What if…

What if every single thing that has happened around you in your life, both tragic and blessing,
every sunset,
every sunrise,
every laugh,
every tear,
every burial,
every birth,
what if every single second that passed, God intentionally and specifically used all those moments to draw you to Him?

Not causing the bad but taking hold of it and molding it into a moment to whisper in your ear…”I’m here.”

Are we listening?

God’s sense of humor.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36

Two years ago, I was inspired by an amazing friend who prays for God to reveal a theme word to live into every year. At first, this sounded to me like that crazy mystic-Christian fluff stuff that drives me bonkers. Nevertheless, with a cynical heart and a sense of desperation for God’s guidance, I tried it and asked God for a word for 2019. I know many of you will think I’m crazy, but I believe He gave me two words whilst I was in the bathtub ugly sobbing my way through a prayer that only a mom who is about to send her first kid to college would understand. (I wish sending a kid to college was the most difficult issue we faced in 2019.) It is probably because I am hard-headed and needed an extra dose of heavenly lessons that God gave me two words rather than just one. I wish I could explain how I know that these words were from God. I can’t. Let me just say that He inaudibly finished some sentences for me before I could think or speak them.

The words for 2019 were Trust and Loved. God proved in that year that I can trust Him, trust others, and that I am intentionally loved. The lesson was loud. The lesson hurt, but the rewards are healing and precious. I came out of 2019 no longer doubting God’s promises and viewing my world very differently.

The words for 2020 were Joy and Run. I was excited about the first and frustrated with the last. What I learned was that Joy from God doesn’t come from financial security, good health, jobs, perfect marriages, children, food etc. Joy from God comes when you can look around you into a crumbling world full of fear, hate, and mistrust and still smile knowing that God is there amidst chaos. Happiness is earthly and temporal. Joy is heaven-focused (and can be stolen–hold tight to it). As far as running goes, I did try to get back in the habit. And especially once we moved north I was running about every other day. I have wondered if that extra strengthening of my lungs helped me get through Covid, honestly. Because the cough I developed was no joke. God knows. Perhaps God was telling me to run toward the hope of 2021.

Enter 2021. Since January 1, I’ve been praying and wondering about my theme word for this year. And on January 2, I think I may have received the word…maybe. Regardless, I did get a good laugh. On January 2, I woke up and immediately thought the word “unfettered”. Now this is not a word in my everyday vernacular. I was only halfway sure I knew what it meant. At first I wondered what the heck I was dreaming about. Then, when the word stuck with me through my shower rather than fading into my subconscious like most dreams do, I researched.

Unfettered: Adjective. not controlled or restrictedFREEUNRESTRAINED

Because I believe in testing the spirits, I pulled up the Bible on my phone to see where this word fit into God’s Word. Unfettered? Could this be my word? In my quick simple search I pulled up three verses where this word is commonly used in various translations of the Bible. The first is found in the book of John where John says he is not worthy to untie/unfettered Jesus’ sandals. The second is before the triumphant entry when Jesus tells the apostles to go and find a colt or donkey and untie/unfetter it for Him to ride upon. And finally the last verse that pulled up is found in Job. When I saw one verse was found in Job, I thought, “Yep. This is it. This is the word for me.” I thought this may be it because last year, when my husband and I were going through one of the most horrific spiritual journeys of our lives, we read Job. Now, post spiritual crisis, that seems melodramatic as God led us and guided us so much more pleasantly than poor Job. Nevertheless, I pulled up the verse in Job that uses the word unfettered…

“Who gives the wild ass his freedom? Who unfetters his ropes?” Job 39:5

Wait. What? Did God just call me an ass?

I laughed. I laughed hard.

In hindsight, over the last two years, there were several, or if I’m completely honest, plenty of times when in fact I was an incomprehensible ass when it came to my faith. I doubted God’s provision over and over again, and even so, He still showed up. I was so angry at God for taking us on a journey of loneliness and abandonment that there were days when I wouldn’t speak to Him. Like a spoiled child, I refused to do what God was calling me to do because of my lack of faith. I blamed everyone in my path for my lack of effort in my relationship with God. I blamed the liberal left. I blamed the self-righteous right. I blamed the heretics living next-door. I blamed churches. I blamed church people. I blamed my parents. I blamed my husband. I’m pretty accomplished at the blame game. So, yes, I deserve that name among a few others, I suspect.

After I got over the initial shock of Job 39:5 and the potential of God having a great sense of humor and justice, I reminded myself which word I was given twenty minutes earlier. I read on. The rest of Job 39 is a list of several animals described by God that exist as a result of complete dependence upon Him. God was putting Job in his place in this chapter and essentially reminding him who was boss. Spoiler, it’s not Job…nor you…nor me.

This very same lesson God was teaching Job is exactly what He wanted me to learn over the last two years. And since I finally let go and accepted God’s guidance, the sensation that I continue to have is one of freedom. In fact, I’ve said that very word – freedom – many times since God relocated our family. I feel free.

I feel free of my fear and anxiety. (Though I do have some moments of relapse that I’m working through.)

I feel free of the constant judgement and expectations of others. (Whether those were real or imaginary, probably both, they plague me no longer.)

And quite frankly, just being able to get back into nature and seasons that I recognize and enjoy has set my soul to soaring. Leaving behind the concrete jungle has freed my spirit in ways that even surprised me, and I knew I loved nature, but now it seems as I inhale cool crisp mountain air…I can finally breathe again.

So, yes, I think unfettered is a fine word for this year. I will thank God daily for the freedom He gave this awkward questioning soul– both my freedom from the law of sin and death and freedom from where I was literally, emotionally, and spiritually. I am free indeed.

“I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance.” Job 42:5-6

I’m Sailing Away.

There is a direct correlation between the amount of TV news I consume and my anxiety levels. Ignorance truly is blissful. There are days when I want my naivety back and I simply want to trust that the faces I see on the street are not about to key my car or scream at me for buying white bread. My fear of others is relatively new, but I would have to admit to having some kind of social anxiety since I was a toddler. The talking heads seem to nourish my disorder by reminding me, albeit in the subtext, that anyone outside my small circle is not trustworthy especially if they look, talk, vote, worship differently than I.

And now it isn’t just the news. Social media news outlets and “friends” also remind us that we are all just fragmented parts of a very divided America. There are two distinct sides and you should firmly plant yourself in one of those groups or so they will it. Many of my family members and friends have bought into the derision of unity. We witness strangers openly attack one another and make outlandish accusations against people they don’t really know at all based upon hearsay and heartburn. And if you put yourself out there, chances are someone will take issue with what you say or even imply. Honestly, these divisions have existed for a long time. Churches have a long, ugly history of division. We should own that. Division is louder now and it sells in the marketplace. As it turns out, playing on our fears of the unknown is an easy way to control the populace and make money.

When I close my eyes I feel as if we are all on a ship heading for uncharted territories, and whether it is the apocalypse or utopia is yet to be seen or described by the captain. Depending upon the day or the current, I’m either nauseated or I’m enjoying the sea mist in my face. My vote, even if I cast it, will not stop this ship. I have zero control of the rudder and regardless of where we land, I have no choice but to trust this captain and be content with the destination. This ship doesn’t reach port until the captain says so. Sure, the ultimate destination is heaven, but right now I’m just sailing toward next year. It matters not, same captain.

I’ve learned that a great deal of fear comes from a lack of control. The older you get the more you realize that you have control over very little in life. I control my choices. That is it. I don’t control my circumstances, and I can’t get off this ship. I definitely do not control my spouse or my children. I can’t control the weather or politics or my health. I can’t control what others believe about me. I only control my attitude. Letting go of the facade of control is both terrifying and a reclamation of that lost bliss. A great deal of flexibility is required in letting go because it insists that you ride with the current more than against. Sail on!

Not everyone will like you. In fact some people, just don’t. You are not Miss America and chances are, if you are Miss America, most people will only be your friend until the next princess gets the crown. Be kind anyway. Don’t assume people hate you because of your color or religion or otherwise, and if they do, let them. Often some of us never get the memo that it is really is ok to be disliked by others and that life is not about competing for likes or popularity. And I know this is un-American, but you are not even required to fight for your right to be whatever it is you chose to be. I don’t know if you saw Titanic, but the party was definitely better below decks. When I let go of trying to please the masses, I became extremely intolerable to some, but the greatest part was being freed from the slavery of pleasing others. I know a guy who gave up all His rights. It was painful, but it worked out well for the rest of us.

I’ve had some battles with my God over trust. Yielding to Him has not been pleasant. I confess that it took me being completely empty and hopeless to let go. I do not wish this for you. Avoid it if you can. Like most virtues, peace and trust take effort and practice especially in times of unrest and uncertainty.

The waters are murky right now and fierce waves on the horizon.

Don’t be afraid.

COVID-19 and Shifting Sand

Every day I waver between believing this COVID situation will all be over soon resulting in the return of normalcy as we knew it OR right now we are all witnessing society being reset in some kind of slow cataclysmic wave. I am not exaggerating when I say that every day my feelings shift back and forth in this regard. This emotionally charged shifting sand of feelings is primarily ignited by social media scrolling and by consuming regular news media neither of which are particularly reliable or healthy.

If I am not careful my mind will take me six months into the future, and depending on the day, that future may include sitting and listening to my daughter play cello with her orchestra OR sitting in my house in a hazmat suit holding her as she watches her college dreams slip through her fingers. My mother heart worries about my sons and whether they will ever go back to school and march with the band. Fear can consume a lot of my time if I let it.

And yet, I cannot control the future.

We don’t know the future.

While it is annoying that we cannot see where this is all heading, it is probably a mercy that we can’t. Our human minds can only handle bits of tragedy at once, and speaking hopefully, perhaps we are moving toward blessing rather than tragedy. Why does our mind take some of us to tragedy so swiftly?


Shifting Sand.

The last time my husband and I were facing a big change in our life I listened to a song over and over and over, and it comforted me. You can listen to that song here. I hope it comforts you to know that you are not alone in your shifting sand faith.

I’ve learned that my faith shifts depending upon what I consume. Like the fable about the two wolves living inside a man, and the one who survives is the one he feeds, fear grows when you feed it. Make no mistake. What is happening in our world IS scary. Whether we are being controlled by the government OR whether we are all bound to contract a serious illness, both are terrifying prospects. In both scenarios we, the public, lose. And I don’t know what the solution is to either reality. I cannot control it. Neither can you. What I can control is whether I live in fear or whether I live in faith.

Am I suggesting we visit Walmart without a mask and lick the credit card scanner? No. Am I suggesting that we trust everything out of the mouth of the government? Absolutely not. I am not even telling you to avoid watching the news. But…

If you will grant me this moment in your media diet, and listen to the voice of someone who struggles with depression and who has family members who are enslaved by anxiety, be mindful of how much you consume and be aware of what beast lurking within you are feeding. And the beast within will tell you that you need to be well-informed. And the beast within will tell you that you have everything to lose. And the beast within will tell you that information will help you maintain control. And I tell you, as a survivor who still wages these battles every day, the beast lies.

  • Be informed, turn it off, and make your own educated decision based upon hope and not solely based upon a daily charged tweet, post, or newscast. Remind yourself that people make money off of those mediums, and sensationalism sells big.
  • Be aware that nothing you own is truly yours. Give it away.
  • Be aware that the people around you are of God’s concern, and He loves them more than you do.
  • Be assured that you do not even have control over your next breath. Appreciate the next inhale… and exhale.

(None of that is a comfort to those of you clinging to sides of the fear pit trying to get out. I know how it works. This is not intended to comfort; rather it is a reality check. You might even feel angry right now after being told to turn off the TV. Anger is born out of fear.)

Things ARE changing. Good things are happening within that change. People are stepping up and speaking out. Look for the good. Seek out what NEEDS to change in your family system and in your church system and in your work system, and be a part of that growth. Notice that families are walking together outside. Notice that the sky looks bluer. Take your next breath and be thankful. Be grateful to live in a time where you get to watch all this unfold. Both the tragedies and the blessings bear witness to God’s plan and provision. You may be part of His plan, so support the sick. Protect the endangered. Pick up the phone. Love your people. Make the pain of this change worth it. Breathe.

Wherever we are going, God is there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick meals.

“…to the church that meets in your home.” Paul penned those words when writing to Philemon in his letter to encourage the freedom of Onesimus. Philemon is a heartfelt letter to a personal friend for a shared personal friend. It’s about trust and love and acceptance. It’s a short letter from Paul to Philemon and the church that met in his home.

Meeting in a home is not a new thing for the church. It isn’t a trend or even a thing that only happens during pandemics. It isn’t merely what non-conformists or eccentric divisive spirits practice. Churches meeting in homes, sharing a meal, sharing the Lord’s supper, sharing scripture, and spiritual intimacy has been normal for two thousand years. What makes today different is that just our individual families are meeting together and trying to figure this out without much guidance from professionals…until all the prerecorded services hit facebook last week. But there are those who practice this out of necessity, out of a call to do so, out of desperately wanting more out of spiritual relationships.

For now, most of our friends are across town. Our loved ones somewhere else. We are all going at this alone and digitally tuning into other believers around the globe. But good things are happening in this precious time. Good conversations between parents and kids and believers from all over are happening. Questions are being asked. Answers are being pursued.  Prayers are being uttered and heard by those who’ve never spoke nor heard them. Your faith is either being discovered, growing, or revealing that it needs to grow. Good things are happening for believers, likewise good things are happening for the church. Perhaps God is allowing a sabbath where we are called to remember Him. He didn’t cause the virus. Perhaps he is allowing the break. Perhaps he wants us to ask what the point of all this church stuff truly is.

Church was always more than Sunday. Church was never supposed to be a quick meal. The Lord’s Supper was not created to be fast food. It’s now. It’s time. It’s neighbors checking on neighbors. It’s buying groceries for others. It’s making phone calls and sending cards. It’s family learning about one another. It’s brainstorming together how to DO good. It’s the ache in your heart to see and hug the people you love and to look into their eyes again…to be known, absolved, and loved for who you are. It’s waking up and becoming aware that family is seated around the table laughing and sharing and there are no time constraints or quotas to be met.  The church consists of relationships built upon the love of Christ that are so unique and so real and so accepting that you want to include others. I hope you have that. I hope you see that you need that and the world needs that. I hope you feel the call to add more plates when you set your table. 

As you miss your people, as you dive into potentially awkward prayer with your family, as you begin to notice that sweet things happen in tiny moments in tiny groups who know each other inside and out, remember to take that with you when you go back into your congregations. And don’t let this lesson be wasted. Don’t let this call to love better be forgotten. Expect better conversations, pursue closer relationships, live out your faith through the week rather than consuming a fast food Sunday. Make life together more than a quick meal. Make church more than a quick meal.

 

 

Facing Social Distancing Free time? Read the Bible.

bibleI love the Babylon Bee. I just ran across a recent article entitled“Christian under Quarantine Resigns Self to Read the Bible”.  I chuckled. The Babylon Bee puts out some of the best satire these days. I strongly suggest a follow. At any rate, I realize that many of us do have an abundance of time on our hands right now as we anxiously await the end of the Covid-19 crisis, and for the first time, many of us are not being spoon fed Bible verses once a week at worship gatherings. Hey, I’m not judging you. I’m just keeping it real. Soooo, dust off your Bible and see where it takes you. You don’t need a preacher nor a Bible degree to read, I promise.

I thought I would take a minute to share what I’ve done this year during our searching season in regard to my personal daily bible reading. It is nothing earth shattering and maybe you’ll think I’m lame. But I’m sharing anyway because this is my blog.

Here are three things I have done that have proven helpful and have developed a better understanding of scripture and growth in my faith. First find a good interpretation of scripture that is easy to read and understand. I know some people love the NIV and still others, swear that King James was the last apostle. Fine. For me, I really like the New Living Translation when I do my personal reading. I reference the New American Standard when diving into a study of the text. (We also have some Greek and Hebrew versions around here, but I won’t encourage that unless you get really excited about it.)

1. I lay aside my interpretations of the past.

Because I have been through a season of searching this step was easier for me. Maybe it will be for you too. In the past, I usually just read the Bible to prove what I already believed to be true whether it was my tradition or my doctrine or straight up my opinion. If I wanted a proof text, I’d find it just about anywhere. However, this year I found it helpful, even therapeutic, to read the Bible critically rather than trying to prove my preconceived notions. And guess what, I found some pretty amazing things that I’ve misunderstood my entire life. I began to see why other people come to the conclusions they have. I judged others less. I considered my own character and beliefs more. I had to ask myself a lot of challenging questions. This may be difficult and even painful. Take note of every time you read and think to yourself, “See, why doesn’t so and so get it!” If you find yourself saying that often, you may not be reading to understand. You may be reading to prove your rightness. There’s a difference. Pay attention to how often you treat scripture like a game to win rather than a window into the heart of the Almighty God. (And maybe you ARE right, but that’s still not the point in reading scripture for your own growth, but I’ll move on.)

2. I don’t just read a verse or a chapter.

I now read the Bible like a novel. I pay attention to the characters. I try to understand their personalities and why they matter in the scheme of the story. Take special note of customs that are weird to an American or to anyone living today. Also, ignore headings. Some dude chose those headings, folks. Sometimes they fit. Sometimes they don’t. Ignore. What I’ve found is that I get more invested in the people stories when I pay attention to the heart of the people IN the story. Instead of trying to apply what is said to my life, I apply what is written to them- about them. I’ve found this radically changes my opinion and pre-dispositions toward the people in scripture. For example, I really don’t like Jacob nor Rachel now. I’d share some pretty dark feelings about them, but this isn’t the time or place- and that is for you to determine. You may find villains and heroes in people who were once the opposite in your mind. Minor characters may touch your heart in ways that you’ve never noticed before. This really is OK to have these feelings and opinions about real people. It doesn’t change who God is. In fact, you might appreciate your own spiritual story more as you look into the lives of others written about so long ago.

I start with choosing a book and move on from there. I started in the gospels and after a year, I am on my second time through the whole thing…including Leviticus. Oy.

3. Words and phrases stick out.

I’ve also started color coding certain words. Each time I read through a book, I color code one or two significant words that I read. For example, the first time I read through the Gospel of John I noted that the word “believe” was used over and over, at least in the translation I use. I went back and started highlighting “believe” in green. This helped me to see some significant teachings that I had never truly noted before. Each of these words or phrases in my Bible are highlighted with a different color. This process of selecting a word or phrase really stands out when you read other books in the Bible. Most books have thematic elements. It reveals something about the authors in what they heard, in what meant something to them personally, and perhaps in what we are supposed to take special note. There are remarkable echoes throughout scripture from the beginning to the end.

I hope this helps someone out there in digital land. I hope it encourages you to dive into something new or something old in a new way. If you have any questions, message me, and we can talk. Don’t be surprised if you convince yourself of things you’ve never believed and are stretched to have more faith when what you read seems implausible. It’s all faith. I know this because “faith” was one of my words I highlighted in Matthew.

See you on the other side.

 

Down the Rabbit Hole: The journey begins.

ONE

Once the sour taste of love unrequited starts to fade, and you stop eating gallons of ice cream, you begin to think about slipping a toe into the relationship waters again. But commitment is not the goal. The notion of diving in gives you acid reflux. So, after forty-three years of buying into the belief that there is one way to do church and having been spiritually reared that our brand was the right brand, my family began a journey over the last year of visiting all varieties of the Christian church, all denominations. Because when you’ve been burned in a relationship, the last thing you want to do is jump into another one. And to us, church was about relationships, commitment, and love. A notion that was shattered. So we walked out the door and down a rabbit hole. 

Our roots, the Churches of Christ, have a surprisingly recent history of believing they singularly hold the cards when it comes to biblical interpretation. And while I love my roots and respect my people, my tribe, I no longer adhere to the arrogance that in the 1800s in the hills of Kentucky,  Stone and Campbell’s Restoration movement finally figured it all out. Sadly, what many in the Churches of Christ have forgotten, in their historylessness, is the original intent of the restoration movement “to be Christians only, but not the only Christians.” It was a beautiful, ecumenical, and unifying idea. As a matter of fact, the earliest members of the restoration heritage worshipped with just about anyone. Don’t believe me? I have a book for you regarding Christians on the Oregon Trail. (For now, I personally apologize to anyone who has been maligned by members of the Churches of Christ who have made you feel like less of a Christian because you don’t worship in one of their buildings. May God forgive us. And I pray you do as well. Most Churches of Christ have a rich history of remaining biblical in practice and belief. On that front, I encourage you to give them another chance. I want to. I hope they let us back in after I write this blog.) Back to our journey…

Despite my youthful understanding of Christianity, the core of what Christians believe across denominations is the same, brethren. And here it is:

A perfect Christ, the Son of God, was willingly crucified for our sins and was resurrected for our salvation because we were so loved by God.

After visiting twenty plus churches from the liturgical Catholics to the rocking worship at a predominantly black church, this is a constant.

Every church used the bible.
Every church had some form of musical worship.
Every church prayed in Jesus name.
Every church mentioned the struggle with the surrounding culture and sin.
Every church included deeply committed adherents to their practices and the faith.
Every church responded to the gospel with repentance and some form of baptism.

I have news for you friends, the order of worship is basically the same between all the denominations give or take a few participational variants and incense waves. The biggest difference you ask? Music traditions and prescriptive theology or descriptive theology. But by and large, yes, we are the same. And while some of our baptismal practices and traditions do vary which would be a point of contention with many of my readers, truthfully, we have much more in common than not even in our interpretation of baptism. The fight is always semantic.

If life would allow it, I’d take a piece of each tribe and pull it together to make something amazing; a beautiful conglomeration of Christian faith and practice. Which I pray is what God sees as He looks into our many gatherings. I pray He sees our love for Him amidst the diversity of His creation, rather than our intentional divisions because we don’t play well together. I dream of a fellowship of all believers. We need it. Our country needs it. Our future depends upon it. And Christ prayed for it.

My heart breaks when I think about how merging just two denominations would wreak havoc amongst us, because that is exactly what should happen. But we, the prideful, always right in our way, would disallow it. And we, the pastors and ministers, comfortable in our pulpits would feel threatened and defensive about our own heritage rather than the heritage of Jesus Christ’s plea for unity, His last plea by the way. 

“I am not asking on behalf of them alone, but also on behalf of those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I am in You. May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.” John 17

Somehow the Gentiles and Jews figured it out in the early church, but take a old school Church of Christ kid and put them in a room with a conservative Baptist and it will be a biblical bloodbath…and not in Christian love. Most of you know what I’m talking about. Oh and Catholics, do they count as Christians? Didn’t Luther clear that up for us? On that we can agree with the Baptists- Catholics are all suspect.  Here’s my confession, I’ve learned a whole lot from Catholics over my years, and if we would listen, we all could. In fact, the greatest lesson that I’m taking from this year, is how I feel protective of all these people in these different houses. And I’ll defend them. And I respect them. But that is what happens when you enter a relationship looking for truth, authenticity, and commonground. You make relationships. Lasting relationships sit in the dissonance of disagreement side by side working toward the same goal.

If you find yourself on a team with believers whose first goal is to disprove the theology of the church down the street, gently remind them that there are people walking this earth who see our divisions as evil. Christ said they would know us by our love for each other. And to the world, Christians all fight for the same team…until they start fighting with each other. Then the world shakes their confused heads, and tweet about us and call us crazy. Get to work, church, and reach out to the people who don’t already know Jesus. Listen more assuming you don’t have all the answers, and refuse to live in fear of people outside your walls who also read the bible.

Finally, I would say, if you haven’t had a chance to take a journey like this, I encourage you to do so– IF you do so to find commonality. If you go in guns blaring for bible blasting, your intentions are not pure. You are a divisive spirit. Jesus is the great equalizer. Make finding Him your goal and you will.

THe Rest of this story is currently being pulled together into book form. Pray for this endeavor and for all those on a journey of their own. Keep seeking Jesus.
If you have specific questions about our experiences, please don’t hesitate to message me or leave a comment.
I hope you don’t give up on me. I am a work in progress until my Savior calls me home. Until then, you are loved. 

I wish I could tell you…

blur close up environment focus
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I wish I could tell you who I sat with last weekend. I wish I could share each of their stories so you would feel what I do about them. I wish you could fully understand where they came from and where they are going. But instead I’ll tell you this.

Last weekend I sat in a circle with ministers and their spouses on a retreat. I did not want to be there. Sharing circles are not my bag. Being an introvert, spending the weekend with people I don’t know who tearfully pour their heart out and then stare at me expectantly waiting for my reciprocal soul bearing sounds like a complete and utter nightmare. I admitted openly to the group that I ate cold turkey a few days previous in the hopes of developing food poisoning. I’m not joking. I did not want to be there with these mystery people forcing me to talk. I was judgemental from the start. I assumed most would be southern. And let’s be real, most southerners take a good five years before they are authentic with you. I went in ready to cross my arms and roll my eyes.

Enter my husband who would not stop bugging me about it for months…years even. Last weekend has been in the works for years. We had been invited three separate times over the last four years, and it was me that refused to sit in the share circle of lonely death each time. I am sorry for that, now.

I went. I, begrudgingly and heels dug-in deep, went. And I am changed.

What I heard from the mouths of ministers who serve the church:

  • I heard stories of loss. Loss that I wouldn’t make it through. Loss that would send me to my grave.
  • I heard stories of betrayal. Betrayals that angered me and lit a fire within my soul all for the sake of people that I didn’t know.
  • I heard stories of broken hearts and abandonment.
  • I heard stories of ego crushing self-doubt and spiritual confusion.
  • I heard stories of wayward children who have yet to come home.

The stories were rich and painful and beautiful. Some had happy endings. Some were still trapped in the throws of conflict. And some will find no resolution.

These people in the circle, their lives full of adventure and stories worth writing about, all could have chosen to walk away from God. They could have chosen to leave their churches many many MANY times, but they didn’t. They remain steadfast to the reason for all hope. They remain faithful and resolute to the calling by the One greater than us all.

That is the lesson.

So many in ministry walk away from the call. Some are forced out due to moral failure. Others simply are work-worn and tired. Here’s the clincher:  Most of us are work-worn and tired. But we press on faithful to one who won’t abandon, who won’t betray, who won’t die. We press on because the work needs to be done and there are so many souls out there who need to see what redemption and grace and love truly look like.

So, while there are churches out there who would raise an eyebrow at the pain and trials of ministers, and while some scoundrels who call themselves believers would wonder if God is punishing us for our poor theology and errant church branding or label, I say to you, minister, press on. Press on to the prize and hold on to your calling.

As for me, I have a few new friends and facebook connections. I have a few more stories in my pocket of transformation, grace, and triumph. I will cling to those stories on my difficult days.

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 

School Daze: 12 Years later

lilTomorrow my girl begins her senior year. It feels like seconds ago I wrote this note on Facebook about her Kindergarten beginnings. My brain cannot comprehend the swiftness of time and how it steals away dollhouses, pink dresses, ponies, and fairies. Though my bathroom mirror tells a quite a different story. Twelve years ago Kindergarten seemed big, and it was. But I’ve found that while time changes a little girl into a woman, time leaves a mother’s heart much the same.

My baby girl started kindergarten today. Five years swiftly flew by… till now. Some mommies told me I would love “sending one off to school”. Others simply patted me on the back, and suggested I hit a day spa for a massage. I was unable to imagine the surge of emotions that came over me as the big day arrived. Today, the first of my three precious children set off to face the world.

Lily woke herself up bright and early this morning at 6:20 am, and said “I knew I had to get up and go today, mommy”. To start the day on the right foot, I tried to fit in all the food groups for breakfast. She ate blueberry yogurt, a sausage, egg and cheese homemade breakfast sandwich and drank milk. I opted not to grumble when she discarded the biscuit and only ate the sausage, egg, and cheese.

It was a one single day later that getting up early for school lost its luster. Over the years, bright and early, became dark and barely out the door. I’ve tried hard to feed my children well in the morning before they go, but by high school and with 6:20AM bus pick-ups, healthy breakfasts soon became “grab that banana and granola bar before you walk out that door!”

But just like that day twelve years ago, she’s ready to go. She’s ready for this year. She’s ready to move on. And like that day…I’m not so sure I am.

The chosen attire for the big day was a navy blue sailor dress with red trim and a red bow. She was not happy when her well-meaning and nostalgic mommy snapped a big red bow on top of her head. (I am fully aware there will be many days that she chooses her own outfits…today she wears a stinkin’ bow.) If you know Lily well, you are not surprised to learn- there was some negotiating involved in regard to the bow. Needless to say, tomorrow Lily will choose her own outfit and her own hair ornamentation. Today she wears a big red bow.

Her backpack is a two-toned pink Janzport that engulfs her little body. Seeing her swallowed by the supply stuffed backpack– is when I had to fight back the first tears.

And she never wore a bow again, until last week when she wore a black bow because she decided it was “ironic”. Pink also went out the window rather swiftly as our girl slowly became her own person. It has been fascinating to watch her become who she truly is. She wears a lot of black and t-shirts advertising her favorite bands. She’s had her own style and opinions from day one.  Most parents may panic over this. We rarely did. She has always wanted to be taken seriously as her own person and as a female. She’s never been a child in her mind; always the independent one and the individual. I am proud of her for that. I’d rather her be herself than lost in a crowd of plastic followers. She stands on her own two feet, has her own beliefs and opinions, and can stand alone when she needs to. 

Dave took the official “first day” pictures on the front porch meanwhile our two year old, Elijah, adopted Lily’s uneaten biscuit.

Her brother still finishes her unwanted foods sometimes before they are even declared unwanted.

Our family of four, soon to be five, climbed into the car for the delivery. The line to enter the school doors was long. Lily immediately noticed the “big kids” and quickly reached for my hand. She asked, “Why are the kindergarteners so big, mommy?” Of course, I felt terrible that I hadn’t explained that she would be in school with older kids, too. Suddenly, a flood of things I should have said ran through my mind. After explaining the bigger kids, we got into line and started the grand entry. We entered the doors just as the first bell rang. The elementary school aroma of new shoes and gym floor wax brought back so many memories.

There are so many things that I hope I’ve said. So many words that I wish I hadn’t let leave my lips. I have lists of things to tell her over the next 49 weeks, yet I know I can’t cover it all. What will I forget? What will she remember? Will she offer me grace that I don’t deserve for the mistakes I’ve made?

We turned the corner down the Kindergarten wing. She recognized her classroom from last night’s ‘meet & greet’, and her little hand started to sweat. I noticed Dave’s hand latched onto her other little clammy hand. Elijah rode on Dave’s shoulders, still eating the stolen breakfast biscuit blissfully oblivious to all the unfolding drama below.

My hands are sweating now. Time is so short. How do I do this? How do I let go of her hand when we only just walked her to that classroom yesterday? Her hands are now strong and sure. Mine shake.

We walked her into her colorful classroom and found her assigned chair at a little table. She sat quietly and stared at a couple of her classmates who were crying. I hugged her and told her to have a great day. Dave hugged her and said, “Lily we know you are such a good girl, and you will make good decisions, and we are so proud of you. Have a great day!” We both told her we loved her several times. She didn’t respond and simply folded her hands in her lap. Her teacher quickly passed out a coloring page of a gingerbread man to the miniature students and ushered the nervous parents out the door.

We stood outside the door peering in for about five minutes. We took a few deep breaths. We let go together and walked. I let the tears fall.

Tears fall again. But it feels different this time. My heart is full. I have the priveledge of watching God paint this beautiful woman into existence. I am honored that I can be a small part of His grand design in her life. I don’t want to begrudge her of one single joy this year, in this year of jubilee and celebration. One chapter of her life and mine meets an end while another is rushing toward us with a momentum that I can’t slow, and we eagerly await to experience the joy it brings.

Today was the first day I let my little girl face the world all by herself. It was hard. Possibly one of the most difficult things I’ve done. I’ve always been so hard on home schooling families, but now I get it. The temptation to shelter, hide, and protect my sweet little blue eyed innocent from the world is unimaginable.

Letting go of my little girl for something as simple as kindergarten makes me wonder… Does God ache to see us leap out on new endeavors? Does He hope for the best, and reflect on our victories past? Does He consider how much we’ve grown, and anticipate what is to come? Does He long to shelter us and hide us from sin? Or is He eager to see us fight Satan on our own? Does He eagerly wait at the end of each day to hear about our adventures?

I know there will be many more difficult days and times to let go of all my children. I can’t even consider college, and quite frankly, if given the choice today, I would undoubtedly lock them in their bedrooms. Today was our first step in letting go, and the first leap off any new diving board is difficult.

And there have been harder days. Days that brought moves across the country. Days without friends at the lunch table. Days of loss and betrayal. Days in the hospital after an accident. Painful days. But.. many…MANY countless other days of joy. The day she played the piano for the first time, the day she picked up her cello, the day she started middle school, the first day she drove, the days that she laughed at pug dogs and memes so hard she cried, the day she chose Jesus. Those are the days that I carry with me. The days of joy are what I choose to tattoo on my heart and dwell upon. Those are the days that sustain me.

Joy comes easy when I remind myself that all the love I have for my children is miniscule compared to the love God has for them. He knew them before I did. He holds them when I can’t. He blissfully watches their future.

And so we lift our heads and look forward. We wait expectantly for more wonderful days; days of success and joy and triumph and excitement in the planning of what is to come. God has had her back story and he holds her future. Glory to Him.

Senior year here we come!

Don’t Make Me

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Caryn Blanchard Blog

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Lord, I love you, but don’t make me say so too loudly.
Lord, I love to sing praises to you, but don’t make me sing that old one.
Lord, I love your word, but don’t make me go to bible class and learn it.
Lord, I love all your children, but don’t make talk to that one.
Lord, I want to live for you, but don’t make me uncomfortable.
Lord, I want to be a Christian, but don’t make me look different than my peers.
Lord, I want you to provide for me, but don’t make me look at that homeless man.
Lord, I want everyone to go to heaven, but don’t make me tell anyone about you.
Lord, I want to pray to you, but don’t make me do it in public or when I’m busy.
Lord, I want to be with you, but don’t make me give up…

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