The Gift of the Chase

I left Waco for the summer with one goal. I knew I was going back to rush and hopefully pledge a sorority. High goals, I know. I also had seen enough in year one to know that with those greek letters would come the opportunity to swim in adventurous ponds of new activities. My goal for the summer was to get ready. First on my list of things to achieve was the ability to enjoy alcohol. That was the responsible thing to do, right? Being the perfectionist planner that I am, I set off to master the skill. I planned the day, I planned the setting. I called the accomplices. I even sent the designated procurement agent off with a complete list of supplies.

Again, with the perfectionist nonsense, I studied alcohol volume and content and felt that starting slow would be beneficial. I still have a bit of twitch when I see B&J Strawberry Daiquiri wine coolers, but perhaps not for the reason you might think. After consuming a few, I realized that all of the horror stories about being drunk and the worries that had held the demon of alcohol at bay, did not seem to be affecting me. I just didn’t get the big deal. I was not woozy. I was not out of control. I actually just felt like I had a belly bloated with sugar.

In my attempt to reconcile this apparent discrepancy in storyline, I sought the council of a more experienced drinker. As I explained that there appeared to be no ill effects, it was suggested that I try something with a bit more punch. The mason jar was prepared and the Wild Turkey was poured. Erroneously assuming that the drink was completed, I took the jar and drank it down in one fast swallow. Apparently, I was supposed to wait for Diet Coke. But with my limited experience, mixers were not in my knowledge base. The brown stuff was in the jar and I thought it was my turn to drink. What happened next was a fork in the road of my story. Where most 19 year old novice drinkers would have spit out the bourbon based on smell alone, the moment the burn hit my throat, it was as if the universe announced, “GAME ON!” In that backyard experience, I felt like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. For the first time in my life, I did not have to be in charge. In that moment, my very ordered, precise, black and white world came alive with a burn and a bad aftertaste.

I found myself with a lightness that I had never known. My words were freer. My cares were diminished. My fears of not being loved fled the scene like a The Ghost of Adolescence Past. I stood in that moment with a new world order that grew with each intake of ethanol. In a matter of minutes, I transformed from a thought obsessed, insecure girl to a careless, brave, bold grown-up. I was immediately drunk on being drunk. I knew that this feeling would solve many of the terrible ills that plagued my psyche. Much to the dismay of those who were around me, the morning also brought few ill effects. There was no vomiting. There was no light sensitivity. Rather, I woke with a keen awareness that I had a new best friend and his name was alcohol.

This was hardly a one time encounter. My desire to make up for lost time meant that I had work to do. With some additional experiences, I knew no moderation. Where I had seen adults have a drink at dinner or sip a glass of wine, that was never a desire for me. In contrast, my goal from day one was to pack as much power as I could behind each sip. I’m sure that I would have been much more enjoyable had I not required regular babysitting. What my friends discovered, even in those early days, was that given a dose of alcohol courage, my opinions were louder and my hostility more pronounced. I have never lacked for believing I was right, or that 90% of the general population was wrong. But with the non-filter of a drunk, I was not only willing to share my wisdom but to proclaim your stupidity.

When people talk about enjoying “a beer” that never crossed my mind. Like everything else about my personality and wiring, I carried a few life goals into my new world of alcohol:

  • go big or go home
  • if its worth doing, do it all the way
  • if a little is good, then more is even better

And so began a love affair that was in the driver’s seat of my life for much of the next 12 years. Why, you may be asking, is this a story in the celebration of Christmas and considered a gift? Like so many things in life, the chase for the high that I experienced for the fist time at 19 became a focal point. And while the outcome and end result would play out in some very dark ways, in the birth of my love for the drink, it was a glorious thing. I felt happier. I felt freer. I felt more alive than I had ever been. That all changed when I came to realization that feelings are not facts. But for now, bottoms up because we were having a party of epic proportions.

The Gift of Calling

As I prepared to go off to Baylor, I had done all that I could think of to serve my local church. I believed in the call of the Church from a young age. It was natural for me to want to serve and learn and grown in anyway that was offered.  I was a leader in my youth group. I was a youth choir member. I served on committees and boards. I spoke on Youth Sunday. The Church was a very safe and warm place for me.

One of the last trips before I left for college was a large youth gathering on the University of Arkansas campus. We heard speakers and worshiped and learned. As camp was coming to a close, in true youth camp fashion, they had the service. This is the end of week service where they invite you to dedicate your life to God in a new way. I was a veteran, and I knew what to expect. As I sat through the muffled hormonal sobs of intense adolescent feelings, I watched and genuinely prayed for many that were open to seeking God for the first time. I assumed that they would be ushered to the waiting adults and the rest of us would be left to close the final night with a dance. We were Methodists, mind you.

But then the speaker offered another invitation. I don’t really remember exactly what the words were, but the message was something to the effect of, ‘if you can’t get away from this tugging that God has a big plan for you to serve the Church with all that you are, come on up here.’

I had no intention to move from my seat that night. And before I could realize what was happening, I was on that auditorium stage with other teenagers and they were praying over our lives and ministries and callings. I had no idea what that meant. Many days, I still don’t understand it. But I can tell you that my life was never the same. I knew from that moment forward that whatever road I traveled, I was supposed to do it in a way that serving God was the center of my journey.

When people describe a ‘call to ministry’ some are very specific about the call to preach or to pastoral care or evangelism. Some have a clear call to missions or music. In the summer of 1993, I knew that I loved students. I knew that I had been blessed by great models for ministry to teenagers. I still did not have certainty or affirmation that women could be called and gifted to be lead pastors of a church, but I knew that my love for walking with others was very real. I would spend many years clarifying my response to the moment, but on that big stage – in a way that I had always resisted – I stood up. I walked to the front of that auditorium and I lunged what little I had to offer, into the arms of a God that had work to do.

When I arrived on campus in Waco a few weeks later, I attended Welcome Week. During a service, I wrote on some piece of paper, at some time, a small check mark in a box about feeling a call to serve God in the context of ministry. This one act would be critical in years to come, but for now, I had an entire new world to explore. Sic ‘Em Bears!

The Gift of Waking Up

With all of my woes and teenage ups and downs, I entered the summer after high school graduation with a new lease on life. I was excited about going away to Baylor in the fall. I was committed to spending the summer doing things that gave me life and energy and courage. This included a stateside mission trip with my youth group, camps and trips with my sister and youth director, time at home with my immediate family and my graduation present from my parents, a trip to Jamaica.

This sounds like a Caribbean escape, right? I joined a team of adults from my church to travel for 10 days to do construction and host a VBS program in an impoverished hillside village. There was one other 18 year-old on the trip and he traveled with his dad. I felt invincible and courageous and bold and ready to travel outside of the USA for the first time. I should have known that the trip was going to be full of excitement when we landed at the airport and AK47s were on the shoulders of the men inspecting our luggage. This was certainly not Texas and apparently we talked funny.

There were many adults that I knew on the trip, but up until this point, I had always traveled with a sibling or parent or youth sponsor. I was officially a grown-up. I can remember thinking on the flight to Jamaica that I had arrived. If this was adult-ing, I had this thing covered.We were on the island for less than 48 hours when I experienced a night that I will never forget.

We stayed in houses in a high tourist area and had a night guard that patrolled the grounds. In my house, we had the father and son sleeping downstairs, and (3) two person teams in the bedrooms upstairs. My roommate and I had the room on the far end of the hall, and we had an air-conditioning shortage, so we left the door open for the fans to cool the room. At some point in the night, I woke up. It was rare for me to wake in the night, but I made my way to the bathroom in the dark and flipped on the light. When I did, I realized that something was off. In that moment, I had my first real encounter with trusting my intuition. I noticed that my pink sponge rollers were spread on the floor. I knew I did not leave them there, so I was immediately aware that something was not right. I walked back into the room, leaving the bathroom light on, and realized that my suitcase had been ransacked. Things were obviously missing and the alarm clock on my bedside table was gone. I don’t remember waking my roommate, but in no time, she was standing with me and we were terrified.

We quickly woke the other 4 that were sleeping on our floor. As we walked down the hall, I realized that my belongings were strewn down the stairs. One of the rooms upstairs was being shared by a middle age couple. He jumped into protector mode and quickly told us to stay behind. This was far from successful, as I can recall being steps behind him as we made our way to the bottom floor. Before we reached the room of our downstairs housemates, we passed the kitchen entrance. I could see my birth certificate on the floor with my empty money pouch and camera case. As my eyes came into focus and my brain began to register, I realized that the room was covered in blood. There was no sign of a victim, but someone was definitely hurt.

We quickly woke our housemates and by the time we assembled in the den, the lights were coming on outside and it was apparent that there was a problem. We came to learn that a gang of young men had come into our house. They had been inches away from my body and I never moved. A house of 8 people never stirred and no one startled awake as they trashed our house. There is not one argument or piece of evidence that can change my belief that God caused our sleep to be supernaturally deep. God protected our lives.

The blood in the kitchen belonged to the security officer. Our night guard, trying to trap the robbers for the police, reached his arm inside the slats of the shutters to lock them in our kitchen. We will discuss the merits of this plan another day, but the result of this action was that the men used their machetes to slash the guard’s arm and the evidence was the crime scene in the kitchen. When I let that sink in, I was even more convinced of the protective cloud that was over that house.


During the next 7 days, I had a crash course in the Jamaican court system. They captured two of the men (I’m quite sure one was 10-12 years old) with my belonging on their person. This meant that I had to go to the town police station and identify my belongings, by way of standing face to face with the ones that had them in their possession. I can remember standing on the dirt floor police station as they brought these “men” in front of me. They had beaten the bottoms of their feet so severely that they could hardly walk. I was devastated. The conclusion of the event was a trial that was held the day before we left to come home, whereby I testified in “court” against the gang.

To say that my first international trip and foreign mission experience was life changing is an understatement. I still check doors and windows nightly. 25 years later, I believe that when I am awakened in the night it is for a reason. Sometimes it is clear. Other times, it is just to be still. I do both with gratitude. But most of all, I am thankful for the gift of waking up. Until that moment, I did not appreciate our government or rights or justice. I had no concept that there were places in the world where safety was rare and there was nothing that approached secure. I had no appreciation for the privilege of my private school upbringing. I certainly didn’t appreciate the opportunities that were ahead of me in college.

In that 10 day trip, I woke up to a world with hatred and injustice and hopelessness. I had a new appreciation for poverty and scarcity and being willing to go to any lengths. On that trip, I learned many lessons, but the one that I am quick to recognize is that you can’t always run away. I’m sure my mom wanted me on the next flight back to Texas when she heard this story. And let’s be honest, there was a big part of me that wanted to run home to my parents. But there was also a part of me that knew that I needed this trip. I needed to know what being strong was like. I needed to face the unknown and uncertain with people that I was forced to depend on. I had no money. Many of my creature comforts were gone. This was a life defining moment that gave me insight into what it was like to stand on my own. This was a wakeup call that was a well timed gift from God.

How is this a Christmasy story? If Christmastide is about finding joy and receiving hope, this trip was a gift. Sometimes the hard and the unnerving and fear inducing moments are the very times that we can find joy and hope in a God that is bigger than our fear of the dark.


The Gift of Purpose

Is there anything that can prepare you for the first time you encounter the career that you know you were created for? For some, it comes in the experience of meeting a doctor and knowing that you want to be a healer. For others, you see a student’s eyes light up with hope and your need to develop life learners calls you to education. For me, the presence and service of ministry was introduced in many forms. As with most first time encounters, the surface does not tell the complete story.

My first memory of a pastor was the very old guy that wore a robe and shoulder pads at church. Following him, the pulpit was filled by a younger man that placed a stool behind the podium. I always felt like he was trying to fill the big shoes of the tall old man. BUT, he had candy and Cracker Jacks, so what he lacked in experience and height, he made up for in excellent kid treats.

The pastoral role at a church is a curious position. As a kid that felt right at home in the church office, there was always one place that was mysteriously off limits. The Pastor’s Study was a combination library, counseling cubicle and living area. There was a private bathroom and a personal closet. All of these things seem important and special. That made the man that filled the office important and special.

I made a mental note at an early age that this unique and obviously important job was worthy of reverence. While it was not said out loud that I can recall, it was clear to me from all those that spoke of Jesus and the Church, that I failed to possess qualifying gender requirements to be the occupant of such an office. The issue of gender roles in ministry is an immensely complicated one that plagued my understanding of calling for many years. It was further complicated by the fact that the previously mentioned ill-fitting pastoral appointment was the first female ordained pastor that I had ever met. The events of this teenage encounter led to confusion and challenge, but for the time being, I looked to others for leadership. While I did not explore the role of the robe wearing boss, I was introduced early on to women that were serving in life giving, heart opening ways.

There were three women that played key roles in setting before me the fullness of calling as I began to serve in the church. When I reflect on my early understanding of ministry, I can see clearly the models of sacrifice and surrender that were instilled through the legacy of these women. In the church of my heritage, they were known as “Youth Directors.” Their formal education lacked a seminary degree and their position in the denomination did not give them access to lead in the sacraments, but their lives were every bit as pastoral as the robe wearing men of my childhood.

From their study of the Bible, to their faithful prayer life, they showed me how to do the work of ministry in my formative years. I moved from a place of dreamy admiration for all things Church, to the realistic awareness that laying your life down for others is a daily sacrifice. The countless hours of retreats and teenage drama, paired with the intense demands by the church for planning and creativity, showed me time and again that ministry was more than a job. It was something you did because you could not possibly do anything else. What I found from their example, was the desire to wrestle and dream and ask many questions.  I would need the space for dreaming and these human models in the days to come. Because when you receive this kind or gift, what is the appropriate response?

A Gift Like No Other

If you have been around Christianity for any length of time, you have undoubtedly had the encounter with the question, “Are you saved?” Now, I love this questions for so many reasons, but may usual response is, “Saved from what?”

To tell today’s story, you must understand a bit more about the years from 1989-1991. During this season, the church of my childhood underwent massive changes. We were part of a denominational system where pastors (or clergy) are appointed by the bishop. While the needs of the local church are heard and considered, ultimately, the bishop makes the decision who will pastor a local congregation. During this two year season, our church received a new pastor. The appointment was not perceived as a “fit” by many in the congregation and a church division took place. Many of the faces that I had come to know and love were no longer there.

During the same season, I became a youth delegate to the Church Council. This is designed to give students the opportunity to develop leadership and ownership in the church. Unfortunately, the timing coincided with a season of division and heartache in church leadership. I saw what I politely refer to as the underbelly of the beast. At 14 and 15, I saw some of the hardest moments of church life.

After increasing unrest and a clear sign that it was time to move on, my family set off to find a new community of faith. Up to this point, I knew only one. When we made our home in a new community, I began to seek out relationships with the teenagers of that church. It took some adjustment, but when we settled, I was surrounded by adults that loved and encouraged me. While it was a significant and constant influence, the other factors of growing up life were spinning like china plates. With one wiggle or wobble, my delicately designed outsides may show the desperation of the wildly confused insides. The feelings of inadequacies, my desire to please people and my fear of disappointing God lead me to the constant worry that I was not saved. Otherwise, why would these trials continue to come my way, right?

This is where non-church people are so confused. Let me try and shed a little bit of southern Bible belt light. By this time, I was a pro at all things church. I knew the pattern of mess up, confess, recommit like the back of my hand. I had spent many Saturday nights at youth weekends with the altar call to commit your life to Jesus…again. And If you know how these moments play out, you are familiar with the sobbing teenager that needs 14 friends to walk with her to the front, therefore all of them are now on their knees and receiving counsel. This is a grand generalization, but sadly very accurate. By the time I reached my junior year in high school, I was long over this emotional manipulation and far more concerned that somehow these moments did not “work” on me.

I can remember telling my youth pastor that I didn’t know if my many attempts to change and be enough and let Jesus work in me were sufficient. I also expressed that somehow these camp like drama-fests were lacking in sincerity and hope for me. So, she stopped right there in the copy room of the church. There was no call to the altar. There was no highly dramatic moment. Instead, there was a sincere effort on my part to begin something new.

My best efforts were not getting me though with any great success. My attempts to succeed felt empty at best. I was longing for a next step and she promised me that in spite of the bumps and heartache that would surely be ahead, I could rest in the knowledge that I was not alone. This was good news. And while I didn’t fully understand it in July of 1992, that is the Gospel of Jesus. With a pause in the copy cycle and a prayer of trust, Christmas Day came in an empty church office for a struggling teenager with the longing for peace. I was saved that day, and I would be saved time and time and time again.

Merry Christmas.

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:4-5

What is Christmas?

We have prepared. We have longed for the pieces of our brokenness to be restored. And in the midst of our waiting, hope has come. That is what happens when the sun goes down on December 24th and the fullness of love is found in the manger.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being” (John 1:1-3, NRSV).

Why do I love Christmas so much? Because there it is a beautiful picture of the love that we are offered by our Creator. A fragile helpless baby, being presented as the conduit of grace. In the Christian tradition, the Christmas season (note…it is a SEASON, not a day) is a period beginning on December 25th and continuing through January 6th. If you have ever wondered why we sing about the 12 days of Christmas, this would be the explanation. To fully celebrate the miraculous transformation that the world experiences in the coming of Jesus, one day to unwrap gifts and eat ham just won’t suffice!

“Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history—the entry of God into the world he made, in the form of a baby. The Logos through whom the worlds were made took up his dwelling among us in a tabernacle of flesh. One of the prayers for Christmas Day in the Catholic liturgy encapsulates what Christmas means for all believers: “O God, who marvelously created and yet more marvelously restored the dignity of human nature, grant that we may share the divinity of him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” In Christ, our human nature was united to God, and when Christ enters our hearts, he brings us into that union.”

-Edwin and Jennifer Woodruff Tait “The Real 12 Days of Christmas” Christianity Today –Aug 2008

If we have truly spent the four weeks of Advent preparing, we are ready for a good long party. We need the time to feel the party. We need the rhythm of celebration to be full. We need to take a holy and carved out moment to soak in the mystery of the gift, and the significance of the hope, that is being offered. Christmas is a season of feasting. It is a season that is designed to give us a foundation of hope that will help us to endure the darkness that inevitably will come.

On a modern note, many are ready for the decorations to be gone on December 26th because they have been glittering in our face since November. I get it. I would, however, encourage you to take the intentional posture of celebration in the midst of the seasonal unwind. As you repack your nativity and re-roll your outdoor lights, I wonder if the call to gratitude and presence can be manifested? Rather than rushing to rid your home of all signs of indoor snow and singing plush reindeer, the deliberate attention to pursue joy can abound.

It is a rare day in our fast paced world that we allow ourselves the gift of slowly celebrating. Perhaps, that’s what the season of Christmas is all about. Otherwise, we move right from candlelight to gifts to attic restocking and in the process, we fail to see how this miraculous season changed the world. It happened long ago, in a culture so different from mine, and yet a miracle was present in a moment that reoriented the life of a 17 year old teenager in Texas in 1992.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come.

The Gift of Friendship

I stepped foot on the Baylor campus with wide eyes and big dreams. I was the fourth generation to dawn the Green and Gold in my family and it was exciting to be a part of the legacy while forging my own path. Going pot luck for a roommate and immediately trying to distance myself from the patterns of high school, I wanted so badly to have the full college experience.

Having never been to a party with alcohol and never sneaking out or missing curfew, I was curious. Baylor is a Baptist university. When I arrived on campus in 1993, I lived in an all girls dorm that allowed co-ed visitation on Saturdays and Sundays from 1-6 pm. Until my junior year, there was no dancing on campus. By the world’s standards, we were far from a “normal” college experience. Having never tasted the life of a rebel, I found spontaneous trips to Dallas, late night pizza runs and dorm prank wars to be so entertaining. We had neighbors on our dorm hall that seemed to find another side of life on our very conservative campus. I can remember the first time I had to assist with post-party clean up. As one person purged their stomach in the sink, we were called to help a non-authorized visitor escape from our dorm. This was scandalous. And, I was so intrigued.

It was my intention to enter sorority rush after the Christmas break. Unfortunately my excitement to stay up late and learn about this great new thing called e-mail consumed more of my first semester than studying. I found myself on academic probation and unqualified for rush. I went back to campus with the firm desire to make grades. I spent most of the second semester watching my friends pledge sororities. With all of the parties and t-shirts and fun being had, I was more determined than ever to rush in the fall.

The best part of my freshman year was the foundation of independence that I forged. For the first time in my life, I was on my own. I had to make my own friends. I had no siblings or church group to fall back on. I chose to be a part of a Sunday night dinner group with a few others that had similar faith journeys. Each week, we would go to dinner at the home of a local woman who mothered and loved and encouraged us. What began in that living room is one of the truest friendships I know in life.

While we did not spend every waking moment together in our first year, we found our common lane. I can remember meeting her in my first days of college life and thinking to myself that she was beautiful and fun and full of life. I was immediately intimidated and sure that we would have nothing in common. She had long blond hair and I saw that hanging with her meant laughter and faith and stories and plenty of interested boys and Jesus. Yes, all of those things can go together, and in totality, it was the base of a sisterhood that would walk with me through the best and worst days ahead.We both came from families that loved Jesus and valued each other.

In our first conversations, I can remember thinking that she had something that I needed more of in my life. As our friendship grew, I knew what it was. She was real. She was the kind of friend that didn’t sugarcoat the chaos and at the same time, she refused to let my negative Nelly attitude devour a good time. She was going to stretch me to meet people and engage and walk down new paths, all with the grounding of a solid foundation. So in the fullness of celebration and joy, we jumped headlong into one of the best seasons of my life, together.

On a side, yet very vital note, this same friend is on the “do not pass go, do not have a crisis, do not have a celebration without calling her” list 24 years later. If you are lucky enough to have a friend that has seen you though college and dating and engagement and marriage and children and is now navigating ministry and raising teenagers with you, blessed does not even begin to cut it. When life falls apart or requires a costume, I know who to call.