Monday, August 30, 2010

If This Is What Happens When Your Kid Leaves Home For College...

I really thought I was over it.

I mean, I miss her. And as the weekend progressed, I started to realize that she wasn't coming back for a while. So I kept busy. I haven't cried since the day we left her in her dorm room and drove away. I've been a little sad, but not tearful.

We've talked twice. She's having a great time.

And then today, I log into Facebook and see this thing that she's posted, tagging a few folks along the way. I read what my 18-year old daughter wrote and I realized that she's reached a point in adulthood where she's ready to write her own story.

More than anything, I have wanted to hand my kids a good life. For a long time, I thought that a "good life" was one free of pain and heartache, filled with their hearts' desires and nothing but happy days. That hasn't been the case, and I suspect that for any parent who is honest, we know that we screw up nearly as much as we get right. The miracle is that they survive, and that sometimes they even thrive. They get their own shot at life, their own ride, and the unbelievable privilege of choosing for themselves. I'm glad that though the reality of our life - of my life and my parenting - has been incredibly messy, even ugly at times, that she is able to embrace that reality and live.

So here's my girl's story. I love the writing prompt; I have done it myself, years ago. But today I'm handed the opportunity to see my own life from a different perspective, through the eyes of a little red-headed girl who is seizing life by the tail and jumping in. She writes well, and she makes me cry; tears of gratitude, for a life well-lived and grace greater than all my sin.

And for the honor of being mom to one amazing kid.

Where I'm From
by Shannon

This is one of the things we did at orientation this week, I just added a little to mine.

I’m from a place where music doesn’t just play; it lives and breathes.

I’m from Joshua and Fort Worth Texas, Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and Powhatan, Virginia.

I’m from walking to the pool everyday in the summer and leaving notes in a secret place outside my friend’s window.

I’m from playing make-believe in the tree house and the creek to being slammed into reality by beer bottles breaking.

I’m from family traditions of seeing a movie every Thanksgiving and all the kids sleeping in the same room Christmas Eve.

I’m from being at church from seven in the morning to one in the afternoon.

I’m from hiding being the fa├žade of perfection.

I’m from all three promises being broken.

I’m from a broken family: divorce, depression, sexual abuse, drug addiction, alcoholism, bipolar disorder, and cancer.

I’m from giving grace, and always receiving it from a Great and Loving God.

I’m from Grandpa saying “Always give it %110,” to Grandma saying, “your Grandpa’s had a stroke.”

I'm from six years of inside jokes.

I’m from five kids and three bedrooms.

I’m from “You are the music in meeeee,” to “Into Marvelous Light I’m running,” to “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, stop right there”.

I’m from the Fake House and Fake Thanksgiving.

I'm from sitting out in the car talking for an hour after small group.

I’m from sixteen-hour car rides there and back one weekend a month.

I’m from packing up the car and going to the greatest place on earth, Emerald Isle, every summer.

I’m from packing up the car to move out of the house while my dad is in another state.

I’m from running straight to the beach the minute we get out of the car.

I’m from playing soccer every weekend for thirteen years.

I'm from four wonderful parents, even if it took a few tears and fears to get there.

I'm from having someone always want to hold my hand.

I’m from eating my Aunt Barbara’s homegrown tomatoes and drinking her sweet tea.

I’m from stopping at King’s every time we drive down to EI.

I’m from swimming in Auntie Kay’s pool and having to use the outhouse because we weren’t allowed inside when we were wet.

I'm from too many sleepovers to count.

I’m from driving to Pennsylvania to cut down our own tree from the farm my mom used to work at, to that tree falling off the roof of the car on the way back.

I’m from letting my cousin Emily do my hair and makeup, and listening to the crazy things Levi says.

I’m from a house that always has extra people in it.

I’m from becoming extremely close to boys who become brothers, to losing them when they go down the wrong path again.

I’m from burgers at Grandma’s on Saturday nights and mom’s breakfast goulash on Sunday nights.

I’m from “Oh, you’re one of the Brawley’s?”

I'm from trying to get out of church early enough to beat the crowds at El Cerro Azul.

I’m from a close church family that is just as important to me as my own.

I'm from hearing "I love you" everyday for over two years.

I’m from having a youth pastor I can tell anything to.

I’m from mission trips every summer.

I’m from not being able to forgive for four years, and finding peace when I did.

I’m from both parents remarrying in two years.

I’m from the camera always flashing.

I’m from deliberating between wanting to see him and not wanting to spend another weekend crying.

I’m from babysitting every week and becoming close with all of the families.

I’m from running across the street just to talk to Shelly for a little while and play with the girls.

I’m from bonfires taller than trees in the backyard.

I’m from playing cops and robbers around the church and climbing every tree I could find.

I’m from playing school, starting the first day of summer.

I’m from reading in my bed until 3 in the morning.

I’m from going to Bruster’s at 10 pm and not leaving Sheetz until 1 am

I’m from a family that has a lot of problems, a lot of dysfunction, a lot of chaos, a lot of stress, and an incredible amount of love.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


A major development:

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Get It?

Words matter.

We say that a lot.

This proves it, with a twist.

Do The Next Right Thing

Up late, uninterested in sleep. In spite of the fact that I'm sleepy.

I think the 8:30 PM iced skinny vanilla latte has something to do with it. Look, look, look! I'm AWAKE!!!

I had a great evening being creative. In fact, the entire day felt like a creative success. I had to work from home today due to car issues (since resolved). Usually, if the kids are home my work productivity is fairly limited. Today I was intentional about some focused time with David (conversation over Fruit Loops and a game of Uno, in which I was crushed) and we had a good day. Apparently Fruit Loops + Uno + plus comfy clothes + a work station that includes the couch and a coffee table = creative productivity.

Tonight I got to sing. I wasn't in charge - I simply tried to fulfill somebody else's vision. I put on a different hat and it felt good. It was healthy. I feel more balanced.

It's good to receive that. Makes me think about the need to give it, too. Last week I was immersed in these words: Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don't be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.  

I want to live like that. Too often it seems to be an overwhelming impossibility. There is just too much to do, too many opportunities. Too many chances to fail.

But I read these words today, and I offered them to a friend and then realized that I needed them as much (or more) than she did. In the face of Too Much To Do, a long list of chores and seemingly overwhelming circumstances, just do the next right thing.

That sounds manageable, doesn't it? Let's try it.

Do the next right thing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Just Can't Wait For This

oh, this excites me. you have no idea.

Found here.

Syd's Birthday Party

Syd turned 16 a few weeks ago. It was in the middle of CYT camp and the Leadership Summit. We didn't do much to celebrate.

But in our family, 16 is a big deal. We've celebrated with pretty awesome gifts for the other girls' 16th celebrations. There was a surprise visit from a friend we flew in from Cleveland...a laptop...but what to do for Sydni? Although we had no definitive plans, a few things were in the works.

Her dream had always been to go to New York City with her sisters, hoping to see a Broadway show and shop. But Shannon's about to leave for school and Sarah has school and work to consider, so I knew that couldn't happen right now. Instead, I decided to try to organize something for Syd, my mom and I. Plans were made for a whirlwind visit to NYC and tickets to Billy Elliot, but some of that fell through and it just seemed that we wouldn't be able to work it out.

Syd called me last Monday to ask if she could plan a party for Sunday evening. I was on staff retreat; I agreed, asked her to work out the details and she got on it. She made a guest list, invited everybody, planned a menu and a shopping list and promised to clean the house. And everything came together just as planned. Her friends are a great mix of CYT folks, PCC people and PHS friends. The party was a perfect blend.

They ate, they played outside, they played music. They ate some more. They sang "Happy Birthday", and can you imagine a bunch of theatre majors and worship leaders on that chorus? It was brilliant.

I watched them, and I marveled at what marvelous people I know because of my kids. They are funny and smart and quick-witted and kind. They indulge David as he runs around trying to engage with "the big kids". They converse casually and they talk about movie plots and their futures.

They sing. Oh, they sing. They beat on the coffee table to create rhythms. They play guitar, and they pass it around and listen to one another.

They played a worship song, "How He Loves". A whole room full, singing...I felt privileged, as a parent - the odd one out - singing along. Eyes closed, listening and singing - I had an authentic experience of worship as real as anything I encounter in church. I walked to the kitchen and Syd came in a few minutes later. "Only at one of our parties - worship music at my birthday party!" For a moment I thought she was upset. "Are you okay with that?" I asked. Her face lit up. "It's AWEOME!"

It was such a terrific evening. All the kids were here. Dana and Lonnie were here. It felt like family.

Oh, and the struggle to figure out a gift? It came together. We scrapped the plans for the New York trip and went in a different direction.

The shrieks and screams when she opened it were worth every penny. It was, in a word, awesome.

I know, right? I couldn't believe it either. In fact, it wasn't my idea. But I'm happy to share in the credit.

For what it's worth, I love my husband. And Syd loves her stepdad.

For more info on The Best Gift Ever, click here.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Snapshots From My Day

We're working hard today; Syd's having a party tomorrow to celebrate her 16th birthday (better late than never) so she and the boys are cleaning like crazy, and I'm trying to catch up from being away for a week. Apparently I have the magic touch with the washing machine, as it's been anxiously awaiting my return. So it could - you know - wash the clothes. Because they've been piling up on the floor in front of the machine for, apparently, about a week.

I'm on the fourth load so far.

I am NOT complaining - a lot of good stuff goes on around here. With three college students (one of whom is about to move out for the first time in a few days), seven people total, tons of friends and family and jobs and all that - we manage to keep it together fairly well. And as Syd said this morning, "Hey - we know how to clean a house."  Every once in a while, it's good to have a day to catch up.

Today is that day. We needed it.

Just thought I'd share a few random shots of the things that go on around here, as I take a short break:

If you consider that the "day" officially starts, as some cultures believe, at the setting of the sun, then I started my day with music. It's great that Tony had time to relax and kick back and just play for a while. I love to hear him "noodling" and he had about two hours of it last night. Sometimes I'm a bit overwhelmed by how much really good music lives in this house...

Cleaning out closets and listening to podcasts of This American Life, I hung out in my room today. While I was working on the dresser, I kept seeing this great photo of my friends Bob and Jeanne from our wedding (look, Bob - you guys are in our bedroom day and night! What a treat!) Bob's in the fight of his life with a nasty opponent; today was a very good day for him, and Tony got an early morning call to come over for a visit today. I pray for this guy and his wife daily, and try to process the vulnerability of letting friendship grow to such depths. They hurt: we hurt. It is sometimes a difficult way to live, but I'm coming to see that it's worth the risk. I've lived behind the ramparts of false security for far too long.

It occurs to me that a mid-August Saturday crammed full of chores and cleaning is not such a bad thing. I've a lot for which to be thankful.

So I am.

You can pray for Bob and Jeanne. Please do.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Staff Reatreat 2010

I confess, I'm not sure we're going to get to the "Part 2" of the Leadership Summit notes. Life has picked up the pace and it doesn't seem likely that I'll be able to backtrack anytime soon.

We finished the Summit and left the following Sunday after church for a short working retreat with our PCC staff, including Lindsay Harris, who is leading and coordinating worship along with me, focusing on Westchester. Lindsay is a great asset to our team and a good friend to me; in fact, her contributions to our efforts in music and programming have literally changed the way I do my job. God brought Lindsay to PCC and He provided a wonderful gift when he did so. It was a joy to have her along on the retreat! She's joined us as an unpaid staff member who is basically doing full-time volunteer work with us. You can find out more about Lindsay on her blog.

Lindsay with her bed buddy

I hesitate to share too much about our time away. Some of it was incredibly personal and deeply emotional. We did some challenging relational work, firmly believing that in order to live and serve in community, we have to be willing to be honest, to trust one another and to hold one another accountable. Patrick Lencioni's book Five Dysfunctions of a Team has been pivotal in our team-building work, and we worked through the exercises he recommends. "Strengths and weaknesses" is a time of focused attention on each member of the team, one by one, where they hear from their peers directly. Eat person looked at me (and everyone else, when it was their turn) and said, "I think your greatness strength that you bring to the team is ________". That's a pretty powerful time; I heard some life-changing words that I'll never forget. Just as moving is the next go round, when each of my co-workers looked at me to say, "I think the greatest weakness you bring to the team is _______". We all dreaded the exercise; it is hard to be the recipient of that sort of truth. It's even harder to look at someone you care for and be brutally honest. But that's just what we did, and I continue to believe that it is one of the most powerful things you can do in any relationship: Tell the truth.


PCC talks a lot about truth and grace, "the last 10%", etc. You need to know that we are living it, that this week we were willing to jump into the muck of relationships that are messy sometimes when you dig beneath the surface and mine for the reality of emotions and hurt feelings and passions about the church and hope for the future. We worked hard to be the best we can be, in order to carry out the mission that God has called us to here in Powhatan and Westchester.

We're better people for it. After a day spent focusing on our team interaction, we got down to some practical business about the next few months at PCC. We firmly believe that we are entering a pivotal, exciting time in the history of our church. We firmly believe that the local church is the hope of the world, and that PCC is called to bring hope and light to this community.

We're making a plan, fueled by God's direction and inspiration. I hope you're ready, because we're getting ready for you.

Major props and gratitude to a very special PCC family who generously offered the use of their house at Lake Gaston for our time away. Due to the economy, we didn't even schedule a retreat last year and had slight hopes for this year. However, prayers were heard and answered and we found ourselves in a home away from home for a few days. We are EXTREMELY grateful!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Leadership Summit Distillation - Part One

I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit - now going by the fancy name of "WCAGLS" (Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit) this year at Atlee Community Church.

Atlee rocked, by the way. Amazing volunteers, great technology, beautiful facility. They did a tremendous job. Can't wait to go back next year!

I took fifteen pages of typed notes. I have a lot to process!

Part of the work I'll do now is to distill everything that went into my mind and heart into something workable, manageable, doable. I know there were things I needed to hear at this conference. I think I heard them. By far, this was the most holistic conference I've attended in a while. A combination of personal timing (my current situation) and a great lineup of presenters with a wide variety of topics made for a terrific experience.

Here's a few keys thoughts, culled from my notes:

Bill Hybels
Always a passionate, powerful champion of leadership culture in the local church, Hybels gave a great introductory message. He has long advocated the idea (which we have adopted) of valuing the "Three C's" in team-building: Character, Competence and Chemistry. This year, he added a fourth for our consideration: Culture. This really resonated with me, as I contemplate assembling people around our leaders who can help execute the mission of our church. When they "get it" - understand and are committed to the culture of our church, which is unique in this area - we are much more effective. I am becoming more convinced that a strong filter up-front when looking for leaders will help prevent difficult issues later on. If folks get our culture early on, of their own accord, I can invest my energy into other areas.

Hybels talked about frustration and burn-out - the feeling of wanting to give up, of asking "What is the point of all of this? Why am I doing this?" He seems to mention this every year, but this is the first time it's resonated with me. And the answer was powerful and affirming. He said, "Remember: You are a treasured child of the most high God. Don't quit. He is on your right. He is on your left. He will be with you in the end. Don't quit." 

I'm not tempted to quit, but this season of ministry has been draining. This was a good thing to hear.

Jim Collins
Great with lists and definitive "how-to's", Collins' talk was brilliant. We are currently reading How The Might Fall for our upcoming staff retreat, so this was great insight. Most powerful statements for me were: The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency and Invest more in being interested than being interesting. He ended his talk with another challenge to never give up. Good stuff.

Christine Caine
A powerful communicator - a preacher - this woman was fired up for Christ. No bullet points, no leadership lessons - just conviction. She talked about Jesus with passion and power. The statement I cannot forget was her challenge to us, coming from someone outside of the church, someone far from God, someone who is broken and hurt and in desperate need:
If what you believe is true, then where are you?

Tony Dungy 
This iconic football coach stressed the importance of mentoring and the fact that is, above all, a relationship. That's pertinent to my life choices in a major way.

Adam Hamilton
This was a difficult message for me to hear. However, it was also affirming and hopeful. Hamilton's talk was "When Leaders Fall", and he addressed the church's reaction to the moral failing of a leader. The details were specific and accurate.

I've heard pastors talk about moral failure and end their messages with some declaration of faithfulness to their wife and how their devotion to God and other accountability measures keeps them from falling into temptation, which always seems to turn a needed discussion into an opportunity for self-righteous proclamations. Hamilton ended his talk with a comment about his lengthy marriage to the same woman, and my mind steeled for the expected, "...and I've never been unfaithful to her..." statement, delivered with a pious look of humility to mask the pride of moral superiority. But he disarmed my heart and his words were able to reside in my spirit when he said, "I've been married to my wife for ____ years and so far, neither of us have been unfaithful." He elaborated. All of us are vulnerable.


Authenticity matters. We are all one step away. Hamilton will probably never know how two simple words - "so far" - softened my heart and made a difference in a 48-hour conference in which God needed me to hear his whisper. I'm grateful.

Obviously, this post is long. I'll pick up part two later. Stay tuned for more exciting Summit distillation!

Monday, August 2, 2010


I made curry tonight. Woo hoo!

Inspired by this post, I gathered up some fresh vegetables and new spices. I chopped and stirred and cooked and MADE CURRY!

I love to cook. I love to make new things. And I love to make my family happy.

I got four thumbs up, with two disclaimers that it needed some chicken (it was vegetarian). The boys were not home, so there's no telling how or if this new dish would have gone over with them (I'm thinking NOT SO MUCH), but four out of six isn't bad.

Cooking is creative for me. I was thrilled to throw together something new tonight. This was a first for me.

And by the way, if you go look at that post, you'll see some beautiful photos. My picture is rather lame, in comparison. But whatever.


Just A Guy On A Board

It's been a while, but I used to love to ride a see-saw. Remember what that feels like? The sensation of flying, propelled by leveraged force from somebody on the other end of the board. Something in my soul has a strikingly clear recollection of legs dangling, suspended, at the mercy of the one whose weight anchors the other side. If they don't keep up their end of the bargain - the "up/down" agreement - you're helpless, unless you jump.

If you are local (Richmond/Powhatan) and attend PCC, you saw a great visual aid this morning at the Powhatan campus. Brian delivered part of his message on the book of Jude while delicately balanced upon a huge see saw.

He focused on the need to have balance in life. Grace and holy living - both necessary and essential in spiritual terms, but only potent in a positive sense when there is balance. The see saw was a great prop to show what happens when we lean too far to one extreme. Too much attention to law and behaviors and checklists of "being good" and thwack - the sharp angle of the board is a great metaphor for the slippery slope of imbalance. Take too much comfort in the wide swath of grace and the board tilts the other way - but the sharp angle yields the same result. You just fall in a different direction.

I watched Brian on the board. The weight of his body on one side of the see-saw - metaphorically leaning hard into holy living, for example - jacked the other end of the board up in the air. Whichever he chose - grace or holy living - set the balance of the board. And with a see-saw as a metaphor, you can take the logical next step.

There's got to be somebody else on that playground apparatus - a partner on the other end of the board. Without it, you're just a guy, standing on a board.

We all get to choose, you know. Not only for ourselves and the internal decisions we make, but also in how we approach others. How we treat people. How we tweak our expectations. Holiness and grace are applicable as we examine our own lives, but they weave in and through our interactions with others as well.

So here's part two of that message today, at least the part that I needed to hear.

When I interact with others - whether on an "official" basis as part of ministry responsibilities, or even with my kids, the clerks at DMV, the checker at Food Lion, the guy next to me at the red light - I'm living in that tension. I can choose to act or react leaning towards grace or leaning into just being right. If I'm not actively trying to balance my own actions - which is harder than it looks, as we saw today - I'm the weight. I'm a hundred pounds of force, glueing one side of that board to the ground.

And what happens to the person on the other side? My friends, my kids, my husband, my coworkers, the lady with 20 items in the express line? As far as our interaction goes, they're dangling - at the mercy of my choice. Any chance for an even dialogue can be tainted by my approach.

It matters. We're covered in grace, but how we act, what we do and say - not only our personal actions, but in community - it matters. We're not just a guy, standing on a board.

Here's the wrap up, from Jude himself. Worth thinking about this week.

But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God's love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending life, the real life! Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. The sin itself stinks to high heaven. -Jude 20 - 24, The Message