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.

Sunday Confessional, Anniversary Edition

I confess that sometimes I feel like I’m still 17 years old.

I’m so klutzy, and never quite know what to say. Things are often difficult for me to understand, and it doesn’t help that I look younger than I am. I forget to ask questions at the right time and then, at a crucial moment, I’m left confused and wishing I’d asked when I had the opportunity. I dwell on past conversations, and whether I unintentionally offended someone. I go over things I maybe wanted to phrase differently, realizing something sounded better in my head than said out loud. I’m pretty hard on myself!

My husband, on the other hand, has always seemed so sure of himself. Even in his teenage years, when everyone else was either embarrassed or cocky, he just knew who he was. Now, he is the picture of humble self-confidence. He always seems to know what to say at the right time, and he is the most patient person I’ve ever known. He loves to research topics of interest to him and excels as a student, a lifelong learner. One of my favorite qualities about him is his ability to take a step back from a frustrating situation, calm down, and respond with grace. I won’t go into detail, but my first inclination is not to respond gracefully! God knew I needed someone like him in my life. It takes a lot of effort for me to hold back a biting retort, hence the reason I don’t always feel like a “grown up”…(whatever that means).

They say people start to become more like their spouse as time goes on. I am SO GRATEFUL to God for blessing me with a spouse like John. He embodies such goodness! Getting to see him be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, and gentle are HUGE learning moments for me; he is such a gracious teacher.


Last month we celebrated our 6th anniversary. It feels like we’ve been married forever, in a good way 🙂 But it just keeps getting better. He keeps loving me, even when I fall apart. He keeps leading me, even when I don’t want to follow. He continues to encourage me, even especially when I’m feeling discouraged. He helps to remind me who I am and whose I am.

I often joke that he’s the better parent, and it’s kind of true. (I know, I know, we both have our strengths and weaknesses…although I feel like my weaknesses outnumber his greatly!) I wouldn’t be nearly as good of a parent if he weren’t by my side. But it’s not just parenting that I enjoy doing alongside him. We have fun even in our seemingly mundane day-to-day activities. But let’s be honest. moving 7 times in 6 years hasn’t provided us with a lot of “mundane” time. We love to cook, hike, travel, and eat interesting foods together. We love discussing books, movies, adventure ideas, and parenting topics. We forgive and forget, we show compassion, we encourage each other to be the best versions of ourselves, we both enjoy coconut milk ice cream, and a good pun. Some days are really really hard because life isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes the sunshine makes you uncomfortably hot and those thorns pierce your hands. But at least we get to journey together, and for that I am grateful. 

Here’s to forever.

Happy 6th anniversary, John-boy! I love you so.

<3

Sunday Confessional- June 26, 2016

I confess that I used to hate Summer. I loved being out of school and frequenting the pool but other than that, I really didn’t like it. Ever since I was young, sunlight was really hard on my eyes. I was that kid with the multi-layer sunglasses walking grumpily alongside my parents in June. During junior high in July I was so fed up with my thighs rubbing together that I just wanted to stay inside. As a teenager in August I would hang out at the pool to pass the time until classes started again. For some reason I was just so sensitive to the summer heat. Maybe I was spoiled with too-cold air conditioning? Maybe I didn’t like to sweat? Something about the sun gave me headaches, made me feel lethargic and I felt bogged down by it.

In my 26 years, I’ve always experienced a hot summer… until last year when we were in Northern Ireland. I prided myself on loving the rainy breezy UK weather where our warmest summer day hit somewhere near 65 degrees Fahrenheit, (but we only had a few of those). Honestly, I was content to wear Fall/Spring clothing year round and it worked out well for me! I didn’t realize until I returned to Kansas City and the weather started to change that I actually missed the sun last year. 

I confess that, despite two and a half decades of dreading Summer, it’s my favorite season this year. A lot of it has to do with my little kids who enjoy the pool, park, farmer’s market, spraygrounds, popsicles, the backyard kiddie pool, watermelon, getting messy outside and giggling when I clean them off with the hose. But I think the real reason I love Summer this year is because of all the light. Yes, the sun provides me with much-needed vitamin D but also there’s just a lot of light in my life these days. My 3 year old has turned a corner with his behavior, my 1 year old is communicating better, I love what I do for work and I can see a time in the near future when I’ll be making an income, my husband is so happy leading a church as their pastor (and he’s good at it too!), my perspective and attitude as a mother are shifting, I have some of the best mom-friends in the world, and I have this overwhelming sense of peace and confidence in God’s purpose for my life.

But don’t read this as someone bragging about her life. Because please believe me when i say that I’ve been trapped in the valley, stuck in the darkness, with no light at the end of the tunnel. I still often find myself in those difficult spots where I feel overwhelmed with life, like God can’t hear my cry. I often forget that God has a purpose for me amidst all the frustration that comes with living how I feel like God has called me to live. And honestly, I received a phone call in the middle of this blog taking me right back to those dark places.

But you know what? You can’t rise up until you have SOMETHING TO RISE UP FROM. (And I know not to end a sentence with a preposition, but there it is.)

As a child, I couldn’t enjoy the sun because I had never experienced true absence of it.

All the darkness, the struggles, the grief, the anxiety… all that I have experienced and continue to experience helps me because now I can rise up and enjoy the light.

This summer, I’ve made a commitment to myself not to complain about the heat. Because even though it presses in from all sides, there is light.

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

Sunday Confessional: May 29, 2016

I confess that when I moved back from Haiti four years ago, I didn’t really have the desire to go back ever again.

13245493_3990638883032_6557763790356576116_nYou may be saying, “What? I thought she loved Haiti!” And I do! But after being there for several months, I had started to focus on the difficult parts of living there. Being perpetually sweaty, covered in dirt, and working hard to communicate started to wear on me. And that’s not even including the little things… cold showers, intermittent electricity, and the same few meals (although delicious) left me begging for variety. It can be difficult to accomplish things in Haiti, and I found myself focusing on the end result of accomplishment rather than the journey of learning to get there. I am American after all! 😉

In January I could not shake this feeling that I should go back to Haiti to visit. When I dug deep, I remembered so many good things about living there! These positive memories had been shoved to the bottom as I let the negative memories of culture stress rise to the top. I so badly wanted to GET OVER culture shock, that I didn’t let myself deal with it properly and just be present on my journey. Turns out, there was a group going to Haiti in May that needed a trip leader. I gladly accepted this offer from Global Orphan Project (goproject.org) and we ended up having a great experience just last week.

13256468_3990600962084_3622407768891605660_nI witnessed so much goodness my heart could’ve burst! From the moment I stepped off the plane I felt like I was “home”. I’ve said this before, but the bad part of traveling is that your home is in pieces all over the globe. I hope my team didn’t get tired of me talking about Haiti, I tried to encourage them to create their own perceptions and be present in their own thoughts. But I had forgotten! By speaking out loud I was not only encouraging them to see the goodness, but REMINDING MYSELF of it too. 

13267865_3990578361519_4190440226937945782_n Whether they’re aware of it or not, the Haitian people I hung out with last week taught me many things. Where we see trash, they see treasure. Where we see brokenness, they see an opportunity for resourcefulness. Where we see a crowded church that “needs more seats”, they see a vibrant congregation ready to worship. Where we see boredom, they see a time for rest. But it’s not just about “them” and “us” is it? Because we’re really not that different. People are people, and we are all on our own unique journeys through life. So let me turn this around on myself. Where I once saw difficulty, I now see opportunity. Where I once saw frustration, I now see there is something for me to learn. Where I once hated the heat, I now can enjoy the times where the air conditioning is in fact working! Where I once saw a sound system that didn’t function properly, I now see the wonder of singing without the burden of equipment. And where I once experienced hopelessness, I now see peace and contentment. 13233058_3990607282242_7550166303212554831_n

The first thing I wrote in my journal was in kreyol, “anpil change” (so much has changed). I initially meant that a lot of things looked different than they had 4 years ago and was writing about the way dinner was served, the uneven step that got leveled, and the location of the drink fridge. But I think what really changed was me. You see, life keeps on going whether we’re ready or not. And I realized that I could let the frustrations of Haiti become my cry, or the joy of Haiti become my song.

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

Singing,

Abigail

 

Sunday Confessional: May 15, 2016

I confess that I think we have gone too far with technology.

“Just a small town girl, livin’ in a lonely world.” This lyric from the 80’s hit “Don’t Stop Believing” stands to speak directly into the culture of today. Winston Churchill once said that we shape our buildings and then they begin to shape us. This is painstakingly obvious in the way we structure our communities. We build huge houses made for one family, and then we attach garages so we never need to go outside. We never have to see our neighbors.

The same is happening with technology. We have shaped our technology so well that we no longer have to sit in the same room as our family in order to have a conversation. Or when we are in the same room, we don’t need to use our voices. We now live in an age where we are “alone together”, which is the title of a book written by Sherry Turkle. She writes,

“Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere. We begin to feel overwhelmed and depleted by the lives technology makes possible. We may be free to work from anywhere, but we are also prone to being lonely everywhere. In a surprising twist, relentless connection leads to a new solitude. We turn to new technology to fill the void, but as technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down.”

In 2002 Wilco wrote the lyrics, “Our stories fit into phones.” It is scary how true this has become.

So what do we do? Has the landscape of the world become so bleak? What can I do as a father to help my kids grow from children into adults who are not “alone together”? What do you do?

I don’t think that the outcome is necessarily so bleak. I think we can BE the church. A community of people that remembers they are part of the mission of God. As a father I am going to pray that my boys never know a moment in their lives apart from the people of God. I am going to pray that the church is woven into their tapestry of their lives. I’m going to work hard to model the church to my boys. I’m going to place my hope in a saving God, a creating God, a sustaining God.

I’ve made my confession, now go and make yours. And think about who you can reach out to this week (in person).

Sunday Confessional- Mother’s Day 2016

I confess that I don’t feel like an awesome mother very often. Not for lack of encouragement though; my husband tells me constantly how wonderful he thinks I am. Oh, and my kids are perfect little angels, their sweet behavior reminding me how amazing my mothering skills are. JUST KIDDING. My boys are moody toddlers who scream, cry, hit, bite, and frustrate me a LOT. I try to remind myself every hour of every day that we are all learning how to do this thing called life together, my boys and me. I’m on a parenting journey and once I feel like I’ve made progress and finally learned my lesson, it seems like I take another step backward. Likewise, my boys are learning how to be decent human beings in this world of ours. Teaching and learning lessons (all of us), extending grace, asking for forgiveness, crying, laughing… these are all things that can happen in a day (sometimes an hour).

I confess I went out of town and spent a week away from my boys and I LIKED IT. Yes it was hard and yes I missed them but, because they were in such good hands, I didn’t worry about them. That helped me have an amazing time and I was able to come back feeling refreshed, re-energized, and reminded of all the goodness in my life. I think I’m finally at the point in my parenting where I can take moments to myself and come back a better mom. (Shoutout to my husband who is SUPER-DAD! Two words: “mini quiches”… Okay, more words. I mean seriously, I’m left alone with the kids and I can barely survive. He is left alone with the kids and he makes mini quiches and goes on field trips?! Super-dad.)

I confess that I didn’t get my mom anything for Mother’s Day. Apparently I came back in town feeling refreshed but with my head screwed on crooked. We had a whole meal planned and she even got me a gift (I’m not even her mom!) but I totally failed. 11800426_3575959956318_8330832645136930381_nI have an amazing mom, too. She birthed me, nurtured me, deals with my idiosyncrasies, has always supported me in everything I do, and even comes to visit me internationally when she can. She is such a wonderful grandma (Yaya) to my boys I sometimes joke that she only had kids so that someday she could have grandkids 🙂 My favorite thing about her is the openness of her home. Growing up, it seemed like we always had someone living with us, usually extended family but also an exchange student and even a pair of refugees finding their way in our country. Coming back to Kansas City from Northern Ireland was made so much easier because she just assumed my family would move in with her, and we did! Family dynamics are far different than they were when I was a teenager living with them. I’m married with a family of my own and she didn’t even bat an eye when opening her door to us. She helps with our boys and keeps her mouth shut when she comes home and the house is a mess. Living with them helps John and I have the ability to pursue our dreams at the same time and it is marvelous. Sure, living with my parents is unconventional but it seems like my husband and I are always a bit unconventional in how we live our life. I’m not worried about it, and neither is my mom. Like I said, she’s the best. I love you mom! Thank you for being YOU, because you are the perfect mom for me <3

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I’ve made my confession, now go make yours (not you Mom, you’re off the hook this week)!

Sunday Confessional: Finding Balance

I confess that finding balance is hard. We’ve taken a (what was supposed to be brief) hiatus from our Sunday Confessional posts until we got back into the swing of things and created a routine for our new normal. We intentionally enjoyed the advent and Christmas seasons, not taking on any new responsibilities, simply spending time with family and getting over jet lag. Apparently we were still adjusting because our blogging hiatus lasted all the way through Lent and Easter!
We returned to Kansas City from Northern Ireland in December and it feels like we’ve been in a constant state of “finding balance” ever since we stepped foot on that first plane. So far John has already started and resigned from one job, and been hired for two others. I’ve started working as a postpartum doula and a yoga instructor, neither of which I had planned on doing 6 months ago. We were in a bit of a sweet spot when we returned to Kansas City, just because we had the chance to start over with our involvement. Responsibilities we had assumed we’d take on when we started our life back up in KC have either proved to be too much too soon, or they very clearly don’t fit in with the path God has set before us.
I’ve written things into my planner and crossed so many of them out
that it has become difficult to read. 
All that to say, our life looks totally different now than when we lived in Kansas City before. This process of finding a new “normal” has been challenging and emotionally taxing. I constantly ask myself, “What am I supposed to be doing?!”, which is probably not the right question. It seems like everyone else wants to know what we’re going to do next but this is a stressful question for me! I know what I am going to do today, and that’s about it. It’s important for me to remind myself who I’m supposed to be serving in this life. What is my ultimate goal? Knowing the answer to this helps me choose daily what is of greatest importance.
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I taught yoga twice this week and in both classes I ended with my students resting their hands on their knees, palms facing up, representing a willingness to receive whatever comes their way this week. This does not mean overloading our schedules, taking on too many responsibilities, overcommitting ourselves, and feeling swamped or exhausted. This is about taking time to decide how to best approach the upcoming week.
Which responsibilities can be let go?
What things are calling us to dig deeper?
How can we be more involved in the good things
and let the extra/unimportant things fall by the wayside?
Maintaining balance takes intentionality. This is true in yoga and in life. Find your “drishti”, your focal point, and set your intention on balance. Let’s not focus too much on ourselves, but on expressing our love in an outward manner.
(Thanks to Pastor Tim Suttle and his blog for inspiring us to make our own confessional posts every week. Check out his site here)

Sunday Confessional, 15 November 2015

I confess that I started celebrating Christmas early this year.

I can hear you now, “What about Thanksgiving?”

I know most Americans have a (turkey) bone to pick with people who start Christmas festivities before (they’ve eaten their weight in mashed potatoes at) Thanksgiving, but THERE’S NO THANKSGIVING here in Northern Ireland, so hooray! The Christmas season is upon us!

Advent officially starts on the 29th of November this year, but I’ve already simmered our first batch of chai tea on the stovetop so that means winter is coming. In our house we’ve been listening to Christmas music, making extra treats (healthy of course!), and beginning conversations about advent with our 3 year old. John has even been making little nativity scene people out of empty toilet paper rolls. I think we’ve got a few shepherds so far.

Surprisingly deep questions have surfaced from our 3 year old. I shouldn’t be surprised though; every intelligent and thoughtful human being can ask good questions.

“Is Jesus God? Where is God? Who are the magi? Are they magic? Why are the magi wise? Did Jesus like his presents? Was Jesus a baby like my baby brother? Why was he a baby?”

I love talking about this kind of stuff with Hosea. Sometimes (okay, many times), he drives me bonkers with all the questions he asks. But there is really something wonderful about watching him sort things out in his head and try to understand complex ideas.

I love this “extended” Christmas season as I’ve decided to call it. There is so much expectation in the period leading up to the 25th of December. The feeling of anticipation bubbles up; a baby will be born and he is the Savior of the world! So much joy. So much hope.

I personally know the joy that a baby can bring. I also personally know the joy that Jesus can bring. I hope you’re ready for this advent season to begin in a couple weeks. I know I am.

<3

Peace, love, and chai.

Sunday Confessional November 8th

I confess that my story is often told in one way, but there are usually two versions.

The Facebook version

This week I had the opportunity to be a loving husband and allow Abigail to take a couple days to retreat. She spent five luxurious nights, and six beautiful days on her retreat while the boys and I got to enjoy some quality time in Northern Ireland. Every day the boys and I would wake up to see the sun rise and take our time getting dressed before going about our daily activities. On Saturday we got to go to a friend’s birthday party. On Sunday we went to church, and then the boys helped me set up for the marriage course. Later on, my youngest helped me serve tea and coffee to all of our attendees. On Monday we went shopping for our week’s groceries, and then decided to go again Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday because my boys just love fruit! I think they’ve turned into precious little “fruitarians”. My oldest voiced how much he loved me and how much he wanted to stay home with me and Moses instead of going to school. After the boys went to sleep on Thursday, their mama returned home from her time away. What a week!

A Different Version

Saturday morning at 4:30 am found our boys wide awake as we took Abigail to the airport for a conference. She was gone for six days! Every day while she was gone, the boys woke up well before the sun rose, and getting them dressed made me realize why God led me to become a wrestler in high school. After the airport we went to a birthday party where my boys ate their weight in sugar. On Sunday we made our way to church and the boys went to creche while I got some much coveted alone time. Later that day we went back to church to set up for the marriage course. Hosea ran around moving the tables into a giant ‘A’ and Moses clung to me. My youngest then cried his way out of creche and insisted on me wearing him while I served tea and coffee. On Monday, even though I felt crazy, I went to the grocery store on my own with two boys and we tried to get everything we would need for the week. The boys ate MY weight in fruit that day, requiring us to brave the store again the next day. And the next. And the next. My oldest refused flat out to go to school, and it took twenty minutes of negotiating to get him into his uniform and out the door, all while holding Moses. My youngest finally fell asleep about an hour before mummy got home and woke back up in time to see her. What a week!

We rarely let people see our struggles, but it’s important to know that struggles are real, and common. For everyone’s Facebook story, there’s another story that goes along with it. It is important to note that neither version of this story holds the full truth, but when they are put together they show a more realistic picture than when separate.

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

Sunday Confessional Oct. 25

I confess that I’m not slowing down.

I’m a stay at home parent. I’m also a full time student, and I work at a church where I am being mentored by the pastor (as part of the degree program). You know that scene in Star Wars, the one where the Millenium Falcon goes into warp speed? I often feel like that is what is happening to my life. Sometimes I get to the end of the day, and I feel like it’s been super long. I’m tired from having chased my three year old around or held my one year old all day. When I do get them down for nap/quiet time, I either work on a sermon or a paper for school, or if I am super good I get a craft ready to do with the boys when they get up. When I experience those days and bed time finally rolls around, I look back on the past 24 hours and I am speechless (and breathless). The days seem long when I’m living them, but the months are falling away like a tree shedding its leaves for winter. I want to slow down life. I want to, but I just need to figure out how. Recently I was reading a text for one of my classes and came across a really good concept that I want to share.

Author Tracy Balzer, writes about finding rest from all the noise in our lives;

“Perhaps we should consider when we last experienced true silence. It may be difficult for us to say with any accuracy, because we’ve gotten so used to the hum of electricity around us that we don’t even realize that we live with a constant level of noise…When did I last drive my car without the stereo playing? When was the last time my family and I sat around the dinner table with phones, dishwasher, and television turned off? None of these things are evil. But could it be that the many layers of noise we dwell in have numbed our sensitivity to the still small voice of God?”

As I write this I let myself listen for all the levels of noise that exist all around me. I can hear the hum of the refrigerator, the electricity of the lights, the WIFI modem, the computer fan, levels and levels of noise that I never really notice, all working in harmony to numb to the presence of God in my every day existence.

I think maybe I can slow down by being intentional with what I allow myself to take in. By taking a day of rest, where our family turns off our cell phones, and powers down the computers, and really listens for God. I think this could become a weekly event. Does it make you uncomfortable to think about turning off your cell phone for a full day? I know, I know, how would you be able to check facebook, your email, craigslist, gumtree, or the scores of that sporting event? Do you know that theres actually a word for what I am describing? It’s called a Sabbath. Not just a weekend day where we go to church, but a day completely plugged into God. Would you like to join me in carving out time to celebrate this day? To turn off and unplug electronics, to refresh our spirits, rekindle our passions, renew our minds and bodies, and reconnect with God and those we love.