The journey of running fast in cleats….

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, but I’m still celebrating. (I’m one of those people who likes to celebrate birthdays and stuff for an entire week.) The day came alive for me yesterday evening as I watched our little girl take part in her second T-ball practice ever. She’s still figuring out the logistics of making the bat and the ball collide in just the right way, but Daddy (who used to play baseball himself) is at the ready to help with that. When it comes to catching the ball and, especially, running the bases, our girl is fierce! She loves to run, and my heart takes wings, too, when I watch her. I really love watching the kids do a free run from one end of the field to the other. There’s one little boy who is known as the fastest on the team, but our girl is not deterred by that. The “soccer mom” (or really, more of a “stage mom”) that arises in me wants her to beat him–and all of the rest of the kids, while she’s at it. She’s not far behind the first-place runner. She could take him! Go, go, go!!! But, then, I remember I’m a pastor and supposed to be a decent human being and supportive of all children. Funny thing, though. . . . As I’m experiencing this moral dilemma within myself, I look up at her, flying across the field with her ponytail bouncing, her long twiggy legs galloping, hot pink cleats pounding the red-brown dirt, face beaming with determination, exertion, and exhilaration. And I realized–who cares who wins? This is pure JOY!

To me, she is the essence of International Women’s Day, right there on our community baseball field. In that moment, she is being absolutely herself. Doing what she loves doing. She has space to thrive. She is championed. She is free. She is seen.

Cheers to our brave, strong, joyful girl–and all women–today and everyday.

The journey of wearing orange….

I’m wearing an orange dress today. My friend, who’s an elementary school teacher, reminded me yesterday that today is #Unity day, when we take a stand against bullying. As a former introverted, pale, freckle-y, and rather nerdy teenager who, as an adult, is still quite introverted, pale, freckle-y, and nerdy…this issue is close to my heart. And I’m a mom now. And my heart hurts when I think of how cruel this world can be sometimes.

So there I was wearing my orange dress at our local gas station putting fuel in the tank, when I noticed something unusual on the gas pump. It was a sticker with an incredibly unflattering (to say the least) picture of President Biden, mouth gaping open and finger pointing, with the words “I did that” underneath. Whoever put the sticker there had placed the finger-point strategically close to where the gas price is displayed digitally in red. Ah. I got the message.

It’s been a hard day for me emotionally already and seeing that sticker just tipped me right over the edge. The next thing I knew, I had scraped the sticker off and dumped the shreds of it in the nearby trash can. It took me three tries, but it’s gone. (Until the sticker fairy returns.)

But now, let’s calm ourselves. This reflection of mine honestly has nothing to do with my feelings about this President. Or any U.S. President past or future. What it does have to do with is kindness and love. And stopping bullying. And an awareness that hate is like a cancer eating away at us as a society. Can we learn to disagree without mockery and ridicule? Can we dislike a stance or policy or idea without seeking to destroy the person who shares it? Can we teach our children to respect differences, protect the vulnerable, and—very simply put—be kind?

So I wear my orange today. With hope. With determination. With love. I invite you to join me. And I might just wear something else orange tomorrow.

A little kick-back on the journey

“Calm down, Mommy. Calm down. . . .” Our two-year-old has started saying this to me lately. I’m not sure where she learned it—school maybe—but I love it. She’ll then take her tiny little hand and rest it on her tiny little diaphragm and demonstrate how to take deep, calming breaths. And she’ll say it again, with the utmost sincerity and the biggest eyes, as if she were a grown-up life coach or therapist or yoga instructor: “Mommy, calm downnnnnn. . . .”

I need to hear that. I need to hear it often. And to hear those words in the precious voice of our child makes that message even sweeter . . . Makes it take even deeper root down in my soul.

I’ve spent the weekend with a bunch of middle schoolers and high schoolers at a camp in the East Texas woods learning about calming down . . . rest . . . or, in religious terms, “sabbath.” Or . . . as our youth conference theme describes it: a “Kick Back with Jesus.” A youth conference and rest—an oxymoron? Amazingly, no. 

Calm, peace, and wholeness washed over me several times throughout the weekend. I can’t remember every detail and everything that was said, but I do remember hearing in our keynotes, in our worship times, and in our conversations that we are loved just as we are . . . that God makes beautiful things out of our mess and pain . . . that taking time to rest and unplug is good for us . . . and that all of us are welcome at God’s table. I remember water poured in plunging splashes . . . the flame and rising smoke of candles . . . clay squished and molded in my fingers . . . prayers doodled with colorful markers on newsprint and unexpected teardrops speckling the paper . . . and threads, lots of threads. Threads to make friendship bracelets to give away. Extra threads everywhere to unravel and organize after said friendship bracelet making. Threads used to make knots for all of the “nots” in our lives and to untangle those knots as part of a prayer. And, most of all, good friends who remind us that we’re not alone. That there are people who “get it”—who understand and do the real work of ministry, worship, mission, love. People who “get me.” Friends who share a history with me and share a few of the same battle scars. People who remind me that God is real and God loves me, too, and that what I bring to this world matters and is very much needed. I don’t have to be anyone else . . . but uniquely me. Just as they are uniquely them . . . and are needed . . . and are loved. 

So I bring that treasure I found over the weekend into this new week back at home, doing all of the normal things I do. I feel raw. I feel fresh. I have a surprising sense of calm in my soul. I’m still stuck in the “in-between.” No change there. But I am resolute that “in-between” is not all there is in this life.

And, meanwhile, as I wait, I’m still humming the tune of “Beautiful Things” (written by Michael and Lisa Gungor, 2009) that I learned at camp. I’ll be carrying these words into the week that stretches before me: “You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us. . . . You are making me new.”

Love, Light, and Little Details

            I just wanted a cup of coffee. A dark chocolate latte—to be more precise—from my favorite cool, quirky, Baroque and Celtic music playing, Catholic icon decorated, contemporary art covered, fantastic smelling, local coffee shop. I exchanged pleasantries with the owner/barista and was about to hand over my debit card to pay, when I heard a deep, rumbly voice behind me. “Excuse me, sir. Her money is no good here.” I felt confused and shocked and readied myself for a confrontation. But, in the matter of seconds as I was turning to face my accuser, my brain also registered a lilting warmth in that voice. It was then that I saw a familiar, welcome face . . . An older gentleman who was a friend from the church where I serve as an Associate Pastor. A friend who is a kind listener and encouraging supporter. “Her money is no good here.” Oh, hi, social cues. He was joking. And he was wanting to buy not only my cup of coffee but the one I was getting for my husband, too. Sometimes, I take things so seriously. Sometimes, I’m quick to assume the worst. But I’m discovering that Love and Goodness always, always break through . . . Often in ways that surprise me.

            I laughed and bantered with my friend, and, as I left the coffee shop and took a sip of my drink, I found that latte to be the sweetest, warmest beverage I’ve had in a while. And that’s part of the reason I want to write, to share.

            It’s also because of a dear friend who knows my love of words and who recently looked me squarely in the face and straightforwardly proclaimed, “You should write a blog.” How could she have known that only a few days prior that same idea flitted across my brain, and I had quickly shoved it aside? I’m thankful for friends who have vision and courage and enthusiasm and don’t put up with my silly excuses and hesitations.

            It’s also because of my husband who adventures with me in this life and brings out the best in me as a human being. It’s because of my daughter, who views this world with wide eyes, open hands, and squeals of joy.

            It’s because of all of my family members and friends-who-feel-like-family. And my acquaintances. And the people I happen to meet. And the people who don’t like me. All the people who shape my life and help me to grow.

            And it’s especially because of one dear friend who passed away only a few weeks ago. A friend we affectionately call “Scotty.” He was a well-respected Physician’s Assistant in neurosurgery. But, outside the operating room, he had a passion for light—stage lighting in particular—and photography. He taught me to capture the moment in pictures. And when you take a photo of a child or a baby, for goodness’ sake, don’t just peer at them from above. . . . Get down on their level and discover the light and sparkle in their eyes. And when you place lamps around your home, create warm, soothing light with just the right bulbs. You don’t need those harsh, clinical-looking fluorescent lights glaring down on you all the time.

            In addition to light and photos, Scotty taught me about what is good. I loved to chat with him about food and recipes. Recipes that his sweet little Mama from Mississippi (or “Miss’ssippi,” if you’re saying it right) taught him years ago. Recipes for delicious meals made from simple ingredients but with lots of love and would make you feel like you were surrounded by a big ol’ hug. From Scotty, I learned which brand of canned green beans was good. Where to get the best frozen spanakopita bites so that it tasted like you’d gotten them fresh from a Greek bakery. How to make barbecue shrimp in the oven with these certain herbs and spices. It’s easy but tastes like it took forever to make. And don’t forget some good, crusty bread to sop up that extra barbecue sauce. All the words of wisdom about good food and how to make it.

            And when you’re at a restaurant, don’t immediately put in your order and be in such a hurry. Take a moment. Have a nice, glass of wine and an appetizer. Talk (and listen!) to the folks gathered around you. People-watch a little. Take it all in. Savor the moment and savor your meal. Enjoy what’s good.

            And, as you go about your day or make plans for something important, make a list. Jot down all the little details. Because the details matter. Details like bringing what Scotty would call a “sack of biscuits” to the technicians servicing your car. Not necessary at all, but it made a difference. It showed gratitude. Or making and bringing a chicken and rice casserole to a neighbor in need. Or just because you were neighbors. Or caring about all the elements of a stage production—from hair to make-up to costumes to the singing and dancing—and, of course, the lighting. Always the lighting. Always about illuminating what was good and what the world needed to see. Even the little things. The often-overlooked things.

            And that’s what I want to share and write about. Good things. Love, light, and little details. In honor of the people who live Love and make this world better by being in it (or by having been in it). People who engage this world with integrity, hope, good humor, and joy. These will be my reflections on the big things and the small things of life, through the lens of Love and Light. With eyes and heart open to all the little details.