Life in the Shadow of Good News

Image

“Silence is Golden.” Yes, it is. It has a wonderful place in my spiritual formation.  I enjoy silent retreats immensely.  I listen to God’s still, small voice that can only be heard when we are silent.  If all I have done in that silence is grow internally, that is a blessing, but in my growing I have known for a while that the time would come that I would have to speak a very hard truth.  As I type with a lump in my throat, I am fully aware that the words that I have held back for so long are ready to be born onto the page.

First, I ask for forgiveness from anyone who is hurt by what I am going to say.  I also ask forgiveness from God for anything that I say that is not uplifting for the building of God’s family on earth.  My hope is to build understanding and compassion in a family that is ripping apart over an issue. Lastly, I humbly ask God to use me as an instrument, to bring God’s love, light and grace into the darkness of our human understanding of that love.

Ok, here we go.

I must tell you a little about my growing up for this story to be fully understood.  I went to a small private Christian school in elementary.  There were 18 of us and I am blessed to say that I still keep up with many of them on Facebook.  The one member of our class that I was closest too was Bart, I loved him so much.  We talked all the time and were the chubby kids together.  He went to another High School but we stayed in touch.  He made my prom dress and my sister’s matron of honor dress for my wedding (which he of course attended).  Bart was gay.  I knew this even before I had the words for it.  Bart moved to Texas and was very successful in his career I knew this because we saw his mom twice a year when my husband went to the doctor where she worked.  The last time I saw Bart was in 2007, he had moved home to live with his mom who was having do retire due to health issues.  We hugged and I left knowing that we’d be seeing each other, because we always had! Well, having three children and hard economic times, times slipped away without me realizing that I hadn’t seen or heard from him in years.  Then I found out this year that he died in 2008 and the weight of the silence hit me.  I still don’t know how or why he died so young, his father passed away at a young age as well so it may have been family genetics, but my mind wonders if it was AIDS and then I jump to guilt and shame that I was not there for him, that there was some comfort I could have given, some prayer I could have prayed.  The truth is, I will never know because Bart did not invite me into that part of his life.  I can only pray he had the knowledge that he was a beloved child of God because he was the kindest person I ever knew.  Bart was not the only member of the LGBT family whom I went to school with.  There are so many wonderful, kind people who were in that environment that told them they were an abomination.  So many people whom I still love and laugh with but have seen hurt so badly by the one place they should have always felt loved.  There are many more whom I don’t know what has happened to them and I pray for their physical and spiritual safety.

Now, to tell the story I need to tell.  It is about my call to ministry, and how I had to leave the place and people that I love.

I attended Kindergarten at the United Methodist Church in my neighborhood as a child and had nothing but happy memories of my time there.  I was married in that church, taught Sunday School, kept the Nursery and attended there until we had our first child. He was a holy terror when he was little, wouldn’t stay in the nursery, wouldn’t be quiet.  It because easier and easier to stay home.  After a while we got out of the habit of going to church at all.  We moved and transferred our membership to another church closer to us where we still didn’t attend, but the kids were involved in baseball.  When I was asked to teach Sunday School for one year I felt that I owed it to them given the sports my kids were playing. So I did. My family still didn’t attend, I went, taught, and left. During this time, we moved back to my childhood home.  My son made a friend who invited him to church, he went and loved it.  After a few weeks of attending he asked his father and I to come with him.  He was shocked when everyone there knew us.  I told him he had been baptized in that church.  We began going on a regular basis, got involved, then I even took a part time job as the secretary. I am not sure it came as a surprise to the pastor when I let him know that I wanted his job.  He smiled, got me all the paperwork I needed and it seemed like only minutes and I was enrolled in Seminary and appointed to my first little church.  I left that wonderful, low drama church and went into the world with an idealism about how the church worked and the idea that we are all on the “God Team” loving everyone, being present in lives, marrying, burying and baptizing folk. There is a huge part of me that wonders if my family would have been better off if we had just stayed put.  I pray often that I didn’t mess my kids up taking them away from that place.

Alright, you have heard the highlights of the beginning, now I will jump towards the end.

Ethics class 2005…that was the beginning of the end.  I know that God and I had had the talk many times up to that point about my feelings on the Methodist Church’s stance in the Book of Discipline which was not aligned with my personal belief about my LGBT brothers and sisters, but many had told me to just hold my tongue until after ordination and then work for change…so I was trying really hard to do that.  For me, any church that didn’t love the folks I knew as family had to change. (Now remember, I thought we were all on the same God Team working hard to broaden our circle to include everyone in the GOOD NEWS of love and acceptance and unmerited grace) I felt a true prophetic voice to let all those who had hidden in the Church of Christ school that I had attended know that there were Christians who wanted to tell them that God was NOT who they had been told but loved them (as Mr. Rogers…a member of an affirming congregation in Pittsburg) would say “just the way they are.” Well, it was in Ethics class that we were assigned topics to present, and with God’s hard firmly on mine, I pulled HOMOSEXUALITY out of the hat of options.  The one topic I needed to stay away from I was now going to have to present in a room full of my peers…many of which had big mouths.  My friend who is a gay Christian came and gave what he called his Gay101 speech and I talked to the class about how it is statistically impossible that they do not have one person at least in their congregation who is struggling with their sexuality. I asked them how they were going to make a safe place for them to come forward, find out that they are welcomed, and enfold them into the loving work of the church fully and completely. I quickly discovered that not all UM folk feel the same why I do about full inclusion when a guy starting interrupting repeatedly for the professor to shut me down for being unbiblical and the same guy LEFT the Seminary because they were TOO liberal.  That was when my reputation was born. That is when my eyes were opened and I began to see the division in the church that I loved and served.  That is when I was introduced to a movement that had begun just down the street from my Seminary…the Good News Confessing Movement. Oddly enough, this very church had been the one who had planted my loving home church 40 years earlier.  Oh, how times had changed.

I began to understand the division in the church, the battle lined that had been drawn and the simple fact that there weren’t many on my side of the battle (at least not openly) I didn’t even know I was in. It was apparent that I needed to play catch-up.  I discovered the Reconciling Movement and was quickly advised by elders in full connection not to have anything to do with them, they were too “radical”. Things began to get worse from there, even though I was mostly unaware.  In the second church I was serving the topic of homosexuality came up in Bible Study and I was honest, I let them know that in my study I could find no evidence that a modern, loving relationship between members of the same sex was a sin.  This landed a letter in my file about my views about the topic being “abhorrent” to the congregation and I was immediately removed but my DS made them pay me until the end of the year (July) at which time I would be reassigned…guess who was NEVER reassigned.

Smack dab in the middle of this time, was my interview with the Conference Board of Ministry and my graduation from Seminary.  As you can by this time imagine, the BOM didn’t go well.  The thing I remember most was the Theology Group.  I walked into the room and the first question right out of the gate was spoken with arms folded and I will never forget it, “So, a gay couple comes to your church and wants to teach Sunday School, what do you tell them?” I do not believe my answer made me many friends in that room.  At the end of the retreat I was told that I was being sent back to my District Board of Ministry.  The District Board of Ministry held me back for four years after that, I was never allowed to go back before the Conference Board.  Now I am sure that if they were to speak as to why I was not allowed to go back they would give very different reasons, but I believe it was my inability and lack of desire to stay silent on this, and other topics which concerned me about the church I loved so deeply.

It took me almost 6 hours to make the 2.5 hour drive home from the Conference Board of Ministry retreat.  I felt that I had failed everyone who had ever believed in me, I had failed God. If I am honest, I truly thought about which bridge on the way home was high enough to kill me if I just went over the edge, no one would have to know. Once I did get home, I sat in bed and cried for 3 days.  Not one clergy or lay person tried to check on me.  I was done, I was ready to leave, I believe I had left because I could see no hope that the church that I thought I was a part of was the church in which I was trying desperately to become clergy. I turned to the internet for hope. Not typically the place you look for hope, but it was all I had in the silence of my bed.  I found Jay Bakker.  I listened to every sermon he had posted.  I went to Twitter where I could anonymously say some things that were on my heart. God opened doors and people walked through them who impacted me in ways to show me that I was not alone, I had not been deceived by Satan that this “sin” was ok.  I became active with others who felt cut off, silenced.

My husband and a band of well meaning, loving people convinced me to try and learn and change to continue to work on ordination.  So I did. I went to every meeting, talked with anyone and everyone who would advise me.  I wrote papers, answered questions, listened to people tell me all of my short comings over and over and over again.  I tried to change, I tried to “behave”, to hold my tongue, to be silent.  Yet all the time, God was there, putting people in my life that shared stories of hurt, rejection, pain, self-hatred and depression.  I also heard stories of giving up on the church, turning away from God.  I call this time in my story the Psalm 69 years.  I was drowning in muck and mire and I didn’t think I would ever get out.

In 2009 through a divine chain of events, Jay Bakker and I became friends and later family.  I was not serving a church any longer but ministry never stopped.  I hosted an event about Same Sex Marriage in Memphis Tennessee. I did not do this as a Methodist, I did this as someone who wanted to have a conversation. The event was covered by Out and About Magazine in Nashville http://www.outandaboutnashville.com/story/memphis-town-hall-meeting-address-same-sex within days I received a letter from my District Superintendent and Bishop containing a copy of the article and a copy of the church’s stance on Homosexuality and basically a cease and desist order about how as a candidate for ministry I could not do an event like this. I to this day do not know how they found that article.

The final break with my ordination in the Memphis Annual Conference came in 2011 when I was discontinued as a local pastor and I was told by the chair of the District Committee on Ministry that they didn’t need my kind of people in ministry.  I will fully accept responsibility for a few things that happened after the event in 2009 when I knew that it was hopeless.  I tried to make paths of change for others because I knew it was too late for me.

God created for me a net of wonderful, loving people to catch me when my world fell apart, and I am pleased to say that most days God and I are ok. But there are times that I think about John Wesley’s love of the Church of England and his being locked out of every pulpit yet still not wanting a schism and I understand him. My heart is still United Methodist, but I consider myself a Wandering Wesleyan because I HAD to leave for the sake of my sole and my family who have endued so much pain from this situation.

Every time I hear news of the Good News Confession Movement my heart sinks lower.  To have to physically pass the place where the conversations are being silenced is heart breaking.  To watch so many of the pastoral staff leave over the years, the power chocking out the spirit of the place breaks my heart.  My friend who was a Sunday School teacher beloved by the geek and gay kids in the congregation was asked to leave.  To walk with her and her family as they tried to pick up those pieces was hard.  It was this latest statement by Maxie Dunham that has forced me to break my silence.  To be told that those who can’t keep the Disciple (the way the Good News Confessing Movement interprets it) should just go on and leave is an act of Spiritual Bullying.  If you travel down I 40 to the Appling Road exit you will see Belleview Baptist Church, a church which was pastored for years by Adrian Rodgers, the man who changed the face of the Southern Baptist convention forever giving more power to the already powerful and pushing those who needed the church to be the church to the margins.  I believe that if those of us who have stayed silent do not speak up that Christ United Methodist will become for the whole of the United Methodist Church what Belleview is for the Southern Baptist Conference, a symbol of an institution the excludes those who Jesus died to include. I am not speaking to each member of the church, many are wonderful people but the institution is not those people, but it is fed by the gold of their silence. 

I am exhausted.  I am not sure how to conclude this entry, I am not sure there is an ending.  I will just end by saying, this is my truth, this is my story.  It is told to the glory of God in the trust that the Holy Spirit will help those who can hear to understand and in the humble knowledge that I cannot tell the whole story in 3,000 words. Hopefully this will start conversations, I will be here, talk to me, yell at me, but at the end of the day please remember that I am a beloved child of God and so are you, and if you don’t agree with me on anything else, take my hand and agree with me on that.

I Want to be Phyllis Tickle When I Grow Up

Image

January 10th through the 12th my home town of Memphis was invaded by heretics, misfits, outlaws, mainliners, emerging, emergent, emergence and assorted Odd Ducks (and I am not talking about the ones in the fountain at the Peabody). They all descended on Memphis to celebrate the life and writings of Phyllis Tickle. They came to hear Phyllis “& Friends” recount our shared history and look toward our shared future. What most of them did not understand, except possibly Phyllis, was that “& Friends” did not refer only to the professional presenters who shared the stage, but to each and every one of those who sat in the Cathedral. In the large, formal, somewhat austere sanctuary the warmth that was generated by Phyllis filled the space with what seemed almost familial warmth.

Now, to the title of this post, “I want to be Phyllis Tickle when I grow up”. There are so many reasons I can think of that one might want to be Phyllis, but for me, the real singular reason may not be as obvious. It is not because she can recite the history of the church with the skill of a storyteller and the passion of one who lived every moment of that history (although I would love to possess such an admirable skill). It is not because she has written so many books, articles and papers that have impacted so many people (while I would love to do just that). It is not that she and her beloved husband successfully raised a pack of children successfully (even though I aspire to finish that task myself) and it is definitely not because everyone listens to everything that comes out of her mouth and critiques it (a side effect of being a public speaker that I am sure even she would give away). Explaining what it is about Phyllis that I admire and wish to emulate is a longer story.

Many years ago, at a time in my life when I was broken hearted, discouraged, idealistic and freshly graduated from Seminary a mutual friend of mine and Phyllis made me go to a meeting of Memphis Area Clergy that I was really not at all up to attending, but I did. Phyllis Tickle was the presenter and she spoke of the church that I had loved and served for so long in ways that rekindled my call, which inspired me to continue, which challenged me to stay and gave me hope for the future. If this were not enough, after the talk was concluded and most had moved on to the luncheon portion of the event, I was able to spend a few moments with this gracious lady who looked in my eyes, listened to my story (even with the chaos of the room), and made me feel heard and cared for. From that point forward I found a way to attend any time Phyllis was speaking, anywhere that I could. I remember sitting in the front row of camp chairs under a tent in North Carolina at the first Wild Goose festival and hearing the now familiar tale of the 500 year yard sale then running into her later on that day, she waving from yards away saying “Hello neighbor, did you see me waving at you in the front row?” What a warm way to let me know she knew I was there. I saw a very plain poster many years ago, that at the time my academic mind thought was cheesy, which read, “They will never care what you know if they don’t know that you care” the longer I know Phyllis, the clearer its simple wisdom becomes to me.

When the chance to celebrate Phyllis’ life and work came around and our smaller local event married the larger national event, I got the honor of seeing firsthand the love and care Phyllis took in sharing her vision for our time together. I saw her desire to do what she does best, encourage others and highlight the wonderful things going on in so many places. I discovered just how many people she kept up with and showed caring concern for and pride in. As the first day of the event rolled around, the Thursday meeting with presenters and contributors, she sat in a big comfy chair and everyone took a turn stopping by for a hug and a chat and the grin on her face could not have been larger. This time of catching up, of sharing visions and hopes was a wonderful chance to set the tone for the larger conversation to be held in the next days with the gathering, which was really all six hours would allow. There was no more of an agenda to chart the course of emergence Christianity then there is a definable “gay agenda” which does not exist.

Thursday evening’s meal started the “Main Event” with the hustle and bustle of 200 people who packed out Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous and Phyllis greeted warmly so many of those in attendance. I was pleased to introduce her to Randy Eddy-McCain from Open Door Community Church, she greeted him with recognition of his work and reputation and let him know how honored she was to meet him. Randy had buried his mother just two days before, and I saw the care that Phyllis gave to him as I watched her focus on him as she had done for me years before. I must say, for a woman who has always claimed to not be a pastor, watching her, I thought that it was an awful blurry line between maternal love and pastoral care. After much time visiting, Phyllis kissed her beloved Sam and headed to rest for the events of the next days.

The beginning of Friday I must say was a blur. Getting people, pastries, coffee, signs, books and everything else where it needed to be took all hands on deck, I even enlisted innocent bystanders at one point (there is a downside to being my friend). But when the show began everyone was in their seats, ready to hear the history of all of us, the storytelling of the master storyteller who would patch together a quilt of common threads which we could all understand. Like all storytellers, the stories were told from the tellers’ understanding, not as a detached academic understanding, but from a life that reveals the truth in the tale. Are there places that our experience, academia and hermeneutics clash with the story told? Yes, but none can question the love and care with which the story is conveyed. Just as our family of origin can tell stories in which we lived the events, yet the story is colored by the perspective of the one telling the story, because they lived the story “behind their own eyes”. All this is to say, that if the only fault that can be found in four hours of church/shared history is one understanding of a pivotal event which, knowing Phyllis, I believe she meant as the moment women were freed, is the only thing that anyone seems to be able to find great issue with, I believe that speaks highly of what she said overall. Like all who heard it, I brought to it my life story, which is one of postponing my “career years” for 14 years in order to be home with my three children, and then beginning my season of life which included a 87 hour master’s degree and a new life as a clergy family which not only changed me, but also my husband and children and shaped us in our faith. As a homeschooling mom for many years, I used every teachable moment, just as Phyllis relayed about young John Tickles’ experience at school. I was intentionally always there….BUT…(and yes I just used all caps) the rest of the story is, when our youngest child was 6 months old, my husband chose a home based business that allowed him more flexibility and time with our children. Our daughter Becca grew up playing under his drawing board, and Dad would insert comments from his office as he listened to the lessons his other children were learning a room away. That is what I remembered when I heard Phyllis’ words, that is my life story. We were able to set my biological clock to 4 years apart, because the best scholarship at the time said this allowed the kids to be babies and move to the next stage of development before a sibling needed that intense care without feeling conflict at the next child’s birth.

I also must admit an aversion to being called a “Feminist”. I do not like the label attached to me because of a long string of images and comments that the title triggers for me. As you can imagine, I was seen as a “traitor to the cause” by many because I chose to stay home, care intently for our children, and for not taking advantage of my “right” to be fulfilled by a career. I also resist the term because of the laundry list of stereotypical assumptions that people immediately associate with the term, so many of which I do not believe apply to me. Maybe it is just being a good emergence Christian that fuels my aversion to being labeled by any term.

But I digress.

Now, the real reason I want to be Phyllis when I grow up. I want to embody the love and care that Phyllis shows to all whom God places in her path. She is the ideal of what a genuine, maternal model of pastoral care looks like. She has enough knowledge in her head to fill book after book with wisdom and observations and that is spectacular, but why is it that 400 people are willing to sit in hard pews for hours on end to hear her? Because they know she cares.

The Half-Assed Christmas and a Lesson in God’s Grace

This has been the weirdest Christmas I can ever remember.  First of all, most everyone in the house has had SOME form of illness since the first of December.  My over achieving highschooler had a record number of practices, performances and even preformed at the nursing home for points towards her Bata Club volunteer hours.  Mom went to spend time with my sister in California from before Thanksgiving until December 22nd.  And I started a new part-time job that was far more demanding then I thought it would be, but I really like it. All of this added up to me dropping some of my more traditional balls I am afraid.  Christmas snuck up on me like the Grinch on Whoville.

I limped through our annual Outlaw Christmas Party with a lot of help and understanding party guests.  I feel like I didn’t get to spend as much time as I wanted with my two extra sons who came to town.  I had 5 days to clean up and prepare for my mom, sister, brother in law, sis’s service dog AND service dog in training to join our family complete with all 6 human members, 4 dogs, 3 cats, one sugar glider and my mom’s dog and cat we babysat while she was in California…if you are keeping score that was a total of 9 humans. 7 dogs, 4 cats and a sugar glider all under ONE roof…and NO fights broke out!!

Now, back to whose traditional balls.  My tree got up, not well fluffed, not all the lights worked, 3 ornaments, and the wonderful new garland I got was half way on (thanks to my beloved chosen brother who is a professional florist) he left the rest for me to do (I never did…sorry Darrell!). The fixing for Christmas cookies are still in the grocery bag I brought them home in.  Presents were joyfully wrapped in wal-mart bags, Christmas dinner was cooked at 5pm and was homemade chicken nuggets, creamed potatoes and canned black eyed peas, no dessert, no cornbread or rolls.  Charles and I took everyone’s stocking to our room, stuffed them and came out and passed them out.  Between stockings and opening gifts Christmas was done in 15 minutes. WOW.  Brandon left for work at FedEx, Mom, Tracy and Barry went to bed, and the girls ran off for the late showing of The Hobbit. Blink… and it was gone.

Christmas Day itself was interesting as well.  With the threat of snowy weather, Mom, Tracy and Barry, 3 dogs and a cat headed for Mississippi, to try and make it by the cemetery to see Dad’s headstone (that was placed while Mom was in California) before dark. We had offered to help our friend out and supply dinner for Room in the Inn ministry which provides shelter for the night for those without shelter.  So at 4pm, in the freezing rain we loaded 2 pans of dressing, 20 lbs of baked chicken breasts, 2 pans of garlic green beans, and rolls into the Yukon and all 6 of the Waters clan headed for the other side of town.  We got there with time to make gravy, warm the food and to meet everyone.  Then the guests arrived, and you could tell everyone was so very glad to be inside, warm, and with a meal to eat.  So in a small, old fellowship hall, 20 people, some guests, some volunteers, all sat down and ate all they could hold (so much that the pies had to wait til later) listened to Christmas music played on a Smartphone in a glass dish (for amplification purposes) and we served as God’s presence to those we would never have met otherwise.  It was wonderful, it didn’t last much longer than our 15 minute Christmas the night before, but somehow it felt much more like Christmas. NOW…the lesson about God’s grace…God showed up for Christmas this year loud and clear, not in the traditional, Martha Stewart, everything perfect way God didn’t seem to care about my half-assed attempt at holiday cheer, but we saw God’s grace in forgiving us for thinking THAT was more the focus of the season than the time we took to share our Christmas meal with others and to bring for a few minutes a small room full of peace of earth and good will towards our fellow humans.

It isn’t the Journey as Much as the Wisdom Gained from It

I have been a MESS for a very very long time. I think if you want to call it a “mid-life” crisis, then you should call the Guinness Book of World Records, because it has been going on for FAR too long…getting gnarled and unkempt like in the photograph of the worlds longest fingernails. Well, it is time to trim away that introspection that has consumed much of my 40′s so far and let loose the wisdom that has been gained by the Journey. Let’s talk about a couple of famous journey’s and how they ended.

First, I learned (thanks to Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz) that there is no big shiny place that will be the answer to all your questions, prayers, hopes and dreams.  The Emerald City in the movie was the height of Hollywood Glam, everyone there with the perfect costumes, makeup, making the perfect dance move at the perfect moment, singing the perfect note to blend into angelic harmony yet the whole place was as unsustainable and fake as the Wizard himself…well meaning and not bad people, but artificial, and with no more answers than Dorothy had at the beginning of the journey.  So, as we all know, where did the journey end? At Home, where it all began, with a deeper understanding of what was there all along, but with a new appreciation and love for it.  Had it changed while she had been gone? No, it was still black and white and rather dusty, but Dorothy had changed, She had learned from the stories of others, she had seen what she thought she wanted, and she found that she was much stronger then she ever imagined.

The second lesson I learned was from our dear, beloved Bilbo Baggins.  A blessed little Hobbit who travels WAY far out of his comfort zone, not for personal gain or riches, but for the greater good. And how is the poor thing repaid for his selfless acts?  really, not well, but it re-charted his life and the life of those he loved.  Tolkein’s poem (written by Bilbo) gives me insights into what it is like to have a life of mission larger than ones self, though written about Aragorn, it is easy to extrapolate Tolkien’s Catholic roots and the identity of the true King:

All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king

I don’t want to spend too much time on each word and line of the poem, but I do want to acknowledge the tone.  That treasure isn’t always what glitters, that a narrow, wandering path isn’t always wrong or of no use, that wisdom takes time to gain and from the dormant ashes resurrection can come. I have listened and watched many stories, those in books, movies, documentaries, in person and what they all have in common is “home”.  Finding a place, maybe not the physical place of your birth, but the place where your heart resides, a place you would fight for against all odds.

So, here I sit, at home. physically, psychologically and spiritually with a richer and deeper understanding of how important that is, what a blessing that is. Understanding that my journey was never to find the Emerald City and stay, or to leave home never to return, but to step out of my comfort zone, to fight for the greater good and return home from time to time to reconnect with the essence of what it means to belong. Neither Dorothy nor Bilbo returned to a bright shiny home with no worries, no problems, no work or issues, but they returned with the knowledge that it was worth working on, and that work would all be joy, the deep abiding joy of truly being home, because as Dorothy said “There is NO place like home”.

The Blurry Line Between Depression and Grief

About a year ago I went to see my Doc about my ADD…I had been having trouble staying on track lately, just didn’t feel I was getting anything done.  He wasn’t so sure, he asked me some questions about what was going on in my life and within 5 minutes, I was in tears.  I came home with a medication that not only works with ADD but also is prescribed for depression. Things began to improve as I began to deal with the fact that it did seem to be depression and as the medicine began to work…then all hell broke loose…my Dad was hospitalized, there were some professional bumps in the road, and while some good things happened, they were overshadowed by the barrage of Shit that seems to be hitting not only me, but our family day after day. Of course we responded as we always do, we became a tighter family, holding one another up, checking on each other regularly, and “being strong”.

The roller coaster ride continued for a year.  It seemed that when we had a break from one situation, another would rear it’s ugly head and smack us all like a giant, unexpected wave.  But for me, June of this year was the month in which the under toe sucked me into a sea of depression and grief.  After months of health issues, my Dad had finally turned a corner, he was off Dialysis and seemed to be getting stronger. He had even felt like coming to Memphis for his birthday at the end of April, and he and Mom hosted a party for Memorial Day and Dad had had a wonderful time.  But the next day, seemingly out of the clear blue, Dad had a stroke, complete with seizures and physical weakness.  It didn’t look good, the Docs prepared us for the worse, but Dad, being Dad, began to improve…slowly but surely doing the things the Docs said he couldn’t do.  This went on for 3 weeks, we had begun getting ready for him to come to rehab in Memphis, we were readying a room for Mom and preparing for 3 to 6 months of care.  The night after Father’s Day, Mom kissed Dad good night and crawled into the window seat bed she had slept on for much of the last 3 weeks.  At ll:00pm the nurses come in to check on him, trying not to wake Mom up, but they had too, Dad was gone. Mom called me, I heard her words, the ones I had expected for SO long and thank God I went into “pastor mode” knowing what had to be done, clear on each step that must be taken, single minded in knowing that I HAD to get to Mom.  I went into the Family Room where all our children (and an extra, Becca’s friend was spending the night) were watching TV.  I let them know what had happened.  I watched my children’s hearts break and saw the same single minded response from them…they wanted to get to their Nana.  So, at Midnight, with a Yukon XL full of shocked, sad people, we drove, mostly silently, 2 hours south to my Mom, and what was left behind of my Dad.

Have you ever been to a really loud concert? The kind that when the music stops, you feel as if you are wearing ear muffs? Well, the next few days pasted like that.  I felt as if the world was still spinning but it was muffled by the silence that surrounded me, the absence of my Dad’s big, strong voice.  After you regain your hearing from a really loud concert you begin to realize how badly your head is hurting, the same was true once all the events surrounding any death are over.  This nagging headache that has come and gone all summer.  The worst part for me has been the fact that everything that happens, even just a minor bump in the road, brings me once again to my knees, unable to move.  I am frustrated, angry, worried, and confused…I am unable to understand which is the depression I already had and which is normal, healthy grief.

I feel that I am living in a Psalm 69 world.  My Seminary studies of the Book of Psalms helps me to understand that at the end of all Psalms there is hope, hope that God will redeem all pain, all circumstances.  But when you are in the midst of the pain, that knowledge is about as much help as tits on a boar hog! So for now, I cling to the hope, like a life preserver, floating in the sea of chaos that continues to seem dark and scary and pray that a sharks doesn’t grab me from below.  I pray for the strength to continue to hold on while I watch the dot on the horizon that I logically know is a rescue, but also know won’t do me a damn bit of good if the chaos gets me first.

So, at this point, I thank God for the friends I have, the family that grieves with me, the pill I take EVERY single night, and hope. Each day I wake up I try to do a little towards healing. I am reminded of the man who lay near the pool at Bethesda for 38 years until Jesus asked…”do you WANT to be healed” (John 5:1-8) and I realize that I could get so comfortable in my misery that I make no progress towards healing, but I KNOW that I don’t want to stay where I am, I will kick, claw, whatever I have to do to get to healing…and then I realize…I WILL be okay because I am NOT just sitting here, letting my situation overwhelm me, I am not simply waiting on that ship on the horizon to get to me…I am swimming towards it, one stroke at a time, and it may take a while, but I will get there. But I also know the when healing comes, when that rescue vessel arrives, it will NOT be the end of the journey, just the beginning of a new one.  I try to remind myself that I will get tired, I will need to rest for a moment, but that that isn’t giving up or giving in, it is storing energy for the next big push forward.

I am not sure how to end this post, I am not sure there IS an ending yet, but just know that for me, the journey continues, I realize that that blurry line between depression and grief is hope, and I turn to Paul’s words in I Thessalonians 4:1313 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  
Our hope is not only for those who precede us in death but also in all of those situations in life that we grieve, all those loses we face in life we face not with despair but with hope. Thanks be to God.

It’s All Rob Bell’s Fault!!!

Yeah, that is right! I know Rob looks all sweet and kind and pastor-ee but last night, as I watched the video of his talk at The Viper Room, Rob revealed himself to be a mean, pushy, kick you in the gut then kick you while you are down kinda guy!! OK…well, not really…but he sure did “preach at me” all the way from West Hollywood. It has really difficult to hear him directly address our cultural bent towards thinking “commentating” on what others do has become a job that many except as legitimate…Rob calls us to be “more creative than that” to find our message, to do our work, realize that it is the act of writing (and by extension other forms of art) that is where the purpose and joy is found, not in whether or not the work is excepted, endorsed, ridiculed, or rejected. You have to do it for you!

Wow! It was like Rob walked up to me personally, and said “Hey, do you know you haven’t been living up to your potential? You have been letting the voices in your head and the voices of your critics replace YOUR voice” The short way of saying this (not that I can imagine it coming out of Rob’s mouth, but I can sure hear it coming out of MINE) “Get your SHIT TOGETHER and just DO IT” Start somewhere, anywhere, and this time DON’T STOP! Don’t let anything knock you off course…NOT EVEN YOU!

I am afraid that this is where I have to make an admission, I am scared to death that I will die never having done what I need and want to do.  I self-sabotage, I use excuses, I give up, then I hate myself for it…which starts the cycle all over again.  I get depressed easily, stay depressed easily, and hide if someone tries to point it out to me.  But every once in a while, something like this happens, something that feels like new school supplies and the first day of school…a clean slate full of hope and promise for a fresh start.  In the past, I have gotten all fired up about it, ready for the new challenges, but I packed all those wonderful new supplies in the same tired, old backpack I have been carrying around my whole life…a backpack sown together with faulty stitching made of doubts, negativity, and fear of past failures…Rob took my backpack away! And honestly, I hope it stays gone!! Rob’s words released me from caring what the outcome will be and will allow me to focus on those things that make me HAPPY! His wide eyed wonder and energy at the “next chapter in life” was contagious…so THAT is why…it is ALL Rob Bell’s fault!!

If you wanna hear exactly what Rob said…watch it here http://www.livestream.com/robbell/video?clipId=pla_11147604-8464-4c9b-9fea-0547978af7c4&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb Well worth the time!!

Rob Bell

Save the Drama for your Momma…hey, what a minute…I’m the Momma!!

I have been a Momma for 23 years now, I gave birth to 3 kids, and God has seen fit to bless me with many more over the years whom I love and value and watch with pride and worry about on a regular basis. There are a LOT of things I have learned in those years. I have learned that with three kids in the house, they can all have completely different personalities, interests, and ways of doing things. I have learned that they can disagree loudly when trying to persuade one another to see their point of view. I have learned that as the Momma, most of the time I don’t get involved… EXCEPT…There are rules in our home, there is never ever a time when laying hands on one another is ever acceptable, you never say something hurtful about your sibling because that is damaging and they are a loved member of the family, and lastly, always remember that you are not the only child, that you MUST understand that even if you continue to disagree you have to learn to live together cause nobody is leaving the family.

In the last couple years I have learned from my birth kids that sometime kids move away and do other things in life, it isn’t because they left the family, but because it is a natural part of growing up.  I have also learned that sometimes that same child may come back home, cause things didn’t quite work out the way they thought, and that is okay.

I am now learning how to relate to adult kids both birth and God given kids are older now and are living lives the best they can and making big decisions with big consequences.  It was SO much easier when I was worried about a toddler running into a table with their first wobbly steps when I could rush in and scoop them up before impact, or if I couldn’t at least it was all better with a ziplock of crushed ice, a sucker and Barney video watched from Momma lap. The world is hard, and I can not protect them from that anymore.  But I have learned that we can now be there for one another. My birth kids and I have gone through a lot of hard things together, and it has made us stronger. My God given kids and I have buried parents, had babies, ended marriages, cried together, talked about relationships and one of my God given kids has even died. And at the end, what I know is, it is an honor to be the Momma and to get to share the Drama.