2.16.2006

Mystery

What's really interesting to me about the process we're going through as a faith community - well, there are lots, actually, but here's one:
Something that's really significant for me as I look at the process we're going through as a faith community is this:
We have this really interesting group of people. We're very diverse economically, theologically, socially, philosophically, politically, personally (we don't have many people of color, but I know the Spirit will lead us there as well). We have a group of people who came from all different backgrounds, churches, no-churches, beliefs. We meet in a YMCA in a borrowed space. And there are hundreds of us. And what amazes me is not that we're diverse, but that we're unified behind something that is very specific and very clear. We believe that following Jesus around matters. We believe that if we continue to learn together, pray together, worship together, play together, and serve together, we'll be healthier people and the world will be a healthier place. We don't believe Journey exists solely for us. We believe it belongs to God and exists to help God's work in the world.
For those who haven't been a part of many churches before this faith community came along, let me tell you: this is a ridiculously rare thing. I'm not saying it's better than anyone else's church; that's not what this is about. But ... it's ... I dunno - the clarity and focus we share is energizing and yet quiet, powerful and yet humble, bold and yet unassuming. I love what I do and what we are doing together. I am thankful every day. I can't wait to see what happens in our future together.
As I think about what Doug is learning and how he is growing and listening to God about the direction for his life - and this is true of Steph as well - I'm blown away by how surely God's Spirit responds when we do this, when we open ourselves up to serving God and others. I mean, it's universally true and yet it's so not normal. It's not easy. And yet it's the only way to live.
It's what Jesus told us. It's what all the great spiritual traditions have told us. It's nuts and illogical and perfect. And True.

Rick

10.12.2004

Some Clarity in a Moment of Football

This evening, I'm sitting in the grandstand sucking on a Diet Coke and watching the Hill Country Middle School 8th graders whomp up on their district rivals. The air is cool and the atmosphere is kewell. There's an Austin skyline in front, team bands flanking each side of me playing dueling "Louie-LouWAYs", and a happy daughter flitting in and out of the stadium to mingle with long-lost classmates who she hasn't seen in ages (hours).

I'm contemplating the vastness of God's grace, thanking Him for giving us this-- a nice place for the kids to go to school, friends, a good church-- you know. Just feelin' the love.

Troy's a middle linebacker. I know he is, because I've memorized the name of this position and repeat it over and over so that I don't mess it up. This is his new position; the old one was tight receiver or something; whatever. This is how much I know about football. Oh, and his number is 52. And that position is on the defense team, which means he hits people really hard and doesn't catch the ball on purpose.

Add to this mix that I possess Attention Deficit Disorder related to anything that requires observation from more than 100 yards away.

So, I was jolted to attention when things got a little quiet around me because one of our players didn't get up after a play. I looked down, and realized the defense team was playing. I asked a parent in front of me if they knew the number of the boy down, but they didn't know. Whoever it was was wiggling his left foot and seemed to be in a lot of pain. The coaches went over. Boy still down. I caught the eye of a boy's father who keeps an eye on this stuff: "Who's down?" I mouthed. "Your son," he mouthed. "WHAT???" I yelled, and yes, I accidentally said an expletive very loudly.

My stuff flew everywhere as I jumped up and raced down closer to the edge of the stands. I was panicked with those sharp prickly things that come over you when you're scared out of your gourd. In the split second it took to learn Troy was hurt, I imagined a spinal cord injury and Christopher Reeve's recent passing. I wanted to jump the fence, but before I could, he was escorted off the field, walking a little funny, but obviously not paralyzed.

As the game progressed, he was sidelined for a few plays before being sent back into the second half with intense energy and with seemingly nothing wrong.

But I couldn't get it out of my head. What if he'd been seriously hurt? How would I react? Would I still be thanking God for sending us to this community? Probably not. I'd likely be wondering what in the world I'd done wrong in making the choice to move here. I'd spiral back into that shame-based weirdness that defined me before I followed Jesus-- the kind of attitude that is the most arrogant: It's all about me. I define everything when I live in that reality. I'm the bad guy. I'm the screw-up.

But that's not so, you know. We're here because God led us here. It's beautiful because He loves my family. I'm His daughter. He wants me to be happy. And if Troy had been seriously injured, it wouldn't have been all about me.

I say the serenity prayer many times a day these days: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Tonight, I learned that God is granting me my wish: the serenity to accept the thing I cannot change...that He loves me, and that He digs my family's happiness, just as He uses crises to grow my character.

Oh yeah, so Troy filled us in on his dramatic encounter on the field. He'd been kicked with sledgehammer-like ferocity in the crotch. He explained to me in excruciating detail why the word sledgehammer is really the only way to describe it. I'll spare you the details, since if you're a guy, you probably know, and if you're a chick, well, ask God to grant you the serenity to accept the things you cannot change: You have no testicles.

Hallelujah.

9.27.2004

Nearly everything I have learned about life is keenly analogous to a tandem sky dive.

Some background:

There is a tradition in the Texas Legislature for gifts to be exchanged at the conclusion of the biennial session between folks who have worked together. In 1997, one of the gifts I received from my close friend, Mike, was a certificate for a tandem skydive in San Marcos, Texas.

I had mentioned in passing once that I longed to skydive, but I think at the time I said it, I was just being reckless and charming-- sorta like saying, "I'd like to travel the world someday," or "I sure would like to clean that closet out." You know. The things we know we really can't do but would maybe like to miraculously occur someday after some freaky morph of our present reality and character to that blurry someone we'd like to be.

But anyway, leave it to Mike to provide me with an opportunity (obligation, really) to jump out of an airplane at 30,000 feet. (I remember making a mental note to self in '97 to be careful of making such grand wishes to people with whom I work in the Legislature.) I placed the certificate in my desk drawer and worked tirelessly to avoid the subject whenever it arose.

Mike himself had previously skydived. Once. Only once, because he ended up in a cast for eighteen months after what he called a "very uncommon, freak accident" involving a faulty ripcord. He belabored the difference in parachute shapes and the presence of a seasoned instructor on my back (hence "tandem"), and believed that I'd be fully empowered by the experience if I'd just try it. That wasn't powerful enough for me to dash to San Marcos just yet.

But in the early spring of '99, I was reeling from the end of a 15-year marriage and therefore mentally ill with the giddiness one adopts in the early days of singlehood. I thought I was boundless, beautiful and fearless. (In reality, I skillfully adopted a lifestyle that medicated my insecurities with Lone Star Beer when the beauty, boundaries and fear crept in, but that's another story...) I yanked out the certificate one day and made myself an appointment with Skydive San Marcos to dive the following Sunday...being the fearless woman that I was.

In the days leading up to The Dive, however, I worried incessantly about it. I explored the moral ramifications of a single mother risking the abandonment of her children. I researched any and all tandem skydiving accidents that ever occurred. I worried about what to wear. I wondered about the nonchalant manner in which the Skydive San Marcos employees explained details during the numerous telephone calls I made that week. They kept reiterating these asinine directives to "wear good tennis shoes and don't drink alcohol."

Sunday arrived, and I went by myself to San Marcos after dropping the children off with their father. My new tennis shoes hurt my feet, but a beer worked nicely to help them feel better.

I arrived and was very displeased with the crashed airplane they had placed as a hokey-jokey landmark to their entrance. I also noticed that the "instructors" all looked like crazy people. One of them had just dove in his camouflage boxers. That's just not funny.

I chose a dive partner who looked mature and relatively sane. He was a Tai Chi instructor from Austin, and he was balding. For some reason, this made me feel better. In my typical fashion, I had informed the entire world that I would be skydiving that day, but I had chosen to go it alone such that no one could later proffer photos of me with soiled pants. This is the way I operate. Bravado and privacy are such good buddies-- I take them everywhere.

I was informed that I had about an hour before I would dive. Expecting a lengthy course on exactly all the details of what I should do, I hung around inside. There was no course. I watched a short video and signed a longer hold harmless agreement. I waited for the real thing.

Suddenly, I was whisked into the main room and was given my dive suit. Tai Chi guy was packing my chute and offering very vague instructions, like, "Just do what I tell you," and "Keep the goggles on." I kept waiting for the real instructions. But instead, we're filing out to the plane (which had no door, by the way).

At this point, I freaked out. I asked him when I would know what to do. He calmly smiled and told me it would be alright and that he'd explain more on the plane. We squeezed in and he attached himself to my back. He leaned in close as we took off and began to give me more detailed instructions in my ear, but as you might guess, I have very little recall of those words because I was flipping out. All I remember is that he was calm, and that he told me I'd be fine, and that I'd love it. I remember asking him why there weren't more instructions, and he said, "You've never experienced this, and it's better to not give you too much information."

We're at the door of the plane. I'm on my knees. We're 30,000 feet up. It's loud. I don't have to jump. He gently rolls us out.

And I'm flying. I'm freefalling for 10,000 feet. And we're smiling for the camera man. I'm in heaven. We spin around. Did I mention I'm smiling? I'm laughing. I'm weightless. I trust Tai Chi man. He knows his stuff. Chute opens. We float down. I have a perfect landing.

I wanted to go again. (And did a few years later. And Tai Chi man was my partner again. And the next time, I pulled the cord all by myself.)

And this is what life is like for me:

"But God, I don't know how to raise teenagers!" God says, "It's okay. I know my stuff. You've never experienced this before, so I won't confuse you with too much information." And yeah, raising teenagers is so beautiful I can't even put it into words.

"But God, I don't know how to have fun without drinking." God says, "I know my stuff. Trust me." And damned if I'm not having the time of my life sober.

"But God, I'm a slob/single mom. I can't keep a house clean/carpool/cook dinner daily." God says, "Um, could you please trust me? And while you're doing that, hop on that cheeseburger casserole...the kids love it."

I jump out of an airplane nearly every day. So do you. If I could research the whole manual and know how to "do it right," I'd still not do it right, 'cause I've never done it.

Someone said to me recently that "trying" is a senseless concept. Explain "trying" to turn on a lamp. You either turn it on or you don't. You can't try to jump out of the plane. You strap someone who knows their stuff on your back and trust them.


8.24.2004

Could Someone Give Me a Growth Hormone, Please?

This is a week that whirls; it does not sail. Ever have one?

The busy-ness is real, not wheel-spinning. Complications escalate and require more concentration, keen prayer, no escapism. The "whirl" has another ending place, it doesn't spin itself 'round to the original like a safe carousel. Instead, it has a power behind it--an urgency that forces yet another internal (r)evolution.

When God knows you're ready, He sends it. Not a death in the family. No special sermon on Sunday. Situations can be catalysts or conglomerations that lead us to an inevitable conversation with God about growth, but I think they rarely spur an immediate leap in understanding. There's just something so methodical and measured in the way the Father grows us. How gracious I am to sense His patience as I plod through a character issue for weeks, or months, or years.

Lo and behold, I am always jolted when I finally realize He sees me fit to take action. Case in point:

I'm learning to pray. A lot. Really pray- not bullshit God, but talk to Him honestly- He knows it all anyway. So I'm driving down Lamar to BookPeople on Sunday afternoon after a great, thought-provoking church service.

**sidenote===>It's probably important here for you to understand that much of my life frustrations take place inside cars, whether I'm driving or I'm being driven.**

I'm praying and thanking God for a number of things. The kids, my sobriety, the church. I pull into the parking lot and wait for a Volkswagen to exit a space so I can get in. The lady backs out with plenty of room to reverse a little more, cut sharp right, straighten out and be on her merry way. I, on the other hand, cannot move forward or backwards, because if you're familiar with Lamar and Whole Foods/BookPeople entry, the traffic piles itself into the parking lot and each car proceeds to take an immediate right. In this case, I'm sitting there with cars behind me trailing back onto the main street.

Of course, I wasn't too cognizant of all this yet, because I was still talking to God. Anyway, my reverie went bust when I noticed she wasn't moving. Instead, she was giving me the "move back, MORON" look. So I give her the "YOU move back, you BIGGER MORON" look. She raises her hands fatalistically, as if to say she's stuck. I do the same. And I mutter, "bitch" as she moves on and I finally get my space. I kid you not. But it gets better.

I actually say to myself, "Ok, God. So anyway...." and for a few seconds, I actually try to pray before recognizing it for what it was.

This is what the week is like. I'm being whirled into a place that requires me to be responsible for my hatefulness. It seems like at every turn, I have been faced with the most irritating people this week. But they're really not, are they?

I'll keep you posted on the progress.

8.16.2004

All This Time On My Hands

The anticipation of school reconvening loomed large in this household. The feeling was mutual, punctuated by doors slamming, complaints of the crapola food they had to eat here, and my whining about the plethora of computer viruses accidentally downloaded on my computer by "no one."

I liken the environment to pre-Christmas, where shopping and baking makes for one bitchy Mommy. But the grand day of its arrival creates a psychological block that prevents the memories of the previous days to intrude. Come to think of it, childbearing also produces the same effect.

So, I stumble out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7:50 a.m. to transport the teens to their respective campuses. I'll add here that it is sheer bliss when children come of the age to not only dress and feed themselves, but to shun your advances to assist. God's so good in that regard, ain't He?

Turning left from my neighborhood street onto Bee Caves Drive during the school year is tantamount to proceeding left on 5th Avenue in Manhattan during peak hours. One needs a cabbie or public transport. Given that we have neither, and the kids have informed me that the school bus is wacked, uncool, too early, and above all, downright dangerous, I am relegated to driving them for a few days out of guilt. This, too, shall pass. It always does for me.

Ten minutes after approaching the intersection, a kind gentleman lets me in and we're off to the races. I drop Amanda, the sophomore-with-a-sassy-haircut, at the high school. As she crosses the street, I see two Abercrombie OC-type boys checking her out. For some reason, this pissed me off, but I veered away from them right before I got too close.

As we approached Troy's junior high, it was obvious that every parent had fallen hook, line and sinker for the ol' "the bus is wacked, uncool, too early, and above all, downright dangerous" speech. And apparently, they weren't too happy about it. There was no friendliness. There were no smiley waves like we do at football games. Instead, we sat in a line, brows furrowed-- determined to hold our place in line and not. let. anyone. cut.

As we finally approached the school entrance, I had practiced deep breathing and turned to ruffle my baby's hair before he exited the car. "I lov..." The door slammed. He waved behind his back without looking at the car. Sigh. I'm a chauffeur, that's all.

40 minutes later, I arrive home from the three-mile roundtrip trek to the schools. I breathe deeply again and proceed to do the following:

1. Take a long, hot bath. (Boring. Took 5 minutes.)

2. Drank coffee and checked email. (10 minutes.)

3. Listened to talk radio. (Sigh. 3 minutes.)

4. Checked email again. (Why don't I have any friends? 1 minute.)

5. Blow dried hair. (4 minutes. )

6. Tried to take a morning nap. (10 minutes.)

7. And so on.

By mid-afternoon:

1. Decide I should volunteer at each of the kids' schools one day a week.

2. Read their schools' websites to acclimate myself to their upcoming events.

3. Wonder if Amanda knows that there's an audition after school this afternoon?

4. Call Amanda's school to leave message about audition after school this afternoon.

5. Wonder what time Troy's football practice is over?

6. Call Troy's school to inquire.

7. Decide to take Troy and friend to McDonald's to celebrate their first day of school.

8. Call friend's Mom to let her know and learn she's picking them up. Already arranged by Troy.

9. Try to take a nap.

10. Write in this blog.

Life's so sweet when the kids are back in school. I give it three days and they'll be calling me to ask that I deliver some of my "crapola food" for lunch.

Ciao for now.




7.29.2004

The Good Kid

I asked my daughter today what her inner voice defines about her these days.  

I wanted to hear her very deep inner voice-  not the stuff like, "a great vocalist," or "good test-taker."  The deep inner voice that defines her is what I sought. 

Mine is, right or wrong, "special and different." 

It wasn't always that way.  It used to be "slutty and irresponsible."  Then it changed to "overwhelmed martyr/screw-up-at-life."  Then, I turned 30 or so and it evolved to "trying very hard."  In later years, it changed to "successful at work but not quite there as a Mom."  And so on.  I'm sure it will keep changin' as I go.

My daughter's inner voice, right now, is "the Good Kid."

I got to thinking about that.  I asked her if she knew what happens to Good Kids.  She replied, "They die early?"  I said, "Well, sure.  They get mauled by tigers."  (See, we share a morbid, sick sense of humor, we Wheatleys.)

"Seriously, though," I said.  "'Good Kids nearly always have something in common:  They have fantasies of being bad, and since they're good, they're really bad at being bad." 

I went on to describe it-  we all have those friends who are just not good at cussing.  They're also terrible and weepy when drunk.  They "get caught" more than everyone else. 

My goal as a parent is to try like hell to encourage them to figure out what they're thinking, feeling and living, such that they can be comfortable in happiness before they're parents themselves. 

Yeah, I realize that things like hormones, lack of maturity, and lack of education prohibit some self-actualization, but I still GRANDLY envision my kids being simply and utterly as happy as is possible at this moment and every moment in the future. 

And of course, true happiness is often borne through tribulation and mistake-making.  So don't get me wrong and think I'm Alice in Wonderland-ish.  'Cause I'm more like the cynical Susan Sarandon in whatever that movie was where they flew off a cliff in a car.

But could it be that a person's label of Good Kid could hamper their ability to be bad, and therefore redeemed, and therefore, happy?

I dunno-  it's just what I've been thinking about while reading The Ragamuffin Gospel--  Manning's description of the Catholic definition(s) of sin- mortal and venial--While he draws a hilarious picture of his experience in confessing adolescent masturbation with his priest, the shame he also endured was palpably recognizable to me. 

He's making it painstakingly clear that Christ apparently preferred sinners to Good Kids.  He said he came for the sinners.  He let the Good Kids do their thing.  (When I say Kids, note I don't mean the little children who He obviously loved dearly.) The Good Kids were apparently "Pharisees" back then. 

I donna wanna mi' daughter to be a Pharisee.  Yuck.

So anyway, if it's true that he loved the sinners, then the question I have is whether to encourage my daugther to just be.  Not be the Good Kid.  To just be. 

And perhaps screw up every once in a while so she can learn how freakin' awesome it is to be unconditionally forgiven simply because Jesus loves her.  Nothing she can do can make that bigger, better or different.  It simply is what it is.

Hmm. 




7.26.2004

Fall in Love

I just fell in love with Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and Ruthless Trust.  His followers were mine as a younger "christian,"  Michael W. Smith as a teen, and more importantly, Rich Mullins as an adult. 

Rich came to San Antonio frequently when I was doing the Baptist thing.  I'll never forget one night when he played and my mom and I were there.  It had to be at least ten years ago, and I honestly have no idea why only Mom and I ended up at this event.

It was her birthday.

I watched and somehow decided that in heaven, I'd be married to someone like Rich, because he GOT it.  He understood the way that Christ was about.  And he'd be a good husband.  I literally coveted Rich Mullins' existence.  (though I was married with three kids at the time and didn't have his existence.)

Ok, so of course, there's some weirdness about that.  But I really lusted after Rich in the most spiritual of ways.  I just wanted him to be my husband and then everything would be okay.  (Mom, at that time, wanted me to marry Carmen, but that's another blog.)

So later, I used my "Christian connections" and got us into the Christian bookstore "afterparty" and he came in and as he was exiting after a ten minute acoustic thing, and we passed him on the stairs.  I screamed to him like I was a groupie and he was a Beatle, "RICH!!  IT'S MY MOM'S BIRTHDAY!"

He stopped and looked at me.  I grinned charmingly and said, "Pretty please, could you sing her Happy Birthday???"

He looked at me (and with what I hope was wishfulness that I was his wife,)  sang it.  Sweetly and with authenticity. 

And my mother was as thrilled as all get-out.  And I always loved him more for that.

When I learned he died in a car accident, I just ached.  I even committed the mortal sin and actually "prayed" to Rich on a regular basis when I was confused or lonely.

So fast-forward to today:  I'm at Barnes and Noble picking up Brennan Manning's Ruthless Trust and was inadvertently directed by the store clerk to The Ragamuffin Gospel

And lo and behold, there was a message in the forward by Rich,

And lo and behold, DUH, this is why he's called his band The Ragamuffin Band

Good lord.  Could it be I'm finding what I was looking for?  Even if it's not being married to Rich?

I'm overwhelmed.  Because guess what?  Today is July 26.  My Mom's birthday. 

No joke.

Creeping In

Going to a new church is hard.  Especially when it's not a "church." 

When it's more of a gathering, where there's a lot of encouragement for people to be honest and affectionate, it's almost like you're on a date.  Or you're in junior high.  You feel like everything you do could be keenly analyzed. 

You wonder if you're dressed right.  You're being inundated with new faces and names.  You wonder if your butt looks big in those jeans.

You wonder if the guy next to you is simply being kind to your kids, or if he's a freak.  You want to know the story about that couple in front of you who have four kids that don't look like them.  Did they adopt?  How cool is that? 

You want to know what makes those people who sit on the front row who they are.  Are they special friends of the pastor?  You especially want to know this, since in your non-"church," the "pastor" isn't a pastor.  He's just the leader of this unruly bunch.

Who's that woman in the back, the one bustling about and apparently holding things together?  Does she get paid to work so hard?  Or is she independently wealthy and has alot of time on her hands?  Her shoes are fabulous.  Wonder where she got them?  You can't ask, 'cause you're just here to observe.  And everyone seems so busy except for you.

Wouldn't it be a hilarious, cosmic joke if everyone around you is pretty much thinking the same thing? 

Wouldn't it be sweet if everyone started asking those questions aloud?