Wednesday, March 30, 2016

a plateful of church leadership

My family and I live in Austin, Texas. Austin is known for many things: We are the capital city and the home of the University of Texas. At some point in time, we proclaimed ourselves the  “Live Music Capital of the World”. (I don't know if anyone outside of Austin agrees with that title, but we are very proud to call ourselves that.) 

Austin has become a home of all things cool: lots of tech industry, the South by Southwest festival, the only F1 racetrack in North America. Our town motto is “Keep Austin Weird”, which only proves Matthew McConaughey's bongo playing escapades may not be completely his fault.

Also, we are a food mecca. Austinites will wait in line two hours for the best barbecue in town. We like farm-to-table pizza places that open up on old family farms nestled in the hill country. We deep fry doughnuts and top them with maple icing and bacon, or fill them with angus beef and pimento cheese. Our cupcakes are sold out of retro trailers, our Mexican street corn is made fresh on the spot, and our gluten free brownies will win over the most gluten-friendly among us.

And this truth cannot be overstated: We live for Tex Mex.

We have shared Chuy’s with many other cities and states, and for that, we are beloved. But Austin has many, many equally delicious options. My husband and I never knew how spoiled we were by our Tex Mex abundance until we moved to Nashville nine years ago. At that time Nashville had not yet been baptised by the Tex Mex movement. They barely had tacos in Nashville back then. The only queso in town was some kind of strange melted white american cheese. It was a sad, sad reality we faced.

We became food evangelists, inviting people over and making green chili enchiladas and real queso for them. Nashville is where I learned that new friends are best won with open doors and lots of enchiladas with creamy jalapeno. For almost two years our kitchen was the only Tex Mex place we could find in town.

Then we moved back to Austin to pastor a church. For the first year we were in Austin, we ate Tex Mex every time we went out to dinner. Every. Single. Time. We had crossed over into the glory land.

We also threw ourselves into the crazy world of church leadership. Our church was struggling. We prayed and fasted with the biggest faith we could muster, cheered on all the people around us, read a million leadership books, begged Jesus to help us, lead us, to save His church. We worked sixty or eighty or whatever-it-took hour weeks. Through many miracles and after countless lessons, Mosaic became a thriving, growing, beautifully diverse church of people who love Jesus and are on a mission to see our city changed by the gospel. It is nothing short of miraculous.

But we are also a little tired. Okay, maybe a lot tired. Weary bones have become a treasure to us, though. Because they force us deeper into Christ, teaching us precious lessons.

Not surprisingly, I learned one in the middle of a Tex Mex restaurant. We were a few years into leading the church, when I sat at a table with one of my dearest friends and she asked me, “What’s it like to be a pastor’s wife?”

I stared at the plate in front of me, queso bowl empty, enchiladas long gone. I noticed the copious serving of rice and beans still sitting there. As usual, I had only slightly picked at that obligatory Tex Mex side dish. The truth hit me loud and clear, like a Mariachi band right in my face.

“Being married to a pastor is like being rice and beans on a plate of Tex Mex. Nobody ordered me, I just came with my husband when they hired him. Everyone still expects me to be there, but not many people really care if I’m all that amazing. They just hope I’m not terrible, you know?”

That one moment was the crystallization of many emotions and thoughts I had carried for a long time. We both kind of glanced around at all the tables around us. On every table there were plates with unwanted rice and beans in clear view.

Then she stared me in the eye and said, “But you’re not rice and beans. You’re tableside guacamole.

She is an irreplaceable friend. 

A tiny switch inside me flipped on and I began to try this new idea of redefining and renaming my own fears and insecurities. Bit by bit, life tries to twist our stories with the pressure and pain we must endure. I am learning that we can rewrite many of the lines we are given.

I was stuck in a narrative of fear. I didn’t have to stay there.

I had forgotten for a little while that as God's children, we are the Made Ones. We are the carved-from-love, God-breathed, creative masterpieces of a poet God whose spoken word birthed science and matter and time itself. God doesn't make Rice and Beans People. He's not a chef trying to fill a plate.

He is Love. He is Glorious. He is a Father and a King with eternity offered from His hand.

This whole Pastor's Wife thing, it wasn't really about me. It was simply what He had asked me to do out of my love for Him and for His Church.

One of the greatest blessings of our faith is the way everything heavy and sad becomes lighter and more bearable in the Light of the Gospel. We feel like like Rice and Beans because, just like we offered Nashville our decent copies of Tex Mex, God is opening up the doors of His Church and offering us (hopefully as decent copies of His Son) to the world. We are the real queso and guacamole and creamy jalapeno that can change our cities. 

Someday we are all heading home to the true Gloryland. I don't know about you, but I want to make it there with my pockets empty of fears and regrets, and my soul full of Jesus. 

But for a little while longer, we have some work to do....

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

how to be a super awesome wife mom minister woman

These are the kinds of conversations happening in my home these days:

Conversation #1:
Me: Why are you wearing your brother's underwear?
Boy: There's no clean underwear. I've been wearing these for three days.
Me: You've been wearing dirty underwear that doesn't fit you for THREE DAYS?
Boy: Yep.

Conversation #2:
Morgan: What's for dinner?
Me: I don't know. I have no plan. Too many baseball, ballet, gymnastics, and church meetings. We are practically nomads who rely on the kindness of fast food establishments for sustenance.  

Conversation #3:
Me: I can't find my phone. Maybe I left it at the wedding Sunday?
Morgan: No, I think you left it at the restaurant.
Me: I didn't even have it out at the restaurant. We were on a date, so I left it in my purse.
Morgan: Yes, you did. Remember? We were synching schedules while we ate.
Me: We are so romantic.

I keep telling myself this is only a season. Except, I'm pretty sure I've been saying that for the past five years. So, if this is only a season, then it's a long season that may last until Jesus carries me home, phoneless and full of Whataburger after one final baseball game.

I am choosing to see my inability to keep up with our life as a grace. I used to feel like a failure when there was no clean underwear in my children's drawers. Now I just see it as a situation. I used to think we were like lab rats, running endlessly in a wheel when our lives moved faster than we could. Now I see myself as the woman who lives outside of the insanity of time, slowing things down whenever I can.

Because life is not a schedule to keep. It is an altar at which we offer our worship. And if I'm going down as the woman who could barely keep up, then I'm going down with my hands raised high, singing praise to Jesus. 

So bring on the houseguests from France, the three services on Easter, the book I'm trying to write, the Etsy shop orders, the children who need guidance, the yard with grass that is dying, the projects I've promised to finish, the speaking engagements, the floors that need mopping, the eight baseball practices and games every week, the emails that must be answered, and the doctors visits that must be faced bravely.

I will climb that mountain and call it holy before the Lord. 

Someday, all the craziness will change. We will be left holding the memories of our triumphs and our tragedies, of the way we loved and the way we fell at God's feet in worship. All our failures will burn up in His forgiveness. Only His grace and love will remain, enduring evidence that we were undeservedly covered by the Light of His great mercy.

But for now, my altar is built right here, beside the computer and the pile of laundry. I call this place Grace, and I am grateful to be here, safely held by Jesus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

how to hold onto your (used to be) babies

I was just sitting at the kitchen table yesterday, minding my own business, when a singular revelation hit me like a lightning bolt.

I haven't seen that green blanket in months.

You know, the one my child couldn't live without for the first decade of his life? The comfort he demanded as a toddler. The one he held close to his face while he guzzled a sippy cup of chocolate milk. It is the blanket we washed so many times it got dull and frayed and lost its silk edging. I used to worry he would take it with him to college because that blanket was more of an extra appendage than a large piece of fabric.

But now it's just gone. I don't know when it disappeared, or where he put it, or what he would say if I asked him about it.

I know it's all normal and healthy and to be honest I'm not all that sad the blanket is gone. I just wonder how I missed its grand farewell.

How do they do it? How do these mythical creatures called children transform right in front of us? Why can't we get a notification on our phone when some major change has occurred? We need to know when they've figured out how to draw their own bath and make their own hot chocolate, or when the first crush has hit their hearts and please, please Siri, set off a siren alert on the day they really figure out who they want to be most of all.

Raising children is like watching an old movie without any sound. You really have to pay attention. Everything happening is incredibly dramatic, but if you take your eyes off the action, you'll miss the best part.

I missed the blanket graduation because I was looking somewhere else, I guess. I just stopped looking for it. I think it's a sign I am doing this mom-thing right. My eyes aren't on who they were, or who I want them to be. I'm staring straight at who they are, with a side-eye on where they're heading.

Because that's what this life is all about: loving them well, sending them out, watching them rise up as men and women of greatness, full of God's glory.

All my love and hope welled up inside me and I painted a blessing for this Great Adventure. We all need these words around here: Go. Seek adventure. Climb mountains. Love well to the very end.

This is the only thing I know to do to hang onto these babies of mine. They're too fast for me to chase and too heavy for me to pick up. They're too smart to need help with the big words and they can do all their math on their own most days. They are making plans and dreaming of up schemes that don't include me. They're ditching younger ways and growing so tall and strong. I am in awe of the mystery and the ache and the deep, deep love I feel.

So I hold onto them by telling them: Go. Seek. Climb. Love well. I believe in you and your dreams.

I'm their biggest cheerleader. They're bound to come home for some rest and a piece of chocolate cake. I'l always be waiting, holding, loving. These four people are my Great Adventure. Loving them well by letting them grow up and away is my mountain.

Watch me Go.

(Note: I may be holding a discarded blanket on this part of the journey- just for a boost of courage.)

Monday, March 14, 2016

what I'm reading: spring 2016

Where are my book people at?

I haven't posted a book list in a while. It isn't because I haven't been reading. I think I've just been too lazy to write the post. Also, book lists are so personal. My whole psyche feels sort of exposed when I tell people what I'm reading- as if the world is simply waiting to draw massive conclusions about my worth and sanity based upon my book choices. Which maybe it is, but I can do squat about that, and books are so fun to share, it's worth the risk.

I hope you enjoy my random stack of pages:

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This tale of a dysfunctional family was FUN. I finished it in about two days and then immediately loaned it to a friend. It's a good poolside/beach/sit and enjoy a book read. I liked it as much as What Alice Forgot, and to me, they're super similar in experience, although different in structure.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
What can I say about this? It's moving and meaningful, full of poetic language and science, too, which was really intriguing. Some tragic emements of the story made me angry, which may mean the author did a great job helping me to care too much about the characters. It's WW2 Historical fiction, and I would say that if you liked the Book Thief, you will like this, too.

YA Lit:
A Prince Without a Kingdom by Timothee de Fombelle
This is the sequel to Vango. Both are fun adventures set in Europe between the World Wars. The stories are a little complex for younger readers- lots of characters to juggle and remember, but great for older middle school and high school.

The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
I grabbed this at the library for my son, and started reading it first. It's fun! It's about orphans who have run away to Venice. 

{Note: I'm on a memoir binge right now. There are several reasons for this. First, I like stepping inside someone else's story, especially if their backgrounds and life circumstances are vastly different than mine. I enjoy mining their words and experiences for what we have in common as well as what we don't. The other reason I'm reading a vast array of memoirs is that I am doing research for a project, so this list is a little random at first glance, event though it is strategic for me.}

Funny, of course. But not as funny as Bossypants by Tina Fey, in my opinion.

Grace Eventually by Anne Lamott
Not my favorite by Lamott, but good and worth the read. I like Lamott's grittiness and vulnerability. She does rant a lot about George W. Bush in this one, which I think might bother some people.

An Altar in the World and Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor 
One of my dreams in life is to meet BBT. When I read her words, I feel like I've found a friend who understands how much I love Jesus. She encourages me with our similarities, and challenges me with our differences. I'm a better human after reading her books.

Eat Pray Love by Melissa Gilbert
I just cracked this one a little, so I can't really say what I think about it yet. It is definitely outside my usual preference in spiritual reads, but it's a NY Times bestseller, and I'm interested to find out what about it has grabbed readers. I'll have to keep you posted.

Monday, March 7, 2016

why you need to be loved more than you deserve

Everyone is a big liar about turning forty. It isn't the new thirty, or even the new thirty-five. It is forty, and it may take me a while to get used to it.

I haven't been able to explain why this particular birthday has been so hard to process. After all, I love my life. I'm more fully myself at 40 than I was at 30. I am in a deliciously happy marriage. I have four kids who, despite my neurotic ways, think I am super awesome wicked rad boss (or whatever proper slang works these days). I'm having so much fun and being so challenged by speaking engagements, making art for people, and writing out my heart. I'm not afraid of wrinkles or losing all my hair (yet). I have a killer collection of vintage globes, for Pete's sake! Those globes alone mean I should be just fine- no matter what number is associated with my age.

Yet this birthday has come with a mysterious side of existential angst I can't shake. Forty feels like the end of something. 

I've had a hard time discerning what has ended. But the feelings are taking a more tangible shape today, and I suspect forty is the end of the becoming. "Becoming" is the whole goal of our youth here in this western land born by coming-of-age tales. I have become who I am: a wife, a mom, a minister, a speaker, a writer, a lover, a crier, a feeler, and a dreamer. I love who I have become. Now I just have to figure out how to be who I have become.

Maybe that's what the second forty years will teach me- how to be at rest in who I have become. Certainly most midlife crises revolve around this theme: Is who I have become enough? I suppose to avoid a full-fledged crisis, I just need to follow forty to the land of acceptance and peace.

On my birthday, my dog Penny woke me up with her barking because she wanted me. That dog loves me way too much. I wish she had been my dog in middle school. I might have weathered the competitive social climate better if I had known I could be a goddess for simply sitting with a cozy blanket in my lap and scratching a dog behind her ears.

I stumbled out of my bedroom to quiet the lovesick dog and found a trail of letters leading me to the coffee pot. Morgan had left these for me. I sat with my coffee in my coziest chair and read each one slowly, savoring the kindness. Many, many friends wished me happy birthday by writing words that made me laugh and made me cry. I am loved more than I deserve.

I don't mean that in a pitiful or even self-deprecating way. The whole point of love is that no one deserves it. It isn't love if we deserve it. We can deserve praise for a job well-done. We can deserve honor for faithful service. But love is only real love if it far exceeds what we deserve.

I have not earned these friends or their love. My dog loves me because I take care of her. But my friends love me because they are brave enough to wade through my weaknesses and find my heart. They see the God who valued me enough to live and die to bring me home. They choose to love me because they know He loves them the same way. It's a gift to be homeward bound with people who live the gospel that way.

Forty years of becoming has led me to this place, where love and friendship do what amazing vintage globes can never do: cushion the fall from youth. Morgan keeps reminding me that the end of one thing always means the beginning of something else. So I'm just waiting to see where this new thing leads, taking one grateful step at time.

Hello, Forty. I'll get used to you eventually. Of course, by then, I may be fifty. But I'll figure that out when i get there.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

on avoiding my fortieth birthday

I have been so brave about turning forty until this week- when I will actually  have to turn forty.

Such an unfortunate turn of cowardice on my part.

For three years now, the big 4-0 has looked like an oasis in the distance, a shining brass trophy awaiting my grand victory, and a bandaid long in need of being ripped off. I have felt forty since I turned thirty-seven, But feeling forty and actually turning forty are two different things, apparently.

I’m kind of chickening out.

I called my parents and told them I was having a hard time with my new decade. They were very empathetic, and equally aghast that so many years have passed already. My mom laughed and said, "Our daughter is forty, and we still feel fifty- or younger." This birthday thing has gotten a little out of hand in the world.

I have banned any and all fanfare and surprises. I want forty to wash over me like a baptism of renewal. I want to see a stairway to heaven, or hear the audible voice of God, or see an angel bending low and whispering hallelujahs to me as moral support.

Poor God. My requests of Him are so often ridiculous.

I will probably settle for a good piece of chocolate cake and the sound of my kids cracking jokes after dinner under the twinkly lights on our back patio.

And I’ll try to keep perspective by remembering all the lessons I have learned over the years.

Five years ago, Morgan and I took a trip to Santa Barbara. We stayed in an adorable vintage white stucco motel right on the beach. The windows all had green shutters and our room was perched all by itself up on the top floor, like a little treehouse. We spent every night in our  California paradise with all the windows and shutters flung open. In the mornings I walked the hilly beach road and stood atop one particular hill. There was a little bench on the edge of the cliff I found very useful. The bench and I became fast friends. Together we watched the surfers bobbing out on the waves and marveled at the vastness of the ocean before I headed back to the motel.

Nature is a key that unlocks wisdom in our souls. Jesus often explained the world through nature. If you want to really be wise, He told us, consider a seed, foxes in a vineyard, and that cursed dead tree. If you want to understand love, look at the birds and fields of lilies. Let the creation lead you to the Creator.

I like to look at the ocean best of all. No one can ever stop its tide or bottle its magnificence. It has no beginning or end. We can’t build a city on it or conquer it. Boats can patrol it, but no country can ever really own the water that flows from one shore to another. We can pollute it and ruin it for a little while, but it will keep moving and heal itself eventually. The ocean knows it can outlive us, so it isn’t afraid of people and our ridiculous way of trying to grab up all we can just for ourselves. The ocean could swallow us up whole and no one would ever know the difference.

It was that bench in Santa Barbara that showed me how much time is like the ocean: unstoppable, unconquerable, vast and gloriously present at all times. It isn’t shocking we struggle to wrap our minds around the way time passes through us and swallows up the moments and days and years of our breath. Time is relentless in our lives.

A girl can do what she can to try to stomach it, though.

I shaved the side of my head yesterday. Well, technically, my friend Ashley shaved the side of my head. But it was my idea. You can call it a midlife crisis or you can call it a wicked rad undercut, but I call it a stroke of courage. Brazen acts stoke the fire of my brave heart.

Who knows what else I will need to do to get through Saturday? I may hit up a tattoo parlor or color my remaining hair shocking pink. Or maybe I could drive straight to the airport and hop on a plane to somewhere far away and enjoy a nice dinner in a foreign land with people all around me speaking a language I don’t understand.

Then forty and I can sort out the meaning of life over coffee and tiramisu without interruption.

Whatever I do, I will plant a flag and squarely in this new real estate called my forties. I’ll be like explorers on the moon, sticking a flag in the ground no one will ever really own just to declare my feet have walked here in great trepidation and awe.

Treading lightly is the only way I know to make my peace with the passing of time.

Forty means everything and nothing when I consider the oceans of earth and all that is beyond us. The whole universe sings with spinning, shining celestial bodies. All of it is one grand explanation of God’s Love. Even my shaved head and the tattoo I’ll probably never have the courage to get make a melody uniquely glorious to God. I just need to listen carefully to learn the words.

Forty years from now I’ll probably be able to sing it better than I can today. But with these past forty in the rearview mirror, all I can do is tell you this one certain truth: Life is one big tangle of beautiful and terrifying stuff, and it is exquisitely worth the struggle for joy.