Monday, September 12, 2016

how to pray in a presidential election year

I used to hate it when people said they would pray for me. I didn’t grow up in church, so usually, when folks said, “I’ll pray for you,” what I heard was “You are completely wrong and I will use my divine wish-granter to make you agree with me.”

I call this combat prayer – praying to God for God to make happen what we want to happen – or, in other words, making our agenda God’s agenda.

Now, after following God’s call into pastoral ministry and serving alongside some very beautiful souls in various churches and organizations, I realize that some people mean something very different when they say, “I’ll pray for you.” And, more shocking still, I’ve become a person who says “I’ll pray for you” with every intent of offering hope, comfort, and peace.

So, with election day just eight weeks away, when things seem more polarized and downright disrespectful than I can remember, how do we pray with and for one another without just praying our own will be done?

1) Recognize your own agenda. 

One of my favorite football movies is Rudy. In one scene, Father Cavanaugh finds the title underdog in a pew in a big, empty church:

Father Cavanaugh: Taking your appeal to a higher authority?
Rudy: I'm desperate. If I don't get in next semester, it's over. Notre Dame doesn't accept senior transfers.
Father Cavanaugh: Well, you've done a hell of a job, kid, chasing down your dream.
Rudy: Who cares what kind of job I did if it doesn't produce results? It doesn't mean anything.
Father Cavanaugh: I think you'll find that it will.
Rudy: Maybe I haven't prayed enough.
Father Cavanaugh: I don't think that's the problem. Praying is something we do in our time, the answers come in God's time.
Rudy: If I've done everything I possibly can, can you help me?
Father Cavanaugh: Son, in thirty-five years of religious study, I've come up with only two hard, incontrovertible facts: there is a God and I'm not Him.

Rudy has an agenda. We all have agendas. We have ideas of the way life is supposed to go, what we want, and how it should all work out. And sometimes we feel like if we just share our perfect plans with “a higher authority,” we’ll get it. We just need to pray harder or more often or use the right words.

But here’s the things, folks, prayer is not a magic incantation. There’s not a formula to how we should pray that guarantees we get exactly what we think we need or want.

Recognizing our agenda as we come before God is a big first step. It’s a moment to practice a self-awareness that sees virtues and faults, triumphs and mistakes. It’s a time to recognize that, in Father Cavanaugh’s words, “There is a God and I’m not him.”

2) Pray for the other. 

Being human and being American, I’ll tell you that I do have an opinion in this upcoming presidential election. I paid close attention to the primaries, I watch the news, I talk about the platforms and policies with my family and friends. And, after lots of thoughtful consideration and maybe just a bit of gut feeling, I’ve selected the candidate I will vote for in November.

And, being human and being American and being fully honest, I’ll tell you that a lot of times, when I see a bumper sticker or a yard sign for the other candidate, the first thought that comes to mind is something like, “How could they vote for ______? I mean, come on!”

The next step in praying in this presidential election year is this – pray for the people on the other side. Not a combat prayer – do not pray that those blankety-blank Trump/Clinton supporters will suddenly see the light and change their vote.

No. That’s not the point of this step. The point of this part of the prayer is to practice compassion. Try to imagine yourself in the place of the other. Try to understand their experiences, their struggles and hopes, and why the things they are hearing from one camp or the other are resonating with them.

Pray for the other as you would pray for yourself.

3) Pray for the whole. 

Now, after all this focus on the other, remember that there’s really no such things as the “other side.” Divisions and competition are often human inventions that create “us” and “them.” God sees creation and loves it all, from the best of us to the worst. Human beings, created in the image of God, have been given free will to make choices and exercise power, for better or worse. I’m sure God would like it to be for the better, but there’s nothing we can do that puts us beyond the reach of God’s love and grace.

After we’ve felt compassion for people on the “other side,” hopefully we recognize our common humanity and the core values that so many of us share – the longing for safety and security, the hope of providing a better future for our children, etc.

We have much more in common than the things that we allow to drive us apart. We are one common humanity, not just in the United States, but around the world. As you move through this practice, recognize your brothers and sisters and pray for the whole.

4) Listen.

Much of what comes to mind when we think about prayer revolves around us. We’re terribly self-centered that way sometimes – what should I say, what do I want, where do I begin?

Remember that you have a conversation partner when you pray – that God really is listening to you and may have something to say to you in response. It may not be an audible message that you could repeat verbatim. It may be a feeling or a sense. It may be a stirring or a new insight.

Whatever the case, when you show up to pray, know that God shows up, too.

I know I’m terrible about having a case of monkey mind when I enter into prayer. My thoughts tumble over one another – one part of my mind going over my to-do list, another thinking about what time it is or what I might make for dinner, another apologizing to God that I can’t seem to stay focused.

Instead of mentally castigating myself and giving up on the whole prayer thing, I try to follow the advice of a meditation leader I knew – I recognize the thoughts jockeying for position. I acknowledge the anxiety in myself that struggles to find peace. And I let those thoughts go, gently returning myself to the conversation with my friend, my Creator, my God.

However it works best for you, make room in your prayer for listening. You may be surprised by what you hear.

Finally, friends, remember this – God works through and in spite of us. None of us are perfect and no matter who is in the White House next year, there is a lot of good we can do for one another and the world. Be the redeemed, beloved people God calls you to be and love one another, as God loves us. I’ll be praying for you.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Entrusting Our Selves

Recently, the senior pastor of the church I serve was going to be absent on a Sunday morning. So, I was preaching, but I wanted to hand over as many of the other pieces of worship as possible because:
  1. Lay persons, that is everyone who is not clergy, are fully capable and called by God to ministry (just look at our baptismal vows), which can include leading portions of worship
  2.  I get tired of my own voice, so I can’t image how other folks would deal with a whole of hour of so much me.

I invited our lay leader, a gifted woman with a beautiful soul, to share the prayers of the people, offer her own prayer, and then guide us into the Lord’s Prayer. I entrusted her with this portion of our worship together.

That Sunday came, and she and I were working out the logistics together – did she want to use a headset microphone or a handheld one – how would she receive the little slips of paper with the prayers of the people on them – where should she stand as she prayed? She seemed a little confused as to why I asked her to do this at all and I confided this – it is a gift to me to be able to entrust my soul to someone else as we pray. And I felt safe in her prayers.

That is how I imagine corporate prayer. When I was new to church, I remember the prayers led by a retired clergyman who served there. His deep voice seemed to handle each prayer like a full-blown flower, gently lifting it, tracing its beauty, and commending it to God. I imagined all the souls gathered in the sanctuary like water droplets in a rising tide – so small alone and yet so mighty together. And when he prayed, I could fully entrust my soul to his steering.

Unfortunately, there have been many times when I have withheld my soul from a corporate prayer. It may have been that I could not, in good conscience, agree to or with the one praying. It may have been that there was some fracture in the relationship between us, such that I could not entrust myself to their care or leadership. In those moments, I dutifully assume the posture of prayer, but I clearly feel the deep chasm that separated my soul from the other souls gathered in the moment.

 A couple of years ago, I had the humbling honor to midwife an open adoption. At that time, the two families and I worked on an entrustment ceremony that would surround the bare reality of the baby’s birth and raising with ritual. And while we never enacted that service, there were moments of grace all around as we put language on what it was that we were doing as two families became one through the life of one precious soul.

In this current climate, I wonder how often and where we entrust ourselves to another. We are hard-wired for connection, we crave the gifts of community, but it’s hard to put down our defenses and allow others to see and care for the broken, beautiful, vulnerable core of who we are. We have to find others who are worthy of our hearing our stories.

In those moments, when we can entrust ourselves to another, we catch a glimpse of the indwelling life of God – God whose own being is mutual love within the Trinity. It’s a fleeting reminder that God’s reign can come on earth as it is in heaven. I pray that we all might experience those entrusting moments.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

March for Babies 2016

Saturday we walked. Our family of four, along with thousands of other people, and found their way to Norbuck Park at White Rock Lake in Dallas. And, honestly, just getting there was no small feat for us – getting everyone up early, fed, dressed, coated in sunscreen, driving almost an hour, riding the shuttle bus, finding the starting line in the sea of people and tents.

But then we started walking. It amazed me that so many people care so much about helping more babies have healthy starts in life. And I wondered how many stories of pain and grief and struggle were walking all around us in brightly colored shirts lifting up the babies born too soon.

Along our 5-mile route, there were signs in honor or in memory of the babies. I pointed out the first one to our 5-year-old, James, because I wanted him to understand why we were taking this “big walk.”

“Look, honey. Do you see that sign with the picture of the baby? That baby was born too early, but look – there’s another picture of them as a big kid. Isn’t it amazing how they grew up so strong!”

He seemed to get it. Then came another sign, this one with only a picture of a tiny baby, almost completely obscured by tubes and wires and gauze.

“What about that baby?” he asked.

“Well, that baby came too soon and went to God.” I could feel the tears prickle in my eyes. I looked at him to see if I should say anything else.

After all, it was just a week or so ago that I had talked to him about the big walk we were going to go on, to help other families who had a baby come too soon like his brother. And, there in the darkness of his room as we snuggled, sharing breath with our heads close together, eyes shining in the dim glow of his nightlight, he had asked, “My brother?”

He was confused. We’ve always been open and honest about Brennan, our baby who died, but it also doesn’t come up every day, so I understood. And it feels like a part of my calling as a mom is to keep Brennan’s memory alive –if I don’t persevere in speaking his name and remembering his life and telling his story, it will fade from all consciousness.

But that night, I just tried to answer simply, “Yes, you had another brother. He came too soon and went home to God.”


We kept walking. The last time I participated in a March for Babies, James was in a stroller, and I had enjoyed chatting with another mom, who was pushing her twins along. And it hadn’t seemed like 5 miles. It passed in the blink of an eye and the retelling of birth stories.

But this past Saturday, I felt every step. I don’t think I had really noted that it was a 5. Mile. Walk. I had brought the stroller for Ethan, our 19 month old, but didn’t have anything available for James. Poor kid. He held up for the first mile, then we jostled our arrangements, pulling out of the steady stream of mothers, fathers, kids, grandparents, dogs, strollers, and wagons. We put James in the stroller, where his long legs nearly touched the ground, and tried to persuade Ethan into a carrier I could wear. He agreed to that for almost a half mile, then we had to rearrange again. So we settled into a rotation for Ethan between my arms or Andy’s shoulders or the stroller. James would get to ride in the stroller for a while, then walk for a while, and finally get a ride on daddy’s shoulders.

And in the midst of all of this, I was passing around snacks – raisins, graham crackers, squeezable fruit pouches, cereal bars – and water. I wondered if my family would ever forgive me for dragging them into this.

For all of our logistical difficulties, the day was beautiful – overcast and cool, with many sweet breezes to rustle the leaves of the big trees and propel the sailboats on the lake. My husband uses an app that tracks his speed and route for his bike rides and he had turned it on for our March. I feel like our 2.5 mile/hour pace was incredibly respectable.

James enjoyed grabbing water bottles at the pit stops and ended up watering a tree toward the end of the walk. I shook my head, while appreciating the ease of that task for boys.

We finally completed our loop, passing under a bridge and pausing for a family selfie before heading back through the March for Babies arch. There was music blaring and snacks offered. There were lots of teams enjoying hot dogs, hamburgers, or boxed lunches, but we headed straight for the shuttle buses since it was close to lunch time and we needed to get our crew home, fed, and into bed for naps.

That night, as James and I lay in his bed as a part of the night-night ritual, he started talking about our day.

“There were so many signs,” he said.

“I know. Too many babies are born too soon. We raised money to help that not happen so much,” I replied.

“We did?!”

“Yes. Do you know how much we raised?”

“No, how much?”

“We raised $401.”

“Wow! That’s a lot of money.”

“I know, baby. I’m very happy that we were able to help so much.”

I am so deeply grateful to everyone who gave toward our family’s efforts this year – Chuck Aaron, Martha Myre, Sue Dillon, Mary and Gary Wright, Patria Lopez, Jared Williams, Kay Anderson, and an anonymous donor. I know that there are a lot of asks out there and many good causes, but your choice to support this March for Babies helps our family do good in Brennan’s name. And for however long we are able to do that, he is not forgotten. The Dallas March for Babies raised $879,407 and you helped make that happen.

I am also deeply grateful for the less tangible, but no less meaningful ways that my community has supported our family – prayers, hugs, listening ears, shared tears.

One of my favorite gurus is Glennon Doyle Melton and she has a word for this – it’s brutiful. It’s brutal and beautiful all at once and wrapped together and that doesn’t mean it’s worth any less. By the grace of God, we take the broken, shattered things and transform them into means of grace and love. Glory be!

So, if you ask me how the walk went, the answer, more simply than this long recap, is this – It was brutiful. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

the Power of the Pack

There’s no such thing as other people’s children.

This simple, impossibly challenging phrase has been with me for a few weeks now. It’s from Glennon Doyle Melton, the spark behind Momastery, and one of my favorite gurus.

It’s been prickling my soul because on my less-redeemed days, I can roll my eyes, sigh in exasperation, and silently judge other people’s children whether their 2 or 22 or 82. 

Thinking of some as “other people’s children” gives me the imaginary distance to feel superior to them. It allows my compassion to wither on the vine. It reinforces the biological and cultural desire to care and provide for my blood kin first and foremost, even to the detriment of “other people’s children.”

That kind of thinking is what builds walls between neighbors, whether they are individuals or countries. We trade in vulnerability and connection for the illusion of safety, security, and superiority.

And we do it to our own detriment. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the amazing youth group I served at First UMC – Denton. There were a lot of things that made those kids special, but one of my favorite things was that they self-regulated. I didn’t have to exert control or correction from outside as an adult. Instead, there were such strong core values instilled in the group, that were taught and transferred even as some graduated and others middle schoolers joined, that the youth themselves kept their peers held to high standards. It wasn’t uncommon to hear a high school student say, “We don’t do that here.”

That was the power of the pack, to borrow a phrase from the dog whisperer, Cesar Millan. In his work, he would occaisionally find dogs that were so isolated, so anxious, so ungrounded in what it meant to be a dog living right here, right now, that he would take them back to his place for some pack therapy. He knew that there is no better cure for what ails us than the support, encouragement, mentoring, and accountability that comes from pack life.

What we fail to realize most of the time is that we humans are pack animals. I mean, look at us – we’re so soft and tasty. We’re not faster. We’re not stronger. We’re not bigger. Like a school of fish or a flock of birds, the original means of safety for us was life together. That and the really big brains and opposable thumbs.

But over time, we’ve forgotten the simple truth that we are hard-wired – physically and spiritually – for the power of the pack.

As a young mother, I imagine there must have been a time when women didn’t have to be taught how to give birth or breastfeed. I imagine that life together with other humans meant that you saw the life cycle firsthand and learned accordingly. Heck, you might have even helped with the process, truly living into life together.

I long for the life I imagine. To know and be known in community, where “iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another…just as water reflects the face, so one human heart reflects another” (Proverbs 27:17, 19).

Of course, there is danger in pack life – ask anyone who has experience with the mindset of a mob or a gang. In every form, there is infinite possibility and danger, as we know from the smallest atom to the fathomless reaches of space.

But life rightly lived is life together.

This past week was Holy Week. For Good Friday, I prepared slides for worship that depicted different parts of the Passion narrative. And, I’ll confess, Lent went by in a blur this year and I wasn’t very prepared for the work. As image after image appeared in my search of the battered, bloody body of Christ, I felt the tears come.

But the one that hit me the hardest was when I imagined myself at the cross, because my creativity stood me in the place of Mary, Jesus’s mother. I felt an echo of the surge of grief and pain that must have been hers when she looked on her son, when she touched his crucified body. “Oh, my baby!”

Because being a parent, at least for me, means always thinking of my children as my babies. I’m sure I’ll do it even when they’re old and I’m ancient. But a part of me will always remember, will always be viscerally connected to their joy and pain, will always want to provide them the shelter and comfort of my own body.

I never thought I’d think of Jesus like that.

But suddenly, he wasn’t another person’s child – my compassion had been stretched to see him like his own mother did. It was heart-breaking in sorrowful and beautiful ways. In the next few moments, as I heard the news of those injured and murdered in terror attacks, I felt that same wave of compassion flood my system. Those are our children – somewhere there is a mother, a father, a whole pack, who mourns them. And beyond that, I thought of those whose desperation, whose isolation, whose warped sense of superiority and righteousness would lead them to do such things. Those, too, are our children. Oh, how my heart hurts for them.

I pray we all find our packs, our communities of redemption, including all the children whom God loves. Life is meant to be done together.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Why I march for babies

2013 was one of the hardest years of my life. That was the year we were delighted to know that we were expecting our second baby in November. Our pregnancy was carefully planned and a joy to achieve.

Our firstborn helped me share the good news with Daddy, wearing a new big brother shirt. Then we announced our good news on Facebook. There was so much happiness and support. My husband and I both come from families with 2 children, so we’d always planned to have 2 of our own.

In late June, my mother came in for a special ultrasound appointment. In the darkness of the exam room, we discovered that our baby was going to be a little brother. I had grown up with all girls in my household, but was quickly learning how to be a boy mom. We had big, silly grins on our faces as we looked at his toes, the shape of his head, the magic of being able to see our unborn baby.

Just a few days later, my mom would be traveling back to Texas, as well as my in-laws, as it all came apart for our family. My body had given out and my baby was born too soon to survive at just 21 weeks. We named him Brennan, which means “a man of sorrow.”

I have cried so many tears since then. We did go on to have a baby brother, but one baby never replaces another.
I march for babies because every year in the United States, more than half a million babies are born too soon, almost 54,000 of them right here in Texas. Too often in our society, we make family planning difficult and provide inadequate prenatal care for vulnerable mothers.

I march for babies to promote healthy pregnancies.

I march for babies to prevent premature births and birth defects.

I march for babies to educate moms and support families during difficult times. 

I march for babies to remember my son and to declare that his life means something. Every step I take in this march, every dollar given to this cause, offers the hope that other families will not have to suffer this pain.

This year, I’ll be marching in Dallas on April 16. I invite you to join me – whether it’s with your feet, your prayers, or your dollars. Every bit of it helps. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

and then I saw the gun...

I live in Texas, but, as others were quick to tell me after I joyfully waltzed into the office with my brand new Texas driver license – it takes more than that to be a Texan. I’m not native and I know, that for however long we may call the Lone Star State home, there are things about it I will never understand.

One of those things is the relationship it seems that my state of residence has with guns. I struggle with it, and here is why:

When I was a teenager, I thought I’d get a job at the local water park for the summer. It seemed glamorous – all of those beautiful, tanned bodies up on lifeguard stands, like summer angels hovering over us mere mortals. I wanted it.

So I went to the local lifeguard class in the early spring, when getting into a bathing suit made no sense with the outdoor temperature, to learn the skills I would need. Now, I’m not a great swimmer. I had never learned real strokes before that day; I basically just moved around enough in the water to keep my head above the water and get where I wanted to go. And don’t ask me about going under water – even now I like to hold my nose rather than attempt the subtle coordination of blowing air out to prevent water from coming in.

But the allure of the lifeguard stand, and the admiration of hundreds of mere swimmers, drew me on.

So I learned the breaststroke and the sidestroke and how to properly kick. It was exhausting. And then came our big test – saving a swimmer struggling in the water. I watched my classmates go one by one – jump in the water, swim quickly to the person, loop your arm under one of their arms, swim with strong, sure strokes back to the side of the pool.

I had it. I knew what to do. I was 16 years old and completely confident in my skills and abilities.

And then it was my turn. My possible drowning victim was a large man; I don’t know how the pairing was determined. I swam to him quickly as he thrashed wildly in the water. I instructed him to be calm. I reassured him that I had him. I attempted to loop my arm under his and across his chest. And then something unexpected happened – in his assumed “panic,” he clung to me like I was a life preserver.

Which I was. But it also meant that he tangled up my arms and legs to the point that I couldn’t swim either. And we both started to go down. I coughed and struggled and tried to shout for him to calm down, but it was over.

I realized I was not a lifeguard. I never wanted to have that terrible responsibility of life or death for another person.

“How does that have anything to do with guns?” you might ask. Well, let me tell you this story then:

When I was in the Air Force Reserve, as a chaplain candidate, we learned about the Geneva Conventions, not that many of our current combat partners abide by these rules of civil warfare, if such a thing has ever existed. One of the provisions that we were taught, especially as chaplains-to-be, was that we were noncombatants, prohibited from bearing arms. This prohibition was meant to ensure us safe passage as representatives of the holy in the midst of horror, so that we could fulfill our commitment to minister to combatants.

To pick up a weapon was to forfeit the possible protection that the international community had established for us.

And I was completely comfortable with that. Now, I’ve never been deployed, sent to the front lines alongside those who bear arms. But, in that moment of training, I was much more content to let my life be possibly taken than to be the one with the horrible decision to make – whether or not to take the life of another.

Blame it on my theology.

God loves all people. We are unutterably precious to God. So much so that God – God’s own self – took on flesh and blood to teach us, show us, feed us, love us, and redeem us. 

Maybe this doesn’t seem as scandalous to us as it once did. After all, we’ve become numb to the Jesus on the cross we see in churches and around some folk’s necks. We can’t fathom the blasphemy it was to suggest that GOD – the all-powerful creator of all, who stands beyond the touch of time and space – would consent to die.

But God did experience death, if only to show us that death is nothing to fear, that even that great mystery is nothing compared with the mystery and majesty of God.

So, if God went to all the trouble for me and for you and for everyone – even the folks who are really nasty and horrible and make really bad choices – who am I to say when they should die?

And that’s what it would feel like to me if I owned a gun. I’m no hunter, although my father was. When he passed away, my uncle took great pains to make sure that all of the children could select a gun from his cabinet for their inheritance. I chose one after looking for my sister’s signals, then gave it to my brother-in-law, who is a hunter.

Since I don’t know guns, I would be a danger to my self and others if I tried to use one. And I honestly believe that trying to fire back in the case of many of these incidents of gun violence we’ve experienced in our country recently would only make matters worse. To tell the baseline truth for me, which I hope you realize doesn’t diminish your truth, I would be perfectly content to surrender all of my rights to own a gun – especially the potently lethal, semi-automatic kind – if we enforced that rule for everyone.

Of course “bad guys” would still want to find ways to have guns, but I would hope that there would be fewer options for them and, eventually, we would be able to limit their supply altogether.

Perhaps that’s naïve of me. I prefer to think it’s hopeful. And here’s why:

Recently I was driving to my church from my home to work a shift at our pumpkin patch. It was midday on a Saturday in October. I was at a light, behind another vehicle, when the light turned green. I waited for a 5-count, but, seeing no move from the other driver that they were planning to go, I gave them a short beep from my horn.

Now, I know horns don’t really have a lot of range of expression. One honk sounds much like another. But I didn’t lay on it. I really try not to be that person. And they went, but slooooowly.

I like to go at least the speed limit, so I changed lanes, from the right lane to the left lane, in order to pass them. I did, glancing over as I passed to see a middle aged woman with a wealth of dark, curling hair driving the slow Honda minivan. And she seemed to have a full load of kids, maybe that’s what was distracting her.

After I passed her, she sped up, passing me, and giving me a clear hand sign to show that she was angry with me. That’s fine. I’m a grown up. Hand signs don’t hurt my feelings so much as tell me something about the maturity of the giver.

After she passed me, I saw her reach down, then sit back up in her seat. One hand was on the wheel….

and then I saw the gun…

It was in her other hand. She slid her hand over the barrel – I would later learn this is called “racking the slide” – and then she put it on the dashboard of her car, just above her steering wheel, within easy reach. It was shiny silver – it caught the light as my mouth dropped in disbelief. 

How many times had my mom told me, “Don’t honk at people. They might have a gun.”

Sure enough. And now the van was slowing down for no reason I could see – no red light, no traffic – so I slowed down, too. No way I was going to get next to her and give her an easy shot. And I grabbed my phone, my hand trembling as I dialed 911.

We continued like that all the way down a main thoroughfare, which has a 40-45mph speed limit. She would speed up, I would speed up. She would slow down, I would slow down. I didn’t want to pass her or get next to her. I described the vehicle to the dispatcher. I told her everything about what I knew had happened.

Finally, the van turned into a gas station and I whizzed by, taking shelter in another parking lot a distance away, to wait for the officer as instructed. Another officer found her and spoke to her.

I was trembling as I waited, tears sneaking down my cheeks as the adrenaline wavered. When I saw the welcome sight of a Frisco police car, the feeling of relief was palpable. Finally! Someone who is trained to use a gun properly, who can protect me from the wild, at-large guns of other people. (I know it’s a function of my social location to feel this way about police officers and I lament that this is the case…)

He took my story, he taught me what to call the handling of the gun, he asked a million questions, prying out details I didn’t even know I had noticed. He went back to his car, while I put my head on my own steering wheel, trying to slow by breathing and soothe my nerves.

He came back and told me these things:
  • The other driver had not committed any crime. It is legal in Texas to carry a gun in your vehicle, whether or not you have a concealed carry license, as long as the weapon is not visible. She was getting a stern talking to about putting her gun in a visible spot. 
  • She had perceived me as a threat since I had honked at her.

I was flabbergasted. I guess if she had actually shot at me, that would have been one thing. But since she had just brandished her weapon, no harm done. She said it had slid out from under her seat, where it was concealed, so she had picked it up to keep it from getting under her pedals.

I’m a pastor. I’m trained to try to understand different perspectives. And I could understand hers. I don’t know how she felt threatened by me, but I can, of course, understand wanting to protect your children and your self.

But imagine the escalation that gun could have meant.

Instead of writing this, I could have been a blip on the evening news – “Local pastor killed in road rage shooting.” Or maybe not, I don’t know if just one person dying makes the news every time. Instead of continuing on to the pumpkin patch, my family could have been receiving a horrible phone call letting them know they were now widowed and motherless.

It scared me, folks. And made me even more set in my truth. There should be civil ways we can speak our truth to one another instead of reaching for a lethal weapon.

So pray for us here in Texas. Pray for those who feel threatened when the conversation turns to changing gun access and pray for those who have experienced gun violence. Pray for the misunderstandings and the underlying fear that poisons the possibility for understanding one another and moving toward the future together. I know it’s nuanced and messy and terribly hard, but I believe it’s worth it!

After all, God loves us all. We might should do the same.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

all the things I can't give you: a letter to my children

Almost two months ago now, I started work in a very fancy area of Dallas. Each day I drive by all the schools that look so amazing, that would inspire and fascinate your growing minds. I look at them, at the lovely gardens outside, at the high walls that will keep us out because, despite the good and noble work that mommy and daddy do, we live on the southern edge of middle class.

My boys in the bluebonnetsI remind myself that this is silly, that there are lots of very good schools out there. After all, I went to public schools and I turned out ok. Of course, there were not so many standardized tests then and we didn't live in such a desperately competitive environment, but it'll turn out.

But then I get to thinking about all the things I can't give you.

I would give you the best of everything. I know it's unrealistic and dreadfully expensive, but the deep part of me that values you so highly wants only the best for you. Sturdy, stylish shoes that care for your arches and soft, protective clothes that feel good against your skin but keep you from boo-boo's. Organic, farm fresh, happy foods to nurture your body and engaging, brain-tickling teachers and schools to nurture your mind. Wonderful vacations seeing the world and time spent living into our family and friends, near and far. But I know I can't afford to give you all these things. Already I've had to explain to my big boy why we can't have the birthday party at the go-cart track or the amusement center. And I'm sorry.

If I can't give you the best of everything, then I would give you joy. A way of seeing the good in things and people that doesn't necessarily take money. Something transcendent beyond the regular happiness that I hope you feel regularly. Today I get to see my big boy dance to the music playing at the burger place, without thought that anyone may be looking or judging. Today I hear my baby giggle with delight when his tummy is tickled or when we crawl after him down the hallway. Today I hear my big boy work on humor by knock knock. Today I see the sun break through clouds in my baby's smile when he sees me. I would give you this wellspring always, but I know it's not possible. And I'm sorry.

If I can't give you joy, then I would give you safety. That no one in this great, wide world would hurt your body, your mind, or your spirit. That you could walk the streets or go see a movie or travel any where your curiosity desired without fear. But every news story I hear tells me that I can't give you this. Everywhere I turn, I see other mothers and fathers struggling and weeping and grieving because this life has hurt their baby. And I'm sorry.

If I can't give you safety, then I would give you resilience - the incredibly ability to re-form yourself in healthy ways after the forces out there have de-formed you. Your dad and I have reflected lately that we both seem to be resilient; we can bounce back from horrible things and keep moving forward. But as I look at my life, I realize that this strength is wrested from the hands of adversity. I can't just give this to you. And I'm sorry.

My dear ones, I feel so sad knowing all the things I can't give you. I know there are lots of things I do give you and others you'll simply have to find or earn for yourself, but out of my deep, boundless love, I want to give you so much!

But because of who I am and whose I am, I know I will give you this one thing if nothing else - I will introduce you to the God who loves you even more than I do. I know your walk with God will look different from mine. I know you may run in the other direction at times in your life. And I'm so sorry that some of your discipleship may fall under the judgmental eyes of the people in mommy's church(es) who may have very particular expectations of what a pastor's child should do or say or believe.

I can't give you faith, but I can make room for it in our life together and show you how I stumble through each day. I can give you space each night to pray for the Paw Patrol pups and Grandad and Grandmary and Bubi and everyone in your class.

Just the other night, my big boy struggled with the reality of death, wondering what it would mean to die, filled with the sadness of being separated from mommy and daddy and brother. So I gave you what I had - the reassurance that "to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier" (as Walt Whiman put it) because it means you get to go to God's house.

I'm not sure exactly what God's house looks like, but I know our brother, Jesus, went ahead to make a place for us there. And I'm sure that there's so much of every good thing there, because God provides what we truly ever need. God gives of God's self, pouring out love and grace and mercy for ever and ever.

So, sweet babies, while I'll still get caught up in the relentless pursuit of mine and more sometimes, because I'm only human, too, I'll do my best to keep introducing you to our great God. It's absolutely the best gift I can give you.