The Lone Star State

Oh, Texas, you sly devil you.

I fell back in love with you this week.

The reasons are varied and probably too subtle to delineate clearly, but they had to do with the incredible experience of worship I had in one of your churches, an important and meaningful reconnection with two incredible people from my past, the opportunity to doodle on huge pieces of butcher paper while gazing at the Dallas skyline from nine floors up, and the real food.

Blue Mesa, Buzzbrews, Uncle Julios and The Porch. Real tortillas.

I felt it this afternoon, cruising in my little rental over the (new to me) President George Bush Turnpike (clever, I thought – which Bush? H.W or W? Does it matter? Kill two birds with one stone and honor ’em both with one highway!) I whipped around the tall, curvaceous bend of the interchange and felt the familiar pull of the big sky, the flat line of sight and a whole lot of nothing in between me and the horizon. I remember driving the high overpasses of Interstate 20 and feeling the same open place in my gut.

I’ve run away from it for almost 15 years now, but it’s time to admit that this is, in a very primal way, home. A large chunk of my most formative years were spent in this state – from age 13 to 22, and then back and forth for a few years while on my Dominican adventure. Returning in 1997, I met and married the father of my kids and settled down for a decade.

There is pain here, mostly centered south of Fort Worth in the little places we wandered as a new young family. Brokenness unacknowledged; the pain of deceit and deception and the sturdy pillars of determination that what we claim to be is always what we are, in the name of Jesus, amen.

We are not always what we seem, and therein lies the part of my past as yet unreconciled.

But this week, Texas, you wormed your way back into my heart and soul and found a foothold. I believe there is healing ahead, and that you are holding your arms open wide to welcome me back and nudge me towards some vital reconciliation.

I’m willing.

As long as I can have some more tortillas.

Miles And Miles Of Texas

I have to tell you this: Traffic in Dallas is ridiculous. Downright insane. Traffic in Grand Prairie – the little community I lived in during my junior high and high school years – even worse. I hoped to hang out for a while, and I really wanted to drive over to Fort Worth – but I had to turn turn tail and run because I couldn’t get anywhere. Traffic jams all over the place. Crazy town.

I couldn’t live here.

All that aside, I’ve had an incredible two days in Texas. We finished a year-long involvement with a Multisite Artist Innovation Lab at Leadership Network, one of the finest organizational processes I’ve ever experienced. I feel empowered and encouraged and equipped to move forward in exactly the way I needed at this point in my role at PCC. It was specific and pointed and yet full of room for creativity and lots of doodling – right up my alley!

The experience is designed for a group, and we had three folks from our team attend the first meeting last year (I couldn’t go because my eyeball exploded, and you can read all about it here). This year I planned to attend, but none of my people could come. I was a little apprehensive, but the other teams there were so encouraging and kind and supportive that it really wasn’t an issue.

Oh, it was a little odd when we would disperse with our teams to go brainstorm

Some of my brainstorming
work. That’s a picture of me and
Brian in the middle.
We’re both happy.

and talk through issues, and I had to work through all the different opinions of the voices in my head…but ultimately, it was perfect for me. I had very focused time to gather information and make decisions; the timing was right.

As a female in a somewhat male-dominated vocation – and one in which the fact that you are a female can become a divisive issue of major proportions – I was well-aware of the fact that I was the only woman there. But – to the credit of every person there – I did not feel one iota of disapproval, discredit or dismissal. I daresay that other than my home church, it’s the first ministry setting in which I felt completely comfortable as a woman in a leadership role. Regardless of whether or not everyone in the room agreed with the idea of a woman pastor, there was absolute respect and encouragement from everyone. Kudos to Leadership Network and the great crew of folks from Kentucky, Richmond and Keller who made it so. I’m grateful.

My head is full of things that still need to be processed; all I learned about in the context of leadership and multisite churches and artist development, as well as the deep joy of a long conversation with a friend I hadn’t seen for 20 years (what? HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?) and a very rapid drive-by of the two houses I lived in while a resident of the DFW Metroplex. And my old high school. Lots to think about; and lots going in the hopper tomorrow when I hit up a local worship leader conference.
  

Aaron Crider of Gateway Church explaining the process for their worship team. Oh, he casually referenced “Kari’s” role on their team as a Level 5 leader. It took me a minute, and then I realized that “Kari” was KARI JOBE.
Just a member of their worship team.
Wow.

Bottom line: This is good processing time for me. I used to love a week alone; now, I start to miss my husband fairly quickly. I miss my boys. But this time is a privilege and a great opportunity to take stock, refuel, replenish my idea tank and come back better. The fact that I am in a place where I have some history has added a unique opportunity to find some footing, a solid sense of self that comes with memories and familiar turns on long-traveled roads.

I learned to drive here. I experienced a lot of “firsts” here. Some of my friends have never left, and I can’t imagine what that must be like, to have all that history so close at hand, all the time. Does it become commonplace? It must.

For me, I am driving around Dallas, full of memories. I catch a glimpse of Reunion Tower and remember Mike Spears taking me to a jazz concert. I pass the weird waterfall beer advertisement. Kroger is still there. I drove past Six Flags. I turned the corner of Corn Valley Road and saw the exact place where I saw my dad one night, when he busted me out after curfew. I drove past the house my parents moved into after I left for college and remembered how it felt to turn into the driveway and pull up, my minivan full of little kids excited to see grandma.

Windows of rooms that held my teenaged dreams. The driveway where we played basketball all summer long. Streets we rode on two wheels, before we learned to drive cars on those same blocks of concrete.

History and the future, all wrapped up in one.

It’s a good place to pull it all together.

The kids making their way to their cars looked the same as we looked…30 years ago. 
We left rural Western PA to live in this little house on Kirby Creek Drive. That’s Eric’s bedroom window in the front.
Mom and Dad bought this house after I graduated; this is the place the girls remember as “Grandma and Papa’s house”.
My selfie, making sure I was ready to be hip and cool.
(I sent this to Tony so he wouldn’t forget me.)

Leader

I went to an event tonight with a beautiful, trusted friend; and for about 45 minutes I felt like I didn’t belong.

In a church (where I belong; I’m a Christian).
In a group of women (I am one).
In my neighborhood (pretty much; it’s a familiar area).
In the company of friends (out of 650 people there, I knew at least 20).
In comfortable shoes (that matters).
In a recognizable context (Bible. Worship. Scripture. Prayer.)

Stack all that up, and consider this: I still felt out of place.

Sometimes I feel like the wrong kind of woman.

It was a gathering for women, and so they opened with a panel discussion about “girl” things, and one of the questions was, “What kind of accessories do you have the most of? Jewelry? Shoes? Purses?”

There commenced some discussion of jewelry, shoes and nail polish that – while probably quite authentic – felt so weird to me. So predictable. Such a stereotype.

So much of what I am NOT.

If you asked me that question (and you won’t, so I will ask myself):

I have a lot of socks.

I have twelve pair of shoes that I don’t like because I really don’t like wearing shoes.

I have some earrings and necklaces, mostly gifts that other people have given me, and that’s why I like them.

I like purses a lot but I carry the same brown one everywhere. All the time. It’s from Target and it’s about eight years old and the lining is torn.

But I love my socks. And it looked like everybody else in the room was into the jewelry/shoes/purse deal. I felt alone, as a sock-lover.

In all the light conversation – the giveaways, and the “who came the farthest?” and all that, I just sat there thinking I don’t belong here.

Ironically, I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way. In fact, I know I’m not; I leaned over and whispered, “I feel like I don’t belong here” to my friend, and she said, “Me, too.”

I warmed up when the girl with the air-filled voice wrapped a beautiful melody in the air, singing of striving to be something we’re not.

And when the tall blonde woman who reminds me of myself strode to the front and begin to exhort and encourage and exclaim, I sat up straight.

I did leave once, but only because I had to pee so badly I couldn’t stand it. I came back, though, and I listened and I heard every word and each one resonated deep within me. She moved to the end of a powerful story, drilling deeply into the notion that our stories have a beginning and an end, and in the middle we have to cling to where we believe the end will take us, because it so often does not appear that we are anywhere near where we want to/wish to/ought to/hope to be. We often find ourselves in a pit; waiting; broken; abandoned.

Alone.

And yet, the story plays out, and in the end we can see clearly the powerful vision, the high value call, the imperishable, irrevocable desire that is born in us.

The girl we were in seventh grade.

The dreams we remember from adolescent summers.

The word that might reside on our tombstone, should we fully grasp and realize this yearning, this important and worthy sense of our selves.

She led us to a moment of meditation, to consider what that high value call might be. What word might define it. What thread of potential has been winding through our lives, from as far back as we can remember?

A card and a Sharpie, and instructions to write the word and leave the card on the chair when we left.

And then it made perfect sense. I’m the right kind of woman, just in need of some patience. I heard what I needed to hear; I just had to endure and accept that the melting pot is huge, indeed, and that we are all in need of coaxing along.

I had my word, and I wrote it down, and it had nothing to do with accessories.

It had everything to do with me.

Who I was created to be. Who I have been in every context, every environment, every aspect of my life. For all my life.

It is a high value call, and it is mine.

My Brain Exploded

Simply driving to work this morning, I felt like my brain exploded. I have no earthly idea what caused it; however, in hindsight I see some contributing factors.

I’ve been exploring the practice of centering prayer, or meditation with a Jesus twist. I’ve had some fairly radical experiences of relaxed introspection that have opened me up to a dumbstruck realization of just how shallow my daily living can be.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend Bob Pino, who lives on the other side and feels here, still.

I’ve been reading the Bible through a different lense; reading not to find words and phrases and concept to undergird my Christian worldview, but more as a historical text. This is new to me, consistently reading like this – soaking in the text – and I am amazed at the depth and breadth of the story as I encounter it without the encumbrance of immediate and understandable application to Western Christianity.

And last night I had a fascinating conversation with a woman who exudes joy and peace and contentment. You know the kind; you can’t help but be drawn to her, even while you remain a bit mystified as to the source of her delight. She seems somewhat “other”, in a way that maybe I want to be myself.

We talked for over an hour last night, about current situations and struggles and expectations, and we prayed together as well. It’s such an intimate thing, to sit close to someone and speak words directed to an Unseen Being, with the full knowledge that regardless of the connection and shared similarities, we cannot help but be somewhat unique in how we experience God. There is a presumed trust, a straightforward walk into the familiar comfort of a childhood bedroom. There is a shared vocabulary and easy assent.

And yet there is such a difference. In the midst of the closeness, the agreement, the spiritual combustion that remains a mystery, there is yet a slight abstract isolation.

That’s another source of my imagination agitation; my brother’s blog post about how in spite of all our yearning and yapping about community, we live, ultimately, in isolation. He wrote:

It may sound like a sad or depressing to think of ourselves as ultimately isolated from each other, but it really shouldn’t. I think it’s really simply choosing to accept and to live in the reality that God has given us.

And so there is a pressing in on me; not a strain or burden, but as a compression of all that is currently swirling around my psyche and my daily hours of living.

Compression.

Of life and memories and fresh encounters. Of old words read in a new way and the subtle, unrelenting call that there is more, that the paradigm for which I have settled may well be expanding and stretching, and that there is nothing to lose.

There is nothing to lose of myself. This sense of compression is comforting; it made me feel content to move, to push myself toward clarity, all the while accepting the chaos.

Here’s what happened as I drove to work: Something lurking below the surface of my understanding, maybe even apart and away from my very self, prompted this feeble, flashing moment; an effort to make enough mental connection to Understand It All. To wrap my brain around the journey of hundreds of thousands of very human people trudging towards a promise, becoming a community, receiving guidelines for worship. To consider the neurological implications of the very real changes in my body and my brain when I sit still, centered, in prayer and meditation. Remembering how very close I have felt, how connected to the presence of a friend who has been gone from this life for three years now; how his death opened my eyes to believe that the veil between this life and the next is very transparent, indeed.

To hear tales of spiritual beings present in a building and accept that, quite easily, as a reality and a comfort. To believe in what I cannot see. To give a name to a thing I have often sensed.

All these things – none conscious until now, as I remember – but these thoughts and others fused together and I had a moment, driving, where I could. not. grasp. the. miracle. of. life.

And that makes for a ridiculous blog post, for there are no answers here. No encouragement. No fixes for anything.

All I can say is this – any other words seem futile at the moment.

How?

How?

The miracle of life itself. Our bodies. The long, powerful history of people. The DNA that ties my living and breathing in this present moment back thousands of years to very real people with very real lives – and I live completely unaware.

Heaven and angels. The agile ability of my brain to signal relaxation and peace to muscles and tissue.

Death that brings life.

Life that opens wide.

There are things too wonderful for me to know; and yet there is a presence, a beauty, and I catch a slight taste, a fleeting glimpse.

Strength and life and truth and a force for good; salvation and redemption and hope held high.

This life is such a gift, and there is more to come.

Soaking in gratitude, with a whispered ‘amen’…

Blurred Lines

Several months ago I heard a song on the radio (odd in itself, as I almost NEVER listen to radio music…) that was absolutely infectious. I immediately started doing that funky little dance you do in the car while you’re driving. I was totally into the groove.

I mean, totally.

Totes McGotes.

(Wheesh. I’m getting so old…)

Anyway, I loved the groove to this song.

Then I listened to the words and was slightly offended, to say the least. I just don’t find that kind of attitude appropriate. Or civil. Or decent.

And I don’t think that’s just because I’m old.

I can’t stand this song. It’s a waste of an incredible groove. And I refuse to listen to it now.

Lest I come off as some sort of self-righteous foe of Western culture, let me say this: I abhor cheesy Christian cultural stuff with equal fervor.

But what a glorious day this has been. Somebody found my sweet spot and created a perfect combination of two things I find perfectly disturbing. And somehow, together, they combine and combust to form a unique paradise of irony, clever wordsmithing and fairly decent vocal skills.

Oh, and an incredible groove.

Thank you, clever person who made this video.

He Is God

Florida in February is a good thing. I just got back from a whirlwind weekend with some folks at Element 3 Church in Tallahassee. My brother serves there, and his wife and kids are part of the life of the church. We’ve collaborated on a few events from time to time, as we – to our concurrent surprise – have both ended up in ministry and worship as our vocations. Eric blogs and sometimes he writes about me, and I blog and sometimes write about him. We are one another’s biggest fans, which is a miracle in itself, considering the depth of torture I inflicted upon him years ago.

I was not a good big sister.

But grace covers a multitude of sins, and he has forgiven me. We worked together to create a short retreat for members of the E3 worship team, and in a separate event I spent some time with women leaders from E3. It was great to come in and bring a new perspective, share some teaching and facilitate conversation. I got to be the “special guest”.

I felt special.

I enjoy traveling; I’m always up for a new adventure, and I rather like the whole tedious mess of packing, suffering through security, waiting for the plane. This trip I made it a point to be open to the humanity of whoever might be crammed in a too-small seat next to me on a too-noisy aircraft. I had some interesting chit-chat with people I’ll never see again.

I read on the plane; you might laugh, but I found this article on the Pope interesting and inspiring. As we soared through the air at 450 miles per hour, I jotted notes about the weekend and dozed off a bit.

Arriving in Jacksonville, I stood at the curb and waited for someone I didn’t know to pick me up and make the two-hour drive to Tallahassee. Eric had sent a pastor from E3, a dynamic and insightful woman who turned out to be – as Eric predicted – someone I feel like I’d known for 30 years. We talked and talked and talked and by the time we arrived at our destination, Lori knew things about me that I’d never told anyone else.

Ever.

The topic of the weekend was vulnerability, and I started out with a bang.

We had an evening together with about 20 people, working through an exercise from Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team and I can’t tell you the depth of the sacred, holy breath of truth I witnessed. It wasn’t necessarily anything shocking or transformative, but the power created by giving space for people to gather and talk openly and freely about themselves, in a place they trust to be safe – it is something hallowed and beautiful.

I was there to facilitate, to urge along – but the incredible privilege of witnessing and feeling somehow incorporated into the intimate communion of saints – it was like nothing I’d ever experienced.

Wait. That’s not true.

It is the same thing, cut from the same garment, that I experience weekly, in gatherings of honest searching and contemplation of truth and the sharing of sorrows. Different faces, but a similar sacred space.

Being human; it is a gift of supreme beauty.

We gathered again the next day for several hours and we talked and I facilitated and guided and as we went along, my heart started thrumming, a steady pulse of affirmation in my soul: This is the thing this is your thing this is the distillation of the mess and the muck and all the crap and all the glory this is the thing this is it right here, as if the Creator and the Redeemer and the One who forgave was saying tell them, say it, show it, shine the light, tell your story, open up, don’t be afraid, stand in my glory, you are mine, i love you.

let me prove it.

I cannot explain it, really; in planning and preparing, Eric said, “You should tell your story”, and I thought, “well, yeah” and I assumed that I would but I’d never sat in a room of strangers and said, “Hey, here’s something that will make you slightly uncomfortable…let me tell you about the worst thing I’ve ever done.”

Here’s the thing: I had every reason to keep my mouth shut. I was the “special guest”, and as far as anyone knew, I was Eric’s sister and a worship leader and part of the senior leadership team at my church and a “successful” woman in ministry. I could stand on that resume and spout forth wisdom about teams and authentic worship and gender equality.

But here’s the real thing: Anything I know really isn’t worth a crap, because there are a gazillion people who know and do more than I do. My resume is unimpressive, and the truth is that I’m in the middle of a major identity crisis in ministry, one that simply won’t go away, and I’m crawling around in the dark with a broken flashlight and eyes that are too weak to see and all the better/younger/more energetic folks standing straight up and shaking the tree and I’m trying like hell just to cling to a branch. That feels like it might give way and send me thrashing to the ground.

I’m a hot mess, see; and all I have, really, is this taste of grace.

And this weekend, being all fancy, flying out of state to be a Special Guest Facilitator at a Church Retreat – which, if I confess and peel back my stupid, self-absorbed ego, is Something I Always Wanted To Be (that is, “special”) –  what slammed hard into my gut was the blunt force of something more powerful.

Something I couldn’t plan or preach or organize.

Power, supernatural and unknowable, uncontainable, beyond me. Power made perfect in weakness.

I did my best; I exhorted and exclaimed and encouraged made the most of the words and preparation and the planning.

But in the end, I believe there is a reduction to all we do and say and speak. The mist rises, the chaff blows away and we stand. In a darkened room, we broke bread and held a cup of red wine, rich with sulfites. All the words rose upward in a misty plume of insignificance and nothing was left.

This is the body of Christ, broken for you.
This is the blood of Jesus, shed for you.
He knows you.
He hears you.
He will heal you.

Eye to eye, face to face. Broken to broken.

We stood in a circle and I moved to stand before every person. Without even thinking, I crossed intimate space and touched. Held. Kissed foreheads.

I looked deep into the eyes of people, connected through mere presence and the simple fact that we share an ancient belief in the desperate, deep call of the Creator in us and to and through us. We are lost and broken and stumbling towards some profound faith, barely grasped, the hope we cling to sometimes so far beyond our comprehension that we barely even manage to show up.

And yet we stood in a circle of glory, still inhabiting that holy, sacred territory of salvation that continues to be worked out and worked on, fear and trembling fully present.

Someone began to sing.

Shout it
Go on and scream it from the mountains
Go on and tell it to the masses
He is God

After all the hours of talking and sharing and exercises; after the scripture reading and picture drawing and deep thinking, that’s it, really.

That’s all that matters.

He is God.

And this is what I brought home with me, sure and solid in the midst of the chaos and life change.

He is God.

I don’t have to be special.

He is God.

I have never before felt so deeply the distinct privilege of fully inhabiting the office of pastor. And, simultaneously, of being one of many, on level ground, surrendered and longing. One of many, stumbling into grace; our hearts in our hands before one another and before the maker.

He is God.

Amen.

I Can’t – But You Can

I don’t do politics much, at least in a broad cultural context. I read, I pay attention, and I vote; but you won’t hear me carrying on about political positions or raving about one candidate or another. I care very much about our government and the systems that make our democracy functional, but I confess to a tremendous amount of cynicism. It seems that power and money work hand in hand to corrupt the most honorable men and women in our political system.

I’ve long thought that if I had a more personal connection to the folks who are part of the system, I might feel more hopeful. More “represented”, more inclined to be persuaded that the system is layered with honesty than deceit. Living in this small county in Central Virginia, I have had opportunity to interact with a few individuals in positions of civic responsibility and I have come away impressed. Bob Beasley and Lee Ware come to mind; both fine gentlemen who serve the citizens of this county in fine fashion.

Tomorrow, here in Powhatan, we vote in a special election, and I find that I am acquainted with several of the candidates on a personal level. A chance encounter at the music store with someone in the running for the County Clerk position gave me a deeper appreciation of the commitment and passion nestled within the request for support.

One candidate excites me more than any other, primarily because I have such a strong understanding and knowledge of who he is, what he believes and how he would approach his responsibilities, if elected. Unfortunately, I cannot vote for this individual.

But maybe you can.

District 4 has the distinct privilege of voting for a new School Board representative tomorrow. Sammy Frame is on the ballot. Here’s what I can tell you about Sammy:

  • He is one of the smartest people I’ve known in my lifetime; a student of history and culture, he uses his knowledge to maintain clear and meaningful perspective as he interacts with others in our shared workplace.
  •  He is kind; although it is sometimes hidden behind an acerbic and clever wit, his general affection for people and their well-being is without question.
  • He is funny. I have never left a meeting with Sammy in attendance that didn’t have at least one moment of genuine levity. (Is this a qualification for office? Perhaps not; but it makes for a good human being. That matters.)
  • He is committed and loyal. I’ve seen Sammy function, under pressure, as a leader, an employee and a friend. He understands the value of showing up and of staying focused; I have witnessed it time and again.
  • As part of a senior leadership team at our workplace, I have watched Sammy’s skill as a facilitator, problem-solved and navigator in action. I’ve seen him grapple with problems and issues at a team level and guide conversation to places of clarity that have had a profoundly good impact on the community. 
I can’t think of a better person to serve the citizens of Powhatan County, especially when it comes to the challenges of keeping our school system funded, focused and grounded in the real needs and expectations of local students and their families. I can’t vote for Sammy tomorrow, because I don’t live in his district.
But you can, if you’re in District 4. 
Please vote for Sammy Frame tomorrow, and ask your neighbors to do the same. Let’s lean into the future with an experienced leader who believes that what we say and do can and will make a profound difference in the individuals and families of our county.