Between Heaven & the Real World: My Father's Story

Today is the day my dad's book, entitled Between Heaven & the Real World: My Story, hit the bookstores. I would encourage you all to check it out (you can purchase it HERE).  I think you will be blessed and find it encouraging.

Reading PopPop's book to Eiley and Della before bedtime. 

Reading PopPop's book to Eiley and Della before bedtime. 

I sat with my girls the other night, after they stopped by my dad's Facebook LiveSigning to receive their own copies of his book (they were so excited!), and read aloud the first chapter. It was kind of surreal . . . reading my dad's story to my own children. I was asked this weekend how I feel about my dad releasing this book . . . I think the first thing that pops into my mind is "privileged." There are so many of us that wish we knew the stories of those that pioneered the way for us and our families. It is no small thing, and I certainly don't take it for granted, that I have both my mom's story (Choosing to SEE) and my dad's story in book form. Forever, we will have a written account to share with our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of the faithfulness of God to our family. So, the first thing I feel is grateful for this privilege. I find myself inspired to continue writing bits and pieces of my own story . . . to declare the faithfulness of God in my own experience, to remind myself of the ways God has provided for me, and hopefully in doing so, encourage others to discover God at work in their own lives.

I think I'd be lying if I didn't also say I have had some nerves . . . not bad nerves . . . just nervous nerves regarding the release of dad's book. The nature of my dad's career has lent itself to our family's story, and bits and pieces of my own upbringing, being lived in the "public eye." Everything from radio singles, to our family's adoption journey, to the loss of Maria, have been accessible by many. And today, a bit more of my father's story, my family's story, my story, becomes our story. When the idea first surfaced of dad writing a book, some three years ago, my immediate reaction was to protect what I feel as sacred . . . the way in which God has met my Pops, and subsequently our family, in life's highest highs and lowest lows. But, as my dad began to pen his story, and today as it hits the streets, something has shifted in me . . . maybe there really is something profound that happens when we let go of our stories, and in a sense, give them away that just can't be uncovered when we try and protect ourselves by withholding them. 

Eiley asked to sleep with PopPop's book the night she received it 

Eiley asked to sleep with PopPop's book the night she received it 

Henri Nouwen once wrote, "Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend . . . Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place" (Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life). I think that hospitality, in its truest sense, demands a giving up of myself to create space for another to enter my story, to partake in my story. I guarantee you've had the experience of being invited into someone's home and upon walking in, you notice how immaculately clean it is and wonder to yourself, "What in the world am I doing so wrong that my house doesn't look like this?" What would it look like to be vulnerable in our hospitality . . . to not feel the urge to tidy up and put everything in its rightful spot before company drops by? Does true hospitality demand a level of vulnerability? What would I feel if I walked into someone else's house and it look exactly like my house on any given Monday morning? Would I feel a sense of belonging? Maybe, just maybe, by releasing ourselves to transparency, we encourage that in the lives around us, and cultivate deeper, more meaningful relationships.

What started for my dad, as a great adventure following our leader into the glorious unknown, has become a journey of "holding onto every promise God has made to us (as we watch) this glorious unfolding."  From unknown to unfolding . . . what began as a quest to figure it out and do it all right, has become, for my dad, a hospitable welcoming, of sorts, of his inability to do so but a deep trust in a God, a redeemer, who has always remained faithful and true. In that, there is something for all of us in my dad's new book . . . insights to be gained and encouragement to be found. 

Pops, I'm so very proud of you on this momentous day. 

Della snuck her book to preschool the other day . . . she just couldn't put it down!

Della snuck her book to preschool the other day . . . she just couldn't put it down!

The "Politics" of Being Heard

We all want to be heard. 

This past weekend, Tanner and I took the girls to Ohio to visit family.  We left in the early hours on Friday, and as we drove through Nashville, I noticed a car speed up and start following me quite closely.  Eventually, a break came in the lane next to us, and as he sped around us, he gave me the middle finger.  Immediately, I felt ashamed and like I needed to explain myself; “I have children in the car,” “I wasn’t even traveling that slowly,” “It’s dark outside so I was driving with caution.”  My husband and kiddos were still sleeping, and as I drove in the dark and quiet for the next hour or two, I kept ruminating on what I would say if I was to cross paths with that driver.

I wanted to be heard.  Something had been communicated to me, but forcefully so.  My side of the story didn’t matter . . . my voice in the conversation was forgotten. 

In the first hours of life, little ones use their voice to communicate their needs to caregivers as they declare their entrance into the world with a loud cry.  Innate within us is a desire for dialogue, for relational dynamism – it is a lived expression of the image Dei – image of God – that each of our souls bear.  Made in the image of God, who has eternally existed in relationship within himself – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – human beings are created for the interplay of relationship.  And so, feeling forgotten cuts at the very core of how we are created to be. 

I listened to a fascinating interview on NPR the other day regarding the feeling among voters this election cycle.  One comment struck me: “There is this overwhelming notion among the electorate of feeling forgotten.”

Conservative, liberal, moderate, indifferent . . . I think we can all agree that the United States of America is better than allowing people to feel forgotten. 

I remember learning the preamble to the constitution in 8th grade - who else remembers the Schoolhouse Rock jingle?  “We the People of The United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for The United States of America.”  Feeling unheard by the powers that be, our forefathers left life on the other side of the Atlantic with a vision to establish a new country that would endeavor to protect the voice of the people.  They sought to establish a country that, as famously described by Abraham Lincoln in The Gettysburg Address, would be “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

This is the first election cycle I have navigated as the parent of a child old enough to be interested in and comprehend what is happening.  Eager to take advantage of this learning opportunity, Tanner and I made it a point to include our five-year-old daughter, Eiley, with us as we began watching the GOP and DNC primary debates when they began nearly a year ago.  Our daughter has remained interested and is asking great questions as she begins to learn about government and the political systems at play in our country.  And, while I am hopeful that she is learning and truly believes that she can use her voice to speak into the systems that be, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that this election cycle has left me wondering if that really is true.  As the debates progressed over the past year and the rhetoric became noticeably more demeaning, we could no longer have Eiley watch alongside us.  By removing her from the dialogue, a barrier to empowerment surfaced.  Albeit our choice, the reality is that by distancing Eiley from the conversation, by limiting her ability to listen, her understanding of this situation has inevitably been compromised.

Empowerment - giving voice - begins with understanding, and understanding flourishes when we listen.  As a Christian, I believe that I learn more about my “true self,” to use the words of Thomas Merton, when I listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit within.  Furthermore, I learn by listening to others through humility.  What do I have to learn from someone else’s human experience, and how does it impact and influence my own human story?

A couple weeks ago, Eiley proudly announced over breakfast; “I know who I am going to vote for!”  “Oh really, who?” I asked.  She continued, “I don’t prefer either of the choices we have been given, so I am going to write in Rainbow Dash.”  It made perfect sense to her – why wouldn’t the colorful and friendly My Little Pony make a great leader?  Her world is vibrant and playful, and obviously would make life quite the adventure if elected the leader of this great country. 

My hope is that in the days following, we will have a greater margin for listening to one another instead of speaking at each other.  Some of the population of our country will be excited about the newly elected leader, and others will be frustrated.  Fear may try and creep into the hearts and minds of those that feel unheard: “What is to become of this country for our children and grandchildren?” But a fearful rhetoric is never life giving.  In fact, I learned at a parenting conference that fear often masks itself in anger . . . so when we feel afraid, when our children feel afraid, we often express that fear through anger.  We can not afford to become easily angered with one another at this time in our nation’s history.  Unity has never been easy.  Unity demands listening.  Unity calls us to participate collectively in the hard work of creating the space within ourselves to change.  But what I know will continue, even after Election Day, is the beautiful dialogue we know as The United States of America.  May we pray for the grace we need to listen to one another, to be heard by one another, and to achieve unity in the days and months ahead.  

#RainbowDash2016.

**For those of you who may be curious, I voted early in this election.  And, I let my daughter’s voice be heard.  Maybe I threw my vote away, but I think I did something greater by fostering in my daughter a belief that she has a voice and can use it to make a difference.  She accompanied me to the voter’s booth, and proudly pushed that blinking “VOTE” button.**

When you're asked to preach a sermon . . .

This past weekend, I tried something new . . . something I never had envisioned myself doing - I preached a sermon.  I somehow managed to graduate from bible college without ever delivering a sermon, so when our pastor approached me this summer about preaching, I was both nervous and excited to try something a bit outside of my comfort zone. 

I was not prepared for just. how. challenging. it was going to be.  

Let's be clear about one thing - the enemy is not a fan of truth being proclaimed.  PERIOD.  The attacks prior to delivering the sermon were brutal - Tanner and I were at odds with one another, our girls were sick and fussy, I (randomly) got poison ivy so bad that I had to start taking steroids (which DO NOT help you act nice).  Life felt insane, and yet somehow, I was trying to grasp at some sort of peace, calm, and depth to prepare to deliver a message to my community of faithful sojourners.  

I have an entirely new appreciation for those that prepare and deliver sermons week after week.  Sure, I had all the stress that you would perhaps expect - I wanted to treat Scripture with integrity, I desired to be accurate in my interpretation and presentation of the text, and it remained paramount that the good news of Jesus' life, death and resurrection be proclaimed.  Also, I desperately wanted to be true to the journey of faith that God has had me on.  And so, as I attempted to hold all of these desires together in a creative tension of sort, what came of it was a message that I pray God uses to continue to encourage others in their own faith journey.  

It's a message about suffering and pain, yet simultaneously, a hopeful reflection that I pray encourages you to find even the tiniest of space in your heart today to believe that redemption really is beautiful and is already at work. 

Below is the audio of the sermon from our church, St. Mary of Bethany Parish, here in Nashville, TN.