Unraveled Church

It feels strange to learn how to “do” church while your husband is in full time ministry. For some people it feels strange to “do” church at all and to others “doing church” feels like an old perfectly broken in baseball mitt.

For me it feels like I have the old cozy baseball mitt but my hand just hasn’t settled into those comfortable places yet.

“Doing” church is something I am still learning to do. And this is where God has me.

There was a time when I would try to settle into those comfy spots like a stepsister forcing her way into a glass slipper. Forcing my hand to make it touch every contour, nook, cranny and seam. I believed if I could just do it better or try to make it fit harder maybe then the doing of church would feel more comfortable.

And then there are times when I haven’t even felt like wearing the glove at all. I saw the glove and I knew my hand didn’t quite wear it well so I hid behind pride, behind shame and even behind the pointing the finger of blame.

The root of pride that I was just too different.

The trunk of shame from who I have been and what others have said about who I am.

And a branch of a pointing finger which bore the fruit of blaming others for a perfect glove which wasn’t quite snug enough.

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And now I realize, ten years into being one with someone who is called to lead God’s people in God’s church, that doing church or learning to do church is simply a process. It is a constant unraveling of  what you thought you knew from who God is calling you to be. Whether you have a brand new glove or your glove is cozy and your hand feels like it fits every cranny.

Everyone is in the process of learning how to love Jesus more and love their self less.

And God has me in the process of learning how to do church. A place where I know my hand isn’t quite settled into every cozy place and I am okay with that.

I don’t feel cozy in my glove when I sit in the front row on Easter Sunday and one of my handsomely dressed children is eating their boogers. My pride still has me finding my worth in how we look sitting there in the front row.

I don’t feel cozy in my glove when my husband doesn’t share a story just right from the pulpit and the expression on my face shows it. My perfectionist self reveals it’s rolling eyes and my wanting to control rears it’s ugly side.

I don’t feel cozy in my glove when we are adjusting to a service which is thirty minutes earlier and with four kids we seem to be walking into worship late and with wrinkly slacks almost every Sunday. The soil of acceptance and my need for others to see me as “shiny and freshly pressed” seeps into my pridefully drenched roots. Sometimes my heart finds it’s worth in freshly pressed pants.

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It is only when I can undo what I have already wound up tightly, unravel what I thought I knew from what is true and start with feeding the roots of myself with faith and belief… this is where I can find freedom.

Dependent roots grounded in the gospel of truth which remind me that yes, I am different, but I am also uniquely knit together and wonderfully made, called specifically to be in the front row with booger eating children for a purpose I don’t quite know the meaning of yet.

A trunk of fresh bark, firm and strong by the Word and His power which reminds me that in Christ, I am a new creation, the old is gone, the new has come and I am more accepted and loved in Christ than I could have ever dared to dream of.

And branches that don’t bear fruit of blame and pointing fingers at others when I don’t feel like I fit in but instead bear fruit of love and service because I realize unraveling this idea of doing church is not at all about me, or anyone else around me. When I pull back the threads of pride I can see clearly that church is about God and calling people from all different backgrounds to love and serve Him, no matter how well the glove fits, in the name of Jesus.

When I recognize that my biggest discomfort about fitting in and “doing” church well actually has mostly to do with my pride (myself) when I point that branch back at me, it is there when I can wear my glove more comfortably.

Even though I haven’t quite completely grow into it yet.

It is there, when I unravel what I thought I knew about doing church from my pride and unbelief that I can be comfortable with just being in process.

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It’s not about shoving like a stepsister. We all desperately want the glove to just fit better but instead we should be learning to be more comfortable in the places that don’t quite yet fit. This is where we find faith and belief. This is where we trust that God will grow us in the ways he needs us to grow, in His timing.

We are loved when our gloves don’t seem to fit, our kids eat boogers and we are running late with wrinkly pants.

I will grow into the coziness of the glove in God’s good and perfect timing. Being in process of doing anything is a good thing. God is good and He is at work, we need not shove. He is able to grow us into our gloves even without our shoving.

I am a pastor’s wife, learning to “do” church. I am in process and I am okay with that.

Unraveling Kindness

I never knew it but for a long time I never understood the real reason of why it was important to be kind to others.

I can remember being taught the saying “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” from Matthew 7:12 and I believed what this verse was communicating was that if you gave kindness to others, others will give kindness in return. We treat people as we want to be treated in hope of someone giving back kindness to us in return.

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I interpreted this teaching from the Bible as a young girl, just one verse, which is a good verse in itself but without proper teaching and my own ability to turn a verse into what I want it to mean, I led a life giving kindness and expecting kindness in return.

This way of living gave me many years of giving kindness and receiving disappointment.

Living a life giving out kindness and expecting kindness in return is not a great way to live. Everyone out there is fighting battles I can’t even begin to know about. People are lost, insecure, hurting, scared and jealous. All on their own levels. But everyone is fighting a some kind of battle in the same way I am fighting mine to put off the lostness, the insecurities, the hurts, the fears and learning to love yourself enough to not compare your life to the lives of others.

I have lived enough years now to know that giving kindness does not always return kindness. You can smile at that runner on your route every week and they may never smile back.

You can like someone’s photos on Facebook, wish them a Happy Birthday, take interest in their life and family and they may never take interest in you back. They may never wish you a Happy Birthday and they may even unfollow you.

And this is life. Living life is raw with real hurts to your heart and life lessons beneath the surface. It has taken me ten years of following Jesus to unravel my thoughts about kindness. Ten years of undoing the things I thought were true and letting God weave truth within me from His Word. What is true about kindness is we do not give kindness to receive kindness.

We give kindness to others only because God is kind.

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It has taken ten years of reading the Bible as an entire story and ten years to learn how to unravel what is untrue about kindness. To take that one good verse and place it in the midst of all the other verses that God speaks to us about kindness. To synthesize them all together under teachings from Sunday mornings and participation in Bible studies.

 

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Psalms 36:7 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.

Psalms 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.

Acts 20:35b – It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Galatians 6:9a – Let us not lose heart in doing good.

I John 3:19 – We love, because He first loved us.

Hebrews 13:1-2 – Let love of the brethren continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

James 3:17-18 – For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

It has taken me ten years to learn that giving kindness is not about receiving kindness in return. Kindness should be given to show others the love of God. I can only be responsible for my part and I cannot control how others respond to me. I do not know their battles. I can only know mine. And it is a fight for me to give kindness when kindness is not returned.

So that is my battle for now.

I will be kind because God is kind, giving kindness freely and expecting nothing in return. I believe this is where the root of true kindness begins. When we give and expect nothing in return. Just as God has given us Himself, in our messes, and He abundantly bestows his lovingkindness on us even when sometimes we are too blinded by ourselves to give him anything in return.

As Christians we have to get off the hamster wheel of giving kindness to receive kindness. We have to give kindness only because God is kind and expect nothing in return. It is there that we can find true kindness, without selfish ambition. It is there that we can have that runner not smile back every week and remember how long God has bestowed his lovingkindness on us and we have looked the other way and not smiled back in return.

We can only give kindness because God was kind to us first. Over and over again.

That is the truth and that is what I have been missing all these years.

We can only be kind because God is kind.

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Stick with me and follow this blog as I continue to write stories about what it is like to unravel and learn to be Christian in the front row at church. I am forever learning, growing and trusting that God has begun a good work in me and is bringing it to completion. 

Because A Mother Is Beautiful All By Herself

There was a time not too long ago when I didn’t want to have my picture taken. Sometimes I was the one taking the pictures but other times I just didn’t want to see myself photographed. I was unhappy with the way I looked and I did not want my children to remember the time when mommy’s hips were more rounded and her face was a little fuller.

Specifically I remember being at a baseball game and I was gathering my boys close for a picture of them with their rally caps on. A young guy in the row in front of us sweetly turned around and offered to take the photo for us. He immediately looked puzzled when I quickly declined and told him I wasn’t planning on seeing myself in pictures for at least ten more years.

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That was really true and there it was: Out of my mouth my heart spoke the words: I am not beautiful enough to be remembered for who I am, right now, just this way. 

I have heard this story before. My mom rarely wanted to be photographed while she was battling cancer while I was a child. I hear my grandmother tell me, she did not want you all to remember her that way. I love my mother and that was her wish but now here I am left without her and I barely have any pictures with her and me in them. I cannot think of more than five photos I have of her and me together from the age of five until she passed away when I was fourteen.

To me she was beautiful.

As a child, I didn’t see a bald woman or a woman with only one breast. I saw my mother. And a mother is beautiful all by herself.

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To my children, a mother is beautiful all by herself.

There will be a time when I am no longer here on this earth and my sweet children will be longing for memories of me. My children will not be concerned about my chin, my dark circles, or my roots that should have been touched up last week. My children will just want to see me. And them. They will want to hold something more tangible than a memory that puts me with them in that place at that time.

Our children don’t care how we look for the camera, because to them, a mother is beautiful all by herself.

You can see I have some unraveling to do when it comes to this whole idea of being beautiful. Just the way I am. Right now. In this time. In this place.

I will tell you I know what the Bible says about being beautiful. I will even tell you I have those verses memorized.  But even though I know what the Bible teaches on a cognitive level about beauty –  it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the attitude of my heart and my unwillingness to be photographed show a tangled up mess of belief and unbelief when it comes to my appearance. What I believe and what I actually do just don’t match up.

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As God has been faithful to work on my unbelieving heart I can see the places where I have the “beliefs of the world” tangled up in what is true about beauty from the passages of Scripture.

I’ve realized that to the people who matter, a mother is beautiful all by herself.

God speaks to beauty in His words to us in the Bible and according to Him our beauty has nothing to do with the amounts of hairs on our head, the clothes that we wear or what the scale is saying about us on any given day.

 

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3)

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on appearance. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful.” Song of Solomon 1:15

 

God’s words in the Bible do not say the same things the world is screaming to us about beauty. It is challenging to unravel the untruth from the truth. Mostly because as a mom, I am constantly surrounded by a world telling me to be thinner, to wear the latest trendiest boots, to be a hot mommy, to make sure my thighs aren’t touching. I could go on for days. Days.

God is telling us from His word that beauty comes from the blatant opposite or what our world tells us is beautiful.

Beauty comes from giving up of yourself. And chasing after Good.

Beauty does from bravely enduring hardship. Like my mother. She is a heroine and I just won’t stop saying that.

Beauty is a mother. Giving up herself. 

A mother is beautiful all by herself. A mother doesn’t need to hit that weight loss goal, make her hair the right color or wear the trendiest clothes. To God, your husband, you children, none of that matters. They want you in those photos. I know. And I am telling you.

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful.” Song of Solomon 1:15

Go and be photographed. Hang those photos on the wall and post them to Facebook. Because a mother is beautiful all by herself.

The Ugly Moments Of Parenting

I am not above ugly moments.

I do not believe any of us are.

I get angry. I even yell. I sometimes blame my kids for the times when I lose my temper.

There are ugly moments in parenting. There is yelling in parenting. Boundaries are pushed in parenting. It happens to everyone.

It is not the yelling that is the problem.

The world will tell you that. The world will tell you to live in peace in harmony. The world will tell you to shove your angry feelings aside and “understand your children” in a calm and patient way.

The problem isn’t anger or the yelling in parenting. The problem is us. As human beings we are wired to mess up. We are wired as humans to lose our cool. If you yell at your children you are in fact only human. Just like the rest of us. 

The solution is what happens after the anger and the yelling.

Just yesterday I was talking to my sweet kindergarten boy about girls and what girls are like. He told me, with his big brown, compassionate eyes, “girls like to tell us boys what to do.”

I mean. This is deep truth from my kindergarten boy. As a girl telling boys what to do all the time I know his words are true.

He went on to tell me about the times I tell him to pick up his toys and how I say if they are not picked up, whatever is left on the ground is being thrown in the trash. These are my ugly moments. The moments when I tell my children I will throw their toys in the trash, Toy Story’s worst nightmare coming alive in my own home, on my watch.

There is also a time when I told my sweet Asher boy that I would pop his balloon if he cried about it one more time. And I did. I popped it. With scissors. Right in front of his big beautiful blue eyes. I am not proud of this moment. This is another one of my ugly moments in parenting.

The dagger really went deep into my heart when that night, during our prayers to Jesus, he called me out during the confession time, “mom, aren’t you sorry for popping my balloon?” Right there in front of Jesus. Ugly, ugly moments.

Popping balloons and threatening to throw toys into the garbage. These are my ugly moments.

I believe as parents the power comes not from preventing the yelling or the threatening. I believe the power is in what we do after the ugliness has already happened.  

Some people will tell us just never to yell in the first place. But you know, I believe it shows our children much more character when we make a mistake, or show emotion, and then appropriately be responsible for our crap rather than to act comatose and all Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood about things. 

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Are we brave enough to show our kids we make mistakes?

Are we brave enough to show our kids the moments when we need forgiveness before the Lord?

Are we brave enough to say I’m sorry? Or I was wrong? 

Are we brave enough to live out a life of I’m sorrys and faith before them, right before their eyes, so they can experience first hand this so called power of the gospel we’ve been reading to them about from their Storybook Bibles?

Yes. I have ugly places.

Yes. I pop balloons like Gru from Despicable Me.

Yes. I threaten to put toys in trash bags and send them to the dump just like the ugly moments that haunt the very worst nightmares of Pixar’s Woody and Buzz.

But…

The thing about the ugly moments of parenting is always that there is a much more significant moment to show your children the gospel.

A much more beautiful moment follows the ugly one if you are brave enough to embrace it.

We are beautifully created people that find ourselves in ugly moments and we need a Savior to rescue us when we are angry, popping balloons like a villain and out of control. 

I believe that in gospel believing homes, it is more powerful to our kids when we yell and repent than to never have yelled in the first place.

There is power in the ugly moments of parenting when you tell your children, “Mommy was wrong and mommy needs Jesus just like you.”

Yes. I have ugly moments. I have ugly moments because I need a Savior.

I want to show my children my need in my ugly moments so later in life when they themselves are without me in this big world and they find that they themselves are in an ugly moment, they will remember a great Savior. A great Savior who wants to rescue them in their ugly moments.

Ugly moments are an opportunity to show our children great character because of a great Savior.

Show them how to respond in the ugly moments.

Be brave.

You are always LOVED, ACCEPTED and BEAUTIFUL to God. Even in those ugly moments.

They Can Hear You

We have kids. A few of them. Four to be exact and we had them all right in a row. Our three sons came first within three years of one another and then our daughter is our youngest. Our oldest will begin kindergarten in a few weeks which means for the last few months I have had the opportunity to take all four of my small children out into the world with me wherever I go.

If you have young kids, or have encountered anyone with young children, or even if you’ve read my blog before, you will not be surprised to hear the comments I have received when I venture out into the big world with my small family.

You have your hands full. 

Do you know what causes that to happen? 

Wow. Are they all yours?

Three boys, bless your heart.

You got your girl. (This is a new one.)

And recently my favorite, Wow, you are either crazy or very unlucky.

Now, I am not saying all of these comments are said with ill will or evil intent. Sometimes my four small children hanging off the Kroger shopping cart is quite a miraculous thing to see. Not everyone is out and about with all their children and I understand that when you see us you don’t know what to say. So one of the above comes out… (hopefully not the last one.)

For the last year I have processed these phrases I hear when I am out only thinking about how the words made me feel. It wasn’t until today that this has changed.

A kind man passed us by in the parking lot and said one of the above phrases. He was kind. He was applauding all my efforts. He was not intending evil but my four year old commented, “I heard that.”

He heard it.

For all these years it has slipped my mind that my children are hearing these phrases with their functioning ears and active minds.

They can hear the comments, see the looks and interpret the phrases. This has completely changed the way I think about hearing “you’ve got your hands full” when I am out in the world with my young family.

They can hear you. My kids can hear you.

What broke my heart in that moment was the sadness in my little one’s voice, “I heard that” was said with sorrow. He wanted me to know he can hear the words too. He is standing right there.

He is not a circus act. He is a person, a person created by the Most High God and perfectly placed in our young family at just the right time and that Most High God perfectly placed just the right amount of months…and days…and years in between all four of my young kids.

My children are not accessories in the stroller or shopping cart, they are people and they can hear you.

I began to imagine what it has been like for them to hear the uncomfortable phrases for all these years. Especially when someone calls me unlucky to have them or comments something implying that my boys were just unsuccessful attempts for my prize daughter. They probably have felt hurt, mistreated and unwanted when we are out in this big, big world.

I know my husband has his hands full with me but no one would say that aloud to him when I am standing right by his side. Any person would avoid saying, “is she yours?” It’s just bad manners.

Why in our culture have we deemed it acceptable to say things about children we would never say about adults?

My kids can hear what you are saying. I want you to know. You comment is ringing in their ears.

As a mom, I fight to teach my kids that they are important and loved by the Most High God. I fight to teach them they were brought into the world for a purpose, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I fight to teach them they are precious to me because they are precious to God. Their existence is not unimportant or invisible to God.

God sees my kids hanging off the cart. God always sees them and He knows my kids by their names. God sees them as important. God knows all four of my kids so intimately that He knows the numbers of hairs on each of their heads.

So if you know they can hear you and you know God does not think of them as a handful, or a curse, or an unsuccessful attempt to have a daughter does this change how you might respond to us when you see us in the aisles of your grocery store?

Knowing they can hear you changes the way I think about “this way we have learned to talk about children” in our culture that is just bad manners.

I would like to share some encouraging comments I have received in hopes that we can redress these awkward encounters with the truth about children. I hope we can fight to redress the awkward comments to reflect how God views having lots of young kids hanging off shopping carts.

Next time try one of these instead…

Look at all your beautiful children. 

The Lord has truly blessed you. 

I bet those boys love their little sister.

What nice boys and girls you have, I’m sure it’s not easy for them to tag along on errands with mom. 

Pslam 127:3-5 Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

They can hear you. I hope this might help you think about how you are talking about them.