Friday, November 29, 2013

Happy Birthday, Graham!

As of today, I have an adult child. Graham is 18.

At lunch, he quoted one of our favorite authors, Mark Twain:
My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.
Oh yes, he was trouble. And yes, I enjoyed it. Every challenge was a blessing, every struggle a joy. And while I know (tears glistening in my eyes) that motherhood doesn't end when children reach adulthood, there is a strange feeling of accomplishment in seeing one's offspring come of age.

He is wise, and honest, and practical, and real. And most of all, he is ready.

I love you, my bug. It's an honor to be your mom. You are the answer to the longest prayer I ever prayed. And in every way you are immeasurably more than all I asked or imagined. I'm thankful for the miracle God gave us in you.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Fungus Among Us

The French love to hunt wild mushrooms. This time of year you find cars parked all along the side of the road where eager scavengers have wandered off into the forests to search for flavorful fungi.

A friend and neighbor recently gave us these beauties from the abundance of his bounty. The first sack was filled with Pieds de Moutons (Sheep's Feet would be the literal translation--not sure what we call these in English) and the second was filled with Chanterelles (which we call chanterelles--they sell for about $18/lb in the US). 

Multiple varieties of mushrooms grow all over the French forests, and even unskilled hunters can try their hand without fear because all pharmacists are trained to identify and classify mushrooms. So happy gatherers simply take their find to the local Pharmacy, and all dangerous or poisonous mushrooms are discarded by the pharmacist, who usually just asks for a portion of the good mushrooms in exchange for his services.

Our friend carefully explained how we were to clean and store the mushrooms and we followed his instructions to the T. 

David plans to use some of the Pieds de Mouton on our pizza tonight--which should add a nice earthy flavor.

Our chanterelles are in the freezer, awaiting their use in quiches or sautéed as an elegant side.

Learning about mushrooms is just one of the things that I LOVE about living in France!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Ministry is Messy

Ministry is messy.

If you don't get that, you're missing out.

For many years my church experience was rather sterile. People who went to church were well-mannered. Everyone came to services clean and smelling good. Nothing unexpected happened.Obedient congregants stood when they were supposed to stand, sang what they were supposed to sing, sat quietly during the sermon, and left smelling as good as they did when they arrived. Our biggest problem was a misspelled word on a power-point slide. Everything was neat. Orderly. Predictable.

And I liked it.

I knew what to expect when I went to church. It was comfortable. It was familiar. And why shouldn't it be? Isn't God a God of order? Isn't he good and holy and perfect and clean-smelling? Shouldn't church reflect that nice, neat God? I knew all the reasons for "excellence" in a service. I understood that we needed to offer our very best to God. I delighted in knowing that faithful men and women devoted their time each week to the production of a service that would be glorifying to God and honoring to those who came to worship him. And I know, really I know, that the motives behind those fabulously flawless services were good and right.

But lean in close so that you can hear my heart. Let me whisper something that the Lord has been slowly, patiently revealing to my soul which is soiled by an inordinate attachment to tidiness. Ministry--real person-to-person, life-to-life, broken vessel-to-broken vessel ministry--is messy.

Loving the neighbor who truly believes that aliens are living in his attic--that's an adventure. Figuring out what to do with his eager participation in worship services--that's messy.

Realizing, as you swallow the communion wine that has just been handed out, that the wine has gone bad and tastes like vinegar--that's messy. Seeing faces contort as they try their best to swallow rather than spew--that's messy too.

Watching my teenage son escort an obese woman home after prayer, knowing that he has purposefully, significantly slowed his steps to meet her pace--that's beautiful. Knowing that she is undoubtedly rambling on about inappropriate topics, and watching him listen with respect nonetheless--that's messy.

When the African woman prays aloud, prayers full of truth, laced with scripture--that's amazing. But when the prayer that should have lasted 30 seconds goes on for five minutes, ten minutes, even longer--then what? Then ministry gets messy.

When the pastor makes mention of pornography in a sermon, and his ten year-old daughter raises her hand and asks, "What's pornography?" That's messy.

When those on the fringes lead others to Christ--and we scratch our heads and wonder,"Which one of us is really on the fringe?" That's messy.

When we suddenly become aware that all have entered the house of the Lord with baggage, and that those suitcases are filled with everything from mental illness to poverty to histories in the occult, and when the baggage is brought right through the doors of the church and laid bare for all to see--well a nice sterile service just might not be possible. Things might get messy.

The spiritual control-freak in me panics. The spiritual neat-freak in me starts looking for a spiritual broom. And the spiritual perfectionist in me wishes everyone would close up those suitcases, take them home, and hide them in the back of the closet where they belong. That stuff does not smell good. Could someone light some incense? I'm pretty sure church is supposed to smell good.

And then I get a glimpse of Jesus, who is neither panicking nor plugging his nose. Nothing laid bare was beyond his knowledge. He already knew about the problems and their stench. He's glad to have all of the people with all of their baggage in his house. He loves the unlovely. He touches the untouchables. He blesses the broken.

Often I find myself overwhelmed by the messiness of ministry, unsure of how to help, drowning in a wave of needs. But when I see how Jesus loves them--how he loves us--I realize that I don't have to have all the answers. I just have to lead them to the one who does.

We have a Savior that isn't afraid of our messes. A Lord that doesn't recoil from our stench. A God who chose not to stay sterile in his heaven, but humbled himself to take on our dirt.

He unpacks each suitcase in the shadow of the cross, he bleeds his redemption into every tangled mess. And he delights to do it, because the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.

Church, are we the instrument of his grace? Will we welcome and serve the ones he loves, even when the work is messy? Even when it means our service might not go as planned? Or will we forget that we, too, stumbled into his courts naked and blind, wretched and poor?

Ministry is messy. And hard. And worth it.

Monday, November 18, 2013


As the youngest of five girls, I grew up in a home of estrogen. My big sisters were my very first friends and to this day they are special to me. Maybe it is because of my family of origin that I have always cultivated deep and meaningful friendships with girlfriends. I am not one who needs a lot of friends, but I am one who cherishes intimate friendships with a handful of dear souls.

During my recent trip to the States, I had lunch with a few of my very favorite friends. Though we've barely talked over the past year, we picked up as if we had just seen each other last week. It was a beautiful moment; and yet, it left me strangely sad. I miss my friends.

I have made new friends in France, and I love and appreciate each one. But it takes a loooooong time to build depth and intimacy. And in this crazy-move-around-the-globe-transient missionary life that I live, I will not stay in one place for the duration. Which means that the friendships I invest in today will soon become a part of my growing list of left-behind loved-ones.

So as I sat with my friends in the States--talking too much about me and longing to hear more of them--I realized that I have a friendship void in my life. A void that may be with me until we are all gathered into eternity. And that is sad.

Because those girlfriends are the type that will tell me when it's time to color my hair. They mock my "preach-i-ness" in a way that appropriately humbles me and makes me feel deeply loved, all at once. They cheer over cute new boots, they know how I like my latte, and they talk me back to sanity when I confess that I am considering a neck chain for my reading glasses. ("No way! That adds ten years right off. We love you too much to let you go there!")

They are the sort that really want to know about my son's love life, my husband's diet, and my new favorite conditioner (Happy Happy Joy Joy by Lush). They've seen me through tough parenting decisions, bad fashion choices, major career changes, and amputated fingers. (okay, it was one finger, and it was David's, not mine. Still. They were there!) They love me where I'm at (grammatical error intended).

I delight in knowing that when we get together, nothing has changed. But those moments are so few and far between.

So to those of you who have the luxury of living in one place for a long period of time--appreciate your friends! Hug them often! Cheer them onward! Pray with them. Play with them. And while you do, whisper a word of thanks to the author of friendship Himself.

And to those of you who ARE my far-away friends, know that you are very near to my heart! I count your friendship among my greatest treasures and I cherish the memories we made together. I look forward to every moment we will share in the future, no matter how brief or infrequent. I thank God for you and the rich investments that you make in my life. And I love you bunches.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Song for my Mom

Note: I am currently in the States, celebrating my mom's 80th Birthday> The following are the remarks I shared at her party:

Some of you know that I like to write. The first piece I ever published was a poem that I wrote about my mom when I was about 8 years old. It was published in the San Antonio Express News on Mother’s Day. They had a poetry contest and my poem won an honorable mention. But in retrospect, I’m guessing it wasn’t the elegance of my prose that merited an award. I’ll bet that somehow, despite the clumsiness of my words, the judges were able to see the complex beauty that is my mom.

I say complex because my mom is one of those people whose beauty is rich and varied; yet, it never clamors for attention. Much of her greatness has gone unsung through the years, and she’s never once asked for recognition. But today, mama, we want to sing your song.

We sing of your creativity—how through decades of changing styles you clothed your girls with glory. Because of your brilliant imagination, your diligent stitching, and your flair for fashion, we were always well-dressed. And each carefully constructed garment was a masterpiece. You dressed us in your love. But your creativity went far beyond your sewing skills. Sisters, who of remembers being about 10 years old, when mom decided to do one of her “spot-checks” on our clothes dressers? What happens to messy drawers? And unmade beds? My mom even made discipline fun. Effective, but fun.

We sing of your industriousness—how you worked harder and longer than any woman I know. As the Head Nurse of the orthopedic ward of a County Hospital, you were honored and respected by all who had the joy of working with you. Anytime we visited you at work, we got a tiny glimpse of how much your nurses loved you, and we know they loved you because you worked tirelessly beside them, never lording your authority over them. You were the first one in, the last one out. And when you came home from work to 5 girls you kept moving. Often Dad was traveling and you flew solo through music lessons, band concerts, hospital trips, homework challenges, meal preparations, and piles of laundry and ironing. I have never seen her bed left unmade, her sink left unclean, nor her kitchen floor unswept.

We sing of your wisdom—how you seemed to speak just the right insights into each of your children at just the right time. You never imagined that a one-size fits all approach to parenting would work with five girls as diverse as we were. You taught us that fair is too low of a goal, and you strove to always do the best thing for each of us, even if it was different than what you did for others. Of course there were some non-negotiables, mostly having to with neat drawers and made beds.

We sing of your passion—how we knew, we always knew, that no matter what, you were FOR your family. You love our father fiercely. You loved him even when others criticized him. You loved him when he lost his job for standing up to a tyrant. You loved him when he was promoted. You loved him when he was down-sized. You loved him when he traveled. You loved him when he made mistakes. You love him out loud, and if anyone knows just one thing about you, it would be this: You loves Burris. And we girls know how to love our husbands because you love our Dad so well.

And right after Dad, you loved your girls. You loved us individually and you loved us collectively. You loved us extravagantly and you loved us strictly. When needed, you loved us like a mother bear loves her cubs. I’ll never forget the time when we were shopping and a woman accused me of shoplifting. You grew 10 inches and growled, defending my honor without hesitation. I stood in awe, realizing under those florescent mall lights that my mother (who always seemed so meek and mild) would walk through fire protect her girls. You love right to the end. You loved our Sharon when she was her silliest, her sickest, and her stubborn-est. And you taught us how to love when it hurts; how to laugh while we cried, and how to sing during the storms of life. Maybe especially during the storms.

We sing of your faith—a faith hard wrought, tested, and refined. You are not one who holds blindly to comfortable platitudes. You have struggled with God, and you taught us that God is big enough to handle all of our fears and failures. You have never stopped growing, never stopped surrendering, never stopped seeking, never stopped believing. You let Him speak His love both to you and through you.

We sing of your kindness—You may well be the kindest person on the face of the earth. You care deeply for just about everyone you meet. You treat people with sincere dignity. How many—how many of our friends have benefitted from her goodness and grace? How many neighbors? How many strangers? My mom is the type of person that takes the smallest cookie, the hardest chair, the last place in line because she really wants others to have the best. Our joy makes her smile. Our success makes her cheer. Our comfort puts her at ease.

But perhaps the most amazing thing about my mom is her genuineness. If she is happy, she’ll tell you. If she is sad, she’ll tell you. If she is mad, well, she won’t have to tell you because trust me, you’ll just know. But you see, there’s so much grace in that. So much grace in both love and anger expressed, not buried. She will never become bitter because she harbors no resentments. She feels things deeply, freely, fully, AND openly. And I’ve come to realize that the root of her genuineness, the heart of that kind of transparency is a rare and precious humility. A humility that considers others better than herself, not in a self- deprecating way, but in an other-honoring sort of way. She bears her soul not for her benefit, but for ours. For my mama, my dear, sweet mama is a peacemaker, and her transparency is her way of continually surrendering herself to others. In this way, she reminds me of another peacemaker: Jesus. He was stripped bare on the cross, made naked so that he could provide a covering for us.

My mama, today, as we celebrate 80 years of your life, I marvel at what we see in your wake. Five daughters, one in heaven. 4 GENTLE sons-in-law, the very thing you prayed for us. 16 grandchildren who all bubble with affection for you. You’re coming up on 58 years of marriage—a marriage that is still abounding in love. You have friends around the globe, women like Sabine, Patti, and Maren, who would love to claim you as their own. And your godly influence still impacts me every single day, especially first thing in the morning, when that still small voice in the back of my head whispers, “Jenn, make your bed.”

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

I Like Us

On Tuesday mornings David and I have a standing coffee date. For two hours, we step away from our computers, put down our books, turn off our phones, and we connect. We rarely leave the comfort of our own home, yet the time together feels special.

For one of his classes, David is reading the book His Needs, Her Needs. It's one of those classic books on marriage that both of us read many, many years ago. As newlyweds, we soaked up the words on the page like sponges, eager to learn from experts. However, after 21 years of marriage, we approach the book with some wisdom of our own. David will read certain sentences aloud, and we'll chuckle because, frankly, not everything applies. That doesn't mean that the book isn't insightful or even helpful. It just means that we've learned a few things along the way, and after studying me for 21, David has a level of intimate expertise on the subject of one particular woman's needs that can't quite be captured by the generic "Her Needs." And vice versa.

And so over the past few weeks, we've been talking through the book, discussing what does resonate and what doesn't. Because one of the things we have learned is that we have to keep on learning. David and I are both dynamic individuals who are in the process of being redeemed by a loving savior. That means that we are each growing and changing day by day. Basically, I'm not the girl he married. He doesn't expect me to be. He expects me to be transformed and he cooperates with God and me in that transformation process. And vice versa.

Today I am feeling profoundly grateful for my husband, my fellow-sojourner, my very best friend. I'm blessed by his love and delighted by both who he is and who he is becoming. And I am glad he loves me and still gives me room to grow. As each of the individual "I"s change, the collective "we" changes too. We're not who we were 21 years ago, and that's a good thing. We're better, and that's grace.

Still, here in the midst of this redemptive process, in the messy places between then and not yet, in those awkward moments of becoming, I like us. Yes, I like us a lot.