The best way to fail at church

Next week I have a big, newsy, tour of the church post planned.  But for now, it’s another feely post about church planting and pastor’s wifing.  Cool?

For those who are new, every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’m writing about our church planting journey.  Here’s a little more info

6380995935_0c38436424_bI didn’t want to be a Pastor’s wife. I made this declaration before I ever graduated high school. And it was seriously confirmed in college by watching countless episodes of Seventh Heaven.

I remember one specific episode (viewed in my suite mate’s room just before lunch) where a bunch of church women were touring the parsonage and commenting loudly on the curtains and bedrooms with disdain and loads of snark about the decor.

In their opinion, since the home belonged to the church it was theirs to evaluate, tour and scrutinize.

 

So often ministry families feel like this. Owned. Scrutinized. Evaluated and found lacking.

College me grabbed another handful of Doritos and told my suite mates… “See, this is why I will never be a pastor’s wife, that’s crap.”

But…. here we are. #pastorswifed

They say that man makes plans and God laughs.  This phrase has always bothered me because it makes God out to be a bully who enjoys messing with us.

It also bothers me because it seems to hold true a lot of the time. I didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife, but here I am.

I talked to a lot of other pastor’s wives and they said the same thing.  “I never wanted to be a pastor’s wife, but here I am.”

I think it’s because so many of us worry that somehow God’s work will be the undoing of our marriages and families.

We’re worried you’ll judge us
We’re worried you hold us up to unreachable standards and dismiss us when we fail you
We’re worried you’ll judge our children, maybe make them hate church.
We’re pretty sure that you’ll say mean things about our spouse
We’re worried we’re not good enough for our role
We’re worried we’ll fail you by example.

And all these fears, have validity in the history of our lives
They’re valid because they happen. Continue reading

Praying Songs and Fighting On

my hand's wet on the wheel

I walked out of the grocery store discouraged, pushing my half empty cart to our dusty mini van with one hand as I grasped my daughter, Noelle’s hand with the other.

When I finally got it loaded up I plunked my head onto the steering wheel inadvertently causing the horn to blare and startle a passing shopper while my four year old burst into laughter in the back seat.

As I put the van into reverse and pulled out of the parking lot I started to chastise myself for overspending as I reviewed the receipt in my head.  “Where did I go wrong? Am I ever going to go out grocery shopping without leaving the store feeling so guilty?”

Thought trains like this can quickly escalate to a session of beating the crap out of myself so I began to look for footholds that would help me stop the downward spiral.

“One grocery trip doesn’t define your life, neither does one morning of writing work.  You are more than this snapshot.”

Suddenly Noelle called out: “Hey mom!  How ’bout some music?”

Yes music!  Something grounding, foundational.  I made my request to Siri and miraculously she understood and cued up the appropriate track, Come to Me by Bethel Loft.

“I am the Lord your God.  I go before you now.  I stand beside you, I’m all around you.  Though you feel I’m far away, I am closer than your breath.  I am with you, more than you know.”

I started to sing these words, belt them out like a prayer my life depended on.  Suddenly, instantly, I was transported back in time to my mother’s car, myself a little girl in the back seat.

I was years away watching her sing along to powerful music, dancing with her hands and drumming on the steering wheel with a passion that spoke to the depth of her need to cling, to hold on tight.

I didn’t know it at the time, but she was praying through music, unintentionally teaching me to lean into the power of lyrics when my own prayers weren’t flowing.  When I was losing my way again.

She was teaching me that when you feel too weak to speak truth into your own life, find a song that will do it for you and sing. Sing loud and squeaky and off key.  Sing like your life depends on it, because right now, it does.  

For all the times I saw my mother give up, there were twice as many times that I saw her fight on.

Through her depression, her fear, her crippling anxiety.

Whatever people may think about those who take their own lives, there is depth beneath that one choice that goes unknown to those on the outside.  There is more to a life than that final choice.  Yes, it speaks to sickness, weariness and defeat but it doesn’t tell the story of all the other times when they prayed a song and fought on.  

It started with a shopping trip, it almost turned into session of despair, but instead it became a prayer through song.

A moment to remember the good practices that my mother left behind.

Ultimately it ended in passing this practice onto my own daughter, who stepped out of the van singing…  “Come to me, I’m all you need.”

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There’s always twitter and Facebook too, you can join the conversation on all fronts. Join the conversation on all fronts, that’s my favorite.

When working for the church feels like working for the enemy.

(Two months ago I announced our family’s church planting journey. Check out this post for specifics, I will be putting up a tab on all of this soon.  Many readers from twitter and facebook have said they would like to follow along on all of this. So, I will writing about church planting once a week, usually Saturdays, for the immediate future so you can see what it’s like to start a church (or restart one) from scratch. Some of these posts will be “this is how it’s going” and some of them will be more “this is how it feels.”)

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In six weeks Kel will have his first day of work as the Lead pastor of the a church restart on Plainfield in downtown Grand Rapids. No, we don’t have a name for it yet, yes I will be writing about that, yes it’s driving me crazy.

Before we get started on all this, I need to fill you in on foundational secret of mine.

Sometimes, when I tell people we’re starting a church or that I’m a pastor’s wife I feel shame.  Yes, shame.

Because sometimes, it feels like I’m working for the enemy.

Which is terribly awful when you follow the church back to the beginning. It started as revolutionary good news, and it still is, it’s just buried under centuries of painful human error.

One of the more recent ones has been turning Jesus-following into a cardboard way of life, flat and plastered with easy answers and cheap clichés.

I have more than a few friends who have walked away from church since high school because they’ve been burned, hurt, clichéd and cast out.  And I ache for them, I hate what they went through.

It’s hard to tell them that we’re starting a church after they pour out their hearts about how one certain church has nearly ruined them for God. Sometimes I’m tempted to lie about Kel’s new job, because I get it and I don’t want to associate with the places that caused their pain.

The places that made something so deeply real and organic feel like a cheap, plastic chotchkie.

Because I know that clichés don’t help you when it all falls apart and eventually, it always, always does. If the church isn’t somewhere we can go with our broken anger, if it’s not a place that can welcome us with our worst mistakes… then I understand why they left. Continue reading

Be thou my vision (new monthly feature w free printable)

I love hymns, I love words, I love it when old words still have everything to say about our very modern daily lives.

In the throes of modern culture we threw away so much tradition that we really ought to have redeemed.

We need to be using words that the average soul can grasp onto but we have to be always bridging our story to that of those who went before.  This struggle for faith, these issues, this pain… it’s nothing new.

There is beauty in the old practices, there is loveliness in the liturgy and the old songs and hymns still speak volumes to us if we to sit with them for a while.

Certainly there are thees and thous to work around, but for me, there is something deeply comforting about knowing that back in the 7th century the struggle was basically the same:  Faith is a hard won battle and at the end of it all we are prone to wander and focus on everything but the truth of God.  So we’d better keep on asking for help in this midst of the fray.  

At my current church, worship is a blend of old and new.  There are hymns done in contemporary style and there is liturgical, responsive reading but it’s done in modern language.

I believe in the old ways and I believe that the truth behind those words can bring us back, connect our now with the history of ages.

I need words, I believe in plastering the walls of my home with the truth that I am so prone to walk away from.  I believe in reminders, Ebenezers, things that ground me when I try to spin into madness.

So along those lines, I want to share hymns here on the 20th of the month, some sort of old school, blog worship.

I’ll provide the following:

  • Link to song on youtube (open in new tab)
  • Lyrics and reflections
  • Free 8×10 Printable for your home.

I hope you enjoy this, I know I’m going to love seeing words and truth that tell our story covering walls of our home.

Let’s start now, eh?  First up:  My Favorite Hymn of all time, likely because A) It’s awesome, B) It was my Dad and Rich Mullins’ favorites.

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guys this is my first printable, bear with me here.  I pulled out the lines of the song that I need to glance at the most.  When you click on it, it should be a nice, high resolution 8 x 10 that can easily be resized to a smaller frame if you’d like.  

Be Thou My Vision (I’d go play the song now… but that’s just me)

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

Guys this song is a prayer, and those sort of songs are my favorite. The writer isn’t declaring himself as having achieved something lofty, he’s asking God to be his everything,  he isn’t claiming to be there.  This I can get on board with.

He’s asking God to filter the very way he sees the world and all the life humming around him.  My eyes are seeing all the wrong things Lord, will you enter into what my eyes gather of the world?

Dear Lord,  be our vision
Our Best Thought
Ever with us
Better than money and recognition is Jesus, the best thing we can think as we move through our day.

Yes please.  And Amen.

Hope and Acorns

We spent the afternoon raking up leaves.  And leaves.  And leaves.

The more we raked the more I was sure we’d never be done.  There were endless leaves. Endless.

When I did manage to clear enough leaves to reveal green grass, I noticed something.  Acorns.  Brown and soft and hopeless looking.  Rotting as they tried to burry their way into the ground against the hardening of the winter’s cold.

Mushy brown pods with a root poking through, desperately trying to anchor into the ground.

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I don’t envy the acorn in the fall.  Finally their time has come to hit the earth and become something other and they’re hit with winter and what must seem like utter hopelessness.

The more I raked the more I thought about the sad ugliness of those acorns, all mush with roots.  Even if they sprouted we were just going to mow them over.  I wanted to gather them all and find them pots, space to realize their potential.

But I can’t save all the acorns.

I’ve always been this sort of person, I’ve always personified everything.  When I was a kid I saw stuffed animals at a garage sale, tossed in dirty cardboard boxes and felt compelled to give them all homes.

They were created to bring love and joy… not for this.

Somewhere deep inside me there is a powerful longing to see hope play out.

I don’t always know what I’m about, but I know I’m about hope.

I’ve heard it said that it floats
Emily Dickinson called it “the thing with feathers”
Guided by Voices said “It’s the last thing that’s holding me”

Whatever you use to portray it, we need it to survive.  Life will freeze us, the landscape of our own lives will feel, at times, quite cold.

Sometimes the realization of our hopes will feel seasons away and hope will be impossible to see, but I’ve found that when you can’t see hope, you can feel it dancing on the periphery.

You can breathe in the belief that something redemptive, something new and whole is on the way.

That’s hope. It’s that knowledge that through the winter, through the blast, through the slow pain… that something else is on the way.

acorns

I believe in hope.  I love to think about it, I wish I could find a way to package it up and give it away to everyone in need.  “Don’t lose this, whatever else you do, just don’t lose this.”

This fall I’ve spent time making felted acorns and the other day I gave a small satchel of them to a friend who I knew needed reminders of hope on the horizon.

I wish I had the hands and time to give them away with reckless abandon.

To the lady who rings up my groceries, her face deep in frown lines.
To my friend who is struggling with mental illness, sure she will never feel happy again.
To the grieving ones, sure they will never heal.

Here, pretty little acorns for all of you!  Even if you don’t get the metaphor at least you’ll feel loved, seen, cared for.

There are a lot of things about my journey on which I am unclear.  But I know I’m about hope.  I know I’m crazy about finding it, sharing it always, always begging for more of it for those sorely lacking.

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Or there’s always twitter and Facebook too, you can join the conversation on all fronts.  That’s my favorite.

One Day in the life (2013)

Yesterday I spent the day as usual, there were dishes, kid meltdowns, preschool drop off and laundry. The one thing that make it different is that I took time to document it, both the little and the obvious.

I did this as alongside many others in a project called One Day headed up by Hollywood Housewife.  This was my first year doing this and it was fantastic.  Every couple of hours I would go to Instagram and check out the hashtag #onedayhh and there was life.  There were other people’s coffee cups, diaper changes, mini vans and laundry baskets.

And you know what?  It overwhelmed me in it’s simple and really profound beauty.  All the minutia of daily life adds up to the loveliness of the human experience.  I may have teared up one or thrice.  

Okay so here we go, a day in my life.

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 5:25- I finally get out of bed where I’ve been laying awake since Caedmon begged for the 6th time to get into our bed and I caved. He proceeded to kick me so I finally got up to greet the day.  Not a great night’s sleep, but I’m awake… ya know?

I turned on the porch light to check the weather. Nope, no snow but sparkly frost, I headed out in my bathrobe to get a decent picture but quickly gave up and headed back inside where….

This lovely little girl is waiting for me way, waaay too early.  She is usually my 3rd up and has been known to sleep until 7:30, which is late for our kids.Oneday1

So while Noelle and I chat I start to unload the dishwasher, which is one of the best choices I can make in the morning.  Then the kettle whistles and I pour it into the french press to allow the water and grounds to make love and coffee.  Noelle gets in on the action too wish warm milk and a splash of coffee in a sippy cup.  This has been our routine for at least two years.

Finally I give in and go downstairs to let the yowling cat out of his nighttime storage area.  If we don’t do this he keeps us up at night.  While I’m down there, I start some Leapfrogs for Noelle, then I come upstairs to try to do some devotionals.  I love She Reads Truth plans as view on the YouVersion app.  I’m just finishing up James… late. #typicalforme

Today it’s talking about patience, which I sorely need in my life right now.  I want all the future things, now.  Like our next house and Kel’s next job.

As I do I admire this distressed, almost whitewashed looking end table, that I love.

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6:35 The second one is up and fussy, in this shot he’s mad that I didn’t give him cereal with a red spoon.  Yes, I caved and hauled the red spoon out for him, then I promptly sent him downstairs to watch tv with his sister.

Am I the only one who’s mantle looks like this?  Pumpkins and Christmas trees?

Oneday3 Continue reading

To those of us on our asses.

I’m going through a season where i’m systematically trying identify the lies I believe, and it seems at this point, that there are a lot of them.  I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one struggling thusly, and so I’m throwing one out there and writing truth over it.  Perhaps I’ll do more, maybe not so much.  Either way, here we, let’s go with, a Lie that I believe.  Mild language alert because some lies are so sticky that the require some choice words to be shaken loose.  

Hey there, I have no clue as to where you really are right now.

Your facebook feed may indicate that you have a picture perfect family, regular girls nights out where you wear something sparkly and a marriage that belongs on the silver screen.

That might be really true, or it might be only part of the story, either way, no matter where you are today I want to tell you a lie:

You’re the only one who goes through season where you fall on your ass (repeatedly)
You’re the only one who has madly emotional moments where you’re not sure which end is up and you’re pretty sure you’ll never figure it out again.
You’re the only one who second guesses every most social interactions on the ride home.
You’re the only one who looses it and heads back to bed some afternoons.
You’re the only one feeling overwhelmed with the day to day.
Everyone else has it mostly together and is enjoying a lovely, fulfilled life and they’re never not the least bit self conscious.
No one else but you falls on their ass.

There. I told you a lie.  It may seem like a bunch of them but really?  It’s all the same one and that is this: You’re the only mess on the planet.

onyourass Continue reading

The Hands and Feet of Jesus are kind of Hairy (to me)

I rush around the kitchen. As I reach for bowls and plates, my chest tightens.  With every scream, nitpick or fight my children’s breakfast interactions grate on me as my adrenaline increases, like a slow burn.

Finally, one more: “Mom, I don’t wike dis food and I don’t wike dis pwate!”

And I’m done. I run off to the bedroom to scribble some notes on the cognitive distortions worksheet my therapist gave the previous day.

Because there isn’t a cell in my body that isn’t determined to unlearn the rhythms I use to survive, but there isn’t a chance I can stay another moment in the fray, fragile as I am.

When I return, all apologies I see him counting out twenties from our grocery / gas money stash, his lips moving as he does mental math. He walks around the table, into the kitchen where he holds me and presses two twenty dollar bills in my hand.

“One for Gas, One for you blow on whatever. When’s the last time you just had some time off? Not to work or produce. Just go be you.  I saw the your to do list and I’ve got it, I’ll get Noelle to school and I’ll clean the sinks and toilets. When you come home, dinner will be done. Just go baby, I got this.”

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He is the number two reason I will beat this thing, this anxiety, these inner lies.

He is my partner, supporter and very best friend. I didn’t know how deep love could go until I married Kel and every year?  It gets better.

He’s the one whispering God’s truth by proxy.

To me? The hands and feet of Jesus so often look like Kel’s hands and feet: strong, broad and kinda hairy.   Continue reading

The Song of the Weak Voices

I took seven years of vocal training as a kid. If you’ve met me in person, this shouldn’t surprise you.

I’m loud. I can project. I have things to say and often do so.

But this past Sunday and for a month of Sundays proceeding it, I can’t project and I can’t sing. I have a weak voice that can’t do much more than talk and even that’s a stretch by the end of the day.

This is due to an emotional October combined with a stubborn chest cold that’s left my throat in tatters.

This past Sunday was particularly frustrating, because our old worship leader returned to lead worship and brought with him some of my life’s favorite songs.

I wanted to sing, really sing along to those words that have soundtracked entire seasons of my life. I wanted my voice to match the passion in my heart and the tapping of my toes.

Yet, I could only softly squeak along.

The thought occurred to me not to sing at all, but I quickly dismissed it.

Because I had to add my voice to the song.  I couldn’t keep it inside, as weak as it was.  

And after all, doesn’t the church need all the voices?

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This goes so far beyond singing and chest colds, doesn’t it?  It extends into who we are as we gather together, and what we feel brave enough to bring through the doors. Continue reading

Guru Schizophrenia

Right now I am eating candy corn /peanut mixture aka “harvest crack” aka “the snack of the angels in glory”

As I fixed my snack, I had no fewer than 3 inner voices tell me why I shouldn’t.

One from my gym trainer guy: “You shouldn’t eat between meals, you should send your body into a starvation mode where it’s forced to live off fat to burn those last 10 lbs.”

One from a food blogger: “Is that a nourishing whole food? Is that food coloring in there?”

One a mental health resource: “Cutting back on sugar can help with anxiety.”

They all decided to weigh in on my snack choice as I stood in the corner of our kitchen.

I found myself wanting to yell: Everyone Back Off!

But the scary thing here is that I was alone…. fighting with the many guru’s I’d allowed to have a voice in my life.

I don’t know about you but it’s getting really crowded in my inner monologue, downright schizophrenic really.  I’m the sort of person who loves new ideas and systems and occasionally (read: all the time) adopts them without asking enough questions.

I’m an over-committer who loads her plate full and still feels inadequate and lazy and now I have GS, guru schizophrenia.

Mariska Hargitay

Mariska Hargitay

You say I should workout more?  Yes! I should go to gym for hours this week! and do lunges while I put away laundry.

What’s that writing guru?  Get up at 4:30 every morning if I really mean it?  Right on.  I’ll do that too!

This nutrition blog says I should cut out alcohol and sugar and caffeine and starch and live off of chicken breast and greens? She’s right, I’ll do it!

When you adopt too many voices and believe in too many “right ways” of doing things it gets noisy in your head. You start to live in a perpetual state of letting yourself and all those inner gurus down. Continue reading