Monday, August 31, 2009


Over the past couple of weeks, repairs topped my to-do list:

The car needed a new timing belt and water pump and some sort of right steering boot.
Two wooden fence posts had rotted and needed to be replaced.
Loose boards on the outside of the house needed to be tacked down.
The neighbor's trees, which stretched toward my roof and siding, required trimming.
Covers on recessed speakers wiggled their way out of the ceiling and hung down, begging to be reattached.

Everywhere I turned, something was in disrepair. Including my attitude.

Thankfully, throughout the summer, my church has been teaching on doubts and joy (Philippians). Both teaching series have been excellent. Here are just a few of my favorite quotes that I jotted down over the past few weeks:

"The Healer is more important than the healing." - Bruce Edstrom (counselor & guest speaker)

"God is not a supplement." - Mark Philpot (worship leader)

"Our questions come from a place desiring certainty, but God doesn't promise us certainty." - Dr. Ted Wueste (lead pastor)

"We change events in order to avoid changing ourselves." - Richard Rohr (Franciscan priest)

"It is grace that forms the void inside of us, and it is grace alone that can fill the void." - Simone Weil (philosopher)

"Forgiveness means that I continually am willing to forgive the other person for not being God, for not fulfilling all my needs." - Henri Nouwen (priest & author)

"Don't go out into life hungry expecting it to fill you up." - Dr. Ted Wueste

These quotes point me back to the Truth. The Tool that has the power to rebuild me from the inside in the midst of my other rebuilding projects. So hopefully my attitude will not be in disrepair for long, even when (not if) other things start to fall apart.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Last month, I started a new habit. One I absolutely despise but know that it is good for me. One that was born out of a desire to become stronger and maybe even healthier. Before you assume that I probably joined a gym or started running, you should know that I'm not the least bit athletic. I needed to start small. So I chose to start climbing the stairs every afternoon during my break.

The first day was by far the worst. By the fifth level (which equates with the 18th stack of stairs), I was pretty sure I was about to meet Jesus face to face. I wanted to bow out and take the elevator the rest of the way. But my climbing buddy forbade it. She urged me onward and upward.

The second day, I didn't have to stop. I didn't set any records, but I didn't mention the "elevator" word, which was a measure of success.

Then came the weekend, and no climbing. So Monday posed a new challenge of urging my muscles to remember that they had done this before and could do it again.

Each day since then, I've hoped it would get easier. So far, it hasn't. There's inevitably a place along the way when my leg muscles start to send the burning sensation to my brain, and my brain has to fire back that they can't stop until we've reached the top.

But the hope that one day it will get easier actually burns stronger than the burn in my muscles. It's what fuels me to climb the stairs each day, just to see if today's the day. Because I don't want to miss it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Write Your Story

A friend once mentioned that the decline of literacy is showing up in, of all places, the jury box. The mark of a good lawyer used to be measured by the compelling story he/she could weave for the jurors. But now, this fast-paced culture has created jurors who crave bullet points because they are used to communicating in 140-character tweets and texts full of abbreviations. For lawyers facing complicated fact patterns, it would be no easy task to boil down the case to a tweet.

But I, for one, have resisted adopting this new mentality of communicating in miniature sound bytes. I still love reading the full story, not the abridged version.

Maybe that's what made Gilead by Marilynne Robinson such a pleasurable read. It was like sitting beside my grandfather and hearing various stories from his life; the stories that made him the man that he had become.

The premise is that an elderly pastor, who married late in life and has a seven-year-old son, decides to write his life's story for his son:

"For me writing has always felt like praying, even when I wasn't writing prayers, as I was often enough. You feel that you are with someone. I feel I am with you now, whatever that can mean, considering that you're only a little fellow now and when you're a man you might find these letters no interest. Or they might never reach you, for any of a number of reasons. Well, but how deeply I regret any sadness you have suffered and how grateful I am in anticipation of any good you have enjoyed. That is to say, I pray for you. And there's an intimacy in it. That's the truth." (p.19 - Gilead)

I fear that our stories, if not penned or typed out, will be lost if we, as a society, continue to text, tweet, and post status updates on Facebook that give only a momentary glimpse of a task instead of the lessons learned or the journey we've taken. Such momentary updates usually aren't tied together and often aren't capable of being read as a cohesive whole to find out who the person is, which is a loss.

I think that's why blogs have lingered and why memoirs are on the rise: deep down, we all want to leave a legacy. And though it takes time to write, the benefits are well worth it.

If I had not kept journals over the years, I might have forgotten some of the big and small moments in my life. If my ancestors had not penned letters during the Civil War, I would not have the insight that I have into their personal relationships.

There's so much that can be learned from the past, but it has to be captured first. So if you haven't been writing, start now. If you have been writing, keep it up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Redeemed by Rain

This is my lawn in early July after my lazy watering.

This is my lawn now after some good rains.

Enough said.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Lesson on the Train - Unlearning Fear

"Come with me to the next car on the train," motioned the father to his son.

As the son looked through the glass door, watching as the car up ahead bounced and swayed and failed to make a straight path, he shook his head, "No way!"

"I'd really like you to come with me."

"But why?"

"Because it will be fun."

"No, Dad. Please don't make me."

"Well, you can stay here. But I'm going to the next car."

The son watched as his father slipped through the door. Seconds later, the son stood up and followed his father.


I've sat in that seat where the son sat.

During our family's first trip on Amtrak, I felt paralyzed when I saw what it would take to cross from one car of the train to another. It was an obstacle course, requiring passengers to open one door, walk across a constantly shifting platform, open a second door, and step into the next car.

The failure to conquer that fear could have resulted in hunger because the dining car was separate from the sleeper car. My mom and my sister kept showing me that the path could be navigated, and eventually I managed to conquer my fear. Since that trip, I have fearlessly passed through many train cars.

Mark Batterson writes in his book In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day,

What's interesting is that psychiatrists posit that we're born with only two innate fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.

That means that every other fear is learned. And more importantly, that means that every other fear can be unlearned.

. . . .

One of my sacred duties as a parent is to help my children unlearn their fears.

. . . .

Think of your fears as mental lions. If we don't learn to chase those fears, they can keep us at bay for the rest of our lives. So, like a good parent, our Heavenly Father helps us unlearn the fears that would cause us to pass up so much fulfillment and fruitfulness--because He loves us and wants the best for us. (pp. 47-48)

The father on the commuter train last week knew this and wanted to help his son. My mother also knew this and wanted to help me. Both gave options and led by example. Just like Jesus.

So consider what fears you have that need to be unlearned and aske whether you are willing to follow your Heavenly Father, even when the path doesn't line up or looks scary. And consider what fears you can help others unlearn so that they won't have to pass up fulfillment and fruitfulness.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Where Everybody Knows Your Name (and Story)

I grew up in a town with anywhere from 6,524 to 7,202 people in it, depending on which census numbers you look at. The best thing was that everyone knew everyone. The worst thing was that everyone knew everyone. And between the town grapevine and the scanners, of the radio frequency variety not the copier variety, everyone heard everyone else's business. But I didn't mind; I enjoyed hearing people's stories.

After I graduated from college and officially moved away from my small hometown to a larger city, I thought I'd never have that same Cheers-like experience where everybody knows your name. Thankfully, I was wrong.

In 2003, I took a temporary job that required me to commute to Dallas every day. And because I don't drive there, I took the commuter train.

During the first week, I quickly realized that there was a Cheers-like community on every train, especially the morning trains. I can't remember all the passengers' names, but I still remember some of their stories.

There was the librarian who had gotten a friend to fix him up with a lady in China. He planned to visit his new girlfriend and decided to learn Chinese. So as his walkman fed Chinese sounds into his ears, he attempted to mimic them, often louder than he meant to.

There was the veteran who volunteered several times a week at the VA Hospital. Despite being married, he claimed that every woman on the train was his girlfriend and regaled us with his stories of competing in the wheelchair Olympics.

There was the psychology professor with the gravelly voice who desperately wanted to serve on a jury. She surveyed fellow passengers about how she should answer questions from lawyers so that she could be picked the next time she received a juror summons.

There was the methadone addict who brought his bike onto the train and often had to detrain prior to his destination because he had forgotten to bring some required medicine with him. He warned that without it, he would be unpleasant to be around. We took his word for it.

There was the janitor who fell asleep within seconds of taking his seat and had to be awakened each day at his stop. While he was sleeping, other passengers would remark that he must have quite the night life or a second job that prevented him from getting enough sleep.

There was the medical researcher who worked at Southwestern Medical School who enjoyed watching me cross-stitch. One day, she asked if she could sew a row on a bib that I was working on, and I obliged. She did some backwards stitching on it that caused that one row to be higher than all the rest, but I couldn't undo it with her sitting beside me. It made for quite a story when I presented the gift to the recipient.

There was the archivist who had to clip portions of the paper each day on her commute. She was always on task.

I could go on listing other passengers and their stories, as well as the stories that evolved between the passengers and the train personnel, but hopefully you get the gist. This wasn't a Boston or NYC train. It was a Texas train filled with relational Southerners.

When I announced my last day of commuting after three short months and celebrated it by bringing pizza and Dublin Dr. Peppers for the crew, many of the passengers wished me luck and said their goodbyes with a disappointed look. It was as if to say they couldn't believe that I would ditch the commuting community, or maybe they were sorry that they had let me in to their little world considering that I ended up being a short-timer. They'd probably be surprised to know that I have often missed them and wanted to hear their new stories.

All of these memories have come flooding back this week as I have been making a few trips by train. I haven't seen any of the characters who played such large roles in the 2003 morning train community, but I'm not sure I really expected to. Instead, I'm content to remember it just the way it was back then. When everybody knew my name and was always glad I came.