Wednesday, December 30, 2009

David Gentiles Day

Today I’m gathering with family and friends to honor the life of a great man, David Anthony Gentiles. David is one of my dearest friends for the last 16 years. He had a freak accident 2 weeks ago and died on December 18. David turned 58 years old just after Thanksgiving. He has three amazing daughters: Ariele, Hannah and Calla.

David is one of the most beloved and adored people I’ve ever known. He served in churches for over 30 years; primarily as a youth minister. Literally, hundreds of men and women from his youth groups would say that David changed their life. As one who volunteered in youth ministries since I was in college, I learned the most about ministry from David. His approach ministry was simple: build relationships and love kids. Nothing else was important. Anyone who knew him or worked with him, saw this in action. It wasn’t just a philosophy, it was the way he lived his life.

We shared many similar paths: a Southern Baptist upbringing. We often joked about some of those memories: Bible drills, GA programs and Vacation Bible School rituals. We both have been through divorce. He and I talked regularly when he became a single dad raising 3 young girls. He was worried and scared. He also turned out to be one of the greatest parents I’ve known. (I put him on my speed dial when TJ came to live with us. I called him A LOT!!) David took me to dinner and a movie the day my divorce was final. (that movie later proved to be a long-standing joke for us. I'll share that story another day.) When I started dating again, he was the person I called to share how a date went. He supported stories of "this guy was a total bore" or share in my excitement if things went well. And for a while, I was invited to share in the Saturday morning ritual of pancakes with him and his daughters. I even took a road trip with them once. Big fun. He helped me change the oil in my car (ok, he actually did the work but I was there). David and I shared many retreats, discipleship weekends, VBS and youth camps; amazing memories and funny stories. Telling stories of the legendary Country Camp may never quite be the same. We also knew what it was like to work for the church. It was during college that David began his work in the church, as did I. Although, David went on to devote his education and career to youth ministry. It’s only been in recent years that both he and I found an authentic beauty in a church that I think we both knew could exist, but never realized was actually possible.

David baptized me. Married me. Sat in a hospital waiting room for me -twice. Watched football games in my home. He was the emergency contact I list right after my husband. We both cheered for the Baylor Bears, even when we knew they wouldn’t win.

Two of my favorite characteristics of David, and the legacies I will remember the most…One is David’s deep, deep compassion for others. Especially for the outsiders, or the poor and mistreated. He modeled this for me and slowly, over the years, my fears or lack of comfort with those who are different than me is fading. I think perhaps his most striking attribute is his ability- his gift- to make everyone feel like they were special to him; that their relationship with David was unique. There is no doubt that each person who comes to his service today, or posts a note on Facebook, or looks through old photographs feels this way. That gift reflects paying attention, being present, really listening…part of everyday, just living life David Gentiles.

The memorial is being held at a baseball field. David was an avid baseball fan; it’s so perfect. I’ll be wearing my Baylor University baseball cap. Afterwards, an open house is being held at our church to visit with friends and pay homage to all things David, “The David Gentiles Experience.” His daughters have promised the most “badass-est” memorial ever. It is well on track for this goal. I was there for awhile yesterday helping his daughters and other dear friends prepare this space. It’s beautiful, and yet the cloud of surrealism slowly began to lift as I was there. I’m beginning to feel the heaviness of the sadness in my heart. I said good-bye to David at his bedside, but I know from experience that saying good-bye is really a process and it’s going to take awhile. I spoke to him or saw him several times a week; sometimes daily. He is the person I called or texted when a Baylor sport did something miraculous. He is one of the first people I called when I needed to talk. He was my partner in ministry: helping to plan, create, or brainstorm. He sat with me every Sunday morning in youth Bible Study. Yes, this is going to take awhile.

I know today will be a wonderful day of celebrating an amazing life and legacy. My sadness will take a back seat today as I hear stories, share my own memories, eat his favorite foods, hear his favorite music (from his massive LP collection!) and hug friends I haven’t seen in years.

This is going to be a good day, my friend. It’s all for you. Thank you for you love and amazing friendship. You always have a cherished place in my heart.

(for another wonderful tribute to David, read Eileen Flynn’s story in the Austin American Statesman. )

Monday, November 30, 2009


Yesterday marked the beginning of Advent. A season of waiting, expectation, anticipation. I started my morning by reading the newest blog from my friend and woman extraordinaire, Julie Clawson. She writes, “As joy arrived and dwelt among us, we discovered that there is meaning in the waiting.” Ah, yes. I’m learning over and over that the lessons in life; the richness of life comes not when we reach our destination, but rather on our journey in getting there. I find myself in personal season of waiting. Waiting for a dream; waiting for yearnings fulfilled. I suspect I’m not alone in finding that waiting can be difficult. Our fast-paced, instant gratification culture does not encourage patience. Today I asked myself, “What am I gaining from this time of waiting?” If we’re paying attention, there are always lessons. Some of mine are new lessons; others gentle reminders. I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I sometimes give myself credit for. I’m learning about the incredible power of community and being loved. I am so richly blessed with amazing friends. Gratitude is transformational. This is not a new lesson for me, but I’m continually astounded at the magic this simple act creates. Perhaps the most beautiful and comforting reminder is the constant presence of God. This isn’t a new realization for me either. Nor is this an idealistic, Sunday School answer. I’m just amazed. The ever-present communion with the Almighty God is one of the few things that I believe in without waiver. The Creator of all living things, vast and small, became flesh and blood and dwelled among us. And God hasn’t left. Recently, I’ve been rethinking some ideas that I’ve held about prayer. The answer to a prayer isn’t necessarily the moment when the “thing” you’ve prayed for finally happens. Perhaps the answers come simply in the act of praying. I’m aware of the presence of God in the asking, the questioning, the crying, or the disappointment. At times, it seems as though God is more evident in the searching than in the finding. For this period of waiting for me, I find this to be true. And I’m grateful. If I only found God at the end of the road, I suspect I would rarely finish the journey. Esther De Wall writes in The Celtic Way of Prayer, “I shall not find Christ at the end of the journey unless he accompanies me along the way.” At a time when answers are allusive, there is still laughter, hope, and happiness. This is the mystery of God…happiness in the midst of sadness, a glimmer of hope among despair, a smile through the tears. Still…waiting is difficult. Even my firm belief in God does not interfere with my struggle. Today, I’m finding comfort in the journey and in the anticipation of miracles, both seen and unseen, that are being born in me. Welcome Advent.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The question

I started reading a new book this morning, The Dance, by Oriah Mountain Dreamer. I read another of her books a few years ago, The Invitation. I loved that book and it's one that I go back to often. After just a few pages this morning of the new book, I have to stop and let the poignancy of these few words settle in me. She begins chapter one by asking the question,

"I want to know why I am so infrequently the person I really want to be?"

A fair question, I think. One that I often ask of myself. I ask myself the questions of why I find it difficult to be more patient, more compassionate, more aware, more loving with myself and others, more generous. I think all of these qualities are worthy of improving upon. I write about it, I pray, or look for ways to remind myself how to practice these things that I want to grow in me.

In a dream, she hears this:

"Wrong question, Oriah. The question is not why you are so infrequently the person you really want to be. The question is why do you so infrequently want to be there person you
really are?"

This resonates with me as the truer question. I've got to ponder on this awhile.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve done any writing. This last month…well, it’s been interesting. And all that life brings from day to day takes away from my creativity. I don’t especially feel creative today, but I’m drawn to write about Easter. Easter is becoming my favorite holiday; perhaps even more than Christmas! Much of my life I’ve experienced Easter as a very celebratory, exuberant day. I suppose the church tradition I’ve grown up in creates this. Church was always an extra special event, especially the Easter Pageant…for all of you Baptist folks. And yes, I have played (and sung )the role of the mourning mother of Jesus. Over the last several years, I have felt a mellowing for this holiday. There is nothing wrong with the rejoicing; I believe there is much to celebrate. Easter, and the weeks of Lent leading up to it, though have become more of a time of reflection for me. A time to reflect on my own faults, wrongs…the things in me that I would have die. A time to reflect on the things in life I am slave to, as Jewish followers do as they remember the Exodus. And it’s a time for gratitude for the many, many things God has done and is doing in my life.

I’m especially mindful this year of those parts of my life that need new life. Last year, some of you will remember, I took a 4 day silent retreat. While I was there I walked the Stations of the Cross. There is a Station near the end that marks the burial of Jesus. I took some of my writings from that week and burned them; burying the ashes as this station. It was an act for me of saying there are things I wish to surrender to God. Asking for God to bury them just as Jesus’s close friends buried him. It was also asking God to resurrect something new in me. A miracle. Something only God could do. I’m asking the same thing this Easter.

I host a Passover Seder with the teenagers at my church each year. It’s such a great time of sharing and remembering. It’s one of my favorite things I do with them. A part of the Seder is the remembering how the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt . On the night of the 10th plague, the Angel of Death passed over their doors at midnight killing all the 1st born of those who had not placed the blood of a lamb of their door. In retelling this story, they remember that for the 1st half of the night they were slaves, and the 2nd half of the night they were free.

Tonight at midnight I will take my turn in our faith community’s Easter Prayer vigil. I didn’t specifically pick this time, it was one of the few times left open. I grateful, though. As the hour passes form Lent to Easter, I will be praying. Praying for the courage to surrender. Praying for miracles. Praying for new life and offering many, many thanks.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I grew up in a Baptist church. We didn't observe Ash Wednesday or Lent. That was left, I guess, to the Catholics or those persons cleaning their dryers. (really bad joke) Anyway, the church I helped start a few years ago observes this time of the Christian season. We have tried to embrace practices from many religions and walks of faith. Lent for me, like Advent or Rosh Hashanah is a symbol; a vehicle for connecting to the Divine in this world and in me. I need ritual and sacrament to help me focus. Life is just to crazy and busy to do it on my own sometimes. It's also about community. Though Lent is perhaps focused on the individual, it is also practiced in community. I may have questions about faith or God and how God works in my life, but there is comfort in the collective belief. The community of doubters, journeyers, those searching, those that feel confident and strong...this is what church has become for me.

I just spent some time in prayer at the Warehouse my faith community calls home. After my time of prayer and communion, one of the ministers marked my forehead with ashes. Another symbol...for me a symbol of releasing attachment. The Buddhists say that attachement is the source of all suffering. I have no reason to argue. It is traditional to "give up" something during the Lenten season. I've prayed and thought about what that will be for me. The questions arising for me are 1) what gives me false security, 2) what distracts, 3) what keeps me from listening. The last one is what kept coming to me this afternoon. What keeps me from God, to others- really listening, and listening to my own heart and soul. Computers, TV, busyness, the will to "be right", fear... are just a few that start my list.

I realize that Lent begins today and therefore so should my abstinence. I'm reluctant to pick something just for the sake of doing so. So for today, I'm just going to listen.

"Be still and know that I am God."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Jinx Lacey Day

Today I will attend the memorial service for my dear friend Jinx. She passed away suddenly about 2 weeks ago. As is often the case in death, this still seems surreal.

I met Jinx in 1993 when I moved to Austin. She and I sang in the church choir together. She would sit in the same place every week with the same little group of 2nd sopranos. I sang 1st soprano (at the time...those days have long since passed for me) and sat all the way in the back behind the 2nds. In the songs that demanded the 1st sopranos sing so high that only dogs could hear, she would often turn around and look at me. And there were times, when she knew the highest notes were coming and she turned around to look at me anxiously awaiting the screaching. I would always laugh and tell her it was impossible for me to sing like that with her staring at me. She kept on though, with her ever-present big smile. She called me a "swan." Now, I've heard the sounds a swan makes and it isn't especially lovely. But for Jinx, this was a high compliement. Any time I saw her she never failed to call me by this name. She was one of my biggest fans and it always felt good to hear her champion the gifts God has given me. I visited her one day in the high school where she worked. She didn't teach, but at least on some occassions, she had a class that she led. The day I was there she insited that I sing for her class. I probably would have done anything for her. So, I obliged and sang to this room full of very disinterested teenagers. Jinx, however, was standing in the back smiling from ear-to-ear.

She did the Lord's work in the world....a crisis counselor for High School students. It's my understanding that she did this work for more than 30 years. There was a memorial service last week for students, former students and faculty from the school where she worked. I was not able to attend, but I was told the people shared their stories of Jinx for more than 2 hours. They shared stories of how she helped them through the hardest of times, how she listened to them when no one else would, how she loved on them when they felt like no one else did. From my own experience, she was one of those people who made you feel like no one else was in the room but you and her. Whomever she was talking with had her undiveded attention. That is an important gift to anyone, but certainly to a struggling teenager.

She was also one of the funniest women I have ever known. Oh, my goodness this lady was funny. To give you an idea of her comedic gifts, I'll pass on a story I heard just after her passsing. As any good American school will do, they often planned early morning meetings for the faculty. One of the other counselors at her school shared that on one occassion, Jinx showed her displeasure of the early morning meetings by arriving to work in her pajamas and curlers. Yep. That was Jinx. Oh, my...I wish I had been there!! I think it was this boisterous spirit that made her so attractive to others and to me. I loved to be around her just so I could laugh! And yet, I know that it was deeper than that. There was a spirit of passion and generocity that she lived with. She loved life and deeply cared about those around her.

This world has lost a precious soul. It will be good to honor her life today. To my dear friend Jinx, thanks for your friendship, the laughter and the legacy of love you gave to me and this world. I will miss you.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A "first" for me!

Several weeks ago, Bob asked me to submit an article to our local newspaper. For mysterious reasons unknown to me, I have a hard time telling Bob "no." Perhaps because he is one of the coolest "thinkers" that I know. I have a deep respect and admiration of him. He is also great writer and therefore I'm ridiculously intimidated. Anyway, I said yes to the task of writing an article about my faith. The essay appears in today's issue. I've been a bit nervous about it, but I also feel very excited. And, though this is difficult to say, I'm quite proud. I had to share it with you!

"Redefining faith after religious upbringing"

I grew up in church. Grew up as in, every time the doors were open I was there. That kind of grew up. I knew all the stories and I knew what they meant. I memorized dozens and dozens of Bible verses, attended every morning and evening service, and I knew all the answers for every Sunday School question.

This was the church of my mother and her parents. I’m deeply grateful for my Southern Baptist heritage. It provided me a beautiful foundation that my life sits firmly upon today. There were precious men and women who loved, taught, nurtured and guided me for 18 years. My time in this faith tradition gave me a faith that was very strong, as well as neat and tidy.

Christianity was simple with clear cut answers. I believed that God didn’t necessarily live at the church, but I could certainly find God there. Within a few short of years of living outside this incubator, I began to learn that my God did exist in a box. By the time I graduated from college, God had begun a slow and steady dismantling of everything I thought I believed. I’ve come to call it the “authenticating of my faith.”

My belief in God, and what it meant to be a Christian was slowly distancing itself from the faith of my church and my grandparents. My faith was becoming my own. Tough experiences in life, such as a divorce 3 years after my fairy tale wedding, began to complicate the simple faith I had always known. Unsuspecting men and women found their way into my path offering me different perspectives of God and faith.

Their God seemed bigger than mine. They spoke of God with much less rigidity and certainty, and I found this deeply intriguing. As a result, for the last 10 or 12 years I have been asking questions about what I believe and why. That can be a scary place; for who knows what could be on the other side of questioning who God is? At times this questioning, even doubting, has brought an unsettling feeling to present circumstances that needed absolutes. And yet, this path has brought the greatest joy and fulfillment I have known in all my life of being a believer.

I don’t memorize Bible verses like I used to, but I love to read and study the stories of men and women from the Bible. I’ve begun to read those stories, in part, within historical and cultural contexts. This is not only fascinating, but makes those ancient stories so much richer. Even more, I love discovering the life of Jesus and all that He taught.

Today my life as a follower of Jesus is about striving to take His teachings and live them out in my own life. This is not easy task at times. It’s not about going to church, believing the right doctrine, praying the right prayers, or even asking Jesus to be my ‘personal Savior.” It’s about love.

I’ve come to believe that all of Jesus’ teachings are all about love…loving others and ourselves. For me, God is found in community with others, whether they believe in God or not. Perhaps that community is in my church, or it could be with the neighbors on my street. I experience God in still moments with a cup of coffee and a Hill Country sunrise. And I’ve even experienced God in dark and hard times.

The writer of a song in the Bible says that God has known me since I was in my mother’s womb, and that there is nowhere that I can escape the presence of God. My soul feels this and it is both frightening and joyful.

I’ve discovered I don’t really know all the stories after all, they tend to ebb and flow with meaning giving me what I need for the moment. I certainly don’t know all the answers. God is a mystery and my life as a follower of Jesus is journey with constant change. My hope is that my searchings are always transforming my heart and mind, and I show it by how I love and serve the world. This is my joy, my calling and my salvation.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year!

I’ve missed writing the last few weeks. December seems to always be so busy. And yet, this year was not as busy as in years past. I really felt no stress about shopping, planning, traveling, etc. We purchased very few gifts this year (a self-imposed spending freeze!). Instead, at least with my family, we tried to just focus on being together. It was wonderful.

As I often do at the end of the year, I’ve been reflecting on this past, and also looking ahead. I was delighted to end 2008 with a quiet and serene beginning to 2009. My husband and I had planned to go to a party, but then he decided that he would just rather stay home. This self-proclaimed night-owl went to bed at 11:30! TJ was gone, so at midnight I was all by myself watching the ball drop in New York City. And I was perfectly content! Shortly after midnight, I said goodnight to Dick Clark and turned off the TV. For the next hour I sat writing in my journal by the light of my Christmas tree, drinking hot chocolate and listening to my favorite Mannheim Steamroller song “Stille Nacht”. This is actually one of my favorite things to do at Christmas. So I thought it was an especially cool way to ring in the new year. I began to write of this lovely moment as well as my aspirations for the new year. Not so much resolutions or goals, but intentions. I wrote about things that bring me joy and my intention to live joyfully. I also wrote of my many, many blessings and how grateful I am. It was a beautiful time for me doing something I love while saying thank you to the past and hello to the future.

This last week has brought to me an interesting message. Three different times, from three different people I’ve had this idea of “birthing” brought to me. The idea of (or my interpretation) “what is it that God is birthing in me?” What is happening in my life right now that is actually the process of birthing something new? I’m not a mother yet; I hope to be one day. And perhaps this question relates to the physical, but I think it’s more spiritual. For birth to occur there is preparation, waiting, expectation, pain and joy. All of those things are present in my life today. I have some thoughts about this idea, but no answers. Perhaps asking the questions is a part of the process. Right now I’m intrigued by this idea and think it’s a wonderful way to start a new year.