Tag Archives: church

from the dust

I love the last day of the year.

New Year’s Eve has always been one of my favorite days. Because it feels like one last chance to breathe deep before the canvas is drenched in white again. One last chance to sit in the quiet with myself, contemplating all the remarkable possibilities that are held inside the walls of a new thing.

This year, the inhale of possibility and the exhale of a year feels more like relief than it has in many years. So much so that I’m starting my own quiet festivities early. Husband and puppy tucked into bed, I take to the kitchen to make some vegetable soup. Because chopping vegetables feels a little like liturgy, and God knows 2014 has needed more than its fair share of that. So I stand at the stove, and I chop, and I breathe in the smells of things that have risen from the ground, that have been brought up from the dust, and sometimes everything I need to know is in a pot of vegetable soup.

God’s best things are the things raised from the dust. The things that have been buried. The things that have been made into something new, the things brought low and destroyed in the process.

This year has been so very hard. Is it okay to say that? I hope so, because it has been.

Hear me when I tell you that I don’t say that for pity. I don’t say it to open up a public forum for me to air my personal grievances with life

I say it because I know, to the depths of my soul, that I’m not the only one.

I’m not the only one burying dreams.

I’m not the only one desperate for the clean oxygen of a fresh start.

I’m not the only one thinking, “Is it okay to say this year has been REALLY damn hard?”

I’m not the only one who needs a pot of vegetable soup and a reminder.

A reminder that God’s best things are the things raised from the dust.

You have not been left buried, dear one.

You’re being raised from the dust.

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terrifying and true

31 days of WTHKW

There are days when I hold words close to my chest. Because words are wild and powerful, and sometimes I just have to wield them quietly, carefully, reverently. As though they’re capable of most anything.

And they are. Don’t ever underestimate the way that words are capable of most anything.

These past couple of days, words feel like that. I keep writing them, but in the way that I always write the things that feel most sacred. On paper, with my own hand, in the quiet of the morning. Sometimes I think that’s the space my best words were created for. I don’t kill my darlings. I don’t have the heart. But I shelter them, and I hold them close to my chest.

And sometimes I don’t know why.

On my better days, I believe it’s because I’m aware. Aware of myself, aware of my tendency to need people to approve, to need feedback on my own soul in order to feel validated. Aware of how easy it is for me to put myself out there to people and let those people affirm me, rather than God Himself.

Some days I think I hold my dearest thoughts in private places because for once in my life, I want to express my own thoughts without worrying about what anyone things about them.

And on my not-so-much-better days, I believe it’s because I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of myself sometimes.

I said it last week, out loud for the first time, that sometimes one of my major disconnects with the church these days is that sometimes when I speak about things that actually matter to me, one of the most common reactions I get is something that closely resembles fear. Is it okay to say that? Sometimes I worry that people, particularly good God-fearing church people, are a little bit afraid of me. That I’m just too much. I have All of the Big Thoughts and All of the Big Feelings and my brain wades into All of the Grey Areas. Literally nothing is off limits to my questions.

And sometimes I think that’s terrifying to people. I know beyond the shadow of any doubt that it’s terrifying to me. And so I find myself holding on to those parts of me.

The parts of me that I would define as the most difficult…but also the parts of me that I would define, without hesitation, as the most lovely. The most genuine. The most true.

The most me.

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under the sky

Sometimes, church is pipe tobacco and a shared bottle of wine.

In moments like that, the Texas sky seems exactly as big as all the old country songs claim, freckled with stars and nearly swallowing the moon with all its navy blue.

I didn’t know that first night, months ago, how immediately they would be our people. You know the ones. The people you sit around the dinner table with, laughing and talking, and a split second later, you look up to find that hours have passed and it’s tomorrow already and you instinctively know that this conversation has only just begun.

The night ends and months go by, because life is busy and there are jobs and kids and soccer practice and piano lessons and all of the things, but eventually you’re gathered around that same dinner table and it just feels like you never left.

So you take it outside, under the sky, because all the best things should always happen under the sky, and conversation like that is the best thing. Honesty like that is the best thing. Laughter like that is the best thing. Hope like that is the best thing.

In those moments, with the voices and and the stories and the sky and the same pipe tobacco Tolkien loved and the red wine, I feel it in my chest again. Church. I believe in it. I always have, but some days it comes easier than others. Some days it’s a picture I can see clearly, and some days the picture looks like nothing, clouded as it is by my own imperfect vision.

I sat out there, stars blinking and wind blowing my hair, and I wondered if this was what it felt like in the beginning. If this was why Jesus felt so strongly about gathering with people around a table. If maybe, when Jesus talked about the church, he was talking about this. This lack of pretense, this lack of politics, this lack of a business model, this lack of programs, this lack of agendas, this lack of cultural success. This presence. This presence of real, messy, disastrous, beautiful human beings who just want to know Jesus and do things the way he did, love people the way he did. Even when that feels impossible, wrapped as we are in humanity so frail it’s been known to shatter.

I want that. I want so much more of that. All of the fibers of my being strain toward it. Toward Jesus. Toward his people. Toward church, for the first time in so very, very long.

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because she belongs to me

Plz dont hate me. Plz, plz dont hate me.

I think I already knew what she was going to say, and my heart fractured on two faultlines. On the words that hadn’t quite yet fallen of her mouth yet, and on this sweet heart that, in fourteen short years, had already come to know that love far too often comes with strings attached, with terms and conditions and expected behaviors.

I promised her with all the honesty in all of the fibers of my being that literally nothing she could say would make me hate her, or even make me love her the tiniest bit less. And then I waited out the silence.

I might be pregnant. He didnt use a condom and he didnt pull out. He told me he would but he didnt.

And there just aren’t words in the English language sufficient for the kind of prayers you desperately long to whisper in a moment like that. A moment like that is why Paul wrote about a God who prays prayers for us, who utters groanings too deep for words.

God Almighty, these are groanings too deep for words.

And she cried and I cried and she spilled the fear that her mama would kick her out of the house. That she, with her dead daddy and addicted mama, couldn’t raise a kid on her own. That she was alone and damaged and broken beyond repair and that she didn’t even have anyone to take her to the clinic one time for an abortion, let alone to the doctor for nine months straight. No adult support system, no job, no car, no childcare. No life to offer a baby.

I am a capable wordsmith, and I have all of the feelings and none of the language for this one. All of the feelings and none of the language for that moment when I’m fully prepared to get in my car, close the distance between me and the child who just grew up in an instance, press my fair-skinned cheek to her dark-skinned forehead, and tell her “You will never raise your baby alone, because I. Am. Here. You will know darkness and hurt and regret and fear, but you will not for one second know those things alone. I will drive you to your appointments, I will hold your hand in labor, I will make space in my house, I will walk the floor with your kid while your head is bent over your calculus homework at midnight. Joshua will teach your kid how to ride a bike, and if it’s a girl, you’d best believe he will make sure every boy her age within a 50 mile radius knows his name and that he takes full advantage of his constitutional right to bear arms. He will walk her down the aisle after he’s spent years teaching her by example how a man treats a woman. We will walk with you through this. You, my precious love, are not alone. Now or ever.”

This is my story. This is my fire. This is my conviction, that I am here to bind up the brokenhearted. To actually, in real life, hold their broken pieces together. To literally, practically patch up their wounds and pursue healing with them, alongside them.

Can you imagine? I think about this all the time, about what the world would be like if the church stopped being known for its attempts to legislate morality and started being known for all the times she’s shown up on the doorstep, ready to do whatever messy work needs to be done. What if we actually started living as though we belong to each other? Because genuinely, I believe we do. Despite all the voices telling me that this sweet baby girl isn’t my responsibility.

Because isn’t she?

I cannot for the life of me shaking the feeling that it’s the only way. I want to, I want to shake that feeling. I am a messy ball of humanity, and it is my first inclination to orient my life around my own stuff, my own preferences, my own life, my own comfort.

But does that mean it’s the way of Jesus? Has it ever been the way of Jesus to just leave us where we are and hope from a distance that we can pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and fix the mess we’re in? I can’t rationalize holding that philsophy in one hand and the theology of the cross in the other.

What if we make it our responsibility to live like we belong to each other? What if we pray first and foremost for a fire in our veins, for a love that doesn’t allow us to see any other road but showing up for each other, messy and imperfect but with open hands?

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soul check [1]

Some days I know who I am and where I am and what I feel. Some days, life gives me the space to breathe and contemplate and think my thoughts all the way through, from beginning to end. Sometimes, I need sentence starters, things like I feel, I love, I remember. Sometimes I need practical ways to think my thoughts, and today is that day. Today is soul check day for me. Join me?

I feel like myself today. That isn’t always the case, particularly at work.

I crave wide open blocks of time during which there’s nothing urgent to be done, nothing with a deadline or expectation attached to it.

I love laughing with my students. I really, really love laughing with them.

I’m afraid of death, and the way it changes the living. I’m afraid of the grief process, of myself and the people I love coming out on the other side as completely different human beings, who have to learn how to love-in-action-in-real-time each other all over again.

I’m discovering that my best creative thinking happens at around 7:30 in the morning, usually during or after my commute. That feels a little inconvenient.

I’m bothered by the fact that sometimes it feels apparent that we’re more attached to the idea of quantifiable and correct theology than we are to the fragile hearts of the human beings with whom we disagree.

I’m encouraged by the fact that there are sixteen school days left before summer, and today, that doesn’t feel like much at all. It doesn’t feel overwhelming.

I’m remembering that all is grace, even the things that don’t feel like it. Maybe especially those things.

I’m listening to All Sons and Daughters on repeat these days.

I’m reading Emily’s latest blog, and reminding myself that it’s okay to just sit and be. That sometimes, that’s genuinely the best and most important thing we can do, even if it’s not the most urgent.

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because you can give life without giving birth

Hey, love.

Come on over. I’m curled up in a king-sized bed, with a tiny puppy who loves to snuggle, and there’s plenty of space for you. I have coffee. Granted, I’ve never actually MADE a cup of coffee in my life, so it’s from the coffee shop and I only have one cup, but I’m great at sharing.

Today is hard. It really is. I skipped church because, honestly, it’s easier to spend my morning grocery shopping and cooking and snuggling with my little furball than it is to go today. Because in a church full of families, my love and I are literally the only ones in the married-no-kids stage of life. And it’s not for lack of desire, or lack of trying. Three solid years of desire and trying, and nothing. We’ve been in the infertility category for two years now, and it weighs heavy on Mother’s Day. And I just can’t do it today. I can’t make myself go.

Is this an okay place for complete honesty? I started my period yesterday, and it sucks. It doesn’t always suck. Some months, it comes and goes without much fanfare or feeling, but this is not that month. This is the other kind of month, the one that finds me sitting in the floor of my shower on a Saturday night, sobbing and swearing and hurt and angry. And I’m a lucky lady, with a gentle and kind husband who meets me there, on the floor of the shower, and holds me while I cry. I don’t take for granted the abundance of my blessings.

But I can’t go to church today.

And I guess what I want to say is that it’s okay if you can’t either. You can come here, and curl up with me in my cozy bed, and I will hold your hand and we will have church over coffee and conversation.

And I will tell you something important. And it won’t fix anything. It won’t make the grief process easy. It won’t always make you feel better when you’re in a crowded room of mothers being asked to stand and be celebrated. But it’s true, and it’s a healing thread in a heart that feels like it’s breaking month after month after month.

You may never give birth. But giving birth isn’t a prerequisite to giving life. Your body might never stitch together a human being inside its dark corners, but you were BORN to create. To stitch together. To mend. To nurture. To raise up. To restore. To give life to people and things and places.

I’m learning, and the learning is oh-so-slow and oh-so-painful, but I’m learning that I am here to stitch together, into being, things that are not yet. Sometimes those broken things are fragmented thoughts that I stitch together into words, into music. Sometimes those broken things are people’s hearts, that I’m here to stitch together with love and compassion and grace.

And maybe some day, I’ll stitch together a person.

And maybe you will too.

But even if we don’t, we’re here for a reason, and we should do something about it. It’s easier together, so I want to hold your hand and cheer you on while you’re doing your thing. And I want you to hold my hand and cheer me on while I’m doing mine. Sometimes I might need you to push me, and remind me that my thing is beautiful and necessary and life-giving. And I’ll try to do the same for you.

Your thing is beautiful and necessary and life-giving. Even if it’s not motherhood, it’s beautiful and necessary and life-giving and you’ve just got to keep doing it.

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because i don’t know where i fit as a woman

Here’s the truth:

I am a woman, and I don’t know where I fit in the context of the church and ministry.

I have spent most of my life, not all but most, in fairly-to-very conservative evangelical churches. This is the dominant frame of reference I have to work with. And while my adult life has given me plenty of opportunities to see faith in new ways, wrestling through those kinds of big questions has not been a quick or easy process.

So this whole struggle is coming from a person who still identifies, in part, as a conservative evangelical. At 29 years old, I am a mutt when it comes to faith, but that world is my mama and her DNA is written into my genetic code. I don’t always agree with her, and I often wonder if I got switched with someone else at birth, but still. She’s my mama, and her words are heavy in my ears.

It’s a really easy thing to get mixed messages about where that limb of the Church places women, as far as leadership goes. For men, it feels very open-handed: whatever God calls you to do, do that. For women, it feels like there are a whole lot of conflicting distinctions as to what callings are acceptable, what leadership roles are okay for us.

Women can teach, but only other women and children. Women can teach mixed-gender groups, but only when a male co-teacher is present and active in the scenario. Women can write books and Bible studies, and men can read those books and Bible studies and learn from the women who wrote them, but her physical, real-life, verbal delivery of the exact same material isn’t okay. Women can teach mixed-gender groups in Bible studies, but not on Sundays and not from the pulpit, because that’s preaching, not teaching. Women cannot be pastors, under any circumstance. Women can go overseas and preach the gospel to anyone they come in contact with, but on American soil, it’s a different story.

See what I mean?

There are many parts of me that wrestle with this, and not from a place of wanting power or control or even to be perceived as “equal” to men. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about women who struggle with the role of women in the church. While I know for sure that there are women who desire power and control, I can tell you from a very personal place that it’s not the case for all of us.

For some of us, Jesus is just All of the Big Things and we have All of the Big Feelings about him and we are literally ACHING to share it from every possible platform. With our words and with our actions and with our love. With everyone. Women, men, children, friends, strangers. And it feels so awkward and weird and hard that there seem to be so many limitations about how we can share all that stuff, and with whom. It is a truly disorienting disconnect. Like we’re exactly what we’re supposed to be, we’re truly mad about this man who flipped the entire world upside down with the biggest of all Loves. And at the same time, we’re not what we’re supposed to be because we don’t know how to manage it within the boundaries we’ve been told are acceptable. We’re not what we’re supposed to be because we’re not 100% sure that we buy into the boundaries at all. We’re not what we’re supposed to be because we want our voice and our Jesus-story to matter, to be heard. Because we believe someone else, maybe even a man, needs to hear it. Because we believe that we were made (as women) in God’s image, and we see His heart in a uniquely feminine way that’s real and true and valuable. Because we don’t know how to see God’s image in its entirety until we see it from all angles.

And I know this isn’t the case for all women. There are these astonishingly beautiful women in my life, women who are wives and mothers and lead women’s ministries and children’s church and support their husbands in their ministries, and they are absolutely stunning pictures of God’s image. They are in their niche, doing exactly what they were created to do, even when it’s not easy. Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not in any way think that women who fit easily into that profile are women who love Jesus any less than I do. Not for a second. They are some of the most inspiring, generous, courageous, passionate people I know and they are changing the world by being exactly who they are. They’re warriors. And I know that they are fighting battles of their own, insecurities of their own. Feeling like their gifts are insignificant or wrong or don’t matter much.

And that, I understand completely. Anytime we compare our gifts or callings to those of another, it can feel very much like we don’t belong. For women who don’t fit seamlessly into the shape of wife, mother, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, it can feel as though we’re prideful and selfish and engaged in a power struggle that’s really just indicative of our own sinful desires. When genuinely, even in our worst moments, at the bottom of our hearts, this is the issue: We. Freaking. Love. Jesus. He has messed us up, and put us together, and he is creating and recreating us. And we suck at boundaries, and we feel like if there’s one place they shouldn’t even exist, it should be in our love for and sharing of Jesus.

So what about you? Are there any places in your life where your passions and loves mean that you don’t really know where you fit?

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