Tag Archives: church

A Prayer for Our Country

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A Prayer for Our Country

Last week I was sitting in church when we began singing these lyrics . . .

“We call out to dry bones, come alive, come alive!
We call out to dead hearts, come alive!”

At the time I had no idea what our sermon would be about.  However, here is what came to my mind.  At this time in our country’s history, what would happen if we as a church began to cry out to our political leaders and institutions the invitation to come alive and if we called out to God to revive the dead hearts found in the halls of our country’s government institutions?  How would our country change?  This isn’t about a political party or affiliation.  I hope that we are not naive enough to believe that any human party has a corner on the market of Christ-likeness.  This is about realizing the need for us as a church to be about the business of the Kingdom.

One of my religion professors in college once said this, “The Kingdom of Heaven is not a pipe dream.”  In other words, when Jesus entered this world he ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven and while it may not reach completion until we arrive in heaven, that in no way negates the fact that he calls his followers to be about the business of bringing that kingdom here and now.  We are positioned at exactly the time and place that needs the Church.  Needs us to reject the idea that one ideology or political party has all the answers.  Needs us to reject the notion that we have to question each other’s faith if we question their vote.  Needs us to reject the easy path of only listening to those who agree with us.  We need to engage, to listen, to love, and to fight for the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is not a pipe dream and we have a responsibility to work towards its realization on earth.

So, as I sat in my seat and listened to the song I began to pen this prayer.  And as the sermon began I was surprised to find the message was connected to this same topic.  Maybe God was trying to tell me something.  Maybe he’s trying to tell us all.  Will you join with me in praying this over our country?  And will you join me in the fighting to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth?

Be with our leaders—in each branch of our government
Be with our leaders—in community organizations, churches, and non-profits
Be with our leaders—in town councils, schools, and emergency services
And be with us—the citizens who stand in this divided time

Where there are dry bones and dead hearts, we call out “come alive!”
Where there are hardened hearts, we pray that you would open them with your grace
Where we have closed ourselves off, we pray that you would break our hearts for what breaks your
          heart
Where there is fear that has left us paralyzed or hiding behind closed doors, remind us of your
frequent call to “fear not” and strengthen us in your power
Where there is mistrust and resentment, enable us to risk understanding where others are coming
from

Where there is hurt and past scars, give us the grace to forgive and move forward
Where there is selfishness and greed, reorient us to your kingdom values
Where there is hatred and anger, overpower us with your love and allow us to see our enemies as
your children whom you love with an overwhelming fierceness
Where there is division, fill us with unity, help us to be peacemakers

Help our leaders
Help our churches
Help us
          to be the standard bearers of your image
          to honor you with our words and actions
          to stand for all your children
          to remember who our neighbors are
          to work to bring your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven
Help us, Oh Lord

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

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Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore!

Have you ever woken up and no longer recognized the life you were living?  I mentioned in my last post that there were lots of changes in my life.  Some changes have been amazing and exciting, others are incredibly frightening and have left me feeling lost and unsure.  As a result, my entire life has been turned upside down and though I’ve wanted to blog about it, I’ve been a bit unsure about how much to reveal.  I’m still not sure about that.  So this is a beginning of a conversation I hope to continue one day.  I hope you will have patience with me as a struggle through this.

My trip down the rabbit hole began last December.  Life was pretty good.  I was working at a church I loved, with people I respected.  Little Man and I were progressing well, moving toward adoption, and enjoying our first Christmas season together.  I was expecting Baby Amaia to arrive in a few short months, and had been stocking up on the most adorable baby clothes and tiny little diapers.

Then the tornado hit.  Three weeks before Christmas I lost my job.  The job that I loved and was so passionate about.  And although I was beginning to struggle with the 60-80 hour work weeks I was putting in as a single mom, the news caught me completely off-guard.  There is a lot about that situation that I would like to share.  There’s a lot that I feel needs to be heard and understood.  But when you work in the church, things are complicated.  A whole-other-universe kind of complicated.  I was heartbroken, and angry, and insanely stressed.  Because apart from every other thing I was feeling, I was a single mom without a job, and when you work in pastoral ministry you can’t just find another job in town.  Continuing to work in my field would mean moving, probably out of state.  And moving would mean giving up my son and soon-to-be-born daughter, who were still in the foster care system.  And that was not an option.  So I went into full-on panic mode.

I applied for close to a thousand jobs.  I only got three interviews and no job offers.  Then on January 29 I got a call that taught me fear.  Baby Amaia’s bio mother was going into labor almost three weeks early and they had discovered multiple problems with the baby.  They didn’t expect her to survive the delivery.  As the foster parent I had no legal rights, and no way of knowing what was going on.  I waited and prayed all night.  Sometime the next day I learned she had survived the birth.  For two weeks I waited each day for news, hoping for miracles.  I was able to go see her in the NICU and was blown away by how tiny she was.  She was hooked up to dozens of monitors and IV tubes.  Then on February 12 I received the phone call that changed our lives.  Baby Amaia would only live a few more hours.  They had decided to take her off life support and she would not survive.  I rushed to the hospital and held my sweet girl for the first and last time, as I watched the life ebb from her body.  There are no words for the pain I felt that day, the pain that still haunts me.  I miss her every day.

After months of looking for jobs I decided to become a substitute teacher until I could find full-time work.  Subbing in an inner city school district was an eye-opening experience.  I have worked professionally with kids for 13 years but I had never experienced anything like that.  The challenges were incredible.  After a few weeks I was hired to stay at one elementary school where I rotated between all types of classrooms, from pre-k through 6th, from standard, to special needs, to emotionally disturbed.  The students pushed me to new levels of frustration and I came home with more than one injury.  But they also broke my heart and made me fall in love with them.

In March an unexpected blessing came.  Little Man’s biological mother suddenly and unexpectedly signed over her parental rights, naming me as the adoptive parent.  This cleared the path for us to begin moving forward with his adoption.  It’s a humbling experience sitting in the courtroom as a parent signs away their parental rights to make way for you to become the mother of their child.  To sit and listen as the judge asks “Are you sure?” in a hundred different ways.  At the end of the day I was free to adopt my Little Man and his case was officially transferred to the adoption department.

Then began months of waiting, bureaucracy, and frustration.  It seemed like everything was moving at a snail’s pace.  In the meantime I began to explore the possibility of moving back to Illinois to be near my family.  Being a single mom is hard without any family around.  With no family in New York I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  I’d always had a great network of friends and church members who served as my support system, but when I lost my job I lost about 95% of those people.  I had not only lost my job, I had lost my church and most of my friends.  Since I’d been exploring the possibility of going back to school and getting a second masters in teaching, school counseling, or speech therapy, having family around would be really nice.  Now that I was looking at adoption, moving to be closer to family was a possibility.

Finally, just a few short weeks ago, we finalized our adoption!  After 588 days in foster care, Little Man became part of his Forever Family!  I can now officially introduce you to Austin!

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After a year and a half, I can finally show you my adorable Little Man’s face!  Officially becoming a family is definitely the highlight of my year, and the best thing that has ever happened to me.  It makes all the struggles and pain of the past year worthwhile.  I am so blessed to call him mine, and so thankful God brought him into my life.

Austin’s adoption day was August 26.  I had decided it was best to move to Illinois, and we had been making plans prior to the adoption.  So a mere two days after the adoption we loaded up a truck full of stuff and the next day we pulled out of town.  We’ve been in Illinois for a few weeks now and everything has been a huge adjustment.  I’ve been living in large cities since I left home at 17.  Now I’ve moved to a small town where everyone knows everything about each other.  I’m coming to terms with the fact that there are no stand-alone Starbucks (although, thank God, there is one in a grocery store), big shopping areas, or fun attractions.  I’m also starting my job search all over again, this time in a small town with far less opportunities.  I’m renting a house for the first time and purchasing appliances, dealing with spiders and cockroaches, and discovering the [insert sarcasm] joys of living in a home that’s over a 100 years old.  I’m struggling with a school district that has been very frustrating to get registered with and just decreased Austin’s services significantly–from 10 times a week in a 5 hour program to 4 times a week in a 2 1/2 hour program.  And on top of all that I’m trying to unpack, make new friends, cook without a stove (going on 2 weeks now), acclimate Austin, and try not to freak out about how I’m going to survive until I find a job.

This is my life now, and I’m definitely not in Kansas anymore.  So much of the past year has been overwhelmingly heartbreaking.  It has challenged my faith and left me in an emotional blackhole.  And yet, there are glimpses of beauty and hope.  Becoming a forever family is the best thing in my life.  Even painful things, like losing my job, have taught me to trust God and allowed me to see the beauty in spending time as a family–which was something we seriously lacked when I worked in the church.  I don’t know where this yellow brick road will lead me.  I have no idea what my life will be like five years from now–what I will be doing as my next career, where we’ll be living (because houses with cockroaches and zero storage space are not my cup of tea), or how far Austin will have progressed on his journey.  But I have hope.  The wonders of Oz await!

Shame, Guilt, and How I Escaped

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Today I’ve read not one, but two, of my friends blogs that wrestled with the weighty issues of shame and guilt.

Karissa, who I mentioned a couple of days ago, wrote about how growing up her faith often came with an ugly price tag called guilt.  She ended up leaving the church she grew up in search of a faith that freed her from that guilt.

And Jermaine wrote about how shame gets passed around like candy sometimes, claiming that we’re speaking the truth in love, when really all we’re doing is passing out shame and judgement.

Life in the church can be harsh sometimes.  We’re not perfect people, and sometimes in our quest to better ourselves we end up filling others with shame, guilt, and a whole bunch of other crap that “ain’t nobody got time for.”  It’s not healthy.  I don’t think we even intend to do it sometimes.  But it happens.

I grew up in the same church background as my friend Karissa.  Like her, I went to a small, conservative Nazarene church.  We went to the same college, where we were best friends and roommates.  And many of her experiences resonate with me.  I can remember growing up and praying every five minutes or so for my salvation.  I was sure I’d done something terribly evil in the past five minutes and needed redemption.  (This coming from the girl who never smoked, drank, or tried drugs, and considered it complete failure if I got less than an A in class.)  As a kid I was always striving for perfection.  Honestly, that part of me hasn’t changed much.  But I know that a large part of that is my firstborn perfectionist tendencies, not my faith.

I do want to be the best I can at whatever I’m doing.  I want to be living a life that demonstrates love, grace, and compassion.  I want to have an intimate relationship with God.  But if those thinks were once driven by a sense of guilt, it’s been a long time since that held true.  Somewhere along the way I dropped that shame and guilt like a dirty rag, and I moved on.

How did that happen?  I’m not sure I could pinpoint some moment in time or new understanding that changed my world.  I think it just gradually grew up into my faith, as I planted deep roots and learned the meaning of a tree’s flexibility.

There is a part of that growth that was planted by my mother.  There were a lot of times my mom tried to push her ideas on me.  Like when she told me I had no other choice than to attend college at her alma mater.  And being the stubborn, strong-willed child that I was/am, I then proceeded to do the exact opposite of what she told me to do.  But then there were these gems of moments when she challenged me to think for myself.  And those moments were probably her best parenting choices ever.

I was 12 when I first had the opportunity to audition for show choir (that’s a glee club for all you non-midwesterners).  I wanted desperately to be a part of it.  But I was a member of a Nazarene church and it was against the rules.  I asked my mom what to do.  And instead of telling me, she taught me to think for myself.  She told me to go read the Bible.  To pray.  To ask God, and then listen.  And I did.  And guess what?  What I heard from God was not what I heard from my church’s rule book.  Mind blowing experience for a 12 year old.  But it was probably one of the most important faith lessons of my childhood.

In the end I auditioned and so began a long relationship with all things music, theatre, and dance related.  And it didn’t break my faith in the church or the people who came up with those rules.  I simply accepted that we could disagree sometimes and it would be ok.  And I discovered a relationship that was about more than a rule book.  More than getting things right and being perfect.  I discovered a God who was so much more than a church who sometimes weighs us down with guilt and shame–but a God who still loved that church and worked through her.

And that’s exactly the kind of God I needed.  A God who is so far above me and my failings–but still loves me and works through me.

So here’s to all my friends out there who are struggling with guilt and shame that’s been piled on you by some well-meaning Christian.  May you find release from those chains.  Freedom from a pain that doesn’t come from God.  And the mystery of a love that surrounds you even in your darkest place.

Living in the Spare Room

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i wondered into your home,
not expecting to find you there
i tiptoed past your doorway
not believing you were really inside
i danced in your fountains
splashing water like a child
i dozed on your couch
finally resting after years of rushing

i ran through your hallways
pretending i had urgent business
i brushed past your children
not seeing your face reflected in theirs
i pretended to be your
caretaker, housekeeper, governess, hostess
i settled into a spare room
unpacked my baggage

until one day i ran
head long, crashing collision
ran into you
while running through your halls
(i’d almost forgotten i was in your house,
i’d made myself so at home there)

i’ve been living in your home,
eating from your cupboards,
swimming in your pool
pretending i was helping
pretending you needed me

but i’ve not sat at your table
and broke bread with you
i’ve not walked through your garden
and talked with you
i’ve not sat at your side
and dreamed with you

you wanted a bride
and i offered you
cook, cleaner, babysitter, gardener

you wanted my love
but i was too busy
to offer you anything but my service

is it too late to
leave that spare bedroom and
move down the hall?

 

 

 

Are you really a Christian?

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Have you ever noticed what a wide variety of factors we consider when determining if a person is “really a Christian?”  I’ve been in professional ministry for about a decade and I could almost write another 613 laws based on some of the stipulations I’ve heard.

Are you really a Christian?  I’ve been told you’re not a *real* Christian if . . .

  • you’re a Democrat
  • you’re a Republican
  • you don’t home school your kids
  • you home school your kids
  • you’re a working mom
  • you’re a stay-at-home dad
  • you believe in gay marriage
  • you don’t believe in gay marriage
  • you believe in a pre-millenial rapture
  • you believe in a post-millenial rapture
  • you work on Sundays
  • you’re business is open on Sundays
  • you drink alcohol
  • you never drink alcohol
  • you can’t remember the date you choose to follow Jesus
  • you don’t picket outside family planning clinics
  • you do picket outside family planning clinics

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  We all have this picture (whether we want to admit it or not) of what a Christian looks like, acts like, and believes.  And most of the time our picture addresses things that go far beyond the questions of  “Do you believe in Jesus?  Did you seek forgiveness for your sins?  Do you choose to follow God?”

And all that has me wondering . . . when people who don’t consider themselves Christians look at us, what factors do they use to determine who is and who isn’t Christian?  Are they asking us questions about our belief systems or are they judging based on who “goes to church?”  Are they evaluating our behaviors and moral boundaries or are they examining our political and social beliefs?

Or, what if Jesus actually knew what he was talking about when he said: “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Try to forget that you’ve ever heard that verse before.  Try to forget the watered-down definition of love that our culture has come to believe in.  Try to forget everything you’ve come to assume is what defines you as a Christian.  What if the only way for people to know that we have anything to do with the God-man we call Jesus Christ, is if we love each other?  With the kind of radical, deep-running, lay-down-your-life kind of love that I believe Jesus was talking about.

If that was the measuring stick of our Christianity, what would people on the “outside” think of us on the “inside?”  Would they see us as Christians when they looked in our churches, our homes, our offices, and our ministries?  Would they see a radical love between all those people gathered in an auditorium on Sunday morning?  Would they see a deep love if they visited our church board meetings?  Would they see an edifying  love if they walked through our offices?  Would they see a self-sacrificing love if they hung out with us in our family room?

What if, radical as this may be, what if God looked at us the same way?  What if he was a lot less concerned with our political party or our views on end-times than he was with how we loved each other.  It’s a freeing proposition–that I don’t have to end up on the right side of the debate or have all the correct answers.  But it’s also a terrifying thought.  Because loving people–the way I believe God wants us to love people–isn’t easy.  It isn’t easy to love the person you can’t agree with.  It’s even harder to love the person who hurt you.  And we do that in the church . . . a lot.  We hurt people.  We don’t mean to, but we do.  We’re not God, we’re messed up humans and we make mistakes.

The question is, is it even possible to live with that kind of radical love?  To love the family member who broke your heart?  To love the person on the other side of the aisle who betrayed your trust?  To love the congregation down the street whose beliefs don’t line up with yours?  To love the coworker who drives you crazy?  Is that kind of love really possible here on earth?  Is that thing we call the “Kingdom of Heaven” ever going to be realized in this world, or is it only possible when Jesus returns?

I’ll tell you what a wise man once told me:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is not a pipe dream.” 

Maybe we’ll never perfect that Kingdom reality in this lifetime.  Maybe our love will never be that complete.  But I’d love to see us try.

A Song From My Kids

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As a children’s pastor I am blessed with many “Proud Momma” moments.  Every one of the kids I pastor is “mine”–even if not biologically.  (Which is a good thing–can you imagine having 600 kids?)  Each time one of my kiddos chooses to follow Christ I am so proud.  But I’m also overflowing with pride every time they discover something new, take a risk, choose wisely, model love and grace to their friends, and so much more.  Recently I had one of those “Proud Momma” moments.

At Kid Connect, the children’s ministry at Salem Fields Community Church, our weekend venues begin with a time that we call “inspire.”  Kids choose from various inspiration stations where they connect to our lesson through activities designed for multiple learning styles, personalities, and passions.  The goal is to get kids to engage with the Bible in a way that is designed for who God has created them to be.  I love watching kids discover who they are in Christ, and using their God-given gifts.

Right now we are in a unit called Hope Bearers, where kids are learning how to bring hope into their world.  On our first week we discovered that our hope comes from Jesus and his awesome, never-ending love for us.  One of our stations was music, where kids wrote songs or raps to describe where we find our hope.  During one of our venues, the kids in the music station wrote the following song.  I’m so proud of them; I had to share it with you.

The Cross

Before he came it was a simple piece of wood
After he came we can live like we should
He was real, the mighty one
The one and only, God’s true Son

God loves the weak
God loves the lost
We kneel before him
At his cross

He died for me and he died for you
Through his death all creation is made new
In our death with Christ we shall surely live
At the foot of the cross, my life I give

God loves the weak
God loves the lost
We kneel before him
At his cross

I Vant To Suck Your Blood

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Our culture has an obsession with vampires.  Brooding ones, sparkly ones, dangerous ones, ones with a soul.  One of the old vampire legends is that they can change form–usually from their more human-like form into a bat or bird.  Which has got to be a pretty neat trick when you’re trying to escape werewolves or lovestruck teenage girls.  I don’t have any personal experience vampires, but I have battled with my own set of bloodsucking creatures.  And apparently my blood was exactly their personal brand of heroin.

It all happened just north of Romania’s own Transylvania in the country of Ukraine.  A coincidence?  I think not.  I had just arrived with a team of approximately 25 people.  We were there to serve in an special non-profit home that rescues homeless kids from the streets and provides them with a loving and warm family environment.  It’s an amazing program where the kids are welcomed into a family and not just crammed into an orphanage.  (You should check them out at http://www.house-of-james.org.  You can even make a donation or sponsor a child.)

Anyway, we had just arrived in Kiev and were going to spend the night there before heading out to the home.  We were spending the night in a  large church.  The women were all sleeping on the third floor and there was a pile of comfy foam mattresses that were our beds.  It was a gorgeous night out and so one of my teammates and I decided we were going to sleep outside on the porch.  We drug our mattresses outside and settled into our sleeping bags.  The night sky was beautiful–lit up with a million stars that seemed close enough to reach out and touch.  Fireflies were dancing around the trees and birds were softly chirping a lullaby.  Soon we were both sound asleep, cocooned in our sleeping bags.

The next morning I stretched myself awake and climbed out of my cozy bed.  I smiled at my teammate and wished her a good morning.  (An impressive feat since I hadn’t even had my coffee.)  She looked great, stunning actually.  Far more beautiful than any woman has a right to look that early in the morning when climbing out of bed.  Smooth hair, perfect skin. Just beautiful.  I slumped my way to the bathroom to begin brushing my teeth and pulling the knots out of my hair.

To say I’m not a morning person is a gross understatement.  So I wasn’t really paying that much attention.  It wasn’t until I straightened up after brushing my teeth that I actually looked in the mirror.  What I saw was not pretty.  I had been attacked by bloodsuckers. No, there wasn’t a set of fang marks in my neck or blood trickling down my throat.  But it was a vicious attack.  Apparently a scourge of mosquitoes had decided to attack in the night, and I’d been completely clueless.  I sleep on my side, with my hands tucked under my chin, and you could clearly tell by the placement of the mosquito bites.  Although I do change sides in the middle of the night, I spend the majority of the night on one side, and you could see that one half of my face had twice as many bright red welts as the other.  The bites continued on my neck, arms, and hands.  There were literally hundreds of bites–I looked worse than when I had the chicken pox.  I stared at my reflection for the longest time.  Baffled.

Then I opened my door and went in search of my teammate.  The one who woke up looking so stunning.  The one who also slept outside under the stars.  Where were her mosquito bites?  Apparently nowhere.  She didn’t have a single mosquito bite–not one!  And I had hundreds!  Apparently there really is something to that “personal brand of heroin” crap–and here I thought it was just some romanticized nonsense invented to sway the hearts of the juvenile lit crowd.

I spent the next week trying to avoid scratching my face to a pock-marked mess.  Those vile creatures had done quite a number on me–sucked my blood and left me miserable.  Which leaves me wondering . . . maybe instead of just turning into bats and ravens, maybe vampires have perfected the art of turning into mosquitoes.  It’s a brilliant plan, really.  They can just attack us in our sleep and we’re none the wise . . . I’m just sayin’.