Thursday, March 31, 2016

{pretty, happy, funny, real} Spring! Easter! Pinatas!

| a weekly capturing of contentment in everyday life |

Oh my, our world is full to overflowing with good things and hard things and in-between things right now.  How's that for specificity?  I imagine your world is much the same, and you get me. Right?

Here's quick photo diary of a few moments I'm rehearsing from the past couple of weeks.

A few photos to practice contentment this week

| pretty |

He is risen (and He thought up tulips)!  Hallelujah! 

| happy |

I felt special responsibility as a godmother to capture the quintessential Texas spring photo of adorable children frolicking amidst the bluebonnets.  On the left, you see that one child humored me.  On the right, you'll see the other child was having none of it.

I can't remember if I've mentioned on the blog that our daughter Kendra became a godmother when she was still a teenager.  She and the sweet Lucy Scout bonded when both of them were new to Austin and so Lucy's parents asked Kendra to be her godmother.  A couple years later, Brian and I were honored for the same request for Lucy's little brother Emmett.  We often ask ourselves how we got so lucky!

We took advantage of the week that Kendra was home for Spring Break to plan a morning adventure at the wonderful Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  I've decided that we should call ourselves the Godparents Club, and will henceforth name all future collaborations likewise.  We've also discovered that we need a 3:2 ratio now that Brian and I are so old and out of practice.  

If you live in (or visit) Austin, spring is THE time to visit the wildflower center.  Admission is reasonable, and Kendra got a student discount (kids 5 & under are free).  Before we even got inside the main area, we happened upon a nesting mama owl.  I'm not sure the binoculars actually helped L & E see the owl, but they sure had fun trying. The flowers are lovely, the walking trails just the right amount of work, the observation tower worth the climb, the cafe tasty and the children's garden imaginative and delightful.  

Of all that goodness, though, the swings are the absolute best.  You have to walk quite a ways to find them, but it's worth the trek (especially when you're little enough to let someone carry you back to the car when you're tuckered out).

Gosh, we're going to miss these kiddos.  (their parents too!)

| funny |

Second Annual Friends Easter Feast

Last year they came to our house, this year we went to theirs.  I am not exaggerating when I say they got robbed.  May I also recommend you all go out right now and find yourself a friend with culinary school training?  

Also, they make me laugh. A lot.  Laughter belongs near the top of the list of ways to practice resurrection.  We feasted (lamb! leek fritters! chili queso! corn pudd'n!), hunted for colored eggs (lottery ticket prizes!  winner gets a kitten!), and whacked a pinata (lollipops!).  

| real |

My people 

It's beginning to dawn on all six of us that very soon we're going to be separated by thousands of miles.  As in, over shawarma at the Peace Bakery & Deli right after church on Sunday. As in, at any given moment one of the six of us had our head in our hands, bawling our eyes out.  I'm really grateful for the hospitality of the restaurant owners who gave us a quiet space to talk over all-you-can-eat pita and hummus.  (An aside: I'm thankful for the Resurrection sort of peace that makes a way for us to enjoy food prepared by our Middle Eastern neighbors on Easter Sunday. May that peace be known across the globe.)

I'm not going to lie.  This stage of parenting (or should I say, "family-ing"?) is really hard.  I have been humbled quite a bit in my assessment of myself as a mother.  Humbling is a good thing, though, and I've never been more grateful for the extreme privilege of sharing life with my husband and kids.  And I've never been more grateful for a Christ who bridges the gaps of our imperfect love, and saves us all.  

Have YOU captured any contentment this week?  I'd love to hear about it!

| Join in at P,H,F,R to see other wonderful people practicing contentment. |

Practice Resurrection: Make visible

Famous Artists In Their Studios  / Ron Mueck

Make visible

Culture making is needed in every company, every school and every church.  In every place there are impossibilities that leave even the powerful feeling constrained and drained, and that rob the powerless of the ability to imagine something different and better.  At root, every human cultural enterprise is haunted by the ultimate impossibility, death, which threatens to slam shut the door of human hope.  But God is at work precisely in these places where the impossible seems absolute.  Our calling is to join him in what he is already doing -- to make visible what, in exodus and resurrection, he has already done.

Andy Crouch
Culture Making

Where this Eastertide is God calling you to join him in what he is already doing to make resurrection life visible?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Practice Resurrection: Embrace life!

Planting Out
Joy Williams

Embrace of life

The practice of resurrection is not an attack on the world of death; it is a nonviolent embrace of life in the county of death.  It is an open invitation to live eternity in time.

What is in front of you this week welcoming you to embrace life?

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Practice Resurrection: Look forward to a resurrected body!

Photographer Takes A Boy With Muscular Dystrophy On An Imaginary Adventure
Matej Peljhan

The body, glorified

To see Christ as God and man is probably no more difficult today than it has always been, even if today there seem to be more reasons to doubt. For you it may be a matter of not being able to accept what you call a suspension of the laws of the flesh and the physical, but for my part I think that when I know what the laws of the flesh and the physical really are, then I will know what God is. We know them as we see them, not as God sees them. For me it is the virgin birth, the Incarnation, the resurrection which are the true laws of the flesh and the physical. Death, decay, destruction are the suspension of these laws. I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul she says that will rise but the body, glorified. I have always thought that purity was the most mysterious of the virtues, but it occurs to me that it would never have entered the human consciousness to conceive of purity if we were not to look forward to a resurrection of the body, which will be flesh and spirit united in peace, in the way they were in Christ. The resurrection of Christ seems the high point in the law of nature.

Flannery O’Connor"Letter to 'A' (Sep. 6, 1955)" in The Habit of Being

What are YOU looking forward to when you think of a resurrected body (for you or for someone else)?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Practice Resurrection: Take heart!

Za'atari Syrican Refugee Camp, swimming hole

We take heart

And yet, and yet, the times are inexhaustibly good, solaced by the courage and hope of many. The truth rules, Christ is not forsaken. In a time of death, some men and women--the resisters, those who work hardily for social change, those who preach and embrace the unpalatable truth--such men and women overcome death, their lives are bathed in the light of the resurrection, the truth has set them free. In the jaws of death, of contumely, of good and ill report, they proclaim their love of the people. We think of such men and women in the world, in our nation, in the churches, and the stone in our breast is dissolved. We take heart once more.
Daniel Berrigan
"Our Apologies, Good Friends" in Essential Writings 

What people do you think of when you read Berrigan's description of men and women "bathed in light of resurrection"? What stories from their lives cause you to take heart?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Practice Resurrection: Celebrate!

Harriet Tubman series (Panel #4)
Jacob Lawrence

So, says Jesus, it's time to celebrate! It's happening! Not perhaps, in the way you thought it would, not yet on a national scale, but it's happening all right.... Resurrection, the ultimate hope of new life for Israel, is happening under your noses, and you can't see it. But for those of us who can -- well, we're having a party, the same party that the angels are having in heaven... This, it seems, is part at least of what it means that God's kingdom is coming "on earth as in heaven." The heavenly celebrations at the signs of renewal, the first flickers of a dawn that will soon flood the whole sky, are to be matched by the motley mob around Jesus here and there, in Matthew's house and Zacchaeus' house, in this tavern and that, with Mary Magdalene and her friends and anyone else who cares to join in. This is what it looks like when God's in charge. This is how the campaign gets under way. 
N.T. Wright , Simply Jesus  
via Topology magazine

How do you plan to celebrate the fact that "resurrection is happening under our noses" today?

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Retrieve Lament: from me, the mother

Pietà - Anto Carte

I can't imagine being your mother
-- or maybe I can.
The day she cradled your dead body, 
how much of her suffering was about you? 
How much was about her?

I've given life to four people
All still alive (thanks be to God),
but I grieve anyway.

For a mother, grief
comes easy. 
As does the following:



Sometimes love feels fierce as hate-
mingling down in howling tears. 
It's hard to tell the difference
Am I crying for my kid?
Am I crying for myself?

Which makes me wonder
What your mother felt the day she cradled 
your dead body?

One time (or maybe a million)
I cried all night because I couldn't
remember if I'd ever done anything right
for my kid. I thought 
the homemade play-dough was a good idea, and 
the library trips.  Maybe that wasn't

One time (just the other day)
I cried all night
because I was so damn mad
at my kid. The one I love more
than life itself. The one
-- given enough Pinot --
I could just as easily slap
upside the head.

Four times I writhed and moaned
and screamed and hollered
and bled and cussed
until - hallelujah -
it was finished.

Four times I cooed and cried
and prophesied, shouting
over the tiny screaming face:
This is my kid -
do whatever he tells you to do.

Four seconds of transcendance - 
even while my body turned inside
out, split in two, stretched 
beyond recognition.

Four perfect seconds of euphoria - 
after that, things begin to fall apart.

Did your mother think, I would 
die for you? 

Did she think, 
You wear me out. Or, 
this is all your father's fault.

I only ask because I've thought all 
those things.  If it's ok
for the mother of God,
maybe I'm not so bad.

Maybe there's hope for us yet.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Retrieve Lament: a mourning story from Shaun Fox

Each year during Holy Week, I ask friends to share a mourning story from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering. Shaun has become a dear friend to Brian and me. When we attended his father's funeral in January, I was deeply touched by the grace and honesty Shaun demonstrated in giving his dad's eulogy. He manages to address a sense of loss that marked parts of his relationship with his Dad,  while also honoring the good gifts his father gave him and their community.  As a parent, I can't imagine a better way to be honored by my own child. Shaun gave me permission to share what he said at the service with you all here today.  A blessed Good Friday to you, friends.  

A eulogy for my dad, Randy Fox: 

Sometimes it’s hard for a son to truly know his father the way that he would like. Likewise it can be hard for a father to truly know his sons or daughters. Even now, at thirty-one, it’s hard for me to believe that I’m a “grownup” with children and a wife who love me, who need me.

Like my father, I work hard to care for them and provide for them. Like my father, I am trying to know my children and prepare them for life ahead. Like my father, I have days where I fail and days where I succeed. Like for my father, there is grace for either kind of day.

It can be difficult for a son to comprehend his father in other roles. Being a coworker, a mentor, a friend, a husband, a team leader, a brother, a son. But my brothers and I only got to see glimpses of his life in those other roles. Through your stories about him we know that he gave the best of himself not only to us, but to you too.

My dad spent his life caring for us. Being a good friend. Working hard at his job. Teaching others. Loving his wife.

I cannot fail to bring up his love for the outdoors – the lake, sailing, camping, building. Because these were some of his life-long loves. Passions which he shared with many of you. He brought you in to be a part of his favorite things because he loved you and wanted to enjoy them with you.

I have taken for granted many of the ways he invited me into his life, and taught me things, and helped me grow. He taught me how to build, how to sail, and how to camp. He taught me how to be a gentleman, how to play, and how to work hard. These qualities and skills are only a few of the great virtues of his life – only a small piece of who he was.

People tell me from time to time that I’m just like my father. And there was a time when I didn’t like to hear that. But now I’m proud to say that in many ways, I am like my father.

“Everyone dies. Everyone leaves. What matters is the things you build together before they go. What matters is the part of them that continues in you when they’re gone.” (from Children of the Mind by Orson Scott Card)
Let us remember him. Let us remember the good man that he was. Let us remember the ways that he invited us into his life, and let us go and do the same.

Shaun lives in Austin with his wonderful wife and daughters. He is the Creative Director at Snaptrends, and loves learning and experimenting with new skills and technologies. You can see his creative work at his website

I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days. Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. The philosopher Blaise Pascal said that Christ suffers until the end of the world. As we welcome each other's stories, we welcome the Suffering Servant himself.


(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Retrieve Lament: a mourning story from Brian Murphy

Each year during Holy Week, I ask friends to share a mourning story from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering. My husband Brian tells today's story. For twenty-five years I've been lucky enough to walk with him in his journey to become more like Christ and more like his true self. One of the things I love most about him is the way he pursues and savors friendship.  I've learned so much from him about the vulnerability it takes to keep loving people - even after loss.  I hope you will be encouraged, too.

Kansas City, October 2011

I have said too many goodbyes for my liking. Too many people who were important to me have died. Too many friend and family relationships are carried along over too far a distance. Goodbyes feel like lament to me. Lament over something that I have never really experienced in full, but long to know deeply, richly.

We moved to Austin almost five years ago. We left the hometown where we were born, met, married, made friends, and lived in beautiful closeness to almost all of our family, grandparents, parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. Most of our drives for Thanksgiving dinner, family celebrations, and ad hoc backyard bonfires were less than 28 minutes. Now most are over 28 hours.

When I think about friendships in Austin, I always think of two of my first Texas friends: Trey Sellstrom and Dick Chote. Before we barely knew each other, these men joined me in serving other men who were walking through emotional, sexual, or relational wounds and brokenness. Together we prayed regularly for men to be healed and made whole.

You need good friends when you walk with people through their most tender and hard places. Trey, Dick, and I became good friends, brothers really.

Then they died.

“Passed away”, “entered into their rest” we pastors say, but death doesn’t feel so kind. It felt to me like they were torn away, here one day and gone the next -- figuratively and literally.

Shortly after we arrived in Austin, Trey and Cheryl, Dick and Eleanor, and Tamara and I attended an eight-day training in Kansas City. The request went something like this, “Trey and Cheryl, I’d like you to travel to a place you’ve never been with a guy you’ve barely met to help start a ministry that you’ve never heard of. What do you think?”

The Sellstroms and the Chotes came with us to Kansas City.

One night at the training, I asked Trey if he’d like to take a ride with me to the local convenience store. He asked if he could get Cheryl. I got Tamara, and we all piled into a car like four freedom-drunk teenagers sneaking out after curfew. We laughed until we cried, got lost several times and became friends. I’ll never forget that night for two reasons. 

It was the first time that I saw how much Trey loved Cheryl. He knew that we were about to have a memorable moment, and he wanted to share it with her.

The second thing is that when I was new to Austin – lonely, unsure and in desperate need of some friends - Trey jumped on a plane, flew to Kansas City, and became my friend.

For two years Trey and I enjoyed life together.  We played poker, prayed, and worried over our kids together. I was supposed to play golf with Trey on a Monday. He had a heart attack on the Saturday before that, and I said goodbye for the last time in his hospital room on a Friday night one week later.

Dick, Eleanor and Cheryl praying for some of our visiting NY friends

Dick was older than me. He had recently retired when he and Eleanor came to Kansas City with us. I have many fond memories of Dick from that week. The most vivid is, after Tamara had prayed through a particularly shameful wound, she returned to her seat, weeping. I was praying with people on the other side of the room but had noticed that she was in pain, and I felt trapped and unable to help. I glanced around the room to see where she had gone, and saw that that Dick and Eleanor were ministering to Tamara.  They embraced her, extending the sort of tenderness and kindness that is like salve to a sore. In that moment, we knew we had become family.

The other memory is of all of us - Trey and Cheryl and their daughters, Dick and Eleanor, Tamara and me – floating down the Blanco River on inner tubes. We had so much fun, laughing as we twisted and turned through June sunlight. Dick looked so young and full of life.

A couple of months later, Dick told us he had cancer. We were gathered together in the church office after another evening of listening and praying together for wounded and broken people.  Looking back, sometimes it feels ironic, that while we were praying together for people to come back to life - emotionally and spiritually - Dick was actually dying, physically.  

Dick continued to help lead those small groups of wounded men up until a few months before he died.  I’ll never forget the night the people he had been praying for became the ones praying for Dick.  He stood in the center of the room, while men and women placed their hands on his shoulders and his head, now bald from chemo.  We had hoped he would be healed, but instead he died.

It’s not easy for us pastors, especially me, to make close friends. Trey and Dick always encouraged me to be myself. They had no trouble respecting and loving me as a pastor, a brother, and a friend. I’ll always love them for it.

I have often reminded people who have lost loved ones that we are lucky to have had any time with them. I suppose that’s true at some level, but sometimes I wonder. Sometimes it feels like the pain of losing people to death is greater than the joy of friendship, and it’s tempting to guard our hearts from loving again.

Tamara and I are preparing to move once more this summer. It’s a trade - closer to friends and family in one place at the expense of the nearness of family and friends in another.  I wish I didn’t have to choose between one group or the other. I long for an existence when space, time, and death are barriers no more.

I long for resurrection life.

My consolation while I wait is that Jesus understands our loneliness and homesickness and grief. He left his home, became humble unto death, and felt the sting of abandonment in order to prepare a place for us where space, death, and time will no longer be barriers to life. He is preparing a place where I will not only spend forever in closeness to him, but also to all my family and friends.

In a few weeks I will be ordained as a Priest in the Anglican Church. I wish Trey and Dick could see this in person. They prayed regularly for me, encouraged me, and blessed me with words that affirmed my calling and purpose. All of the friends I have made at Christ Church have been instrumental in my ordination process. The parish has prayed for me, discerned with me, and celebrated each step of the journey towards ordination. My new friends in Connecticut at Church of the Apostles have prayed for me, blessed me with kindness, and have honored me by inviting me to serve alongside them as their Rector.

This is also my consolation.

Because of the love we share together in Christ our earthly goodbyes, although painful and hard, also bring with them the reality of a joy that is already here, even though not-yet perfect. We're learning that the sadness of goodbyes is consoled by the happiness of meeting new friends. Friends like Dick and Trey. Friends like those I have made at Christ Church and in Austin. And friends like those I have and will continue to make at Church of the Apostles and in the neighborhoods of Fairfield, Bridgeport, Trumbull and beyond.

Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.  Reconcile all that separates us; restore all the time that has been lost.  Bind us together in spirit until the new heaven and new earth makes every broken circle whole again.

Brian moved from New York to Austin in 2011 to join Christ Church of Austin as Executive Pastor. In May he will be ordained as a priest within the Anglican Church of North America, and will become the Rector at Church of the Apostles in Fairfield, CT. In the meantime, Brian enjoys every good thing that Austin has to offer.


I count it a high privilege to know -- at least in small part -- the mourning stories of the dear ones who will share here for seven days. Their lives walk the path between celebration, yes, but also suffering -- illness, relational disillusionment, anxiety, joblessness, death of loved ones, death of dearly-held dreams. Their stories have helped form me in my understanding of suffering and I believe they could also encourage you too. The philosopher Blaise Pascal said that Christ suffers until the end of the world. As we welcome each other's stories, we welcome the Suffering Servant himself.


(See all of the Retrieve Lament stories from previous years here)
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