When 2013 Was Me.

I’m going to hoist up my nerd flag, hear the squeaking? There it goes, flying at the peak of the roof of this blog.  It’s up, you’ve been warned.

Doctor Who Edit

Well here we are, 2013 is on it’s very last legs. The old man has hours left on the clock and bouncing, brand new 2014 is on it’s way, it’s practically here.  A fresh start, a blank calendar, a snow white new beginning to do something completely different, right?

Well yes. But also no. Not really.

Tomorrow morning you will wake up in YOUR house, with the dishes from YOUR new years eve shenanigans still in the sink, maybe you’ll have a mild headache from said shenanigans, a bit of 2013 following you into the new year.

The point is that 2014 will still feature something that played a key role in determining the outcome of 2013.  It will contain you.

If you don’t approach your New Year with this in mind, I can’t see how you’ll succeed.  Because really, truly wherever you go… there you are.

I’ve made a thousand million trillion mistakes in my life. I got a tattoo I don’t love and I dated a few total jerks. I once bought a car before test driving it and I chose my first college based on the laptop they’d give me.

I’m not saint in the good choices department.

But the one mistake I’m through making is this one:  I’m done ignoring the continuity of me.   

This plays out in two specific ways
1) I’m done transposing other people’s goals, habits, successes and subscriptions onto my own life. I’m a specific person and I have to take my preferences and personality into account when I make action plans in my own life. I can learn, I must grow, but I have to play to my strengths and know myself and my call.
2) I’m done ignoring all the mes who have gone before, I’m done being ashamed of them.  I’m done hiding those pictures in a box and pretending that we’re not the same people, that we are not me.

I want to know myself and own my life, from start to right this second.  I want to own it, and in a bittersweet way, I want to love it.

I don’t know how these two things would change your life, but for me they’re huge.  They stop me in my tracks when I look around and feel inadequate for who I’m not and they offer me grace and a chance to love myself in spite of who I’ve been.

You know what was the catalyst for these revelations?  It was the Christmas Special of Doctor Who.  Here’s where I get nerdy, hang with me.

On Christmas day the BBC show “Doctor Who” (with which I am in love) said goodbye to the 11th Doctor, played by Matt Smith.  (The Doctor regenerates as the same being in different bodies with different personality quirks. Read more here if you’re in the least bit curious. Then make a resolution to catch up on the show in 2014.  Do it, get past the first season before you quit, trust my stamp)

Anyway, the last few lines of the show were a speech by the departing doctor and perfectly summed these feelings I’ve been mulling over and learning as I store away one year in return for a new one.

CLARA: You, you are the Doctor.
ELEVEN: Yep. And I always will be. But times change and so must I…We all change when you think about it, we’re all different people, all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this, not one day, I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.

If you are a Whovian, those words will cause tears and if you’re not I hope they at least give you pause.  I hope you can see the concept in spite of the geekery I’m throwing at you.

2014 is something new, yes, it is.  We aspire to become newer, better versions of ourselves.  It’s a new chance to be a new you, this is good stuff.  But you will only make something of it if you make peace with all the yous you’ve been. If you name them, own them, bring them along for the ride.

If you see your story as this continuous and ongoing narrative.  2014 isn’t a brand new year, it’s a brand new chapter in the book of you.  And as Jesus followers we are people of second, third and seventy-seventh chances.

We become new creatures as life brings us along with it’s storms and it’s peaceful valleys, but when we put up barriers, when we try to split our souls, when we refuse to take into account the essence of ourselves… that’s when our souls feel divided, when we become frantic and wild creatures, adopting things to cover up who we’re afraid we might be or who we have been.

So I welcome the newness and the hope of 2014, with open arms.  2013 has been a wonderful, terrible, beautiful shaping journey and I’m thankful for it.

It was hard.

We moved home, said goodbye and then hello!  Kel and I slept apart every weekend.  We lived on a half salary and bled our bank accounts dry.  I relapsed into grief driving by the cemeteries and train tracks where I lost my parents.

We fell apart and then God tenderly rebuilt us into these new people who are still the same people we were on this day last year, essentially.

And God Bless it, I want to be the me he made me to be.  Any year that involves steps closer to the Eden pure version of me shall be counted as a gift, a success, a good chapter in the novel of my life.

May you feel the same way about all that awaits you and all that you leave behind.  May you remember every line, every moment, may you be grateful in the best of ways,

May you always remember when 2013 was you.

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My Elf-piphany (or why the Elf on the shelf bugs me)

I’m a bit of a joiner, when other people are doing something cool I tend to get excited and pull a “ooh something new and shiny, let’s do it!”

This is how we came into possession of an Elf on the Shelf.  It looked like so much fun online that I wanted a piece of the Christmas whimsy. I still wasn’t sure how we would do Santa with our two young kids, but I was going for it on the elf front.

I marched into the Hallmark store and marched right back out with $30 less in my bank account and a bag full of Elf.  In a shockingly large box.

If you don’t know the whole concept behind the Elf on the Shelf, here it is: you pay $30 for a little doll who is Santa’s is secret spy for your family. You tell your kids that he’s watching them, that he’ll let Santa know if they’re good or bad. Then you move him every evening (or frantically in the morning because you forgot) to fun and quirky new places in the house. The kids are instructed NOT to touch him or he will lose his magic.  

I got into it for the whimsy, for the hope of a fun tradition our children would remember and smile on years later.

But this year, it’s bothered me endlessly, I resent that little red bugger. Something doesn’t feel right about it in the pit of my stomach.

IMG_1086 Sometimes when our two year old son was extra obnoxiously naughty and hitting his sister in the head with matchbox cars or smearing the table in oatmeal, I’d pull the elf card. “Caedmon, do you want Santa to see you being naughty? You could lose a present. The Elf is seeing you do that.”

Then emotional vomit would come up in my throat and I’d walk away feeling like a horrible person and parent.

And I couldn’t figure out why.

Then two nights ago I had an Elf-piphany.

It started when I decided to have the Elf, who by the way we named Mr. BoJingles, write our children a note that my four year old super star, starting to read daughter Noelle could practice on in the morning.

So I scrambled for some green paper and a nice pen and wrote out this:

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“Dear Noelle and Caedmon, Christmas is only three days away, so be good!  Love Mr BoJingles.”

Then I got a little of the ol’ Elf nausea (this could be because I had the stomach bug at the time) “This isn’t right, this is bothering me… why?”

Then I had a true lightbulb of a moment.

“Oh my God, GRACE!”  I shouted at myself in the quiet of the dining room.  But you know, not so loud as to wake up the kids because, priorities.

The Elf on the shelf, as done by the book, flies in the face of grace because we can’t tell our children both these things:

1) Jesus is the whole reason behind Christmas, it’s the day we celebrate that God sent him to the Earth to save us. We give presents to each other to celebrate the fact that Jesus was the best gift ever given.
AND
2) If you’re not good, a magical fat man will take away your presents.

You can’t have both grace and works.  It is out of LOVE we were sent Christ, it is by GRACE we are saved, it is because of this LOVE and GRACE that my (mostly) healthy heart loves to give my children good gifts.

Gifts they do not have to earn. Gifts it would break my heart to take away from them.  Gifts I poured myself into and cannot wait to delight them with.

The Elf on the Shelf concept can’t coexist with the freely given love and grace of the nativity without creating dissonance.

The same dissonance I’d been hearing all season bust just now finally identified.

Do I want my children to live in the ways of Scripture? Absolutely.  But not because they’re afraid of lightening bolts from heaven or a God who will swoop in and steal the good things from their lives.

I want them to long for their Father because they trust him, love him, believe that in his word is the key to the richest, deepest, best possible life on Earth.

So Elf, you can stay for the next two days, but I’m watching both you and my own words. We will rethink you for next year.  You may get the boot, you may be repurposed into another tradition.

But you won’t steal the grace we’re cultivating in these walls, you won’t cause my children to doubt the depth of the love I have from them or the deep beauty that is mingled between the nativity scene.

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O Come, O Come Emmanuel (printable and reflection)

(I’m an ENFP which means I have 375% more ideas than I have time for.  Yesterday I owed you a hymn reflection and printable, today I owe you a church planting post.  Our family has been down with the stomach bug all week so you’re getting the hymn because it’s what I need to write.  I promise to follow through more in 2014, refer back to line one of the this post and believe accordingly.)

We’re 4 days out from Christmas and I don’t know about you but I’m already sick of it. Not the Jesus part. The Rest of it.

The shopping, to do list, grocery run, stomach bug, mall frenzy, 72 email ads, cheap plastic side of it.

The part where you stop and go “wait, isn’t this supposed to be about Jesus?  Where’s my silent night?”

The part where you wonder how so much hate and division can be flying around between people who claim to celebrate the same baby this whole season is supposed to be about.

The part where you’re doing too much in the hopes that it will make everything feel okay.

The part where you can’t even fathom a holiday gathering without someone you’ve lost, where the thing you want for Christmas is certainly not going to happen.

The parts where our hearts are still in exile for either a healing that hasn’t come or a truth we’re sorely missing.

These are the parts that weigh on me while I’m standing in line at the store wondering why someone would pay an extra $5 for a gift card holder that will get immediately thrown away or while I’m sitting on my couch picturing Christmas scenes I want but can’t have.

These are the parts into which I need to pray this hymn. (listen to it here)

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
And Ransom Captive Israel
That mourns in Lowly Exile here
Until the son of God appears

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

O come thou dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine Advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
and death’s dark shadows put to flight

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

O come desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad division cease
And be thyself our King of Peace

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel

ocomeprintable
  A background of pain underneath the cry of the weary world, some of our most painful words with our cry scrawled over top, digital art that made me shake as I created it. You can print this out as an 8×10 or do what I’m going to do, save it as the home screen on your phone to remind you that Jesus is the cry of our most broken places. 

I’m pretty sure this wasn’t always my favorite Christmas hymn, but it is now.  It’s an aching, a cry for salvation that has already, but not yet happened.

It speaks of a nation in exile, unable to sing it’s songs in a foreign land where they are aching and stuck.

It was originally written in latin during the middle ages and over the past 800 years everything and nothing has changed.  We still ache, we still observe advent and recognize that while the baby has been born to us, there is so much he has yet to set right.  

The other day I was talking with my daughter Noelle about advent and getting ready for Jesus to be born.

“But Mom, Jesus already has been born.  That doesn’t make any sense.  Why would we wait for something that already happened.”

I let her win that one for now, because is confusing, isn’t it?  He came already yet still there is so much ache we don’t understand.

We mourn, we wail, we burry our faces in our hands some days and ache his his return, now, yesterday, sooner.

There is so much wrong with the world, but we have to remember something crucial, something hopeful. Many of the places that cry out for Emmanuel are places into which we can be the bearers of his love.  We cannot ourselves undo death, take away the memory of abuse or unsay hurtful words yet we are not powerless in the darkness.

But we can feed the hungry
We can invite the homeless in
We can speak love into hate
We can sit with the grieving and meet their needs
So many of the ways in which Emmanuel will come to us, is through the hands of his people.

And as easy as it is to get discouraged, there is hope.  There is reason to rejoice, may it not be all grief for you, not all aching, may there be hope and very real places in which he comes to you as we celebrate the day that changed the world forever.

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Christmas without them.

I had something else all lined for today. I had other plans. But no. Today, I’d like to pretend that we’re sitting across from each other and enjoying venti versions of our favorite coffee shop pleasures.

And since we’re coffee buddies I want to tell you the thing I really need to say rather than the thing I planned on saying.  

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I really miss my Dad this week, so much.  It hurts like a fire in my rib cage that he’s not here for Christmas.  It hurts so bad. I keep bursting into hopeless angry tears because I feel like there’s nothing I can do to get what I want.  I want my Dad back.  I want to call him and make him laugh, tell him all about what the kids are up to, gripe to him about the fact that they’re throwing up, ask him about the broken heater in Kel’s car, give him a hug and smell the combination of smoke and cold that always lingered on his collar.

He should be at my parents house in a flour covered kitchen filling card tables in the garage with one of his 5 signature cookies or baked goods.

He should be filling stockings with the really good deals he got on toothpaste and pens.

He should be putting light up deer in the front yard and imparting his irreplaceable Christmas magic onto my children.

Showing him that there are few greater gifts on Earth than being his kid at Christmastime.

He should be here, for Christmas.

I drove home from the grocery store today weeping, the sort where you should pull over but you don’t because you have to get home.

I pounded gloved fists on the steering wheel like a petulant child because in that moment I wanted something I couldn’t have.  I wanted my Daddy back.  I wanted to be a kid at Christmas with none of the cold reality of the behind the scenes work of it all.

I went shopping with my Aunt this weekend and as we walked through Kohls she told me this story:

I remember it was the morning after thanksgiving, had to be 3:30 in the morning and there we were all standing in the long checkout line at Kohls. We were so happy, laughing, joking, exchanging coupons with strangers. Your mom would stay in line while your Dad ran to get another color of fleece for your sister or something else he had a deal for.  We were having a riot, all of us in line in the middle of the night.  It was contagious, strangers started joking around with us… it had to be the Christmas before he died.

I want to go back in time, I want to be in that long line with my Aunts and Uncle and Parents and have a chance to be grown up and all together. I want a different ending to my family’s story because right now Christmas feels so lonely without them.

And you know what?  This post doesn’t resolve.  Not today.

This is the thing about grief, sometimes you just rest in it and sit for a while with your empty places.

You respect what you lost by acknowledging it with tears and breakdowns during coffee dates and trips to the grocery story.

Sometimes there’s yelling at God, sometimes all the peace you though you’d made with it can’t be found and you’re back to the rhythm of churning and aching.

Oh Come Oh Come Emmanuel and Ransom Captive Israel
That Mourns in Lonely Exile here
Until the Son of God appears
Amen.

If you’re mourning in lonely places I pray grace for you, moments of laughter in the mourning.  Feel free to tell me your story in the comments, I’m miles away but I’ll love and listen. 

If you have friends who ache for what they cannot have this holiday season check in and be ready to listen to how “not okay” it is.  Grief doesn’t resolve and the holidays put unrealized memories into sharp and painful perspective for so many of us.  Some years are worse than others, this year for me, coming home and realizing all I lost… it’s been incredibly hard.

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Love Showed Up: Held Up and Held Together

Last week I introduced a new series here entitled “Love Showed Up: The best of People on the Worst of Days.” The idea here is that the best thing we can do to defuse grief clichés is to share stories of times in our lives when everything fell apart and we were loved well and held closely.  

Today my dear amazing friend Jillian Burden is kicking off the series for us by sharing a story from her life that will leave you breathless but hopeful. Simply put Jill is one of my favorite people on the planet, she’s classy and thoughtful with a faith that challenges and encourages me in the best of ways.  Let’s read this story and store it up in our hearts as an example of holding together our loved one in seasons of falling apart.

Six years ago this fall my mom was on her deathbed. She had emergency surgery on her abdomen in late August and then aspirated waking up from anesthesia. Aspirating damaged her lungs and she had to be put on supplemental oxygen as she recovered in the ICU. Her condition worsened.  Soon she had to wear a big black mask that forced air into her lungs. Then she was put on a ventilator; first with a breathing tube down her throat and then directly into her trachea. Her blood saturation levels dipped dangerously low. She was transferred to a larger hospital. She went into an induced coma. She got sepsis. She lost almost all her muscle mass. My dad called me at college twice to come home and say goodbye to her; her doctors didn’t think she was going to make it.

This went on for months. Hellish is the best way to describe it. I continued with my education, driving back to Ontario from my college in Michigan with my fiance at every available opportunity. I lived as normally as I possibly could, but every minute of every day had a terrifying footnote under it: *Your mom might be dead.

When I called my dad from my dorm each night, adrenaline rushed through my body. What would he say? Was she any better? Was she worse? Was she still alive?

And how was he? My brother? My teenage sister? Were they eating? Working? Going to school? How do you continue living when your wife or mom is dying?

I felt like I was falling apart.

Here’s what kept me together: community.

From the moment they learned that my mom was sick, my community was there. My friends, my family’s friends, my home church in Ontario, my Bible college peers and professors in Michigan, and my relatives all over the world reached out to put their hands on me and hold me together.

At first, they prayed. Then they started bringing meals to my dad and sister still living at home in Ontario. They offered to drive me six hours from my dorm to my mom’s ICU room. They paid for the gas. They cleaned my parents’ house every week for weeks on end. They raked leaves. Pulled weeds. Shoveled snow. At school my professors changed due dates and gave me extensions. They asked how I was doing. Friends and family gathered time and again in the ICU waiting room to sit with my dad. With my siblings. With me. They brought pizza. They prayed. They made small talk. They were quiet.

As my mom crept closer and closer to death, my 300 person bible college together with my parents’ church and friends and family from around the world fasted and prayed for two days. My inbox was flooded with words of support. Someone we knew in Jerusalem placed a prayer for my mom on the Western Wall. At the end of the fast, I stood in a circle among dozens of my peers and took communion. When we had all chewed our bread and swallowed our wine, each student came one by one to embrace me. I left wet marks on their necks and shoulders from my tears. I was so scared, so sad, so sick at the thought of loosing my mom. But I was never one thing: alone.

My story has happy ending. After those days of prayer and fasting, my mom slowly began to improve. Her damaged, infected lungs, began to heal. Her blood saturation levels improved. Her sepsis subsided. She was weaned out of her coma. It was late October- two months after her original surgery- when my dad was finally able to tell her what happened… and how much time had past since her last memory. Unable to speak because of the ventilator she simply mouthed the word, “Wow.”

On November 1- her 48th birthday- she was able to sit up for the first time since August, with the help of a giant sling. Her doctor- who had only weeks earlier described her as “the sickest person in Canada-” called her a medical miracle.

Mom on her birthday.

She was eventually transferred back to a smaller hospital near my parents’ home where she was weaned off the ventilator and started physical therapy. At this point, my fiancé John and I were planning to get married in the hospital (so my mom could be present); I remember watching her barely able to turn the page of a wedding planning magazine. She was so weak.

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As she healed and we approached the wedding, our community gave their love and support as generously as they had in her weakest hours. My hair stylist aunt came to the ICU with her scissors and combs in hand to give my mom’s short-hair gone shaggy a trim. A coworker of my dad baked up a cupcake “tree” to serve as our wedding cake and my mom’s best friend cooked up a spread of appetizers for us to enjoy with our dozen or so guests after a short ceremony. My childhood pastor agreed to officiate and the church secretary designed and printed a stack of special programs just for the event. My greenhouse-owning cousin made us boutonnieres and corsages while her parents uncle drove a van filled with poinsettias all the way to the hospital so we could decorate.

In Dember my mom had been moved out of ICU to a long-term recovery floor and we used the floor’s community room for our wedding. The night before the wedding, we set up chairs with an aisle down the middle and went home to rest. While we slept, the nurses on my mom’s floor covered every chair with a white bed sheet and hung Christmas ornaments on the back. It was beautiful.

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On January 2, 2008 I stood outside that hospital community room with my mom and dad, waiting to walk down the aisle after them and get married. My mom smiled at me from her wheelchair as the CD wedding music began to play. She stood, shakily, and held on to me for support as my dad wheeled her empty chair down the makeshift aisle. Then, to the surprised and tear-filled eyes of our friends and loved ones, she took hold of my dad’s arm and, slowly but surely, put one foot ahead of the other…. and walked.

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 Six months after my mom took those first feeble steps, John and I had a big party to celebrate our marriage with all our friends and family, outside those hospital walls. We laughed and cried a lot that day; for us, for my mom, for our family, for our friends… for our whole community who collectively held us up and held us together through

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that last year. We were finally able to fall apart, but this time it was only in the very best of ways. After dinner as the music played my brother took my mom out to the center floor and- surrounded by the loving hearts and glowing faces of our unfailing community- she danced.

 

 

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Jillian Burden loves nothing better than hearing and telling great stories. She chronicles her own story of adoption, infertility, faith, family life and her journey to joy over at her blog addingaburden.com

If you’re interested in guest posting for the “Love Showed Up” series, I’d love to hear more.  Get in touch with my via email, I’m leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com.

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What’s in a (church) Name?

My husband and I are replanting a church in a 100 year old building in downtown Grand Rapids and every week I am writing about that journey in a series called “church from scratch”  This is post 3, for the rest, go here.”  

We are less than three weeks away from our actual start date and while Kel is crunching numbers, going to meetings and creating timelines… I am anxiously fretting passionately pondering two things: How are we going to remodel it?  
What are we going to name it?  (Because I’m passionate about words and hospitality, obviously)

As Kel still hasn’t gotten they keys yet for me to go all picture happy and crowd source remodel ideas with you all, let’s talk about naming a church… shall we?

Right now we have a church without a name.  This is not because we have a lack of ideas, but because I’m a word snob and we haven’t found the right one yet.  I’m sure of it, we don’t have it yet.

naming a church is hard

We’ve discussed Found Church, Urban Well, Creston Community Church and Riverside Church (but there already is one)

The weight of this decision feels really heavy on my shoulders because those of us who love words infer volumes from the naming of things.  Names mean things.

I spent months naming my children, we picked things with depth and linguistic beauty. (yes we knew people would call Caedmon “caveman” and we REALIZE Noelle’s initials are in fact NAP but we loved the names enough to overlook it.)  

Here are the criteria I currently have for the new church’s name.

1) Can’t be too trendy- We aren’t going to be a flashy modern church, we will be operating from a 100 year old sanctuary and our worship style will be based on narrative, story and a “old meets new” feel, so the name has to match.  Also we don’t want to loathe our name in 5 years time. (GodQuest.cc!) 
2) Has to communicate something foundational- A church’s name says a lot about what they value or what their focus is. We want to be a place for authenticity and depth, a place where those who are hurting or may have walked away from church can find a home for themselves and their families … among other things.
3) Has to be Rich with meaning- I’d really like our name to have layers of meaning, that correlate with evocative scripture.  When someone asks me why we named it …whatever we end up naming is… I want to tear up a little.
4) Has to be pronounceable and not confuse us with the local temple– I’m looking at the lead pastor here.  If Kel had his way our name would be Hebrew with none of the vowels and all of the confusion, it would be beautiful if you have an MDiv or regularly spend time sprawled over Old Testament Commentaries but other than that you might think you need a yarmulke to attend.

Tall order, I KNOW!  I wish I could lower my standards a little.  Maybe I need to.

It’s getting a little ridiculous how much we think and talk about this around here.  Our living room and dinner table sound like this:

Me: “I want our church to be comfortable with lament.
Kel: “Definitely… Lament  Church!  Bring your own Kleenex and your antidepressants!”
Facepalm.

We speak in a formula of our church should be + 30 seconds = ridiculous name suggestion

It’s on my mind all the time. You think Christmas is stressful, try wrapping presents while trying to name a church. Oiy.

But over the past week I’ve relaxed on it a little bit and you want to know why? Because I looked back and realized that I’ve happily attended churches whose name’s I didn’t like.

I’ve come to realize that yes, there is a lot in a name but there is so much more to be found in how the church serves the community.

If we as a church are out there making an impact in our community, if Kel is preparing messages that God uses to bring healing to broken places, if our children’s ministry is a place where kids feel loved “as is” and meet Jesus through the hands of our people…

Then we could have a borderline awful name and it would still be okay.  And we won’t have an awful name, I have too many systems in place to keep that in check.

So here’s the new game plan for selecting a name:

1) Set a deadline- 1 month, go.  By January 15 we are going to have a name.
2) Read the New Testament with this in mind and a notebook at hand.  Kel will read the Old Testament with this in mind because we are a house divided by that title page between Malachi and Matthew.
3) Make a list of possible ideas – Because I’m not going to remember them without a list.
4) Keep this list away from the kids- They will try to color all over it or shove it into the no man’s land under the couch.
5) Gather opinions- This is both smart and totally my personality type. We don’t want total control and all the church planting books recommend letting the community help you decide. Also,  I can’t buy wall hooks or shoes without at least 3 opinions so I’m going to ask for help with the final name choice.  Look for it.

So that’s how we’re going to name our church.

Do you love your current church’s name?
Any church names out there that you’ve loved, what are they and why were you drawn to them?

The happiness/gratitude formula

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“I’m feeling happy, and that’s a big deal… for me.”
This is decidedly my favorite line in finding Nemo, and it keeps playing through my mind lately because lately, I’ve felt joy in my life.  The real kind that’s not because of wine or the kids finally being asleep.

The kind I still feel in the midst of the dinnertime rush or the messiness of the play room floor.

It all started about a month ago with a very emotional ride home from church. I called Kel in tears after a trip to church had turned into a nightmare. I told him how the kids ran away from me while I was recycling their juice cups and I lost  them for about five minutes. Which felt like an eternity at the time. (found them in their kids area claiming loudly that their mom had left them. Thanks guys.)

I sobbed to Kel about how tired I was of doing weekends all by myself when everyone else was all together as a family. Then I went on about  how even when we were together, we were never happy about it. Someone was always angry or under slept, something was always not ideal, there was always a reason it couldn’t get classified as a “good day”

“I don’t know what’s wrong babe, but I feel like we’re missing something really important and I think it has to do with something Jesus said, but I want to fix it. Can we fix it please? I just want to be happy.”

We hung up and left things painfully unresolved. When I’d finally closed the garage door behind our dirty mini van I collapsed on our couch in desperate tears of frustration.

I texted a dear friend who immediately dropped what she was doing and called me.  I cried to her for what felt like forever, trying to put words to the churning feelings I was having in my life.

It sounded like: “Kel and I can’t stop fighting, we can barely pay the bills, the kids ran away from me in church and we’re never just happy together.  Ever!  It’s not going to change with our circumstances, it has to change with us but I’m so lost and I have no idea what to do next.  

This is the abridged version people, the real version was far more incoherent and dramatic.

She listened to me graciously for over well over thirty minutes. Then she added her advice and a hefty scoop of encouragement.  But I took away two very important things:

1) You can only change you, stop worrying about what Kel will or won’t do.
2) Gratitude changes everything

She texted me for the next few mornings to remind me of both these truths, “Don’t worry about Kel, just change you!  God can take care of him, I promise.”

Then she texted me a really helpful gratitude flowchart the gist of which was this: So many of the things I was unhappy about were above and beyond what God had promised me, or any of us for that matter.

I started asking myself: “Is the thing that I’m upset about over and above what God has promised me? If yes then I guess I don’t need it and I will choose contentment and gratitude”

Laundry day started to go like this: “I hate laundry, God how am I ever going to get through all this, why do we have to wear SO MANY clothes?!?  Wait, I could have to haul all this to the laundromat in the snow or have to wash it in the bathtub, but I don’t.  Thanks God for in home laundry that works like it should.”

At the grocery store: “I hate having to grocery shop with a calculator, I wish I was one of those people who could just throw stuff in their basket without worrying about it.  Wait, we have enough food to eat, period. We’re eating healthy stuff that i enjoy making.  Thanks for the content of this cart God.” 

And in these little moments of self talk, of counting gifts, or thankfulness I have started to feel happiness.

Then I watched this Ted Talk which confirmed everything for me:  

“It is not happiness that makes us grateful, it’s gratefulness that makes us happy.” ~ Brother David Steindl-Rast

Happiness doesn’t come from having everything you want, it comes from wanting everything you already have.

It’s helping with my marriage and it’s making a difference in my parenting.  It’s reducing my anxiety and depression and it’s causing me to finally feel joy in the midst of the uncertainty of life.

I find myself breathing small prayers of gratitude as I move through my day
Thank you for a warm home, a safe place in the snow
Thank you for this box of clementines, easy snacks I feel good about
Thank you for this move night with my kids, together under one blanket.

Thank you for this simple life, for this profound truth and for filling my home and heart with good, good gifts.

 

Love showed up (a story and a series announcement)

Today I want to tell you a story, talk about light and then introduce a new series I’ll be hosting here for the foreseeable future.  

loveshowedup

It all felt like a nightmare, one I half believed I would wake up from.  Denial at it’s finest, or worst rather.

I stared down at my ruffled ballet flats pressed together on the funeral home carpet and marveled at the turn my life had taken. Just days before I had been laughing with my Dad on the phone and now I was standing 5 yards away from his body, laid out in a casket.

I couldn’t find the strength to approach it, to see him in his stillness, his glasses still and speckled with paint. As I stood there I felt a tap on my shoulder, it was my Grandpa, the one who had stepped up to pay for the costs of my Dad’s funeral.

It’s all a blur in hindsight, but I know I heard something like this: “I think it would be really nice if you and your siblings pitched in to cover your Dad’s headstone.  It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a stone to go visit.”

I told him that yes, I would take care of it. Silently I wondered how I’d pull it off, I was in college, my brother was in High School and my sister lived in a group home in Texas, not a lot of money in that equation.

A few days after the funeral Kel (at that time my boyfriend who’d flown in to support me) and I headed up to the monument place recommended by the funeral home to figure out our options, headstone-wise.  The worst shopping trip ever.

Over the next few weeks my mom and I decided on a black granite stone with the words of Romans 8:28 etched along the bottom.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”

I chose a scripty, non deathlike font for the main text along the top and a pond scene with loons to be etched across the entire front.  I took great care to make it something that didn’t feel like anything I’d seen in the cemetery before, something that felt more like life than of death.

It would be pricier than expected, but it was what I needed to do, it was the only design I could deal with. Continue reading

13 tips for loving in loss.

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First off let me say how overwhelmed and thankful I am for all that likes, shares and comments on my last post 12 Grief Clichés and the reasons they suck.  I’ve never had such a massive response to my writing and it was amazing to have those words connect with so many hearts.

On the flip side of that, a handful of people commented that the list of clichés just made them more anxious when it came to interacting with their grieving friends

Many stresses the good intentions of those who deliver clichés in a time of awkwardness and pain and felt a little bit like I was throwing them under the bus with the post.

Here’s the thing, I never meant to suggest that those who bear clichés do so with ill intent.  I would say that for the most part clichés come out in the anxiety of helplessness. That being said, words bear weight and those of us who resonated with the post needed to have them dismantled because bad words with good intent, still hurt.

And now more people know what not to say, and that’s a good thing.

Moving on, many of you asked for a list of what one SHOULD do or say in the midst of grief and pain and I absolutely agree, now that we have dismantled, let’s build up.

Like this first list, this one is crowd-sourced and comes not only from my own experiences but from those who were willing to chime in for what they found helpful in their worst moments.

1) Speak Up– Saying something and fumbling it is still better than saying nothing at all.  Even worse than hearing clichés is not hearing nothing from those who supported you in the good times. I lost friends after the deaths of both my parents simply because people stopped talking to me, that hurt worse than any cliché. I know that it’s scary and sensitive to speak up, but know that few words are needed. Just go and listen, open up the floor for them to talk about the person they lost, they want to do that.  They want to remember what was for fear it may slip away.

2) I’m sorry + hug (this is especially useful for formal events like funerals and wakes) Not everyone is a hugger so proceed accordingly, but remember that going out of your way to attend a funeral related event speaks volumes. It’s a busy time and not usually conducive for long chats so you don’t need to say much more than: “This sucks, I’m sorry” Remember that words don’t fix it so you don’t need to worry about having the right ones, just go.

3) Share a story- This year on the anniversary of my mom’s death my friend emailed me a ridiculous story about my Mom. Years previously my mother had flipped out with worry that my sister’s and my curling irons and flat irons would burn down the house.  So she tried to pawn them off on people from church out of the back of her car. When this didn’t work she thew them all away in a gas station dumpster. I was so pissed at the time but when my friend emailed me the story about my mom forcing a flat iron on her it made me laugh and remember my Mom in a way I’d totally forgotten.

You can do this at any time, not just on anniversaries or funerals, people cherish stories of those they lost.

4) Practical Support- Grief is a time where life screeches to a halt, this means that the person you care about may have missed work or have increased travel costs. Think through that and then support them that way. My dad died from a sudden heart attack when I was in college and my best friend’s parents covered my rent .  Later my church friends helped with my Dad’s headstone.  When my Mom died my husband’s work covered our unexpected travel costs.  I would have been sunk without these thoughtful gestures.

5) Acts of Service: You what what the most common response is to the question: “Can I do anything?”  It’s no. We all want to be on the serving end and never want to admit that we need help. But we do, we need help. My best advice here is to be a little, just a little, pushy about this.  Say something like: “Hey, I’m taking your kids this week, when is most helpful?” or “Hey I’m bringing you a meal, what day works?”  Or just drop off practical necessities like paper plates, toilet paper or diapers, grieving people are forgetful of such things.

6) On food (Yes, this one needs it’s own category)  The short and overwhelming response from readers was, yes to food! There are really helpful websites when it comes to setting up meal deliver and maybe you can be the one to offer set it up. I’ve personally used and recommend Care Calendar. Without organization things can get a little crazy. If there is no organization in place I recommend making something freezable or dropping off really great takeout gift cards. Also, keep dessert proportionate, although once I ate my way through an entire sheet cake with no regrets so maybe just go for it.

8) Go the distance– There is no “all done” in the journey of loss, it keeps going.  I was immensely thankful for those who checked in on how I was doing for months after the funeral. It was so refreshing to have someone open the floor for something I worried people were hoping I wouldn’t bring up, to know that they didn’t expect me to be all better.

9) Remember special dates– Put loss anniversaries on your calendar and try to remember them like birthdays, yes it’s more morbid but death is a part of life. I assure you it will mean everything to your grieving friend that you took the time to remember.  Ask them if you can help them remember. For years after my dad died we did what was called “soup and pie” where my friends came over for my favorite comfort foods and a time of remembering. One year we just played board games but it meant everything that they were there supporting me.

10) Pray in the moment- Many readers echoed this, but as a people we so often don’t follow through after uttering the phrase “I’ll pray for you.”  We’re all sort of in on this dirty secret and we know that when someone says it, all to often (not all the time) it doesn’t happen.  So pray for them in the moment, briefly, authentically.  You can even text it.  It may seem weird, but it won’t go unappreciated.

11) Thoughtful Gift- In-between the two visitation services for my Dad my church group showed up all at the same time to circle around me and pray. Instead of flowers they brought me a willow tree figurine of a father and daughter, I have it to this day and every time I see it I remember them and that thoughtful moment.

Thoughtful gifts could be anything: a journal, a piece of jewelry, a picture frame.  Be thoughtful about what would best speak to the person you’re supporting.

12) Permission to Lament (for a long while) If your grieving friend tells you that they’re pissed, depressed, empty, exhausted or just all around seeing the world with gray glasses,   Tell them that’s okay.  Give them full permission to feel everything that they need to feel.  They don’t need your permission, but it helps to know that you don’t expect otherwise.

13) Permission to Screw up (Dead dad pass) – Do you watch New Girl?  Well you should. Last season one of the characters unexpectedly lost his dad and anytime someone pushed him or asked too much he’d just yell out “Dead Dad Pass!”

Encourage your hurting people to do the same, let them to be as strange or as messy or as out of it as they need to be. I swear to you that I spent the two months in-between my mom’s death and Caedmon’s birth in the bathtub.When people came to carol our house that Christmas, guess where they did it?  Yup, bathroom window.  The tub was my pass.

I hope that these help, that you can refer to them when you need to. Mostly I want you to feel comfortable to love well in the midst of loss.

If you’d like to add to the list, please do so in the comments, I don’t pretend to know it all when it comes to how to love well in the midst of loss.

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12 Grief Cliches and the reasons they suck.

some things we can't put a bow on.

some things we can’t put a bow on.

Two weeks ago I asked a question via my Facebook page: “In your opinion, what is the worst cliche used for grief and loss?”

People hate clichés, so they were happy to chime in on the flippant things people said to them in their worst moments.

I’ve had nearly all of these thrown at me in a funeral receiving line, all except the ones that pertain to loss of a child, a unique grief which I haven’t walked through.

I’ve spent the past few weeks going over these in my head, turning them over in my heart and I’ve come to realize that there are two central themes running through every one

1) Loss isn’t that bad and it will all be better soon, this isn’t really that hard.
2)  God is the source of your loss, he willed it for the good of all.

I find that every grief cliche has one or both of these going on.

Often those who come bearing these cliches also come armed with scripture that makes us wonder, “wait, are they right? Is the way I’m feeling completely invalid? Is God up there sending the worst into my life like a parent doling out punishment?”

This practice is called proof texting, it’s what people do when they want to say something and they want it to be biblical, so they find a verse that backs up their thoughts and ignore the context completely.

And the google gods have just made this even easier to do… 

Proof texting has backed up slavery, racism, gender inequality, corporal punishment and pretty much all of these awful cliches. So when you hear a verse that seems completely incompatible from what you know to be true of the Gospels and the love of God, dismiss it until you’ve had time to look into the context itself.

For now, let’s blow up some clichés, yes?

1) We’re not having a funeral, we’re having a celebration– Asking grieving people to celebrate is patently unfair. Loss it’s hard, it’s part of the fall, minimizing it isn’t something Jesus did so perhaps we shouldn’t either.  God loves his people, but he hates death, hates it.  Sent his son to make it go away forever in fact.

2) God needed another angel – This one is ridiculous on every theological level imaginable.  Shall we break them down really quick? 1) people don’t become angels when they die, two different things. 2) God doesn’t exist in time so God doesn’t ever “need us” up in heaven, he wants us, but he doesn’t need us there at any certain time.

3) God wants to make you stronger through this – Stronger? Like God’s taking my people away like a body builder adds weights? Grief doesn’t make you stronger or more impervious to pain. It tenderizes, breaks your heart and leaves it partly broken, it wounds and leaves you living but limping.  This brings you closer to God not closer to strength and independence.

4) Be strong, you’ll get through this just fine! – Again with the strong. Nose to the grindstone!  Grieve well, grieve hard and you’ll be fine by next Tuesday!  You know what I love about the Bible?  How it talks about our weaknesses as acceptable, as our best shot at falling in Love with a God who wants to sustain us moment to moment.

5) God never gives you more than you can handle (the most hated and discussed cliché) I still remember the first time I realized that this wasn’t in the bible. So many people think this is scripture, it’s not.  This is a twisting of 1 Corinthians 10:13 which says “he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” The context of this verse is a letter to the church of Corinth encouraging them to take a look at the history of the people of Israel to find a common thread for their own struggles. All this to say this verse was never, ever, ever written as a means to minimize loss or pain.  It’s not true.  We get more than we can handle all the time, in fact we were never intended to handle it in on our own in the first place.

6) Everything happens for a reason The more I live, the less black and white it all is.  I believe that God gives and takes away but I don’t understand what that looks like from God’s end of things. I’m too mature to believe that God is hands off with death, but I also believe that God grieves with us and that this is no trite thing.

7)  Well, you know he was “saved” right?  Whether or not someone is in heaven is comforting, but it never makes death easy. Death is a permanent tearing away and it hurts no. matter. what.  Paul (who had been to heaven at this point) described death as sorrow upon sorrow, wave upon wave of pain when we are torn apart from those we love with no other options.  Paul had seen heaven, and he still grieved death.  He’d been there and he still described losing people to it as repetitive, crashing pain.  

8)  All part of God’s plan We don’t understand God’s plan, at least I don’t. I know that there are two forces at work in the world right now and one of them is evil. It is never, ever, ever helpful to tell someone that the God they are clinging to is the one who inflicted their wounds for the greater good. It’s not good theology and it’s a terribly unhelpful at a funeral, I worry that those doing it are driving people away from the God they deeply need in the moment.

9) You shouldn’t be attached to the body, it’s just a shell, they’re not there anymore.  I’ve heard this one a lot, too much. It pissed me off every time. As humans we’re allowed to be attached to objects, homes, wedding rings, photos…. but when it comes to the bodies of our loved ones we’re supposed to be completely detached. The body is the way we saw the soul on this earth, we’re allowed to be a little attached. It’s hard to put those bodies in the ground and walk away.  Don’t forget this.

10) At least you’re young enough that you can have another child OR remarry  “Makes it sound like you can go to the store and get a new one to replace the one you’ve lost.”  Are any of the people in your life interchangeable?  Expendable?  Replaceable?  Then neither are other people’s. If we say that God creates us all unique and that all life is precious than grieving the loss of any life, no matter the gestation or age, is completely justified.

11) Well at least it was early in the pregnancy so you weren’t that attached.  I haven’t miscarried so I don’t pretend to understand that pain. But I do understand the pain of hope that doesn’t come to completion and I understand the heaviness of grieving “what didn’t happen.”  I understand that my parents were supposed to be grandparents and likewise those babies were supposed to be born full term, to nurse, babble, walk, graduate and fall in love.  Life is precious. We are attached.

12) It was just their time to go.  This reduces people to timers, there is no comfort in telling someone that their loved one’s clock ran out. Our lives play out in complex ways and the manner of death is sometimes so shocking that it’s nearly impossible to believe that when God planned this life, he planned this ending.  I’ve sat in front of caskets and wondered: “Is this really how it ends, God? When you sent a baby, did you know this was how it ended?”

Clichés are human attempts to make the hugeness of life and death easy to manage and understand.  This cannot be done, it hurts more than it helps.

The phrases are something that people who “don’t get it” say in attempt to make it all better, to put a magical bandaid on it and reduce the raw awkwardness. They usually come to us with good intentions

As a society we aren’t all that comfortable with pain in progress, we like a bow, we like a quick happy ending.  We need to get over that.

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