Friday, May 29, 2015

How To Make A Vinaigrette

I've learned how to do many things in my life, but there are a few things that have slipped right by me. Last night, my 24-year-old daughter taught me how to make a homemade vinaigrette dressing out of a few simple ingredients.

It was fresh and real, no additives or preservatives - tossed together with ingredients from the cupboard - and it was delicious. The small salad I ate tasted better, in part because I knew it was real, and fresh, and authentic.

Last week, it would have been a mystery to me. I'm sure I could have googled a recipe and figured it out myself, but you don't know what you don't know, and what I didn't know was that making a vinaigrette is incredibly simple.

I watched her splash in the balsamic vinegar, the honey; a pinch of salt and olive oil. She shook pepper into the bowl and said, "Mom, you can dice some garlic".

I did, and she whisked it all together, gave it a taste and winced.

"It needs a little more...something..."

I tasted it, too, and I couldn't think of what it lacked. It was perfect.

/ / /

She's getting married, this daughter of mine, in three short weeks. I woke up this morning after a restless night, filled with the twists and turns of a pronounced wrestling match with a long list of things to do, and I thought about that vinaigrette; how she knew just how to mix and match the ingredients at hand to create something almost magical. It was easy for her, natural, like breathing; she reached for the things she knew would work, carefully - if casually - combined them, and then served it with confidence.

I looked hard for the metaphor - because there is one, you know. She mixes oils and spices together as comfortably as I place my keys on the piano and find harmony. She moves with ease in the kitchen, and she creates exquisite things that become offerings to those of us graced to be in her orbit.

It's what she does, connected deeply to who she is, these generous gifts of what, to us, might simply be food - but what, to her, is how she speaks love and truth. In this season of her life, it is the deepest, best of what she has to offer.

But it is not all she has to offer.

She'll marry soon, and supposing there is a metaphor for that as well, I shied away from the oil-and-vinegar-don't-mix that comes naturally - because in a marital union, of course we don't want to look at that; the way the vinegar fights the oil, the way they exist together in the whisk of the swirl and tempest, but soon settle into their separate selves at rest.

But then again...

Marriage - even life itself - is quite like that. When necessary, we mix together; we cling to one another. And as we rest, our separate selves are seen. In the midst of it all, we soak in spices and flavors and we become seasoning, and we offer what we can to a world that looks to us; our kids, our friends, our spaces and places.

My daughter has a great, gentle gift; one that allows her to bring something to the world that makes it better. Her marriage will bring out the best in her, and in her husband. In these last few days that she is mine, and only mine, I will watch carefully. I expect there might be a few more things I can learn.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Sometimes You Just Gotta Take A Nap

I've had some really awesome birthdays. I like gifts, and my husband and my kids can be incredibly kind, thoughtful, creative and generous gift-givers. I love having a day to celebrate myself, as ridiculously selfish as that sounds - but it gives me an excuse to quit doing stuff and just be, and I need a good reason to do that now and then.

I also get to celebrate my birthday every year with my dad - born May 17. I can't remember a time that we didn't have a joint birthday celebration - usually a great meal and good conversation at Mom and Dad's - because that's just what our family does.

Tonight was no exception. We missed Sarah and Max, who will be here soon (but not soon enough!) The rest of us gathered for burgers and great conversation, anecdotes about our earliest memories and recollections. That made for fascinating and insightful conversation!

My mom and I had gone shopping about a month ago, and she bought something for me that we deemed an early birthday gift. Tony and I did the same - made an agreement that a gift I'd wanted a few weeks ago would be my birthday gift - so there were no huge, surprising, over-the-top presents. Instead, here's how my birthday went.

First, I slept in. That was nice. I awoke to a fresh pot of coffee and three of the four kids in the house.

Plus, there was this:

Next, Tony said, "I'll be back in 30 minutes. Get dressed and be ready to go."

When he returned, I requested that our mode of transportation be his Harley, and he said Yes. It's my favorite spot for letting things go; I ride on the back, look at the sky, feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my skin and forget the million things on my to-do list. It's a gift, for sure.

We rode under the clear blue sky of a perfect day. Breakfast at noon, because that's how we roll - preceded by a mocha milkshake, because that's also how we roll. A visit to the Olive Oil Tap Room, where I tasted ice cream with dark chocolate balsamic vinegar (Tony has yet to recover) and bought myself a gift for future cooking experiments.

We rode to Riverside Drive and got a wonderfully scenic tour of the James River. With the bike safely tucked in the parking lot, we slipped down to the river's edge and watched the Saturday crowd on the rocks of Pony Pasture. I pulled off my boots and sat with my toes in the water and just thought about life...and water...and history. Funny how a flowing river connects the long line of life and generations past to a woman perched on an rock, contemplating her day of birth.

We cruised back to Barnes & Noble and found gifts for my dad. Thirsty, we wandered out into the food court for a drink. Everyone knows the mall is a great place for people-watching, and we did just that for a while, until I started to feel the need for a nap.

"I'm tired", I said, "and I think I'm ready for a nap."

And here's the proof that I'm past fifty and don't really care what anybody thinks anymore: I laid my head on the pillow of my purse, right there on the table in the mall food court, and I took a nap.

It was a power nap; I woke up in 15 minutes to see Tony looking pretty sleep as well.

"I really fell asleep." I surprised myself.

He said, "I know."

He laughed.

"Look at us."

We both laughed.

And then we walked outside, got on the Harley, and rode home.

At 52, it's about what you do and how you feel, and the sheer pleasure of not giving a hoot about what anybody else thinks.

We celebrated with food and laughter and cards and gifts at Mom's. Sydni surprised me with a gift prompted by a mystery friend from PCC and her exquisite graphic skills.

It's been a very, very good day, and I am thankful for it.

I'll add that I've greatly enjoyed the Facebook birthday wishes I received. Obviously, we all know how it works - we get prompted to wish somebody 'happy birthday', and we do so for various reasons. But regardless of why, my Facebook feed blew up today, and each birthday wish came with a name attached, reminding me of a season of life or a precious relationship. In some cases, long-forgotten memories flooded back, prompted by names that represented places and times and connections and even a few bittersweet memories. I smiled, time and time again, filled with gratitude for the gift of life and years of connections.

Life is good. It is rich and dense with opportunity. Not always easy, it is still filled with purpose and meaning. On my birthday, it's a gift to remember it all.

A favorite perspective.

Olive Oil Tap Room. Interesting!

At the river.

Friday, May 15, 2015

What It Takes To Fill An Empty Space

My family doesn't have a great history with dogs. Five kids meant life was chaotic; adding a four-legged creature to the mix didn't always end well.

There was Pepsi, a black lab mix who lived with us in Joshua, Texas. Pepsi disappeared - ran away or something. To be honest, I can't remember what happened to her. (Five kids under the age of four, okay? DON'T JUDGE ME.)

There was Barker, a little beagle that we got when we lived in Fort Worth. We had a fenced back yard, but Barker was able to jump up on the air conditioning unit and leap over the 6' privacy fence. Or maybe he dug out under the fence. Either way, he got out, ran into the street, and I'll leave the end of that sad story to your imagination.

We had a cute little spaniel mix in Chagrin Falls. Max was a good dog, and fortunately, he lived a good, long life. We couldn't keep him when we moved, and his new family took good care of him until he passed.

Our heart strings were tugged hard one Christmas several years ago, when we ran into somebody at Powhatan Pharmacy who had a miniature pinscher. He was up for adoption, and we were suckers, and so we got into something we just couldn't handle. That poor dog did NOT have the right temperament for our family, and eventually we had to return him to his original adoptive parents.

At least he didn't die.

So, we've not been a Dog Family. We had a cat that eventually moved in with Tony (before we moved in with Tony), and Louie has been King of the Castle for seven years now. Tony loves Louie; the rest of us tolerate him (or so we say; truth be told, we're all fond of him, but he has Tony's heart, which has caused me no end of jealousy - but that's another story, one that's probably too embarrassing to tell).

(Where was I?)

David has asked for a dog for years now - seriously, since before Tony and I were married. Daniel moved out to go to school in Richmond for school last September, and David - accustomed to a full house and four siblings - was alone at home. One of the downsides of being the youngest; everybody else leaves before you do.

It was obvious that the time was right. To me, anyway. Tony, The Cat Guy, remained unconvinced.

So for 9 months now, I've been reading and researching and asking questions and investigating and planting seeds and ideas...and a few weeks ago, David and Tony and I had a come-to-Jesus conversation and I got the green light.

Now, to be honest, I'm not sure Tony saw it exactly that way. I don't know that he'd say that conversation ended with anything other than a yellow caution - but, as an optimist, I see the glass half full, and I went with what I had, which was a glimmer of green. I started looking in earnest, talking with my friend Chenoa, who is an expert on dogs.

Last week, we went to an event in Powhatan that offered dogs who needed to be rescued. Chenoa met us there; she actually arrived first and sent me a text:

"I found your puppy!"

Chenoa had evaluated the available dogs and found a four-month old Anatolian Shepherd mix whose temperament seemed to suit our situation. She spent some time watching David interact with the dog, and then encouraged me to go for it.

I filled out the application and spent the week feeling more nervous about whether or not we'd be approved than I anticipated. After three phone conversations, real, honest-to-God reference checks and a home visit, it was done.

And this is the result.

Dog + Boy = LOVE
Here she is!

Louie LOOKS LIKE he's not impressed - but they are keeping a watchful eye on one another...

So, now we are Dog People. And Chenoa will come help us train her, and maybe I'll bring her to church like other people do, and maybe the empty spaces in David's heart will be full.

Either way, she's a keeper. 

We're not sure of her name; she came to us as one of a family of puppies who were all named after 'Friends' characters. I don't think we'll go with that; top pick thus far is to call her "Brittany", after the incredibly awesome lead singer of the Alabama Shakes. We'll see....

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Things Change

"I think that wherever I am, I'm happy."

I said this today, in an offhand way. It's not exactly true for the smaller, detailed moments of life; but I think it might be true on a larger scale. Mostly, all the time, I can find the joy.

Lots of changes are happening all around me. And generally speaking, I like change. I enjoy the departure from the norm. We're entering into a season of change with our family, with kids coming home from college and settling back into family life, some additions to our family - with not only an upcoming wedding, but another surprising family expansion (tune in tomorrow).

(and no, I'm not pregnant)

(and neither is Shannon)

(nor anyone else)

(just wait)

Seasons change, and as we move full-bore into spring, my peonies are bursting out of their shells and waving their pristine beauty all over the place. We're past the dry, brittle bones of winter and into the lush, fragrant landscape of spring and newness of life.

It surrounds us, this newness. And yet, it took the dry, dead texture of winter's brokenness to get us here. All this newness is bigger and brighter and more welcome because of what came before.

And we know that this, too, shall pass; and winter awaits us again, around the corner of a long, hot summer and autumn's fiery color.

The cycle of the seasons become more valuable to me with every passing year. I think it is because I welcome the new, and because I like change. But it is also this; that the changes seasons, the constant, consistent cycle of death and life and death and life again reminds me that this, too, will pass.

This depression that grips your soul.

This lack of clarity.

This deep, unyielding sorrow.

This bitter pain.

It all passes, over time. It may not leave us, sure; but all things do pass, and we find a way to move forward. And in some seasons we shout, like the peonies. We celebrate and dance and lean into joy.

In other seasons, we wait. We bite our nails and worry ourselves and long for something different to remind us that there is hope.

Wherever you are today, take heart. Things change - of this you can be sure. So either breathe deep and celebrate the beauty, or cling tightly to the truth of time, and seasons, and the rising and setting of the sun; this, too, shall pass.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Teaching And Selfies And A Walk In The Woods

My background and education prepared me to be a teacher - a music educator. I have an all-level music ed degree that allows me to teach kindergarten through high school. I love teaching; I am so inspired by the privilege of sharing information with others, by that beautiful moment when a light bulb goes off and some new discovery comes to light. I've taught private piano lessons for 30 years now, and I continually find a 30-minute session with a committed, devoted, passionate student of piano one of the most rewarding and fulfilling parts of my life.

I love to teach.

But I never found great success in the classroom. It's the structure of school; the paperwork and the testing and the strict framework in which a free-form, easily-distracted creative like me does not thrive. The bell schedule drives me nuts. I loved being with students when I taught - in Texas, in the Dominican Republic, in Ohio, in Matoaca. I cherish the relationships I still have with some students who are now adults, who remember me as their classroom music or choir teacher. But I'm much happier in the creative, spiritual, less-structured role of Creative Director in my work life.

I'm also a Campus Pastor for my church, and that's where I get the tremendous joy of being with the people. I focus on that role Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; but the rest of my work week sees me leaning hard into the creative role; and more and more, I'm focusing on the director side of things.  We have an incredible team of technical, production, communication and music specialists who form our creative / production team at all of our campuses, and as the "Pastor of Weekend Experiences", I get to lead them.

Week to week, we plan services, working on the nuts and bolts; timing, transitions, songs, videos. But once a month now I am stepping back and doing long-range, big-picture series planning with this team. I set aside four hours on a Monday for us to envision larger concepts and bigger ideas, to learn to think differently, to step outside the box. It's a necessary thing; it helps us get ahead, and we gain a foothold on some creative elements that require more lead time.

And I get to teach.

I plan a good chunk of our time together to focus on creative growth - stretching, imagining, thinking, settling into ourselves - for the sake of our souls, rather than a service element. Honestly, I am always a bit hesitant about dragging our staff into this touchy-feely stuff, knowing full well that most of us have schedules that are crammed full, and that stepping away for two hours of imagining things might be frustrating and fruitless. I wasn't sure it would work for us.

It does.

We had our second Monday meeting today, and while I won't presume to speak for everybody else, I'll say that I walked away inspired, encouraged and connected - with my co-workers and, in a deeper sense, with the spiritual and emotional center of my soul in a way that seems to matter.

I'm not sure we accomplished as much as we hoped when it comes to the big picture ideas. We did discuss a few things for the summer that will probably come to life in a fun and meaningful way. But here's what we did do:

We talked.

We simply went around the table answering two questions:
What is happening in your professional life right now that you want to share? 
What is happening personally that we should know about?

It was fascinating, hearing a deeper story from the people that I see several times a week; office mates and partners in various ministry departments. When we make time to sit, to listen, to offer up the truth about who we are and where we are and what we care about, it's enlightening - and very meaningful. It builds trust. It adds wonder to our daily interactions, as we see a bit more about what's happening underneath the surface.

I asked everyone to share about someone that they are concerned with at the moment, a person or a family who is on their heart. Hearing those names brought about empathy and compassion - an understanding of the unique burdens that each of us bear as we connect with and strive to be present for others.

We walked.

I sent everyone into the woods behind our meeting place (the Powhatan Library) with specific instructions: 20 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of praying for the people that we mentioned, along with anybody else who came to mind. I gave them each a folded piece of paper to be opened at the end of 30 minutes, in which they received instruction to create a 20 second video that showed their reaction to the 30 minutes of alone time and their reaction to a short piece of scripture.

Here's mine:

Everybody also had to take a selfie.

We reconvened, and everybody talked about their experience - what worked, what didn't. You'd think this is no big deal, right? Take a walk in the woods and then come talk about it. Sounds simple.

But for people who work under pressure, churning out ideas and leading others and taking care of people and managing personal lives full of friends and family and just living, it's not so simple.

Maybe not so simple for any of us. 

How often are we really still? Simply still. Sitting and hearing the sounds around you, rather than subject to the churning of what's coursing through your head.

How often do we really see?

What's it like to walk away, into the woods, sit down on a stump and observe an ant?

We rediscovered some things today, I think; and we talked about them, and it may not ever make a difference in what happens at PCC on a Sunday morning, but I felt the deep, certain joy of teaching today - of seeing discovery and sensing new things and - best of all - sitting still in the sacred space of sharing these things with seven other humans who walk the same rocky terrain, climb the same rugged mountain, fight the same battles and embrace - on a daily basis - the celebration and challenge of simply being human.

We changed our perspective and watched this video - an incredibly powerful story - and talked about the presentation, and why it worked, and how we felt, and why it mattered. We brainstormed ideas about how such things can translate to the work we do each week.

We pulled out calendars and did some detailed work, thinking through the summer. We got stuck on some ideas, agreed to table some things, and walked away from the meeting on time, with a commitment to process a bit and come back again in a month.

I'm a teacher. I get to facilitate moments, and it's precious time for me. In the grand scheme of things, I think it matters - and in the end, that's what matters.

Grateful for this day, and these selfies of people who make a profound difference in my life.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Healing And A Stolen Car

I had a great conversation with a friend at work that started out with I love your blog. You're always


(By the way - I had second thoughts about my most recent post - not because of the content, but because of the title.


I changed the title, because I became a little bit sensitive to the notion of people attaching I HATE EVERYBODY with my work, or my workplace. It's rather unbecoming, in certain contexts.

So I changed the title, but guess what: Blogger doesn't change titles once you've hit 'publish'! So it lives on, in infamy.)


June says, I appreciate your blog and I said, Oh,'s been a hard week...

And then we both cried for a while and everything was better.

And it's the truth; everything IS better. Life sucked me back into its vortex of joy and busy and people.

And that's it, really. It's people.

And it's the little things, the texts and messages of support - but mostly, the conversation, around a table, or standing in the hallway, or in the donut shop. It's the reality of dialogue about life and the future and sorrow and grief. It's our stories, shared with one another.

It's seeing the bigger picture, and realizing that we're all in this together, even as we slog through our separate paths. The human condition leaves us, ultimately, alone - but the journey is one we can share as we listen; as we empathize, and listen, and reflect back, and listen some more.

I was heard today, even as I opened my ears and heard others, and it's fascinating to me, that the things I thought I needed to make me feel "okay" were of my own design and not necessarily the way that grace found me in this place, today. My biggest challenge - and I think this is true of many of us who walk this earth - is that I think I have it all figured out.

And the truth is that I am just as likely to stumble over some solution, some healing, some measure of joy - just as likely to accidentally fall into grace as I am to talk myself into it. Or figure it out myself.

I listened to a friend today, as she shared her story of wrestling with a new season of life; a desire to find meaningful work, to move forward, to explore new things. What I heard was that she was focused on the details and the immediate, and that she needed to rise above and see the bigger picture. I reflected that back to her - not as advice, but as this is what I hear you saying and I encouraged her to think about what the bigger picture might be, to decide what was important, where her passions lay, and move in that direction.

That's all well and good, and true for her, in this moment. But for me, right now? It's a heck of a thing.

I thought I had it all figured out; I knew what I needed.

But healing came from a surprising place. And tonight, there is such joy in my heart - and I am in such a different place than just 48 hours ago.

It helps that I am witness, from the side lines, to exchanges like these:

Hello panic - a stolen car? Really?

My favorite part is Daniel's loving question: "ARE YOU ON DRUGS?"

It still makes me laugh, out loud, even thought I've read it six times.

It's awesome, really; my kids have a group chat labeled 'The Fam', and the random things that come through are fascinating. After that exchange, we got a short video from a blues bar and a random shot of people dancing to the theme from 'Car Wash'.

This is the life my family lives, and they share it with me.

Healing comes from surprising places. I'm grateful for it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Texting with a friend this morning, I wrote these words:

I hate everyone. Except you and Tony.

Shocking, isn't it? It is to me, in hindsight. That was a scant two hours ago, and I look back on those words and wonder who could have possibly said them.

Or felt them.

I went on to say:

I love you both because you're nice and I trust you. But I've been having a real pity party this morning.

I even hate the music I'm listening to.

I am ridiculous.

It's the truth; I am feeling this way, and it is ridiculous.

No, strike that; the feelings aren't ridiculous. But I am.

Lest that sound like even more of a pity party, let me explain. Something that is ridiculous is absurd. And those statements are absurd, because they are untrue. I don't hate everybody.

I don't hate anybody.

But the statement is expressive of the discontent and discombobulation in my soul, as I try to reorient my life. Don't we all do that, when spiritual or emotional vertigo sets in? We look outside ourselves, trying to find the reasons why, playing pin-the-tail-on-who's-to-blame. We focus on the other, the "everybody". We lock our hearts up tightly and lift the weight of loneliness as high as we can, purging the surface while never touching the groundwater.

Or we just lean into the noise.

I see myself doing that, over and over. I watch tv. When I turn off the tv, I open the NPR app and listen to today's interview on Fresh Air. I scroll through my Facebook feed. I read I open CNN. I get up and turn on the news. When I turn off the news, I turn on the radio. I check Facebook again. I refresh Instagram.

I binge watch House of Cards episodes until it's over, and I grieve the desperate lostness of the fictional characters like they were real.

I nod off at my desk at work, so I move into the lounge and legitimately sleep, hard, on the couch.

I do all these things, stuff this information into my eyes and ears, or escape into sleep, exhausted by it all.

And I strain to avoid remembering my own lostness, and the reality of my own life.

I'm a pastor, sure. And I love Jesus and I trust God. But in the midst of the reality of what can be a difficult life, and the truth of the power of my ego and tendency to be completely self-absorbed, I get stuck, sometimes. Lostness isn't just an indicator of where one stands in Christ; it can be a general malaise, a confounding darkness that does not discriminate.

I was gone, then I came home.

My suitcase sits, opened and half-empty, in the middle of the living room.

A basket of laundry - clean, bleached, unfolded whites - rests just north of the suitcase.

I missed connecting with a friend before it was too late (just temporarily) when I felt extraordinarily needy, and I am fighting resentment and self-pity.

Which brings up trust issues.

And a lack of focus.

There is chaos around me - literally, in a dirty kitchen and a cluttered house and an office desk loaded with piles of paper - and I am paralyzed. I can do nothing but walk out of the room.

There has been, I think, a massive recalibration inside my heart; one that has to do with parenting adults and teenagers and being needed and needing others and work and play. Life goes on without my presence, so what does that mean about my own internal motivation? As much as it pains me to admit it, my ego still rides roughshod over my empathy and my willingness to serve others. And I hate to say it, because I'd hate for anyone to think that I'm not a perfect pastor person, but it's the honest truth. There's a heck of a lot of ego tied up in my little life, still. I doubt the struggle will be reconciled this side of heaven.

There is consolation that you and I are not so far apart, really. Being human, we are all desperate to have our needs met. And it is there that I find a place to rest my faith, to be reminded, to literally be consoled.

I am working through it, all this junk. Trusting the process, because it has proven itself time and again before, I am digging in the dirt. The soil buried in my nails and the scratches on my palms don't scare me anymore, because I know that cleansing comes.

Consolation comes.

Charles Spurgeon wrote:
"Consolation is the dropping of a gentle dew from heaven on desert hearts beneath. True consolation, such as can reach the heart, must be one of the choicest gifts of divine mercy."
Consolation comes.

Email this morning arrived, with this message from someone who loves me, who cares for me, who has absolutely no idea of the current complicated surging in my heart:
The more we try to do things on our own without asking God to get involved, 

the more complicated life will be.
Consolation comes (with a side of conviction).

And reading Richard Rohr:
Doing what you're doing with care, presence, and intention is prayer, 
the very way to transformation and wholeness...
"When we walk, we walk; when we chop wood, we chop wood; when we sleep, we sleep."

Consolation comes.

In writing this, my own words prompted a memory of Peter Gabriel's "Digging In the Dirt".  Obviously, Gabriel worked out his issues in his art; the video created for the song is exquisite and resonant for anyone who has done the hard work of excavating the past to understand the present. The live performance is a raging explosion of emotion.

But the lyrics stand, without visual aids; even without music.

I'm digging in the dirt 
Stay with me, I need support
I'm digging in the dirt
Find the places I got hurt
Open up the places I got hurt

In the hard work we do in our own hearts, when we examine our truths and are unafraid to tear off the scab and get honest, we find consolation.

Or, to be more accurate, consolation finds us.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

When The Climbing Stops

There are times when you set aside the calendar, because some things in life rise to the top of the priority list - and everything else gets pushed back.

And what happens when you drop everything? When meetings don't happen, or they do happen, but they happen without you?

What happens when you set in motion everything you can plan from afar, and then take your hands off and say, "Can you manage this? Please?"

What happens when "circumstances" just so happen to have the right people in the right place at the right time, so that all the things that need to happen, just happen?

Here's what happens: You learn that the world spins, and keeps on spinning - even when you aren't pushing.

You stop climbing, because you have to.

Because maybe you need to learn {again}, that God is God.

And you're not.*

*ahem. that's what happened to me, anyway.

#humbled, by most things.

#grateful, for all.

What makes him happy...

...and turns him into a superhero.

There was some climbing, after all...

And there's more than one superhero in this family...




No, really. Peace.

New friends.

We bonded. And laughed.
They bonded. And climbed on things.
I watched.