Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Gift of the Carolers

I visit Norma periodically.  Norma lives with a variety of health problems, and together we get to enter the sacred ground of secrets from the past, crises in the present, and anxieties of the future.  We share, we pray, we laugh, we cry, we search Scripture, and we talk for hours.  I get to be her pastor, and that is a gift.

Norma has discovered that when you're sick, you're often alone.  Friends and family don't know what to say, so they say nothing.  They feel guilty that they cannot come around more often, so they don't come at all.  It's hard to love someone who's sick, and it's hard to be the someone who's sick and lonely.

But last week, some friends of mine, a small group at PCC's Westchester Campus, went caroling.  They asked for Norma's address; I asked Norma's permission to share her address; she agreed nervously; they knocked on lots of doors before actually finding Norma.  And then they sang to her and her husband.  

This is what Norma wrote about the experience:

"The Gift of the Carolers"

The doorbell rang at 8:30 pm on a dark December night as I was relaxing with my husband watching yet another rerun of "The Waltons."  My husband headed to the door, because he was still dressed while I in my gown and robe retreated for the bedroom.  Then my husband said, "I bet it's the carolers our pastor said would like to visit us this Christmas season."
Upon hearing this, I turned, robe and all, no longer concerned about my appearance, to head where my husband was now opening the front door.  As the door opened, the singing began.  He was correct in his assumption.  It was not a large group, but strong in voice they were.  Hiding half behind the wall to disguise my attire, I could immediately feel the emotions stirring inside me as I looked into their faces singing carols that I had once sung when I was young and on the same type of missions.  I immediately knew the significance of my position in the gathering at my front door.

It was surreal to be on this side of the door, having been a caroler myself so many years ago.  The fond memories flooded my head as I enjoyed the beautiful sound of Christmas carols being sung before me.  I had a longing to be standing there on my sidewalk with them, but my heart defects and cancer have altered my ability to participate.  I breathed in the essence of familiarity with lights behind held in the dark, for the song books and voices rising in song, and it overwhelmed me with a peace and joy of a time gone by.  The sound of their voices and smiling faces warmed me inside.

I realized at that moment that I had now become the recipient of this loving and compassionate tradition.  That simple kindness helped me that night to better understand and accept my current position in my journey of life.  With so many things in my life having come full circle, I see the beauty that can be found even in my struggles when something so compassionate and supportive as that night came about in the shadows of these illnesses.  If we trust in God's love no matter where we are in life and no matter how difficult it can be at times, he will still bring beautiful things into our lives when we need them the most.  I felt blessed in understanding that I have experienced both the joy of having been able to bless someone with this gift, and many years later, to receive that same gift.

With both a smile on my face and a tear in my eye, I had grown that night in seeing how deep the roots of kindness can run.  I thanked God for the clarity to see the beauty in the symphony of love in the giving and receiving of the songs sung on that cold winter night, standing now on the other side of the door.

Norma J.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Blue Christmas: Waiting for Comfort

If you find yourself in a place of grief, hurt, or pain this Christmas morning, then I pray some of these words will acknowledge your reality on Christmas, and maybe offer some comfort or hope.
However long we spend waiting, it almost always feels too long, right?  Whether the outcome is good or bad, most of us would rather just get to it already instead of waiting another week, another day, or another hour.  And yet, waiting must be endured as part of the human experience.  To live is to wait.  And while all waiting is challenging, some waiting is almost unbearably painful.

We wait for the depression to pass, for the dark cloud that follows our every footstep to dissipate.  We wait for the torrent of tears to subside.  We wait for the right medication to restore balance to our brains, so we can restore balance to our lives and our families before their patience runs out.

We wait for him to come back home, for her to change her mind and decide the marriage is worth fighting for.  We wait for a cease-fire in the fighting.  We wait for a glimpse of the person we fell in love with, for a reminder of why we united in the first place.

We wait for a check, a cure, or a conception.  We wait for reconciliation, for the prodigal son to come home, for forgiveness to be granted, to be able to forgive the wrong done to us.  We wait for our chance, our opportunity, our moment to move toward our dream.

We wait for the mercy of death to free our loved ones from pain.  And then we wait, seemingly forever, to be reunited with them again.  We wait for the pain to subside, but we fear what life looks like beyond the pain.

We wait for comfort, doubtful that it’s possible and afraid that it might be. 

In our waiting, we enter a long story of humanity waiting on each other and waiting on God.  Long ago, the people of God were slaves in Egypt.  They cried out to God.  They waited to be rescued.  And God showed up and rescued them.

Then the people of God waited, wandering through the wilderness for forty years, to enter the Promised Land.  They cried out to God.  They waited to be led to new life.  And God showed up and led them.

Then the people of God lived under oppression, waiting for the Messiah, the Christ, to fight for them, to protect them.  They waited for a Savior.  And God showed up, as a baby, at Christmas, to save them.

The people of God know the agony and anxiety of waiting.  They’ve lived it.  When we can’t find the words to capture the agony and anxiety of our circumstances, we can borrow and revive the words of God’s people who’ve gone before us:

1 Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
2     Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy…
5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption. (Psalm 130)

We wait for God with our whole selves—our bodies, our minds, and our hearts.  We plead for him to hear us, to interrupt our circumstances, and to enter our lives.  We wait for the Lord with the intensity and desperate hopefulness of night watchmen waiting for the soft light of dawn.

Two thousand years ago a young couple in a stable waited for God to show up in their lives, too.  A young, glowing, waddling, scared Mary waited to meet the child inside.  The almost-parents waited to have the baby that would drastically and forever change not just their worlds, but THE world.  They waited to see God’s words to them fulfilled.  They waited to see what God would look like.

In this season, two thousand years later, we celebrate the baby born to them, and yet, we still wait for God to show up in our lives, to drastically and forever change them.  We still wait to see the words of God fulfilled.  We still wait to see what God will look like in our world.

We join the people of God throughout history who have cried out, “Lord, hear my voice.  Let your ears by attentive to my cry for mercy…I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my trust.”  Sometimes we feel like we shouldn’t cry out to God in our pain.  We feel like it’s disrespectful or unappreciative to talk to God like that.  And, then sometimes when we do cry out to Him, we feel like He’s not listening, so we stop telling Him how we’re really doing.  But we see in the Bible that neither of these is reality.

We need not fear crying out to God.  The Bible, story of the people of God, shows that God does hear the cries of his hurting people.  We need not fear letting God know how we wait for him, desperate for his intervention in our lives.  The Bible is the story of a God who shows up to a world in need. 

Jesus showed up in our world as a baby, because God heard the cries of his people and responded.  Jesus didn’t come for the pulled-together people with perfect lives—even if such people existed.  Baby Jesus came to our world for the sick and the sinners.  He came to our world in response to the cries of people who were hurting.  Grown-up Jesus even went as far as calling those who mourn, “blessed.”

Yet in our current expression of Christmas, those of us who are hurting, lonely, sick, and mourning at this time of year often feel marginalized, not blessed.  We feel pressure to put on a happy face so others can cheerfully celebrate Christmas.  We feel guilty for our tears, trying to hide them from family and friends.  We don’t want to be a burden.  We don’t want to rain on others’ parades, but we’re hurting.  We feel like something’s wrong with us, because, to us, it’s not the most wonderful time of the year.

But it’s not that there’s something wrong with us.  There’s something wrong with our culture’s understanding of Christmas, because Christmas is for those who are hurting.  The reason Christmas happened in the first place was because our world was hurting and broken.  We celebrate Christmas to remember that God came to earth to save a world in need.                                                
Jesus came here for you.  He didn’t come here in spite of you.  Christmas happens to comfort you, not to hurt you.  Jesus didn’t come here to make you hide your pain and mask your grief.  He came here to be with you in your pain and grief.  He didn’t come here to take away the darkness of your world, but to be a light in your world.  He came here to experience your world, with all the disappointment, heartache, and loss your world includes.  He came here so that he would understand your pain, and so you wouldn’t have to withstand it alone.  Jesus came here to give you hope of a day when “‘He will wipe every tear from (our) eyes.’”  When “’There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4)  

That’s what Christmas is about! 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Slavery, Then and Now

On a recent date night, my husband took me out to the movies.  He took me to see 12 Years a Slave, which is being heralded as one of the best movies of the year.  My husband says it’s the most powerful movie he’s ever seen. 

It was awful. 

Don’t get me wrong, the writing, storytelling, character development, believability of something so barbarically evil, and suspense were incredible.

But it was awful.

I got up and left at one point when the slave was defying his master, because I couldn’t bear to see what savagery would result from his insubordination.

I worked hard to keep down the popcorn.

I covered my ears and eyes. 

I could not wait for the mercy of the ending.

And then it was over.  And no one moved in the silent theater. 

How could we?  How could we get up, throw away our popcorn and soda, stop off at the bathroom, and go home to a comfortable, safe home after watching that movie?

And yet, that’s what we had to do. 

My husband and I had plans to stop for dessert after the movie.  I know I made him mad when I left the movie silent, got in the car, and asked him to take me home.

I know he needed more words from me, but I was in a rare moment of speechlessness.

As I watched the horrors of that movie, I thought about men and women, boys and girls, in slavery—forced labor, forced prostitution, the sex trade—today.  The twelve years of that man’s slavery were over a long time ago, and those twelve years were as inhumane and evil as I can imagine.  But there are still people living in unimaginable, inhumane evil today, in the year 2013.

As I covered my ears and eyes, I prayed for those enslaved today.  I prayed that their stories would be told now—not 150 years from now in an astonishingly powerful film (or whatever the storytelling medium is then).  I prayed that instead of sitting, stricken silent in a theater as credits roll, that people would hear their stories and be loud and active in the public arena.

The film is a must see, because it’s so awful.  We must learn and not forget the awful existences that were reality.  And we must learn of the awful existences that are reality for God’s children today, and we must work to change their realities to ones of love and mercy.

If you’re interested in being loud and active in the public arena on the issue of slavery today, then consider participating in the Virginia Abolition Conference 2014 coming up soon.

You can also support a child in Moldova, the country with the highest percentage of sex trafficking in the world, through one of PCC’s mission partnerships.

Monday, December 16, 2013

For Dr. Heard

I opened mail from my alma mater a few months ago to read that Dr. Heard had died.

My heart sank, and my eyes filled with tears.  

Dr. Betty Heard was my college adviser and a professor in the English department.  She taught me Milton, an English education class, and Victorian British Novel--which is my favorite kind of literature--I think--I do love Romantic poets...and American Transcendentalists...and Shakespeare...and Hemingway and Fitzgerald....  But Austen, Bronte, Hardy; it doesn't get any better than that.  (However, I could do without Dickens.  Twice in my educational career I failed to read assigned texts; both were Dickens.)

I wanted to attend the Homecoming Chapel service that honored her, but it was on a Sunday, and I kind of have a job that happens on Sundays.  I've thought a hundred times, "If I were the pastor who'd been asked to speak about her at the service, then what would I have said?"  

It's taken me three months to be able to form those words.  Here goes...

Dr. Heard was the kind of professor who taught more than literature and grammar, although she taught both extremely well.  She taught about the importance of attitude and character, and high expectations and grace.

She was the kind of adviser who cared about academics and career path, but who also cared about personal growth and life-altering choices of all kinds.  

She was the kind of adviser who showed up at the ER when one of the twins was sick, and who offered to call their mom and let her know they were okay.

She was the kind of professor who gave exams at a coffee shop.  

She was the kind of professor who invited students to walk to her home to watch a movie and eat popcorn with M&M's.

She was the kind of adviser who made time for lunch with former students when they traveled back for a visit. 

She was the kind of professor who let you know when she was proud of you.

She was a captivating, attractive person whom people wanted to be around.  She made everyone around her better; she brought out the best in people. 

Dr. Ausband, then the head of the English department (now the Dean), once told me that Dr. Heard failed more students than anyone else, but he also fielded the fewest complaints about her.  He said students all but thanked her for failing them.  I suspect that's because she was honest and loving, and we all knew she wanted the best for us.  But the best for us meant living up to high expectations, not making excuses.

I remember Dr. Heard often, every time I say, "often."  Until Dr. Heard, I didn't know that the "t" in often is silent.  But it is.  She taught me that.

She taught me to never lose my temper in front of students, because once you do, you've lost control.  I wish I'd been able to live up to her example.

She taught me that if something is wrong enough to alter your personality, then tell your students up front.  Don't leave them guessing.

I am better for my time with Dr. Betty Heard.  I am probably one of thousands of people who can say that.  

I always remember Dr. Heard this time of year, because I memorized a section of  Milton's "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" for the final exam.  I can still recite it.  

Merry Christmas, Dr. Heard.  Miss you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

7 Things

Continuing the Facebook trend...

I've been given the number 7.  Seven interesting and/or random things about me...
(This was really hard for me, because I talk about myself a lot, and I have no poker face, so if you know me, you pretty much know me.)

1.  I was born 8 weeks early weighing 3.5 pounds.  I dropped to below 3 pounds.  My incubator had to be tilted so that I could not dig in my heels to get leverage for my long, skinny fingers to wrap about my tubes and pull them out.  A nurse also knitted tiny drawstring mittens to help with this issue.

2.  I have a minor in history.  That doesn't really count for anything or mean anything, except that I find history interesting.  Also, I forget it as soon as I "learn" it.

3.  This small town girl has been to a few of the world's biggest cities including Paris, Cairo, and NYC.  Cairo was uncomfortable; I'd go to the other two every year, or do extended vacations there, if I could.

4.  I've held the bars to Nelson Mandela's cell, stood where JFK was shot, visited Napoleon's tomb, and remembered soldiers at the American Cemetery in Normandy.

5.  I stink at swallowing pills.  Really, I'm like a child, gagging and taking multiple tries to swallow the tiniest of pills.

6.  I've received one "C" as a grade--in grade school, undergrad, and grad school.  It was in Handwriting in second grade.  My handwriting grades went up when we started cursive.  Exhibit A:  
Have I ever mentioned I'm competitive?!

7.  Everybody knows I have an English degree, and I'll make two notes about that:
a.  That doesn't mean I'm great at grammar.  I do two things most every one in my culture does--I read, and I write--I just do them pretty well.  I didn't have a grasp of grammar until college, and that was a rude awakening!
b.  I did better in math and science than English and history for most of school.  Choosing between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science was agonizing.  I chose a B.A. as the path of least resistance (my AP credits meant I didn't have to take any math or science in college), and I plunged head first into Humanities for undergrad and grad school.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Confessions of a Bad Mom

I don’t understand girls, and yes, I am one.

We girls write, read, like, and share blog posts that largely say the same things:

We women need to cut ourselves some slack.  
(If we’re feeling spiritual, then we put it in spiritual language) :  
We need to extend ourselves come grace.
The Supermom, Pinterest-mom, perfect mom idea is false.
We can’t do it all.  We do the best we can and get up the next day and do it again.

And yet, we are the ones who perpetuate the supermom complex.

We stand around at birthday parties trying to one-up each other.  We hover at dance class or ball games making stabs at each other over decisions like whether to give our kids raw milk, whole pasteurized milk, skim pasteurized milk, almond milk, soy milk, or hemp milk. 

We really do need to cut ourselves some slack, and we really need to cut each other some slack.

We also need to be responsible moms.  It’s a fine line to tip-toe across.  On one hand, none of us can do it all.  On the other hand, there are some things we must do, that we cannot extend ourselves grace about.  And in the middle, we each decide what the non-negotiables are for our families and what items are worth taking off our overflowing, impractical, unachievable lists.  
There are some things I need to extend myself less grace about.  I need to get frustrated less often.  I need to slam cabinet doors, growl, and “hmph” less often.  I need to talk nicely to family more often.

Then, there are some things that I will keep doing:

I will keep listening to my kids, because their words matter to me.
I will keep apologizing to them when I screw up, because that’s a skill they need to learn, too.
I will keep walking away from work at 5 p.m. and turning down opportunities, because I’m away from my kids enough.
I will keep doing everything I can to be who God called me to be—a wife, a mom, and a pastor.
I will keep encouraging my kids to tell me how they feel, even when that means hearing, “I am VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY ANGRY with you!” because I want to raise adults who know how to talk about their feelings.

And I confess the ways I’m a “bad mom” with little regret:

My kids were drinking formula after a few months, and I was relieved.
My kids love Pepsi and drink it when we go out to sit down dinners.
My kids eat non-organic fruits and veggies, and they eat lots of them.
My kids eat white bread and peanut butter.
My kids consume high fructose corn syrup.
My kids drink 2% pasteurized cow’s milk.
I did not make homemade baby food.
My kids wore disposable diapers.
Some nights my babies slept in my bed.
I had an epidural—both times—and thanked God for them.
I scheduled the induction of my baby girl.
I vaccinate my kids with every recommended vaccine.
I was a part-time stay-at-home mom for a while.  I didn’t enjoy it.  I wasn’t good at it.
My kids’ bedtime is a goal at best.
My kids wear brand new clothing.
My kids have seen (and love) Jurassic Park.
My kids pick-up food off the floor and eat it.
I buy Play-doh, bubbles, and kids’ paint instead of making my own.
My kids watch TV, movies, and smart phone screens every day.
My kids watch Big Bang Theory and think it’s funny that Raj cannot talk to girls.

What are your lists of 1) The things you need more accountability and less grace for, 2) The good things you’re doing right that you’re going to keep doing, and 3) The things you’re unashamedly doing as a mom even though they’re “bad”?

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Now that the first nine weeks of kindergarten have passed, I’m getting around to writing about this monumental life moment for my son and our family.  Oh well…

The night before kindergarten I was a little nervous.  We laid out clothes, read books about going to school, checked that the book bag was packed (for the tenth time), and went to bed early.  I went to bed, but I didn’t go to sleep right away.  My mind was racing:

Would he remember his book bag when he got off the bus?  I never rode the bus, so I was most anxious about that part.

Would he have to get help getting to his class?  I know there will be people there to help, but he’s like his Mom—having to ask for help or receiving help embarrasses him, and I don’t want his day to start like that.

Would he be able to open all the items in his lunchbox by himself?

Would he speak up if something went wrong, because again, he’s like his Mom…?

Would he talk to his teacher and the kids in his class?  Would he talk too much, because when something’s wrong, he talks and talks and talks?  (Have I mentioned he’s like his Mom?)

Would he run out of steam before 4:00?  By the way, when did kindergarten become a 9:00-4:00 ordeal? 

Would he be safe? 

Then I saw a Facebook note my twin sister wrote for her nephew’s first day of kindergarten.  It was beautiful, and I cried, and I realized how incredibly blessed my son is. 

He was ready.  We were ready.

He was ready for kindergarten after two wonderful years of preschool with teachers and friends whom he loved and who loved him.  He had the clothes and supplies he needed, purchased by his parents and grandparents.  He even had a T-rex shirt, Star Wars light saber tennis shoes, and Stegosaurus socks.  He had parents, grandparents, an aunt, and teenagers, college students, and adults from our church praying for him as he began kindergarten.  He was praying for kindergarten himself.  And I thought, “What would public school be like if each child were sent through the doors with that kind of preparation—physically, socially, spiritually, and financially?”

He was getting ready to embark on his school career at the same elementary school where his parents met as six-year-olds.  We had P.E. in that gym with that teacher.  We ate lunch in that cafeteria.  We devoured books in that library.  We scraped our knees on that playground.  We learned to add, subtract, multiply, divide, create, read, and write in those classrooms.  I’ve danced more shows on that stage than I can remember.  My husband and I have had successful college and seminary careers, in part because of the great educations we received in this same school system.

So, we put him on the bus the next morning—my husband, my mom, my daughter, and me.  And it was a great moment.  It was joyful and exciting.  There were no tears.  (Don’t judge me for NOT crying, and I won’t judge you FOR crying.)  There was, though, a little sister holding tightly to her brother, not wanting to be left behind.  (On a side note, I think she’d take on kindergarten right now if we’d let her.  But, her grumpiness dissolved when she remembered what it was like to have Nana all to herself.) 

And there was a picture sent to my phone by a friend who teaches in the school.  And there was a picture in my e-mail from a teacher who goes WAY above and beyond.

And what was my son doing in those pictures?  Brown Bear activities.  I couldn’t help but smile.

See, the first picture I have of Tristan “reading” Brown Bear was when he was a newborn.    We kept reading that book to him, and he always smiled at the blue horse.

Then, when I was in Macedonia leading a student mission trip in the summer of 2009, I got a message from home.  On that trip, I followed the guidelines laid out for students—I didn’t use my phone or Facebook.  But there was a blog where our family members could send us messages.  And my husband sent one:  Brown Bear—Tristan’s first phrase.

So, our son started kindergarten with all the support and preparation possible.  It was a great first day, and it’s been a great nine weeks. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Missing the Youth Pastor

A little over a year ago, the Blue Team (think senior leadership team—kinda) of our church met for a couple days.  We had an agenda—create a new leadership structure for our church.  Our church had long since outgrown our structure in terms of sheer numbers, and particularly, with having multiple campuses.  We weren’t structured to function as a multi-site church, so we weren’t really functioning as a multi-site church, and we knew that had to change.

We’d spent a couple months preparing for this meeting, we spent a couple days in this meeting, and we spent months editing, editing, and editing the result of this meeting.

Eventually, we completed our structure.  My name appeared in a few bubbles on the org chart:  Student Director, Powhatan Campus Student Coordinator, Online Campus Pastor, and Guide Pastor.  That’s a lot of bubbles.

We agreed I’d move myself out of some of those bubbles over time.  First up—Powhatan Campus Student Coordinator.  It was clear to me and everyone else, that as long as I was leading the student ministry at our largest campus, I would be unable to do the other roles.  It was time for me to move from being the week-to-week practitioner of student ministry to being the coach for other week-to-week practitioners of student ministry across our campuses.  It was time for me to put on my big girl pants, move beyond student ministry, and tackle the second half of our mission statement, “to guide them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ,” as the Guide Pastor.

Here we are—one year later.

I’ve successfully moved out of the Powhatan Student Coordinator position, and my friend Karen Heinike has successfully moved into that position.  I enjoy having her has a friend, I’m proud of how she’s moved into this role, and I’m excited to see what God has in store for her.

I’m slowly moving into the role of Guide Pastor.  The learning curve is steep.  Starting new initiatives is hard.  Seeing myself, and helping others see me, differently is even harder.  It’s good hard, but it’s still hard.  It’s challenging, but that’s where being competitive is advantageous.  I’ve faced many steep learning curves in my life, mostly in classroom settings, and I’ve climbed to the top of all of them.  Of course, that’s before I was a mom.  Being a mom changes everything, and it’s awesome, but the emotional, mental, and physical energy I once exerted to overcome steep learning curves is energy that now goes to raising and caring for my family.  So, I’m learning how to dig deeper and to work smarter.

And I’m learning to let go.  I was PCC’s first, and until recently, PCC’s only “youth pastor.”  I’m thrilled to share that role now with amazing friends who God is calling to follow him!  But it’s hard to let go of being the youth pastor.  I did my first stint in youth ministry in June 2001.  I know a little bit about how to be the youth pastor.  I don’t know a thing about being the Guide Pastor.  And that’s scary.  And that means I might fail.  And well, we competitive people don’t see that as an option.

A couple weeks ago, I received a text from a former student:  Missing my youth pastor right now.  I’ll never be too old to cherish the love you show all of us. 

I’m missing the youth pastor right now, too.

But then I hear the late Cecil Sherman in my head saying to me, “Don’t put yourself in a youth pastor box.  God has other things in store for you.”

So, this is me getting out of my youth pastor box, that I did indeed put myself in (despite Dr. Sherman’s wise advice).

And, as he would say at the beginning of class, “It’s time for school.”  It’s time to tackle this learning curve, no matter how steep.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Casting Director Tristan Frame

I understand this will only be amusing if you know the people listed.  But, if you do, I think you'll enjoy.

First, the back story.  Sunday morning was dress-up day at church.   Lily was Minnie Mouse.  Tristan was Darth Vader.

Sunday morning I said something I say every morning, "Tristan, brush your teeth."

But Sunday morning I heard, "I'm not Tristan, and you're not Mom, so I can't do that.   I'm Darth Vader, and you're Princess Leia."

Lily, "But I want to be the princess!"

Tristan, "Fine, Lily.  You can be the princess.  Mom, that makes you a storm trooper."

Me, "I don't think so.  Darth Vader and Princess Leia, Yoda says it's time to brush your teeth."

(I lost my position of Yoda when Aimee Krueger entered the scene later talking like Yoda--for real.  You gotta hear it.)

A couple hours later we were at church, and Tristan decided to cast those around him in Star Wars:

Daniel Brawley—Obi Wan
Lily—Princess Leia
Ryan King—Darth Maul
Sammy (Dad)—Emperor
Mandy James—Padme
Tristan C (aka Big Tristan)—Luke Skywalker
Daniel Hughes—Han Solo
David Brawley—C3PO
Courey McCoy—Chewbacca
Brian Hughes--Jabba the Hutt

Brian was not impressed with his role, saying, "Do I look like Jabba the Hut to you?!"

Tristan, "Yes."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Listening and Praying

Yesterday I got a great compliment; the kind that sticks with you and continues to release its encouragement and affirmation:  Have you been taught how to listen and to pray, or did God just make you that way?


That’s how a seminary professor of mine answered most either/or questions.  I think I’ll borrow his technique.

On one hand, I love to listen to people’s stories, to hear their struggles, to see their faces light up with joy.  I love to ask them questions that help them dig a little deeper or to see their circumstances from a different perspective.

On the other hand, I’ve been taught a lot about how to listen.  Of course the basic rule is, “Shut up!”  You cannot listen when your mouth is running.  And I like to talk…especially about myself.  Very vain of me—I know.  I’m working on it.  I have to tell myself, “shut up,” in my head during every conversation I have.  I still get it wrong all the time.  I interrupt.  I babble on about myself.

But occasionally I actually practice the skills I know.

When I do, I’m always delighted at what I learn about people.  I cannot believe the secrets I get entrusted with, the doubts that get voiced, the regrets that finally get expressed, the hopes and dreams that are given voice.

I’ve also been taught how to pray; of course there are many different ways to pray.  This particular instance involved my praying for someone else, interceding on her behalf.  I don’t think I’ve been taught how to do that.  I simply try to avoid phrases like “in a special way.”  It doesn’t do much for me.  I also try to avoid “just,” as in, “Lord, we just ask…”  I’m not just asking; I’m asking.  Let’s not dance around it; let’s just be honest with God and what we’re asking of Him.  I also try to pray for something, meaning that instead of, “Be with Norma in a special way as she fights cancer,” I might say, “I ask that you give Norma strength and perseverance as she fights cancer.”

Mostly, I listen and try to hear the cries of the heart in front of me, and I offer those to God.

It’s very simple.

It’s easy (when I shut up).

It’s a way to be in the holy, sacred presence of God with another person,… 

and that’s a humbling, intimate, moving experience.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Happy Anniversary!

Recently our staff began celebrating our anniversaries.  Basically, when it's someone's anniversary as a PCC staff member, their manager says a few words about them.  

Last October, Erik Edwards became an unpaid staff member.  So, we recently celebrated his anniversary, and I got to say the nice things about him.  Getting to tell the rest of our staff team how selfless, committed, and competent Erik is was a true joy for me.  I share these words with you so that you, too, can hear how amazing Erik is, if you don't already know.  If you're a student or parent of a student, then you most likely know already:)  Please take an opportunity to thank Erik for how he has impacted you, your teenager, and your relationship with God.

October is notable for Erik for two reasons—his birthday and the anniversary of his being “staff.”  We don’t pay him, but he is committed to PCC; he’s more than competent in the ways he serves here; he has great chemistry with our team, and with our students and their families; he has highly respectable character, and he gets our culture.

Erik has served PCC in countless ways, from the Steering Team to the Safety Team to concert organizer, but his role as “staff” is as our Student Ministry Assistant.  He assists with the multi-campus student ministry efforts, namely the annual retreats and mission trips. 

Erik is the best details person I’ve ever worked with!  He can look at a monumental undertaking, like moving 90 students and adults from point A to point B, getting them all registered, paid for, and forms collected and keeping them safe while keeping an eye on the big picture the whole time—offering opportunities where students can encounter God and let Him change their lives for the rest of their lives and for eternity.  He is a details person who is extremely pleasant to work with; he doesn’t rattle easily; he stays calm, collected, and thinks through problems well—all while treating people with grace and patience.  He is a details person who knows things will go wrong and goes with it when it happens.  He is a details person who does, indeed, think through every detail, and he comes in under budget on everything.

All of these things make serving alongside Erik delightful.

But what I admire most about Erik is how he got to be in the position he’s in now.  See, the first time I met Erik, I went to his house for dinner to talk about his interest in getting involved in student ministry.  At that time, I found out that he and Becky weren’t yet members, and that was largely due, maybe entirely due, to some issues with me.  But Erik was willing to take a chance, to be part of my team, and to let those issues work themselves out.  Not once have I felt like Erik was not part of my team.  When he agreed to join our student ministry team, he seems to have agreed to be all-in, despite his initial reservations. 

One of the greatest conflicts I’ve faced in recent years in ministry with was Erik.  I proposed some ideas that he took significant issue with.  As a critical leader in my ministry, he had every right to question my ideas; in fact, as a critical leader in my ministry, it’s his responsibility to evaluate my decisions and directions and to engage me about them. 
But it was difficult for us both.  We’re both reserved people who need time to process and who’d rather not do conflict.  But we were in conflict—good, ideological conflict that makes our ministry better.  It was painful for us both.  I cried.  He cried.  We wrestled with our opposing ideas. 

But I’ve never been part of conflict that went so well.  Erik’s character showed through, and we sat down to talk, each having had time to process, and had a healthy, healing, honest conversation that defined our partnership.  We almost always see eye-to-eye, which makes working together refreshingly easy, but now we know that we can work together well when we vehemently disagree, too.

Erik has made our student mission trips and retreats bigger, more impactful, and more enjoyable than I ever could have.  He’s rented more vans, trained more chaperones, personally recruited more students, collected more fuel receipts, made more phone calls to mission trip project coordinators, and eased more worried parents’ minds than I have.  He’s made each student feel like he wanted them to come on the mission trip; he’s made them feel like they matter to him, and that helps them see that they matter to God.  He’s got a soft spot for the students who push boundaries, and he’s a tangible representation of God’s presence and acceptance to them. 

Erik has made our church’s impact bigger and better, and he’s made me a better pastor and leader. 

Happy Anniversary, Erik!  

Friday, October 11, 2013

Trust, Team, and The Government

I don’t understand the government shutdown.  I get my information from my husband, Stewart, and Colbert.  Occasionally I listen to a panel yell at each other on a news network.  I try (kinda), but I don’t fully understand.

I hear people vent about how immature it is that our government leaders won’t sit in a room, fight it out, figure it out, and walk out of the room with a solution.

I share that frustration.

I try to imagine what it would be like to be one of those leaders, but I can’t picture it.

I’m a leader in an organization of 1,300.  I know what it’s like to walk into a room with my colleagues, knowing that a fight is coming, knowing that someone’s going to yell, someone’s going to cry, I’m going to get red splotches all over my neck and jaw, we’re going to disagree, we’re going to spend hours in that room, and we’re eventually going to emerge from the room with a plan. 

But I also know what makes it possible for us to enter that room and fight, argue, cry, splotch, disagree, strategize, and emerge with a plan everyone is behind.

We’re a team.  We work very hard to be as healthy and functional a team as possible.

We spend time together.  We team build in ways that are fun and in ways that are emotionally and relationally risky.  We build trust in each other’s motives and character.  We practice telling each other the truth—the hard truths most people don’t say to one another, the vulnerable truths most people keep private. 

It’s because of our work on building and maintaining a healthy team that we are able to sit down in a room, fight it out, and emerge with a plan.

That’s why I cannot imagine our federal government leaders sitting in a room, fighting it out, and emerging with a solution that they’re all behind.  They don’t work on being a healthy team; they work very hard on defining the sides, the talking points, the arguments, and the differences.  They don’t trust each other’s motives or character, and no one else does either.  They don’t tell each other the truth; they repeat their parties’ talking points.  They don’t have the best interest of the team in mind; there are more political maneuvers and power plays than I can begin to imagine.

While I share the frustration of the American people; I cannot believe it’s as simple as sitting in a room and talking it out.  How do you do that with people whose motives you question and whose character you abhor?  How do you do that when you have no trust that anyone is being honest or authentic?  How do you do that when you know people will leave the room and undermine the plan in national media?

Clearly that kind of leadership is beyond my capacity and pay grade.  I want them to figure it out; they HAVE to figure this out, but I’m also very glad that I’m not one of them.   

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Crooked, Depraved, Polluted World

I hate listening to hype on the radio and watching it on TV.  I hate the way public personalities use their power to prey on the fears in people's heads, to spread doom and gloom, to raise anxiety, and to catalyze extreme, desperate behavior.

For sure, there are huge problems in our world at this very moment--problems that cost people their lives and their livelihoods.

But it's not new. 

It's not new, but it's been news for as long as I can remember.  And it's been news longer than that.  

In undergrad, I minored in History and did a study of Religion in Antebellum America for one of my American History classes.  While researching, I read a sermon from that time period and was struck by the doom and gloom, "the world's going to hell in a hand basket" rhetoric--because it sounded EXACTLY like what I'd heard from many people from many public platforms in my own lifetime.

It's goes back much further than Antebellum America.

Whom do you think of when you hear "a crooked and depraved generation"?

Do you think of the Millenial generation?  (BTW, enjoyed this video about Millenials last week.)  Maybe Generation X?  Surely not the Baby Boomers...

What world do you think of when you hear "polluted by the world"?  The "world" of American young people today?  

These phrases come from the New Testament in the Bible.  We've been talking about crooked and depraved generations and a world that pollutes for a long time.  (You could go way back into the Old Testament to make this argument, too.)

So what does the Bible say about our crooked and depraved generations and our world that pollutes?  What kind of extreme, reactive behavior should result?  

Well, it says that we should stop complaining and arguing so that we can be pure children of God living among the crooked and depraved generation.  It says that we should watch what we say and look after orphans and widows if we want a religion that's worth anything, if we want to keep from being polluted by the world.

Maybe every generation alive right now is crooked and depraved.
Maybe the world we live in pollutes us.
Maybe the hype is right, even if it isn't new.

The answers also aren't new.  They aren't hype.  They would never make the news:

Watch your mouth.  Take care of people.  

That'll un-pollute the world.  That'll create a generation that's neither crooked nor depraved.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Choosing to Celebrate

Like most moms, I think, I choose to dwell and to doubt, to give into guilt, most evenings.  As the day ends, I look around and see the laundry that didn't get put away, the trip to the gym that didn't happen, the project due in three weeks that needed attention today, but didn't get it, and the list goes on.

I don't think I have a Supermom complex.  I'm not terribly insecure.  This post isn't a cry for affirmation--really; it's not.

Tonight I'm choosing to celebrate instead, largely because tonight our family rallied to get some things right. But I'm also aware that I'm making a choice.  It's my choice to reflect on my evening with joy and pride instead of dwelling on the things that didn't happen.  

Here's what did happen tonight that I'm celebrating...

We ate dinner together.  French onion soup and wedge salads for the adults--bistro fare at home, homemade, a tad healthier than a bistro and a lot cheaper.  The kids ate dinner out of a can and made their own "salads" from our salad toppings, namely bacon and tomatoes.  Sounds like a good salad to me.

My kindergartener did indeed chip away at a large packet of fine motor skills homework that's due in weeks.  He's brilliant (says his mom:), but he really does need help with fine motor skills.  I know he needs the work, and he really wants to do it and do it well (no idea where he gets that:).  It's the ideal homework situation.

We are trying to house train a puppy and potty train a 2-year-old at the same time; prayers are appreciated:)  I'm tired of stepping in puddles (sorry if that's TMI).  Tonight the kid crossed a potty training milestone.  I praised her.  We called Nana who praised her and promised a treat.  We smiled, yelled, danced, laughed, and hugged.  She enjoyed that attention, but it was her brother whom she was watching.  When he clapped for her, she came to me and said, "He's clapping for me!"  When he said, "I'm so proud of you," she glowed.

An hour later it was time for bedtime stories.  When he sounded out and read the first three words of his story all by himself, it was her turn to turn on the praise, "You did it!" she exclaimed while literally patting him on the back.

Tonight, we got some things right.  That's worth celebrating.  Lots of nights we gets lots of things wrong.  That's okay, too.

Even on a good night, there's a stack of clean laundry staring me in the face, there are dirty dishes on the stove and in the sink, and I've stayed up too late again.  It's still a good night and one I choose to celebrate.

Six Septembers

Fall is my favorite.  I love the sights, smells, tastes, and traditions.  I especially love sunny fall days with a slight breeze and a crisp chill.  I get nostalgic on days like that.

September recently ended, and I found myself reflecting a lot as fall began.  Particularly, I reflected on September 2007.  Here’s what happened in my life at that time:

I started my final year of seminary, but I dropped down to part-time student and raised my hours working at church.

I traveled with Sammy, Brian & Susan, and Tim & Kathy to Calvary Baptist in Belize City.  That spring our church had taken a bunch of money and a bunch of people to Belize City to help construct their new church building.  In September we went to the Dedication of the finished product.

I, along with my husband, entered into debt for the first time in our marriage, and we went big.  We bought a house with exactly the floor plan we wanted.  We moved back to our hometown.  We moved a mile from church/work.

I got pregnant, a little earlier than planned.

I got a puppy, Vanilla, a yellow (white) lab.  I’ve had dogs since I was 6-years-old.  ‘Nilla was hands-down the smartest dog I’ve ever had.  Every morning she gave me a “hug and kiss,” which included putting her paws on my shoulders and licking my cheek. 

This September I found myself remembering back to that September and frankly wondering what in the world I was thinking.

This September I found myself reflecting on the differences between September 2007 and September 2013:

The seminary days are over, and I miss the learning.  This September I entered a new phase of my journey with God as I moved into a new role, Guide Pastor.  If you’re familiar with my church’s mission statement, then you might understand I’m kind of in charge of the second half of our mission statement:  to guide people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.  It’s a new role, not just for me.  It is a steep learning curve for me and for our church.

The world traveling has largely come to an end with little ones, but plans are in the works for a 10-year anniversary trip when the Frames might once again travel the world together—our very favorite thing.

We’re still in that house.  We’ve made some improvements; more need to be made.  We’ll probably be in that house for a while seeing as how we bought it just before the market really crashed, and we owe lots more than it’s worth.  It’s a great house.  If it only had some storage…

We now have two kids, and the result of that pregnancy six Septembers ago started kindergarten this fall and is READING!  If you know his parents, then you know this is the beginning of the rest of his life; his library is already about 100 books strong.

Vanilla was hit by a car and killed before she turned one.  It broke my heart.  We had her cremated with plans to spread her ashes in my step-dad’s pond—‘Nilla’s favorite place.  I couldn’t do it.  She sits in an urn on a bookcase by my bed.  But, this September, we signed up to be dog owners again.  Rex has stolen our hearts, at times our sleep, the skin on our hands, toys left in the floor, and our old shoes.

I still don’t know what we were thinking six years ago.  It’s been quite a journey.  Here’s to the next six...