Saturday, April 26, 2008


I am both a pastor and a counselor. If you don't know me well, you're probably sitting there thinking that I'm some uber-perfect hybrid of Billy Graham and Dr. Laura, their secret love child. You might assume you would feel a little uncomfortable around me at a party where there is alcohol, and you might try to clean up your language around me. In other words, you might think that I have it all figured out (at least in my own estimation), and that I'm harboring judgments about you because you DON'T have it all figured out. The truth is, I'm just as human and flawed as anyone, and perhaps more vulnerable. I want to talk a little bit about that vulnerability.

Last month everyone heard about the scandal surrounding Eliot Spitzer. I don't really want to get into that, but it's an old, old story: big name, big fall. Everyone loves to hate these people. It's a sick kind of fun when people who have a strictly moral public persona are caught with their pants down. My reaction is a little different these days. The more public my own life becomes, the more I understand how these things develop. Don't get me wrong, I'm not excusing anything...I'm just confessing that I think I get it in some weird way.

As my life becomes more and more public, I'm noticing the subtle pressure to appear a certain way. As a counselor, people expect that I will be extremely emotionally healthy with really wise and simple answers to all of the issues in their life. As a pastor, people expect that I will have a carefully constructed theological answer for everything and that my life will always reflect a kind of luminous spirituality. Together, the counselor-pastor combo amounts to the great double-whammy of pressured expectation. It becomes harder and harder to be real about my struggles and questions. Sometimes I bend and morph under the push and pull of it. If I'm not careful, I could leave myself behind and never really notice it.

I wonder if this is what happened with these other public figures? I wonder if little by little they forgot who they really were and what they cared about? I wonder if all that bending and morphing and hiding eroded their "me-ness" over time, and resulted in an identity that bore no resemblance to the person who first entered the public arena with all those high ideals? This thought scares me badly.

So here's my public confession, a kind of watermark to help me measure when the floods are threatening to overwhelm my "me-ness". I am a woman with a complicated personal history that I both love and hate. I have made a lot of mistakes, and some of those mistakes have hurt others. I have not been a perfect mother or wife or friend...far from it. (If I've done one thing really well, it has been to say "I'm sorry" when I was wrong...I've said that a lot in my life.) Sometimes depression and fear and doubt move into my chest like squatters and chase out all of the space required for breathing. In other words, I'm really no different than anyone else. All those titles really mean is that I am pointed in a particular direction and doing my best. I have not arrived anywhere and I don't have any room to judge anyone.

So there it is. Remind me of this if you ever run into me and I sound a little fake. Make sure there's someone home behind my eyes. Don't let me disappear into the world of expectations. Knock me over the head if you have to. Thanks.

Friday, April 25, 2008

for jeni

"Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions." I John 3:18

Today is the day.

A little while ago, I shared the story of Jeni, a single mother in Australia suffering from stage four colon cancer. Many women in our blogging community, including my friend Bella, got together to organize an auction to raise funds for her care. Today, you can participate in that auction by visiting here.

Please pass this along to anyone who might be interested. You can also visit Jeni here to leave her a little encouragement. She's currently in hospice for pain management and chemo.

Let's breathe life into our words.

Monday, April 14, 2008

silence and noise

I visit a little retreat center in a wooded area about an hour from my home at least once a year to reorient myself. It's called Pacem in Terris which is Latin for Peace on Earth. People frequently misunderstand what this means to me. They assume that it's a get-away to relax, and that's not entirely inaccurate. But the truth is, these retreats are much more than that. It's so difficult to find words to speak about an experience that is silent. Christianne posted recently about God calling her to silence, and she conveys so beautifully the reality of this discipline. These days away are not always peaceful. In fact, the noise in my mind can be louder than anything the external world can produce.

The real value of these retreats is that the silence and simplicity of the environment strips away the usual distractions that keep me away from myself and, more importantly, God. Within minutes of arriving, a million skittering voices rise up in me that sound something like this:
  • "I wonder if there are any bears or serial killers in these woods?"
  • "Is it too early to dig into the food basket?"
  • "I should have said 'to hell with the rules' and brought along my itunes."
  • "Rats! I have to pee already and I hate using that stupid outhouse."
  • "Is it too early to go to bed?"
  • "I wonder how long it would take someone to find my body if I was mauled by a bear or a serial killer?"
  • "Hey, I never noticed that the sound of rain falling on dead leaves sounds exactly like the sound of a fire crackling."
  • "Why can't these hermitages have wireless access? What's so bad about a little internet fix now and then? And while I'm at it, would it kill them to pump in a little electricity and running water? Do they have something against indoor toilets? Rats! Now I really have to pee!"
  • "Oh my goodness, I've only been here for ten minutes. I'm going to fry every neuron in my head by the time I get out of here!"
You get the idea. Really godly stuff.

The first time I went on one of these retreats these voices were deeply disturbing to me. Now I have come to expect them. That's the reason I always plan on at least two days. It takes a minimum of six hours (more like a whole day) for these voices to burn themselves out so I can begin to hear something else.

The things I find in my mind and heart are not always so flattering, I'll tell you that much. I find impatience, fear, boredom, selfishness, name it. I find all of the clutter and chaos that has been taking up space in my life. This is what I have to offer to God. This is the entire task of my time at Pacem. I lift up these thoughts and urges and sensations and desires to Jesus and I listen. I do this over and over and over again. And then I sleep. (This is hard work!)

The voice of God is always surprising to me. He speaks in quiet little whispers like a kitten breathing in my ear. It's no wonder I have such a hard time hearing him most of the time. It's surprising to me that such a great big God would speak with such a tender voice. But he does. This is why it has become so important to me to go away periodically to clear out an internal space. And this is why it has become so important to cultivate all the little silences in my days and nights. God lives there. He whispers to me in the quiet if I'll take the time to offer up my noise so I can hear him.

With that, I'll leave you with a few more photos from my stay. Love to you all...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

silent retreat

I've been away at a silent retreat for the last few days. I'm not quite ready to talk about it yet, but here are some pictures that might help in the mean time. Peace~