Success

I sent a text to my oldest kids tonight, with a quote from one of my favorite authors. The writings of Richard Rohr have profoundly influenced my continued growth as I seek to understand and appreciate the intersection of people and faith. So I sent the kids a Rohr quote, something that popped up on my Twitter feed in a blog post by Ed Cyzewski.

(This is parenting these days; group texts and Twitter quotes….)

From his book Immortal Diamond, Rohr says:  “If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted. Success is hardly ever your True Self, only your early window dressing….”

There’s so much wrapped up in those few sentences that embodies what minuscule wisdom that has arrived on my middle-aged doorstep. Somebody asked me, once, if I felt my life had been successful. I wasn’t really sure how to answer.

I have listened to so many people share stories of defeat and discouragement. They struggle to believe that they have succeeded, finding themselves in difficult places, difficult relational situations, financial messes. We tell folks, “It’s about the journey”, but that’s so often easier heard than applied. When

All These People

I am sitting in Foxy Loxy, a house-turned coffee shop, just a few steps from my
daughter’s apartment in Savannah. It’s a cool, rainy day. I’ve snagged a table on the enclosed porch. Wooden shutters wrap around me at eye level, and the glow of the apple icon on the computers around me are the only connection between those of us parked in this tiny room, coffee in hand.

All my life, I have loved to travel. I visit places and am captivated not just by the things that stand, the places and markers of history and culture, but by this tantalizing thought that always grabs hold of my imagination:

I could live here.

And I could. Really, anywhere I ever go, it comes, unbidden; this projection of what my life would look life if I lived here, in this place, wherever “here” is at the moment.

I love to imagine. The grass is always greener, it seems; and often, it’s not just the place, but some other version of me that fascinates me. Here, surrounded by Spanish moss dripping from the trees, the bulky Bull Street Library gleaming right across the street, the students carrying portfolios and backpacks dodging puddles on the sidewalk, the constant stream of movement. Cars and people. Cars and people.

Lives, intricate and important. All these people…

I’m rambling a bit, obviously. I’ve spent two full days here with my daughter, not as a tourist but as a traveler. I’ve met her friends over coffee, heard the dreams of artists who are passionate about their faith and their art, who are spending their summers serving others at camps and workshops from North Carolina to East Asia. We exclaim delight over the pastries at Back In the Day Bakery and mull over the challenges of city codes for church ministry coffee shops. I’m watching students spend their free day doing construction work – unpaid – for a church project.

All these people…

I spoke at City Church here in Savannah last night, part of a week-long intensive called Movement. I agonized and worried over what I might possibly have to say and share with anyone. My insecurities rear their heads in mighty ways and do a fine job of distraction; but in the end, after a few days of simple real conversations, real dialogue and incredible food, I stood in front of a room full of people and delivered the message. It was, in a word (or 2,833 words, to be exact), simply what I felt God told me to say. All the structure, all the planning, all the time spent molding and shaping an arc of narrative and context – all so much time and energy, reduced to an open mouth and these are the words God gave me to say to you.

And the thing I discovered is this: I have this thing in me, the truth of my life and the daily working out of my own salvation (with fear and trembling) and the small gifts of confession that I give and receive from the people in my daily coming and going and the things I have seen and felt and heard and lived. I have this thing, grounded in a foundational faith and trust in the workings of something beyond the tangible, something ethereal and spiritual and beyond my understanding or sight.

I have this life. I could live here, in Savannah, or I could live in Raleigh or Seattle or Tolar, Texas, or Chagrin Falls, Ohio, or right where I am. I could live anywhere, but I get to embrace the fullness of the life I have lived regardless of where I sit. Last night, I spoke these words: “I have walked this broken earth for almost 50 years…”

I am embracing this now, surrounded by youth and passion and energy and the incredible working swirl of creative fuel for life and Jesus. I have the privilege of speaking and sharing but far greater is the joy of a shared meal, the glimpse into the life my daughter is forging, the tiny graces of God, the energy of beauty and the lives of all these people, intricate and important.

All these people.

God, I am so blessed.

Mother’s Day 2012

 This was an unusual Mother’s Day; the first time in memory without all five kids.

As my kids grow up and move on, I’m thinking more about how my identity has been forged in my responsibilities to and for them. Being the mother of Sarah-Shannon-Sydni-Daniel-David has been my life for over 20 years. It remains so, but that life expands and broadens with every passing season. Or school semester. Or tuition payment.

Fall 2012 = three girls in college. At the same time. Ow.

I digress: Mother’s Day today, and two of the five – the oldest – are away. One to the south, pursuing the education of her dreams. The other to the north, investing her summer months in a future career.

In years past, they’ve congregated and planned a meal, a housecleaning, gifts and cards and pedicures and all sorts of wonderful blessings. This year, in the midst of a lot of major transitions, we opted to make a new memory.

Today, they gave me beautiful cards with heartfelt sentiments; small, sentimental gifts that meant a lot and were just what I wanted.

And then we went to lunch, me and my youngest three kids. And I thought about the privilege of tackling this second generation of parenting with the two boys (and a few short weeks with the girl) in the time that I have left. I’ve joked with friends who are my age and done, because they had one kid, or maybe two, and the nest is empty and they have time and nobody drinks all the milk and the house stays clean. I look at my youngest and know that I have six more years of active parenting, six years before he’s 18 and able to step out on his own. Sort of.

Some times that seems daunting. But lately, I’ve been seeing it as a privilege. I’ve learned so much in the past 20 years. I’m a different mom now than I was then. I’m praying that I can apply it and invest the time and energy they deserve. I figure God chose me to be their mom. I do well to honor that gift.


So I took THEM to lunch today. And I gave each of them a personal letter, with my sentiments expressed as best I could. I told them why I valued them, what I loved about them and my commitment to them.

It was the best way I could think of to celebrate. I got, and I gave. And I know this: I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without being a mother.

And these kids made me a mother. I’m grateful.

By the way; to the two girls who live north and south, don’t worry….yours is coming. I love you ALL.

Johnstown

The view over my shoulder….

Sitting at a Starbucks in Johnstown, PA. Killing time, waiting for a wedding rehearsal to begin.

The clientele here is so different. It’s fascinating, to consider the common denominator of a Starbucks; pretty much the same experience, wherever you are in America. Same products, same vibe. Same intentions.

But sitting here in Johnstown, PA, home of the world’s steepest vehicular inclined plane, I’m eavesdropping on the conversation of two farmers talking about endangered animals and oyster beds and how they might be altering their plans for the animals they are raising. It’s fascinating, truly.

And they ordered chai tea.

Life is interesting, all over the place. In these past few days we have done a great deal of traveling; and though we’ve gone to fairly familiar places, we’ve encountered new relationships and dialogue. I feel like I’ve spent 48 hours steeped in the rich, musky mess of people. It’s been raw and open and difficult. And rewarding and deeply rewarding, a rich blessing.

One encounter I had involved a woman who had been anxiously awaiting my arrival. She had a story to tell. In broken but effective English, she unraveled a tale of a long-time relationship – 50+ years – a desperate mother, a faithful friend and a tiny crack in a broken heart that led to a crater of openness to faith and a mighty love from the Creator. I listened, and the hair on my arms rose more than once as she detailed her fervent prayers and a new relationship with this long-time friend.

I met another woman for the first time; an artist, she met every stereotypical expectation of “artsy”. She talked of her art and her work and her gallery; clad in paint-spattered clothes, her short blonde hair and lithe physique camouflaged the fact that she was almost 60 years old. Facts and opinions spurted out of her mouth and then a pause would bring a question: “Now what do YOU do, dear?” I made mention of music and the church and we danced around that topic for a while. She remarked, “Your church sounds interesting…” I asked, “Are you a believer?”

“No. I’m Jewish.”

And then she began to speak of Torah and her relationship with God. She mentioned her study of Kabbalah and referenced a scripture.

Towards the end of the conversation, she remarked, “Maybe God used you ladies to prompt me to get back to my Bible study. I have gotten too far away.”

Life is so interesting.

Weighted

I have never been in a season of life in which there was so much sorrow. So much sickness. So much heaviness of life.

Thursday night at a vocal ensemble rehearsal, someone mentioned that it’s just that the church is big, my circle is bigger, there’s more information floating around. I think there’s some truth to that.

I am thinking this thought:  I am 47 years old. We all come to a time when those around us start to fall sick. We get older, the odds get slimmer. Maybe it’s just time.

But that’s not all it is. I just don’t think that’s the case. It is somehow so much more intimate.

And I am also thinking this thought: Perhaps I am at a time in my life when I truly understand what it means to love. I have landed in a safe place, I have quit playing games and wearing masks, and maybe this is the trade-off for honesty and authenticity. Sometimes, it hurts.

The circle of life and death, of illness and pain, of sorrow – it seems to be drawing closer. Everywhere I look, whatever direction, I see someone I love who is hurting, and not for some minor reason. Over something big, life-changing, seismic.

This is so not about me. It’s about others who are walking much closer to the flame than I. Yet I’m called to walk alongside, and it’s part of the fellowship to bear one another’s burdens.

I don’t really have anything more to say than this. Just putting it on the table.

Sorrow is heavy.

What Comes Next

I’m considering furthering my education. Just starting to think about it…

…I think I want a seminary degree. I want to study the Bible, seriously. But I don’t want to go to some rubber stamp let’s-make-a-minister joint. It’s tough to decide which direction to go.

Or maybe I could learn some new technology. Study graphic arts, seriously. I’d love that.

Or dig back into another music degree.

I don’t know.

I just know I’m approaching a season of life when I’ve poured a ton of energy into raising kids. I still have tons of work to do in that direction.

But I’m starting to think about the things I want to do in the time I have left. It’s feeling really precious to me. There’s a lot I don’t know. There’s a lot I’d love to learn.

While I’m thinking through this, I’m going to spend a lot of time hugging my kids. I’m thinking that by the time David’s 18, I’ll have figured out what I want to do next.

Tangible Proof

I’m making some progress….it’s been a productive day.

I cleaned toilets – a lot of little tiny toilets, which get just as dirty as big toilets. I found myself wondering why toilets are designed with those swirly parts on the sides that make it so difficult to clean close to the floor.
And why is it that boys – it must be boys because I don’t know how a girl could manage it – always seem to leak down the side of the toilet?
I wiped down windows and window sills and watched the rain fall. Thought about how those brightly colored rooms would fill up on Sunday morning with laughter and smiles and happiness. I felt a tinge of grief that my days of mothering small children were gone. It must be really, really cool to bring kids to PCC and see the way the upstairs floor is completely dedicated to what will help them learn to love Jesus. I’m proud of our church and its commitment to kids.
I got to spend a bit of time in my office, doing work and organizing my junk. I have a HUGE pile of stuff for the trash, a box for Goodwill and a neatly organized small bookshelf.
Making sense out of this chaos helped me focus today. I’m grateful.
So here’s the top of my little shelf – for now. An Erwin McManus book (that I haven’t read), Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down, which I read years ago (this copy belongs to Kevin). the Heart of the Artist, which I believe to be essential for any artist of any type who wants to know more about themselves and their place in the kingdom of God. Walk On – also Kevin’s. I’ve read part of it. The Unexpected Adventure, which was the basis for a pretty cool series we did recently. Invitation to Solitude and Silence by Ruth Haley Barton. Want to get wrecked? Read that book. Take This Bread by Sara Miles – brilliant book. Loved it. Positioning, which belongs to Jeanette Brannan. Great book on branding and marketing. Less Clutter, Less Noise – Kem Meyer, and absolutely essential. Two worship devo books – Your Love Is Amazing and The Air I Breathe. An old copy of The Screwtape Letters. One of my favorite devo books, Mornings With Henri Nouwen.

To the right is a pirated copy of the Baptist Hymnal. I will not admit where it came from, because I am ashamed that I still have it. It got packed in a moving box and never returned.
And the rock? That’s from a fun video project I did for a women’s retreat a few years ago. That rock got around town a good bit…
Tangible proof that some order came into my life today.
NOTE: Obviously I have stuff on my shelf that belongs to others; this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve given me a cd or book recently, cruise by and pick it up. I have a lot of things with no traceable connection to the owner. And, by the way, if you’re from Chagrin Falls, you can have the hymnal back….
EDITED NOTE: I stand corrected. That is not a BAPTIST hymnal; it is THE hymnal. For Worship and Celebration. Just FYI.

If He Hangs His Guitar In Your Room, It’s A Done Deal

I’ve been married for two months now; we celebrated our anniversary last night with dinner at Five Guys (fun and YUM and who in the WORLD can eat that many fries, anyway?) and a trip to the Apple Store (just looking….)

At our age, we’ve decided to maximize our time and celebrate every month.
And thus far, here’s some of what I’ve learned:
  • Talking is good. Talking equals communication. Making assumptions can lead to hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Talking can fix that.
  • It’s really nice to share the load of stuff like getting up early, washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, etc. Especially the getting up early part.
  • When kids are raised with grace, they tend to offer it fairly easily. And that is a beautiful thing to watch.
  • It’s kind of cool to have a guitar hanging in your bedroom.
  • I’m a better person when I laugh a lot. And being married has led to a lot of laughter. Which was unexpected.
I like being married. Actually, I liked being single, too. But this is different, and rich and rewarding. And every day feels like a gift.

You Know You’ve Had A Tough Week When…


I’m folding laundry, watching old episodes of The Office on Hulu, and bawling like a baby.

Quite irrationally.
EDIT: THREE HOURS LATER, THE TEARS TURNED INTO THOSE NASTY, CAN’T-CATCH-MY-BREATH, GUT-WRENCHING SOBS. YOU KNOW THE KIND – AN UGLY CRY. BUT HAVE NO FEAR – MY HERO SOON APPEARED, WITH THE FOLLOWING IN HAND:
  • A SHOULDER (FOR CRYING)
  • A DOZEN ROSES (JUST BECAUSE)
  • A PACKAGE OF OREOS (YEAH BABY)
  • A GALLON OF MILK (DUH)
AND HE FIXED DINNER.

GRACE ABOUNDS.

The Vastness of Everything

“God found great pleasure to take a lowly thing in the eyes of the world and show truth.”
There are so many things in this world that do not make sense. At least from our perspective. But most of the time our perspective is all we’ve got. It takes some effort to see things from a distance, from a greater height, from a more informed vantage point.
I’m walking through Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love with a group of friends. This takes some effort. Chan leads an intellectual and emotional journey of discovery – the vastness of our universe, the incredible detail of creation, the remarkable intricacies of life itself. He connects those immutable facts with the spiritual experience of believers and scripture. In light of the scientific facts, the exploration of a vast universe, the brief glance at a galaxy from a hundred million light years away, a simple human life seems unbelievably insignificant.
(Don’t have the book? Check out www.crazylovebook.com. Just that much will blow your mind.)
And here, in a nutshell, is the irony and mystery of the faith of one who follows Jesus. Somehow, we don’t matter at all – and yet, we matter.
The God of the universe exists in a time and space that is beyond my understanding. The universe is vast beyond the stars, to quote one of my favorite songwriters.
We don’t matter.
But following Jesus compels me to believe that regardless of my appreciation or understanding, there is life and purpose within me.
We matter.
Biblical teaching and preaching does well to reinforce this, to offer proof and evidence. But tonight, my daughter Shannon and I listened to the story of a family that, while heartbreaking, is about the best I could offer to say that faith matters.
Life is unfair. Earthquakes destroy cities and kill thousands. Parents watch adult children die far too young. Pain comes at the hand of a trusted spouse. Cancer robs and steals life. Lungs refuse to function. Blood vessels explode and demolish plans for the future. Children are born with devastating diseases.
Somehow, in the midst of the most unfair, the most devastating, the most heart-breaking situations, there can be hope. Even the most tenuous foothold of faith can dig into the mystery of the divine God of the universe who somehow, in the midst of the vastness of everything, has a connection with us.
It is impossible to understand. It is often difficult to believe.
But it is faith that sustains and makes sense of the most ridiculous, unfair and difficult circumstances life offers.
Perspective is everything. This short film altered mine. Grab a Kleenex, and let it alter yours.