Blessing of a New Home

Welcome, Bitty Bitty and Bonga! We hope you will enjoy your lively, pink surroundings. Perhaps through your curved glass windows, you will catch glimpses of all the people (and one dog) who promise to love and feed you, clean your home (never, ever forgetting the water conditioner), and provide you will an rotating collection of faux-sea furnishings and rainbow loom bracelets, even though you don’t have hands or arms. If you are lucky, we hope you will also glimpse colors other than pink. Many blessings on your new home – the bowl, the house, and the family.

Is it pink enough for you, Bitty Bitty and Bonga?

You have to go there. Really.

I have several new friends who just moved to Texas from other states. They asked and have been told about where to get the best BBQ, and they’ve learned about the odd quirks of our streets-that-change-names-every-couple-of-miles. The longer they live here, the greater the odds that they will learn how to two-step, where to catch great live music, and that tacos for breakfast, too.

There is one thing, however, that I have been urging them to experience while they are here and they just don’t seem to understand it’s cultural importance. I am speaking about going to Buc’ee’s. If you have to ask why, it means you have not been yet. You really should go.

Buc’ee’s is a roadside refuge, but not just a place to fill your tank and stretch your legs. Whenever you drive between Texas towns, it is important to make sure your route will pass a Buc’ee’s or the trip will be incomplete.

Now, I need to make it clear to the newcomers (the natives will know this already) which Buc’ee’s I am talking about. You might drive down the highway and see a regular looking gas station/convenience store with a sign that says, “Buc’ee’s.” But that is NOT WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. Why would I send you to regular? I am sending you someplace extraordinary. You will know you are headed to the right place when you see huge billboards announcing, “Clean Restrooms Ahead. We Guaranpee It! 21 Miles” (And that is true. You should have a serious talk with your bladder about timing your stop to meet this need – it is worth it.) I was headed toward the town of Waller and passed a sign that said, “Waller You Waiting For? 8 Miles.” Buc’ees loves a good pun.

And then, there it was:

That is just the side entrance.

You can tell you are at the right place because IT IS AS BIG AS A HOME DEPOT. Maybe even a Walmart. It is immediately evident that this will be more than a pit stop, it will be a life changing road trip experience.

Doesn’t that sound appetizing?

Before you actually enter, you may think to yourself, “I wonder what kind of snack I can buy myself at Buc’ee’s?” Because that is what most people do when they go to a convenience store along the highway. In fact, Buc’ee’s has its own brand of snacks, the most famous if which are the Beaver Nuggets:

But there is so much more.
So. Much. More.

At Buc’ee’s, you can find back-to-school fashion, napkins for your next fancy cocktail party and – y’all! – Texas-themed birdhouses for your Christian birds.

So far, you might think Buc’ee’s isn’t that much better than any other stop along the road. And you really need to be getting on your way…except, haven’t you been thinking about redecorating your house? And wouldn’t it be convenient if you could do that now, while you are driving away from your house? At a place that also sells snacks and birdhouses? What if you could get a beaded cow skull, faux-leather pillows, and charming wooden signs for the walls in your new Texas home? What if you could get placemat, napkins and a table runner featuring the Texas bluebonnet? Or a faux leather shower curtain and matching towels? WHAT IF YOU COULD GET THIS ALL IN ONE PLACE?

Friends, you can:

Perhaps you need to take it up a notch. All those decorative items are just a little too tame for you?

Okay. Why don’t you treat yourself to a cowhide? Because they sell those at Buc’ee’s.

Cowhides.

At the highway gas station/convenience store. (You can also get a mirror with a cowhide frame.)

 

 

And that isn’t even all -I could go on all day. Camo-themed items of all sorts. Everything imaginable in the shape of Texas – wooden things, stone things, soap things, lots and lots of Texas-shaped things. There is framed “art” on the walls leading to the famous bathrooms. And, of course, you can get your own Buc’ee to take home.

 

 

Mary of the Hills

 

Maryology loves Marys. You knew that; it’s what we are all about here. And on a recent trip out to the Texas Hill Country, I got to see a shrine to Mary of Nazareth, the BVM, mother of Jesus. A friend pointed me in the right direction and as I strolled over I saw it nestled into a hill looking like a small house of stone – perhaps even a little like the house in Ephesus where legend says she lived her last years:

 

 

As I got closer, I could see a sweet copper statue of Mary holding an infant Jesus:

So I contemplated this lovely scene for a few moments, noticing her faraway look and how the baby clung to her neck. And then my gaze shifted and I saw something else:

Someone left Mary and Jesus a puppy. Thoughts?

Well Spring

Here are the ingredients for a great retreat:

First, the drive. It was supposed to be just over an hour away through the Texas Hill Country just outside of Austin. On a gorgeous sunny day I was listening to James Taylor’s new CD and driving down a stretch of highway toward a couple days of relaxing with new friends. But because Google didn’t really know what the heck it was talking about and a bridge was washed out on one really important turn, I got lost and it took 2.5 hours. Still – a gorgeous day!

True friends find you when you are lost.

(If you are going to get lost in the Hill Country, I suggest you have a friend like my buddy John who tracked me down, got lost (again) with me and then found our destination with time to spare before dinner was served.)

Next, setting. We stayed in a lodge at the Wellspring Retreat Center which has retreat-worthy sofas, rocking chairs, porches, and views. It was impossible to look the wrong way – every direction gave up vistas of rolling hills and climbable live oaks. At night, the sky was filled with stars and it was dark enough to see them surrounding the crescent moon. Probably best, at least for this sun-weary Texan, was a full day of cloudy weather. A rare treat.

View from the porch – and clouds to make it perfect.

But really, the heart of any retreat is the people. All of us are just meeting each other, just starting out on our theological educational journey in a new environment. Even those of us (like me) who already live in Austin are making huge adjustments and jumping into the unknown. So it was important and also comforting to get to know everyone in a setting other than campus – with its proximity to classrooms, library, and  work-study assignments. The slow rhythm of group meetings, relaxed worship, and down time made it possible for us to know a whole lot more about our fellow travelers and the amazing life experiences each brings with them. That, a multi-day game of Risk, and nightly parties in the parking lot.

I’m still not sure any of us is ready for classes to start on Monday, but they will whether we are ready or not. And in addition to all the information we received during orientation, we now have each other. Game on!

 

dis- re- oriented

All this week I am in orientation for seminary, but as our Academic Dean observed today, it feels more like disorientation. Life is being turned upside-down as I go from my old life-rhythm to a new one. I am taking in so much new information it is overwhelming – I know I won’t remember it all. There is excitement and grief in all these changes. I love being a student and being on this beautiful campus, but am getting teary thinking about the time I will lose with my kids when I am all the way across town as they get off the school bus in the afternoons. By the end of September, we will all have a new normal, but for now things still feel out of balance. Unsettled.

I was thinking about all of this today in the first of three chapel services. (That right there is a big change.) The chapel is an architectural metaphor for our life here at seminary. There is a firm floor and a strong stone wall on one side. But the cross, instead of hanging on a wall behind the altar, is on the other side of a large window, not inside the chapel but pulling our eyes to the world outside it. It is a visual reminder that all of us here are preparing to leaving this place from the moment we enter, we are being called into other roles, other lives.

As you sit in the chapel, you can’t help but notice that across from the stone wall is a wall of windows. So, in this quiet space while you sing or pray or check your phone for email, you can’t help but notice squirrels playing in the trees or butterflies checking out the flowers in the garden or other people walking by. The busy world is out there with the cross, calling for your attention.

At times it seems like all the activity on the other side of the window is a distraction. But at other times, it feels like a reminder, “Oh yeah, that is why I am here.” None of us is here to remain in a permanent blissful, contemplative state, we are here to get information and hone skills that we will practice out there on the other side of the window.

So, in fact, my new friends and I are being oriented to a new environment and disoriented because everything is new and unsettling. But we are also being reoriented, turned to face a new direction, learning to pay attention to the same old things in a new way and from a new perspective.

Of course, it occurred to me as the day was ending that when I leave this place next spring, I’ll have to do this dis- re- orienting all over again.

Oh, yes I did

I’ve seen the sign for years and wondered who ordered “that” flavor. Well, folks, today I AM THAT PERSON! Cop Stop ice cream – coffee ice cream with hunks of doughnut smashed in. I ate the whole thing, oh yes I did, and it was fantabulous.

Is there a better way to end a long day?

Family recipe

I just came across this family recipe for smoked salmon. My sister Katie and I made it for our families about four years ago and I CANNOT BELIEVE WE HAVE’T MADE IT AGAIN! Summer isn’t over yet, though…

Ingredients:
As much salmon as you want
Two more bottles of wine than you think you will need

1) Use convenient, time-saving charcoal chimney to light fire. Light and repeat over a 1.5 hour period until the coals catch. Drink first bottle of wine.
2) When coals are ready, place salmon on grill and close top to keep in the smoke.
3) After 30 minutes, when the fire has inexplicably died down and the temp inside the grill is about 100, add new coals. DO NOT REMOVE THE SALMON, IT IS STILL SMOKING.
4) Open second bottle of wine.
5) After another 30 minutes, give up and add a squirt of lighter fluid.
6) Refill the glasses while the salmon continues to smoke.
7) After an additional 30 minutes, check the fish, it will be smoky, but it will not be done.
8) Preheat broiler on oven. Open third bottle of wine.
9) Remove salmon from grill and put under broiler for 7 minutes.
9) Serve!

It didn’t quite look like this.

Things I will miss about CPE

I’ve been both poetic and snarky about my summer as a hospital chaplain. There are some things about it that I will not miss at all. But for the most part, it has been an amazing experience for which I am deeply grateful. So, in no particular order, here are the things that have made my summer wonderful:

Lee Ann, Megan, JP, Henry, Susan, Mike, Nadine, and me.

Did I say no particular order? That goes for the end of the list, but number one in all respects is my team! We are seven interns and one supervisor. Among us are many lifetimes of experience – a former federal judge, retired nurse, social worker – all focused on sitting with whoever needed a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen. I learned from each and every one of them how to be a better pastor and a better person. We’ve been with each other through grief, struggle, frustration, joy, and relief. We had a lot of fun and every member of the team knows that a sense of humor is the number one survival skill in stressful jobs. A sense of humor and hot cookies (see below).

I am about to be a student again, and after that get on the lowest rung of the church ladder to start a new career. So pardon me if one of the things I will miss from this summer is the power trip of my badge. With this baby, I could swipe my way into three emergency rooms, gain access to the highly secure NICU, and, most important, get a 10% discount at the cafeteria – that’s 10% off every slice of pie and cake I had while on call. And 10% off hot cookies.

Nurses. Sure, I’m impressed with the doctors, clinical assistants and social workers I met this summer, but I was blown away by every single nurse with whom I worked. They all did more than attend to the health of their patients – I saw them cry with parents who lost a child, hold hands with dying patients, negotiate with families in conflict, and have conversations with premature babies. If a chaplain shows up unexpectedly in the middle of a crisis, you can bet it was a nurse who made the call. Even at the end of a 12-hour shift, these women and men can still keep their cool in an emergency and soothe a child visiting a sick parent.

I’m going to miss my patients and their families. In some units, patients are only there for a day or two, but in my units (antepartum and NICU) there are patients and families who have been in the hospital all summer long. I’ve gotten to know them and see them thru that strange mix of anxiety and hope that is part of high-risk pregnancies and birth. I “met” some babies before they were born. After I leave, they will still be working hard at what babies do – learning to eat, getting bigger and stronger. I won’t know how they are doing or when they go home, but I won’t be able to stop imagining it…All of them have blessed me tremendously.

Honestly, I have never worked in a place with so many polite and friendly people. Every single one of them will offer you directions if you look the slightest bit lost. Nurse, administrator, janitor – doesn’t matter. You cannot go down a hallway without smile after smile after “how are you today?” And if you choose to answer, they will stop and listen. It is contagious and I hope I stay infected.

Y’all, I may never be able to work anywhere ever again that does not have hot cookies at least once a week. Huge-as-your-face hot cookies. And co-workers who page you so that you don’t miss out on the yumminess.

I love the theological discussions that happen in seminary – in class and on the fly – but the discussions in CPE have been different. We weren’t talking about theological concepts in a vacuum, isolated from real life, we were living through applied theology. Where is God in the midst of suffering? How do you find hope in a trying situation? What resources help people cope with stress? Or…How can I be more “there” for other people? How do I better identify their needs? How can I stop trying to fix people and just be with them?

To my colleagues, my babies, the nurses, and the cookies: Thanks so much from the bottom of my heart.