What it’s like when you damn near kill each other. A post about marriage.

It was the worst sermon you’d ever want preached at your wedding. In it, the priest that married my husband and I went on-and-on for what seemed like hours about how we were not good for each other. He listed all the reasons that we were unfit. Unmatched. Destined for failure. This, in front of all our guests.

Way to lay us bare, dude.

And then, in the culmination of this homily, he said:

But Pam and Tom know one thing. They know that, without God, they’re not going to make it. And for that reason alone, because they know that they-know-that-they-know that this relationship is desperate even before they begin… Because of that, they may be one of the most prepared couples that I’ve ever met at the altar.

Hello, guests. Welcome to my marriage.

I wish I could say that things have changed since that wedding day. But the truth is that in ten years, we’ve damn near killed each other. We’ve yelled. We’ve slammed doors. We’ve both walked out and gone for walks. LONG walks. We’ve deliberately pushed each other’s buttons. We’ve run to other things to escape from living this life with each other — from TV to coffee, to work, to anything that could lessen this uncomfortability that is this truth: I am stuck with you.

And yet, I can confidently say that he … He is my very best friend. Which is to say, we are either incredibly unhealthy, or we’ve found something that is true about covenant relationships. And what’s true is that at some point you stop asking the question “Why did you hurt me?” And you start to ask the question “Why are you hurting, and how can I help?” And that, my friends, that is where you meet God in a marriage.

We’ve stopped taking each other’s misbehaviors personally. And it’s taken God holding our hands and making sure that we don’t act like five-year olds, demanding justice, to do it.

What’s real is that I’m not sure that either one of us isn’t going to go temporarily insane at some point in this life. What I do know is that the list that I walked into marriage with — you know the list that says “I vow to love you unless you … commit adultery, become a drunk, hit me, gamble away our life savings, or otherwise massively screw this up” — that list doesn’t exist anymore. (And no, my husband is not an alcoholic, or a gambler, or an abuser, but we all have our own demons). What’s left in it’s place is this brokeness for this man. I want Him to breathe deeply and grow and live fully. And I want to be the one that always encourages Him to go towards those things. Even if it means me boosting him up and me being left behind. And fortunately, I think he feels the same way.

And for the first time, I think I get why God made marriage and told us that it might give us a glimpse of what it means to be in relationship with Him.

All peace and love to you,

Pam

Prepare the Table — What It Means To Offer and Receive Communion

Just prepare the table. That was the command I received a few years ago.  I was organizing a church-wide Thanksgiving dinner, which had always been my favorite celebration together as a church body.  Unlike other Thanksgiving meals, this was not a soup kitchen. It was a family meal. Ridiculously smart University of Chicago students would sit next to struggling parents, who would sit next to lonely neighbors, who would sit next to the homeless. But, as we had found out from years past, this would only happen if there was only one table. Because given the opportunity to remain in our comfort, we would choose it every time. And everybody had a group that could comfort them.

But there was a problem with us all sitting together. This little meal had grown from asking someone extra to dinner, to a celebration that would include about 100 people. How in the world could we get everybody together? How was our little congregation going to feed everyone? And how was I, as a brand new mother of now three children, going to offer leadership, support, food, prayers, and emotional healing to that many people?

Prepare the table was the answer.

Not cook. Not clean. Not recruit volunteers.

Just ask the question: how do I prepare the table?

Despite only having one volunteer, three other people to cook side dishes, and no sleep for a month straight, that Thanksgiving went off without a hitch. It was gorgeous. And yes, everybody did sit at the longest banquet table I’ve ever seen. But I think that experience taught me more about communion than any sermon ever had before.

It taught me that in order for it to look like one of God’s meals, everyone had to have a seat at the table. And if it is really going to be beautiful, there had to be bridge builders who could bring two very different conversations together. The beauty of that table was that no one had the same level of education or economic status, but when we bowed our heads in prayer, we all had a deep love for the very same best friend. He was big enough to hold us together and to keep the conversation going. Because of His leadership, everyone was allowed to have a seat. Everyone was allowed to have a voice. And everyone was allowed to serve each other.

It taught me that you need to let people be as open as they know how to be. I couldn’t push anyone to sit next to someone who would make them feel unsafe. But what we could do, and what we did do, was allow people to come as they were. If they were newly divorced, or struggling with in-laws; angry, bitter, drunk, or cold, we let them in and said, if you’re willing, we’d like to eat with you. We listened. If they asked us to, we prayed. But we didn’t think for a second that we could jump into their world and tell them how to fix it. If you don’t think that changes people, you’re crazy. And if you don’t think that Jesus knew it would be a powerful and tangible way to tell people about a different kind of kingdom, then you’ve probably never experienced a meal like this before. You have to let people come into your church where they are — without judgement or a plan for them to improve — and meet at the table to say:  I need this nourishment as much as you do.

It taught me that you need to allow people to bring whatever they have to offer, even if it doesn’t seem to fit. Sure, buttered chicken and Indian rice didn’t exactly look right next to green bean casserole or marshmallow topped sweet potatoes. But allowing that seemingly out-of-place dish allowed someone to know that their customs, and background, and story were welcome. (And I dare say the turkey and rice meshed quite well.) Casting the analogy aside though, it might not seem like a charismatic should bring their gifts of tongues as they pray silently after communion in your cessationist church. It might not seem like the very orthodox sign of the cross, or the Nicene creed should be said if you’re in a western modern worship setting. It might not seem like a woman who was raised in a different city can speak the deep truths that a seminarian could. But if you let people share how they connect with God, you just might get a glimpse of Him. And it’s usually pretty stunning.

It taught me that “We expect God to show up every place other than the place he’s promised to be.” -J. Martin  06/06/14  I don’t know why it always surprises me that Jesus is present when we gather people around our table, or when I gather with brothers and sisters around the Lord’s table. But Jesus stresses breaking bread together over and over. Paul even re-emphasizes that we should wait for one another before we eat. The fact is, we need these meals. They offer us something that our souls need. And to neglect them is to have God offering himself to us, and for us to smugly say, “naw. We pass.”

This is what I know for sure. I know that every time I’ve been hurt, broken, stupid, or defiant, the Table is what broke me, reminded me who I was, and restored me. I know that when I couldn’t find words to pray, just saying Amen to a piece of bread held me to both God and the church. And I can’t ignore that it may just have been because this table — this table that had me pull up a seat instead of sending me to the kitchen — this table that said that I could bring whatever I had, even if it was only my breath — this table where God met me and I didn’t expect Him to — this table has over and over allowed God to say “You have dignity. And you have worth. And I love you.” And I think that’s why He has us prepare the table. To tell people: You have dignity. You have worth. And I love you.   Peace to you, Pam

The Value of Ordinary Time in a War Torn World

Because I grew up Orthodox, the church calendar was a part of our rhythm of life. I remember always being upset when the Lenten purple ribbons and banners and vestments gave way to green: the season known as ordinary time. Green meant no more holidays. It meant no more “highs.” It meant boredom to a child.

One year, however, shortly after Pentecost, a priest gave a homily that I’ll never forgot. He told us about how ordinary time was supposed to be a season of life. That purple shifted to green to remind us of the grass and leaves — that new life springs forth. “The church calendar year includes ordinary time to remind us that we need periods of rest and simplicity,” he said. “A time to rest and reflect so that we can feel like we’ve really lived.”

I liked that. Perhaps that’s why I never forgot it. And as liturgy became important to me again this past year, I thought about how to pass that on to my children.

That’s why this summer, I went in with different intentions about how my kids were going to spend their time. Unlike years past, the summer days weren’t filled with teaching them about how to have a missional attitude toward the world, or preparing them for the next year ahead. Instead, this summer, I gave my kids the gift of intentional, plain, boring ole’ ordinary time.

I wanted them to have memories of wind blowing through their hair while flying down hills, peddling as fast as their little legs could take them. I wanted them to have giggles ringing in their ears as they drifted off to sleep of the time they spent with their cousins in a backyard pool. I wanted them to know what it felt like to have neighborhood kids sit at a picnic table while they guzzled down buckets of sugar- laden, homemade lemonade.

And I wanted them to have all of it because I don’t know where their life is going to take them. And selfishly, I wanted memories of snuggles and picnic blankets, fireflies and family bike rides, because I’m not quite sure where this world is going to take me, either.

I look at world news reports and local murder counts and I sigh with deep pangs of sadness. I watch as marriages crumble — marriages that really have no reason to fall apart, except that couples are bored, or disillusioned, or just downright selfish. I feel like my head is spinning as I hear young children teach me about the heartaches and sorrows that are well beyond their years. In the past year, I’ve had more than a couple of middle school children whisper thoughts of suicide to me in moments of utter despair.

But I don’t want to jump from the Lenten truths about suffering, to the “Come Lord Jesus” of Advent. I don’t want to wallow in the things that have died, or have anxiety about the days ahead.

I want to guard the time, while we have it, to think of the green. To appreciate the days in between rockets dropping and women and children being buried alive. I want to teach my kids how to take big gulps of air on the good days that will sustain them through the days ahead. I want to take daily bread from the Lord when He gives it, even if it looks ordinary.

Because ordinary is a beautiful thing. And it’s not promised for long. But it is our glimpse of what lies ahead. And that might not be so bad. Fireflies and community, weeping willows and still pools of water just may be what our dreams of Kingdom come look like anyway. Where not every day has to be a high, but it’s good just to not be in need.

Without Hearing God

My husband of nearly ten years has taught me more about God than perhaps anyone else in the world. What’s interesting about this fact is that my husband has never “heard” a word from God, received a “timely bible verse,” or been able to “see” or recognize God moving. I’ve asked him to write a guest blog about what his life is like as a committed believer who “feels”  absence from God, and yet, still believes. My hope is that those of you who have some sort of prophetic ability can understand those who do not, and that those of you who are like my husband can be encouraged by his vulnerability and honesty. ASIDE: Comments are moderated. I am unapologetic about this practice.

***************

Without Hearing God

Some of you reading this blog have a gift, in some way, for hearing God.  It may be a clear voice, or a clearly foreign thought that must be God, or a feeling, or a well-placed Bible verse that just so happens to apply to this situation, or a word from a friend who just-so-happened to know what was going on in your life.  It may just be knowing something is true without having any reason for knowing or believing it — except that it’s actually true.  This may just be what fuels your relationship with God, or what differentiates your relationship with God from someone else’s discipline of praying regularly.

Some of you; however, don’t have this experience.  Some of you, in fact, have just the opposite.  There is no clear voice, no feeling, no response to prayer.  There is nothing.  So what does this mean in regards to a relationship with God?  How does your relationship with God function if you don’t have this gift of hearing? If all of your words and actions and cries out to God are left unanswered?  If you go through life with no words, feelings, or any other input from God?

Because that’s my experience.

If, on a given day, I hear someone say that they can’t hear from God like they usually do, and it bothers them, I will have no compassion. Because that’s every day for me. And I long for real relationship with God.

And thinking about these questions leave me totally confused about what my relationship with God is supposed to be like.  To explain this to someone who doesn’t understand, I can only propose these questions to you:

What would you do with a friend that you talk to, you write to, you come over to see, you cook for, you call on the phone, and your friend responds with nothing? Never laughs at your jokes? Never empathizes with your troubles? Never offers advice when you beg for their input?  Never compliments you on your eggplant parmesan?  Nothing?  You wouldn’t call them a friend for long, I imagine.  And for good reason – there is no relationship.  By definition, without a past or present relationship, that person cannot be a friend.

But we are told the exact opposite about God.  We are told that He is our Father, our creator, counselor, comforter, protector, provider, and even friend.   He created us with the sole intention to have a relationship with us.  And that makes sense – what on earth can we offer God that he can’t offer himself in abundance?  Money?  Time?  Labor?  Leadership?  Talent?  Everything else we would try to offer is quite limited and quite short of perfect.  In contrast, though, imperfect relationship with imperfect beings leaves room for God to be a loving, creative mentor — to be all of the titles we’ve given Him.  Relationship seems to offer something to God. So, what are those of us who don’t “feel” or “hear” God doing wrong that we cannot have a real relationship with the most capable being in the Universe?

We are told that we can find him when we quiet our soul and listen, because we are too busy; and we are told to pray to Him, but forget to listen when we are done.  We are told to seek relationship by reading our Bibles.  It’s all well-intentioned, it just doesn’t work for me.

I believe in the Bible, wholeheartedly, but I have no memory of God speaking to me when I read, even when I read every day, in the same chair, at the same time.  I love being out in nature, and I can sit, quiet and alone, but when I wait for God to speak, he doesn’t.  Situations come up in life that demand action, and I have no gut feeling as to what is right and wrong, what is from God, and what is meant to tear us down.

So, I end up with feeling like I have no relationship with God.  What I do have is a small, but growing, understanding of how He operates and how his world runs, and a respect for Him as the One in control with the master plan who won’t forget us.  On occasion I get upset, but in general, I’m not bitter about this.  I just accept that this is my lot in life.  I build up my wisdom to get me through situations, I work on my strength to get me through hardships, and I trust He loves me in ways I can’t see.

I end up believing because my faith is not conditional whether He speaks or not. Sometimes the value is in believing He loves you, even if you’re not hearing Him say it.

-Tom

 

When I Pray, and How I Pray, and Why I Pray

I tried to become an atheist once. I was 18 years old and a participant in an Honors theology/philosophy/literature class called “Logos.” The teacher, a Lutheran pastor turned professor, had managed to decimate my faith in a matter of weeks. That wouldn’t be a surprise for most young adolescents, but considering that I was voted as one of four students that were “most likely to enter a convent” out of high school, it sure-shocked me.

While that professors teachings have become essential to my walk of faith — and one of the best experiences of my spiritual formation — I wan’t ready for them at the time. And so, as a college freshman, I sat on my bed and determined that I would give up the faith.

And God laughed at me.

In an inaudible voice, I remember Jesus following the chuckle with a lighthearted, “Let’s see how that works out.”

It was going to be hard to be an atheist when I could sense God’s presence in my rebellion, and when I could “hear” His voice the same way that one “feels” their own heart beat and “hears” their own thoughts.

But that experience pretty much sums up my life experience with prayer. I go to pray, and I feel like God says, “I’ve already heard you, let’s continue the conversation.” Prayer is relationship; and that’s what relationship does. It invites the conversation to happen.

****
People ask me to pray for them all the time. I’m not sure why. Some have suggested that God listens to my prayers more than others. (I don’t take any stock in that.) Others tell me that the other gifts I use in prayer encourage them. (I’m grateful that my words do something beneficial.) But I must admit that my first reaction when people ask me to pray is fear.

I am afraid because I know that this invitation for conversation is open. There might be questions that need to be asked. There might be healing that needs to happen. There might be a need for humility or physical touch, or change. And I don’t know if that’s what others really want. Do they want to grow? Do they want Someone walking through the eye of the storm with them? Do they want breadcrumbs to follow? Or do they just want God to be in the circle so they can be mad at Him when things go awry? It makes me uneasy — this uncertainty of what we’re really doing when we go to prayer.

Unfortunately for me, my God can handle Himself, and He rather enjoys His creation coming to Him — no matter why or how they come. And He has a penchant for knowing how to serve beautifully. And so, often, when people ask me to pray, I end up feeling like Judas or like the disciples, trying to keep the children from getting to Jesus.

****

The irony in all this, of course, is that when I go to prayer, I go armed with one thing: honesty. I was taught from a very early age that if you’re going to be anything with God, the very least you can do is to be honest.

Sometimes I go with tears, and nothing else. Sometimes I go with curses and frustrations, flailing my arms all about. Sometimes I go with emptiness and disbelief. And sometimes, when He calls me to prayer, I go with obedience only, feeling guilty because I know that He’s actually offering something pretty great, and I’m treating it as if it were a chore.

But I pray because I don’t know what else to do. I pray because I love to talk to someone that I don’t have to filter myself for. I pray because I like questions, and I like thinking. I pray because He keeps me from being an idiot (at least some of the time.) I pray because I can’t stop. I’ve tried. And it didn’t work out well. I missed my friend.

What Happens After the Prayers Don’t Come Anymore

It came about three years ago — The day when I couldn’t find words to pray. I opened my mouth to allow the spirit to blow life into the lifeless, but there was no breath behind it. I shoved my lips together to form words – scriptural passages and memorized stanzas — but I found that I didn’t have the strength to even think the words, let alone say them.

That was the hardest spiritual season of my life. It was worse than doubt. At least when doubt descends upon your mind, you have replacement options. You can choose science. Or belief in yourself. Or, if all else fails, you can be angry. Very, very angry. No, this was something so much more soul crushing than that. This was silence. Forced silence.

Jesus was there. But He wasn’t going to talk. And I had nothing left to say. We sat there like a marriage couple who couldn’t divorce, but couldn’t even make our hands or feet accidentally rub together, either.

There was shame on my part. Maybe I had given a false prophecy. Maybe I hadn’t cared for the poor. Maybe my pride was too great. Where had I gone wrong? And maybe…maybe…maybe I just wasn’t His girl any more? In the faint shadow of the night the truth hid — that I had fallen. The blows in life had actually knocked me out.

I turned to the church we had been sent to. But it seemed that He had left her to abusive men a long time ago. Maybe somewhere He still communicated with one of the tribes, but I didn’t know where or who to trust. And it didn’t seem like I had permission to go seek Him out, anyway. Because again, He was right there with me. Just silent and still.

Like a kid who had been tomato staked to a parent, I waited. And whined. And let my body go limp.

And so that became my prayer. Holding my breath. Waiting in hesitation. Until I broke. And cried deep and painful tears.

“I miss Him. I miss Him so much.  …    ….” And then, acknowledging that He was still there,  “I miss us.”

While Jesus had taken me through seasons of understanding Him as Lord and Savior and King; lover, and comforter, and friend, He was now teaching me brother. Because a brother doesn’t always talk, and a brother doesn’t always tease. But a brother knows when it’s time to sit in the mud, silent and still. A brother knows how to sit there until you’re ready, without complaining about it, and without provoking you to move too early. A brother knows how to earn your trust again, even when it wasn’t Him that broke you. And a brother knows how to stand by your side as you try to rise again and get your posture back.

A brother walks you back out of the wilderness again, helping you to dream again. A brother watches as you are reminded of who you are. And a brother knows how to lead you back to your family who loves you.

So you know — The words did come back. And the prayers did come back. The hope in the family of God even came back. But the bond is deeper than it ever has been. Because there’s some bonds that can only be forged in the places when words stop. When you can’t even look anybody in the eye. When all you can do is know that there’s somebody there, waiting until you’re really ready.

 

Why I’ll be attending #Praxis14 today

Christian conferences have become a dime a dozen; each tribe, each church movement creating one to energize their base. In Tulsa, Oklahoma today, though, I think there’s going to be one for the record books. Praxis

Why is Praxis different? The short answer is: I don’t know. And I don’t think they do perfectly, either. And that is what makes them different.

Praxis isn’t about moving away from other denominations; it’s a movement forward, together, in respect and admiration. It isn’t about “getting everyone on the same page,” as much as it is an opportunity to learn from one another. It isn’t going to be a power surge, but I think God is going to show up and reveal a part of Himself that is beautiful and holy and sacred.  And that might just be more powerful than anything the Church has seen in awhile. 

I fully believe what happens today in this small town on the edge of the heartland is going to be felt in the church for years to come. It’s certainly not the first move God made for this new creation to happen, but it is a significant part of the beginning. Something beautiful is about to occur. And I’m about to witness it. Pray for us today. Pray that we are still long enough to let it change us.

The Heretic, the Believer, and the Accuser

I still remember the first time I heard a Christian slandering another group of Christians. I was 8 years old, and a family friend started slamming the “New Age” churches.

In the Roman Catholic church in the 1990s, the “New Age” was a movement of people who committed two “heinous” errors in the sight of Orthodox Catholics. Namely, these churches moved the tabernacle* to the back of the church and moved the pews and chairs in the sanctuary. Instead of long rows of cathedral style seating, the congregation now sat in a semi-circle around the altar.

Image

 

(To be fair to orthodox believers, there were also fears of “too much spiritualism” and a genderless God. For example, instead of saying “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” some New Age members would say “In the name of the Creator, the sanctifier, and the redeemer.” These fears often were not grounded in actual experience of hearing or seeing these events, but the speculative belief that congregations would eventually be led that way.)

Unfortunately, this slandering has not been an isolated incident in my life. Once converting to Protestantism, I’ve found that the Evangelical church also has this cold, civil war. It’s the perpetual fight between the Emergent and conservative believers. The theological left and right, so to speak. It’s Mars Hill Seattle vs. Mars Hill Michigan. And there are sides. Oh boy, are there sides.

In either case, there is the eventual outcry of “HERETIC!” In other words, “You are not one of us!”

*****

A year ago, our family left a church that we had only been a part of for a short time. In that short time, we saw a lot of unhealthy behavior. If the goal of the church is to be like Jesus, and Jesus was sent to bind up the broken-hearted and set the captives free, then this church was as far from the goal as possible. The legalism and religiosity of the church was overwhelming. And in the time we spent there, my husband and I encountered shattered lives: people who had been hurt by this church but couldn’t leave because they had been led to believe that it was their fault. One lay leader even told me one day that God allowed her perpetual pain because it was needed to keep her character in check. In other words, Jesus couldn’t possibly change her heart with His love. He needed to hurt her, like an abusive husband or father, in order for her to be obedient. Yikes!

In a fit of anger during prayer one day, I asked Jesus why He let it go on — Why He let this church keep hurting people. As He usually does, He asked a question back, “What would you do? Do you want me to just destroy them?”

I thought about the mandate given in Matthew 18: If your brother has (actually) sinned against you….. The last part of that mandate is “And then, if they still don’t listen, then wipe your hands.” In essence, I was trying to decide if they were my brother. Because if they were, I needed to pray for them. But if they are not my brother, if they were just a cult misusing the name of Christ, then I should pray for their destruction.

I thought about all the harm this church had done. How they misrepresent Jesus, and His tone, and His people. I thought about their forcefulness and abuse. My anger bubbled to boiling.

And in a moment of complete rage, I said “YES! Yes, Jesus. Please destroy them.”

Pause.

And then He said, “I’m not going to do that, but we do need to deal with your heart.”

****

It’s easy to lob accusation at each other. It’s easy to see each other’s sins. It’s easy to see gross misrepresentation of the gospel – whether by people who have been led into myths, or those who have used the Christian model as a method of control and manipulation.

It is easy to see. But what’s not easy to see is each other as equal. As image bearers of Christ.

When we’re frustrated by each other’s sins, it’s almost impossible to see clearly. But to not see each other clearly leads to disastrous results. It leads us to be like Satan — accusers of one another — and to be destroyers.

I’m not 8 anymore, but it still hurts to hear one Christian accuse another of not being in Christ. There’s something horrendously sad about it all. It’s like watching your family being torn apart, and feeling powerless to do anything about it. You want to scream, “Don’t you know we need each other?” 

Heresy is an important thing. Doctrine is an important thing. But as my husband always reminds my son, insisting on demanding your rights always is going to cost you something. As he teaches our boy, “You need to think: is this worth the cost before demanding that you are right and your way should be law?”

The cost of the accusation is that you alienate your brother. The cost of the fight is you start a war in God’s family. Are you sure it’s worth the fight? 

 

 

 

 

Find Your Voice Again

Most people wish that God would speak to them at least once in their life. They hope and they pray that they’ll be directed to exactly WHAT they are supposed to do, WHEN they are supposed to do it. But what if God spoke, and you interpreted it wrong? What would that look like? What if God breathed life into you about something, and you walked away from that creation without even knowing it? How could you get back to being in the breath of God again? Because you can. You really can.

I’ll give you an example.

When we moved out to the suburbs years ago, we knew what church we had been sent to, but we didn’t like it. In an act of rebellion, I started looking for other churches. I found one that was INCREDIBLE. If I were a scout for looking for churches that would one day be the most influential in our nation, I would have put money on this one. They were a lone source of truly gracious hospitality in a very withdrawn, isolated place. They cared for the things that millennials cared for (namely the poor, authenticity, community, and direct trade coffee), giving them half a shot of maintaining their congregation’s numbers as they grew. They understood the value of the Holy Spirit’s place in prayer without becoming kooky. And most of all, they had one hot-shot of a pastor. The guy was 30 and was better than anybody else I had ever seen in the pulpit. And believe me, I’ve seen a lot.

On one of our first Sundays with that congregation, he shared how the church came to be. At the time, he was on staff at another church. He was sitting in a meeting with a lead pastor that he would have followed into the grave. When, all of a sudden, he heard God speak in a non-audible, but definitively God voice:

“I did not make you to follow another man. I meant for you to lead.” (Or something like that.)

That one line caused this young pastor to plant a church in an area that desperately needed it, despite the fact that there were mega churches and long established denominational churches close-by. The area needed a young pastor who would win back the hearts of rebellious twenty somethings who had been hurt by legalism, and those who had been shunned by stringent standards. And he was the guy to do it. He had quick wit, a couple of tattoos, and one hell of a gutsy wife to stand by him.

They set out, with two or three other couples, and the church just shined. Everybody knew that they had something special. Something that they just couldn’t put their finger on, but something nonetheless.

But then, this horrible thing happened. The young pastor became infatuated with two prominent pastors voices: one locally and one nationally. He started preaching like them, mimicking their jokes and even their ticks — and then started preaching their messages. Their congregations didn’t know that he was plagiarizing, but because we were still in the church of the man he idolized, we knew. We had heard that same sermon two months ago.

The young pastor became best friends with that older prominent pastor. He defended him. He followed him. He treated him like a father. And eventually, he started taking his church down the road of becoming like this mega-church instead of fostering the unique identity that Jesus wanted to give them.

I don’t know how many times I have wondered what that church would look like today if the young man would have made friends with the prominent pastor, but also would have insisted on following the vision that Jesus gave him for that young church. I wonder how many people could have seen something truly unique — a move of God. I even wonder how the prominent pastor’s church could have been motivated by this young church plant if he had held his ground.

This pastor’s story isn’t unique though. I see beautiful voices on social media channels that succumb to this error every day. They re-tweet other voices instead of fearlessly preaching what God gave them. Or  they create content that they think will get them published. Or just say something that “fits” but they’re not even sure if they really believe it.

Can I encourage you to walk away from that today?

Can I encourage you to go to prayer and ask the question:

What would I say if didn’t fear? What would I co-create with God if I really believed that He was behind me? What would I avoid if I really believe that I could be a unique creation of God, uniquely creating for His good?

I pray that you find your voice again. And that you stand in that voice with unwavering fear. That you create something useful and applicable and different. That you allow God to flow through you like you’ve never seen — and that you would be unapologetic when He does.

 

Love,

Pam

When HERO is spelled LOVE WELL

The images of my childhood are of women. They are of women kneeling. They are beautiful, holy, consecrated memories of laughter and gossip and teasing. They are beautiful reminders that the best things in life are souls committed to being real with one another. In an effort to inspire you to beauty, I’d like to paint the pictures of my memories with you.

The church I grew up in was built in the late 1950s. It was a large sanctuary of mismatching items: mustard seats on the altar, jade green and white marble, puke brown carpeting, and white stone statues. Walking into the church could give you the hibbie jibbies. Almost all the windows in the building were stained glass, most of them with the stations of the cross. If you were to sit in this sanctuary, you would think that the congregants were the saddest sort of bunch. But downstairs, in an equally ugly space, there was community like you couldn’t imagine. Because downstairs were a steady stream of tough cookie women who were always brewing up some sort of gathering. Whether it be a soup kitchen to raise money for the struggling families in our communities, or a pancake breakfast to support the neighborhood watch program; whether it be to set up chairs for stay-at-home moms to come and gather and share their stories of rough marriages at the Mass for Moms, or to try to turn this dry, drab space into a banquet hall for kindergarteners to feel like they were graduating a prestigious university, these women, in their holiday inspired sweaters, khaki slacks, white gyms shoes, and identical curled and Aqua Net hairspray would come. Their laughter and good-hearted teasing rings through my ears at night as I long for women who will share in the little things of life with me like that one day. Image

 

But it wasn’t just the older women who worked in this beautiful communion. The moms of our church were in-and-out of our school, always bringing, always encouraging, always giving … something. Our teachers were their friends, and they knew how hard it was to deal with our lil’ old selves. And so, in this ranch style layout of painted tan bricks and speckled, sawdust-over-puke-smelly floors, the moms would come. They would create elaborate scenes for Christmas and Easter and Valentines day: Santa on a sleigh, holding a list of names that just so happened to have every child’s name in the school on it. They would sew quilts with every family in the parish having a square and a way to express themselves. They would volunteer as lunch moms to make sure our gym stayed clean for the class that would come and use it in the next period. They would bring flowers and sell candy bars. And it wasn’t to raise money. It was to provide an atmosphere where kids knew that there was more than just a mom and a dad behind them. There was a community — cheering them forward and helping them to make a difference — from the days of boy scouts, to having their own son, to raising up the next generation when they would be grandparents one day, too. They were laying a foundation, and it was on the backs of moms who gave what they had.

Image

It was that call, in fact, to give what you have, that led my mother to break her long-term promise to me to send me to a prestigious Jesuit College Prep. Instead, she sent me 45 minutes away to a school I had never heard of, because, in her words, “she’d be sending me to a family.” How did she know? Well, because the mothers of this high school hand-baked cookies for the open house. Thousands and thousands of homemade, from scratch, you-can-smell-the-vanilla-in-every-hall cookies. And before you assume anything, these were not submissive women who thought their place was in the kitchen. These were moms who ruled the world — CEOs and lawyers and doctors — and they still knew how to take out the flour and sugar and create something warm for something else.

That visit day is as fresh in my mind today as any other day in my life. The gal touring us around the building boasted of their blue ribbon status and their AP classes, but that’s not what my mom focused on — even with her valedictorian daughter standing beside her. She looked at the other women. She watched their confidence and their strong love for their kids. She saw the pride in a school that was created to raise a generation, and in that moment, she taught me what to value in a school, in a community, and in partners. She could care less about the brand new computer lab. She saw women who walked with dignity and integrity, always looking behind them to make sure that no one was lost, no one was ignored, and no one was hurt. Not on their watch anyway.

When everyone moved out of the neighborhood and out of the suburbs surrounding those schools, I thought I’d never find those communities again. That is to say, communities of service and devotion — communities of character that really defined what that word is supposed to mean. And I can’t say that I haven’t been saddened when I think of what I was given and how my children don’t see those same things. But we have been able to glimpse pockets here and there. Grandmas who babysit children during a MOPS groups so that moms can share the burdens of raising kids in this generation. Homeschooling mommas, who are already pushing on all cylinders, who chose to take on my special needs kid so that I can have bible study like other mommas do (without worry). A couple who have spent 19 years of their life building an free, annual community Easter Egg hurt, complete with climbing walls and bouncy houses, so that underprivileged families without support nearby can have an exciting, memory building activity to go to on Easter morning. These women, these people are my heroes. The people who don’t necessarily have a whole church or school of volunteers behind them, but who create pockets of life anyway. They love. And they love. And they love.

And I want to be like them. Always.

These are my heroes. These are my women. These are the women who taught me what it was like to follow Jesus.

Image

 

Love,

pam