Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Call Process

Oh my goodness, the call process...

Alright, everyone. Having just been through the receiving of FIVE different calls throughout the country and the final acceptance of ONE, here are my thoughts on the call process. Please keep in mind that because I'm a pastor's wife and daughter, I offer the "other side" perspective and will say things here that if I were a member of the congregation or call committee I would say anyway, but can't because, well, I'm the pastor's wife and a pastor's daughter. All of these thoughts are from my own experience and may or may not reflect truth in YOUR individual experiences. So here's the truth about my experience straight from the horse's mouth:

First, the call process is not exciting. It's a burden... at least at first. The first call Scott received was to a church in New Jersey. The moment he hung up the phone my stomach dropped. It didn't drop because I didn't want to go to New Jersey, it dropped because in that moment TWO congregations were convinced that Scott was to be their pastor and it was entirely up to the two of us to discern that to be true or not and then decide. That's not something to take lightly. Worse yet, and allow me to explain, everyone considers it a "divine" call. So, God's in the mix. Why can this be crazy? Because a group of Christians have gotten together and think God is calling you to them. And yet, another group of Christians called you 3.5 years ago and are pretty sure God still wants you here with them. And then there's Scott and I and the way we feel and think and then there's our family and friends and they way they feel and think.. and pretty soon you've got 500 Christians, if not more, all thinking and feeling different things about where God wants you! How is that NOT confusing and burdensome?! What makes YOU right over another Christian? What makes THEM wrong? The people of God are, albeit peacefully, divided. And this is a "divine" call. Not fun. Not exciting. A burden... at least at first.

Secondly, churches be VERY aware. There are certain dead giveaways as to how you view ministry and the bumps and bruises that will come should someone accept your divine call and come and serve you. Let's start with a HUGELY obvious area: finances. "Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also." Churches, please hear me out on this one! Do NOT, do NOT, do NOT make the pastor and his family front all of the expense to come and see you and then when you have the opportunity to reimburse him while he's physically present with you (because he's already mailed you the flight info with cost), you choose not to get him his check.

*A digression and explanation: Scott and I live in the mountains. It is VERY hard to get out of here and to get back in, so we booked all our travel ourselves and were reimbursed. There was no other way of doing this to make it work. I totally get that and fully support us needing to do that. I'm talking about people who live next to a major airport who would also be flying into another major airport. In certain situations like ours, I'd say to the churches watch the pastor closely and see whether or not he's willing to front the expense to get out to visit you and his holistic attitude about having/needing to do that, for that will also tell YOU a great deal about HIM. For use as a tangible example in our situation: we are leaving for California Thursday to attend my Grandmother's funeral. We are driving to Denver (a 3 hour one-way drive) because my parents could get us out of the Denver airport for under $400 while flying us out of the nearest airports (Vail or Aspen) couldn't be anything less than $1700 - even with bereavement fares. Location, location, location... So, booking travel from where we are, all three times we needed to do so, cost us at the cheapest $998 each time and all these trips took place within 6 weeks of each other. We try to be very responsible with our finances, but were definitely squeezed to put about $4000 of our own money towards visitation (flights, gas, food, hotel, extended parking, etc.) within a 6 week period of time. Again, my point is, the called person and the calling body's attitude towards how to handle these situations tells you A LOT.*

Back to the point. With one church we visited we had sent them the flight info and all that an entire week before we came out there. We were out there for three days, were told a check would be given to us before leaving, but then had to wait another week after we got home to receive reimbursement. While there, we sat down with the financial board and saw plainly that the church was in no hurt for money, there was an abundance and all the people who's signatures and approval were needed were present to do so, but it never happened. The salary they offered Scott was also $2000 above the poverty line... with plenty of money in the bank. So then the question has to be asked: why would you do that to someone you want to build a life together with? Scripture tells us to not hold back a man's wages overnight. While there, it became evident as well that their attitude towards reimbursing us was very similar to their attitude towards finances in that place in general - and that's not good. They lived holding on to their money as long as they possibly could and then begrudgingly gave it up. And that's my point. Their money in the bank was their god and their love. They weren't going to give up their money or love until they absolutely had to. I am grateful Christ doesn't feel the same way about His love and forgiveness. Churches and church workers be aware: the way people handle money tells you a GREAT DEAL about how they view the ministry.

A third observation: Language

Now, I truly believe all language to be shorthand and could give you a lengthy lecture about the "conceptual signified" and all that, but that would simply confirm the nerd I am, so I'll be plain. :-)

The language used by the leadership and the rest of the congregation tells you a GREAT DEAL about how they view the ministry. Are they confident when the speak about Christ? Are they humble? Are they loving to people who are politically different from them (with the election this year it was AMAZING to hear the good, bad, and the ugly straight out of Christian's mouths!)? But, maybe more important than all of that is how they speak about the present. There were a couple congregations that called Scott who only spoke about the past. They made sure the first time they met us we knew that they had been members in that place for over 40 years, or their grandfather was the person to break ground on the old sanctuary, etc. Now, it's not that remembering our history is not important, it's a matter of whether or not the congregation operates from where they were and not were they want to be. Is Christ still calling? Or has He left and gone somewhere else? Unless a congregation can stop living in the past, they will never be ready for the present or the future. They might realize they need to think differently or try something new, but they aren't actually ready to do so until their language reflects that desire. I'm serious. Listen to the way people talk. Ever taken a course on anthropology of languages? The words we use reflect what's going on inside of us and also simultaneously create or reinforce thoughts that may or may not yet be present. That's a fascinating reality. We can create attitude through language! Even more fascinating is when you begin to think about how Yahweh created with WORDS!!! But that's an entirely different, and exhaustingly geeky blog, too... :-) So, yes, my point here is to listen and listen carefully. It tells you a GREAT DEAL. Oh! And if you're greeted by an elder whose first words to you are about making sure you know that the communion schedule is HIS schedule and will not be changed in any way, shape, or form EVER, that might tell you a bit about where a congregation's focus is, too. Just saying...

Alright, so I've mentioned the burden of the decision, finances, and language. One last observation before I sum up.

Give and take.

Watch how the congregation seeks to put you at ease. Watch how they seek to care for you. Do they exploit you while you are with them, or are they protective of you? Are they already putting you on a holy pedestal or are they interested in knowing you as people? The moment we were greeted in the airport by one congregation it became clear to us that should we accept the call to their congregation, they would expect me to be a quilter, quiet and submissive, and be barefoot and pregnant as soon as possible. Now, to be fair, I have quilted a queen-sized quilt with my wonderful cousin, but cannot call myself a quilter. I'd like to think I honor my husband (Scott chime in here anytime...), but I don't think I outwardly come across as "quiet" and "submissive." I am a performer. I love to sing and dance and act and hike and laugh and read theology and have meaningful relationships and prefer there to be a lot of noise around for the majority of the day. I am the essence of "the more, the merrier." This congregation would not like me. In fact, I could cause great distress there because they would not be used to me - and that's something that needs to be taken into consideration as well. Why cause problems when you don't have to? You should never feel like you have to force a good fit. People can get hurt when you do. Wives of pastors: I get it. I really do. I believe there are times when denial of self is the only best thing to do. I truly believe that. As proof, I worked for 6 months for our preschool for free because they needed it. However, I was never asked to lie about my motivations, the ups and downs, my thoughts or my feelings. When we teach each other to refrain or deny self, we must be incredibly vigilant that we aren't encouraging each other to lie. Christ is truth. In Him there is no darkness at all. The Body is called to know and be fully known. How can we fully know ourselves and our neighbor if we lie? If we hide parts of ourselves we are never fully allowing ourself to be fully known. Instead we allow only "parts" of ourselves to be known, while other parts must remain hidden. This makes for disaster and inauthenticity. Pastors, wives, and ministry families and peoples: you are servants, yes... but you are not liars. Congregations: Christ has set us free. There is no need to be in control of anyone, or to force them to conform to YOUR ideal role. Let the Holy Spirit do what He promises to do. At this same congregation it became clear that they didn't want Scott to use his gifts and abilities; they wanted him to be exactly what THEY wanted. Think of a relationship that could lead to marriage. Do you want to marry someone you hope becomes what you want them to become one day, or do you want to marry someone for who they clearly are? Don't force a good fit.

So, confession time. These are just some of my observations. Scott and I are the kind of people who want to give a people our lives. We want to know and be fully known. We want to act in confidence because we know the people we serve have our backs. We want the people we serve to know that their pastor and his whole family have their backs, too. We consider it a great joy and privilege to be there when there is life, when there is death, when someone is arrested or stands before a judge, to be the person to make the announcement, or to jump in front of the bullet. My husband wants to be a good shepherd, not a hired worker. And as his wife, I want to do whatever I can to let the people we serve know that we love them unconditionally and they need not feel bad if my husband is called away in the middle of the night. Now, we have learned, as people so willing to give of ourselves, we need to serve people who respect that and also seek to protect us. The word "boundaries" comes to mind. :-) And this leads me to our experience with Trinity Lutheran Church in Keene, New Hampshire.

These people have been praying for us daily since September. They have provided for us, protected us, and been incredibly accommodating to us from the beginning. While visiting them they asked us about us. They were excited to hear about my interests and one lady even sat me down and made it a point to tell me that I was important, too. That yes, I was following my husband across the country, but that I mattered and needed to know that the people here knew that and wanted to honor that. As a pastor's wife with 5 calls in 2 months, that's the only time that conversation ever took place. They made sure we were back at our hotel at a decent time so we could get enough sleep. They were incredibly transparent with us. No question was off limits. They didn't try to make themselves seem "better" than they were, nor was there a false sense of humility. They were just honest. To give you a sense of what the culture is like there: the principal is earning his doctorate and his dissertation is focused on emotional intelligences and how teachers can help children better understand what's going on inside themselves so they feel more healthy and less crazy. I mean, seriously, how awesome is that?! What inspired him to do that was reading another Lutheran's dissertation in which they claim that Lutheran schools produce emotionally healthy and stable children solely because of Lutheran Doctrine. (Are there any Lutheran educators reading this who have witnessed children in Lutheran schools who are NOT emotionally healthy or stable? Who have seen them expelled from a Lutheran school? Who have recommended counseling? Or, who in fact have known ANYONE who IS emotionally healthy and/or stable and is NOT a Lutheran? Yeahhhhhh..... me, too.) But I digress!!!

The majority of the people there are actively involved in a bible study - and these studies are all lay-led. They built a new sanctuary without a pastor. They pray together. They are patient and deliberate and if they are going to do something, they are going to do it right. They have taken IMMACULATE care of their parsonage. Their language is filled with grace, confidence, and peace.  They are gentle. No one spoke about the past unless we asked them about their history - they are the most future-focused congregation I have ever encountered. One of their elders sat us down and told us that should we come, everyone is going to be so excited that everyone is going to want our attention and time and that we should feel entirely fine with setting boundaries, taking our day off, and not burning ourselves out in three months. He was telling us that he wants us to remain healthy. He may not have realized it, but he was really telling us that he respected us. He was telling us that he would have our backs, even as we would have his. These people are concerned about Christ above anything else. Yes, they are sinners same as you and me, capable of utter destruction and pain, but God made it clear to us that they are our new family. They speak our language. They share our heart. It's a good fit, no forcing needed. They want Scott to be Scott and Becca to be Becca. And we want them to be them. We will grow together.

So while I can't say I "enjoyed" the call process, I am humbled and truly amazed at what Yahweh taught us through this process and view it as entirely worth it. And though it IS a burden, it is a burden that is worth it in the end. Going through the call process I have become much more aware of the entire Body, rather than just pieces of it.  It has also taught Scott and I that we do know what we're talking about. I don't say that in a boastful manner. Scott and I are people who are constantly reflecting as to whether or not we were correct, or should have done something this way or that, so it was a calming, joyful experience to see that the Spirit of discernment is in fact alive and well within us. That's pure grace to people who often wonder if they made the right decision. And finally, on an extremely personal note, I'd like to remind everyone to truly wait on the Lord. Yes, I can write blogs about thoughts and get up onstage and sing and dance for you, but talking about my faith.. talking about what I am witnessing Yahweh do in my life is extremely intimate and personal for me.. it's like being naked. However, nakedly, I want to say that Christ does take care of His people. The last ten-ish years of my life have often left me wondering if God was still around; if I still mattered to Him, or if He'd given up on me. The way I feel today is that of incredible gratitude and humble joy. I am ENTIRELY aware of my unworthiness before my Heavenly Father, and yet I see His provision abundantly present everywhere. He's not providing through money, or having someone randomly pay off all our student debt, or through a graduate degree, or through a new house, or any noted success or failure. He's provided through people; through relationships; through learning. Scott and I will never be rich and our names will never be known throughout the earth. We may contract horrible diseases, or even loose a child, but we are dearly loved. God has shown us grace upon grace through His people. And seeing that attention to us makes me want to make God happy. I don't know how else to say it. His goodness makes me want to make Him happy and I pray for the opportunities to do so.

So, there are my thoughts about the call process. I hope I came across as insightful, not conceded. If I came across as conceded I beg your forgiveness and fall upon grace. But more than that, I hope I came across as honest, that I might be fully known by my brethren. I don't claim perfection, I claim in-progress. So, yup. That's all.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

We Are All Beggars

Hola, mis amigos!

I've been gone for far, far too long. A whole bunch of stuff going on in life - finishing a thesis, flying all over the country because my husband's received three calls to different congregations in the past 6 weeks, my dad came to visit, changes at work, my grandma's been in and out of the hospital, etc. You all know how life is and have been experiencing it as well. But the real reason I haven't written for such a long time is because I haven't been inspired to say anything.. but I have something to say today.

Many of you know my husband and I live in the mountains up here in Glenwood Springs, CO and have become quite close with the transient/homeless population that resides here. We've spent holidays together, sat with each other in hospitals, broken bread together, gone to court with them, worshipped with them, and have had them numerous times in our home as guests.

So, I've been inspired to write today because of something that grossed me out and seriously disturbed me this morning. We had one of our homeless friends stay with us last night (it's getting below freezing here at night and the local shelter is pretty dang full, and, again, this is nothing new for us, we do this lots). We've known him for at least six months, probably longer, and consider him a friend. So it was quite the shock to me when I got up this morning to open my computer and found pornography greeting me. There were multiple pages up that I closed and I checked the "history" of my internet and yes - there were many different pages that had been visited. I debated back and forth for about 20 minutes as to whether or not I should call my husband and tell him because he was driving our house guest around and I didn't know if they would be together or not when the phone rang. Eventually I called and we were able to discuss what had happened.

Needless to say, there will be words exchanged.

But, that in itself is not why I'm writing. It's only part of it. This morning's events caused me to stop and think about our years spent with this particular community. In our time together, in no particular order, we've had a homeless friend smoke pot in our house when we weren't home, seen another one be ridiculously wasted and urinate outdoors on our property, had an individual show up drunk on our doorstep and hand us about 300 pages of a court document that wasn't even his, one threatened to punch my husband in the face "with the holy spirit," another has prophesied to us from his visions, another has tried to touch my husband's genitals, another has eyed me up and down to my displeasure and discomfort, another had a psychotic episode/breakdown and didn't want to go to the hospital because "they and their king were out to get him," and now one has used my personal computer for pornography watching. Seriously you guys, you can't make this stuff up.

I must admit that when I started thinking about all these things I began to wonder if we weren't stupid and should just cut ourselves off from them and move on. And then something crazy happened..

I remembered the other people I know...

Raise your hand if you know a pothead.

Raise your hand if you are a pothead.

Raise your hand if you know someone who looks at porn.

Raise your hand if you're the person you know who looks at porn.

Raise your hand if you've ever been drunk..

or know someone who has been drunk..

or known someone who has peed in public while drunk (or while sober)..

or says stupid stuff while under the influence..

or has mental health issues..

or hits on girls..

or hits on guys..

or is lonely..




full of shallow bravado..

Know anyone yet?

I was not pleased in the least to have my computer and my home disrespected with pornography. But I wasn't nearly as upset about it as I thought I should be and that is why I started thinking about all the other crazy things that have happened to us from knowing "these people." I was trying to make myself mad. I was trying to make myself put them back in their proper category and righteously walk away in my disgust and condemnation.

But I couldn't.

I couldn't because "these people" are our friends. We don't have hallow, empty relationships with them. We care about them and they care about us. And yes, they are and can be extremely crazy - I will not deny that. But you know what? Within that exact same group of people who have done all that crazy stuff I mentioned above, let me tell you some other things they've done:

One of them regularly makes me fresh bouquets of flowers so I can have fresh flowers in my house. Another has spread nothing but good will and love about us and our church within this community; he can't stop singing our praises to people who would otherwise not have a clue who we are or where our church is. Another managed to plant, water, grow, and harvest a garden of food for the homeless in our area on our church's property without any help from anyone - and he gave all the food away in a banquet he held in our basement. Over 150 people we have never met were there to honor my husband and I and what our church has done for the homeless community - a homeless man did all that. Another (a former lawyer) has given us AMAZING legal advice. Another helped us paint our church - he probably worked on it many more hours than the rest of us. Another decorates not just our church, but EVERY church in town for Christmas. Another deliberately sat between me and another man because he didn't like how he was looking at me and wanted to protect me. They write us thank you cards. They try to offer us money to help with what they ate while they stayed with us. They make the bed in the guest room before they leave. They've never stolen anything from our home. They've given us jackets and blankets because they know I'm not used to the winters here and don't want us to have to spend the money to go out and get them. They carved pumpkins for our preschoolers. They keep an eye on our church's property at night. They show us pictures of their families spread out all across the world. And I could go on..

I can't judge them and cut them off because "these people" are us. They are you. They are people. We all sin and have done and do things we pray no one will ever know about - especially God. Some of you may have laughed at some of the things I described because it reminds you of your college days. Some of you are still in denial and are making excuses for all the things you have done that were on the list. And that's fine. That can be your process. Whatever. Keep secrets, tell the whole world - it's completely your choice. Just don't think for one second that you and I are somehow superior or inwardly different from "these people."

Because we're not.

At all.

Even in the slightest.

Now, I don't want anyone thinking that we aren't taking or don't take any of these events seriously - we have and we do. We talk with them about it. We go directly to them. There have been times when they have responded poorly or harshly, and times when we've even felt it was appropriate to call the police, so we did. In all but one case we have been fully reconciled to each other and the relationship has only gotten better. I want to mention that one relationship that has not been restored because I don't want you to think we're perfect or think we are the hippest, MOST BEST CHRISTIANS IN THE WORLD!!! or that we've managed to get human relationships down to a science. We haven't, we aren't, we will never be.

I bring all this up to maybe help someone else begin to think differently about the world and what we think we know about it. Scott and I don't proselytize to our homeless friends. Jesus comes up in worship and bible study and all the obvious places, and He certainly isn't hidden or taboo, but honestly He's not who we "lead with" when we're with them. The gentlemen who stayed with us last night has told us before that there are always churches and organizations trying to help, and many of them want to do so in the name of Jesus, but at the end of the day they pack up, get in their cars, and go home. He says he feels like they belittle him in the way they speak to him, as if he's stupid and doesn't know what's best for himself. They come down to the church, serve their monthly meal, feel really good about themselves, and then leave until the next time it's their turn to make the meal. (*DISCLAIMER* *I AM NOT ADVOCATING THAT WHAT THOSE INDIVIDUALS ARE DOING IS WRONG OR UNHELPFUL OR LESS THAN MYSELF AND MY HUSBAND. I AM OFFERING ONE PERSPECTIVE FROM ONE INDIVIDUAL IN REGARDS TO WHAT HIS PERCEPTION OF IT ALL IS*)

But with Scott and I (though MUCH more my husband than me, I often work until 5:30, so I can't make it down there as much anymore), well, we eat with them. We go to the meal with them. We allow the people or organization serving the food that night to think that we, too, are "those people" and need their help. We don't point out to anyone that we're not part of the community, we don't ask for specialties or extras. We come, wait in the line, get food, sit down with everybody, break bread and talk. And through that incredibly simple act, we've not only made friends, we've also been told that they believe that we believe in Jesus because we choose to eat with "tax collectors and sinners."

I'm totally pissed about what our friend did in our home with our belongings last night, but he's not cut off. We will talk to him. It will be awkward and embarrassing. We will all feel weird the next time we see each other, but we will get through it. It's what the Body of Christ does.

I'm not saying go out and meet a homeless person and invite them into your home - we took many months to develop the relationships we have with our friends. We didn't invite them over the day we met them - that would have been awkward for everyone involved. And I'm certainly not saying stop helping people if you're not willing to become everlasting friends with them. There are people who need help and there is a bit of truth in "beggars can't be choosers." Help them - even if they aren't grateful. What I am saying is that instead of looking for ways to organize people into different groups in our hearts and minds, maybe try to be aware at how much we do it in the first place.

What I am saying is that my anthropology professor had it right all along:

People are people.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Acts of Mercy

Hello again.

In the constant, nearly obsessive conversations my husband and I have about how to serve the people here, not just at Holy Cross, but also in our Valley, a very simple truth dawned on us: where are the acts of mercy?

Think about it. Why do churches stand out these days? They have the excellent, dynamic preacher who writes books (or a blog.. hehe) and an incredible worship band or choir or Sunday School program or incredible elementary school, or a singles ministry, or a GORGEOUS sanctuary, or they host conferences or concerts, or rent out their space to different organizations (boy scouts, girl scouts, german school, another smaller church, etc.), or they have uber cool graphics and power point presentations during worship... you get the point.

But what is generally, across the board, across all denominations, missing from what a congregation is known for? In my opinion it's acts of mercy.

Lots of churches feed the homeless occasionally or regularly like us, but how many can say they know these people by name, see them around town and give them rides, or share their own homes with them? We do that here. That's really neat. I'm not saying, "Oh, yeah! We're freaking awesome!" But I think our experience with our homeless community has opened my own eyes to a greater gift and mission missing from our and the church: acts of mercy.

Okay, I'm about to get a little controversial here, but everyone stay calm and hear me out. You're totally allowed to disagree, just hear me out and don't be too nasty in the comments section.

This past Lent there was a forty days of life campaign arranged by a politically active woman in our community. Basically, they stood outside of Planned Parenthood for 40 days and tried to save the lives of unborn infants. Stop right here: Of course I am for saving unborn baby's lives. OF COURSE I AM.

Beginning again: they managed to save over 100 unborn babies (I'm not sure if that was total in the 40 days of life movement or just in our community. It seems a little excessive to be only in our community, but what do I know, right?) Praise God for 100 more babies being born!!!

Here's my issue: where are we when those babies are actually born? We fight so intentionally and aggressively to allow them to live, but when they're born, where are we? Everyone has seen those befuddled faces in a congregation when a visitor shows up with a baby without a ring on her finger. People become bum-fuzzled and don't know what to do (it gets even worse when people think they may be in the presence of a gay man). Well, friends, that child is the one you saved by standing outside of planned parenthood - welcome he or she into the fold! Why don't we take it upon ourselves to make sure they have a safe living environment, health care, child care if necessary, education, a secure church home? We want them so badly to live, but then we don't follow through with their quality of life. And by the way, none of this has to be political. No matter who is in the White House, there's only one Man on the Throne and he taught compassion, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and loving your neighbor as yourself. So then, where are these things? Where are our acts of mercy?

How many churches support orphans or unwed mothers in their own communities, not just those on the other side of the world? If you can't love the neighbors you have seen and touched, how can you love those you've never met? (Check out I John) How many churches have prison ministries? How many churches reach out to the gay community without an agenda? How many churches have ministries to aides victims? How many churches decide to learn a different language so they can communicate with their community instead of complaining about how their community can't communicate with them? How many churches spend countless hours brainstorming about how their five year strategic plan needs to include joining the global fight against human trafficking? (Seriously, you who sit on church leadership boards, have you had that conversation yet?)  Some do, absolutely! They are out there! But, in general, is the church, or your church, or my church known for these things? Are we known for our acts of mercy? If not, shouldn't we be?

I truly believe that any group of people are not judged by how they treat the "normal people" among them, but how they treat the least of those among them. It was said of the early church, "Oh, how they love!" We should definitely bring that statement back into legitimacy. And it's not a "we have to" kind of ministry. It's a "we get to" kind of ministry.

If I have any future agenda at my own church, it's to constantly be looking for opportunities to show mercy to those around us. I would be so very, very glad if Holy Cross became known as "the little church who loves." But I'd be even more glad if The Church regained that reputation as well.

I know we're sinners and the good we want to do, we don't do and the bad we don't want to do we keep on doing. (Romans 7) I know that. But that same author also said we have been set free from sin as well and have been freed to become slaves to Christ (All over Romans and many of the epistles). Simultaneously sinner and saint, as it were. So often when we fail, or worse yet, don't even try, we fall back on the "we're sinners" part. Anybody out there want to start giving equal wait to the "saint" part with me? We are both of them after all, right? I know as Lutherans we are scared to death of preaching a type of "works righteousness." I am, too. Acts of mercy don't earn our salvation, but they do tell our neighbor about who our Daddy is. Remember, we're "pushing our lawn mowers" because that's what our Daddy does and we just think He's so dang cool that we want to be just like Him. (If this reference confuses you, check out my very first post.)

Alright, I'll stop blabbering. You get my point. :-)

Peace, ya'll.

Enjoy the three day weekend.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let the "AMEN" Sound from His People Again!

So, my hubby has his own blog as well. He writes about all kinds of things: missing the existence of record stores, the church's view on gay marriage, our homeless friend, Steve, what it's like being an angry teenager, etc. But this past week he wrote a post about our situation here in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

You see, he is pastor and I am "pastor's wife" of a very small congregation here in the mountains. We have 30 members on the books, but average only about 18 a Sunday (up from six a Sunday when he first got here). On paper, the church runs out of money in a year.


Nothing left to even keep the lights on.

It's been a struggle.

We live in a small mountain town, so even if the church did grow in numbers, it would be limited growth simply because we live in a valley at 5800 feet with a limited amount of space for people. It's not Orange County or New York.

Past members don't want to come back because of all that happened before Scott got here, and other churches in the area are, for lack of a better term, very "trendy." They have the contemporary praise band and the visual aides and contemporary graphics. They have the coffee bar with coffee from around the world brewed fresh and ready to consume as you walk in. They have sermon series on how to be a better father, mother, child, student, entrepreneur, you name it. They fly in speakers and hold workshops and do mass mailings to attract even more people to their congregation. They have hundreds in worship on Sunday mornings, not 10-30.

I have to be honest in that I grew up in a very large congregation with many resources and talented, gifted people. I come from a tradition of excellent music in worship (both contemporary and traditional), with choir concerts with live orchestras and handbells and adult choirs and children's choirs and connections with the local University and a fully double graded elementary school with called workers and a counseling center and the list just goes on...

...and I thought for a really long time that, that was the "right" way to do ministry.

I don't feel that way anymore.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not at all about to bash the church I grew up in or somehow condemn them. I am so happy they have the gifts and resources they do. It makes worship incredibly uplifting. It offers opportunities for people to come together and thank God for His goodness. That's not where I'm going with this.

Here's where I am going with this:

Scott and I have no guarantee that a year from now either one of us will have a source of income. We have no guarantee we'll be able to make our mortgage payments, student loan payments, car payments, insurance payments, and the list goes on (like everyone else). We have no guarantee of security, and yet, we are not afraid. Nervous? Anxious? Absolutely. But afraid? No.

Sometimes the greatest thing God can let His people do is to lose everything. When we have nothing else to find our hope, comfort, or security in, we find ourselves in a place where we realize we need God because no one and nothing else can help us. We call on Him in our day of trouble, and He hears us. When we are weak, then we are strong. God calls things that are not, as though they are.

A year from now, we may need to sell the house we just bought and all the contents therein. We may need to live in Scott's office at the church or live in our tent at a camp ground to have a place to stay (don't worry, we've learned well from Steve, so we'll be more than okay). We may need to sell our cars, computers, and anything else we can think of. We may need to sell the property these people have worshipped on for over 50 years and have church in someone's home. Scott may need to become a worker-priest and have one full time job and one full time call. We're ready for whatever is coming. And, again, we're not afraid.

You see, if I'm really being honest, all of these "bottom of the barrel" options used to be "beneath" me. I'd used to think "how embarrassing" or "what would my friends and family think if we did that?" I thought that these kinds of situations would reflect only failure on the part of the pastor and would be something to be ashamed of.

I don't think that way anymore.

I remember my first Good Friday service here. There were like 5 people in church, we sang to a recording, and our lights can't gradually fade or flicker, so we were either sitting in entire light or entire darkness. The theatrical, big-church girl in me was bursting inside with thoughts of "how it should be done" and "oh the potential for this and that" and all that stuff. I was always thinking of how we could make it "better."

This past Good Friday service, there were more people in church, but not many more, and it was very similar to the previous year's service.


I loved it. I was moved. I cried. It wasn't because we had live music - because we didn't have live music. It wasn't because it was a packed church - because it certainly wasn't a packed church. It wasn't because we installed a new, updated lighting system that allowed us to dim the lights every time we removed a candle from the altar - because we still have the lighting system that is original to the building. I was moved because in that year of time I stopped looking at what wasn't there and started looking at what was there: a faithful remnant coming together to remember their Lord's death.

We have this elderly couple in our church - he has cancer and she's on oxygen. Every Sunday they help each other out of the car, up the stairs, and into the sanctuary. When they go up for communion, we have another member who faithfully waits for them at the bottom of the altar so she can help them with the one step they need to climb to get to the communion rail. We have a family of three who have been our church's faithful musicians for God knows how long by pressing "play" and "pause" and "stop" on their ipod so we have music to sing along to. We have this incredible woman who bakes the most delicious everything you can think of from scratch and brings something for the congregation every Sunday to enjoy during bible study. She also cuts her own roses from her garden to make arrangements for our altar. We have people who fix windows and door hinges just because they can, people who mow the lawn because it needs to be mowed, and people who refused to leave their congregation even when it seemed like it was the smartest decision to make.

We have a faithful remnant.

We're all quirky and weird and loud and small and full of history and sin and grace and hatred and love. And yet, we come, just as we are, week after week, and day after day. We are stripped to the core. We have nothing fancy to distract and entertain you with, no musician to make your heart swell.  Instead we have 20ish people singing louder and louder every week with one voice to the simple recorded music played on a sound system about ready to blow.

We're potentially looking at what could be the end of something, but what also could be just the beginning of something else entirely. We're trying to be faithful to the call of Christ. That doesn't always look or sound attractive - and it very well may change every single aspect of our lives - but being broken, being beggars, and needing a Savior is a great place to be.

It reminds me of the final verse to "Praise to the Lord, The Almighty."

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him
All that hath life and breath
Come now with praises before Him
Let the 'amen' sound from His people again
Gladly forever adore Him!

We're small and we're broke. But we're still His people and we're still sounding the "Amen!" Come and see us in a year - we'll be here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tell It To Go To Hell

I went hunting through some old thoughts I had written down. This is from nearly five years ago. I can't exactly remember what was wrong, but I do remember the moment in my hallway...

We’ve all seen it – those old war movies where the battle is raging, people are dying, intense, heart felt music is sweeping our emotions into a frenzy, the camera pans over to the general leading the charge, a moment of sincere thought is captured upon his face, and then he bellows the words of defeat, “Retreat!” Suddenly horns and trumpets are sounding, trying to get the signal out to everyone in the brigade to fall back and find safety somewhere.. so they do.. and leave their dead on the bloodied field of battle.. and run away in a scurried panic as they long for sanctuary.. and this is all a metaphor for life, no?

I don’t know about y’all, but I’m ready to shout, “Retreat!” in my own life right now. I want to run and bury my face in a rabbit hole or maybe just completely fall of the face of the earth entirely and be forgotten for a moment. Not to be noticed. To feel a sense of escape. To literally not exist just for a little while. Ever felt that way before?

Sometimes the absolute ridiculous nature of what life throws at us can make us want to be done. To be finished. To literally say, “to hell with it all” and then just keep walking. And, my friends, today that is exactly what I propose we do. I propose that we stare in the face of the crap, the confusion, the hurt, the waiting, the insecurity, the lack of direction, the hopelessness and we tell all of it to go to hell. Because that’s where it belongs. The things of this world are mere distractions to keep us from focusing on the One who went to hell for us, looked Satan in the face, and said, “You can’t have them. They’re mine.”

As I came home from church today, I was ready to find a hole to dive into. But then the sweetest and yet most painful words came to my mind, “Becca, I did not give you a spirit of timidity, but of power.” 

Damn it! 

He’s right. 

He’s always right. 

And so literally in the middle of my hallway, I remembered myself. I remembered who I am and what I’m about, and that yes – it hurts right now. There are unanswered prayers and questions. And yes, it seems like there is no direction or plan, but Becca, you walk by faith, not by sight. So, yes, sweetheart, look at everything that burdens you, that worries you, that hurts you, that confuses you – everything you have that cannot be solved by thinking too much about it – and tell it to go to hell. 


Keep your eyes up and keep walking.

So yes, life, love – all of it – can be a battlefield (southpark reference anyone?). And sometimes we will retreat, badly injured - because if we stay, we’ll die - but here’s the thing – in the movies, those who retreated lived to fight another day. And in MY movie, they may lose the battle, but they win the war – because I know the director personally, and I know He intends victory for me. :) *cheesiness* 

So, forgetting what is behind me, I will press on towards the goal for which Christ has called me heavenward; I will run my race with perseverance, but I really hope you’re running with me – because I’m going to need your help and encouragement, and you’re going to need mine. Because we’re all one big messed up family in this Body of Christ.. and we need each other. And you know what? That ain’t so bad.

So if any of this even made sense.. hold tight, hang in there, keep your eyes up, and keep walking.. for the God of the Universe goes before us to prepare our way...


When I wrote that, I had no idea where life was going. Presently, I cannot explain how grateful I am for what the Lord has given me. I don't expect serenity and calm forever and ever, but I am no longer afraid of what may come in life. Jesus reigns. Bring it. 

All the Single Ladies! (All the Single Ladies!)

So, I was at a friend's house last night and we were channel surfing the deep catacombs of late night TV when we fell upon a show about being a teenage mother. Here are all these young women in relationships with idiots. Sorry, that's as generous as I can be. These men have had children with these young women and refuse to pay for them, help out, or be there for their birthdays. Seriously? WTF is the best I can do here.

Now, if you think I'm about to go off in a "blame the men; all men are jerks" direction, well, you're wrong. It's time to address the ladies.

Women: Do you know how precious you are?! Do you know how dearly loved you are?! Do you know you are the most valuable thing on this earth? That God Himself ended all creation with YOU, and then created no more because FINALLY creation became "VERY GOOD" and not just "Good."? You have been made royalty by the blood of Christ Jesus himself. You are Queens and Princesses - and that's a fact, not an analogy or metaphor - because GOD HIMSELF has said it is so.

I know, I know.. "but if I stick up for what I believe in, or ask to be treated a certain way, people call me a bitch. And that hurts."

"But if I don't, he won't love me anymore.. and I need to be loved. Because not being loved is scary. I don't want to be alone."

"If I'm not with someone, even someone who's not that good to me, then there's something wrong with me. Why else would I be alone?"

"Sex isn't a big deal. Everybody has it. Besides, that's when he's the sweetest to me. And we're gonna get married, so it's okay."

"I feel like I can change him. I feel like God is calling me to help him see the light."

"If I walk away, what happens? Will anyone ever love me again? Is this my only chance at finding someone to share my life with?"

"I have spent so much time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, and my own money in this relationship. If I leave, I have to admit to myself that I knew from the very beginning it wasn't love."
My dear, sweet, beloved sisters in Christ: Jesus said that the man is the head of the woman just as Christ is head of the church. And what did Christ do for the church? He gave up His life for her, so that they could be reunited forever. THAT is God's definition of a man. How could you not LOVE that man?? You are worth waiting for THAT type of man - because they ARE out there. Yes, even cute ones. Not all good men are ugly or nerdy or socially awkward.

Has the man in your life given his life up for you? Let's get specific: is he patient with you or does he get angry when you disagree? Is he capable of sincerely apologizing? Does he protect you.. even from his own family and friends? Does he talk down to you? When you go out, does he make you feel like a burden? Does he like to help people or complain about people? Is he proactive, or does he claim to always be the victim? Does he respect your wishes or requests? Are the things that are important to you (family, friends, job, hobby, religion, taking care of ailing parents, etc.) important to him? Does he make YOU a priority? When you go out, how many times has he paid for you? Does it bother him when you pay for him? Does he insist upon providing for you, or insist you provide for him? (I'm totally aware of people's different financial situations, but you get my point.) Does he insult you or does he encourage you and build you up? Has he ever asked you to leave everything that is important to you without first offering to do the same on his end? How do you feel when you're with him? Peaceful? Calm? Nervous? Anxious? Loved and cherished? Like you're an obligation rather than a blessing? Does he allow you to be who you are and encourage that growth, or does he get frustrated and defensive when who you are challenges him? Does he treat you like the greatest gift he's ever received, or like he could take or leave you?

Sisters, it's okay to expect to be treated with dignity and respect.. in fact, it's the RIGHT way to treat yourself. Have standards. Turn down those who do not meet them. Say no - it will be okay. I know you want to be loved. I know you want to be cherished. I know you want to wake up every morning to a man you can't imagine living without. I wanted those things, too. But our fear of being alone cannot dictate the men we choose to occupy our time with.

You will find as you begin to expect different things from men, you will get them. And if you don't, the man will leave because he won't want to work that hard, be that honorable, sacrifice that much, etc. And that is a reflection upon HIM, not YOU. When that happens, thank God that He simply made the path a little clearer for the right guy to walk down.

Now, I'm not saying men and women aren't equal, or that women can't provide for themselves, or that all men are dogs - because they're not. I cannot stress enough that there are FANTASTIC men out there! I'm just saying that if you're 16 and pregnant and the father of your child doesn't want to help with anything, he's not one of them. All people make mistakes or encounter events that they never imagined would happen to them.. you're not going to find any condemnation or judgement from me on those matters. Lord knows, I'm guilty of just as many mistakes. Let's just speak the TRUTH to each other!

Me and my hubby hiking up Shrine mountain.
Look at it, my friends.
Look at it. 

I have been married for one year to a true MAN. This man loves how I look without makeup more than how I look with makeup. He opens my doors, goes ahead of me on shaky ground, speaks highly of me to his friends and family, and protects me because I am his wife and he needs no other reason. He looks forward to the day I'm big, fat and pregnant so he can talk to my belly. He appreciates what I do for him at home and at work. He doesn't see "his" life and "her" life, he sees "our" life. He flew to California to meet my whole family at once and ask my father for my hand in marriage. He is generous with me. He listens to me. When he doesn't understand, yes, he gets frustrated, but he always comes back and tries again. He thinks I'm smarter than he is. He honors me. He makes up silly songs about me to sing to me in the morning to help get me out of bed. He would swim the seven seas if I asked him to. He serves other people and recognizes the importance of doing so. He supports me in my new adventures (like blogging and becoming organic and crunchy) and is definitely my biggest fan. He prays with me every night before we fall asleep. And I can say, hailing from Yonkers, New York, if anyone tried to "mess" with me, it would take 50+ guys to hold him back and keep him from setting them straight. My six foot three, random, book reading, hiking loving, socially unique, New York Hardcore Kid, homeless people-loving man has made me feel more like a woman than I ever did before. And, ladies, it is not hard AT ALL to love him and all his quirks because I know I am his. He daily lays down his life for mine - without flinching. 





Ladies, if you're not being loved the way you deserve to be loved, leave now. It will hurt and be scary for a little while, but you will never regret it.

Be the beautiful creation God made you to be and wait for the absolutely breathtaking and truly loving, life-laying down men that ARE out there. It will be worth it.

You ARE beautiful. You ARE precious. You ARE smart. You ARE kind. You ARE valuable. You ARE worthy. You ARE supposed to be treasured. 






Anyone telling you anything else is lying.

Hang on to Your Brothers and Sisters and Look at Bugsby


Oh, Sarah. 

Sarah is the type of girl who by her own amazingness makes you proud to also be a girl. She's incredibly intelligent, honest, quirky, weird, cute, organized, capable, and just downright inspiring. Sarah is in real life what I dream about being in my fantasy world.  Sarah pretty much kicks butt.

Growing up, her father was the mayor of their small town in Wisconsin, so his schedule varied from week to week as to how busy he was. Her mother was a doctor who pretty much had the same type of scheduling. Sometimes it was busy, sometimes it wasn't. 

Because of this, her parents got to spend a considerable amount of time with she and her two siblings. They were a very connected family. One of her prize possessions was a little bear her parents bought for her. She named him "Bugsby". When they gave it to her they said, "Whenever you see Bugsby remember how much we love you and that we always will."

Well, one winter her parents had to go away for a few days and she and her siblings stayed with some friends in town. Sarah missed her parents terribly, but wanted to put on a brave face for her siblings, so she didn't let on to her suffering. When her parents called to check in on them, she got on the phone, had a pleasant conversation with both of them (trying to be very brave), and then, at the very end, choking back her tears, she finally said, "I miss you, Mommy."

Her mother became emotional at the sound of her little girl revealing her true feelings. She composed herself, thought for a moment and then said, "Put down the phone and go get Bugsby." Sarah did as she was told. She came back, Bugsby in tow and picked up the phone again. 

"Okay, I have him." she said.

"Okay. Do you remember what Daddy and I said when we gave Bugsby to you?"


"We told you to look at Bugsby and remember how much we love you and that we will always love you. Now, Daddy and I are gone for a little bit, but we're coming back. And until we do I want you to hang on to your brothers and sisters and look at Bugsby, okay?"


"Alright, baby. Momma loves you."

"I love you, too, Momma." 

It's a precious story, but I have to admit I think there is so much more going on there than a simple parent/child anecdote. 

There is a cry deep, deep within the soul of a person. A cry that cannot be explained, written about, blogged about, or even prayed away. It's a cry for comfort. It's a cry for mercy. It's a cry for justice; a cry yearning for the only person who can do something about it to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. It's a cry for protection. It's a cry of desperation. It's really the most honest cry I can think of because it admits that there's nothing we can do to save ourselves, protect ourselves, or provide for ourselves. It's simply a cry of "please."

You know what I'm talking about because your soul has cried that way before, too. 

There are times in this life when we shall suffer. We will miss. We will long-for. We will ache for. We will regret. We will wonder. We will wonder, "why?" We will be angry. We will feel helpless. We will be helpless. We will never be the same again. 

You know what I'm talking about.

Honestly? This is the best I've got:

In these moments, I think Sarah's mom was on to something. I think she told her daughter exactly what Yahweh tells us, "Hang on to your brothers and sisters and look at Bugsby - look at Jesus. Look at the cross. Look at the empty tomb. Hang on. He's coming." 

Hang on. 

He's coming.