Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Invitation To Church

Here's a look at the "Invite 2" video we used at PCC on Sunday. Big cheer to the folks at The Sound Tank, who created this clever poke at traditional thinking.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Trusting In Advance

With the benefit of hindsight, it's not difficult to admit that change is good. We do not become who we need to be without altered circumstances, in spite of the pain in the process. It's hard to believe until we are well past the gate, but change always has the potential to be good. It gives us the opportunity to be better, to grow, to lean forward and dig deeper. Once we're there, we can nod our heads at our own history, we can acknowledge the results.

But it's hard to believe, in the midst of the turmoil. My friend Lisa posted this quote by the Philip Yancey (author of one of the most transformative books I've read, The Jesus I Never Knew):

"I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse."


If you live in the paradigm of grace, change triggers growth, resulting in faith.

But it's hard to see.

There are so many around me who are enduring painful change in this season; difficult medical diagnoses, basic surgical procedures gone wrong, loss of jobs, imploding marriages, changing relationships that change the future. In the chaos of their circumstances, there is pain. It is difficult.

One person I know said, with no small amount of anger, "I don't want any canned Christian phrases. I can't even cope..." God bless you. I don't want any canned Christian phrases either.


I sat down to write this morning about the current season of change in my life; how my three daughters are all living somewhere other than this house this summer, and how my anxiety almost crippled me as I contemplated life without the swirling mass of female energy that has always defined our home life. Like a rushing wind, some weather event of joyful energy, my emotional energy has been fixated on my daughters. There have words - many, many words! - and questions and laughter and tears and let's not forget the massive amount of clothes everywhere. There's stuff of the practical, daily living, and matters of the heart, the way that big, broad personalities fill up all the empty space in the house. The way the dynamic of sisterhood brings intense conflict and incredible love. It is big, and it is busy, and loud and emotional. And it's all I've known, for almost two decades.

And now? Change. Quiet. Space. Vision. There's the general contemplation of what comes next for the girls, as each one prepares for college and work and new relationships and independent living - anxiety on a different level. But also, there are eyes to see (mine) the young men who have lived in the midst of the swirl, space to hear them and settle into silence and uncomplicated maleness. I have a sixteen-year old son. I have a thirteen-year old son. The shade of their sisters gone, they are in my field of vision now, and I am discovering the joy of a more complete and focused love for them, without distraction and unhindered by their role as, simply, The Boys.

I sat down to write about that sort of change this morning, to acknowledge that I have survived, it's not so bad, and that it has been surprisingly good. I have settled into something that makes sense, and I have discovered that I really, really like being the only female in a house of men; not only the ones who live here, but also the ones that tag along with them, crashing on the floor to eat ramen and drink Gatorade and sleep, arms and legs flailing, on the couch in the midst of it all.

I sat down to write about this good place I am easing into, and of the irony of a 12:17AM phone call last night, from a daughter who had a week's worth of words that needed room to roam.

Things have changed, and some of what is different still bruised and tender. I miss my girls. I pray for their safety and stave off worry and anxiety over their well-being. My maternal cloak of protection stayed home with me, and I leave them to their good sense and the watch care of God.

Change is painful, regardless of the circumstances and details. I have known the backbreaking pain of the big ticket items; illness and loss and death and divorce and sin and shame. The relatively minor (and somewhat natural) process of releasing my children to independent lives pales in comparison, but change is painful, no matter the details.


Yet the result is always the same, when you look back; the aching may remain, as Andrew Peterson says - but the breaking does not. The cracks are filled in.

Faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse.


Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.


Or, as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: 


The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It's our handle on what we can't see.


Struggling with current circumstances? I have no pithy phrases to alter your perspective.

But because you cannot see, the paradox of growth is put into motion.

And that's a good thing.



Friday, July 27, 2012

10,000 Reasons

"...if you wake up one morning and you cannot think of a reason to bring God some kind of offering of thanks or praise, then you can be sure there’s something wrong at your end of the pipeline, and not his" - Matt Redman

You're rich in love and you're slow to anger
Your name is great and your heart is kind
For all your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

We've come to love Matt Redman's "10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)" at our church. I know it's one of our worship team's favorite means of expression.

Here's a great look at the story behind the song, along with some specific explanation of some of the lyrics. Have a look, and use this to inspire your worship! Read Matt's words here. 

And here's a new version of the song.

What are some of your 10,000 reasons?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Just Enough, Just In Time

Finally started reading Jonah Lehrer's Imagine: How Creativity Works and I'm inspired. Fascinated, too.

After a compelling introduction, Lehrer tells a bit about Bob Dylan's early career and the circumstances leading up to the creation of Like A Rolling Stone. This was all new information to me, and very interesting. I won't rehash what Lehrer wrote (you should read this book!), but it did spark a little thinking in my own brain.

I'm a creative person; I love to write, I occasionally write music, I design services with a focus on flow and connectivity. I respond to creative things and I am creative in many aspects of my life and work. Plus I'm all up in my head all the time. My mind flows on a creative track; I see life as on ongoing narrative.

But there aren't often measurable results from this creative lifestyle. Mostly, it's just me, being me. I don't see the good outflow of being creative, but more the weirdness of me, being me. That's sometimes just weird.

The first chapter of Imagine prompted me to revisit my most recent burst of tangible creativity. Here's what happened:

Our teaching team at church prepared messages for a series called Close Encounters a few months in advance. We had manuscripts and plenty of time to think about how to frame a 25 minute message with elements that would enhance the point and offer a valid church experience. When I read John Tiller's message a few weeks ago, a particular phrase caught my ear. He talked about having "JEJIT" - originally coined by Mark Batterson - which means, Just Enough, Just In Time. 

Just Enough, Just In Time.

It rolled around in my brain. "We ought to write a song for that week," I told Lindsay. She agreed. And it started stewing....

About three weeks prior to his message, I sat at the piano on the Powhatan stage and played around a bit. "You give me just enough, just in time..." The phrase had a definite jazz feel to it, so I experimented with a basic blues framework; a B flat chord followed by an A flat seventh. I played a few bars, and just opened my mouth to see what would come out. Essentially, the chorus was already written, in my head. It pretty much came out the first time the way it ended at the end.

You give me just enough, just in time
All my needs you satisfy
And I've learned to trust you, because I know what you do
Every day, every way you supply all my needs
You give me just enough, just in time
You always come through for me

I sat my iPhone on a music stand and recorded myself singing and playing that much; then I messaged it to Lindsay.


I think I left for vacation or something shortly after that; it went dormant, and I didn't do anything with the song until I got two return videos from Lindsay, sitting at her piano, singing the chorus back to me with a couple of verses she'd added. The week before the service, I took her words on a piece of scrap paper and went back to the piano. I played it through, and then thought a bit. Tried again, and thought a bit more. After the third time, I realized something just didn't connect.

I took a walk. A friend was in the room working on a floral arrangement for a wedding; she said, "That sounded nice." I thanked her but grumbled, internally, frustrated.

I went to the bathroom, walked around the hallway a bit, then returned and tried again. I threw out a few lines, thought about the general concept, decided a little repetition wouldn't hurt and started rewriting lyrics.

I played what I wrote; then tweaked. Played again, tweaked again.

In twenty minutes, I had the song. I called Lindsay in and asked if it was okay; she liked it. We debated adding a bridge - tried it, and realized it felt like too much. I played it through one last time, we agreed it was done, and then I headed home to record a scratch track.

So, what? Big deal - who cares how we wrote the song?

Well, I learned a few things.

1) Creativity takes time. Gestation is our friend when we're trying to grow something new. Allowing John's message to roll around in my my head for a few weeks was incredibly helpful. I think my head had the right environment, the right pieces in place to assemble something that made sense and enhanced the point of the day.

2) Collaboration is awesome. Lindsay gave the verses a place to go; she put legs to the defining emotions. I was able to see the song from her perspective, which gave me a fresh approach. Also, her interpretation was brilliant; as I chose notes for the melody, I wrote for her voice rather than my own. That gave the song a different (for me) flavor.

3) It was relatively quick. From the time I initially sat at the piano, I probably only spent 45 minutes actually "writing" the song. It was, essentially, already written. My brain just needed to be uncorked.

4) Movement helps. A trip to the bathroom did wonders for getting verbally unstuck.

5) It wasn't earth-shattering, but it worked. I get hung up a lot because I don't want to write drivel. There are a gazillion songs out there. I don't write worship songs because all I hear are worship songs, all day long, and it seems like there's really nothing new to say with four chords, a pre-chorus and a bridge and an octave jump when it's time to build. I choke myself before I start because I feel I've got nothing new to say. But I do have something to say, and maybe if it works - whether it's earth-shattering or not - I should just say it.

Here's the song as Lindsay delivered it last week. You can certainly watch the entire service, but the song I've been writing about begins at 56:20.

Damaged Goods

ME: "I'm in a funk."


TONY: "Why? What's going on?"


ME: "blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahblahb....etc.....blah....whinewhinewhinewhine...blah"


TONY: "Ok. Do you feel better?"


ME: "No. But I went to work out yesterday, when I just wanted to go home and eat chips and ice cream and chocolate. I worked out instead."


TONY: "Ok. That's good."


ME: "And then I came home and had nachos for dinner. And then David asked for a milkshake and so I made him one, and I figured since I had the blender out, might as well make two at one time."


TONY: "So you had a milkshake, too?"


ME: "Uh...yes."


TONY: "Why would you eat chips and a milkshake after you went to work out?"


ME:  "WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHH"


TONY: "Are you still in a funk?"


ME:  "Yes."


TONY: "I think you are CHOOSING to be in a funk."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And then I stabbed him.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

No, not really. But I am in a funky place. Circumstances, questions, brain chemistry. I don't know. It is what it is. I had a tough day yesterday, one that included backing my car into a work truck in the church parking lot. No damage - at all - to the other guy, but a broken tail light and lovely scrape on my car.

I've been driving this car - an Audi, the nicest car I've ever had - for several years, since it was given to me as a gift (gentlemen, giving the girl a car with a big bow on it really works.) The second week I had it, I scraped the rear fender against a tree while trying to back out of someone's driveway. It was devastating; I hated to tell my husband. But I did, and he forgave me.

A few months ago, I scraped the other side of the rear fender while backing out of a driveway at a retreat house.

Last night, I backed into the afore-mentioned work truck.

Obviously, I have a backing problem. And it's a solo thing; I've not had any issues with other moving vehicles. Mostly, I just seem to bump into things. Trees, retaining walls, and yesterday, some sort of winch-thing that was attached to this work truck's rear bumper.

I bump into things, and the result is scratches and dents on this beautiful car, which was immaculate when given to me.


I should have been more careful, in every case. This car is the nicest thing I've ever owned. I'm mostly a cheap girl - I'll shop at Target before Macy's. Nordstroms? Ha. Never. (Okay, there was that one time, but that was underwear. And a long story.) I don't own nice things, really; mostly, it's stuff on sale from somewhere or something somebody gave me.

I have nice people in my life, and often they give me nice things; but I just don't have that much quality stuff. 


And yesterday, I thought to myself, "Well, duh. You can't take care of nice stuff. You keep running into things."

Then I got this wonderful text message: "...I love you way more than any car on the planet."

That's nice. And I know it's true.

But I find it depressing. I'm not sure why.

I suspect it has something to do with my pride. That's an ugly truth, but there it is. I can tool around town in my fancy car and imagine that I'm special. The outside hides whatever might be going on inside, because it's a pretty German car. Now, with various scrapes and dings and dents, the truth is leaking out; the car (like the driver) is just another messy thing, scraped and dinged and dented.

I put a lot of value on that beautiful car; it represented a gift, one that was above and beyond anything I'd ever been given. That car said (to me), "YOU ARE WORTH THIS."

And now it's killing me that I keep damaging it.

And it's messing with my soul that I think I've gotten way too attached to what I imagine that car said about me, in its perfect state.

Because if it used to say, "YOU ARE WORTH THIS" while in mint condition....what does it say now, when it's damaged goods?

Not sure I want to go there.

This spiritual formation stuff goes on and on and on...I know that I know that I know that I find my identity in other things, in the One who made me, in all the good things in my life. But there's always a place to slip, always a reminder that I'm not yet out of the woods, not yet fully enlightened, not yet what I am to be. And there's always some remnant of that 'stinking thinking' that my counselor called out several years ago. I think I've outgrown it, matured, moved along, and then BAM, there we go again.


And that, my friends, is life. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Moving On; Thinking About Aurora

We've heard the news; the information is being inhaled and regurgitated at an alarming rate on the news channels.

But there is much to process, much to contemplate and consider as we now live in a country where innocent people get shot in movie theaters.

Here are three excellent, insightful posts regarding the impact of Friday's horrific events in Aurora, CO. First, from a respected local pastor who dug deep for his message today. Sammy Williams writes about the shooter's "deep downward climb" into darkness, and what might have made for a different story. Read his short post here.

Sara Kelm says she "has no answers for the madness of the world" - but still, her post offers hope and encouragement and something beautiful. And cookies. Read her words here.

And finally, my pastor - currently away on sabbatical - wrapped his thoughts around a story that tore through my heart and, ultimately, challenged me in a profound way. Brian has a way with words. You can read them, here.

Blessings.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Do We Really Need These Weapons?

I was in a theater Thursday night / Friday morning, one of the thousands who saw "Dark Knight Rises" on its opening night.

We actually went to a marathon; for $25, we got all three Batman movies. And a small popcorn.

It was a great family fun night. I loved each movie (hadn't yet seen them!) and was very impressed by the whole experience.

Driving home at 3AM, I pondered the unique experience I had; sharing a theatre for nine hours with a crowd of people I didn't know (save Marc behind us and Lenny and Lindsay up front). We entered as strangers; we left as strangers, still; but with a shared experience that somehow united us.

It was fleeting, for sure; but there it was. I watched three brilliantly made movies, and I was moved emotionally, and I felt like I wasn't alone. It made me want to go see movies more often, like that weird commercial they play before the previews with the shrinking screen. Maybe it really is better together, this movie experience.

I went home satisfied, by the artistic experience, my reaction to it and the fact that I was part of a tribe of people who were willing to spend $25 and nine hours to see all three Batman movies.

And then I woke up Friday morning, and I saw a blurb on Facebook, and I thought, "What?", and all my satisfaction swirling down the drain in a peculiar mix of disgust and sorrow. My experience was tainted because some other tribe - somehow part of my tribe as humans simply watching a movie - these innocent folks were assaulted and destroyed. Even those who escaped with their lives now were destroyed, because how do you sit through something like that and ever be the same again? Some part of you has to wither, some part of your soul, the place where you do simple things and know you're safe, the place where anxiety stays under lock and key because it's just a movie, for God's sake, and everybody goes to the movies.

Everybody goes to school.

Everybody goes to college.

It troubles me, it disturbs me, and I know there's nothing we can do, the guy had issues, he was crazy, whatever.

But I can't help but wonder why the guy with issues was able to walk into a movie theater - everybody goes to the movies - with a semi-automatic weapon able to fire 100 rounds before he had to stop.


I've never stood on a soapbox to spout my position regarding gun control; I'm not about to do so now. I just want somebody to explain this to me. Somebody tell me why people in this country own semi-automatic weapons. 


I'm serious. Tell me, because I honestly don't know. What do you hunt with a weapon that has this kind of firepower?

Other than people?


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kelley Llewellyn - Guest Poster!

I invited two friends to guest post for me during my vacation week. Brandee shared a raw, honest story of faith. Today, Kelley Llewelleyn offers a bit of her own story and her unique perspective on faith.


What you'll read here is the first part of Kelley's journey. She's posted "the rest of the story" here; I know you'll want to continue to read.


I appreciate both of these women, who carry the light in our community through their words and deeds. They are good people; they see things, and they share things, and they make a difference.


Here's Kelley's story.

How Could I Not?

For a little over the last decade, I have repeatedly been asked the same question time and time again:

“How? How after all you have been through do you still have faith in God?”


Usually, I just smile and say the obligatory, “Oh I am so blessed!”, or the “I have so many wonderful people around me,”  and take comfort in knowing that the question itself are people’s way of saying they feel sympathy for you and know ‘it’ was tough.   And, although both of those statements are facts, I never truly answered the question.

The weight of WHY they are asking the question is always so unbearably heavy, that I always consciously choose to focus on the meaning behind why they are asking, then the actual why they would have such an inquiry.

Because before I can completely answer the question, I have to face that heaviness, boulder by boulder, in order to supply the background that has led to the recurrent question.

My childhood was good, in the sense that I never was hungry, unsheltered, or without the latest toy, but it left emotional scars that shattered my self-esteem.  My parents were divorced earlier than my memory recalls, and I lived with my mother in various apartments and rental homes.  I spent most weekends, holidays, and summer weeks at my paternal grandparents, which became my sanctuary even at a young age.  Sadly, I only saw my Dad when he would stop to see his parents on weekends and my mother worked a lot, so was consequently, absent or tired.  So, when it came to my parents, I either felt unwanted or in the way. 

My dad had remarried and my stepmother made it crystal clear that I was a leftover from a previous marriage. She was ashamed of me because of what I represented and because of the fact that I was overweight.  More than once, I heard the statement, “If you could be normal like your cousins,” insinuating that it was my fault that I didn’t get to see them more often.  Consequently, I was only welcomed into their home, twice yearly, and therefore, was permitted to see my two, new brothers very infrequently.  The worst part was, for a few years they lived across the street from my grandparents.  At 10 years old, I would be sitting on the porch with Grandma, knowing my Dad was right there, but not “allowed” to visit me.  It hurt. Deeply.  I loved being a big sister and I was being deprived the opportunity. 

My mother eventually remarried, too, and although my stepfather and I did not always get along very well, I was thrilled when they had a son and then a daughter.  I took the role, as sister, very seriously and my reward was a heart was filled to the brim, daily, because of sharing my life with them.  Our family was happy and home life was good, most of the time.

Then, when I was twelve years old, my mother’s mother died of a heart attack. 

From that very moment, my childhood ended, emotionally.  My mother still provided for me and I never went hungry for food or lacked shelter, but her own mother’s death opened a Pandora’s Box to my mother’s past and consequently, emotional destruction.  The impact on our family was dark and grave.  My mom was sucked into a tornado of depression, and to this day, has never been the same.  My stepfather, my mother, my two new siblings at 1 and 3, and I quickly re-located from Pennsylvania to Virginia in the hopes that a new surrounding would allow my mother a discharge from her history and loss.  Unfortunately, that did not ease her internal ache, and I spent the next four years riding the roller coaster of loving someone with bi-polar depression.  The confusion felt to a teenager when they watch their mother cook dinner and laugh one night and then throw bowls at your stepfather and lock herself in her bedroom the next cannot be explained.  I spent the majority of my time at home between keeping the house from being revolting and entertaining my brother and sister, so that as to not “upset” my mother.  There are nights I would lay in bed and pray to God to save her.   I would tip toe down the steps to peek on the couch and pray I wasn’t going to find that she had taken her own life, as she had threatened. 

Eventually, at 17, I could take no more, and I succumbed to the invitation to live with my father, stepmother, and two younger brothers back in Pennsylvania.  It was a horrible departure and it was the first of the many, many times that my mother would impose the “silent treatment” punishment and not speak to me, nor allow me to speak to my brother or sister.

That part was hard and involved deep guilt, because I felt I had forsaken my young siblings.  But, I tried to focus on what I hoped was going to be it: a new start.  After all this time, my dad and his family wanted me! I was going to be part of a “normal” family, like my friends.  But that normalcy was short-lived.  Once the novelty wore off to my stepmother, life at my new home became just as difficult and assiduous.  My younger brothers were clingy, which I loved, but this caused major complications as I attempted to live my teenage life, and that began to irritate and anger my stepmom.  I was asked to get a job where I could work every day after school, so that I could be away from home as much as possible. Also, regardless of losing over 50 pounds and getting in shape,  I was still that constant reminder that my father had a life before her and that fact, added with some of her own health issues, caused her to need a “break” from me.  It was like I was living in another bad dream.

Within several months, I left and went to live at the one place where I always felt accepted, loved, wanted: Grandma and Grandpap Deep’s house.

The next several years were filled with college, marriage, moving to and fro Virginia, again, for employment, and finding my niche in life with my new husband. The relationships with my four parents and siblings continued to be rocky and haphazard, but I had found a very happy place amongst my husband’s parents and entire extended family.  Ryan and I had Austin five years later, when I was 26, and we’re living like every, other poor, young couple in America…Add my constant struggle with my diagnosed depression.  The dark, cloud of sadness was ever present, and I spent an abundance of emotional energy just facing the daily tasks of life. 

I was struggling to embrace the joy of my son’s childhood, when I still had so many unresolved issues from my own.  The fear of repeating my parent’s mistakes and hurting my son usually motivated me to hide the pain and smile through life. The problem with having this sweet child, that I loved so very much, is that it opened my heart and years of hidden feelings began to escape.  Consequently, I felt unloved, undeserved, and weak.

But, I was in therapy, attempting medication, and feeling good about my work towards leaving the past in the past.  I was married to my best friend, had a healthy baby boy, a supportive family of in-laws and was finally looking forward to the future with promise.

Little did I know, life was about to take twists and turns that even the greatest storyteller alive could not have written.

Within in one year, my infant son was hospitalized for meningitis, my father died at 57 from diabetes complications, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, my mother-in-law, whom I was very close with, died of cancer at 59, and my husband of over six years left me.  For a man. 

My life and emotional health took a long, eddying descent over this gruesome season of my life.
 I remember asking over and over and over again, “Why did you pick me to do this to?”  “Why?”

Even though I was usually asking my ex-husband-to-be this, I know I screamed it at God more than a few times, too…  Why did all of this have to happen to me?  Why can’t I get a break from the heartache?  The anguish, sadness, and depression were quite literally eating me alive.

Within two months of my separation, I re-relocated back to Virginia to escape this man and his family, who had all become my family.  The anguish was exceedingly horrific, and although leaving was painful, staying would have been torturous.  I had to remove myself in order to survive for my son and for myself.

Thankfully, I did get a teaching job in Richmond and was eventually, living in an apartment with my young son.  But regret and the constant voice in my head screaming at me for the failure as a wife and parent caused me to make some terrible choices with my life.  Within six months of being ‘legally’ divorced, I was remarried.  It was awful from the start; but somehow, my self-esteem thought this was the best this ‘damaged goods woman’ deserved.  He was abusive and could not decide if his “lifestyle” could tolerate young children, including my son and his own daughter.  Eventually, after a very brief marriage (which included the arrival of our beautiful daughter and a horrific pattern of reconciliation attempts) we finally divorced.  I “luckily” was able to obtain my own mortgage and subsequently, was living with my two children and my $1500 mortgage.

Phew.  Are you exhausted yet? 

Because, I was.

I was 31 years old and had a plethora of life-crippling challenges, which deserved to be labeled as boulders, thrown at me.  And every day I carried them with me, hidden under the smiles of the regular duties required to be a full-time teacher and single mom. 

Thankfully, it is during this time that I knew began to fall in love with my God and define faith.  I had always believed in Him and knew who Jesus was.  I had heard the sweet sound of my grandma praying out to Jesus, in hope and thanksgiving, more times than I could count. And…when I was 13, I prayed and asked Him to forgive me and live within forever.  But, as I began my life, again, I became a part of new community, a new church, and found a new relationship with Him.  God became a spirit that I had a daily relationship with and whom I began to feverishly serve.  Consequently, my heart began to overflow with so much love and appreciation for what I did have.

I had healthy children.  I had a job.  I had a roof over their heads, even if we did live paycheck to almost paycheck.  I had a great co-workers that were like family.  I had an incredible church to grow in.  I had incredible neighbors.  I had a plethora of amazing friends, therefore, having a strong support system.  I continued to share life with my grandparents and the incredible family tree they both gave me.  I had a best friend, whom I shared life with, including some wonderful vacations.  Daily I was able to look over these blessings and my faith was strengthened, time and time again.  The depression still reared its ugly head, but I fought back most days with the confidence that He was with me and a recollection of that list of blessings.

Now…If this were the common soap opera, then this is where I, the lead character, would fake cry and say, ‘And that is how I know my faith got me through. I just held on until all my problems were taken away.  I met my knight in shining armor and we rode off into the sunset and lived happily ever after.”

But, life, of course, does not usually work that neatly. 

Mine is no exception.

Four years ago, I did meet “the man of my dreams”, who I had a pretty good hunch was going to be the husband I longed for and the father figure my children so wanted and needed.  And he was. 
But the “happy” part was disrupted three months, before he asked me to be his wife, when my entire existence was deleted like I had never known before.

While attending a leadership conference with my church, we attended a local restaurant for lunch.  During this meal, over a dozen of us obtained a food poisoning, known as camphylobacter jejuni.  The suffering evoked upon our bodies from this contamination was beyond belief.  It was like having the worst flu you ever had, times ten

Week by week, I lay suffering and watched, as each person on the list got better.  But after three entire months, I was still getting sicker and sicker and sicker.  Imagine having the flu, the WORST FLU EVER, for three months!  I tried to continue teaching, to no avail.  Eventually, I had a feeding tube placed in my stomach and was hooked to a machine that pumped nutrition into my body as I lie in bed.  I had to take half of the year off completely and consequently crumbled financially.  I lost my house to foreclosure and my credit was demolished.  My, now husband, then fiancĂ©, took my children and I in, covering us financially.  And although a blessing, I was judged harshly by some in my community.  I even had someone tell me I had nerve coming to church, since you could smell the sin on me.  My parents and siblings, eventually renounced their parts on our lives for one reason or another, and I was so incredibly sick, that the darkness threatened to eat me up once and for all.

The depression had now developed into full blown anxiety attacks and the guilt began to consume me.  I knew that all the life I was missing out was not only hurting me, but was letting so many others down.  The least of which, being my own two children.  I missed out on most of Chloe’s kindergarten experience and Austin’s year that he was in my class.  I had to halt my church duties, and my teaching abilities were impaired, as well.  I lost precious time I cherished with my best friend, and I missed many life celebrations, like weddings, showers, and parties.  My immediate family was zero support and had betrayed me to degrees that I cannot even speak of on paper.  After suffering for over nine months, the tube was removed and I began to face the daunting task of rebuilding my life.  Once again. 

And this leads me to my life today.  I am 39 years old.  I am married to Brian, my incredibly, loving husband, and have two beautiful, healthy children, Austin and Chloe.  I continue to teach 5th grade and participate in my community and church fellowships.  Each month my health seems to improve and I even attended an out-of-state mission trip with my son, last month.  I will most likely need medication indefinitely, for the destruction the poison did to my body is permanent.  Yet, there is physical relief and I am slowly adding some of my favorite things back into my living.  I have zero contact with any of my three living parents, nor my four siblings.  Although sorrowful about this, I am proud of my need to put my own family first.  My husband and I have had three miscarriages in the last year.  I feel sorrowful about those losses and the fact that I am unable to give my husband his own child.  However, I relish in his repeated words, “I choose you,” and his constant reminder that I did give him two children already.

This is my story.

In order for me to answer the question that so many have asked me, I first had to tell the reason, or should I say, reasons, why it is asked in the first place. 

I have truly contemplated, prayed, antagonized, and deliberated over the answer to how I could continue to have faith. And I continually to come up with the same four, simple words:

“How could I not?”

Read the rest of Kelley's story here.


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Parenting, Ongoing

ALL the kids, including Nelson and my niece and nephew.
 I'm beginning to think I'm in the midst of a huge empty nest/mid-life crisis. When my kids are all together, I am so content. When they're not, I know something's not quite right, but I don't ever put my finger on it...until they're all together again. Then, the fullness of my heart points out what was empty before. We are so much better together. And yet, life moves on; my goal was to raise them to become independent people, and the girls are doing just that. The boys are well on their way.

I've got a few more years with the boys at home, and plenty more occasions for reunions.

Lord, let me soak in the joy of your blessings and live out of gratitude for the privilege of being a parent. Let me be mindful of the relative ease of my life. Let me continue to grow in this NEW parenting role, even as I mourn the loss of the "good ol' days". Let me lean forward into all that is to come.

I am SO grateful for ALL of my family, the touchstone that allows me to experience and appreciate the passing of time. Sigh. Glad to be in a place of beauty - both in what I see around me and what I treasure in my heart.

Amen.

Look Back: My Mom Was Proud Of Me

I'm away on vacation this week. My blog is almost five years old; I thought I'd celebrate by sharing a few older posts that mean a lot to me! Hope you find this interesting, or informative, or at least worth a three-minute coffee break.                  




  July 13, 2008











So this was me, this morning. Out of my comfort zone.

But what a ride!

I was really nervous last night - I practiced, a lot. Playing piano comes to me as naturally as breathing - but playing guitar is a different story.

It was a challenging morning for a LOT of reasons; folks called in sick, we split to two bands running simultaneously, we had a relatively inexperienced band and ran out of time to rehearse them. We had to cut a song. The song I planned to lead on guitar had a video in it after the first chorus and we had some tech issues to resolve with that to ensure that it would work. It was the closing piece and closely tied to the message, and it really needed to work.

When 9:30 comes, all that's left to do is pray and have a good time worshiping God. That's what we did. And He always comes through, with power.

It was very cool, being up front with the guitar. While I was very stressed about my fingers hitting the right spots (which usually isn't an issue on keys), I was so comfortable standing with the band and able to move around a bit. It was very cool!

This was a personal goal of mine for the year, and I'm really happy that I pushed through the fear and accomplished it. Woo hoo!

Two other parts to the day that were actually even better:


Sarah led worship today with us. She is such an amazing talent, so focused already at such a young age. I see so much of myself in her, and yet I believe that she is miles ahead of me in so many ways - her faith, her family connections, the compulsion she has to create art and music. Last night she babysat for our friends the Gordons, and when she got home around midnight, she headed straight for the guitar. She played and worked on a song for two hours before she finally went to bed.

I am so proud of her, and it's one of the greatest joys of my life when we are able to lead together.



My mom and dad came to the second service; I told them Sarah was leading, and they didn't have Sunday School at their home church, so they stopped by. I'm always happy to see them. They know so many people at our church and it feels very homey to them.

When the service ended and I finished the Melissa Etheridge tune with a reminder that we would pray for everyone there this week, that they would ask God to show them how and where they needed to move, to change, to shake up - because God loves all of us too much to let us stay where we are - Mom came up to the front. I figured she was just saying goodbye, but in the midst of rolling cables and tearing down our stuff, she grabbed me and hugged me. "That was so powerful, that song," she said. "I am so proud of you."

I am so proud of you.
So, I did my job today, I conquered a personal challenge, we worshiped God, we presented a powerful message, my daughter sang. But you know what I really took home from the day?

My mom is proud of me.

I pray that I'll never forget what a powerful gift we give others when we let them know we're proud, we care, we love them. I pray I'll always remember to be that kind of mom.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Brandee Shafer - Guest Poster!

While I'm away, two of my favorite people agreed to write guest posts for grace, every day. Both are excellent writers that I have the good fortune to know in real life. While I only seem to enjoy time and extended conversation with Brandee Shafer in the Kroger parking lot, once she brought me cookies after knee surgery. I follow her on FB, read her most excellent blog (which you can find here) and look for more opportunities to bond over frozen peas. Or cookies. She is one of the best real people I know.

And she makes great cookies.

Officially, Brandee Shafer is an English instructor turned SAHM to the 3.5 children for whom she records her life and thoughts, through blogging. She, her husband Jim, and their children live in a log cabin in Powhatan, Virginia, where she writes, teaches Sunday school, and tries, daily, to diminish toppling piles of dishes and laundry. You can read more of her words here; I would encourage you to read her blog and bookmark it for return visits. She's awesome, and she inspires me.


Thanks, Brandee.


 When Only God Can Fix It 

 I have not been easy to love, lately.

There's this ongoing issue between God and me. When I say ongoing, I mean for many years, and, when I say issue, I mean something I've been begging God to fix from the outset. He hasn't, obviously, although--every so often--He throws me just enough of a bone to keep my thin, pale flicker of hope alive.

It seems I can roll with God so long as my ongoing issue is my only one; however, when life deals additional blows, I flounder. It could be worse, I guess, because I haven't stopped believing in God or even in an eventual victory. Then again, have you have ever lived with vertigo? Because I submit humbly: sometimes falling feels better than walking with an absence of balance.

I've learned, recently: the church doesn't so much know what to do with someone like me. Please understand, I'm referring to the church at large, not any particular center of worship. Please understand, also, I count myself part of the church and guilty as charged.

 In fact, I'm probably more guilty than most, because I almost always walk away from people who make me tired. 

I think back, and how many times have I walked away from someone I couldn't seem to help: someone whose problems God didn't seem inclined to fix within a "reasonable" time frame? How many times have I offered a hug, a prayer, and/or a hot meal and hightailed it? How many times have I slung a few of God's promises at someone, invited her to Sunday school to hear more, and gotten the heck out of dodge? (And I wonder why my class is small.)

How many times have I missed an opportunity to shine the love of Christ into the life of someone who feels abandoned (and rightfully so)? Forgive me, Father. Forgive me, friends; I couldn't see it until I became reeling and unsteady, myself. 

Moving forward (in as straight a line as possible), I'm going to avoid:
  • "God has a plan," also, "There's a reason for everything." Because--even though I believe those things, if I don't know what the plan and reason are--I find those promises frustrating. 
  • "Are you ok?" Because I've always prided myself on being wide open. If you have to ask, no, I'm not. 
  • "You're letting the devil steal your joy." Awesome. Now, on top of all my other problems, I'm in the process of being robbed. And if the very fruits of the Spirit are being stolen from me, am I even a Christian? 
  • "Everything will be ok because it was ok for me." Great. I'm happy for you. When will everything be ok for me? We're talking about me, remember?  
Hold me accountable, Folks. If I slip up, remind me, and I'll write these things up my arm in Sharpie.

Please hear me; I'm not trying to discourage anyone. We've all said the things above, and with pure hearts and perfect intentions! But I've learned the hard way what helps most, and it's: I love you. I'm here for you. I love you. I'm here for you. I love you. I'm here for you. IloveyouI'mhereforyou. Repeat. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Look Back: Porn Is Bad

I'm away on vacation this week. While I'm gone, I thought I'd take a look back. I've been blogging for five years now; I've covered a lot of ground. I hope you'll find these older posts informative, or interesting, to say the least.

May 3, 2009
Today's service - on porn - was particularly meaningful to me. 

I was exposed to porn as a child.  It had a profound affect on me. It really messed with my self-image. To this day, I'm impacted by the thought that I'm supposed to look/act/be like those earliest images. It's been a real struggle at times.  

I can safely say that I'm through the worst of that, but it's been a challenge to my confidence and view of myself as a beloved daughter of God.  I'm not going into the details here, but I would like to say this:


Seriously, I think the impact on the person who is using is devastating - but the greater risk is to those around you who might be exposed.  I'm speaking, specifically, about the kids around you who might stumble upon your books or magazines or web pages or dvds or cable channels.  And don't kid yourself.  It'll happen.

This is a hot button issue for me, so I'm going to get on my soap box. I'm not often dogmatic about right and wrong, but on this issue, it's black and white as far as I'm concerned.  Let me share just a bit about what I know porn can do to a young person.

Pornography creates a secret.  Dysfunction begins with secrets.  Secrets bind anxiety.  One of the greatest ways to screw up a family - whether it's you, a single dad with kids; or you, a single mom with kids; or you, big brother or sister; or you, grandpa; or you, a cool aunt; or you, with your roommates:  no matter who you are, when you invite porn into your life, you crack the door open to influence all the people who are part of your life.  It's a huge risk.

Pornography violates innocence.  For my part, I learned how to define myself, my body image, my idea of beauty through porn.  I've fought that battle all my life.  Others are going through the same struggles.  Are you willing to wreck the natural development of a kid just to feed your lust?  

Pornograhpy warps natural sexual devlopment
. Early discoveries of sexual images define and shape one's understanding of their sexuality.  This post is not an appropriate place for that sort of detailed discussion, but use some common sense.  Here's an easy example:  How many girls see a Victoria's Secret ad - on tv or in print - and don't walk away thinking that's the definition of a desireable, sexy woman?  And how many boys see that and expect that to be how a woman should look and act?  Take that road a bit further and think about what expectations boys and girls have regarding their intimate lives after being influenced by porn.

Porn is bad.  Don't do it.

I never forgot what I'd seen and read.  It stayed with me into my adult life.  After I got serious about my relationship with God, I was actively involved in a church and committed to following Christ - but I grew to believe that there was a huge blackness in me where this sin lived. I felt, literally, as though the inner part of my heart was black. I was "okay" in every other way, but I had this filthy thing burned into me that was my cross to bear, my sin, my thorn, a part of me that would never be gone. I felt different than everybody else. I felt as though I could never say anything to anybody. I never told anyone.  The secret of porn had burned into my soul.

Through an amazing turn of events, God opened some doors for me to come clean and to live in freedom.  There is no blackness in me, no condemnation, no darkness.  There is only grace. Those images are gone.  The slate's been wiped clean.  But it took some intentional steps and a willingness - even a desperation - to be free.  

If you want to hear the details of how God led me through this mess, let me know.

If you have any issue at all with pornography, do something about it.  

And if you need somebody to talk to, I'll listen.

And yes, just for the record - I DO think Victoria's Secret ads qualify as porn.

Cats Can't Open The Door And Other Life Lessons

"Once they're all out of diapers, we'll save a ton of money."

"Once they're all in school, I can relax."

"Once they start graduating, things will slow down."

The job of child-rearing brings with it some obvious milestones and markers. They grow up; that's the point.

I once told somebody that kids were better than cats because eventually, the kids learned how to open the door and walk out by themselves. A cat? Never gonna happen.

They do grow up; and in all my days, I have clung to imaginary markers along that journey. In the chaos of life with four kids under five, when we were buried in Pampers and Barbies and endless, important demands of time and energy and love and patience, I couldn't even imagine a day when they would all be self-sufficient. 

Couldn't imagine it, but I longed for it. I envisioned a different life for myself, one that allowed time to breathe and space to move and a reclamation of the solo self that I was Before I Had Kids.

The day David - my youngest -  started school, I made note. It was incredible, to think that they were that far along; that we'd made it to this milestone intact and relatively healthy. There was some serious freedom there that did not go unnoticed - just in the moments of solitude and the absence of needy children.

Then they started graduation, one by one, and now there are three of them out the door and living in other places.

They grow up; that's the point.

But I am unmoored, suddenly. Drifting a bit. They learned how to open the door and walk out by themselves, and they did, and now it's just me. And the cat. I longed for this day, to reclaim myself, but I had no idea how much I would change. And now there's not much to reclaim, because like the kids, that other person sort of up and walked out the door on her own. She left behind a body that's been around the block and a truck-load of wisdom, but that girl? Gone. 

So reclamation is out the window, and re-imagining is the name of the game. It's just me, and I get to remake myself!

But it's not just me. It's me, and my husband, and two boys that have yet to set out, plus a bonus boy that seems to need what we have to offer. It is a set of circumstances, just like life 22 years ago, that requires my imagination, my creativity, my work, my effort, my commitment.

Me.

I've given up on clinging to what will be. Instead, I have learned to focus on what is.

Frankly, I miss those diaper days, the play-do and the Barbies and the unbridled, unbroken three-year old joy. I miss the mess. I miss the swirling chaos. I miss it all, and I have a strong sense of regret, in that I didn't appreciate what surrounded me while it was there.

I was too focused on what happened next.

Love where you're at today. Be in that moment. Reach out to touch, to heal, to love what is around you - whether it is children or friends or family or simply the place and time where you are.

What happens next might surprise you.

EDIT: For the record, my mother-in-law's cat CAN open doors. Which, frankly, is kind of creepy. So it's a metaphor, okay? 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Still..In The Middle

On a whim (and a recommendation from Rachel Held Evans), I picked up Still: Notes On A Mid-faith Crisis by Lauren Winner. A big fan of her style (Girls Meets God; Mudhouse Sabbath), I expected Still to be a nice diversion for vacation reading.

I picked it up first this morning, out of the stack of twelve (yes, twelve) books I brought with me to the beach. I took it with me and read while keeping a nervous eye on the kids and my brother in the hungry, tumultuous surf. I dragged it to the pool. I propped it on my chest and read until I dozed on the couch before dinner.

I just put it down, arriving at the final page in a wry wonder at the subtle love of God.

See, I feel so much in the middle these days. Middle age. Middle of kids leaving home. Middle of my career. Middle of physical changes. Middle of spiritual questions.

This book was full of things like this:

"My friend Ruth's mother once told her, 'Every ten years you have to remake everything.' Reshape yourself. Reorient yourself. Remake everything."

Remake everything.

"It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail...I am not a saint. I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God."

Excellent start to my vacation. Good book, the kind I'd like to purchase and reread every year.

Most interesting: the book ends with a lengthy quote from a Richard Rohr book, Falling Upward. Earlier today, an acquaintance on Facebook responded a blog post I'd written with a beautiful, hopeful Richard Rohr quote.

Serendipity, your first name is familiar to me.

I'm in the market for a Richard Rohr book, too.

And Still by Lauren Winner? Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bipolar Disease: Why We Cry, Why We Rejoice

I'm on vacation this week. I may blog some, but in case I am more interested in my family, Abelard the wooden statue and a good game of dominoes, I've set up a few things to run here in my absence. Look forward to a few guest posts, as well as a couple interesting (at least to me!) posts from the past five years.


First is what was probably the most difficult - and most freeing - bit of public writing I've ever done. It's fairly recent, but it's incredibly important.

My daughter's bipolar. Here's where we cracked that nut open.

April 15, 2012

I’m house cleaning. Music pours through the empty halls and off the walls as I wait for three of my five kids to make the 45-minute trip from their dad’s house back home. I’m in the kitchen, and I can hear the shuffle of the melodies from the living room.

Eminem - Tenth Avenue North - Susan Graham - Michael Roe - U2 - Willie Nelson - A.R. Rahman - Andrew Bird - Dave Matthews - Jay Z - Lecrae - Hillsong - Sting -

I’m unsure about so many things these days, including what kind of music I want. So I put it on shuffle. It works brilliantly. There's a little bit of everything - a LOT of everything!

I think, to myself, “This music....it’s like I’m schizophrenic or something...” and I imagine me saying that to someone, because I do that, sometimes, when I’ve spent a few too many hours alone.

And I pull up short in that moment. It's that word, schizophrenia. Because I have learned, recently, that comparing the challenges of a mental illness like schizophrenia to the razzle-dazzle of an eclectic music collection meets a wide range of criteria for wrong.

There is no comparison. Bad analogy.

I’m not schizophrenic. I just have diverse taste in music. I don’t have a mental illness.

But my daughter does.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

There it is. I said it. The truth is out.

And oh, the roaring rush of wind that blows through mind as I even type those words...it is loud and it is fast and it blows where it will. And I can’t control it.

So I am giving up control. I have decided (with her permission) to let it go.

It seems, at times, that we live in two separate worlds. It’s not the biggest secret; there are many who will read these words and acknowledge what was confided months ago. Coming out is no surprise to all.

But we have lived in this other place, where we read blogs about bipolar and pass around a book called Loving Someone Who Is Bipolar and we talk about and pray for friends who are exhibiting symptoms that we recognize so well. We talk about our extended family, and those who have gone before, some undiagnosed, and what cousins are struggling still. We see the scarred branches of our particular family tree and have learned to find new names for what we once simply called moody. Or over the top. Or intense. Or hyper.

And we live in this place where we are all just a bit sensitive to the mania and the depression and the way the tendrils of either one can wrap around our legs and throw us on our collective asses.

Bipolar disease has changed our family dramatically, because we live here, now.

Sarah was diagnosed just a few weeks after her 19th birthday. Calling it what it was - naming this thing that was bouncing off the walls and scratching itself bloody on our backsides - led to a decision (hers, mostly) to walk into St. Mary’s psych ward here in Richmond. Reliving those moments as I watched my child - my baby girl! my daughter! my beautiful child! - walk through doors locked to keep me out as much as to keep her in brings hot, tense tears even now.

Of all the things that life has brought; of the many mistakes I have made, the pain I have caused, the injuries I have inflicted, the wounds I have felt, nothing - absolutely nothing - compares of the utter agony of a suffering child.

My suffering child.

And me, rendered completely incapable of helping her. In fact, quite the opposite, as therapy and hot dialogue reveal that the initial triggers all connect to me, somehow. Those tight, tense strings of maternal love and affection can also carry deadly, destructive disease.

I am her mother. I bring healing, and I bring pain.

There is a special place for this sort of motherhood. I’ve yet to determine any analogy, any comparison. I know this: that there is a depth to my soul untouched and likely unreachable by anything but the fiery coals that sear this tainted love, the kind that rages within the boundaries of mania and weeps with the despair of depression. Only this particular, unforgettable fire burns this deep. None other that I have felt.

I love my daughter. She is bipolar. And we will never be the same.


~~~~~~~~~~~

Sarah is incredibly wise and proactive and continues to embrace - even to own her life, in a full and vibrant way. The challenges of living with mental illness are greater for her, the affected individual, than any of the rest of us; but Sarah has a unique, God-given ability to consider others around her. Perhaps it’s because she is the eldest, the “big sister”. Years of looking out for everybody else created habits and patterns of bold love and heartfelt kindness. It's a beautiful thing.

Today, she sent a note to me and to her sisters, quoting a book she is reading. It was the trigger to finally tug these words out from beyond the walls of our house and into the light.

So, now you know. And I wonder if some of you read this post and were surprised.

It's everywhere. There are people and families all around us who live with bipolar and other mental illness. The spectrum of treatment and life engagement varies wildly. You never know.

In opening the door to our situation, we hope to offer an invitation toward healing for other families who are living with bipolar disease or other mental illness. And we want to help eliminate the stigma. Everyone around you is carrying some sort of burden. Some of them struggle with mental illness. Don’t forget that.

Here’s the quote Sarah sent us, how she is helping her siblings walk this road:

The effects of mental illness on brothers and sisters
Mental illness can lead to a variety of emotional effects for brothers and sisters of the affected person. For example, they may feel:
Confusion about their sibling’s changed behaviour.
Embarrassment about being in the affected person’s company.
Jealous of their parent’s attention.
Resentment about not being like their peers.
Fear of developing the mental illness.
What brothers and sisters can and can’t do
What you can do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can:
Talk honestly about your feelings and encourage others in the family to do the same.
Be active in improving mental health services - for example, through local mental health support groups.
Avoid making the ill person the axis around which the family revolves.
Maintain your focus on living and enjoying your own life.
What you can’t do
If your sibling has a mental illness, you can’t:
Be totally responsible for their welfare.
Make your sibling behave in a certain way - for example, force them to take their medication.
Solve all their problems or feel you ought to.
Lessen the impact of the illness by pretending that it is not there.

And this is the back story, then, to the tremendous emotion behind that post I wrote. You see, leaving home and taking this step towards her future was something that she wasn't sure she'd ever really be able to do. That's why we cried; that's why we rejoice.

You never know.




Friday, July 6, 2012

Processing Puerto Rico

I've been processing.

A week in Puerto Rico on a mission trip brings a lot to the surface. The obvious: living in a tightly scheduled environment with little sleep, unusual (for First World Folks) conditions, daily physical labor, "church" every night, living as a foreigner in a country that is not quite "foreign" - but one in which most things SEEM foreign due to the culture and the language.

The not-so-obvious: my own personal baggage, which made this trip a head-spinning, crazy-making journey.

The back story: I was raised as a church-going person. My family faithfully attended and participated in the activities of the Methodist church, first in our small hometown in western Pennsylvania, and then later in Grand Prairie, Texas. I knew church; I did church. I understood religion.

But I missed the point.

I went away to college, essentially left the church, and navigated my early 20's with no thought whatsoever to the notion that faith had any impact on my life. I was raised right, and I'm thankful for that, but when someone pressed me on what my faith actually meant, I came up blank.

I sought wise counsel and had a hard conversation. I'm grateful that somebody pushed me hard enough to make me mad and cause me to push back; because in that moment I realized that figuring out my own philosophy of life wasn't working so well. It wasn't flashy or sensational, but I surrendered, I gave up control to the degree I understood, and I gave in to God.

I returned to the Dominican Republic and simply read my Bible, tried to talk with like-minded people, and continued to struggle with my own stubborn desires and notions of what I needed and wanted out of life. It was a slow process, but the junk began to peel away, and when I moved back to Texas, one of the first things I wanted to do was find a church. A tribe. A community.

In the small town of Tolar, Texas, I had four choices: Methodist (been there/done that/no, thanks) (and that was THEN; today, I love the Methodist church and feel very much at home there, thank you very much), Church of Christ (no pianos? Right...sorry, but no), Assembly of God (whoa. Just a bit too much at that point in my life. No can do.) and Baptist. As in the Southern kind.

That's where I landed, offering my piano-playing skills and an eager heart. I was baptized at that church, soaking up the teaching, gleaning all I could about community and right Christian living and embracing life as a new creation.

The people were kind and good. They meant well. They loved God.

But the message I received during the subsequent decade I spent in SBC churches resulted in a peculiar understanding of the world I lived in, and what it meant to be a Christian. It informed how I read and understood scripture. It influenced major life decisions. All that is as it should be...

But there was something lacking.

The message I received encouraged me to "forget what was behind" - literally - and move forward into life as a Good Christian Girl. This involved catch phrases, a list of what to say (and what NOT to say), prescriptions for what was not appropriate for a Good Christian Girl (secular music, for instance) and what was (Christian music, of course). I traded in my James Taylor and Joni Mitchell for Stephen Curtis Chapman and Al Denson. I gave up jazz and John Irving for Thomas Kinkade and cheesy Baptist Book Store fiction. I traded my authentic life for something that fit the mold, and I was willing to rewrite the entire work. Regardless of who I was, I believed it would be best - and right - to be somebody else.

I tried. I hid the messiest part of me, swept away ALL of the old - even the stuff that I thought was okay, like being the salutatorian of my high school, being an accomplished pianist, etc. - and tried to embrace the new, sanitized version of My Life. I ignored the niggling thought that I had some issues that ought to be worked through and simply trusted Jesus to make all things new, as long as I turned away from all that came before.

I felt tugged to study at seminary, which would have been great except that I wasn't interested in being a director of Christian Education. I wanted to study what the boys were studying, and challenge my intellect and learn Greek and Hebrew. In my church environment, that was sweet and all, but discouraged. Strongly. Regardless of my aptitude, my passion, what I sensed as a calling, it was written off as a naive, newfound infatuation with Jesus.

Much better to marry somebody who was headed to seminary, because with skills like mine (I could PLAY that piano and make every hymn sound like glory!), I'd be a great fit as a wife for a pastor!

I wanted to please this new tribe, I wanted to do things right, I wanted to fit in, I wanted to be loved. I wanted to atone for my sins. And the message I got was that along with the atonement of Jesus, we all needed to toe the line in terms of right living.

I wanted to live right.

I remember hearing, from the pulpit, that most Methodists were not saved; that they were probably going to hell. I tried to witness to my faithful mother and father, to ensure that they had prayed a prayer of salvation and were going to heaven. I offended them. They told me so. I expressed sorrow that they hadn't been baptized. They were offended.

They loved me anyway.

I heard from the pulpit that Catholics certainly weren't going to heaven, what with all the Mary-worship. Mormons were sinful and in need of true salvation. Presbyterians and Lutherans were liberals, worthy of eternal damnation.

In the midst of what was overt and spoken was the ever-present list of rules and regulations, the sense of order that would preserve my right living and unblemished life. Don't drink. Don't cuss. Don't let the kids watch Harry Potter. Don't observe Halloween. Don't watch certain movies. Don't vote Democrat. Don't watch soap operas. Don't say "darn it", or any other euphemism for curse words. 

Don't appear smarter than the men in the room.

Don't lean into your leadership gifts.

Don't tell the truth about your past.

I bought it. I lived it. I had five babies, quickly. I received much affirmation for choosing to stay at home and raise my kids, to support my spouse as he worked on his undergrad and then seminary degree. I focused on the kids, I played the piano like crazy, I learned how to submit and obey to the male authorities in the church. It was an odd sort of dance; at times, I felt like we all knew it was a game we were playing...but we played it well.

But I couldn't keep up. I'm human; I'm messy. I have faults, I have sinful inclinations, I am tempted. And the message I received was that the messiness was a vestige of the past, it was the "old man", it was to be ignored. I tried. I did every good Christian thing I could do. I sang with gusto, I prayed, I did ladies' Bible studies, I was at church every time the doors were open.

I tried.

I failed.

Rather than seek help for the things that troubled me, I chose to bury what looked like failure. I prayed it through. I tried to give it up to God.

I tried.

I failed.

A good counselor later helped me find some language that allowed some sense to be made of what I felt was inexcusable behavior. After breaking my marriage vows and finding myself stripped bare of all pretense that I was a Good Christian Girl, I agonized over how I could have done such things. How I could have fallen so far. How I could have been so weak. How a good Christian girl could flame out with such wickedness.

My counselor said that the messy stuff, when it's just stuffed down further and further, leaks out somehow. Always. At our core, we are human. Through grace, we are God's; but we are human. My religious indoctrination encouraged me to ignore that and to strive for some unrealistic ideal - something that was far from human, but certainly clean and pretty.

I leaked, I made a mess, I was broken. It was then that I realized what it could mean to receive grace, to be redeemed, to need salvation.  Was I "saved" prior to that? I think I was; but I accepted a cheap, man-made salvation.

I needed the messy kind.

Grace found me and became very real in the community of believers at a non-denominational Bible church. The list of rules and regulations was gone; they drank wine! They occasionally cussed! They were friends with Catholics, respectful of their tradition and faith! They leaned hard into the grace of Jesus, into the context of scripture, into intellectual challenges - things I had not heard much about other than in sound bites.

It is not that I believe there is more value in relaxed social constriction; but these things are indicative, to me, of the freedom from religion I found, which, in turn, led to an amazing and full understanding of God as my creator and Jesus as my savior. I believed, for the first time, that all of me was welcomed into the community and into the grace of God. All of me received grace. It was miraculous.

My next spiritual community welcomed me, branded a sinner, now living as a divorced, single mom. The grace I experience here was defining and life-changing; for the first time, the leadership gifts I had utilized in my teens and in my teaching career were also welcome in the church. (Ironic side note: while in Fort Worth, the pastoral staff of a church there was invited to take a series of personality tests. I was included, as a spouse. My spiritual gifts indicated leadership as my highest calling. When I shared this with the church leaders, I received a gentle smirk and a metaphorical pat on the head. Perhaps I could lead a ladies' Bible study?)

For the past six years, I have served God through the church here in Powhatan in leadership. I have preached, from the platform, in the main services. I have been ordained. I have seen the fruition of my desire to follow Jesus bloom in the context of a community that welcomes my services. I, who have publicly failed God, sinned against him and his community, gotten divorced and remarried, remaining female throughout - with all of that baggage, I have been invited to the table completely, to serve, to lead, to pastor, to give my life to the cause of Christ.

I am content and fulfilled. I feel as if I have taken the long road to accepting God's call to serve Him. I believe that He has taken every misstep and caused it to work for His good. I am called.

That's my story, and it's all well and good in the context of my community. Our church lets folks know up front that they support women in leadership, which is not "normal" for Baptist churches. We don't seek to argue or cause tension, it's just where we are; if someone is uncomfortable with that, we respect their beliefs and encourage them to seek a place that might be a better fit. I am comfortable here.

At World Changers, I was not comfortable. At the work site, we were on equal footing - the females and the males had equivalent roles. Other than obvious areas where a guy's strength or height gave him an advantage, we worked alongside one another as equal brothers and sisters.

But in conversation, in connecting with others, there was tension. I felt as if I treaded dangerous waters. Discussing what we did "back home" with other adult leaders, I had to carefully gauge how I thought I might be received if I told the truth. My co-leader was a pastor from a South Carolina church; they felt that they were not typically Southern Baptist.

Well, neither are we! Maybe there would be some common ground!

When pressed, I heard that they were more Calvinistic that most SCB churches; in fact, they were quite fond of Mark Driscoll and were adherents of his teaching.

That's the kiss of death for a woman like me, ordained and in Christian leadership.

I didn't fit.

And, based on my past experiences as being part of that exclusive tribe in years past, not only did I not fit - I was an outcast. I was wrong.

All week long, I felt shame. There was never - not once - any overt rudeness directed my way. My co-worker and, in fact, every person there, was nice and kind and helpful and polite. But underneath it all, I knew - I just knew - that I didn't belong. That I had chosen wrongly in their eyes. That somehow, I was illegitimate. I made a lot of assumptions, to be sure; but the subtle message in casual conversation, in the preaching, in the encouragement offered to others - it was there. At one point, I complemented my co-worker with a jubilant, "Way to go, man! You did it! You are GOOD!" Quickly, he responded, "Oh, no. Only GOD is good."

Not a big deal. I agree; God IS good. We are sinners! But I felt corrected, chided, rebuked, put down, shamed....

....put in my place.

I could not find my place, all week. Too much of a sinner for the Southern Baptists, unable to be authentic with my own community. I was lost. It was gut-wrenching and it was painful.

By Thursday evening, I found my thoughts wandering. Again, all based on assumptions and the power of the subtle cultural influences all around me - nothing overt. But it was so pervasive; during worship, a thought wound its way into my brain. "What if they're right? What if you are wrong? What if your presence in your church perverts the will of God? What if you are bringing shame to His name? What if you are interfering with what God wants to do at your church? What if you are a stumbling block? What if He is turning His face away from the people who are striving to know him because of YOU?"

I was wrecked.

I am thankful that my pastor was on this trip; he knows enough of my history that he needs no back story. I found him and began to pour out my fear, my stress, my shame, my confusion. He actually said very little - but what he said years ago during communion spoke loudest to me, as God brought it back to my memory.

"You are not who you used to be."

I am not. I am a new creature. And if I am wrong, if my sinful, divorced, female self is an abomination to God, then there is no place for me - because I don't fit the old pattern, either. There is no room for me in that culture.

There's not much they could do but stone me. There seem to be no other options.

I choose Jesus. I lay my wretchedness at his feet. I give up. I know I am broken, weak, weary, torn, sinful. I know I need him. I know I will fail again.

I know he loves his children. I know that his grace redeems. I need Jesus.

I will live here. Unwelcome in those other cultures, undeserving and wrong. I will live in that tension and offer as much grace as has been given me, as much as possible. I want to honor God with my life. I want to be open to correction. I want to always believe that I might be wrong. I want to always err on the side of grace.

For myself, as well as for others.