Love & Marriage

This time last year, Kyle and I were on a trip to celebrate a quarter century of married life. I’ve been married longer than I’ve not been married. Which is kind of crazy. We married very young. I’m sure many thought we wouldn’t make it. The odds were certainly against us. 

But we loved each other and God and made a life together even without much support or community in those early years. By the time we were in our early thirties, we’d helped plant a church and numerous ministries. People were regularly asking us for marriage advice and telling us how they wanted their relationship to be like ours–full of laughter and partnership and mutual respect. But the truth was that there were some chinks in our relationship. Many of which we didn’t recognize ourselves. And they widened into a chasm during a series of devastations. We both felt like failures. We both felt abandoned by the other. Trust was broken in various ways. Life was turned upside down. It was a time of unspeakable darkness.

From the beginning, we’d promised never to say the word divorce. But I said it. Because it felt increasingly impossible to imagine a way back. On our twenty-fourth anniversary, I was in a hotel room alone in a far away city. I needed space to search out how to move forward and discern what God’s invitation was. Our marriage felt broken beyond repair. I didn’t know what to do but I knew it felt dishonest to celebrate a wedding anniversary that year.

We had so wanted to be different. We believed in marriage that lasts a lifetime. Still do. But we were naïve, idealistic. I can see at least some of the mistakes that led to that day. Kyle was an incredibly hard worker (good) but left precious little time for family and self and sabbath (not good). I believed in him and us and the work we were each pouring our lives into. But I didn’t speak up about my concerns loudly and often enough. And there was lots of ignorance in both of us about how commitment and relationship really work. See, we are both persisters. This is a good thing but without wisdom it’s dangerous and eventually toxic. I think we thought commitment had to be something something dogged and hard. But love doesn’t work that way.

We were the teachers. We were the role models. We had a plan and could talk about it clearly and passionately. But it was too much head and not enough heart. It was too much vision and not enough laughter and play. Too many scheduled meetings (more often than not to go over our calendars) and not enough just being. Too much focus on the why rather than simply living the what. 

And yet somehow the pieces began to come back together. Because of God’s love and mercy. Because we didn’t stop fighting. We kept seeking wholeness with God as individuals and with each other. Kyle began to seek health in some important ways for him and for our relationship.

And a year ago, trust and friendship and romance were being rebuilt. We were laughing together again. And so, to celebrate renewal, we took a trip to an island neither of us had heard of before. It was fun and beautiful.

On our anniversary, we spent some time reading all kinds of wedding vows. We needed to make some new promises. The old ones didn’t resonate anymore. We chose the traditional Quaker vows from a 1675 London meeting and added some nontraditional vows that were relational and felt sustainable and wise. And then on a deck overlooking the ocean and the stars, we spoke those vows to each other. We promised to love each other and embrace mystery together. We promised to respect each other and honor differences. We promised to face change together. We honored an assembly—in this case of trees and stars and waves and of a cloud of witnesses of our brothers and sisters that have gone before us and felt nearly tangibly there. We promised to be loving and faithful. We spoke our trust in divine assistance, knowing now more than ever the degree to which it is our best and only hope.

1988

1988 in East Texas

Off Dominica

2014 in Dominica

In Champagne

2015 in Champagne

identity theft

Sometimes I am ok with taking their own time. Some days I can celebrate process and journey. I have a sense of grace that reminds me of goodness and growth and God’s kindness even through suffering. Other days, I’m distracted and impatient. I’m frustrated that I still have so many questions. So many things I don’t understand. So many things that I should be over by now. But then I realize.

Maybe it isn’t surprising I’ve had a hard time figuring out who I am, who I’m meant to be, who I can be. Because of things like this–>When my dad remarried, he and my stepmom had a son together. They gave him the name that I would have had if I’d been a boy. And get this. He was born on my birthday. The poor kid actually stole my birthday. What are the chances? I’ve told people that strange story over the years and no ever seems to know what to say except ‘wow…weird.’ I have always hoped someone would help me figure out what it means.

But what it feels like is simple and clear. I was replaced–edged out–erased. It felt like I became nothing. Forgotten. A girl.

I remember going to visit my dad once. I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I wasn’t invited often even though for most of my childhood he lived fifteen minutes away. But on this day, I was there for some reason. I think my mamaw (that’s east Texan for grandmother) might have been in town. Dad wasn’t there when I got there. He was hunting or fishing with friends. I remember a lot of people around when he arrived.

I was excited. I couldn’t wait for him to notice me–I thought he’d be so happy and surprised since he wasn’t expecting me. He was distracted by showing the fish or deer or whatever it was and was talking happily to everyone there. Everyone except me. As the moments passed it became clear he was ignoring me. He was embarrassed I was there or something.

I was crushed.

Finally, a friend of his named Chris whose sandy blond hair was stylishly 1980-something short said, ‘Barry, aren’t you going to say hello to your daughter?!’ You’d think that would have made my humiliation even greater but it didn’t. I was so grateful to her. She saw me. And she made him see me.

As a kid, a lot of times I tried to disappear. It seemed like that was what I was supposed to do. It seemed safer to blend in.

But sometimes, I’d take a chance. I worked so hard to get my dad (and others) to notice me. To be proud of me. To like me. To find something worthwhile in me. Writing this made me realize I’ve bragged more to my dad than any person I’ve ever known.

Dad, my favorite color is the same as yours. Dad, I’m a good Christian. Dad, I’m a good student. Dad, I like books and music like your wife does. Dad, I’m graduating with honors. Dad, I’m getting a pool. Dad, I’m a good cook. Dad, I travel like you. Dad, my house burned down. Dad, I wrote a book.

And the answer is the same as it has always been. Silence.

And I get it. (In theory at least). This is my experience. His couldn’t have been easy, either. I’m sure he had his own hurts and confusion and conundrums. Maybe he felt shut out of my life. Maybe he thought it was best to let me connect with my new family.

And I didn’t make it easy for him. I was annoying and bratty and way too eager to talk about me, me, me whenever we were together. And when I was older, I started to vaguely say ‘yeah, let’s get together.’ But then I wouldn’t call. Just like him. But my word is my own. I could have called. I wish I had.

At first, he was young and probably didn’t know what to do. And when he wasn’t young any longer, the patterns were established. Inertia is a powerful thing. And it’s not his fault. Many things have conspired to make me believe all kinds of terrible things about me besides this.

But it happened and it matters and it’s the story I’m telling today.

The darkness has tried so very hard to make me disappear. To make me be quiet. To make me afraid and alone and ashamed. I guess that’s what I was supposed to get out of the whole half-brother-with-my-birthday-and-almost-name scenario. And the dad who didn’t want to be part of my life. But it hasn’t taken, somehow. The light keeps calling me. It keeps telling me my name.

And you know what’s great? I’ve always loved my name. I like the sound of it. I like the way it’s spelled. Most of all, I love what it means. It’s earth in Latin. Ground, soil, womb of life. I know we’re supposed to get a new name in heaven and I have to admit I’ve always been a little sad about that.

Some how, against all odds, I know who I am. I know I belong to the Light. I know (I can’t deny that I know) that the Center and Origin of all things calls me by my name. And loves me. And likes who I am. Even as he is making me new. Even now.

“But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)

If this story sounds like your story, you should listen to this song by sleeping at last.

littleterra

Time To Fly

I wrote this months ago but waited to post until Torey and Craig’s first anniversary…

I believe in serendipity, signs, synchronicity, providence. That’s why when I glanced out the kitchen window to see a bird’s nest on the grass the day before my daughter’s wedding, it didn’t seem like a coincidence to me. I walked outside to pick it up from where it had blown down, no longer needed. And I can see it from where I’m sitting now, a cozy and intricately made home sitting under a glass dome on a shelf. (Cheesy metaphor? Absolutely. But if you think parenthood doesn’t entail a significant amount of cheesiness, you haven’t been paying attention. I say embrace it.)

That mama bird (and probably daddy, too) gathered branches and leaves to make a home that was beautiful and safe. They made sure the eggs stayed warm and then kept the babies fed until they were old enough to take care of themselves. They taught them to fly and might have even pushed them out if they were scared. It was for the best. They needed to know what they could do.

Isn’t that exactly what being a parent is all about? It’s making a safe place as long as it’s needed and then, when the time is right, setting them free to fly. Why stay huddled among the sticks and dead leaves if the sky is your home?

That’s where I was on that sunny afternoon a year ago. Staring at a nest and knowing it was time to let my beautiful baby girl go and become a family with someone else. And I was hoping against hope that I was ready. That her dad was ready. Most of all, that she was ready.  Because it was time.

First it was finishing high school. Then it had been moving her into a series of dorm rooms and apartments, watching her become her own person, surrounded with friends and a life that suited her. Before I could blink, it was time for her to put on a cap and gown and become a college graduate. But this was different. Even her name was going to change.

I’ll always be her mother, of course. I’ll be there for her and she’ll never, ever stop being my daughter. Yet, as I watched her radiant face gaze up into Craig’s during the ceremony the next day, I knew this was an end of one thing even as it was the beginning of another. And I remembered all those years ago when I discovered I was expecting her. Something fundamental changed in me that day. In an instant, I knew that I’d give everything I had to help her become the woman she was meant to be.

I watched Torey and Craig laugh through the ceremony for pure joy with a deep peace of my own, knowing that she is more than I could have ever hoped. She is strong, confident, beautiful, and humble. She has an independent mind and a passionate heart. She knows what she believes but is willing to listen. She’s a wonderful friend and she loves to laugh.

Please don’t misunderstand me–God and Torey get all the credit for the incredible person she is. But Kyle and I did our best to make a safe place for her to become the best version of herself. We made lots of mistakes but we got some things right, too. I think she always knew she was safe and loved. That her life was infinitely valuable to us and that she’d never been unwanted for a single instant of her life.

And while it’s hard to imagine any man could ever be good enough for my precious girl, Craig is on the right track. He’s smart and a hard worker and a good friend. He’s humble and teachable and fun and kind. He’s a little bit crazy which will serve him well with my dynamic girl–his girl now. Best of all, he treasures her like I do. He sees how special she is. He gets her.

They still have a lot to learn about life and they’ll learn it together. Kyle and I, Earl and Denise, and other mentors are available for advice but they’re calling the shots. It’s okay—they were ready.

{Happy 1st Anniversary, Torey and Craig. I love you both big as a road.}

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A List

In honor of mother’s day, and on this side of motherhood, I have a few things to pass on to my friends who are still in the trenches:

  1. Be a parent, not a best bud. Your kid will have plenty of friends (especially once you teach her how to be a friend). Parenting isn’t a popularity contest and that’s a good thing because you’d lose.
  2. Don’t be afraid to show him what he should say yes to and what he should say no to. We have more freedom of choice at this point in history than ever before. Choice is truly a wonderful thing but it can quickly become dangerous or overwhelming without boundaries. That’s where you come in. Don’t be afraid to tell him in age appropriate ways what’s off limits for them and why. But choose your battles.
  3. Balance the boundaries with lots of freedom. Embrace creativity and whimsy and the occasional touch of chaos.
  4. Admit when you make a mistake. (You will. Often.) Show them how to apologize. Model humility and teachability. Show her that she doesn’t have to be perfect.
  5. Teach modesty both in the sense of dressing in ways that demonstrate self-respect and in the sense of humility (see above).
  6. Teach them to celebrate and embrace their masculinity or femininity and their own unique worth. The world (and, sadly, often the church, too) wants them to be ashamed of their bodies.
  7. Let your home be the place where the kids hang out as much as possible. As tired as you’ll sometimes be, don’t use other kid’s parents as free babysitting.
  8. Laugh with them. Make funny faces in the bathroom mirror. Play in the mud and the rain. Dance. Make a mess. Be silly.
  9. Teach them—boys and girls—how to sew a hem and a button; how to make at least one meal other than breakfast; how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ (and why); how to do their own laundry; and how to change a tire.
  10. Don’t lose yourself. It might seem like love at the time to pour every bit of your energy and time into your kids but it isn’t. Show your kids how to live a life well. If you’re married, date your husband. Practice self-care. Be who you are meant to be, the person you’ll continue to be once the kids are grown and gone. You’re modeling how to be a whole and holy human for them and that’s love.
  11. Never forget that what you’re doing matters. You aren’t creating a human being–that was done for you. But you and everyone else who loves your kid are making an environment that makes it possible for that amazing human being to become what she or he was meant to be. And that’s something worth spending your life on.

 

Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip

Mother-Daughter Fredericksburg Trip (September 2012)

 

The Daughter I Haven’t Met

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too late and too soon

Three years ago I became a mother again.  At long last, we got the referral letter for our Chinese adoption.  That meant it was finally time for us to be matched with a child who needed a family.  We’d been waiting five long years for this email.  But it came too late.

For reasons I am only beginning to understand, it was clear that with us was not the best place for this precious girl to be.  She would have been somewhere between 6 months and a year old.  She would have been small for her age after spending her first months in an orphanage and she’d have had dark, almond shaped eyes and shiny black hair cropped short.  We would have scurried home from the airport where I’d read the email to wait for our adoption agency to send more about her.  On the drive home, we’d have called our families and posted a barely coherent announcement followed by many exclamation points. We would have devoured grainy photographs and eagerly read reports of her development and health when we got there. And then, six weeks later, we would have gone to China to bring her home.  It would have been early September by then.

As it was, none of these things happened.  I read the email and quickly put my phone away, the loss and regret a solid thing in my chest.  I didn’t tell a soul for days.  I couldn’t make myself form the words. Our family and friends, for the most part, had stopped asking questions.  They must have known by now that too many things were broken and falling apart for us to bring a child into our family.  Some of them had probably forgotten we ever planned to adopt.

But we didn’t forget.  She had a name.  A few actually.  Originally, we were going to call her Camille Rose.  Then, one day during a walk, I was inspired to go with an original inclination and name her Camilla after one of my favorite characters from That Hideous Strength.  Either way, we’d call her Milly or Cam when she was young.  We planned to keep her Chinese name as well as one more connection point to her history.  We’d seek as many of those as we could for her.

My mother gave me an ornate box for adoption keepsakes for Christmas the year we told everyone we were planning to adopt.  I filled it with a journal, a picture book, and other treasures.  Torey and I bought her first outfit together—a dark denim top adorned with silky roses that came with matching bloomers.  An intricately carved teak cabinet in her room was filled with books, clothes, bedding (both for a crib and a ‘big girl’ bed), and gifts from her sister, aunt Lauren, and several friends.  Her walls were painted pale green.  I bought her a monogrammed teddy bear Christmas stocking that matched ours. Friends gave me a necklace engraved with her name.  I’d read a whole shelf of books about attachment and adoption and planned on reading many more.  My wonderful older daughter spent her entire senior year in high school researching and writing a thesis about international adoption that she dedicated to her sister.  In the midst of all these preparations, the wait for Chinese adoptions which had been about eighteen months become two years and longer and longer and longer and…

myth and reality

Still, she was real.  She was prayed for and loved.  I remember one Christmas, as all my extended family sat in my living room after roasting marshmallows, suddenly being struck with the idea that someone was missing.  I scanned the room and counted bodies.  Had someone stepped out to make a call or take a walk or go to the bathroom?  Finally, I realized I was looking for her—things were incomplete without little Camilla with us.  Another time I dreamed I saw a figure dressed in red coming down the dim hallway toward our bedroom.  It didn’t feel like a dream.  Camilla couldn’t sleep or had had a bad dream or needed a drink of water.  I turned to lift her up and hold her.  But, of course, she wasn’t there.

As the years passed, she started to feel like a myth.  Even then we didn’t give up.  Kyle wanted to father a daughter who had been abandoned but now had a family who loved her and a place to call home forever.  I wanted to be a mother who would pour love and grace and a passion for life into a child who only needed a chance.  I couldn’t wait to see who she was meant to be begin to unfold.

But with excruciating inevitability, she slipped away from us.  A couple of years after we received our official “Log in Date” from the Chinese government, all hell broke loose in our lives.  And kept breaking.  For years.  I hoped against hope that everything was going to work out.  This little girl had been a part of our family; a part of me since 2006.  It felt like the world’s longest and most agonizing pregnancy.

I have truly loved seeing my friends bringing their children home from China, Haiti, and various African countries. And it was one of my best days when my godson arrived home from Memphis, Tennessee with his parents. But all these things have also been a reminder that my daughter isn’t with us. That there is a hole in my heart.

Through betrayals, a death threat, a house fire, and various other calamities, our lives continued to be upended in ways we didn’t understand and couldn’t have predicted.  We were ravaged—God allowed nearly everything we’d poured our lived into to be destroyed or taken away.  We are only now beginning to pick up the pieces and understand what we are to do in this new chapter.

giving her back

By the time I received the email that would have been our first step to finally bring her home, it was clear we weren’t in a place to be the best parents for a girl who needed extra love and care.  We were still too devastated ourselves.  So God asked us all—and asked me in particular—to give her back to him.  He somehow gave me the strength to say, “she’s not mine; she’s yours” and mean it.  I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  It doesn’t seem good or right or fair.  But more than I want to mother another daughter, I want her to have a family that is ready to love her abundantly well.

I still miss her although the shocks of pain are less frequent now.  And I know that it is for the best—her best—that she is with another family.  I pray she is strong and well and surrounded by siblings and pets and all the love she can handle.  I pray her new family has the wisdom to help her through the hard days and walk with her when she feels the indescribable lack that comes with being separated from her biological family.  That they’ll laugh with her and cry with her and do everything they can to help her grow into a strong and whole woman.  I hope they’ll cut the crusts off her sandwiches, make sure she doesn’t have too much TV or computer time, that they’ll be patient when she is a grumpy teenager.  I pray they’ll drive her to the middle school dance and take her out for ice cream after.  I hope they’ll help her set up her college dorm room and be ready whenever it’s time to meet the man she thinks she might love. I pray they’ll love her until they are old and gray and surrounded by her kids.

And me?  I will never forget her. I will pray for her and the many girls like her when God brings her to mind. I will keep on loving my precious Torey and continue to be a spiritual mother to others as God leads me. And someday in a new world, I’ll turn around and find her standing there.  We’ll hug like we’re family and start catching up on a lifetime apart.

 

A Rose Is A Rose

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I love that issues of modesty and shame and sexuality have been stirred up for discussion recently. It’s well deserved attention. But I’ve been surprised by the passionate–and sometimes disturbingly defensive–responses to these articles.

All the talk of selfies and bathing suits and hem lines (and even darker recurring question of whether things like date rape is maybe really the victim’s fault) made me wonder how my daughter felt about her experience growing up as a southern church-going woman who’d spent most of her teens wearing a private school uniform.

An abuse survivor myself, I spent a lot of time and prayer making sure Torey was safe and protected as she grew up. We talked about sexuality from an early age and how it was best expressed within a committed relationship. We talked about modesty. A lot.

During her early teen years, this conversation often got hung up (get it?) on one or two items that were in style but that her dad and I weren’t comfortable with her wearing. Of course, all the other girls’ moms let them wear it, whatever ‘it’ was. The denim micro mini was my absolute nemesis. I simply couldn’t convince my sweet daughter that a wardrobe malfunction was a near certainty in that thing.

I don’t regret fighting for her modesty, but I wish I’d emphasized that it’s actually a good thing that she is a physical and sexual being more–that she didn’t need to be ashamed of her femininity. I wish I could go back to that American Eagle dressing room (with that ridiculous skirt). I’d tell her she’s original and special and doesn’t need to dress like a clone. Instead of being frustrated and in a hurry to leave, I’d take that thirteen year old face in my hands and remind her that I know she feels awkward and ugly and unlovable but that it’s not true–that she’s more amazing than she could possibly imagine. I wish we’d talked more over the years about how to carry herself, dress, and simply be in a way that celebrates who she is. Don’t get me wrong, we did discuss these things. But I see now not nearly enough.

Misguided 

What’s worse is that she was receiving messages I had no idea about. I’m not talking about photoshopped magazines with impossibly perfect bodies. That was covered. I showed her what Barbie’s ridiculous proportions would be in real life. I’m not even referring to the terrifyingly easy access to pornography introduced at increasingly young ages to both boys and girls. This is also deeply troubling but it wasn’t a taboo subject in our home.

No, the communication I’m talking about came from church youth groups, camps, and weekend retreats. If I’d known she was being told these things, I would have countered the messages. I would have confronted foolish and misguided youth leaders. But I simply didn’t know it was happening. And Torey, for her part, understandably assumed that if I was dropping her off at these gatherings, I both knew and approved of all the content.

The object lesson that best captures what I’m talking about is apparently a common one involving a rose. A perfect rose is held up to be observed and then passed around a circle. The kids are encouraged to touch the petals, feeling how soft they are and smelling their perfume. When it’s made the rounds, the leader holds up the now bruised and mangled flower and compares the damaged petals to a young woman who’s been with multiple partners. It’s apparently always focused on the females of the group because, as everyone knows, women are temptresses and men are helpless against their wiles, bearing no responsibility for their choices. Such nonsense is (I hope) never explicitly articulated but it is loudly implied when co-ed discussions of this nature are aimed at women only.

As absolutely infuriating as I find all this, I understand what they are trying to communicate. Sexually is tender and precious and a young woman’s (and young man’s) body should be set apart until they are ready for a relationship that works best when they have more maturity and life experience. I get it.

But the problem is that this isn’t the only message that comes through. It’s not even the loudest one. The first problem is that women are singled out for responsibility in an issue that, by definition, includes two people. And what if a young girl hears this and has already been intimate? What if, God forbid, it was non-consensual? The heartbreaking reality is that it’s nearly certain most groups will contain victims of sexual violence. As the mother of a daughter, I’m emphasizing women but here but recognize that men are also sadly vulnerable to such abuse.

Where is the space for grace or for restoration in this object lesson? Once a rose is damaged, it can’t be undone. Thankfully, our bodies and spirits and emotions are much more resilient. And what about mercy and forgiveness and second chances? Jesus allowed a former prostitute to anoint his feet with perfume and led those who were about to execute the woman caught in adultery to put down their stones. He actually has a lot to teach us about how to treat women–it’s no accident that he was the first rabbi known to accept female followers.

Made To Be Delightful

Modesty is really important. Clothing should leave something to the imagination and to make it possible to sit, stand, and move comfortably. It should communicate both self-respect and concern for others.

But the other message is just as crucial. A woman needs to feel free to embrace her own unique beauty and femininity. Her body is fearfully and wonderfully made and she should be encouraged to celebrate it rather than be shamed for having it. And the same is true for men–their bodies and sexuality aren’t gross or dirty, either. (Unless they are teenage boys who haven’t learned to care about hygiene. In which case, they should take a shower and use lots of deodorant immediately. Which has nothing to do with their sexuality but is a very needed public service announcement.)

That all being the case, a woman should dress in ways that make her feel good about herself. And while she shouldn’t share the most intimate parts of herself with any old person (in words, deeds, or attire), she also shouldn’t hide her light under a bushel. After all, a rose isn’t meant to be shoved into the back of a closet. It’s meant to be enjoyed and celebrated. It is made to be delightful.

And Torey? She’s living on her own now with a master’s degree, a husband, a job at a non-profit, and more friends than she can count. Miraculously, she made it through the dumb things people taught her and her parents’ many mistakes relatively unscathed. She is smart and funny and modest and beautiful inside and out. I couldn’t be prouder of her. And I love that she has a great sense of style. A girl after my own heart, she would never pass up a chance to visit Anthropologie’s sale room. She’s in good company–we come from a family of bright and classy women who are truly ladies.

I hope it’s clear to my wonderful daughter and all the other amazing women in my life that they can and should enjoy being in their own skin. I hope they know they are lovely and valuable and exactly who they were meant to be. And I hope you do, too.

A Belated Goodbye

In early 2003, Kyle and I met with the leadership of a new church.  We talked with them about our mutual love for Jesus and convictions about what a local body of Christ should be.  Soon after that night, we were thrilled to begin pouring into The Austin Stone.  Kyle began serving as an elder, I was teaching, mentoring, and working on the website, and Torey was graciously filling the role of the only ‘youth’ in the church with as much of the requisite middle school awkwardness as she could manage.  We had a lot of fun especially in those crazy earliest days.

There are many things to love about The Stone.  The worship draws people to honor Christ.  The Word is passionately preached and a sincere desire to faithfully convey its teachings is evident.  People are being sent to proclaim the Gospel all over the world.  Others are reaching out to the city by mentoring, serving, and living among the needy.  We were honored to be a part of what God was doing during our time there and know His work continues in our absence.

All of us who were part of the foundation of The Stone wanted God to form a different kind of church through us.  We were committed to things like all believers being equipped and empowered to use their gifts, to being a church planting church, to having elders as shepherds rather than being staff led, and to living in community because we saw these things in the Scriptures.  We also valued plurality in leadership and shared servanthood among staff and laity, men and women, married and unmarried, young and old, seminary trained and self-taught.  We wanted God to build a church that looked more like a family. Over the years, we realized that while everyone agreed on these values, we had a very different vision of what the result should look like.  And we also saw some of those values drift and be replaced by other goals in the face of the very rapid growth that God allowed.  Some of this drift was necessary and helpful and some has been less so.

It is hard to believe it was two years ago that Kyle resigned from service on our family’s behalf.  It was a decision made with heavy hearts but with confidence and peace that it was the right thing to do.  But one thing that has always saddened me is that I didn’t have an opportunity to say goodbye myself to the many people I loved and served alongside during our time at The Stone. I have had a few years now to think and pray and process while living through the season of storms God has allowed.  And while I have more peace and a little more understanding, that sadness remains.

And that’s why I’m writing–to extend a belated and heartfelt farewell.  Please know that my family and I loved you all as well as we could but certainly not as well as was possible.  Speaking for myself, I know I have a lot of growing left to do.  There are many things I would do differently if I could go back in time with more grace and maturity and truth.

I bless my brothers and sisters at the Austin Stone and pray that God will move in greater and deeper ways within you and among the Body of Christ at large in this city. I pray that we will all be able to echo Paul’s encouragement to the Philippians to one another, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel…” (Philippians 1:27).

With great love,
terra