Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Never A Dull Moment

Look closely.

Yes, that's me. And that's a hospital bed and an IV in my arm, the little pulse / ox thing on my finger.

I am waving my arms in an odd way. More about that later...

Monday afternoon, I began to feel nauseous. I'd come home to finish some work on my laptop from here, and all was going well - except I felt a little 'off'.

No worries. I pushed through.

Late in the afternoon, I started having some stomach pain. Again, I pushed through; I'm not prone to sickness and I don't worry much when it comes, because - in my experience - it's generally something manageable.

Plus, I've never quite gotten my mom's voice out of my head.

You're fine! There's nothing wrong with you! You're not sick. Get up and go to school!

That wasn't mean or abusive, for the record. That was my very pragmatic mom, who was ALWAYS right in those instances, and she taught me a heck of a good thing. I've never been overdramatic with illness and I was able to be a very level-headed mom throughout the raising of all five kids.

Anyway, my stomach hurt. But I figured it would pass.

By the time Tony got home, I was complaining. I took a hot shower to see if I could relax a bit. I finally crawled into bed, fighting for a position to relieve the sensation of a maniacal claw squeezing the crap out of all the organs on the lower left side of my torso.

Tony said, "Should we go see about this?" and I said, "No, no, I think I'll be okay (gasp)."

By the time I was on my hands and knees on the floor, trying to find comfort (and noticing that apparently the dog got into our room and peed, but that's another, altogether unpleasant story), Tony said, We're going, and so we went.

It hurt.

In the midst of trying to ignore and evade the pain, I had googled my symptoms (of course I did - don't you?) and had determined that one of about 14 terminal illnesses would be my diagnosis. It looked dire. And painful. All the way to the hospital, I felt my brain sorting through which disease I'd most like to have. Maybe diverticulitis? No - isn't that for old people? (Note to self: I am now one of those 'old people'). How about an ovarian cyst? Maybe a tumor? A kidney stone???

Tony said, Are you preggers? and I think it was a sort of hopeful question, but I rolled my eyes.

We went to the ER and they were quick and in short order I had my clothes off and was being poked in the gut by the doctor. It hurt.

We talked, and it seemed like together we made the decision to have a non-contrast CT scan. I rather wished she'd just made up her mind herself, but I see now that medicine is a collaborative event, at least when the patient is coherent enough to contribute.

Before we moved rooms for the scan, she said, I'm gonna give you some pain meds. You've got a couple of allergies? We discussed what I could and couldn't have, and she said - in anticipation of finding a kidney stone - I'm going to order you some Dilaudid. It's a narcotic. It'll help.

The nurse got ready to push the drug into my IV and warned me: You'll feel all warm and fuzzy across your chest. You might feel lightheaded.

She pushed.

I felt my nose expand, and then my face, and then the room spun once and stopped.

After that, it was all rainbows and unicorns. I was so happy! The picture up top is me, gesturing emphatically while expressing my joy! I just wanted to be silly! Everything was silly! I think I suggested something mildly inappropriate to my husband. I thought it was hysterical!

The nurse said, So - you feel better? Yes, indeed I did! I was full of joy and happiness!

She said, I only gave you half. Do you want the other half?

I declined. 

She replied, You don't do drugs, do you?

Uh, no. A pinch was enough for me.

I was happy. My pain was gone. I disappeared off to CT scan land and joked with the tech about the fact that I couldn't possibly be pregnant because I was FIFTY TWO - can you believe that?? He chuckled. 

I could tell you all about the next few hours, but I'll spare you. It's boring. However, the short story is this: After the first CT scan showed no kidney stone but a slightly larger-than-normal appendix, they opted for a second, contrast CT scan. It took a few hours to prepare for that - which was also inconclusive. No inflammation, no appendix leakage. No diverticulitis. Nothing out of the ordinary but obvious pain.

At this point (which was about 5AM), I was mystified. So was the doc. And I was beginning to feel slightly ridiculous; had I made it all up? Was I over reacting? WAS MY MOM RIGHT ALL ALONG!?

The doctor felt the same way (except about my mom). She said there was obvious tenderness in my belly, but no obvious source of the pain. I pressed her, and she said the only slightly unusual thing was - ahem - an unusual amount of stool all along my intestinal tract.

Really? Untold amounts of dollars - probably thousands - on an ER visit with TWO CT scans and some Very Good Drugs and all she could tell me was that I was full of you-know-what???

"Maybe a stomach thing. We just can't say."


/ / /

That was Monday, and while the pain decreased substantially, other - ahem - "symptoms" have appeared that indicate that 'maybe a stomach virus' might have been a spot-on diagnosis. My mom says it's food poisoning. Could be.

Whatever it is or was, it's been a rough week. I haven't made much sense and I don't feel too great. However, because my mom taught me well, I'm pushing through and trying to keep up.

And washing my hands constantly.

And glad I've got a husband who will take me to the ER at 11PM and sit up with me half the night, even though he left to make sure David got to band camp and then came back to rescue me. And then patiently listen to my insecurities roll out about how I spent all that time and money for what amounted to nothing, and how I felt like an idiot....

I tell ya, never a dull moment around here.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

This Tribe: A Circle Of Grace

Can I share with you a story about a circle of grace?

My brother waved a book at me one hot summer day, as we soaked up the remnants of a family beach vacation. He said, You should read this. This guy is a blogger. He got published. You would like this.

He was right. I did like it; I was profoundly moved by stories like this one, tales written from the heart that seemed to carry all the ache and yearning of what it meant to struggle with faith and life and ministry, all the while clinging to the tiniest seed of hope. It felt a lot like pleading.

I was profoundly moved because I was in a deep, deep struggle, as my marriage blew apart and my carefully built life of accomplishments and achievements crumbled.

I'm not sure I'd be the same person if I had not encountered the writer of "Real Live Preacher," who was a real live preacher, writing incognito. He gave voice to my desperate desire to be real, to be flawed, to be broken, yet to be loved by the One I followed. It was hard, sometimes, to find and see and hold that tiny, magnificent truth that He comes to seek and save the lost; He comes not to condemn, but to love; He offers redemption and restoration because, of all things, that's what you need the most. 

It's hard to find that truth sometimes, in the cluttered hallways of church and contemporary Christian culture.

But the Real Live Preacher, he inhabited those hallways and kept the lights on and I read and found encouragement and turned my face upward; and then I began to write, as well.

I started my first blog many years ago; by many, I mean something like 12 years. It was a means of telling my story, to myself, of working out my salvation, of finding myself in that place I knew I needed to inhabit. I wrote long, rambling phrases, seeking out cause and effect. Exploring feelings that were new and raw and real - from passion and love to anger and pain. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and it was part of my healing.

It was not on this blog, this grace-filled place; it was the precursor, the path before that I kept private and quiet. I wrote in another place until I found my voice and honored my grief.

Until I could forgive myself.

And so there is this pin dropped at Real Live Preacher, who ultimately revealed himself to be Gordon Atkinson, leading a small community of believers in San Antonio at Covenant Baptist Church. Other folks were reading his blog, and commenting - which is akin to dropping crumbs so that one might find their way to another welcoming place - and so I began reading, and following, and knocking on doors, finding more life; learning how to drop the pretense of who I'd always had to be and simply be me.

I found, along the way, that simply being me wasn't all that different than the theatrical efforts of playing at being somebody like me. They were pretty close to one and the same. The difference came in whether or not I trusted that others would be okay with simply me. Truth is, they didn't much care. It was more my problem, my junk, that caused me to burden myself with unnecessary grief and self-protection.

And carrying that weight is heavy.

Through writing, a shared community of writers and readers, I welcomed the unclenched muscles as I laid down my mask. Vulnerability became a friend.

And in that vulnerable place, I met some women.

We've written one another, sent gifts, encouraged one another. We've supported one another through cancer treatments and other illnesses. We've grieved the loss of loved ones; challenges in relationships. We've done all these things together, in that peculiar way in which you can do things together without ever seeing someone's face.

Last month, that changed. I finally met this tribe of women face to face. I flew to San Antonio for a women's retreat and there they were, all but a few - in the flesh. Alive. Real.

The most striking thing to me was this;  to know someone so fully and then to see them so clearly. To build deep, honest relationships without skin on, and then to see the pieces fall into place and take shape in front of you.

To see a car pull up in the passenger arrival lane at the airport and know the person driving, even as you see her for the first time in your life. It is odd and beautiful, deep and rich.

It's not so new, you know; pen pals have existed for decades. It's just easier now, and faster.

And so we met, and we sang together and talked together and shared meals together and did church together; but mostly, I just wanted to watch. I sat and I took it in, took in the faces and the voices and the resonance of lives that have mattered to me for several years.

I shared a story with everyone, on a warm afternoon in a small space. We all talked about where we'd come from, and what we remembered, and I told the story of my 4th grade terror, how I was ostracized and excluded from everything for an entire year.

Here is what I remember: The prettiest girl in class, the popular one with long blonde hair; Jenny Moore decided that no one would be my friend. And, as these things go for 10-year-old girls, the die was cast; I had no friends. For an entire year.

I learned to lean into the grown ups. That was the year I became the proverbial teacher's pet, because no one else would speak to me. That was the year the mold was set for the way a powerful, influential man could rescue me - as teacher Gary Lauderbaugh did when we entered 5th grade.

So many things were set in motion during that difficult era of my childhood, one of which was my distrust of women. If Jenny Moore was the best and brightest of us all, and she had determined my status and value, then - as my childish mind understood it - the best and brightest women got to make the rules, and so it was. And it was highly likely that I would not measure up.

I've done a lot of work to get past this. For a season, I had to literally say to my 40-year old self (about other women), "She's not Jenny Moore."

I have great compassion for these ruts we find ourselves in. It is not easy to dig yourself out. And once out, it seems we never wander too far away from the ditch. It doesn't take much to tip over and into the dirt.

So still, to this day, I have to be careful. I have to remind myself of what is true, of where I am and who I am with. I have to open myself up to trust. In a room full of women who have been light and life to me in so many ways - but always at arms' length, from a distance - getting real, face to face, posed a bit of a challenge that felt unique to me.

They're not Jenny Moore.

They weren't, and I'm a different woman now, anyway; and so I can say this:

Knowing that there are 10 women scattered around this continent who are part of a tribe willing to include me - well, that's kind of a big deal.

It makes me better. It stretches me.

It gives me hope.

There is a built-in safety net, because there is all that distance, and the ability to hide behind the computer; but there is also a clarion call for honesty - up front, in-your-face honesty, in which I can be me and they can be themselves and we can all exist, in the same room, clasping hands and looking up. We are done with nonsense; we want to be real.

The chips, they fall where they may.

And that's okay.

I am extraordinarily blessed, and profoundly grateful, for these women. 

This tribe.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Find Your Voice

I mopped the floor this morning and cried.

I played the piano and grieved.

There is some sorrow in me that seems to be lurking beneath the surface. Life is so busy, so constant, so noisy that there is little time for silence.

/ / /

As a follower of Jesus, there are times when it is clear to me that the guiding principles offered by his life, by the book, are so true to our humanity that it is almost ridiculous to assume otherwise. We get so caught up in righteousness and winning culture wars that we overlook this one simple fact:

We are human.
We need help.

Be still, and know.

/ / /

I mopped the floor in silence.

I mopped the floor surrounded by an orchestra and the lyrics of one of my favorite songwriters.

I bent to my knees, sharp and ragged on the linoleum, and I wiped clean the coffee stains that had dripped down the cabinets.

I remember when this kitchen was new; one of the only things in my life, other than my children, that I have tended from the very beginning, when it came into being. It was shiny and new, then; now it carries stains and dust and sticky spots that are burrowed so deep between the cracks in the drawers that they will never, ever be removed.

These are the signs of my own life; I made these stains. This is the remnant of my living, my being - cooking and cleaning and celebrating and resting.

I scrubbed spots that I could see and thought, "This is not the life I want to be living".

And the tears bubbled up in that moment, recognizing some discontent in me; some broken thing that is best evidenced in the busy and the bidding and a sheer inability to fix the broken things around me.

Broken things, and broken people.

/ / /

Rumi says this: Silence is the language of God; all else is poor translation.

And I know this to be true, because I heard Him today.

/ / /

Just a few weeks ago, I walked the dusty Texas dirt, winding my way through the corridors of a
stone-strewn labyrinth. There was a rhythm to my walking, a metronome of insistent questioning that slowed, eventually, to a stroll. I laid down my inquisition and meandered.

There is a sense, in a labyrinth, of being almost there - but not quite. Several times you circle close to the center - close to the end - but yet you have steps to take on the marked pathway. This is life, too, I suppose; you see where you want to go, while you still have a course set before you. And perhaps the walking takes you elsewhere.

This is where I am today, the Be still and know finally giving me space and time to let the silence speak.

When I came out of the labyrinth, I found - to my amazement - that I had been saying this phrase, three words, over and over, that were in my heart and caught up in my throat, reverberating loudly, surely, somewhere above and beyond the Texas sky.

Find your voice.

/ / /

A mop and a bucket. Silence. An orchestra and a woman's poetry. More silence.

The gentle whir of a ceiling fan whipping the melody I found on a 40-year old Baldwin spinet, breaking the silence with purest form of honest language I possess.

I sat and played piano in this empty house,  from my heart to a quiet room and a moment full of everything that is, quite simply, life. This season of silence and noise, peace and turmoil, questions and knowing, stillness and going.

Find your voice.

I am.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Summit 2015: Brené Brown

Some years ago, I encountered Brené Brown somewhere. Maybe on Oprah, or maybe via her incredible TED Talk on vulnerability. I picked up a copy of Daring Greatly and found it utterly compelling. 

The sort of compelling that I would read a page, underline almost every sentence, and then have to stop for a day to try to digest what I'd read.

There was so much resonance there, so many things that she talked about that I thought were all in my head. Part of my own personal crazy.

Things that I should be ashamed of.

That's her work; the incredible power of shame, and how we can rise above the crippling effects of shame by leaning into vulnerability. The last decade of my life have been the most transformative for me, in terms of making peace with who I am, how I am, and where I am. This notion of vulnerability and trust is key for me; beliefs I've held for my entire life about these things have shaped me. Shifting the paradigm ever so slightly has led to freedom, growth and peace.

I recommend her books and talks, without reservation. Because shame is not a good thing. Shame is not of God. But it is oh-so-common...

So here are a few notes from her talk at this year's GLS. I confess to some serious fangirl adoration; I was hanging on every word.

/ / /

When we reach out and are rebuffed, we feel shame.

The #1 shame trigger for women is body and appearance; the #1 shame trigger for men is appearance of weakness.

In moments of conflict, stalemates, heightened emotions - stop and finish this question for yourself:

“The story I am telling myself right now is…."

To be able to sit with another in their shame demonstrates good work on your own inner stuff.

The #1 perpetrator of shame for men is women. We tend to throw things back at them, particularly areas of weakness and vulnerability. 

It is an incredibly unholy act to receive something vulnerable from another person 
and then turn around and use it on them

The stories we tell ourselves put us at risk - on either side of a relationship - when they are not grounded in truth.

Think about what we want in our lives: We want more love, intimacy, belonging, joy. The only path to those things is more vulnerability. We have to show up and allow ourselves to be seen, to be known, to be connected.

Our brain is hard-wired - in the instant something happens - to make up a story about what’s happening, to create the narrative power of story. If we give our brain a story, we get a chemical reward. It is satisfying. It rewards us whether the story is accurate or not. The story with limited data points is called a conspiracy in research. We make up stories with bad guys / good guys, winners / losers.

(Check out 'Fast Company' magazine....)

The middle space - where you are in the dark, the "Point of No Return” - you can only go forward...
there is a little bit of grace that whispers, “You’ve done this before - you can do this…"

Act 1 - Characters and inciting incident   
Act 2 - character tries to resolves the challenge, realizes what it takes to overcome the challenge    Act 3 - character gets it done

Three stages of any 'inciting incident':
The Reckoning :: Reckon with the emotion you are feeling. Get curious. Examine your feelings. 

The Rumble With Emotion :: Be willing to walk in and get brave about talking with discomfort.
("In our culture, we clap for the truth.")
We have to rumble with what’s true and hard. 
As leaders you can choose courage or you can choose comfort; you cannot have both. 
Deal with truth and shame.

The Revolution ::
Our worthiness as people live inside these stories. When we deny the stories, we are defined by them. When we own the stories, we get to write the ending. Courage is rare - and it is uncomfortable.

The bravest among us will always be the most broken-hearted, because we have the most courage to love. 

Transformational leaders do discomfort.
Transformational leaders have emotional awareness - their own, and that of those around them.
(we are emotional people that sometimes think; emotion dictates behavior).....

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Summit 2015: Jim Collins

If you haven't read "Good To Great" and you're interested in organizational health, stop what you're
doing right now and order the book. Jim Collins' work in this area is outstanding, and the application to both my personal life and the functional health of our church has been remarkable. He makes fairly regular appearances at the Global Leadership Summit, and this year his talk brought no new revolutionary ideas, but a great recap and fresh personal insight from time he spent at West Point.

You can read about his time at West Point - which is fascinating - here; and you can read a compelling, extremely interesting article about the same experience - from a different perspective - here. (If you heard Collins' Summit talk this year, I encourage you to read the Inc. article - it's awesome!)

Here are my personal notes and comments from Jim Collins' talk; I thought he had seven points, but I only have six.

Sometimes I get distracted...

My favorite? When he accentuated this: Real creative impact happens after 50. YES!!! 

/ / /

Jim Collins

He described underperforming organizations as having been“infected with the disease of oppressive mediocrity."

Six important questions:

1. What cause do you serve with Level 5 ambition?
You don’t need a charismatic leader if you have a charismatic cause!

2. Will you settle for being a good leader, or will you grow to be a great leader?
     In the future, society will be composed of well-led networks rather than well-managed organizations.

     (read Colin Powell’s book!)

     Leaders must figure out what must be done, and get people to WANT to do what must be                                         done. 
    Leadership is an ART. Cultivate your own artistry and art form to make it happen. Learn - but don’t copy. 

3. How can you reframe failure as growth, in pursuit of a Big Hairy Audacious Goal?

“I am not failing; I’m growing.” REFRAME FAILURE!

“At West Point, everybody’s failing at something."


We succeed at our very best only when we help others succeed. Our response to others should always be, ‘Let me help you’.

Service / /  Growth / / Communal Success

4. Have you found your personal hedgehog?


5. Will you build your Unit - your minibus - into a Pocket of Greatness?
Change your focus from taking care of your career to taking care of your people
Life is people.
Help people run for one another. ((SING FOR THOSE AROUND YOU.))
Find a way to make a contribution to PEOPLE.

6.. How will you change the lives of others?
     How will some peoples’ lives be better because you were here on this earth? Life. Is. People.

Summit 2015: Bill Hybels

I'm at the Global Leadership Summit this week, sitting at the end of a live satellite feed of some
incredible teachers, thinkers, leaders and innovators. Something like 80 folks from our team at PCC are here; it's powerful, to learn and share together. Thus far, we've heard from Bill Hybels (pastor), Jim Collins (businessman) and Ed Catmull (creative guy behind Pixar).

I've attended about ten of these things, and it never fails: I learn. I change.

That's a good thing.

/ /

I've got notes; boy do I have notes. Here's a few from Bill Hybels' talk:

  • You're probably in one of three places in the paradigm of leadership:
    • (EARLY IN THE GAME) Can I do this?
    • (MIDLIFE) Can I sustain this? *where I am now!
    • (TOWARDS THE END) Can I take it past the finish line?
  • Humility and respect are key to great leadership.
Five intangibles of leadership (from Richard Davis' book)
  • GRIT: "Steely determination over decades."
    • Gritty people play hurt.
    • The Little Engine That Could - I think I can, I think I can...
    • Gritty leaders work out
    • Gritty leaders go above and beyond
    • Senior leaders make gritty organizations unstoppable.
  • SELF-AWARENESS: Ask "Who are you trying to impress?"
    • We make questionable decisions based on things we are tethered to in the past - bad parenting, open wounds
    • BLINDSPOTS must be examined to be self-aware; something we think we do well, but that we do not
      • We all have 3.4 blindspots on average; you really have no idea
      • Growth in self-awareness demands input from others
  • RESOURCEFULLNESS: See everything the Wright Brothers did....
  • SELF-SACRIFICING LOVE: Story of David when he does not drink the water his officers bring to him.
    • Self-sacrificing love is always at the core of the core of leadership
    • Love never fails.
    • Love changes people.
    • We live in a day of narcissistic celebrity leaders and a lack of trust - especially in the church.
    • Self-sacrificial love - a deep personal love - will change things.
    • Tear down "professional veils" that prevent you from love; it must start at the top, with the leader.
    • The quality of love from the senior leader sets the tone for the organization.
    • Know what's in your 'top box'.
    • Even the Pope said, "I am a very sinful man that God has looked kindly upon."
    • God sees your gap - from who you are to who you need to be.
    • Leadership matters in all industries and across disciplines - in life and in death.