Sunday Observation

I believe in the Holy universal church.

“I live a much more Christian lifestyle than those supposed Christians who meet at that church down the road.”

This sentence has been rolling around in my brain all weekend. I can’t seem to shake it. It was the beginning of a listening session that I was able to be on the receiving end of. The hurting woman told me about the horrible bitterness she had encountered at the church she was talking about (luckily it wasn’t the church I am pastoring), she told me that she didn’t have much respect for Christians, or for church politicking (me either).  She rounded off by telling me that she would never understand why people would waste the time going to church. And finally she looked at me and asked what I was doing in New Zealand. I kind of chuckled and told her I had come over for work, and I half hoped she wouldn’t ask what sort of work I was doing.

She did ask, and I then got to tell her about how I was so serious about being a Christian I had become a professional one. Just kidding. But really I told her that I was working at a church in the area. I told her that we believe that things like shame and guilt and hatred and pain don’t have to stick with you for your whole life and that we believe there is healing from that. But at this point in the conversation I could have told her she had won the lottery and she wouldn’t have heard me. She had checked out of the conversation.

So I find myself wondering about church today as I preached the sermon, and as we prayed the prayers, and as I listened to my wife lead us in singing on her ukulele, and as we recited the creeds, and as our small congregation gathered for tea and bickies afterward.

It is of course trendy right now to say that the church is not the building, but rather it is the people inside who make up the church. I can’t help but wonder if this sentence has lost its meaning to many people. What does it mean to be the church anyway? What does the church do? Why the church? The church has always been, and I believe always will be known for her habitus; our embodied disposition. Those things that we do. When we love our God and our neighbor in actuality it is love that we become known for. Maybe try giving a listening ear or a hug if it is welcome.  However if we simply meet together as a social club that is sometimes full of bitterness and church politics each week then chances are good we will become known for that disposition. If we gather and talk about all the things that Christians don’t do, then we will become known for that. If we gather and don’t talk, or don’t listen, or don’t celebrate, then I think you get the idea.

Maybe you’ve asked the same: “Why church?” It is a legitimate question. One that doesn’t always have an easy answer but I think novelist Flannery O’Connor speaks to it,

“I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed”

Sometimes, when a person in my congregation will come to me and tell me they are frustrated and tired and about ready to give up on God, I won’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say a lot of the time, and I don’t know why frustrating, and horrible and hurtful things happen. I don’t know the answers to these things, but I do know how to hug, and I try my best to listen, and I try to be the body of Christ.

Maybe you’ve decided that you don’t need the church, and maybe you’re right. But I think its only because the church you’ve encountered isn’t the church that God has envisioned for God’s people. 

Maybe you are hurting today, and frustrated, and ready to give up. If this is you, please know you’re not alone. Please let me (or someone near you) listen to you and hurt with you and be the body of Christ.

In Retrospect: My Word for 2016

Aside

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I never have, but thought this year might be a good time to start because I’m really good at adding things to my already full plate. When I was trying to come up with a resolution for 2017 I just kept thinking of things that were more fitting for a bucket list. Visit a new country and continent (New Zealand in July, check!), master a new song on the ukulele, eat leafy greens with every meal, and visit all our favorite Kansas City places before we move. These things also remind me of my to-do lists where I write down things that I’m already planning on doing so that I can check them off. I’ve already decided we’re moving to New Zealand, so does that count?! And we’ll already be visiting all our favorite KC places before moving, so that probably doesn’t count either… Another thing I thought of was inspired by a fellow Holy Yoga instructor that I follow on instagram. She is committing to doing ten sun salutations every day in 2017. Wow! “That is a great workout”, I thought. Doing ten sun salutations would tone my arms, my abs, get my heart rate up, and would be amazing!

But then I thought, “Hmm… would I actually do that?!” Or would it just be another thing on my list that I never accomplish so it gets moved to the following week? Would I forget for a whole week and then start the next Monday with the burden of completing 70 sun salutations to make up for what I missed?
I’ve already confessed that I expect a lot from myself and so I’m thinking I have a couple choices here:
1) Commit to ten daily sun salutations and fail.
2) Not commit to ten daily sun salutations.
Maybe I could do it every day in January, maybe even February too. But I also know we’ll be traveling several weekends to speak at different churches and staying in other people’s homes. I know we’ll be MOVING TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD in July and our days will be messed up for a bit. I know that parenting is hard, and there’s often no time “on my own” to complete ten sun salutations. I know that challenging myself is good, but I’ve found it’s also wise to have realistic expectations. When would I do these sun salutations? After a long day of momming and teaching where I DREAD this commitment? Or setting my alarm early so that I wake up angry about missing an extra half hour of sleep? No. As much as I want to see myself commit to this and succeed, I just can’t do it. Not this year at least! As yoga has taught me, I’m learning to LISTEN to my body and not force it to do something that would eventually cause damage.
Almost everyone I know chooses a word instead of a resolution for the new year. Some call it a phrase, a mantra, or an intention, but it’s basically something that you focus on and it can encompass many things. The end of 2015 was hard for me (and I’ve talked about that in a different post), but I was not prepared to select a word for 2016.
Retrospectively, my word for 2016 was “renewal”. My emotional and physical health has been renewed and because of that, my relationships are stronger, my marriage is better, I can offer myself grace, and I can extend more grace to others. My expectations for myself are becoming more realistic, I’m getting better at letting go of things that are unimportant, and also at focusing on things that are truly important to me and my family. This renewal didn’t occur in one simple moment, but has been an ongoing transformation that will continue throughout my life.
We will see what 2017 brings and what word I find myself holding once December rolls around, but for now I feel myself moving from “renewal” to “embrace”. 2017 will involve SO MUCH CHANGE that may make me feel compelled to go hide in my introvert’s corner, but I want to be an active participant in this change and truly embrace it. I don’t know the extent of what my family will be embracing in 2017 but i know it will include a new home, a new country, maximizing time with old friends and meeting new ones, getting rid of meaningless stuff and acquiring new things, creating fresh routines, and finding what’s normal for us. It will require a boldness to move forward when things are difficult, a humility to lean on each other and those who have offered their support, and a faith to continue trusting God with our lives.
(photo cred: Hannah Beers at harperrosephoto.com)
Happy New Year!
Embracing 2017,
The Carr Family

Confession: Separation of Experiences

I confess that separation is hard.
There are two experiences. Two things that have nothing to do with each other, and my mind keeps putting them in the same category.
This is confusing for me. One experience was new and exciting. The other, dark and devastating. Unfortunately they happened at the same time. I’m working on rewiring my brain to separate these two experiences.
At the beginning of 2015, after a year of preparation and fundraising, my family moved to Northern Ireland. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know all about this lovely experience. A new ministry assignment, a new church family, a new culture… all of it was refreshing and humbling and we learned so much! We met some of the most generous and hospitable people we’d ever encountered, willing to walk through life’s journey with us knowing the year would be over before we could say “What about ye?” We experienced so much joy, so much growth, so much love. That’s the first experience; the happy one.
At the beginning of 2015, I had just had my second baby. I felt like a different mom this time around, but not in a good way. I realized almost a year later that I had been suffering from postpartum depression. A chemical imbalance in my brain gave me extreme anxiety about social gatherings, made me cry on the couch for hours at a time, took away my desire to get out of bed in the mornings, gave me an overwhelming shyness, changed my relationship with food, stole my confidence, and forced me to believe lies about myself. I blamed much of this on culture stress and the difficult task of leaving behind our whole support system in Kansas City. I blamed it on the dreary Northern Irish weather (which was actually quite lovely), and the exhausting task of being the parent of a toddler and a newborn. I didn’t want to admit to struggling with a mental illness and I didn’t even realize that’s what I had at the time. I felt like a terrible mother and I even resented my sweet second-born at times, wondering “…if I hadn’t just given birth, would I still be feeling this way??” There were a lot of factors that caused me stress during this time but, now that I’m on the other side, I’m finding healing in “confessing” that I had a mental illness. Some people ask what it felt like and, besides feeling like I was in a muddy pit that I just COULD NOT climb out of, I tell them that I felt like a totally different person. That’s the second experience, the sad one.
In high school and college, I was always the happy one with the positive outlook. I could turn any situation into a good one, showing others how the glass really was half-full, not half-empty. What people wrote in my yearbooks was that they loved how I was so joyful, how nothing seemed to get me down. What mentors have remarked on in the past was how flexible and adaptable I was, and how I always had a smile on my face. Well, in 2015 that wasn’t me. Either I was really good at pretending, or my new friends didn’t know the type of person I was before. It’s not their fault, but it’s not mine either. I’m allowing myself the grace to own that experience because as awful as it was, it’s part of my journey now. I still can’t talk about it without crying or just cutting the conversation short, but I’m okay with that too. It’s good to feel emotions. God gave us emotions to experience life more fully.
So, I’m working on separating these two experiences. Northern Ireland didn’t make me depressed, I just happened to suffer from postpartum depression while there. I write this to share with you, my dearest friends and family because some of you may not know. If you’re experiencing these feelings, you’re not alone. Sometimes (a lot of times) life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and that’s okay. Even when God calls us to something, that doesn’t mean everything will be easy and fantastic and happy all the time.
im1-shutterflyI’m a different person now. A better one. I’m thankful for my current mental state and how I’m rising up. Even though I wouldn’t want to go back to that dark time, I’m grateful for where it’s brought me. I couldn’t rise up, until I had something to rise up from… this seems to be my mantra these days. And it sounds cliche, but it’s true: The trees are greener, the sun is warmer, the flowers smell better, and God’s presence is more evident than ever.
Thank you for carrying my story in your heart. May you also rise up.
Grace and Peace.

Sunday Confessional

It’s that time again.  The weekend comes to a close, the grind of the week begins again. For many of us the autumn activities are back in full swing and life is beginning to pick up speed. I want to encourage you to find some margin in your life where you can be in the presence of God.  As the week gears up, make sure you find some time of peace in which to reflect.

I confess that I preached on Nehemiah 4 today.  Our church has been working through the book of Nehemiah together.  Ruth has taken chapters 1 and 3 while I have taken 2 and 4.  The book of Nehemiah is an opportunity to learn how we can trust that God is in the business of working through his people to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks. Chapter 4 is no different.

The chapter starts off with a man named Sanballat who is the acting governor of the region of Samaria. He teams up with a few other people and they oppose the building of the wall that Nehemiah and the Jews are working on.  Nehemiah and the Jews turn to God and ultimately are able to remain faithful and continue working on the wall until its completion.

Sanballat opposed the Jews in their quest to serve God. God allowed for the opposition because it allowed the Jews an opportunity to remain faithful to Him in times of difficulty. Fortunately for the Jews, God had already defeated the opposition before it began.  And fortunately for us, when we live in the redemption that is the blood of Christ we are able to share in the victory.  In fact we learn in John 17:20-23 that Jesus is fighting for us.  Jesus is praying for us:

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Praise God that our wonderful conquerer has come and won the battle! No opposition can stand before God.  Today, lets practice the art of celebration and live joyfully for the Conquering King!

We were blessed to go see Rend Collective play live in Bangor last night and I think this song captures the celebration of joy we can find in our Father. Take a few minutes and listen.

Our Story continued

I left off our story here, where we met for the first time.  I’m now going to skip ahead a little to the bit of time before our getting engaged:

My second year at college began differently than I had imagined.  I was enrolled as a full time student but shortly before the drop out deadline I turned in my papers to get a refund for that semester. I began instead to look forward to spending a month in Haiti working at an orphanage.  The month taught me a lot about the wrong ways to do ministry in Haiti, and a couple of the right ways.  I did however find myself completely excited for mission work and for serving God. I scheduled a dinner with Abigail at Pei Wei when we she was back in Kansas City for Christmas break. I don’t remember what she ordered, but I had Kung Pao beef with brown rice :-). I remember that Abigail was dating someone else at the time, and they had actually been together for quite some time. We talked about all sorts of mission related things and I was really able to share my excitement and love for God with her. I vividly remember looking at her during the meal and praying to God, “If she ever becomes single again I would marry her”.  I think this is when I really began to fall in love with her.  It was the first time I was able to see her fully for who she is, I was able to see this woman who was kind, gentle, intelligent, beautiful, compassionate, and so much more! Unfortunately for me she was leaving in a few weeks to study abroad in Ecuador, and it wasn’t until a bit later that we started dating, but I like to look back on this and think that it was the beginning of me seeing her for who she really is.

Check back soon for the next installment and find out about our time as a dating couple!

Sunday Confessional: Our story

I confess that today is my wife’s 26th birthday. We’ve been married a bit over five years at this point and I think I should share a bit about how we met. Over the next week or so I will chronicle a bit of our together story. Here is goes:

It wasn’t until the spring semester of our junior year (3rd) in high school that our paths finally crossed. Our choir took a ten day trip to the Republic of Ireland, where we toured around the country. This trip was essentially a whirlwind of activity and I’m sure I did a poor job appreciating the weight of everything that I saw. What I was able to appreciate was a few of the new friends I had made on the trip. It was the year 2006, fat drops of rain fell onto the windows of our tour bus, the sky had opened up like the angels themselves were crying.  Our high school choir had just finished singing to the rhythmic crashing waves at the enormous Cliffs of Moher when we had to make a mad dash for the bus. As our group pulled out of the parking lot we all began to talk.  There were two girls in the seat in front of mine and I introduced myself. Abigail was one of them, and during the trip we talked frequently enough that when we returned home we stayed friends. We would get together sometimes as friends and go for walks together. At this point we had no idea that we would one day fall madly in love with each other, which is good because I had not yet met Jesus, and begun my walk as a Christian. When high school ended we stayed in touch and it is through staying in touch that we were able to take our relationship from friendship to marriage.

I’ll tell the some more of that story in another post this week, so make sure you check back in if you want to read some more.

I confess that I’m in love with my wife! I also confess the blood of Jesus as my redemption!

I’ve made my confession, now go make yours.

At the Fence 

This week we had the wonderful opportunity to visit Barcelona. For our last afternoon there, we decided to spend time at the beach. We took the train outside the city a bit and got off spontaneously when we looked out the window and saw a gorgeous beach. We were ready! Ready for the therapeutic relaxation that an afternoon on the beach can bring. We excitedly jumped off the train and saw that the beach was just on the other side of a chain link fence. We were only minutes away from toasting the soles of our feet on the gloriously sun-roasted sand. Excitement was an understatement for what we felt. I took a second to just gaze at the beach through the fence and when I turned to leave the train station I heard an absolutely heartbroken cry. “Daddy! I want to go there!!!”, Hosea called. His voice seemed to reach new decibel levels. No amount of cajoling would convince the boy that we were indeed going to the beach right that very second. I finally had to pick him up, put him on my shoulders, and start walking before he was to be convinced.

DSC_0584So often, interactions with my son shed light on my own life and my relationship with God. I know I’ve had moments when I cry out, begin to doubt God, doubt His promises, or lose faith that He will continue providing for me. I’m just like my son, standing at the fence and gazing wistfully at the beach on the other side, doubting if I’ll ever get to enjoy the waves. But we don’t have to just stare from a distance. We can run toward the goodness of God and participate in His will for our lives. This is when God scoops me up and carries me so lovingly, so patiently toward Him. Always the Daddy that I need.

Let us go forward knowing that we have a father who patiently carries us!

Lenten Devo 15: Forgive Us Our Debts

**We were tasked with writing some devotionals alongside Ruth for the Lenten season. Our theme for these 40 days is The Lord’s Prayer. This is about the phrase “Forgive us or debts, as we forgive our debtors”. It fell on Day 29 of this series.**

Reading: Matthew 6:14-15

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Easier said than done, am I right? Jesus knew what he was talking about when he said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” Evidently forgiveness has more positive impacts than spiritual.  There is scientific proof that forgiveness is good for the body as well as the soul.

Forgiveness is good for your health. It’s a fact. It turns out that revenge or “getting even” is not nearly as good for you as you might have been led to believe. The evidence from the research studies is compelling about the benefits that forgiveness brings. Those who forgive have better physical health and better mental health too. They have better outcomes from diseases like cancer. Even their blood pressure is lower. To put it simply, their response to stress is less distressed and so they report higher levels of subjective happiness.

I remember I was once struggling with holding onto some hurt and anger against another person.  I asked my good friend if I needed to forgive right away, or if it would be possible to gradually forgive. I’ll never forget what he said, “The funny thing about forgiveness is that it comes from the Holy Spirit. The mark of a Christian, the thing that makes us different is that the Holy Spirit gives us the power to forgive right away.” That was a hard thing for me to hear, but the Lord has given me a great gift in the Holy Spirit. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Today, let’s pray, and meditate on each word of the Lord’s Prayer.

Peace

Lenten Devo 14: Forgiveness

**We were tasked with writing some devotionals alongside Ruth for the Lenten season. Our theme for these 40 days is The Lord’s Prayer. This is about the phrase “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. It fell on Day 27 of this series.**

Reading: Psalm 103:12

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Psalm 103:12 says as far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us

Lets rejoice at this! How wonderful that God has done this for us!

I recently read a piece by C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory, where he writes about the difference between forgiving and excusing:

Forgiveness says ‘Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.’ But excusing says, ‘I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.’ If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense, forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites.

This really got me thinking about how often I come to God and say I want “forgiveness”, but in my heart I am actually making excuses for the sin that I committed.  I am trying to justify it in some way. The problem is that if I am simply asking to be excused, then the parts that are inexcusable won’t go away.  Excuses are simply a way for me to feel better about my mistakes, a way for me to satisfy myself.  The only one who truly needs to be satisfied is God.

Let’s seek to be forgiven instead of excused.

Join me in praying for the areas of your life that need reconciliation.

Comfort Zones

When we tell people where we’ve been and where we want to go we almost ALWAYS get this question: “So what do you have against the U.S.?”

Sometimes I give a snarky response but generally I’m feeling kind and I say something sweet like, “Oh we just really like to travel and see other parts of the world.”

But the real answer is more complex. First of all, we have nothing against the U.S. We may not love certain aspects of life there, but we both grew up there and our family lives there. In daily conversations, it is “home”. We are so grateful for the freedoms given to us just because we can call ourselves “American”. Most of all, we love it because God chose to have us be born and grow up there! If we hate our country of origin, we doubt God’s plan for us.

The real answer is that I like to get out of my comfort zone. Being an introvert, this is hard for me to admit. The truth is that I feel God’s presence when I’m forced to rely on His guidance. When I wonder if I’m getting on the right bus or jumping in the right taxi? When I’m trying to find my way in a city that is not my home? When I wonder if I’ll get a warm shower this week? When I wonder if anyone will understand my American accent in their native tongue? When I see people who literally have to trust in Him for their daily bread? When I see brokenness all around me and then feel it for myself? In those times of struggle, I feel His presence more clearly than ever. And I love it.

I need to feel His presence or I start thinking, “What am I living for?”

When we get farther away from ourselves, we get closer to Him.

Change, and the uprooting that often occurs in our lives is a blessing. It allows us to rely on God and realize that WE are really not the ones in charge. What a relief!

I see God constantly in the newness of life. New jobs, new cities, a new country, new roles, new babies.

Have you ever said, “I have never heard God speak to me.” Or do you feel like God doesn’t show Himself to you? Maybe, like me, God is asking you to get out of your comfort zone a little and take a step away from yourself. I’m willing to bet He’s inviting you to see Him more clearly.

 

Kansas City airport, January 2015. Heading to Northern Ireland!

Kansas City airport, January 2015. Heading to Northern Ireland!

Our life, packed into these bags (turns out we brought way more than necessary anyway!)

Our life, packed into these bags (turns out we brought way more than necessary anyway!)