Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Best Kind of Leaving There Is

Milestones are funny things. They just show up right in the middle of your ordinary days. If you're lucky, they warn you with a feeling in your gut that this is important — pay attention. Today was one of those days.

Today, our son Adrian announced he was leaving our church fellowship.

It feels like the end of an era. Our family of five won’t worship together anymore. Not on Mother's Day next week, not on ordinary Wednesday nights, and not on Easter Sunday.

And this is a good thing.

It means he's ready. He's a man of his own faith now after 21 years of our leading, teaching, correcting, watching, praying, coaxing, rejecting, repositioning, forgiving, cheering – and receiving a little of each of these on the parent end along the way, too.

God has opened a ministry opportunity to Adrian that has been blossoming slowly. Just over a year ago, he began playing acoustic guitar in the band at another church in town for their Wednesday night youth services. As of Easter Sunday, that role has expanded into worship leader of an entirely new Sunday service. Their church is growing, and beginning a new service was their way to expand. It's a modern, contemporary service with all brand new music. Think Jesus Culture and Elevation Worship. 

Adrian is planning worship services, leading a new band, coordinating musicians, singers, technicians, overseeing sound equipment, and answering to the youth minister and the senior pastor. He prefers to see his position as lead worshipper rather than Worship Leader.

About a month ago, our pastor of worship was on vacation, and Adrian filled in. I hadn't seen him lead worship since he had begun doing it weekly at Northside Baptist, and seeing him lead worship that day was like watching him do what he was created for. I've since described it like this: He is more "himself" when he's leading worship than when he's doing any other thing he's ever done. 

This morning, he told his musical worship story from the beginning, when he bought an electric blue electric guitar from my cousin on an installment plan in 6th grade, determined to learn to play. After switching to acoustic soon after (How do I thank you, John Mayer?), he begged to be a part of our praise band, and was finally welcomed aboard at the tender age of 13. He led his first youth worship service in September 2009.

For eight years, from the second row, I watched him  grow musically, spiritually, physically, emotionally, mentally. He's been frustrated, exhilarated, challenged. Things have gone great, badly, according to plan, and off key.

Until Mike's mother passed two years ago, we had the blessing of four generations of Gonzálezes in our church. Because of this, some in our church family, even some Gonzálezes, may not see Adrian's leaving as a good thing — but it is.

Maybe one day he'll be back; maybe not. But that's not the point. The point is that God can use us if we avail ourselves to him, and often that leads us away from places of familiarity, places where we've settled into complacency, and places where ministry is comfortable, predictable, and hence, easy (if that can be said of ministry – ever).  

It will be good for Adrian to expand his identity beyond being the PK, beyond the shadow of his father's ministry, which Adrian called a legacy this morning. It's time. It's the next step in Adrian's growth as his own independent adult with cord cut.

We want him to stand tall in the light of God on his own, not hanging onto his dad's coattails, but standing firm upon his foundation of faith and ministry, and looking forward with his guitar strapped firmly over his shoulder and his songwriter-heart fixed on Him who will lead the way into a ministry all his own, not attached to his father. We would never want to limit him or hold him back.

One morning twenty plus years ago, I snapped his footed pjs back together and lifted him, clean diaper, from my bed and stood him up on the floor to hold on to the edge. He cruised down to the foot of the bed, where he sat down, turned around, and crawled out of my bedroom without so much as a glance behind him. Before I stood up and followed him out, I said to myself, that's just the first of many times he will leave me. Little did I know how much I would need each small leaving. They would build upon one another with growing consequence and graduate in degree of separation. That is as it should be — we both needed the practice.

Today we celebrated all we've watched God do in Adrian's life. Our pastors, including his dad, his uncle, a fellow band member, and two that were his youth pastors, drew near to him and blessed him in his going. Now his new ministry opportunity can begin without division, but with blessing and a sending out, in the fullness of joy. It's a both/and, not a either/or proposition, and the best kind of leaving there can be.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

I Must Be Mad

I just gave 70 hours of my life to a television show. On the surface it's about materialism, ambition, and overindulgence in sex, cigarettes, and booze. I almost quit watching Mad Men. It offended me on so many levels.

I only stuck with it because there was so much buzz about this show, and now I was wondering why on earth? So I kept watching, and in so doing, I got my answer.

Beneath the debauchery is a feast of the messy incongruity of humanity. Flawed people. Complicated relationships. Insight into professional competition, the creative process, the arc of family dynamics, the bleed of professional relationships into personal ones. Personal insecurity. Regret. Hope. Themes like loyalty, honesty, fidelity, marital collapse, success and failure, generosity and greed, courage and fear, creativity are all explored across the backdrop of the '40s - 1970 in American culture. Add to the setting racism, Vietnam, politics, religion, sexism, the arms race, and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon.

The character development was brilliant. By the end, it was almost exclusively a narrative, and slowly, over seven seasons, you move from the one-dimensional keep-up-with-the-Joneses superficial facade of these characters to the innermost depths of their human souls.

They are people you come to love, not only despite their shortcomings but because of them. You become so invested in them that they frustrate you and break your heart, mostly because you love them so fiercely while you hate them for their self-sabbotage. Sounds like a few people you love in real life, doesn't it. Sounds like you and me.

A few favorite highlights:

The sibling-like relationship between Don and Peggy and this scene in particular:

The complicated and lifelong love between Don and Betty:

The last time we see Don and Roger together and how they each give the other his blessing:

When Stephanie tells "Dick" he's wrong, he's not her family, and then leaves him standing there alone. There are implications, ironies, identity issues, and hope for Don's future this moment gives him even though it seems like anything but a gift --  all this is wrapped into this exchange.

It was a quintessential scene for me and I can't even find a clip on You Tube. Apparently I'm the only one who saw so much happening in this scene.

My all-time favorite Mad Men moment was when Adrian, who was the impetus of my watching it to begin with, came in last night and sat beside me for the final 20 minutes and the evening of conversation about all things Mad Men couched in our own family dynamics, incongruities, and flawed love for one another.

I almost didn't post about Mad Men because I'm a pastor's wife and I'd never do anything as a Christian leader to be a bad example or lead poorly. There was plenty of raunchiness in Mad Men to be sure. There was a time in my life when I would not have watched. There was also a time in my life I would have watched but not talked about it for fear of being judged or potentially being a stumbling block to a fellow believer. I've now reached the time I have watched and am telling about it.

In the end, I decided to write about my experience with Mad Men for two reasons. One, because the sex and the booze and the overindulgence were ultimately portrayed as the destructive forces they are in real life. And two, I feel inspired by Don Draper, who inwardly struggles with all the conflicted and conflicting parts of himself, public and private, past and present. As Don Draper grows as a character in this series, his identity crisis remains constant.

We'd all be the better for it if we could find a way to consolidate all the pieces that make up our own lives and accept the sum total in the lives of our loved ones. Maybe, just maybe, we could stop being Ad Men ourselves in our own type of advertising agency who try to pitch ourselves as some truer, safer, better version of our real selves to potential buyers. In reality, we're all broken and in crisis. The beauty comes not from trying to cover it up, but by facing our brokenness head-on and learning redemptive ways to move forward.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Easter: When God's Answer Is No

There are so many extraordinary parts of the Easter story: a Passover meal with bombshell news, a mob gone wild, the crucifixion of an innocent man, and, of course, the rolled-away stone with its angel and empty tomb. It's easy to overlook the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus was about to face the express purpose for which he came to this planet, and he was having second thoughts. He had volunteered to leave heaven and be born a helpless babe to an imperfect mother in a primitive time for a gruesome reason. The plan was to squeeze eternity into burial cloths of human flesh and die a torturous death he didn't deserve. It took some humbling, but Jesus did it willingly (Philippians 2:2-5).

And we know from Hebrews 2:2 that he endured the cross for the joy set before him, that joy being the reconciling to himself the crowning creation he crafted in his image.

But in between the humbling and the joy, there was this mess in the Garden of Gethsemane.

No one gets through this fallen life on earth — or even the abundant life, for that matter — without facing hard things. Even for Jesus, it doesn't look pretty. He was sweating it out. He begged and pleaded for Plan B. He forsook sleep that long dark night.

And God ultimately answered his prayer with no. He does this sometimes. They're not our favorite moments. We don't tape them on scrapbook pages for safekeeping or pin them longingly on Pinterest, swearing to ourselves that we'll never forget this inspiring moment.

But maybe we should scrapbook the moments when God tells us no. Maybe we should go to Gethsemane and kneel. Plead brazenly for Plan B, and sweat God's answer, and be brave and whisper, "Not my will but yours," and be shocked that we really mean it. And then sweat some more.

That way, when we face our Pilate, we will be uncannily empowered to keep our moths shut. When we are mocked, we will feel only compassion. When we face temptation, we'll be single-minded and bent on holiness, sacrifice, and service. And when others marvel at how well we're enduring our ordeal, we'll invite them to paradise with us.

Don't get me wrong. I don't relish going to Gethsemane to do battle with God's will. I'd much rather sleep through the uncomfortable realness of that excruciatingly hard-fought surrender like the three disciples did. I'd rather close my eyes to that awkward moment than stare down God's will until I finally blink.

But I can't — because I know this: the well-rested but ill-prepared disciples fled the scene at the cross, but the sleep-deprived, battle-weary Jesus was victorious. Gethsemane is vital to victory. Don't shy away from going there because it doesn't look pin-worthy, and you're afraid of what that Gethsemane struggle might say about your faith.

Are you facing hardship? You may have heard it said, "Take it to the cross," but might I suggest you take it to Gethsemane instead?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lament for Paris: A Psalm

It is dark, Lord; I cannot see the way.
Is evil to win another day?
Hear me! Hear the grief,
Anger, outrage, fear.
Write it down, Lord,
In your book,
the anguish here!


Open your eyes, Lord; open mine.
We are wounded
Bleeding. Still.
You know this
Horror suspended there.
Pray there be no more.


You are quiet; Are You there?
To cast thee our care?
On our knees, no words to form
But grope with despair, lovelorn
Where are You? Where are You?
Speak to me:


You see.
     You hear.
          You care.
               You wait!

It's quiet.
              I hate!

You love —
It never, ever fails.
You promise —
Yea and amen,
Even when it makes no sense —
I hope.

It is dark, Lord. I cannot see the way.
Is evil to win another day?

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ready or Not: A Kind of Scary Adventure to the Middle-Aged Soul

We have college and high school children. Life right now is replete with two working teenage daughters who can't yet drive themselves to and from their part-time jobs. On the girls' portion of my to do list is to schedule job shadowing, senior pictures (a carryover from August), a few college visits, and scheduling driver's ed classes.  The dog is overdue for vaccines, the car for an oil change, and the bushes for trimming. The new windows we installed last month still hang naked and exposed. It's November and I haven't baked Mike's September birthday cake. You're getting the picture, right? Life's symphony is at its crescendo. 

It's no surprise that my quiet time (I hate that term and all others that inadequately describe living out my love relationship with God, which is seldom quiet time.) has devolved into merely another responsibility I am only partially fulfilling. This and many other things I typically find enjoyable have become weights that are pulling me under. Activities that I've long loved I now loathe and neglect. I find I'm ridding myself of them in an effort to manage it all. In so doing, I'm robbing my own life of joy in the name of surviving the climax otherwise know as middle-age.

Because something had to give, and I'm the grown up in this cacophony, I did what is expedient: I amputated joy and pleasure, thinking they were non-essential and expendable. They are not.

I'm working my way through Karen Dabaghian's A Travelogue of the Interior: Finding Your Voice and God's Heart in the Psalms. 

The title captured me. My own interior (Oh yeah! I have one of those.) is on life support, threatening the need for yet another amputation. I was becoming "less me" with all the radical cuts. It's time to reclaim my full self, find my own voice, and again see God's heart, more good things I had cut myself off from.

But pondering my life's experiences to find their meaning, to better know God, andto allow the melding of the two to shape who I am and who I want to become? Well, that require time and quiet, commodities that are rare in this stage of life. This middle aged mom-wife-professional-lover of God-writer-homemaker-Sunday school teacher-caregiver to an aging mother needs a tour guide back to her interior. Desperately.

The writer in me loved the idea of a travelogue.  

Travelogue: a movie, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited and experiences encountered by a traveler. 

Maybe I could actually start writing again. Maybe I'd uncover something worth knowing and saying. 

I'm a third of the way through this book, and most of it is highlighted yellow. There are writing prompts sprinkled through the text, resting places in this journey I've yet to slow down to take advantage of. But I will on my second trip through this book, and I can't think of a single book I've read twice. It's that good.

Karen shares her own trip through the Psalms in the context of a class she took which required she write her own psalms. Her self-described bad poetry is creating a desire in me to write my own bad poetry. 

She has an entire chapter called On Writing Bad Poetry, God love her. She shares some of her own poetic attempts at interacting with the themes of the Psalms the way the psalmists did — by wrestling with her own beliefs, experiences, what she knows of God through both relationship with him and his word, and what God might be saying to her right now. 

Well, yes please. (I remember doing that. I've been here before. Ah, yes, of course. It's my own interior.)

Her psalms are short, concentrated writings that get right to the point. Short and concentrated would fit right nicely in my life these days, not to mention that this writer could use the discipline of getting right to the point. Are you even still reading?

Okay, so I'll get to the point. I think I might give poetry a shot. Yes, I said that out loud because I still can't believe I even had the idea, much less like it, or worse, want to attempt it.

I'm an English major, and I'm terrified of poetry. I don't think I know how. I don't even know what distinguishes good poetry from bad. It's a genre reserved for the literary elites. Writing my own feels intimidating, much like my naked and exposed, neglected, new windows.

I will use Karen's advice as my goal and standard. "The important thing is that you write what you really mean and that you labor to say something specific and not generic." Karen Dabaghian, A Travelogue of the Interior.

Taking on something new right now makes me want to throw up, but not taking this trip back to my interior will kill me. So surely it's worth an unfortunate encounter with the toilet bowl.

I may or may not share my psalms here because I may or may not be brave enough.

But I do want you to know for the sake of accountability. I am reclaiming me, the real me on the inside. I needed to say that out loud in the hearing of a witness or two for fear of not following through. 

And if you can relate to any of this, I dare you to take an expedition back into your own interior. Psalm-writing is optional. 


Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Blog Post I Won't Write

Sixteen days without Mike. It's felt more like the 1.38+ million seconds it was.

I've gotten good at being home alone over the decades with Mike on ministry trips several times a year. Sometimes I even look forward to having a week to myself.

This time was not one of those times.

This time, I solved a lot of problems, made some big decisions, and faced a few firsts--things I normally do together with Mike--alone. In a time when the whole world communicates effortlessly via internet, Mike was 90 miles off the U.S. coast in a communist country which restricts internet access. So close, yet so far.

There's been professional challenges, family business matters, a first teenage job interview and job offer, other teenage firsts, and an unsightly rash on my legs I think is an allergic reaction to medication I took. Or maybe it's just stress.

All to face alone.

I need to write all this to get it outside of me -- I think I may burst otherwise. But some of my concerns and issues are mine only vicariously as I watch my children begin to bloom into the adults they are becoming. At this point, parenting feels in my heart the way childbirth felt physically (and, yes, I did feel it all -- twice giving birth with no pain medication). It is terrifying, intense, joyful, expectant, and almost more than one woman can withstand. It feels quite violent and vulnerable.

I hesitate to be so open about my young adults' tumultuous growing into their own: the mistakes, the mishaps, the failures -- even the victories. I hesitate for three reasons.

One, it feels like a violation of my kids' privacy as they get older. Their stories are not mine to tell anymore. They are claiming their own lives now. I will not violate that.

Two, as a pastor's family, we live in the proverbial fishbowl. Glass walls. I am tired of the scrutiny and the judgment of others as well as my own n'er-go-away desire to please people. And both have played a part. We are guilty on both sides of the glass.

We have a wonderful body of Christ to serve, don't get me wrong, but it's tiresome living as an example. Ever aware of  being a leader, one desires to live above reproach. One? Who am I kidding? I. I try my darnedest to hide from public view the things that are not exemplary, and there always are some. It's exhausting and stressful. No wonder Christian leaders fall, and break out in mysterious rashes that won't go away.

Leading up to these 16 days were the two weeks when Mike wasn't feeling well. Over-commitment, deadlines, and responsibilities can crush a soul. Overly dramatic? No, I think not. He had back ache that played mind games with the cancer patient in him. When he kicked off the covers one night, he laid awake the rest of the night wondering if that was night sweats again (one of his old cancer symptoms). He finally caved in and visited his oncologist, who scanned his body to prove to Mike he was healthy. We wept in the parking lot afterward. That didn't put everything to rest, though, because in the wee hours of the morning on the way to the airport, Mike talked non-stop about a multitude of things he's neglected of late. House repairs, yard work, church projects and goals that have been on hold. Date nights. His mind was still a pinball machine.


I've been leading a summer bible study probing the places in our spiritual walk where we get "stuck." Who am I to lead such a study? We've talked fears (the gateway emotion to worry), discontentment, and being broken, angry, and overwhelmed.

The biggest stuck place of them all? Trying to hide these flaws.


In one of the sermons I listened to this week, the radio pastor said, "Do you realize that the only one in your church who doesn't have a pastor is the pastor?" You'd think I know this already, being in the ministry for 25 years now, but my jaw dropped.

Ministry has been a joy and a way of life that I have loved. But I'm tired of being married to the ministry. Things have got to change, for the love of God. Literally, for the love of God, and for the sake of my rash and Mike's health.

Mike arrives at the airport and back into our daily lives at close to midnight tonight. That means a short night of sleep and church first thing tomorrow morning.

Story of my life.

You know what I really want? I want to go on a date with my husband in the morning. A slow, quiet brunch never sounded better. Then we would gather our three children, lock up all our devices, and head to the beach for a minimum of 48 hours. I need to engage with my people, and I think they all need it too.

Tomorrow, we will dutifully be in church, though. I don't resent it. It will be a sacrificial offering to the Lord, who is in charge of all these facets of life and ministry and family dynamics. I will go to church tomorrow, much like I sometimes cook supper when I don't feel like it--because I'm a big girl. I'll entrust our wounds and shortcomings to my God. At his feet is always the best place to be, especially when things are broken and fearful and overwhelming and stuck.

But come Monday, Mike and I will be making some changes. There will be times of the day that he will be letting voicemail answer his calls, and there will be the turning off of the computer and the light in his study. Because although God is first, He is not only. Family is second. There must be a third and fourth and all these things that will added unto you, as promised. There has to be.

The third reason I won't write this post is because I need more grace in my life. I ran into Romans 14 again the other day and all things permissible and yet not being a stumbling block to the weaker brother. Hello love. Hello grace.

I'm tired of striving. Striving to live up to the impossible standard that is Jesus. Unaware, I have gravitated toward my old foe perfectionism. Doing that from behind glass walls ever-aware of the audience leads to being legalistic and judgmental. Romans 14 reminded me Jesus sees and evaluates me through his grace. It's time I follow His lead and do the same.

So I resolve to be kinder and more gracious. I think I'll start with me and mine. I invite you to do the same.

And finally, since I'm not writing this post, I'll leave you, instead, with Mike's love song for this ministry trip.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

HelloHello — Testing — Is This Thing On?

Anybody out there? I've wondered if anyone has even missed me, because it appears everything online went on just fine without me (no surprise there). But blogging brought the writer in me back to life, so much so that blogging was my hero for awhile.

Then, over time, blogging began to feel like an echo chamber. I blog. I want readers. So I read other blogs so they'll read mine. I spent a lot of time slogging through blog posts that, in hindsight, weren't worth the time. But then I'd read a real gem and think all that wasted time was worth it to find this one. It felt a bit like mining for precious stones, except it probably was more like a gambling addiction. One payoff would send me back for lots more wasted time in search of great writing and a magnificent, profound thought. And only bloggers read blogs, but by golly, some of them were reading mine, so who cares? It's a technicality.


I then ventured into adding a few of my blog friends to my in-real-life online places like Facebook. This also started a chain reaction of over-thinking and wondering if I was attending more to online relationships than the ones in my daily life. Lines grayed, and I felt confused and uncertain at best and irresponsible at worst.

My writing had changed too. I was no longer content writing about ordinary things in as much poetic description as I could muster. It was a disguise for the fact that I didn't have anything profound to say. I wanted more, something valuable to impart, and I didn't want my important message camouflaged in clever, lyrical phrasing. 

Meanwhile, back in my real life, I began floundering professionally. I was becoming less happy at work. But, because I am reluctant to change and  unambitious to a fault, I hung in there too long — long enough for them to down-size me and my paycheck to four days a week. It was the kick in the pants I needed to find a new job.

It took fifteen months, because the position I was looking for was what I thought I wanted. I thought I wanted to expand my writing by moving into communications and public relations. 

I knew myself very poorly then. I thought I knew what I wanted my life to look like, and then when I finally got it, I was miserable. 

I took a job in trade books and bookstore marketing. It sounds all glamorous and bookish, only it was retail and event planning. It took me five months to admit even to myself I'd made a huge mistake.

I no longer had a quiet office where I could think. I was on my feet all day long, making split decisions and solving problems in the public eye. I am the most ill-equipped person on the planet for that type of work.  I came home mentally, physically and emotionally drained — and at all times of the day and night, weekends included. Utterly depleted and without a daily rhythm, I had nothing left to give to all the most important areas of my life.

I read Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking for two reasons. I had watched her TED talk, which left me wanting to hear more, and it had been on our Campus Bestseller table at the bookstore for about four months. That book did two things for me — two life-transforming things. It gave me permission to own my introversion. Secondly, it helped me realize that my job was slowly killing me. Part of me was dying on the inside a little more every day. It was time to cut my losses.


It took seven months to find another job. Then it took me another 6 weeks to slowly come back to life while I convalesced in my new position. Yes, convalesced. Although I am training and learning new job responsibilities, I am back in an environment I thrive in, doing what I now realize not only suits me, but what I had enjoyed all along. 

It'd be easy to say that I am now back where I started, and all of that was for nothing, but that would be the biggest mistake of all.  It was not a pointless detour. I may have come full-circle, but I am not back where I started.

I'm not the same person I was when my professional life began to unravel three and a half years ago. I'm not the same business woman, the same Christian, or the same friend. Our family dynamics have changed, as have my desires and priorities. I've grown stronger and wiser, and know myself a bit better. I'm a little more comfortable in my own skin. I've grown as a writer too, because although it's been quiet here on my blog, I was still writing and publishing in print.

I'd like to say I'm back, but I'm not. I don't think I'm done blogging entirely though. At least I don't think so. I'm not sure what this is or what it will look like going forward. 

I no longer think about writing a book someday. I no longer read online at the expense of my real life arenas.

A few things I do know. I won't follow the rules of blogging this time. Instead, I'll follow my gut, my heart.  Guts and heart make better reading anyway. I might even start fresh at another blog site. (If I do, I'll let you know, just in case.) I know I'm still a girl who loves God and his word. I'll still be working out my salvation with fear and trembling here (or there). And I'd love to do that together with you through meaningful conversation in the comments (which I've reopened). It's hard work putting feet of flesh to my faith, and hard work is always easier with good company. I've never had a lot of great conversation in my comments here, but I'd like to. It's something I always wanted, and one of the few things that hasn't changed for me. 

So I'm inviting you back or to stick around or to make the move with me. (See how messy not following the rules can be?) But I'd love to have you along, because I need friends like you to share life with and learn from and invest in. I'm not sure how often I'll post. It may be sporadic, but that's okay with you, right? I've never called a "real life" friend every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:00 AM. I call them when I want to or need to, which is basically twice a week or in the middle of the night, or not at all for three weeks. This is going to be a little more organic like that, okay? 

This has been fun. It was good to see you again, but I gotta run. It's going to be another busy week here in my real life, but we should get together again soon.  
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