Keely McSassy

I met my friend Keely when I went to Uganda and she was the trip photographer. From the get-go it was crystal clear that Keely is one of those people who comes equipped with an extra measure of awesome. She is a blast and a half – wise beyond her years and hysterically funny. She can have a super-deep conversation or she can quote “30 Rock.” She has style for days. And I love her to pieces.

So when Keely emailed me last week to tell me that she was going to be in Birmingham for Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God concert (her hubby is a musician on the tour), I was tickled to death. And I would say I cleared the calendar so that I could go to the concert, but the thing of it is that there was nothing on my calendar. Just a big ole bunch of white space. And maybe a short grocery list. But even still, I wouldn’t have missed Keely + concert time for the world, EVEN IF I THAT MEANT I HAD TO CANCEL MY NON-EXISTENT PLANS.

That’s what you call a commitment to friendship, people.

The concert was last night at a local church, so late yesterday afternoon I picked up Keely, and we hopped down the road (NOT LITERALLY, SILLY) to a little Mexican place so that we could eat chips and salsa and drink tea and visit. We blazed through about 75 topics over the course of an hour, and then we headed back to the church so that we’d be there in time for all the purty singing. We hung out for a little bit with a couple of Compassion buddies before the show, and while we were talking I snapped a few pictures of Keely’s accessories because 1) I am just that annoying and 2) I wanted to document her sassy style.

Oh, if I could count the number of times I’d pinned a large flower to my purse – well, I’d have to count all the way up to zero.

And I don’t know if y’all can see the cute necklace or not, but it’s a vintage-looking pendant with a “K” on it.

SASSY.

The boots, quite frankly, were a revelation.

And then – AND THEN – right before we walked to our seats, Keely took the big flower off of her purse and put it on our sweater.

You know, I don’t know that I’ve ever had the fashion wherewithal to MOVE AN ACCESSORY AROUND. The only thing that comes to mind is when I’m getting ready to grocery shop and I take a clippy off of my purse strap so that I can put it ON MY HEAD and get my bangs out of my face.

Or maybe when I was in the 10th grade and used a ponytail holder to tie the bottom of my t-shirt over on the side JUST LIKE I LIKED IT.

Not really the same thing as a kicky flower, is it?

The concert was absolutely wonderful – sort of heartbreakingly worshipful, really – and if the tour is going to be anywhere near you, you should totally go. If you’re not familiar with the Behold the Lamb of God CD, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but if you can’t make it to a show this year, it’s worth the $10 (or whatever) to share this music with your family. It tells the story of Jesus throughout the whole Bible – Old and New Testaments – and it’s just an incredible way to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a sassy scarf so that I can feel all jaunty and breezy as I plow through some work stuff today. I would attach a snazzy flower to my sweater, but unfortunately I’m fresh out of snazzy flowers. Maybe I should just walk outside and find a sprig of holly. But that might be a little weird. And also prickly.

Happy Tuesday, y’all!

p.s. Several of y’all commented or emailed me to ask if I could share my notes from Beth Moore’s session on discernment at Deeper Still in OKC last weekend, so I wanted to let you know that I posted them over at AllAccess. Hope they’re helpful to you!

Happy Birthday, EKP

When Emma Kate and I were in college we used to sit in our room and talk about how maybe one day we’d get married and have kids and live on the same cul de sac. Since both of us grew up in the country, our only frame of reference for cul de sac living came from Knots Landing, and that is precisely what we wanted: to walk out of our front doors each morning and see our kids off to school and stand in the street drinking coffee just like Valene Ewing and Karen MacKenzie.

Only without all the arguing. And disappearing spouses. And split personalities. And whathaveyou.

We just wanted to live close to each other. We wanted our children to know each other. We wanted our husbands to be buddies. And we wanted to have pretty houses filled with – and I quote – “LOADS of stripes and florals.”

Remember, it was the 90s. Pink cabbage roses were all the rage, people.

The years since those days in the Chi O house have been filled with all sorts of highs and lows: grad school for me, OT school for her, two marriages, four kids, seven cities, untold tears, countless laughs, innumerable prayers. There have been several times when we’ve called each other and vowed we couldn’t stay married EVEN ONE MORE DAY – only to decide by the time we hung up the phone that we just might make it after all. We’ve walked with each other through Serious Life Junk, we know each other’s struggles, and as much as we act like sixteen year-olds when we’re together, we don’t hesitate to get in each other’s business. If one of us says, “NOW LISTEN HERE, MISSY” – well, you know somebody’s about to set the record straight about something.

It’s been a mighty long time since we were roommates, and we still haven’t made it to the cul de sac. I’ve eyeballed the land to the side of EK’s new house and thought that maybe we just need to build us a cul de sac, but that’s pretty improbable since we don’t exactly live, you know, IN THE SAME TOWN. Our kids don’t get to see each other very often but have big fun when they do, and our husbands are in fact buddies, which just delights us to no end. Odds are you could walk through both of our houses without finding a single floral anything – our tastes have changed a wee bit since the early 90s.

And our friendship is stronger than ever.

This past weekend I went to hear Beth Moore in New Orleans, and she asked us to make a list of the five people who have been the most influential in our walk with God. Before I even put pen to paper, I knew that EK was one of my five. She has been utterly patient with me at every single stage of my adult life (especially during what I like to refer to as The Trainwreck Years), and when she’s spoken a hard truth, she has flat-out smothered that truth with love. EK’s example and her faithfulness – her love for God’s Word and His people – have encouraged me more than she will ever know.

EK has a deep and abiding affection for chocolate chip cookies and slapstick comedy (sidenote: JUST BECAUSE SOMEBODY FALLS DOWN DOES NOT MAKE A MOVIE WORTH SEEING, EK). She has an enthusiasm for MSU football and basketball that makes me so happy and a fondness for procedural medical dramas that knows no bounds. She has, as my daddy would say, more common sense than you can shake a stick at, and she can organize anything if you’ll just give her a little peace and quiet so she can make her lists and find the right storage baskets. She loves her family – deeply – and she is fiercely loyal. She’s competitive as all get-out. She’s as tenderhearted as they come. She’s sassy as can be.

I just love her to pieces.

And if you knew her, you would, too.

Happy 40th, EKP!

We Found Them

For the last couple of weeks Alex and I have been playing a silly game. He’ll walk up to me and say, “What’s your name?”

And I’ll say something silly like, “Snickerbottoms” or “Picklelemons” or “McTuttlenuts.”

And then he’ll feign surprise and say, “MY NAME IS SNICKERBOTTOMS, TOO! I FOUND YOU! WE MUST BE FAMILY!” and then he throws his arms around my neck and laughs hysterically and wants to play the game all over again.

He loves it. I do, too.

Last year – The Two-Oh-Oh-Eight – was wonderful and exciting and challenging and hard. It was overwhelming at times. There were some difficult patches for sure, and I’m being as vague as possible, you see, because LET’S KEEP IT LIGHT, PEOPLE. LET’S KEEP IT LIGHT AND THEN LET’S LAUGH ABOUT SOMETHING, THIS IS HOW I OPERATE.

So, in short: while there were definitely some bright spots, more often than not in 2008 it seemed like I was forever standing before God and just flat-out wrestling with all my stinkin’ sin and mistakes and selfishness and failures and stubbornness. And fear. OH my word at the fear. And worry. And etc. and so on and so forth.

But.

In the midst of all that.

God did the coolest thing.

I have long contended that I have the sweetest friends and family in the whole wide world, and if you don’t believe me then you should meet them and then you’d see and then you’d probably want to be friends with them, too, and that is understandable, really, because they are all quite fabulous. Most of those sweet friends have been in my life since high school or college, and I kid you not that one of the great delights of my life is laughing with them about everything and nothing. Those girls know my faults like nobody’s business (I’m prideful. I don’t like to talk about my problems or my weaknesses. I’m moody. The list goes on and on.) and love me anyway. I love them to pieces.

So in terms of long-time friends, I’ve been beyond blessed. But truth be told, I struggle sometimes when new people come along because I feel like I’m not serious enough or smart enough or holy enough or laid-back enough or disciplined enough or whatever, not to mention that I’m irreverent and sarcastic (I’m going to start calling it “sarTASTIC,” by the way) and loud and waist-deep in the process of working out my junk and figuring out what it means to live a fully surrendered life (OH SWEET MERCY I feel that I’ve hit my introspective limit for 2009 already and PLEASE, CAN WE JUST TALK ABOUT BACON?).

Anyway, the bottom line is this: I can get pretty comfortable with (relative) isolation if I’m not careful. I can start to like isolation if I’m not careful. The fact that I don’t blog about all the ISH-AHS in my life and my family’s life doesn’t make them go away, and if for some reason you think I don’t have ISH-AHS, then please permit me to give you this piece of advice: OH PLEASE DON’T KID YOURSELF.

But in 2008, despite all the Life Junk, God just blessed our socks off through people. Old friends. New friends who were “hit it off” people to such a degree that it almost gave me whiplash. Their names aren’t “Snickerbottoms” or “Picklelemons” or “McTuttlenuts,” but almost every single time I talk to them I want to throw my arms around their neck and hug them to pieces and scream “WE FOUND YOU! WE MUST BE FAMILY!”

So while it’s tempting for me to look back on last year and think mostly about the hard things, what I want to remember about last year are the best things. Because I’ll tell you this right now and you can cross stitch it and frame it and hang it in your living room in the dead-dog center of your wall if you’d like: it’s a whole lot easier to walk through your ish-ahs when there are people in your life who you love and trust – and when they love and trust you right back. Whether they’re family, old friends or new friends, I don’t want to do life without them.

I don’t have some pretty bow to wrap around this post, no clever way to tie up all the loose ends. I just want to be more mindful than ever that even though life is stinkin’ hard sometimes, God extends so much of His mercy and His goodness through the people He puts in our path. I want to love people well. Whether I’ve known them for my whole life or for twenty years or for twenty days, I want to love them well, to be mindful that they’re a blessing.

And this post is a reminder to my own dadgum self.

The end.

Mad Church Disease

Last year in Uganda Anne told me a little bit about a book she was working on called Mad Church Disease. I thought the concept – ministry burnout and how to overcome it – was oh-so-clever and intriguing since I have several friends in ministry who can hover on the edge of utter exhaustion if they’re not careful. It’s the part of ministry that nobody ever talks about, really – the part where you’re so busy taking care of other people’s needs that you neglect to meet your own. Sometimes you feel distant from your family. Lots of times you even feel distant from God.

Before Christmas I got a copy of Anne’s book in the mail, and after I got past the feeling of being SO STINKIN’ PROUD OF HER, I sat down and read. And read. And read. I thought of many of my friends as I read Anne’s stories and anecdotes. I identified personally with some of the struggles Anne mentions. And I loved the frankness with which Anne addresses it all.

Anne’s making the rounds on several blogs today, and mine is one of them. She offered to answer any questions that I had after reading MCD, so I sent her a question that came up during a conversation with my Bible study friends a couple of months ago. Here it is:

Let’s say someone works as an assistant to a senior pastor / executive pastor / high-up-person-on-the-church-leadership-flowchart. And let’s say that someone who works as an assistant notices that his or her boss is stressed, anxious, tired – basically on the verge of burnout. Do you think there are any specific things that assistant could do for his or her supervisor to lighten the load? Or should the assistant just stay out of it? I ask this because a friend and I had this very conversation a few weeks ago – and I’m not sure we came to any real conclusions.

Her response is so wise:

To answer your question – YES. Absolutely YES. How will depend on that person’s relationship with their supervisor and it could take some serious guts…maybe even putting their job on the line in the worst case scenario….but we have a responsibility to carry each other’s burdens (See Galatians 6).

A few ways the assistant could do this practically:

1. Communicate it directly. Set some time up with the supervisor to specifically address this. Don’t throw it in the mix of another meeting. “The reason I wanted to meet with you today is because I’m concerned.” Explain the behavior you see that is worrying you.

2. Offer any assistance you can provide. If it’s something obvious like a particular project or area of responsibility, THINK AHEAD. Assistants know better than anyone the details of what’s happening. Make a plan ahead of time of how you can lighten the load and recommend it for the supervisor. Otherwise, you’re giving that person more work trying to figure out what you can do.

3. Encourage them consistently and appropriately. When I see my own pastor getting stressed or overwhelmed, or maybe he indicates he’s had a long day, I shoot him a text message or quick email just to say how honored I am to work with him and that his passion for what he does is contagious. Small gifts for his family like a dinner out or offering to babysit so they can have time are both practical ways you can also encourage him.

4. Lead by example. You may be on support staff but people all around you see what you do. Are you contributing to a 24/7 workaholic, always available culture? Or do you have boundaries that you stick by? As an example, I don’t typically check my work email on the weekend. If I do, I won’t respond until Monday unless it’s a legit emergency. This is the culture on our church staff, but it has to be constantly made intentional. Talk freely about the time you spend with your friends or spouse. Leave on time. When you’re sick, stay home. All these things will communicate what is more important…work? Or health?

5. When all else fails, find someone else to help. It may be another pastor, or an elder, or a leader you know your boss trusts. If it doesn’t seem like your concern is having an impact and your leader is still about to fry, talk to someone else respectfully. Don’t spread rumors or talk about it with everyone…but find one or two key people that you know your supervisor will listen to.

Don’t EVER think “I’m just an assistant!” Who cares? You’re a believer! There is no hierarchy when it comes to caring for each other!

See? Isn’t she good?

If you’d like to read a sample chapter from Mad Church Disease, head over to Anne’s blog and follow the links.

You’ll be so glad you did.

Kingdom Coming

I love my friend Shaw-awn.

And when Shaun and I were in Uganda with Compassion back in February, he sang a song called “Kingdom Coming” as we celebrated Holy Communion one Sunday morning on the banks of the Nile River. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hear the song without remembering that day – and remembering how one of the employees at the lodge where we were staying wandered down the hill and into our communion circle. It was a profoundly moving morning, especially in light of what we’d experienced that week.

Shaun recorded “Kingdom Coming” a few weeks ago, and today you can get a free download of it. You don’t have to do one thing but click the widget – and the song will download. No email address, no questionnaire – just a free song. It’s outstanding.

And if you’re wondering why he’d release the song on Election Day? Well, you can read that when you download it – there’s an information sheet in the download folder. It’s a good word.

Enjoy, y’all.

“Ring The Bells” Winners

RingTheBells

Have I mentioned that Travis Cottrell has a new Christmas CD out today? And that I enjoy his new Christmas CD very much?

Well apparently I’m not the only person who loves this CD. Because this morning there was a rave review in CCM Magazine. I mean, “Goosebump-Inducing Holiday Record of the Year”? That’s some high praise, my friends.

And look who’s Mr. Number-Four-on-iTunes-Holiday-Downloads:

iTunes

FANCY!

So needless to say, I’m oh-so-happy to be able to share this CD with ten of you.

Here are our winners!

winners

52 – Cyndi
58 – amykay
162 – Marie – no blog – yahoo email
190 – Jesica
369 – Britt – no blog – yahoo email
443 – Jessica
699 – Lindsay
755 – Kelly
814 – Rebekah
931 – Joyce – no blog – cox email

Congratulations, winners! Just send me an email with your mailing address (please write “Giveaway Winner” in the subject line), and the CD will be on its way to you ASAP.

If you didn’t win, you can certainly download a copy of your very own, oh yes you can.

Thanks so much, everybody, for your tremendous response to this giveaway!