Monday, July 18, 2016

my book proposal: a tale of success and failure (part 1)

I am feeling the sting of failure today and I need to ask you a question.

What do success and failure mean to you? 

Listen, I don't want any prepackaged, vacuum-sealed answers to that question. I will reference the movie Elizabethtown and ask that you not give me an ice cream cone. That means I don't want an answer that is sweet and pretty but melts away into a sticky nothing in the end. That movie is one of my favorites, by the way. It also says this about failure:


(Oh, Claire. You are a delightful rainbow unicorn in a woman's body.)

I want to smile about my failure. Really, I do. But the usual definitions of success that we love dish out to one another on sugar cones with cherries on top aren't doing it for me. Yes, I understand that success is journey, not a destination. I realize no [wo]man is a failure who has friends, and that success isn't about money or fame or even grand influence. As a mom of four future adults, I have accepted the beautiful thought that I can impact generations just by baking some chocolate chip cookies while raising my kids with a healthy dose of wisdom and grace. I'm not saying that I'm afraid I'm shooting blanks, wasting my life, or losing some kind of race.

I know we live in a culture where everybody gets a trophy at the YMCA, but I don't want to win a trophy. I want to fulfill my calling:
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." -1 Peter 2:9

Let's not allow a post-modern need to soothe our existential angst and affirm our awesmeness lessen the weight of reality. If everyone is a success simply because they breathe air and have meaningful relationships, then why the heck should we even try to make a difference in the world?

This is important. We need to know what success looks like so we can fight like crazy ninja warriors when we fail. Forgive me for being so dramatic. I'm a little tipsy with failure today. I'm over here eating a Costco-sized bag of Doritos because my book proposal received its first (and probably not last) rejection.

Apparently, my writing is good. My proposal is great. My project is beautiful. But my platform needs to be bigger. I knew this would be the challenge going into the process, which is why I've put off the whole book writing thing for years.

Essentially, I need to find thousands of people who will line up and love me, in order to prove the marketability of a book about the dicey world of pastoring. I need scores of people who want to hear the hilarious stories that happen after the service, like when a guy demanded that my husband name the actual anti-Christ (and it wasn't even an election year!). I need to find the people who want to know how and why we kept a giant secret from our kids for almost five years: namely, that their dad is the pastor of the church they attend. I need people to listen to God's dream for His church, and how it involves a kind of leadership that is hard on our families, our marriages, our emotional and physical heath.

Lots of us quit. Those who don't often wish they could. Which begs the question: Is quitting the ministry a kind of failure? How does one fail in the ministry? Do we fail people? Do we fail God? Do we fail our kids, our spouses, or even ourselves? Do we fail everyone all at once, or just one segment of the population at a time? Is it our intentions that matter more or our disciplines and theology? When people leave our churches because they didn't like us, how should we process that? Is our success related directly to our influence and/or our gifting? Are attendance and giving numbers an indication of success or failure at all?

I am writing a book about how we can find a million reasons to quit the church, every single day. It's very tempting. After all, this is what ministry requires: that you lose yourself in Christ, filling up in your flesh the great need that exists in the world, while learning to delight in suffering for the sake of a cause that is greater than your own life. (Doesn't that sound like fun??) Suffering and sacrifice often feel like failure. Jesus's life looked an awful lot like a failure from the world's perspective. Ministry life isn't exactly a shiny island vacation brochure.

Some days pastoring feels like the worst kind of torture. Other days it feels like a priceless gift and privilege we do not deserve. Mostly it's both at the same time. But how do we do it well? How do we process God's requirements for us as leaders, the diverse expectations of so many people, and the pressure on our own lives and families? All those questions are what my book is about. Don't you want to line up to read it once it's published? I really, really hope a few thousand people do.

Because until then, my book will be an unpopular wallflower waiting for an agent and publisher to come ask it to dance. Writing a book is like living my entire middle school experience all over again, except now I have cuter jeans and a phone that is also a robot named Siri.

Siri can help you find a good Asian fusion restaurant, but if you ask her what it means to succeed in life, she isn't very helpful.

My friend Ellen, though, has taught me a lot about success and failure. Ellen is a child development specialist. Ellen has told me a million times to praise the effort my children exert instead of the accomplishment they achieve. Basically instead of "I'm so proud of you for getting an A on that test!", we should say "Wow! You're studying so hard! I'm so proud of you!" She also says to refrain from broad strokes of praise that have no foundation in reality. Don't say "You're an awesome kid!" and leave it at that. Instead, praise their generosity when you see them give the last of the cereal to their brother. Thank them for their kind response when you ask them to unload the dishwasher. Compliment them when they run hard at soccer practice even though it's 99 degrees and they would rather be at the pool.

Kids (and grown ups eating too many neon orange tortilla chips) need concrete praise founded in their effort even when they fail so they won't be afraid to try again. If they didn't try very hard, then ask them if they have a plan for the next time, encouraging them to increase or change their effort and strategy.

So that's what I'm doing for myself today. (Well, that and binge eating cookies and Doritos by the fistfuls.) I am making a list of all my effort that is praiseworthy and making a game plan for the ways I can improve. Because in reality, I have failed today, but tomorrow or next month or next year I may succeed and find that God has taken a tiny bit of His glory and lit the world through my words.

That hope is all I need to drag me out of bed every morning and try to achieve my dream again. Right there in the middle of my effort and my dream I find that I feel God's pleasure and love. You know what? I'm pretty sure His love and pleasure are the success we are clamoring about to find in life.

So don't worry, Claire. I'm still smiling. Also, I think I want ice cream with my cookies now.

XOXO
Carrie

Thursday, July 14, 2016

On Being Imaginary Awesome

{Hi everyone! Our family is still on vacation in East Texas, but today I'm guest posting over on Amber Salhus's blog today. Here's the beginning of the post,you can just click on over to read the rest of the post...}

When I was six years old, my friend Dayna and I liked to play hospital. One of us was the pregnant woman, the other was the nurse/Doctor/entire hospital staff. I had seen an episode of General Hospital at a friend’s house (yes, my mother was appropriately horrified), so I knew everyone made very dramatic faces in hospitals. We made sure to do likewise.
Nurse: No! No food for you! [insert maniacal laughter]
Patient: [Languishing with hand over forehead] Surely this will be the end of me!
Doctor: [Heroic face] “Don’t worry…I will save you and your baby!” [Pulls baby from under the blanket over my stomach.]
The narrative always went this same way. Mean nurse. Heroic doctor. Easy-to-deliver baby. What we lacked in our understanding of reality, we made up for in imaginary awesomeness.
Dayna and I had not yet learned the traditional way of removing an entire human from the belly of a woman, so the baby was always born c-section. Once birthed, the plastic baby was quiet and never needed a single thing to ensure survival except one fake orange juice bottle.
We immediately moved from the hospital game to pretending we were dress designers using my Fashion Plates, and then airplane pilots who flew those dress designs around the world. Like proper daughters of the 80s, we were capable of greatness and the world was our oyster. As long as we Just Said No to Drugs and practiced good self-esteem, we knew we would grow up to be Madonna or Jackie O or Princess Di. It was a done deal.
Thirty-four years later, I find myself living a slightly different story than Dayna and I imagined. I don’t work in a hospital or fly a plane, I write words. My four babies came out the old-fashioned way- which is to say, squeezed through the ring of fire. They needed a lot more than one bottle to thrive. Basically, reality has taught me that all a child needs to survive is every ounce of your being on a platter for the rest of your life. Motherhood is so easy!....

to read the rest of this post, hop on over to Amber's blog....

Sunday, July 10, 2016

on race, church, diversity, and all the love

I wrote this post after the riots in Baltimore last year, and it is beating heavily in my heart today. I'm sorry that I don't have new words. New words would be wonderful, but I have been so sad and so angry this week and I have lost most of my words except for I'm sorry, I love you, and Jesus please help us. Morgan and I were on vacation but have come back to worship with our church family because we need to be here where Love lights the way to peace and healing. Happy Sunday, my friends. I hope you find comfort in Jesus and the people around you today.

xo
Carrie


*****


For a long time now, a few thoughts have rolled about in my head, like a heavy load in the trunk of your car, waiting for a hard right turn to thump them against the wall of the trunk space so they can be remembered.

These thumping thoughts are about race and culture and the belonging birthed by the love God has given us.

I will start at the beginning.

I am a white woman, married to a white man, with white children, raised in middle class mostly-white America. Despite feeling a bit objectified by men at various points in my life, I have never known the disadvantage of being the "wrong" race or the "wrong" nationality or the "wrong" religion.

God has a great deal to say about race and culture and loving people who aren't like you. The whole of the gospel is wrapped up in God's own love for people very unlike Himself.

It would be easy for me, from the comfort of my suburban home, to live like injustice isn't real and everyone has been given the same kind of life I have been given. But I have heard too many people's stories to even consider that a real possibility.

Should I care to limit my world to those who look just like me, it would also be easy to make that happen. Staying with people who share the same cultural influences and ideals is easier than trying to understand someone who is different, and let's be honest- risking being misunderstood by someone who is different than you is scary as any hell-on-earth you can possibly imagine. 

The temptation to stay with people who are just like you is, I admit, alluring. We all seem to come hard-wired with the same desire: to be known and to belong. Frankly, the odds of achieving this goal are better with people who look like you, like what you like, eat what you eat, and do what you do. Commonalities breed comfort.

It has been a grace and a mercy that God has chosen to give me such a colorful menagerie of friends and influences in my life. Between college roommates who taught me words like "ashy" and "crunk", to early motherhood BFFs who shared their challenges in raising biracial children with me, to friends who have shared with me the challenges of life as a refugee from a part of the world we are afraid to to talk about, to friends who graciously let me hold the pain and fear that racism has visited upon them and their families, I have learned there is more joy in loving and being loved by people with whom you have very little in common than having a million friends who are just like you.

Love like that changes you. 

Love like that means that when your four year-old daughter asks for a doll, you show her the catalog and silently pray she doesn't pick the one that looks just like her- especially if it just so happens that her genetics have given her hair and eyes that fall right in line with the media's ideal definition of "beauty", and you don't really want to explain the lie of that yet.

It also means that when your white son zips his sweatshirt up and puts the hood over his little blond head, you feel a stab of pain, and even a little guilty. It even feels like you're getting away with something, because your friend's black son has to be warned about where that "look" is appropriate, while your son can wear whatever makes him happy wherever he wants to wear it.

It measn that when you're sitting in a Dallas restaurant waiting for your husband to arrive, and there is only one non-white family in the entire place, you notice. And it means you will want to go tell them you see it, and offer to buy them their dinner for being so freaking brave.

It means that you won't buy a house in a neighborhood because there are multiple Confederate flags waving proudly in yards and the sight of that symbol makes you nauseated.

It means that you intentionally give your children books to read with characters and people who are not like them, because learning empathy can begin by caring about fictional characters who are unfairly persecuted for being different, or by admiring real historical figures who rode in front seats or fought wars for all the right reasons or peacefully marched to Washington to prove a point to the whole world.

It means that when you don't understand something that is not your own racial culture, you call your friend and desperately ask the vulnerable question, "Am I acting like a boring white girl?? Tell me the truth. I can take it." And then when she laughs and tells her husband what you just said, you will adore her. And when they tell you that they love you even though that's exactly what you are acting like, you will love them even more.

But most of all, being a white girl who has been blessed by the love of all these different shades of beautiful people has meant this, for me:  When, on the Sunday after the rioting in Baltimore, your pastor-husband and the other elders of your church pray for that city so far away, you get down on your knees and cry the deep, sobbing gulps that God Himself pours into your soul. Because in the end, you aren't a just white girl from middle-class anywhere; you are just a human who has only one thing of true value in life: LOVE

And you find that you love a whole city that you don't know. You love the broken souls, the tired fighters, the weary mamas, the dreamers of peace, the angry sons, the scared little sisters, and the daddies who simply don't know what to do anymore. 

You will find that being a white woman from middle-class America is a beautiful thing about who God made you to be, but it will never be the most important part of who He made you to be. And down there, on your knees, you will feel so close to Him and His love for the world, you will know that He has His hand on all of us, guiding us through the chaos of our humanity.

There is no doubt, we are living in a painful time. We are experiencing the pains of many years of injustice, all at once, it seems. It's hard. And for those who have not realized that all of this has been going on for generations, it's shocking to take it in so fast.

I choose to believe that these are birth pains, though. My hope is that the tearing is making space for a new thing to pass into our world: a new empathy, a new justice, a new era of peace, a new day when love will change more hearts than we can imagine right now- because right now all we know is that it hurts so much.

I don't know what your racial background is, or where you grew up, or what has happened to make you feel the way that you do about people who are different than you. But I do know that you are loved. First, you are treasured and adored by God. Hopefully, you are also loved by the people around you. But I also know that you are loved by people who you may not even know, who are on their knees praying for you, for your city, for your family, and they can't wait to meet you and prove that their love is true. 

I know that for some people a love like that seems like a trap. It is the weak and humble who are able to receive that kind of love easily. Most of us feel the need to be harder, stronger, and brave enough not to need to be accepted by others. But, that kind of love isreal, and it will be there, waiting for the day you are ready to test it out.

If you live in Austin, and you want to see a love like that up close; if you want to marvel at the way a bunch of people love each other despite the way they often don't agree on much besides how great their God is and how blessed they are to be together, come visit us at Mosaic Church. 

We certainly don't hold a monopoly on this kind of amazing love, though. Look around and you will find many churches like ours, who believe that what is different about us is less vital than what we have in common in Christ. Once you find those people, cling to them and love them and let them love you back. I promise, you will never be the same, and it will always be worth it.

Because we were all made for love, to be known, and to belong. And that is the thought that will thump the loudest for all eternity.