With The Family

This is Dana (along with Syd and Shannon).

She was ordained to ministry today; meaning that her home church ceremonially confirmed that she is “called” to serve God with her work and her life, and that she is, indeed, doing so. Baptist-style ordination is a mixture of formal prayers and responsive readings and informal speaking by people who were significant in the life of the one being ordained. It was a unique day for Dana, where she was the center of attention, affection and affirmation.
It was a unique day for me, too. Dana had spoken with me to personally invite me to attend, and followed up with a written invitation by mail.
I accepted. I drove to Caroline County and walked into a beautiful, rural Baptist church. It was slightly awkward.
Slightly awkward because Dana and I have a unique relationship.
We’re both “Mrs. Brawley”.
Dana met and married Lonnie – my kids’ dad – last year.
As we have carefully and tentatively navigated the waters of interacting, managing kids’ schedules and figuring out how to communicate, we discovered something interesting: we liked each other.
I mean, I really like this woman. I respect her and admire her. She’s funny, focused on ministry and passionate. She cares deeply for my children. And she takes good care of the man who was once the most important person in my life.
I swear, I can’t sort it out. She and I both acknowledge that it’s very weird.
But it is what it is.
I came to the service anticipating that I would simply be a witness. I found a place in the next-to-last pew, in the very back of the church, planning to stay out of sight and out of mind, while still honoring the invitation.
But Dana sent Sarah back to get me. She had saved me a seat, up front.
With the family.
At the end of the ordination service, all those present were invited to speak privately with Dana as she kneeled at the front of the church. Church members, family, friends, co-workers, fellow pastors – for an hour, people streamed by to whisper a prayer, speak words of encouragement, offer a hug. There were many tears. As I watched others stream by, I considered what I should do.
In the end, I went forward and knelt before the woman who is now married to the man that I married almost 20 years ago. We shared words and a hug.
It’s weird. It’s awkward at times.
But more than anything, to me it’s a great demonstration of the reality of this statement:

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8.28 (NLT)

And I believe it is proof that grace covers everything, if you just open your heart and let it in.
I don’t know if anybody has ever figured out what this sort of relationship ought to be like. I’m just gonna roll with it. It’s working, and it’s good.
And I’m grateful.

Looking Back: June 06

I blogged my way to health through another medium for a few years. My current blog – this one – is reflective of my current state (of mind and being). The first blog was full of a lot of painful processing. I “met” some amazing people through that work, and many have remained friends – some I have even met personally.

Recently, I thought it would be helpful and informative to remind myself of where I’ve been.
And I thought maybe, occasionally, I’d offer a look back via this blog.
So here’s a clip from June, 2006; I was alone at the Willow Creek Arts Conference in Chicago. It was a powerful but challenging experience. I wrote, a lot.
In re-posting here, I’ve highlighted a few things that occur to me to be pertinent, in retrospect.
June 2006: To Bring Your Best, You Must Bring Your Worst

…Two very interesting speakers took the stage today: Dan Allender, who started his time with a bang when he declared a lack of confidence by our culture in today’s “truth spinners” (pastors). He stated that, for the 21st century, the core isse will be BEAUTY, and that artists are now the evangelists of the next century. “The sermon is now an adjunct.” I found that a rather bold statement, one that was no doubt disturbing to several of the pastors in attendance – especially those not from Seattle or San Francisco or Chicago…life in the heartland and the south doesn’t necessarily reflect those same cultural shifts, I think.

Allender stated, “To bring your best, you must bring your worst.” He encouraged us all to be willing to be honest about your mental and spiritual state, your exhaustion and your brokenness. “God intends – through the creation of art – to expose. When artists create, we are stripping before God. He will wrestle with us (as He did Jacob) and expose us. God will always take you to a draw – no winning, no losing, just brokenness and then a touch to the hip.”

It was a fascinating perspective, peppered with much encouragement to accept – even trumpet – inadequacies and shy away from striving for perfection.

This is all so drastically different from the culture even 10 years ago that I’m not too sure the pendulum hasn’t swung to the extreme. I appreciated and agreed with much of what Allender said on a personal basis; but it does seem a bit touchy-feely.

It’s amazing to me – in hindsight – how this set the tone for the environment in which I am presently working. The level of authenticity that was impressed upon me has carried through into the culture of PCC.

Stunning Revelations

Some things I learned today:

  • When I don’t have to cook for a family, I can use one plate.  And one fork.  And just wash them over and over.  Wow.
  • After two days alone, I’ve begun to talk to myself.  Quite a bit.  I also spoke harshly today to a large pot.  Left alone, to my own devices, I will undoubtedly turn into a crazy lady.
  • Twitter – especially Tweetdeck – is bad for me.  Having it off for two days has led to some blessed relief.
  • My natural rhythm is bed at midnight, up at 8:30.  This has not changed for most of my life.  I sort of thought I’d grow out of it.  Hasn’t happened.  That’s my normal.  
  • I like garlic.
  • I’m sure of three things in my life:  the work I do, the people I love and my devotion to my kids.  It’s been a journey to get here – on study break a few years ago, I was questioning two of the three.  Now, there’s no doubt.
  • I’d rather watch ‘Biggest Loser’ than ‘American Idol’.  Study break or not, I’m not missing Tuesday night with Jillian.
  • I like yoga.  I did yoga with FitTv today.  It was really cool.
More spiritual/work stuff later.  Lots of great stuff going on.
I am so grateful for this time.  It is a gift beyond measure.

My Boy

I’m so proud of this kid.  David is having a great year at school.  His teacher, Monica Gerow, is outstanding.  Between his natural maturation and her incredible skill, she’s managed to unlock the key to his head and his heart.

Not too long ago, David struggled to read.  Tonight, as he whipped through his earth cycle study guide, I got all emotional.  He zipped through the whole thing and retained almost everything he read.
My baby is growing up.  Not such a baby anymore.  I’m very proud of him, very grateful for teachers who invest their lives in our children, happy that he has three big sisters and a strong older brother who love him and push him to be his best – to be “A Brawley”.  
And I’m honored that God picked me to be his mom.

Life On God’s Terms

Some random stuff…just because…

Shannon was inducted into the National Honor Society today, carrying on a fine family tradition.  It was extra special, because I always play a little “mood music” for the tapping ceremonies.  For a few years now, I find myself sitting at the grand on the stage and playing appropriately-semi-formal chord progressions, with a dash of Pachelbel and Bach and the occasional old hymn.  I enjoy it, and I usually tear up as I watch my kids’ peers join a rather elite group.  Shannon finally gathered the credentials to get in, and today was her day.  She was announced and subsequently tapped by her sweetheart, hugged by her dad and stepmom, and then I got up from the piano and skipped across the stage to give her a hug myself.  It was very cool.  I am very proud.
On that note, the entire household has A/B honor roll grades, save for one pesky little C in a statistics class.  I’m extremely pleased with my kids’ efforts.  Unfortunately, the two carrots that dangled in front of the boys for straight A’s are still dangling – maybe next nine weeks. 
I’m getting ready for a one-week study break next week.  The kids are going with their dad for spring break, and I’m going to hunker down, disconnect and get some reading and forward planning done.  I am really, really looking forward to this with great anticipation – and not because I’m tired.  I am eagerly awaiting the chance to work, uninterrupted.  I know God’s messing with me, and I’m ready to do some wrestling.  I have a ton of books to read.  I have a date with God.
Still reeling from the impact of last Sunday’s service and the implications for our community.  Life is messy.  Community is messy.  Churches sometimes make it messier.  It’s a challenge.
The girls are full-swing into raising funds and planning for their summer mission trip to Macedonia.  I am incredibly proud of them.  They are focused and excited.
Sarah has finalized plans to spend the summer in Germany with our cousins.  She’ll care for their kids and live as a big sister to their family for about 8 weeks.  I’m thrilled – and petrified.  Learning how to let go in a major way.  I find myself wondering what, exactly, I was thinking when I said, “Yes!  What a GREAT idea!!!”  But it is, indeed, a great idea.  My head knows that.  I’ve got a few weeks before my heart believes it.
Every time I turn around, something else musical is going on.  Friday night, Sarah’s playing with the band she has half-way committed to – The Half Jeffersons – at a club in the city.  A guy from our small group is playing a swing band show that same night.  Our PCC band is playing cover tunes at The County Seat Restaurant here in town on Saturday night.  Another PCC group is playing a prayer breakfast on Friday morning in Midlothian.  Of course, there’s Easter coming up – lots of music and a choir to boot.  The girls just got a call to play and sing at the upcoming Relay For Life event.
We’re busy.
We’re broke.
But I’m not anxious about it.  Considering this: 

If you grasp and cling to life on your terms, you’ll lose it, but if you let that life go, you’ll get life on God’s terms.  – Luke 17.33

Yes.  In spite of my tendency to grasp and cling, that’s what I want.  I’m learning to let go.  I do believe that in the end, life on God’s terms is better than the melted mess left in my hands.

Hallelujah To The God Who Saves

Sometimes I realize with profound clarity that the life of our church community is complex and far-reaching.  I know that there are dynamic and fascinating small groups meeting every night of the week all over the county; folks are meeting for discipleship classes, connected at the Y, meeting for coffee, stopping by the office for appointments, working at the church house in Cartersville, planning events, etc.  PCC folks are networking all over the place.  And obviously we get together for our large celebration and worship experience on Sundays at PHS.

Tonight, I was reminded about how powerful any of our gatherings can be.  There’s this verse in the Bible that says, “Where two or more or gathered, I’m there” (referring to Jesus).  I experienced that tonight, as I do every time I visit FOCUS.
Teenagers meet on Sunday nights at Powhatan Elementary School.  The crowd varies, as do the activities.  Tonight, they finished up a series called Collide that featured several youth speakers, as well as youth pastor Angie Frame.  Marc Chewning did a fantastic job, reminding us of a couple things that caught my attention.

“God’s called every one of us to SOMETHING.  Some of us are missing this.”

I was led in worship, simply and gently, by a graceful, beautiful girl who sang songs of praise with her guitar and her angelic voice.  (Okay, it was my daughter – so I’m a little biased – but even if I didn’t know the girl, I’d be blessed.)  In this hollow room, without fancy sound equipment or lights or anything but each other, a small group of people sang loudly and passionately about God.
“Hallelujah to the God who saves
I will never be the same
Hallelujah to the God who saves
I’ll stand and my world will be changed”

I was so blown away, but by the smallest, most intimate thing:  A community of people, seeking God, simply being together.  It was awesome.
I love my church.  I love my God.  I am so grateful.

My Confession

When our income tax refund comes in, I usually take a bit of it and buy something for the house. Curtains, a chair, cookware; there’s always something that we could use that seems like a reasonable splurge.

This year, things have been so hectic and crazy that I decided rather than buying stuff to put in the house, I’d work in the opposite direction.
I paid someone to clean my house.
There, I confessed.  
She promised me that it would be an out-of-body experience.  It did feel – and smell – wonderful when I walked in the door.  My initial reaction was that it was worth every penny.  And it’s certainly an incentive to keep things tidy – and to clean the rest of the house (I could only afford to have her clean the bottom floor).
My kids tell me that they’ve worked up an arrangment to trade some babysitting time for cleaning with a friend of the family.  I’m thinking that might be a good deal.
We’ll need it asap.  David came home and promptly began to work on his grasslands ecosystem project, so there are giraffes, lions, pieces of felt and construction paper trimmings all over the dining room table….and the floor….
Life goes on…

Snow Day!

We got snow last night – a big load!  It’s the biggest and best snowfall we’ve seen in Virigina since we arrived five years ago!  

We tried to dig up snow pants and coats – unfortunately, most of what we have has been outgrown.  Gloves and mittens were hard to find as well.
But we made the best of it and the kids have had a great time playing outside.
No power at our house, so we’ve relocated to my parents’ place for a day.  Or two.  Rumor has it that today’s Snow Vacation will be extended to a two-day break.  It might be tough, being gone for two days from home with nothing to do.

Except Mom and Dad have cable.

My Valentine’s Day

I slept in.  From 8:30 – 9:00ish, I had a very weird dream.  Wrigley Field was in Kansas.  Kim Bontrager was showing me around the state, riding on a tiny train – like the kind you take around the zoo.  It was all good until we went down a very steep hill and I realized the train was some sort of roller coaster.  Kim insisted it was normal.

It was extraordinarily strange.
On to real life:  I headed to the County Seat Restaurant, reknowned for their weekend breakfast buffet.  My parents showed up, unexpected but cheerful.  We shared a cup of coffee together.
I got in the car with The Man of Many Surprises.  We headed west.  That’s all I knew.
Listened to Bruce Hornsby the whole way, wondering how I ever missed this guy.  Incredible musician, unbelieveably creative…anyway, on we drove.
Right around Charlottesville, we exited the highway and headed up the mountain.  I realized our destination:

We were at Monticelllo.  I was thrilled!  I’ve wanted to go ever since my first trip with the kids up to Carters Mountain.

We wandered the grounds for a few hours, listening to the Oprah-like saga of Sally Hemings’ daliances with Thomas Jefferson and the subsequent DNA testing results, visiting gravestones, checking out walls and gardens and 200-year old fireplaces.  The house tour was remarkable.
I left anxious to get my hands on that biography about Jefferson, or maybe ready to set aside time to watch the mini-series.  The entire experience was fascinating, well-done and a testimony to the right way to preserve history.  If you haven’t done Monticello, put it on your short list.  
It was a stellar day, capped off with a Snickers Blizzard.
Oh, yeah – then I got home and saw that my girls had cleaned the house.  People, it just doesn’t get better than that.
Color me content.

We’re Gonna Figure It Out

Gathered up from a post on Milton’s blog, here is something I recognized today. 

This, taken from the Bruce Springsteen interview in Rolling Stone, describes how I feel about my life. My job. My friends. My family. My fellow musicians at PCC. The people – my friends – with whom I work.  Here is my life:

All you want is for your voice to be part of the record, at a particular time and place. You try to be on the right side of history. And maybe some other kid will hear that and go, “Oh, yeah, that sounds like the place I live.” …And the fire I feel in myself and the band – it’s a very enjoyable thing. It carries an element of desperateness. It also carries an element of thankfulness. We are perched at a place where we want to continue on – with excellence. That’s our goal. And all the rest of the stuff – we’re gonna figure it out.

It’s been a difficult week.  I have struggled with feeling inept, incapable of fixing things. Helpless in the face of friends who say they’re losing ground, giving up. Burdened by the raw, aching wounds of people around me. Hurt by criticism and misunderstanding.
I quite like this notion of living with a combination of desperation and gratitude.  And I can cling to the notion of being perched – what a great word! – at a place where we “want to continue on with excellence”.
Struck down, but not destroyed.  Persecuted, not abandoned.  Pressed, but not crushed.
And thank You.