Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eight Fears

The prompt from my groovy pals at Eat, Write, Post, Bathe - Eight Fears.


1. I seem to be afraid that the world is going to run out of ice cream, since I am compelled to eat ice cream more frequently than is prudent.

2. It may not qualify as a fear, but I really, really, REALLY don't like going over high bridges like the New River Gorge. or the entrance ramps from Interstate 20 to I-35 in Fort Worth. I watched those ramps being built and was completely freaked out by driving on them.

3. I'm afraid if my daughters DON'T STOP SCREAMING SO DRAMATICALLY ABOUT YOU TOOK MY ONLY JEANS WITHOUT HOLES IN THEM TO CHICAGO WITH YOU FOR TWO WEEKS that I might walk into the kitchen where they are studying for tests (Syd) and washing dishes (Sarah) and scream.

4. At some point, Frito Lay might decide to stop making Lime Tostitos. I fear this day.

5. When my kids are driving somewhere, I always fear The Other Guy.

6. I'm afraid I'll never lose this 20 pounds. See those posts about the ice cream and the Tostitos? There you go.

7. I fear cancer. I hate that I do, but I do.

8. I often have to make difficult decisions that involve people. I fear that sometimes, they don't get over it. But I am learning to let this go.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

See You At The Pole: Remembering Shawn Brown

A post from my blog archives commemorating this time last year. Tomorrow morning is "See You At The Pole". Sydni, Daniel and David will participate at their respective schools. I never completely relax on the Wednesday in September that is claimed for this event. And I will never forget.

Here is my post from 2010.

Today I dropped my kids off at the high school early. Some students and a few parents, including a local school board representative, were already gathering around the tall flagpole that stands in the center of the circular drive.

And I remembered.

September 15, 1999. The "See You At The Pole" movement had begun in Burleson, Texas, a few years earlier. As the school year began, the call went out for Christian students to meet at the flagpole on a certain Wednesday morning, taking a stand, praying for their school, their friends and teachers. "Standing up for Jesus". It had become a strong, well-attended event for Christian kids, especially in and around Fort Worth, where we lived. In the shadow of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where my kids' dad was working on his Master's Degree, events like this one received strong support from the community, the parents and the kids.

As SYATP gained momentum, pre- and post-pole gatherings became popular. In 1999, local churches planned to gather on that Wednesday evening to celebrate at Wedgwood Baptist Church with a rally, a cool Christian band and some typical Texas youth ministry fun.

Sarah was eight years old that year. Her kindergarten teacher from a previous year, Kathy Brown, was active at Wedgwood Baptist and excited to come by early to pick up Sarah and Shannon so that they could participate in SYATP at our neighborhood elementary school. This was a bit unusual, as this was an older youth event, but Kathy's husband Shawn was a Southwestern student, a youth ministry leader at Wedgwood and crazy about his wife and her students. They babysat Sarah and Shannon for us on a few occasions (David was born in June of that year, and we had a full house, with five kids aged eight and under. We needed help!)

Shawn and Kathy took the girls to pray at the flagpole that morning. I was so proud of my kids, and they were excited to be part of something that the "big kids" did.

That night, we went to church as usual. For some reason, Lonnie had elected not to participate in the regional rally at Wedgwood. He led youth ministry at Southcliff Baptist church, and he decided to keep our students there rather than take them - and his wife and kids - to Wedgwood. I dropped off the older kids and ran a quick errand, since I had no Wednesday evening responsibilities at that time.

I heard the sirens, saw the fire trucks. Saw the mass confusion on the streets all around the neighborhood. I returned to our church and quickly began to hear news reports of a shooting.

In a church.

At Wedgwood.

Shawn Brown died that night, along with six other people. Our neighbors.  Larry Gene Ashbrook went to Wedgwood with a hatred for Baptist churches and a desire to do harm, and he did so. He walked into the church and began shooting. Shawn was the first one he hit.

I remember staying up late, watching the chaos of the news reports, repeatedly calling Shawn and Kathy, trying to figure out if they were safe. Realizing, with numbing horror, that they were not.

To this day, Sarah keeps a snapshot of Shawn beside her bed. That event marked her in ways that she couldn't understand then. I'm not sure any of us understand today. It was my first brush with the pain wrought by evil and the shocking realization that church was not necessarily safe.

I was naive.

My "See You At The Pole" commemoration is not in front of a school. Today, I remember Shawn and six others who stood at their flagpoles eleven years ago, and then died at the hands of someone who hated everything they stood for.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

O Say Can You Sing

This past weekend before we sang in church, I talked about singing in church.

It's an odd thing, this notion of people singing together. If we believed in life Glee-style, every act would birth a musical moment. There would be singing and dancing and harmony and a hidden orchestra around every corner.

But unless you're creative and have a jukebox in your head (like my friend Lindsay Harris), there's probably not a lot of opportunities to sing out loud with other people. At ball games, we mumble along with the National Anthem. In a restaurant or around a cake with candles, we sing "Happy Birthday".

And then we come to church. The traditional approach to a religious gathering is that everybody sings: hymns, choruses, responses.

In church, we sing together.

But that's not necessarily true for everyone. I'm talking to people and asking questions and finding out that a whole bunch of people do not, in fact, sing in church. At all.

It's important. It's worth considering.

Here's a great quote from Chris Vacher regarding this very topic:

"Private, non-corporate elements of worship reinforce individualism and make the neighbor invisible to us. 
But corporate singing, in which you can actually hear the voices of other human beings...there's power in that." 
- Greg Thompson, from here

Makes me think about what it is people expect when they walk into church. When the music starts, are you anxious to sing? Is it as meaningful to simply watch? Do you feel the power of which Thompson speaks?

Do you sing in church?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Nine Loves

Here's the latest prompt from my Eat, Write, Post, Bathe group.

Let me just say I love these people in this group. But that's not one of my responses to the prompt.

Here we go:

1. Mitchells Ice Cream. Honestly, I love ice cream. And I particularly love ice cream because my husband loves ice cream, even more than I do. And so we share this thing, which makes it even better. Mitchells is the best ice cream I have ever eaten. We have some intense debates about whether or not Blue Bell could take Mitchell's in a taste test, but because we can only get our hands on "the best ice cream in the country" by dining at Carrabbas (which sort of irritates me), I vote Mitchells. It makes me swoon. It is delicious. And I've had a few very special moments over a carton of Mitchells. And there was that time that Tony brought down about ten cartons of Mitchells on dry ice, because you can only get the stuff in Cleveland. How can you not love that?

2. The beach. Particularly Emerald Isle, North Carolina. It is steady, constant, consistent and the place where I have walked and walked and walked and asked questions - and received answers.

3. Jesus. It's not a religious thing, but an overwhelming appreciation for who he was, what he did, what he stood for and how he loved people. I do believe he was who he said he was, so there's all this savior/son of God aspect in that as well. But simply put, aside from religion and church and (for me) my job, I love Jesus.

(please note that these are not ranked in order of importance or preference. i do not love ice cream more than Jesus. this is a list, not in any particular order.)

4. My children, together. I love them individually; they are unique and wonderful people. I am often awestruck that I am their mother. But together, they create an incredible force. Like a comedy troupe with great timing, they react and play off of one another. There is a solid love and understanding amongst them that I hope will last throughout their lifetimes.

5. The Cleveland Plain Dealer; The Dallas Morning News; The Fort Worth Star Telegram; The Pittsburgh Press; The Richmond Times-Dispatch. One of my best memories is Sunday afternoons, post-church, when we'd come home to Mom cooking something for dinner, a Steelers game on tv and The Paper. I'd read and nap on the floor. To this day, I treasure getting the paper and finding an uninterrupted hour to read it. It doesn't always happen on Sunday, but the same principles apply on Monday. Or Tuesday.

6. Running. I do love it. I just don't do it much. I'm back on track and hoping to get back into a rhythm. And hoping my body will hold up.

7. Sleep. This seems sort of ridiculous, but there is a deep beauty in true rest. Sleep is underrated. I love waking up from a good sleep and realizing that I can stay a little longer. I love to sleep.

8. Beethoven. And Chopin. And Bach. Forgive me for lumping them together, but there is something so solid in returning to familiar notes and phrases that have endured the passing years and changing styles of music. I am challenged and comforted by the music of these composers. I go here, when I have time, and I play for me. I love that I can do this. (Thank you, Mom, for the lessons...)

9. My husband. Again, again and again. I love my husband.

(I also love The Jefferson Hotel, my brother Eric, my Uncle Dave and my car. I love my mother-in-law's piano and the comfy chair we bought from Ty & Co. I love Chic Fil A and Starbucks skinny vanilla lattes. I love pedicures. I love massages. I love cherry Jolly Ranchers. I love Tuesdays at my job.)

This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. But it's a start.

What are yours?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

STORY In Chicago

We went to Chicago. It was a conference called STORY but really, it was an experience. It was unlike anything I've experienced in the Christian conference realm. Rather than a brain dump of good information from great communicators, STORY was two days worth of moments. Some funny, some intense, some comfortable, some stretching. Some tasty - can you say Twinkies served on a silver tray? Moon pies and Cokes in glass bottles - served on silver trays. Awesome swag, from hand-sewn shoulder bags to Brennan Manning books. Amazing stories. Authentic lives.

Good information from great communicators, but so much more than that, really. I can say this, off the top of my head, before I have time to go through all my notes:
1. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Esther Havens, Ed Dobson, Ann Voskamp or Ian Cron speak - DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT. GO.
2. I met Chris Vacher, aka @chrisfromcanada, another friend I'd never met. He was as nice and generous with his time in person as he is in the blog world.
3. All Sons and Daughters. Worship music. Brilliant.
4. Kyle Cooper. Scared the crap out of me. Brilliant, talented, amazingly creative.

I really, really liked my two days in Chicago. I went with great people and had memorable experience. It changed me. That's a good thing.

The set; tree branches. Awesome lighting. Brilliant graphics.
This would be a good time to tell you that all photos are courtesy of Sarah Brawley's amazing eye and camera.
Good sammiches at Snarfs. We ran into a friend of Katie's who just happened to be working at THAT restaurant. Weird.
Great Chicago-style pizza at Gino's. And a VERY intense conversation...
Friends. Incredibly talented people. Love them both.
In the van. Oh, the van ride. 14 hours of glorious fun and bonding.
Me. For a moment, I felt like a movie star.
Us. These are some of the people who make the services happen at PCC. We are creative, and we are not ashamed.
Again, thanks to the talented and generous Sarah Brawley, whose photography skills are brilliant.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


If you follow me on twitter or are a friend on Facebook, you noticed our #roadtripquotes today. I am in Chicago tonight, after a grueling drive from Virgina through the Midwest to this grand city. Most of my creative team is here, along with our children's pastor (who is sleeping with the senior pastor) (which is appropriate) (because they are married). Several months ago we signed up to attend the Story conference, designed for creative types. We are hoping that the next two days will be inspiring, powerful and meaningful. So far we have had a good time. You get to know people while traveling in some unique ways. Brian, Susan, Lindsay, Sarah, Katie and I made the drive. We picked up Jackie at the airport; she flew in from Richmond this evening. Elijah took the train up from St Louis, and John will arrive by air in the morning. We are making a personal investment of time and money because we believe it will make a difference in the work we are called to do at PCC. we will be back for the weekend services; hopefully Brian will not have starved to death. And we won't get lost. Again.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Legal Aliens

This is Natasha and Christine. They met last week at a programming meeting. Natasha has been around PCC for several years; Christine for a few months.

They connected and stepped up to work on the stage design installation for the 9/11 service. If you saw the large flag we used for the background in last week's service, you can thank Natasha and Christine, along with Jackie Heberle, Natasha's husband Terrance and Bonte Fugatt.

Essentially, somebody said, "Wouldn't it be cool if we had a huge flag?"

And then, we did.

After wrestling with chicken wire and hundreds of pieces of colored tissue paper, we had a flag. Thanks to a couple of women who connected through their church and have become friends.

The coolest thing? Last week's project was a bit of a challenge for these two women; they needed a diagram and a chart to make sure they got it right. See, Natasha is  South African. Christine is English. Both ended up in a rural county in Virginia. Both made their way to PCC. The American flag is not their flag, but a symbol of their current home country.

There's a great verse in the Bible, in the New Testament book of Galations, that says, "In Christ's family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. Also, since you are Christ's family, then you are Abraham's famous "descendant," heirs according to the covenant promises." 

We like having these two girls around, with their weird accents and interesting vocabulary. That common relationship we share makes us friends, equals, heirs. It's very cool.

And we're glad to have them around.
If you are interested in helping out with our set installations or any other part of our creative work, let me know. We have fun. We'd love your help!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

We Will Never Walk Alone

I was so powerfully moved by the video artwork created for today's service. Katie Rusch and Josh Bartlam did an amazing job taking a borrowed idea (thank you, Passion City Church!) and making it work for our community.

The song is "Shelter" by Jars of Clay.

Here's the video. If anybody ever asks you what our church is about, this will give them a pretty good idea.

PCC Drawing Video from JB Media on Vimeo.

To all who are looking down holding on to hearts still wounding 
For those who've yet to find it the place is near where love is moving 
Cast off the robes you're wearing, set aside the names that you've been given 
May this place of rest in the fold of your journey bind you to hope 
You will never walk alone 

In the shelter of each other we will live 
We will live 
In the shelter of each other we will live 
We will live 

If our hearts are turned to stone there is hope; we know the rocks will cry out 
And the tears aren't ours alone; let them fall into the hands that hold us 
Come away from where you're hiding, set aside the lies that you've been living 
May this place of rest in the fold of your journey bind you to hope 
We will never walk alone 

If there is any peace, if there is any war 
We must all believe our lives are not our own 
We all belong 
God has given us each other 
And we will never walk alone

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Political Statement

I don't do political blogging. I'm interested and aware, but not drawn to discourse or declarations about the process or the candidates.

I saw snippets of the president's speech last night. Based on my reaction to what I saw - not what I heard, mind you - I've decided to make a political statement. I've chosen a side and I'm going to be vocal about what I believe. And this has nothing to do with Republicans, Democrats or Tea Parties. I support the president of the United States, whatever his party affiliation. The office is deserving of respect.

Some things transcend political positions.

And let me say also that I know this isn't an original statement -  I've heard or seen it before - but I will adopt it as my own today.

Okay. Here's my political statement.

Referring to Congress and politicians and those in positions of power and leadership:

Congress needs a mother.

I swear! Watching the reactions to the president's speech - the raised eyebrows, looks of derision, knowing smirks, the pouts and crossed arms refusing to stand ("YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!") - OR cheering madly for "their guy" regardless of the words coming out of his mouth and shooting snarky looks to the guys across the aisle - it reminded me of my kids during some of our more interesting family meetings.

When my kids disrespect one another, mock or make fun of or simply refuse to acknowledge the value of what is said by a sibling, they get the evil eye. Stern correction, sharp words.

That's not how we behave.

Call me simplistic, overly optimistic or naive, but I believe this: If, collectively, the mothers of the members of Congress walked in that room and straightened them out, we'd have a working democracy. A few well-spoken, well-timed words and that look (you know the one) and all the power plays, grand-standing, bad manners and selfishness would go out the window.

"I raised you better than this."

"Were you born in a barn?"

"Don't speak to your brother that way."

When common, basic respect goes out the window, nobody listens to anything anybody else says. When you tear down others with your words, compromise is impossible. If you don't listen, you don't understand.

"You listen when I am talking to you. And don't you roll your eyes at me."

"You know better."

Honestly - don't all of us know that it's important to be nice? Didn't our mothers raise us to be good people? Don't we know that we should respect others?

"Do what's right. Even if it hurts. Do what's right."

"Life's not fair. Get used to it."

Each of those statements carries a small amount of moral imperative - but coming from your mother, accompanied by the look, you tend to accept and acknowledge the importance and the truth of what otherwise might be easily brushed away and ignored.

Maternal power goes a long way. I think a little of it would go a long way towards redirecting our political process towards something that would make us proud and make our country better.

Before you even try to do the right thing - which, granted, may be different according to your perspective and political persuasion - you must learn how to treat others with respect. I just don't see much of that in our political process.

Every few months I dial in the local AM station and listen for a while to the afternoon radio show of a man who purportedly wields great influence in the arena of political opinion. After 5 minutes, I'm furious; not because of the political positions, but because of the sheer rudeness that passes for insight and political positions. I don't know why I do this; perhaps only to remind myself of what's going on out there. It's depressing.

Perhaps our next political movement should be away from tea and towards simply reminding political leaders of how they ought to behave. And maybe part of the process ought to be a Time Out corner for those who are unable to treat others with respect. And a mother or two to send them there as needed.

Then maybe we could get something done and quit all this ridiculous posturing and positioning.

The end.

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's That Time Of Year

I am home.

I am listening to YoYo Ma play Bach's cello suites.

I am sitting in a sea of gratitude, knowing that Tropical Storm Lee spit his fury on my brother's house and sent a huge tree onto their PT Cruiser and through their bedroom. And they were not injured - not even home for the chaos. Spared, and safe. And I am grateful.

And I am at the cusp of an unblemished moment.

Tomorrow begins a new school year. As a teacher, I love this time of year. More so than January, this is a time of new beginnings. Fresh pencils, brand new socks and a chance to begin anew.

Three of my five kids return to school in the morning. My middle child begins her senior year. Something tells me this one is going to be hard. I foresee a lot of tears. Not because of her, but because of me, learning to let her go.

For six more years, I will do this. Buy notebook paper and binders and backpacks and make sure there is Lunch Food (which is very different from Real Food) in the house. Six more Septembers.

I cannot envision what my life might be like seven Septembers from now. But we'll get there, won't we?

The kids return to school and I return to work at PCC, after a restful and restorative three weeks away. It's been a great, refreshing time. Most of all, I have found myself. Most of all, I want to learn to keep track of myself during the normal course of time so that I keep from inching so close to the edge.

We ended August with a whirlwind road trip, just the husband and I. We headed to Winchester and had our first Bed & Breakfast experience in an amazing work of restoration. We stayed at the Nancy Shepherd House, and unbeknownst to us until we checked in and began to chat, the innkeeper is a musician of some renown. David and Tony had musician friends in common and it was the most beautiful of coincidences to realize how very small the world can be. We listened to David play banjo, had a cold drink and some great conversation and enjoyed a wonderful night's rest. I can't recommend this place strongly enough; I don't know if all B&B experiences are like this, but ours was wonderful.

We went on to Cleveland to say hello to Tony's parents and bring home the newest member of the family. It was a wonderful visit, if a little quick. We managed to have some time for conversation with everybody, loaded up Satchel II, made it to Mitchell's for some amazing, hands-down-best-in-the-world ice cream and slept. Then we crawled out of bed early this morning and headed south. After a very quick stop in Harrisonburg to hug Shannon, we managed to make it back home in time to prepare for everybody's first day of the rest of our lives.

This marks the end of many things, but with endings come beginnings. It is the nature of things.

The bones of the Nancy Shepherd House date back to the 18th century. Over 300 years have passed since it began its existence. Time has changed much of the house and its surroundings. Chimneys and stairs were walled up, floors were covered up. Many of the changes failed to endure; the house ended up in disrepair.

But the bones were good and sturdy and strong, and with enough time and focus, restoration brought out the beauty within.

I think maybe nothing ever really goes away completely. Things change, and some parts of all things and all people live on in some way. In us, in a foundation, in the huge piece of chestnut from a once proud tree that was part of Fort Loudon and then part of a small inn in Winchester. That bears the touch of us here, today, in the turning into fall of 2011. In a daughter full of show tunes who begins her final year of high school with determination and a challenging schedule. In family, strength and intelligence and character passed on from a father to a son.

I am getting close to a vapid, new-age sort of proclamation of goodness and light. I am tired. I will stop now and end this post with this best wishes to all for a wonderful beginning tomorrow. And a prayer of gratitude for the safety of my brother and his family.

And to all, a good night.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

It Changed My Life!

I did something incredibly smart.

I have decided to share it with the world.

Here goes:

I have a smart phone. I hate my phone, but that's another post for another day. In fact, I would encourage you to eagerly anticipate the upcoming post about my utter contempt for this phone, because it will be full of blood and guts, violence and gore.

(The plan is this: when the iPhone5 is released, I will purchase one for Tony as a late birthday gift, and I'll take his "old" iPhone to replace this phone, which will not hold a charge longer than four hours, which creeps along like an 89-year old man with arthritis when asked to do the simplest task - say, one like, "Hey, little black phone. Please look up this phone number in your contacts.')

(It chokes.)

(I used to beg, I used to plead and say nice things and treat it well. I've given up. It hates me, I hate it and we are breaking up as soon as something better comes along. Which is the iPhone 5.)

(Sorry, I lost my train of thought.)

(What I meant to say was that when we get a new phone, I'm going to pulverize this one. And take photos. Or maybe even video. And I'll post it here.)

(I'm sure you can't wait.)

Anyway, here is the smart thing I did with my smart (but hated) phone:

I turned off all email and Facebook notifications.

In fact, I deleted the FB app.

Now, I can still access any of this info (if the phone cooperates). But I do it on my time, at my request, when I make time to pay attention.

I cannot convey the way this has changed my life. I have regained some control; I don't feel constantly distracted and interrupted - which inevitably led to feelings of inadequacy and being overwhelmed by stuff-I-need-to-do-or-haven't-done-and-have-no-idea-how-I'll-get-done.

It's the little things, people.

Give it a try.

You're welcome.