the hope that is within them.

They contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in laying down their lives to find them even as they know they have chosen their own deaths.  And as they do all this, they pray the psalms and chant the liturgy as they have every day of their lives as monks.

When the movie was over, I cried some and prayed for those around the world who face the same kinds of choices today.  The prayer "Lord, have mercy," which I often pray, had fresh and haunting meaning.  I contemplated whether the Lord does have mercy and I recited the beatitudes and then I stood and looked out the window for awhile.  And then I came to tell you about it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, November 28, 2011

God was my second grade teacher

More than twenty years ago, when I first got into the therapy business, I would sit with my clipboard and my intake forms and listen as people described their chaotic, painful, poisonous childhood experiences.  Detail after detail would pour out about abuse of all kinds and neglect and betrayal and everything that should never happen to a child and I would dutifully write it all down.

I remember one session, though, when I just put down my pen and turned my clipboard over and asked, "So how did you turn out so well?"  This young woman was well-functioning, strong in her faith, loving to her own husband and children, hopeful about life and I just had to know how that had happened.  Here's what she said to me:  "I had a teacher who loved me."  I was immediately concerned:  "But if you told the teacher what was happening, she should have reported it."  "No, no," she said.  "I couldn't tell anyone.  I didn't know how and I was afraid of what else what happen if I did.  But I always believed that if I could tell anyone, I could tell her and I knew she would believe me and I knew she would still care about me, even if she knew."

One reason I can share that story is that I have heard stories exactly like it at least a hundred times since then.  I still ask that question on a regular basis and I always get the same answer.  The answer isn't always a teacher.  Just as often, it's a grandparent with a lot of love or a neighbor who took some extra time or a coach who believed in more than athletic talent.  And just as often, I discover that, like the teacher,  the other person has no real idea about the impact they had in this child's life.  They saw themselves as doing their job, maybe living their faith, doing what came naturally and they have no idea that a child was watching and thinking, "Maybe I'm not so worthless after all.  Maybe I can have a different life.  Maybe it's not me."

Today, I was having a philosophical conversation with a young mom and asked her, "So where do you think God was when all this was happening?"  She answered, "God was my second grade teacher."  I believe she was right.

"Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me."  ~Jesus

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving 4

In order to understand why I am so grateful for C, you would have to go with us tonight to see the new Muppet movie, where we laughed through the whole thing.  See, I remember the old muppet show and I clearly remember wondering why it was funny.  It was silly, over-the-top silly, stupid even and I truly didn't get it.  We didn't watch much TV in my family growing up and even though I think we had a sense of humor, we didn't really do silly.  And so I married someone for whom silly is an art form . . . and I've been laughing ever since.

C's humor isn't always silly--it's often dry or ironic or sarcastic, actually--but he can always make me laugh.  Actually, when we were in our early weeks of dating, I worried that he would lose interest in me because I was very serious and trust me, not funny at all.  I mentioned this concern to my mom and she laughed and gave me the advice that I've relied on every day for the last 26 years:  "He doesn't need you to be funny; he wants you to think he's funny."  I did and I still do.

So what I'm grateful for, among other things, is a life full of laughter.  We took one of our kids' friends on a vacation once and she said, shaking her head, "Y'all laugh all the time." I'm grateful because home is the happiest place on the planet for me and for my children, thanks to C.  I'm grateful because I learned to laugh at myself and I learned to let people who love me laugh at me, both of which saved me from a lifetime of narcissistic intensity.  Actually, C will often say, "I'm not laughing at you, sweetie; I'm laughing near you."  And that always makes me laugh.

That's not even close to being the only thing I'm grateful for in my life with C but it's a really good start.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving 3

I was always taught that the "original sin," the big one that got everyone kicked out of the Garden, was rebellion--the First People's refusal to obey God, one big fist-shake at God's authority.  In Sunday's Bible study, though, we considered another option:  that the first Big Sin was ingratitude.

We looked at it this way:  The way the story goes, Adam and Eve were blessed beyond measure.  They had everything they could ever need and the tangible presence of God in a Garden that had never known the shudder of sin or the searing pain of death and loss.  And so what did they do?  They did what all of us do.  They focused on the one thing they did not have.

That was the temptation, right?  To acknowledge all of God's good gifts and to turn their attention to the one thing that God withheld and then to question His goodness and His love.  It was all downhill from there.  It was not so much dramatic rebellion but petty ungratefulness that put us all in this fallen world where we continue--daily--to follow in their footsteps.

Thanksgiving must be the language of the Kingdom of God.  It's the starting place for shalom and the fertile soil of joy.  It's the way we acknowledge that we love God at least as much as His gifts because we continue to give thanks even when we don't get what we want.  I resist the idea of giving thanks for everything but I love the idea of giving thanks in everything.  As we said on Sunday, I don't get a choice about whether I live my life in a broken world where hard things happen.  I do get a choice about whether I live my life with gratitude or without it.  I choose with.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving 2

I have loved this profound and beautiful little book, given to me on my birthday by my dear friend Pam who knows how these kinds of things speak to my heart.  It nourishes me this Thanksgiving on a deep, deep level and calls me to a richer awareness of gratitude than I have ever known before.

In case you don't want to read the whole book, you can check out Ann's blog but don't scroll through too fast.  Stop and savor.  Also, the classic blog on gratitude is secular, creative, occasionally a little rough around the edges, often hilarious and always thought-provoking.  I highly recommend both for completely different reasons.  Have fun browsing and I'll see you back here tomorrow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving 1

A lot of people have been posting their lists of things they are grateful for on their blogs or on Facebook.  I'm a big believer in gratitude but also a little behind on everything so I'm just now getting started, at the beginning of Thanksgiving week.

As I was pondering my list, I realized that the number one spot on my list has to be my really unique and remarkable parents.  Some of you are really surprised that I didn't list C first (sorry sweetie!) or Mowgli and Boo or something related to God but the truth is that I wouldn't have the relationship I have with C if my parents hadn't loved me so well (plus, I essentially married my mom but that's another story . . .).  I wouldn't have known how to parent Boo and Mowgli if my parents hadn't parented me so wisely.  And my parents were the ones who first introduced me to God and to the Church I love and represented both so well, so there's that.

My parents really weren't like anyone else's parents, which was something I both appreciated and complained about as a kid.  They listened to me talk for as long as I needed to talk.  They asked a lot of questions and delivered only a few lectures.  They cared what I thought and taught me to care about what they thought.  They required respect but were never heavy-handed about it, and left me with a very healthy respect for authority flavored with only a hint of skepticism.  They taught me to think and never shamed me for my feelings.  More than anything, they loved me so, so well and inoculated me thoroughly against many forms of shame.

So, this Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for my parents, who are also wonderfully flawed and made it okay for me to be.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Cleaning up a mess

Ugh . . . I hate it when this happens.

I hate it when I'm on the receiving end--when someone says something that makes it clear that if they really knew me, they would pretty much hate me.  It happens a lot on Facebook, of course--my friends post their opinions that people who believe differently than they do (in other words, people who believe like I do) are unpatriotic, false Christians, unenlightened, and worse.  In fact, just recently I've been told that I don't deserve to live in this country and that I practice the occult.  Of course, people don't mean to tell me that.  But by saying that about people who believe differently, they're unwittingly saying those things about me.

I hate it even more when I'm the one who does that to others.  In a recent post, I flippantly said that bumper stickers asserting that "9/11 was an inside job" are stupid.  Someone anonymously posted a comment that he/she holds that opinion.  I almost didn't see the comment and in fact, only happened on it last night.  I was immediately sad that I had clearly insulted someone I care about (because I can't think of anyone that I talk to regularly that I don't care about) and that I did it flippantly and unthinkingly.

Now don't get me wrong:  I can't imagine changing my opinion about 9/11.  I know what I believe about that.  But that's not what this is about.  I know how to express my opinion and defend my thinking without calling other ideas and people "stupid" and I deeply value that ability.  I know better.

(By the way, I'm hoping that anonymous will be willing to identify himself/herself and have a conversation about it--not about 9/11 but about any emotional or relational impact of my judgmental statement.  I would welcome that.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy days

"My life is not busy . . . my life is full.  There's a difference."*  

I am doing great.  I'm firmly ensconced in my favorite budget hotel (the Sleep Inn in Stafford--it's fabulous!) after a wonderful supper from Saltgrass.  I had a perfect relaxing massage by an intern at the massage school down the road and she told me that my muscles were mostly relaxed with no serious spots of tension--first time I've EVER heard that!

This is even more meaningful because I fully expected to be a twitching, hyperventilating basket case by now.  10 weeks ago, C and I looked at my schedule and girded our loins for a difficult season.  I've spent at least one night out of town every single week for nine weeks--for a total of 22 nights.  In that time, I've heard some inspiring speakers, visited with dear friends and family, gone to Kansas for the first time,  kept up my usual client load, witnessed the process of transformation in individuals, couples and congregations, taught Sunday School, lost a trivia game with Boo, and managed to work out occasionally.  It's been a wild and wonderful ride and in 3 days, it will be over.

I've been practicing expanding my capacity for this for a long time now and right now feels like crossing the finish line with  energy to spare (which, by the way, I hope to do when I finish a 5K this spring).  More good news:  C and I have actually managed to stay well-connected during this time, although he did comment once, "I didn't think the empty nest would be me and the cat."  The only bad news:  no matter how much you can fit in, it's just not possible to fit it all, so there are still big chunks of unfinished business waiting for me at home and at work and in my relationships . . . and I think I'm learning that there will be time for those too . . . in time.

Lest you think I'm getting the big head, know that this feels like a gift--a great big grace gift from a God who (I believe) gave me this full and wonderful life (I think the word He used was "abundant," actually) and is also teaching me how to live it.

*(Read it in a magazine but have no idea who said it. Google didn't really help.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Day 21

It's been a really fun experiment.  I was reminded of how much I like to write and how fun it is to put it out there for you to read.  I remembered how stressful it can be to think of things to say and then to craft the words into experiences for you to share with me.  I'm glad I took on this experiment and I'm glad it's over.  Thanks for reading.  Oh, and I'll be back soon.

The End.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Day 20

The McDonald's sandwich (and cult favorite) the McRib is apparently quite a phenomenon.  Because it is regional and seasonal, there are actually blogs devoted to tracking its availability.  It has t-shirts, music, an urban legend, a conspiracy theory and a scandal, not to mention mentions on "The Simpsons" and "The Big Bang Theory."  In case you missed it, it's a processed pork patty shaped to look like a rack of ribs, slathered in barbecue sauce on a long bun.  In theory, it looks like this:

When C and I were in seminary, in the mid-80s, we lived and worked in Waco and commuted to school in Ft. Worth.  We were constantly exhausted and lived for our Saturdays when we could usually sleep late and get caught up.  Early one Saturday morning, the phone rang and my grandfather's voice boomed, "We're taking you and C to lunch today!"  As I tried to rouse myself from sleep enough to focus, I had two thoughts, "Why are you calling me in the middle of the night to tell me this?" and "Cool!  We never get to eat out--that will be fun!"

Then Grandaddy explained that he and Mimi were driving all the way from their home in the Hill Country to go to McDonalds to try the new McRib and they were going to take us along.  They were meeting us at the restaurant (no time to come by our house) at 11 a.m. and they were paying.  Those were our instructions and it never occurred to me to argue with any of it.  By the time we got to McDonalds at 11, they had already been there for 15 minutes and were as excited as children.

We found out pretty quick that ordering something other than the McRib was not an option although my usually frugal grandfather was willing to spring for fries and sodas.  I remember holding the first bite in my mouth for just a few seconds longer than usual because I was so grossed out by the texture that I wasn't sure that an effort to swallow would be successful.  Thankfully, we finished our sandwiches and had a wonderful time visiting.  After that, from time to time, we would receive the early morning phone call, the offer of lunch and the spiritual discipline of eating food you hate with people you love.

My Mimi is gone now and I still miss her.  She was a really good sport where my irascible grandfather was concerned.  Grandaddy is about to be 91 and is remarried to a wonderful woman.  After spending most of his life unable to express his affection (except in the language of processed pork), he will now call and instead of saying hello, booms "I love you!"  Of course, I've always known he loved me, even back when I was a little scared of him but a few McRib sandwiches through the years have sealed the deal.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Day 19

I am deeply grateful that my parents gave me the skills for dialogue.  When I was a teenager wanting to whine about my teacher, I wasn't thrilled when my mom and dad would encourage me to see what she was thinking, why she might have done what she did, what her perspective was.  Now, though, I wouldn't trade that skill for anything.

When he was in elementary school, Mowgli said to me one afternoon, "You'll never be able to go on Oprah, Mom, because you always see every side of everything."  I took that as a compliment.

There's another piece to this, though, that my parents also gave me and that is a commitment to consistency, which is also a commitment to constantly be aware of and make allowances for my biases.  When I was in college and was first introduced to the concepts of cognitive dissonance and perception/cognitive bias, I was so fascinated that I spent a whole semester thinking that I might go on to grad school in social psychology just to study those ideas.

This roughly explains why:

  • When fans of one team are shown a game against a rival team, they perceive more of the officiating errors that favor the other team and fewer of the calls that favor their own team.  And it's not just that they make a different meaning of those bad calls; they literally don't see them.
  • When Palestinians are shown a peace plan that Israelis favor but they are told that Palestinians favor it, they will support it.  Israelis do the same thing.  It works with Republicans and Democrats and with different religious groups.  Show people an unfamiliar plan that has been put forth by the other side but tell them that their group approves of it and they will approve of it too.
  • When it's the other side's candidate who sticks her foot in her mouth, she's an idiot; when it's your candidate who sticks her foot in her mouth, she needs to be given a chance to explain.  When your candidate has a moral failure, it's an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment and doesn't affect his right to govern; when the other side's guy has a moral failure, it's not only characteristic of that person but the whole party and he should be impeached.  
  • When you don't leave a tip, it's because you're stingy; when I don't leave a tip, it's because I'm low on cash.
  • When investigators and prosecutors zero in on a suspect, they become resistant to other explanations for the crime, even taking such suggestions personally.  (There's some really interesting work being done on this; in the meantime, a man will soon be executed in my state without ever having the large amounts of DNA found at the scene tested because prosecutors refuse to allow it to be tested, even at no cost to the state.)
  • When I begin to work with a new couple or family, I will ask each person to describe the problem to me as if they were their spouse or child.  I am trying to assess their ability and willingness to set aside their own perspective and look at things through the eyes of another.  It's absolutely stunning to me how many people can't or won't.
And the most fascinating and infuriating example:  We are very, very good at seeing and acknowledging the biases of other people, especially those we disagree with . . . and very, very bad at seeing and acknowledging our own or even seeing and acknowledging that we might have some.

So maybe this is part of why it seems to be so impossible for people to engage in real dialogue around deeply held opinions.  If we want to grow in our capacity to have productive conversations about the things that really matter to us, we can grow in our capacity to explore and evaluate our own biases and to apply our truths consistently to ourselves and to our opponents.  It's a good place to start anyway.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day 14, catching up

So today, I'm working on Gmail when I get a popup box asking me if I want to switch to the new format. So what would you have done?

Do you think, "I just figured out the format I have!  Why do they always have to be changing everything?"  Or, "How could Gmail possibly get better?" Or, "I love it when I get to try new things!"  Or, "I'll try it . . . what could it hurt?  I can always change back if I don't like it . . . I hope . . . oh, shoot, now I'm paralyzed . . . "

I'm not sure there's a better assessment of a person's openness to change and innovation than that popup box.  I was really amused by all the things that went through my head.

I clicked "yes."

Day 18

Robert Quinn says that in today's rapidly changing world, organizations have a binary choice between deep change and slow death.  The Bible says that without vision, the people perish.  There are few things sadder than people and organizations that cling to their routines and their mental models and their traditions and their habits right up to the point of self-destruction.

As a therapist, there are few things I do more important than casting vision.  Holding up a vision of who a person can become, what kind of relationships a family can have, what love could look like for a couple . . . that's at least half the job right there.  Without a compelling vision, people have no courage for the deep change that life requires from time to time.

In my work with congregational and other church leaders--leaders of living systems--the same thing is true.  Half the job is helping people to see--to literally see through the powerful eyes of the imagination--in such a way that they will risk the discomfort that comes with change.   What Jesus did so compellingly was to hold up a vision of the Kingdom of God--a vision that no one else had ever seen before--and invite people to join him there.  Two thousand years later, we're still trying to live in the kingdom he described to us.

So when couples and families and churches lose vision, lose heart and lose their way, it grieves me to the core.  But when they can see what is possible--enough that they will reach for it--that's the most lifegiving thing I can even imagine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Day 17

Whenever I despair that transformation is even possible, I go to my happy place and think about the Ridder Leadership Initiative.  I spent most of last week in Muskegon, Michigan with about 40 or so of the most amazing ordinary people you can even imagine.  They look like a fairly normal collection of pastors and denominational workers who take time out of their busy, demanding lives to focus on their own personal transformation and to build the skills and the character necessary to lead transformation in their congregations.

After a couple of days of fun and hard work, their teams come from their churches and gather around tables to talk about their own discipleship and their dreams for their congregations back home.  These laypeople are deeply committed to the process and take their learning back home to their families and their Bible study classes and their workplaces with renewed focus and courage.

This is my colleague and dear friend JTH with his arm around one of the many unsung heroes of the Ridder Initiative, Mrs. Lenora Ridder.  She and her late husband Bud, a pastor and seminary president, were passionate about caring for pastors and wanted to contribute to their development through a fund they set up and supported.  The fund supported bringing in some of the best minds in pastoral leadership development to the pastors of the denomination and ended up also bringing the authors of The Leaders' Journey.

After an event, several of us gathered around a table at the back of the room and began talking about the implications of our observation that although events are fun and helpful, they don't even begin to get at the mental models that keep us from the change we so desperately need.  Mrs. Ridder, always open to new ideas, agreed that the money in the fund could be used to create an experiential process without even knowing what that would look like.  She attends every gathering and adds her wisdom to the planning process on a regular basis.  Her open mindedness and courage and flexibility and encouragement are what make her one of my best loved heroes of the faith.  I truly want to be just like her when I grow up.

Day 13, catching up

This is the stack of books that sits on my desk waiting to be read.  Sometimes it puts on the Bambi eyes, trying to make me pay attention to it.  More often, it mocks me, reminding me how long it has been since some of these books were bought impulsively and then never even picked up.  Since some of the books are gifts from dear friends, it is often guilt-inducing.

A while ago, I made a deal with myself that I would give away ten books from my shelves and read ten books from my stack before I would let myself buy any new books.  (As I look at this stack, I realize that ten doesn't even really make a dent, but I'm in denial about that.)  Meanwhile, my amazon wish list has 419 items on it, most of them more books.  I've read 7 so far, with 3 to go.

Today, as I was feeling overwhelmed by this, I decided to go at it Dave Ramsey-style, reading from smallest to largest.  As I look at the stack, though, I notice that The Prophetic Imagination by Brueggeman is the thinnest book in the stack but it's also one of the densest, with really small print.  Maybe I'll watch a movie instead.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Day 16

I know, I know, I know . . . I had such good intentions!

I had the great privilege to be with some of the best people in the world at the Ridder Leadership Initiative in Muskegon, Michigan these last few days.  I'll be posting pictures and more detailed descriptions of all the great things that happened there, but suffice it to say that blogging was not on the list of priorities, not to mention that wi-fi was spotty in my room and when I was in common space, I needed to be available to people and not pecking away on my keyboard.

I promise to go back and make up the days I missed, thinking of fascinating things to write about in a life-changing way.  Or maybe I'll just keep writing my mundane thoughts and thank you for coming over to visit from time to time.  It's important to do the things I say I will, even if I can't do it perfectly.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Day 12

I used to be pretty deep.  Not Ghandi-deep or even C. S. Lewis-deep but able to readily explore the inner depths of my mind and heart.  I could even, if I wanted to, think deep thoughts just for fun. 

Unfortunately, years of perfecting the ability to multitask has robbed me of that depth.   Of course, it all starts with being a mom and learning to talk on the phone and spoon in the baby food and fold the laundry all at once.  Then you add a professional life and a church life and the demands of any normal life and I got really, really good at juggling all of it all at once. 

It only cost me a few layers of depth. 

I think it went away so gradually that I barely noticed it.  I started doing more and more of my thinking on the run.  I spent less time pondering or reflecting.  Reading became a way to gain information or a way to escape but rarely got my full attention.  I got really good at being fully present to other people and got tired out by that and so then I learned to space out when I was with myself.  I started to cruise in the wake of other people’s learning because it was just so much easier. 

Now I’m in a different season of life and I want my old self  back.   Doing a lot of things at once because there are a lot of things to do has its place.  Learning to keep it light after a heavy day of sharing in other people’s deep work has its place.   Deep doesn’t have to mean constant intensity.  But there are some practices that build depth, that can help us plumb the deep places and I’m ready to re-engage them. 

Even in short doses, for example, solitude and silence help us learn to be with God and ourselves and listen to both.  Sitting quietly to solve problems without talking about them to everyone who will listen opens us up to our own creative thinking.  Asking ourselves what we think about something and then taking the time to really listen to the answer helps a lot.  Reading books that are hard to read builds depth if they’re the right books.  Asking good questions in conversation and then asking more questions builds relational depth.  It’s a fundamental shift from quantity of life to quality.  I’m ready to make the shift.

Day 11

Well, I'm in western Michigan with an amazing group of pastors.  We've been journeying together for several years now and the stories of transformation are pouring out.  This is one of the great privileges of my life.

And here's the downside:  internet is spotty and time is limited so this is actually yesterday's post . . . and it's going to be a rerun. This post is a blast from the past and also reflects some of my current thinking.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day 10

I rarely curse.  Not never, but rarely.  I'm not offended by bad language though.  For one thing, a really well-placed curse word can make a point in a way that embeds it in your memory forever--Clark Gable and Tony Campolo both come to mind.  And as a therapist, I know that pain comes out of people in raw form and I think that's more than okay.

But like spanking and paprika, profanity is much more powerful when it is used sparingly.  Whether it's unnecessarily cluttering the dialogue in a movie or heightening the hostility in a conversation, it's often a lazy way to communicate.  For one thing, cursing used to be much more creative--there were a whole range of bad words that you could choose from, depending on the situation.  Today, there seems to be only one word and it can be used as a verb, an adjective, a noun or an exclamation.  I'm pondering . . . could it be used as an adverb or a gerund?  Hmmm . . .

When I was about 10, I was curious about bad words and unsure about how to use them since the family I grew up in was pretty much profanity-free.  (My freshman roommate used the f-word 17 times between our dorm and the mall on the first day I met her.  I got all kinds of education my freshman year.)

Anyway, I was visiting my grandmother, who was in the shower adjacent to the bedroom where I was making a phone call to my cousin.  I got frustrated with the phone, tossed the phone book angrily on the bed,  and said "Dammit!"  My grandmother poked her head out of the bathroom door and said, "Go to your room and I'll be there in a minute."

I flounced off to my bedroom, setting up my argument that other people used that word and that I was old enough and besides I couldn't find the number and . . . anyway, I was ready to fight for my rights even though I knew I was in trouble.  Nana sat down on the edge of my bed, held up her hand to keep me from launching into my defense, and calmly and slightly disdainfully said, "Do you know what that word means?  It means that you want someone or something to go to hell.  And you just told a phone book to go to hell.  How does that make any sense?"

Embarrassed, deflated, I had no answer.  I looked down and said, "I don't know.  I'm sorry."  She hugged me hard and said something about how it wasn't a problem.  She never mentioned it again, not even to my parents, as far as I know.  Just a few months later, at Thanksgiving at Nana's house, there would be a much more serious incident involving my brother and a curse word I truly did not understand, but that's another story.  Nana never told on me.

In his book Real Live Preacher, Gordon Atkinson reflects on the use of words.  He writes, "I am constantly found guilty of the sin of words.  Vulgarity is not my downfall, although I am vulgar.  My sin is having words that are far more beautiful than my life.  How graceful are those whose lives outshine their words.  Perhaps my life will catch up to my mouth someday."  I like that.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Day 9

It's amazing how much power there is in giving your word to something.  We really do create reality with our words--not in a superstitious, "name-it-claim-it" way, but along the lines of the way God created with His word--"Let there be light . . . and there was light."  When we really give our word to something and add our intention to it, so that "Never mind" is not an option, it changes what we do, which changes how we live, which changes the future.

We can give our word to evil--"I will get revenge if it's the last thing I do."  But it seems we're almost compelled to give our word to the good God calls us to . . . until another voice tells us we can't do that, we can't be that.   But nothing significant ever happens without that combination of our word and our intention.

I'm thinking about this right now because 9 days ago, I gave my word to writing every day for 21 days.  That is the only reason I would still be up and on my computer at this hour, before a really demanding day tomorrow.  In June, I gave my word to running a 5K.  On Saturday, I picked the event I'm going to run in.  Slowly but surely, I'm making progress toward making both of those a reality, whether I feel like it or not.

I've learned a lot about this from my friend JTH and also from Dallas Willard, in conversations and lectures and writing on how people change.  I've experimented with it in my own life and it really is powerful, not as a technique but as a way of lining up my life with God's calling.  I help to teach it in Faithwalking and elsewhere and I've seen the power of it in the lives of others.  Giving our word, keeping our word, honoring our word . . . in line with God's word . . . really does change things.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day 8

It's the middle of the fall and here's the latest for our family:

First of all, C and I are thoroughly enjoying the empty nest!  (Sorry, Boo and Mowgli!)  We're both doing really good work--energizing and lifegiving--and when we're not working, we're hanging out together and enjoying our quiet house and our freedom to come and go as we please.  I've been out of town for six weeks straight and still have four more trips to go, and then a long respite from travel until the new year.  C gets a little lonely but he has the cat to keep him company . . . okay, that's not exactly how it works.

Boo is settled in at college and loves it there.  Her favorite class is Old Testament, mainly because of the teacher.  She's active in the Baptist Student Ministry and is working with children and with a theater troupe and will be a DiscipleNow leader for youth groups in the spring.  She is working a lot, playing a lot, and serving a lot.  We're so proud of her courage and hard work.

Mowgli is still on schedule to graduate in December.  We were planning a big trip out to NC for graduation and to bring his stuff home but we just found out that his school doesn't have a December commencement, so it all feels pretty anticlimactic at this point.  What are his plans, you ask?  Well, he'll let us know when he knows.  Right now, he's waiting to hear back from grad schools and teacher certification programs and then he'll have some decisions to make.  I predict some combination of work and travel until then.

Our extended families are doing well and we see them as often as we can.  The pace is dizzying right now but it's all good . . . I think all four of us feel incredibly blessed to be where we are.  That's an incredible gift.

Day 7

So I'm sitting here in the lovely living room of my friend P, talking about cognitive dissonance and pinterest and empathy and Jesus and our jobs and parenting . . . and just realized that I completely forgot to blog yesterday!  Consistency is hard . . . I  could write about that but I'm not going to.  I'm just going to keep sitting here chatting with P.  I'll be back tonight . . .

Friday, October 21, 2011

Day 6

I'm upset about something that happened tonight.  This experience seems even more important after my recent writing about race and courage.  

I was stopped at a light in the far right hand lane on a busy Houston street and had the thought that it would be a good idea to lock my car doors.  When I reached for the door lock button, I accidentally rolled down the window so I was looking down at my left hand, fumbling with the buttons.  Finally, the doors locked, just as I looked up and just as a young African-American man was passing me on foot, going the other way.  

He looked at me pointedly just as I looked at him, our eyes locked, him shaking his head almost imperceptibly, me not yet comprehending what had just happened.  Then the moment was over.  He passed me, I realized what he had just experienced--a middle-aged white woman locking her car door just as he walked by--and then it was over.  

I'm not going to pretend that I know what that feeling is like.  A black friend of mine from high school and college told me once, "You have no idea what it feels like to know every time you walk into a room full of white people that someone hates you, someone is afraid of you, someone doesn't think you belong there and you don't know who."  He was right--I have no idea.  

I think that what happened tonight was an unfortunate coincidence, a painful misunderstanding.  Most of all, I regret not having any way to make it right.  I prayed for that young man and his heart because it was all I could do.  I hope he can turn his brief experience with me into irritation and not anger, frustration but not cynicism.  And I pray for the day that the hurts aren't so close to the surface, when it is not so easy to wound each other by accident.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day 5

Bumper stickers are funny.  Sometimes they're stupid ("9/11 was an inside job") and sometimes they're silly ("Visualize whirled peas") but just the concept is pretty funny.  One day, 40 years or so, somebody thought, "Let's think of some pithy statement that defines our whole lives or, barring that, "I love Joe's Crab Shack!" and let's make it so sticky that it will NEVER come off, and let's stick it on the back of the car that represents the second most expensive thing we own.

I wish I could have gotten a picture of the little hatchback that started this line of thinking.  It cut in front of me on the way to work yesterday, maybe because the back windshield was artistically covered with bumper stickers, apparently representing a variety of goth bands.  The front windshield had 6 bumper stickers on it--also strategically arranged--which I am pretty sure is not legal.  (Is it still called a bumper sticker if it's on a window?)

I know that many people express their most deeply held values on these tiny sticky billboards.  Austin is definitely a bumper sticker city, mostly announcing blue-state sentiments in the middle of the reddest state in the country.  (Some of them would invite vandalism in Odessa or Beaumont or Dime Box.)  At Mowgli's school, it seems that every other car has the "Coexist" sticker on it.  When we lived in Clear Lake, the back window stickers displaying your child's name and all his/her extracurricular activities were requisite.  Here, it's the tie-dyed "Keep Austin Weird."

I understand what motivates the political ("HOPE") or value-driven ("Abortion stops a beating heart") or religious ("Honk if you love Jesus!") or school spirit ("Sic 'Em Bears").  But every now and then, I see a bumper sticker proclaiming something like "I *heart* TCBY" and I wonder, "Really?  You love frozen yogurt enough to make it the singular statement of your life and then display it on your car?  Really? That's the best you've got?"  I can be fairly judgmental.

In the last presidential election, I saw a bumper sticker that I really liked and considered getting it until I remembered that I am aesthetically opposed to sticking things on my car.  Antipathy toward bumper stickers trumped civic pride.  If I ever DO get a bumper sticker, though--which I never will--my favorite is one that came out about a decade ago.  It reads, "God bless the whole world.  No exceptions."  Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day 4

Just when I think it's all useless, that nothing ever changes, that I don't know why I bother, that people are just the way they are . . . I have a day like today, when I have a front row seat for the ordinary change happening in ordinary lives.  I get to watch as wives talk when they could withdraw, when scared mothers speak the truth when they could hide, when husbands say, "I was wrong," when they could say "Don't blame me," when people keep showing up for love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day 3

Listening to Rev. Smith Sunday night reminded me of my own story of racial reconciliation in the SBC.  When I was in college, I served as the youth minister of a small Baptist church in a small Texas town.  It was a town of 400 people, half of whom considered themselves Baptist, with about 80 in the pews of our church every week.

The town itself was built around the intersection of two insignificant farm-to-market roads where dilapidated brick buildings stood mostly abandoned, built when cotton was king.  The bank was in one of those buildings--a two-story brick building with swinging screen doors adorned with fading signs advertising Rainbo bread.  Next door to the bank was a true general store with overpriced, dusty groceries and a lunch counter in the back that served hearty breakfasts and amazing hamburgers to townspeople and the Hispanic field hands that worked on nearby farms.   It felt like going back in time.

Anyway, one of my tasks as youth minister was to invite all the town's high school seniors to baccalaureate at our church on the Sunday before graduation.  I got the list from the high school registrar and set about sending out invitations.  Most of the townspeople I knew had their mail delivered to P. O. boxes (oh, yeah, the post office was caddy corner from the bank on the town "square.")  However, on this list there were several students listed only by name and street--no house number, no phone number--so I set out in my car delivering invitations to kids who lived in unpainted wooden shacks and shabby travel trailers down dusty dirt roads that I didn't even know existed.   Often, I had to ask around to find the senior in question and handed over the invitation personally to his or her bewildered relatives who promised to attend the service.

Imagine how shocked my congregation was when they discovered what I had done.  I had, for the very first time in memory, invited the African American seniors to baccalaureate at the white Baptist church.  Imagine how shocked I was to discover that the policy for decades had been to exclude those kids and their families from the annual service.  I sputtered in indignation, the church convened a meeting, had a robust discussion,  and then voted unanimously to let the invitations stand.

On the day of the baccalaureate, three black seniors and their parents and grandparents showed up for the service and, while I admired their courage, I was amazed by my church.  Members of all ages and social strata flocked to the visitors to welcome them and shake their hands.  They were so welcoming, in fact, that a few of the black seniors' parents returned to visit the worship services for the next two weeks and expressed appreciation for the church's hospitality.

All's well that ends well and that story ended pretty well.  There was never any question again about who was welcome in our church, much less at senior baccalaureate, and occasionally those students would join in our youth group activities or their families would attend events at our church.  I wish I could say that there was a large-scale integration, that deeply held prejudices were healed and that living conditions improved for those kids.  None of that happened.  But that day, at Central Baptist Church in a small town in Texas, different kinds of people were willing to let go of the way things had always been done and consider new possibilities and I was glad to see it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Day 2

Last night, we were in the presence of greatness.

C has been teaching a class on Baptist history (it's actually been really interesting and well-attended) and got to the part where Baptists in the south decided they would rather support slavery than stay connected with their northern brethren and split off and formed the SBC.  He asked Rev. Smith, a member of our church and a pastor since the 1950s, to talk about race relations in the SBC since then.

Rev. Smith is a slight, white-haired man with a quiet voice and a radiant smile.  He didn't smile much as he described the ordinary racism of the south of his childhood and the way that God balanced those brutal experiences by giving him actual relationships with black people that were caring and lifegiving.

He talked about getting to know African-American pastors back when things were "separate and (not) equal" and hearing about their experiences from their own lips instead of from town gossip or the national news. He showed us the paperback copies of the books that he bought to read what MLK thought in his own words instead of believing what he heard in the press.  He held up a tattered copy of the ballot used to guide his small country church to not only welcome their black brothers and sisters but even to join the local association of black churches in solidarity.  He described advocating for an African American pastor to take over the pastorate of his church's mission church even though all the remaining members were white.  He also told about a deacon who threatened him, saying, "When a n***** walks in the front door [of the church], God walks out the back."

There were a lot of stories that he didn't tell--the good, the bad and the ugly. For one thing, he only got up to 1968.  He was very reluctant to portray himself as a hero or a crusader but the truth is that he consistently made the right choices about racial reconciliation at a time when many pastors didn't.  He didn't march on Washington or attend a sit-in.  At the same time, he didn't just wait for "social issues" to resolve themselves.  Instead, he went across town and became friends with people who were different from him.  He listened to them, thought about what they thought about, ate with them, worshiped with them, and advocated for them.  He loved his neighbor in ordinary, courageous, extraordinary ways--a lot like Jesus.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Day One

There are a lot of reasons why I blog so much less frequently these days.  I'm busy, I wonder what anyone would want to read about, Facebook, I can't get motivated, etc.  Whether it's a term paper or a book chapter or a letter or a blog post, the empty page is daunting.

Here's what occurred to me recently, though:  Although I'm an author, I'm not really a writer.  Know why?  Because writers write.

So I've taken a challenge from my friend at to blog for 21 days straight no matter what, to put words to paper every day for 21 days, to write something--anything--long enough to push through the resistance.  If she can do it, I can do it, right?

It's actually very consistent with a tool that I've used many times in my life.  The idea is that if you have a dream and you do something every day toward your dream, you really might see your dream come true.  I can't even tell you how many times I've taken that on and how many times it has made the difference between good intentions and real results.

So . . . the next 21 days on wonderfullyflawed might be really inane.  Who knows?  That's not the point.  I still ask myself a lot, though, "What would someone who shows up on this site want to read about?"  So if you want to suggest a topic, I promise I'll take it on, one way or another.  Otherwise, you'll probably be at the mercy of whatever I'm thinking about on any given day.  Let's see what happens . . .

Saturday, October 8, 2011

If you're an evangelical and you don't sometimes feel a little conflicted about that label, you may not be paying attention.   In this article by Lynne Hybels, I found both my ambivalence about evangelical life and my commitment to it beautifully expressed.  Of course, what she describes isn't unique to evangelicals but I wish these ideals were more closely associated with them . . . us . . . me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Speaking up about speaking up

My heart is beating fast and I can feel the heat in my face.  My hands feel a little shaky, although I don't think you would notice if you saw me.  My internal conversation is going back and forth between self-righteousness and self-doubt.  Here's what just happened:  I was on Facebook and saw that a friend of mine--someone I used to know and like but rarely see anymore (although I did see him recently)--posted a comment that I found deeply offensive.  Deeply.  And personal.  So I commented.  I didn't want to--I hate conflict and I hate exposing myself like that--but I felt compelled to.  I couched my comment in tongue-in-cheek teasing (at least I hope that's how it came across) but I know that what I said was also provocative.

I'm practicing having the courage act authentically even when it means letting go of my habitual need to please.  It's a commitment I've taken on but don't always know how to pursue.  Obviously, I can't comment on every stupid comment on Facebook.  I almost never comment on the political posts that I disagree with, no matter how strongly I disagree.  But about a year ago, a political joke was circulating that I thought was so incredibly offensive that I couldn't believe that my friends--people I loved and admired--were perpetuating it.  I never said anything and ever since, I've wished I had.  I know that I wimped out.  I  didn't speak up because I knew people were "just kidding" and because I didn't want my own views to be exposed and because I didn't want to be perceived as self-righteous.  I was wrong.

Still, I'm not sure what is the right thing to do.  It's gotten to a point that, except for a public forum like Facebook, almost no one says really offensive things in front of me--whether it's my gender or my age or the role I play or some kind of personal authority or all of the above, I don't know.  But I can remember more occasions than I can count when I didn't say anything or said something weak and ineffective or talked to the person privately later, after I had a chance to collect my thoughts, leaving the public impression that I agreed with what was said.  I've learned now that if I can't think of what to say, I can say "I see that differently."  No one ever asks me how I see it differently so I'm off the hook, although sometimes I would welcome the conversation.  And obviously, just because I think something is inherently offensive doesn't mean that it is.

So what do you do?  Do you speak up and say what you think, even when you know it would inject controversy?  Do you see that as a good thing--"the marketplace of ideas"--or do you see yourself as an "enlightener of others?"  Do you wimp out and wish you hadn't?  Do you consider that your own views are just that--your own views--and keep them to yourself?  Come on, hit the comment button and speak up about speaking up!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

I spent the weekend at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas for the Aprentis/Renovare conference.  Isn't this an amazing building?  Highlights include beginning the conference singing "Immortal Invisible" with 800 other people in a gorgeous chapel and ending with singing The Apostle's Creed.  In between, some great presentations.  Here are a few excerpts:

"Being holy means living from the world of God."  ~ Dallas Willard

"We are able to determine the kind of person we turn out to be."  ~Dallas Willard

"Repentance is thinking about your thinking."  ~Dallas Willard

"Moments in life become catalysts of change when they precipitate a crisis that demands a response."  ~Scot McKnight

"Walking away from God is like walking on a treadmill."  ~Mindy Caliguire

"An unhappy preacher is one of the most dangerous people on the face of the earth."  ~Dallas Willard

"The church is better equipped to speak truth to power than to have power itself."  ~James Catford

"The cross is not the best symbol of the Christian life.  It is the Table." ~Eduardo Pedreira

"Knowing the transformational promise of the gospel, it is fair to ask whether a person who claims to have a relationship with Jesus exhibits more peace and less stress, handles crisis with more grace, experiences less fear and anxiety, manifests more joy, is overcoming anger and their addictions or compulsions, enjoys more fulfilling relationships, exercises more compassion, lives more consciously or loves more boldly."  ~Mark Scandrette

"A church is a place to love and be loved."  ~Dallas Willard

"Don't ask, 'What would happen if you died tonight?'  Ask, 'If you don't die tonight, what happens tomorrow?'"  ~Dallas Willard

"Discipleship is for the world.  The church is for discipleship . . . There's not a thing wrong with the church that a little discipleship wouldn't cure."  ~Dallas Willard

"How did we get to the point that a minister's job is to get people to do things they don't want to do?"  ~James Bryan Smith

"Don't announce the revolution."  ~Dallas Willard

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hopeless and disillusioned . . . for now

I drove home today pretty sure that people just don't change. Maybe they can't, maybe they just don't, whatever, but somewhere between my office and home, I wondered if transformation . . . or heck, even change . . . is even possible. You understand that this is like the pope deciding he doesn't believe in God or like a senator deciding she doesn't believe in government, right? I am in a serious funk.

Fortunately, tomorrow I'm going on a road trip with my super-friend drkatg. We're going to a Renovare conference entitled . . . wait for it . . . The Process of Change. So I guess that by Sunday, I'll know whether my life's work is an exercise in futility or not.

Seriously, we're driving to Wichita, KS tomorrow, attending the two-day conference and then driving home from Wichita on Sunday and then going to work Monday morning. I'm really not sure what we were thinking. At one time, this seemed like a really good idea. Right now, it sounds like a lifesaver . . . except for the driving to Wichita part. Seriously, what were we thinking?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Boo at UMHB

She's doing great and so are we!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tell me a story

I've been thinking all summer about the power of story. I think it started when we went to the FBC Woodway College Ministry reunion in June. You have to remember that the years we were uniting around were a powerful, formative time for everyone in the room. So how to capture that? Well, we spent the evening telling stories. We told stories around tables and one-on-one and in small clusters and as a large group. We told stories that made us laugh and stories that made us cry but the important thing was that we never had to explain it--the story said everything there was to say.

i was reminded of the power of story again when C and Boo and I went to the first midnight showing of the last installment of the Harry Potter series. We stood in an insanely long line with hundreds of kids who had been waiting for this moment for a decade. They ranged from about 16 to 22, so I guess they were technically young adults but trust me, this night they were kids. They ranged from hipster to socially awkward, costumed simply or elaborately, but they had come together for one reason: to share the end of the story together.

The Harry Potter is THE story of my kids' generation. When the first book came out, conservative Christians predictably saw a story about witchcraft and pointed a finger of condemnation. It's sad, I think, because the saga never was about witchcraft. It was about sacrificial love and about the terrible triumph of good over evil and about the kind of friendship that can change the world. Every single one of the kids who filled the theater that night were there because the story of Harry Potter had touched something deeply in them since they were children, had made them think about things as they grew up with Harry, and had changed something about how they saw the world.

All of us who were there--even the middle-aged tagalongs--knew how things were going to end. There was no longer any suspense. And yet, throughout the movie, we were surrounded by heartfelt sobbing and spontaneous cheering as these kids lived the story with the actors on the screen and with each other. And somewhere in the middle of all that, I had a thought: we failed this generation by not giving them a good enough story. There is no better story than the epic story of the gospel. In our commitment to modernity, though, we turned the gospel story into a systematic theology, better shared in outline form than in narrative. In all the world, is there a better story than the American story? And yet, how many of us had history classes that really conveyed the story of liberty in a way that made anyone want to listen?

I was reminded about the power of story again when we went to see Garrison Keillor the other night. I remember more of his Lake Wobegon stories than I do individual sermons, even though I've gone to church all my life. We started talking about Bill Cosby--we know some of his stories by heart--and about Tony Campolo. I said once that I wanted to have stories to tell like Campolo does and someone reminded me that in order to have stories like he has, I would have to live like he lives. That was a good point.

And then, sadly, I thought about the power of story again as I was glued to the TV for the last two or three days watching the remembrances of the events of 9/11. There are few things as powerful as those stories of people facing the unimaginable and responding with love and courage and faithfulness. As all good stories do, they make us think deeply about our own lives and what we value and why we're here.

And then, just this weekend, C and I were talking with a friend about the weekend's football games and she said, "I''m not really a fan of any one team. I root for the story." Don't we all?

If we want a better world, we have to tell a better story. We can start by telling our own stories with all the courage that it takes to tell a true story about ourselves. We can go back to the stories of the gospel and stop worrying so much if we and others have the theology right. We can tell the stories about our country--the good ones and the bad ones--without defensiveness or rancor. We can listen to the stories of others, even those with whom we passionately disagree or with whom we think we have nothing in common. I think it's the only hope we have.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Harder than I thought it would be

At the end of May, I gave my word to taking a step toward improving my physical health. After a friend recommended the book Younger Next Year, I was convinced of the evidence in favor of exercise and decided to make a big change. Someone I admire--who is also overweight and sedentary like me--had started the C25K program and so I decided to do that too. I liked the structure and I really liked having a concrete goal--working up to running a 5K.

Whew. So the good news is that I have now gone to the gym at least 4 times a week (and almost always 5 times a week) for 9 of the last 11 weeks. More good news: I've increased my capacity for running by at least 8 times what it was before. I've done things that I've never done before and that I didn't know I could do. The bad news: I am nowhere near running a 5K!

Let's do this by the numbers: Times I had run before June 2011--2. One time in college, I went out to run with my gorgeous roommate. I huffed and puffed while the boys running on the same trail hit on her. Never did that again. The second time, a few years ago, I ended up having foot surgery. So.

The C25K plan is designed to increase your running time by a little every day. I actually have to take each day's workout and do it for a week before I can go on the next workout, so this is going to take me 6 months instead of 9 weeks. And I'm okay with that. I feel great, mentally and physically. (Well, except that my muscles are sore and stiff ALL the time, but I can live with that.) I'm really proud of myself. I can see myself becoming a more physical person. It's all good.

So I'm putting this out there just because it's an important happening in my life and this is a way of staying accountable. But this feels like a deal I've made with myself and so I'm not really wanting any replies or comments. Just wanted to say it "out loud." And someday, when I run that 5K, I'll post pictures. I promise.