(A small portion taken from Prufrock and Other Observations)
“And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”
My seven year old and I just survived a week — a week of a tummy bug that was so violent that I actually screamed out for my husband a few times (not that he could actually DO anything — it was just.that.frightening). There is something so humbling about being that sick and having to scrape from the reserves of your nothingness to care for another human being you love so very much — while hearing them whisper between their pain and anguish and your own, “I am so sorry, Mommy.” So, I cried out to God often — for his strength, literally, and for his grace to keep my heart and mind in a good place for both of us. And the age old hymn “Nothing But the Blood Of Jesus” came to mind and it all at once gave me courage to battle on, and yet made me nauseous. The paradox of that situation is funny now. Not so much then–but now.
And all of our tummy issues began on Sunday morning, sitting in church, listening to Pastor Josh preach about one of my favorite books in the Bible–Hebrews. My thirteen year old had really, REALLY wanted to go to church that day, so despite Griff and I’s feeling not so fantastic — we went. A Momma does not diminish THAT enthusiasm — or any positive enthusiasm displayed by a teenager! And then we left — once we graced the men’s bathroom with donuts and orange juice from my seven year old’s tummy. My boys love that our church has donuts. Even when their tummies hurt…
And when my body is attacked, my mind so often is. The defeat of my physical self begins to wear on me emotionally — and I am unable to do many of the things that I can do when I am well to pick myself up again — yoga, yoga, and more yoga. You yogi’s get this. So I do what any good introvert does — I read and read and read some more. And I think and reflect and I meditate. And I pray. These aren’t things new to my daily rotation of doings — they just pick up in their intensity.
And I’ve been thinking so ardently about this institution, this great grouping of God’s people we call — church… In an effort to be understood, I am doing my very best to be more understanding…
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”
Some of you know my story, some of you do not — and I don’t want to get into it here. I’ve been there and done that in this blog and once was so very enough. We all have them — stories. And we all come to our various relationships with them — one of those places — one of those ‘relationships’ being our churches. And I fully accept and realize that the issues that tend to paralyze and thwart my ease into the doors of a ringing cathedral (or elementary school gym) are entirely mine. And I pray for an open heart, for courage, for bravery, for faith. These things move me every single day to begin — but I need a little extra of all.of.this to get to that organized and structured place of worship that involves shaking people’s hands and greeting strangers in the name of Jesus.
Life is never about resting in comfort for this girl because mine has never been all that comfortable. This world will not ever be a place of perfect comfort for some of us — unless we can stay in our beds curled up with C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Glennon, Brene, and a thousand other brilliant authors and a cup of tea all day in our jammies, blankets, and tons of pillows (my husband can’t stand my affinity for excess pillows) with those we love (do they make beds big enough? In my sweet spot of imagination, they do…). Brave is different for everyone. I can do hard. So it wasn’t just that church was an “uncomfortable” situation for me — it goes far deeper than that — and I’ll only go into a few layers for the sake of brevity and my selfish need to keep my heart more whole than compost tonight…
What catapulted me into going back to the church was the very same thing that kept me from opening that entire story of pain and vulnerability back up again. My children. For all of the things I did NOT want them to “learn”, I realized that there was a sense of community they were not receiving from me and my version of “home church”. Some people home school because they don’t want their kids exposed to the social ingraces (that may not actually be a word) of secular education. To a variant of that, I home churched for the same reason. I know, it sounds completely absurd. Believers glaringly not loving one another and mistreating one another. My kids expect that of the world, but not from people who call themselves Christians. This need to shelter them maybe wasn’t right, but it.was.just.so.present. And home church was pure peace and joy! But after awhile I just couldn’t carry us any more. And it started to become a burden, as terrible as that sounds (and the guilt of feeling that way about this incredible blessing of a role in my life as a parent), of carrying my entire family’s religious education and care was getting to be too much. I could pray and sing and read the Bible and our devotionals every.single.night — but I needed some filling up too. And as much as God filled up this Momma with the gifts of the Holy Spirit through his word and my devotional books and time, I was waning. I needed some support. This was so very difficult and scary for me — panic attack inducing scary. And I know this sounds so silly to so many Christians.
But here’s the thing– I wanted my boys to know Jesus the way they understood and knew and loved him now. I wanted that relationship to grow and to be developed into something bigger and even more beautiful and awesome. I didn’t want it to be polluted and made into something ugly. I didn’t want the church to make them doubt their faith.
Christians will often ask the question, “Have you ever doubted God”? Maybe you’ve been asked this yourself a time or two. And I find myself so easily and emphatically answering “No.” And then wondering if that’s the “right” answer because they seem to look at you like there’s something intrinsically wrong with you for not having doubted him. Like it’s something you have to do, should do, and need to do to at least once in your life to be really getting this walking with God thing. And maybe someday I will. I don’t know. But not yesterday and not today.
Before I even had a name for who he was, I knew him to be — as just a little tiny. My first memories of anything were of my Savior. People say, “I was raised in the church all my life” and all the variants of that phrase and what it entails. I was also. Private “Christian” schools, the whole bit (that is an entirely different post). But that’s not what saved me. Jesus saved me. I like to say, I was raised in God. And that wasn’t even due to my parents or the church — who gave me the most twisted and awful image and example of this divine and awesome being. No, it was God himself who grew me from the seed that was planted in my heart. And I think we forget about that holy miracle sometimes. We take on so much power and might in that process of “saving” on this wheel of evangelicalism. The seed is planted. That relationship, that awesome and beautiful and amazing love — is God’s work in us. I’m so humbled by that. So very humbled by that. We are God’s workmanship. “For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10 Which God prepared in advance for us to do. It, literally, blows my mind every time I read it. Just think about that for a hot second… BAM, right? So humbling, so awesome, so amazing…
And in all of the very, very bad — the horribly dark — the achingly awful — the everything that was NOT him — I always knew God was good — that was his incredible gift — his every single day gift — his specifically tailored miracle to me. I always knew, somehow, he was my shield, my protector, and that I was his beloved daughter. It’s what kept me breathing. He.was.always.there. And I was so incredibly and so innately aware of that. I knew that my earthly father’s God was not my God. I knew that at a very tender age. The Holy Spirit speaks to us — even when we are so very small. He always held me. He’s held me every single day of my life. I have never, not once, doubted that. We have one of the most real relationships, the most real relationship, I have in this life and in the next to come–is with my Jesus. He’s brought me through everything and knows me better than I know myself. I am because he is. And that is all there is to it. And nothing — absolutely nothing — not even death — can ever separate me from that love…
So as crazy or heretical as it may sound, I have never struggled with my faith — but I have struggled with the church (which seems to be a more blasphemous thing to say these days). I struggle with organized religion in general. With denominations that need to compartmentalize Jesus and assimilate the rest of us. That turn God into a deity who becomes used as something to manipulate an agenda. Churches that turn God into a kind of God who is political and marketable, and unless you believe this party, look like this “type” of person, back this, buy these brands, check ALL of these boxes, and smile and look disapprovingly in all the correct places — THEN, and only then, are you a proper Christian. I cringe at membership standards. I can’t assimilate on principle alone. I just can’t. God accepts everyone. He truly and deeply does. It’s not the church’s place to box anyone out. You can scream and quote every Bible verse to the latter. It’s simply not true. Jesus came for the sick. That is, he came for ALL of us.
And I didn’t want my boys learning about this man made God that seemed to keep popping up in these buildings with crosses bearing his name on their lips–the God that said we were better than those people if we worshiped him here (hash tag ‘my church is better than your church’ comments on Facebook), the God that gave us the power to judge others instead of leaving it in his perfect and capable hands, the God that was one of fear instead of love (in which there is no fear). I wanted no part of this. We don’t tell people Jesus loves them because we are in some way superior, but because we are in someway we — all bound by sin and all broken free by the blood of Jesus. It’s not a club, it was never a club. It was always and will forever be about the love. And love is a strong, tough and gritty and tenacious as all get out thing. I’m not talking all butterflies and rainbows here, friends. Let’s not get this confused. Love stands for what is right when no one else will, love is brave, courageous, vulnerable and a host of all kinds of things that can be scary and trying and down right difficult– amongst the soft places in which we can fall into love’s arms.
In all of the passages a person can quote and inhale from the scriptures, I didn’t want my boys to lose this — in God’s great Rescue, YOU are the end of this great LOVE story. You are enough. You are always enough. You are his beloved. His child. He loved you enough to sacrifice his life FOR you. Now, let’s go and live our lives for him — and all of the simple and all of the hard that is. They know this. They own this. I don’t want this diminished for them in any way. They shine this every day. They live this everyday. I don’t want this snuffed out.
And I got so incredibly tired of people trying SO hard to understand HOW in the world my family could be SO religious and not.go.to.church. “You’re so religious, why don’t you go to church?” Initially it began as a presumably fair question that I would delve into with grace, but as time wore on, I wore out — and became far less gracious. I may have become snappy even. Because Jesus isn’t our religion. He’s our way, he’s our truth, and he’s our life. He’s our relationship. Every single day of the week. Not.just.Sunday. He’s not a building. He’s our everything.
I understand that hubris shows up here in my heart. I had to admit my pride and ask forgiveness. I must pray again and again for God to open my heart — some more — this is a never ending process for this girl. For him to make me softer. To knock a few more bricks out of that wall (maybe a peep hole?). And maybe one Sunday I won’t fight back tears as I sit and take words that are not meant to be laced with the heaviness I feel hit my heart — maybe they’ll just slide right through as intended. Maybe. Or maybe God will use this pain for this girl to be courageously loud when I am supposed to be in a place where I feel that a lot more screaming needs to be going on, a lot more shouting — for praise, yes — but also for what we are doing to each other and what we need to be doing for each other. But for now, I need to be still. I need to trust God and be still. For this Sunday. For this five minutes…
Because there is so much shaking up to do. So much. As I so often tell my husband “church is not the place for me — if I could speak, Jesus is the only one left that would still love me.” I’m sure that there are many ‘after Sundays’ that he agrees. I don’t feel like I fit in the box of church. Thankfully I am blessed with a phenomenal group of sisters in Christ. Love you all so much! — Lisa, Summer, Niki, Jen, Lauren, Brooke, Karey, Kari, Jess, Shawna, Molly, Sara, Stacy, and so many more of you gorgeous and faithful hearts that pray for me and with me — that we can go to each other and that God has blessed us with one another… my heart is so full … “You are a warrior, alongside your brothers, on God’s mission in the world.” (Bessey, 78) — You are my family. YOU are my church.
For those of you struggling (maybe it’s really just me?), here are two amazing books that I can.not.get enough of. Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. There is so much I could say about this book, but it reduces me to a shaking puddle of mush and all I can mutter is “Halleluiah!”. Life changing for this daughter of God. Jesus loves us. So much. Even us girls. Smile. If that word, feminist, was EVER an “F” word in your church, pick this up. If you have ever felt like women’s issues, domestic violence, rape, lack of education, pornography, human trafficking (in our own borders, loves –in.our.own.borders), war and torture, and so.many.other.evils — are not addressed by the church and in some cases covered up and exacerbated by the church (and can be tracked back to our theology or beliefs about women) — please, read this. These issues are so common place in our culture. So pervasive, so prevalent — so much that we accept them as part of life. For what other reason would we be so silent? Read about the mighty warrior God created you to be. We don’t often, or ever, hear this message. Guess what, loves? — it’s in the Bible. I am asking my husband to read this too. This is PERSON book, not a female book. If you have ever been read the submission verses in the Bible as a means to suffocate your voice, to silence the dreams God has placed in your heart, or to give excuses for abuse of any kind within your home or within the church — please, beloved daughter, get this in your hands. Let healing begin. This beautifully written book is cause for praise and rejoicing in the church, and some revolution as well. A love revolution. “As we follow Christ in the counsel of the Holy Spirit, resting in the love of our Abba, we no longer fear — for there is no fear in love. We do not fear slippery slopes, we do not fear each other, we do not fear change, and we do not fear our own selves or what people can do to us. This fearless love allows the mission of God to infuse our smallest seed lives, growing through to our families, our communities, our culture, our government — tendrils twining. The root of the tree of Jesse is growing wild and beautiful.” (Besse, 164)
Besse is not just a talker. She is a mover and shaker for the Kingdom of God. You will be incredibly moved by her story and the work she continues to do. And she tackles those submission verses and those ‘women shouldn’t speak’ verses and those ‘the demise of everything abhorrent began with Eve’ soliloquies with so much knowledge and clarity and integrity. She knows her stuff. “If a woman is held back, minimalized, pushed down, or downplayed, she is not walking in the fullness God intended for her as his image bearer, as his ezer warrior. If we minimize our gifts, hush our voice, and stay small in a misguided attempt to fit a weak and culturally conditioned standard of femininity, we cannot give our brothers the partner they require in God’s mission for the world. The kind of help a man needs demands full deployment of all we are as women–no holding back. Men are most truly “helped” when women give our best. As Carolyn Custis James points out, ‘His life will change for the better because of what she contributes to his life. Together they will daily prove in countless and surprising ways that two is always better than one.'” (Besse, 80) Get your hands on it. Warning and spoiler alert — at the end of the book you will be commissioned to live your life for Jesus like you have never lived it before, friend. My heart was bursting. I wanted to call her, meet her for coffee, and hug the ever loving Holy Spirit in her… (I would love to attend one of her speaking engagements — any of my girls up for a road trip when she’s somewhere in the vicinity?)
The second book is also fantastic and blow your heart up good — Rachel Held Evans, Searching For Sunday. Over half way through this and I have laughed as much as I have cried and exhaled… “me too”… I got a little excited when I found that the forward was written by one of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton — Carry On, Warrior. Another amazing read. Rachel, ironically, pens the forward for Sarah’s book. I felt like we were all just tied together somehow, like this lost group of kindred spirits. Cause I have met G and hugged her and she signed my book, so, you know — that just ties us all together, right? — and now we’re all practically related. Smile. I lost several brain cells this week while living on my bathroom floor…
“Church is a moment in time when the kingdom of God draws near, when a meal, a story, a song, an apology, and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us. Church was alive and well long before we came up with the words relevant and missional, and church will go on long after the grass grows through our cathedral floors. The holy Trinity doesn’t need our permission to carry on in their endlessly resourceful work of making all things new. That we are invited to catch even a glimpse of the splendor is grace. All of it, every breath and every second, is grace.” (Evans, 133)
Amazing grace. All of it. Just as Evans says. And I pause to reflect on the short time we have fellowshipped in this church with these beautiful people — and how often my soul has been filled and met with grace. I think of one specific sermon in a pivotal time in our lives when I couldn’t, just couldn’t — and after Pastor Chad’s sermon — praise God — (because it was just for our family — praise Jesus I just KNOW it was — smile) I could, and I did, and I will. THAT was a miracle, that was divine, that was grace calling, that was mercy falling, that was the power of the Holy Spirit in my heart receiving the ministry of the living word in a place called church.
To a girl who’s been yanked around to every denomination, and been called everything other than Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness — I’m over trying to find my place. Because this isn’t about me. It’s about him. My place is at the feet of Jesus. My place is serving, my place is witnessing, my place is lifting others up and encouraging those around me. I’m over judging. I’m over being hurt — well, mostly over. Let’s just say I’m healing, and I can’t promise I won’t cry or take things inadvertently wrong — but this girl loves the Lord — and as long as my eyes are on him, I know he won’t let me fall. THIS much I know.
And I also know that I want to surround myself with others who know this too, who are on fire for Jesus (and anyone who has seen Pastor Josh preach cannot doubt this) — and although we may have different gifts and missions and directions we must go, and we will mess up and things won’t always be perfect, we will love and try and forgive and love and try again, and it will all be good (even when it isn’t), it will still be beautiful — because we are all held by the same loving and awesome creator. And we will hold each other. And we will always and forever be held.
And that, that is church…