Image Reflections: Overview and why does this matter?

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Today I am kicking off a new series and participating in the October write for 31 day challenge put on by the Nester. For the next 31 days I will be asking and somewhat answering questions about “image.” This series was sparked by the church series that I started and have not finished yet. With the new changes at my church, it felt like we were redesigning our church image. Then I asked if we were purposefully trying to attract a certain type of person, but the answer was no. This series, though sparked by the questions of my own church, is not about my church.

I sat down at a coffee shop to brainstorm ideas and found myself surprised and excited by this topic. I was asking questions that were bothering me about church. As I reflected, I realized that I had just read a beautiful book by Madeleine L’Engle addressing similar questions. Why not try to address the modern problems we have with “image” that are plaguing me as I think about church?

As my church has undergone change, I’ve struggled with my identity, and I’ve found that I am not alone in that struggle. How much does branding define us or do we define our brand? My church was becoming younger and hipper and it felt like hipsters were dominating our culture. I have lots of hipsterish thoughts so I am not outside that subculture, but found myself mindlessly cutting my hair asymmetrically. I was having a sense of identity crisis because my church was (is?) experiencing a climate change. The focus of its identity felt as though it was shifting. I was not trying to be hipster in fashion or thought or even trying to fit in. On my own, I was struggling with my “self” as my church shifted.

Once I began addressing the questions, I stopping struggling with “self.” However, the questions remains how much are we affected by the culture, even the church culture we are in? How much are we affected by the images we see on social media? How much do these things cause us to mindlessly build idols to create similar images? And how much of our comfort or discomfort is simply because of our own idolatry?

I ended up cutting my hair back to my usual pixie once I stopped struggling and felt re-grounded.

Recently, I wanted to spike it up into a fauxhawk-ish do because what else can one do with a pixie? It is not as though I can style it much differently, and that can get boring for me. It is not cut short enough for a real fauxhawk, but I played with it and thought it could be fun.

A couple of days after I came up with my topic, I got some interesting feedback from my daughter, who is growing in identity and has image struggles of her own.

I styled my hair outside of her comfort zone, and she wanted to know if I was going to leave the house looking as I did. I said yes. She told me that moms are not supposed to look like I was looking – that they are supposed to look like people you can look up to. In her mind, mom’s don’t have tatoos or style their hair in fauxhauks (because she told me she equated the two). I am not a makeup-y type mom, but I suppose she expected me to be your typical soccer mom. Later that night she said that I should photograph myself, so I could one day look back and say, “What was I thinking?” We were laughing.

Well, she had a point, but not about my style that day. The asymmetric style I had early in the year? Yes – I have no idea what I was thinking other than my appearance reflected my internal struggle with change. I was looking for myself in the midst of what felt like church rebranding.

Are we not all looking for ourselves? Don’t we all want to know who we are? If we are created in the image of God and we are not to create false images, then image is far more important than we credit it for, and authenticity is a value. Will I get anywhere in 31 days? Can these weighty questions really be answered? I don’t know. But I do know, God is taking us on a journey to “I am.”

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Like last year, I will write on the weekdays. On Saturdays, I will share a pinnable quote from an author or TV show, and on Sundays, I will share a pinnable bible verse. If you are new from the 31 day challenge, I’d love to have you join along. If you are an old friend, and don’t want to get 31 days worth of blog posts, feel free to unsubscribe and come back later. You can check out my tentative outline here. See you tomorrow.

Broken and Whole

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She calls me as I am leaving the school parking lot. I’m leaving the carpool line where I’ve dropped off Annabelle and Elijah at school, and Lisabeth and I are headed home. She wants to know if I will meet her for breakfast. I haven’t slept much the night before but I agree. She asks me where I’d like to go hoping to please, but I am too tired to make a decision and hope that she will just decide for me. She does, and we meet her at a quaint Birmingham bakery, which on this particular morning is not crowded. Lisabeth gets pancakes, and because Lisabeth also wants eggs, I order eggs, bacon, biscuit, and grits. My mom orders the same, with her eggs sunny side up, the only difference from mine scrambled.

She tells me about hosting bunco, and I listen to the details of women too cold and some too hot, and some who load their plates tall with leftovers to carry home. I sit quietly as I almost always do. Ours is a complicated relationship – this woman who has known me longer than anyone on the earth, who carried me in her womb.

I rarely write openly about family including my children, because I tend to hold these relationships close to my heart, including the hurts and joys. I don’t mind being vulnerable about me, but I don’t want to share the stories of those close to me who did not choose for me to talk about them. So writing about this relationship is not easy.

Painting a picture of my mom through my eyes – I am always a child listening to my mom gripe about dad or asking me for advice. Some of my most broken times have come as a result of this relationship, so I don’t trust myself to tell you the truth as I see it or to even know what the truth is.

On this particular breakfast meeting, the man who delivers our food, Marcus, stops when he sees mom and gives her a hug.

He says, “Oh my God, do you know who this is?” asking me.

I say, “Yes, she is my mom!”

He says, “She is so special. She is so special. I remember her being so sweet to me.” He goes on to say that he has not seen her for 6 months or so. I was there for the meeting he referenced, but he does not remember me.

I just smile and nod. I get quieter than I already am, and if my mom notices, she does not acknowledge it. I am thoughtful about the scene. I wish that I could cast off all of the hurts and memories and hopes and dreams and fill all of the cracked places in our relationship with something that would make us whole again, that would give me back the rose-colored glasses because my mom is sweet, kind, and good. Yet, I don’t know if she really knows me, and I long for her to really know the depths of me.

I think about how I want her to approve of me or to say some sort of word of encouragement. As sweet as she is, she doesn’t give me the approval I crave. Thinking that she is just not as advanced enough in technology to read my blog, I subscribed her to it last year, but even then, she just opened and deleted the emails. I was hoping at least she read, but when I started talking to her about a post one time, she said, “I haven’t read it,” and it was in the same conversation she mentioned how she used to swipe to delete, but now she has to open to delete an email, so then I knew.

We finish our food. We stay and linger, and I tell a story about a funny meeting I had, and then I get my daughter to tell stories of school. My daughter goes and sits in my mom’s lap. It is rare for my mom to listen to my kid’s stories with me present, but my daughter and my mom have a relationship like I had with my granny. Lisabeth absolutely adores her nana, and my mom craves the attention my daughter gives her. I tell her that Lisabeth has gotten in trouble for hugging and kissing in school – that she came home saying that the teacher said no touching in school. My Lisabeth is an abnormally loving and touchy feely little girl. She says “I love you” multiples times a day, and there is not a day that goes by in which she does not initiate hugs and kisses with me. My mom says, “She is like me. Loving and caring like Marcus said.”

I just smile and nod softly. She wants my approval or to hear me voice something about what Marcus did, but I am only quiet. I am left wondering – “Am I sweet?” I am certainly not touchy-feely, and perhaps I seem cold and distant and wrapped up in my thoughts, because I usually am.

We leave, and as we drive off in the same direction before I turn off, and I think, “We are so cracked and broken,” and everyday I wonder if this is the day we will be made whole.

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Coming next week, a 31 day series called, “Image Reflections: a 31 day series asking questions of being.” Join me! I hope to have the outline up soon.

Happy Harper Home Journal 2: on staying

Family Life

Summer has ended, and school has begun. For the first time, I wasn’t nervous for school to come. I found its presence to be the same as the day before – only the flip-flops are at home, and the tennis shoes are on, and the house is silent.

There is a familiarity in the school schedule now – like an old married couple has, so I embrace the day ahead. I rise early. Daniel cooks bacon and eggs. Elijah wakes 30 minutes earlier than his early bird time. The girls sleep sweetly, and I wake my Annabelle. They dress and eat. I brush hairs and heads.

We take first day of school pictures. I am eager to take memory shots of this day not because everyone will post their photos on social media, but simply for me and our stories.

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We ride to school. We listen to Toby-Mac sing about “me without you.” I sing; I dance, and I imagine my neighbor gets a kick out of this as he sees me dancing to school in his rear view mirror.

We listen to Wally. Then, we pray for the first day jitters. I feel relaxed. Not rushed or worried we will be late. I know that in the days to come, traffic will thin, and navigating the route will be smoother, easier, and we will arrive earlier eventually.

Even though there is a familiarity, there is a tension in sending them to school. I still want to keep them with me forever. I continue to sense God leading us to stay there. Things could change, but I go where God goes.

Libby has started preschool, and there is a chaotic busyness to the school schedule, and in some ways, I am always falling behind.

Libby

Personal

In the days since school has started, I’ve gone from a heaviness to a lightness in trying to mold myself back into comfort, but still, I find my spirit still searching for truth and all the questions of what should I do?

At the heart of this season of a new pastor, I have waffled. I have not fully trusted man, but I have fully trusted God. This trust allows me to stay because I feel called to this holy ground.

At times, I’ve wanted to tuck my family in tight under my wing, and find a new place to be. The changes I have gone through at church have left me feeling all the feelings, and on any given day, these feelings arise. This year has been an emotional roller coaster, and there is still much year left. I sometimes cry and weep. Sometimes I am angry and mad. In the midst of the pain, I want to run and flee, far, far, away, and make my world smaller. Less noisy, less chaotic, and less fluent. Less painful and wearisome. I’ve just tried to be accepting, and where I am settling now is re-entry. I am trying, albeit not easily, to reattach myself to leadership roles and positions even while the questions remain unanswered.

Is there post traumatic stress syndrome for church change? The people are hurting, and the Savior is listening. I am afraid of writing too much – of affecting people’s emotions because I am not alone in trying to find my footing in the changes. People have at times found comfort in this blog, and I’ve found myself afraid of leading them astray.

There are some people loyal to their place of church. I have heard some members of my church called “Valleydale men,” meaning they will never go anywhere other than Valleydale. There is some admiration in this. I love my local church, Valleydale, but I am not a Valleydale woman. I am willing to move if the Spirit moves me. We must first be Jesus men and women, not devoted to institutions over God, as deceivers can arise anywhere. In the study I just finished, “Children of the Day” by Beth Moore, she said this,

“We are blessed to have limitless opportunities to study under many pastors and teachers but, if we do not go diligently to the Scriptures for ourselves, the question is not whether we’ll be deceived, but how often.”

This was part of her commentary of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way.” I realize that it sounds like I think my pastor is a deceiver, and I’m not trying to say that. I am saying that he is definitely a puzzle to me that I don’t think I will figure out anytime soon. What I aim to mainly say is be loyal to the Spirit – stay and go where He goes and leads you.

My friend, Dana, wrote this as her facebook status on February 7, and it seems fitting to share here,

Living in reaction to the religious spirit is still living under its control. Living in reaction to having been wounded is continuing to empower that wound.

The enemy wants to convince us to BUCK our previous bonds, flip the world (or the church?) the bird, and swing to the opposite extreme — sometimes even in the name of Jesus.

But Jesus invites us to take His hand and walk meekly into the freedom He purchased for us, radically empowered by His Spirit. There’s a high road of humility He calls us to walk with Him. A road on which we’re hidden in Him, defined wholly by Him, and out of that place we are set ridiculously free to live wholeheartedly out of our core.”

I might be a INFJ (meaning I do let my gut guide me at times), but I don’t want to move in reaction to all the feelings alone.

Listen to the still small voice of God guiding you. Not man’s agenda or your own agenda or your bitterness or how could you’s, but the sweet sound of Savior calling you. Do you hear Him? Is He calling you to stay? to leave? to let go?

I think of Hosea marrying the prostitute, and retrieving her again and again – a picture of God’s tethered love to me. I am the prostitute and He is pure. He’s making me new, calling me to suffer well.

If I ask a church to love, I choose to stay in love, otherwise, my words mean nothing.

Could it change? As sure as the wind blows, I will go where the Spirit leads.

Shared with Kelli and Laura.

childlike me

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She pitter-patters into the room even in her four-year old body.

I suppose it is more like a hop-skip-leap of joy that she does.

She is my girl, and all the mysteries of the world live inside of her.

She is full of life, joy, and love.

She tells me about her blankie. I ask if blankie has magic. She says there is magic in blankie’s heart.

I ask her if there is magic in her heart, and she says no. She says love is in her heart.

It is true, and no one could deny it. I tell her love is the best kind of magic.

ooooah, she says.

It is love that turned water into wine.

It is love that turned God into a man.

It is love that gives my dying and dead bones new life.

It is love that turns the world upside down.

I don’t know what it is like to be famous or a christian celebrity, neither of which I want to be, despite old thoughts.

Sometimes, knowing that people are reading my blog makes me feel stuck, unable to come to worship through writing.

This past week a new reader mentioned the blog at church – my kids told me that I was famous when they got home.

And it made me fidgety.

And then I went to a service where a message that was preached that reflected my previous post, so I shared it with the pastor.

His response scared me – he called me revolutionary.

The me that you see is not innovative or contemporary, but…

love turns me inside out, makes me unafraid to talk or be and helps me to see.

love gives me eyes like a child, and only through the lens of a child could these words of mine ever be

worth reading or sharing or telling.

Love moves me to write in spite of me,

keeps me unstuck from people pleasing and self-consciousness and

whispers to me that faith like a child is revolutionary.

And this is the only way to be.

Even though I will always think of me as a wooden spoon,

Love chases me, and I come undone.

A radical alchemist child – that’s Him in me.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:17

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The truth is I am all tangled up in fear.

And even though I wrote the words above to encourage myself a couple of weeks ago, I’m still stuck.

Because this year has been a long process in which God has allowed me to sleep in the lions’ den

and be thrown in the fiery furnace.

I don’t feel like a revolutionary – but maybe children never do, they just are.

I am stuck not in the way of not having things to write, but in knowing what is okay to write

and maybe it is okay to listen to the nudges He gives that cause you to be still,

until the heart is refined and made tender

like the fire that purifies iron, and iron that sharpens iron,

in blazing attempts of perception,

maybe the fire sheds the adult, like a cicada in the summer,

so like a child I become again – fear free

by love’s renewing grace.

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (or fear), but a spirit of power, of love, and of self control.” 2 Timothy 1:7

ps. I’ve been reading Madeleine L’Engle. Even though, Erika Morrison introduced me to the beautiful blending of alchemy and anthropology, Madeleine L’Engle’s book “A Circle of Quiet” begs me to join in holy alchemy.

photo credit: irinaraquel via photopin cc

Thy Kingdom Come: to love a stranger

to love a stranger

Sometimes when you stop writing, it is hard to begin again. It’s physics. Just me, as a former engineer, I oughta know.

An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an external force.

I’ve been an object at rest. However contrary to that first rule, which also says that a body in motion will stay in motion at a constant speed, I did not use my blogging momentum to keep going and finish the race of the church series. I allowed myself to stop. I still aim to finish.

The world is loud and noisy…

  • Men, women, and children are being killed by evil men in Iraq.
  • There’s war in Israel.
  • Depression has claimed the life of the beloved American actor, Robin Williams.
  • People broke out in a social media war about depression and suicide.
  • At the same time, Michael Brown was getting gunned down in Missouri, and media was largely silent for the first few days.

In light of all that is happening, speaking about church seems silly. As I have reflected about all the events, I began to wonder if adding my voice to the noise was really worthwhile or important. It’s funny how when you start to slow down, God sends messengers to remind you to keep going – a force enacted on the object if you will.

  • People killing innocents is a church issue.
  • Religious wars are a church issue.
  • Knowing that people who have depression and mental illness feel like outcasts is a church issue.
  • Knowing that they become hopeless is a church issue.
  • Racism and white privilege is a church issue.

Jesus died so these things would end. If I am in Christ, I want to see an end to these things too, and I do.

  • Is not the church a place of safety and refuge where we value life?
  • Is not the church a place where we accept all people? those who are sick and those who suffer for long-term illnesses?
  • Is not the church a place of hope where we can struggle together in our weaknesses?
  • Is not the church a place where we accept all people? of every nation, tribe, and color?

If not, then why not?

  • Why do the depressed feel lost in church?
  • If there is no racism, then why is there still a “black quarters” in many small southern towns? like my hometown?
  • If there is no white privilege, then why is my church and surrounding neighborhood, a middle class area, predominantly white?
  • Why when I take a look at Birmingham, why do I find our city still segregated by race via our neighborhoods?
  • Why is it that the poorest areas of my city are predominantly black?
  • Why is it that they continue to war against one another, killing each other?
  • Why is it so hard for the black man to get ahead?
  • Praise Jesus, my church has hired a black man to be on staff, but why do we have just one on staff, when we are in a city that is mostly black?
  • Why, O Church, are we not bringing healing to those who need it most?

Meanwhile, I am studying kingdom hospitality, and it is hitting me in the face that we have it all wrong. To be hospitable is to love a stranger. I keep thinking about how Jesus ate with the unexpected, the sinners, the outcasts, and about how he befriended these. He loved them, accepted them, and provided for them. His message of truth was easier to accept because these outcasts were known by Him. God does not want us to reach the least of these from a distance. Like Jesus, He wants us to get dirty. This means we need to be friends with people who are not like us. Not just people who think like we do or have beliefs like we do or have the same hobbies as we do or whose children are involved in the same activities as ours. No. It takes intentional effort to befriend those who are not the same as you and me.

The news headlines prove that we must be talking about the church, and the church must be addressing these issues. All throughout the Bible, God commands the Israelites to care for the outcast, to be hospitable to the alien.

The church cannot be a Pharisaical place of comfort for the rich man to set up shop, building his kingdoms and buildings, while the rest of the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

In the Jesus economy, outsiders were most welcome. Is our comfort and the cushiness of our buildings really important? What if the glammed up image drove the outsiders and outcasts away? What if holding church in a fine location actually hindered the ones we were trying to reach? What if, and I believe it is not, it is not really about our buildings anyway?

What if the church actually acted like a body even outside of a building? What if this body befriended and fed the broken? What if we gave hope to the hopeless? What if we actually stopped caring if it was safe for us or our children to be in certain neighborhoods and started living as if God is as powerful as He is?

As believers we have to speak up and make sure we fight against the evils that wage war on religious freedom. Jesus has already won the victory – don’t we see? He’s given us all the tools we need to fight religious battles.

We need to actively pursue the outcast – the depressed, the hopeless, the homosexual, those with special needs, those who are a different race than me, those who are tattooed, those who have pink hair, the foster kids, the orphans, and the list is long. Because who among us has not been an outcast for one reason or another?

When we keep having white friends and living in white neighborhoods and going to buildings with white church members and friending mostly Christians and making sure we all look the same, we’ve lost our way. This is in life and online – cause I don’t see my facebook groups being multicolored either. Lest you think I am preaching heavy at you, I am preaching to myself. I fall so short.

Until we begin to see how desperately we need Christ and how desperately the world outside of our spheres need Christ, nothing changes. Without Christ, I am just a clanging symbol and empty gong, and my words are meaningless, because without Christ, I cannot love.

When I go to the library, I see what I hope the church will one day be – a church that looks like the coat of many colors, with many-colored faces. I know I will see this church in heaven some day, but for now, it is my job to fight for her on earth. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” As the church, do we not offer more of what the world needs than the local library?

Now, it is time for me to make some new friends. What about you?

Image Credit: Purple Sherbet Photography

Blog Hopping – answering questions about writing

My friend, Amy, asked me to participate in this blog hop. We met first online via my friend, Rebekah, who I will introduce to you below. Amy attends and ministers in a country church in my hometown. I love that we have Cordova in common. Then we were together in a incourage writer’s group online, and she helped critique and better some of my words. Recently, we met in person as she joined the bible study that I am hosting at my house. You can read her thoughts about jumping into bible study with me here. I have loved getting to know her and was excited to participate in a blog hop, which is about fun and relationships – what blogging is all about.

As part of the blog hop, everyone who participates is to answer the following four questions, so here I go.

1. What am I writing or working on?

Three things:

1. I have been working on the Reforming Church series. I have enjoyed working on it because I have been able to discern a felt need for the series and because I write it solely based on the overflow of what the Spirit leads me to say and write, which is in some ways different than in other pieces I write.

2. I am also beginning to work on a series about hospitality, as I will be leading a hospitality mentoring group at church soon.

3. I guess about a year or year and a half ago, I signed up for Jeff Goin’s Tribe Writers course, and I never made it past module 1. :) So slowly and surely, I am attempting to work through the course, which prompts me to create pieces that I might not otherwise write.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I write about faith intersecting life, which is not uncommon for faith bloggers to do. When I moved from my old blog, which was a mommy blog, I did so because it became increasingly about my faith, and the writing became more devotional. I write about my kids, but I also respect my kids’ privacy, and so choose intentionally not to write about all their stuff on here. So this blog was born in a way, as a place to write without limits. For a few months, I wrote anonymously about my own childhood stories. It is hard to write authentically and honestly about your stories when they affect others, and your family may disagree with your thoughts. I tried that and then began writing about the grace I was experiencing, and this blog became devoted to grace. Over the past 3 years I’ve been writing in this space, I suppose I have worked on improving as a writer, and the topics change. It is all still in the lens of grace, but I am not sure what my genre is. I suppose it is bloggy memoir in many ways, with a bent toward using stories to help others. I am still learning how to write as all writers always are. So sometimes I explore the craft of writing here, the artfulness of writing, etc. Mostly my work is different because it is written by me, through my experiences, my voice, my thoughts, my beliefs.

In regards to the Reforming Church series, my work is different than say what Amber Haines did or what Rebekah Gilbert is doing because I am writing to those in the church – who on some level feel like they belong but who have been wounded. I think Amber and Rebekah write more for those who feel they don’t belong – the underground church. As of yet, their pieces are more gritty. I think as the series has progressed, I see that I am writing to a specific group of people here in Birmingham, but hope that it reaches anyone who would visit and be thoughtful about the state of church today. In no way would I condemn church. I love it too much, but I do feel change is needed. I don’t know that my pieces will be gritty as I finish, but I’d like to write grittier on occasion.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Imagine with me for a minute, a person who is mute, unable to speak, but has plenty to say. The only way they communicate is by writing a few words down on paper. I really began writing because I was emotionally mute. I wrote about the muck and mire because I’ve been there. Writing, itself, is a form of grace for me. I have learned that I cannot live without it. It is soul oxygen. So first of all, I write to give freedom to myself. Second of all, I write to give freedom to others. I write to set captives free – including me. This is my most authentic way to communicate, and while I’ve learned not to have expectations about who read, it stings to realize those close to me are not interested in the depth of who I am in my writing. However, writing has taught me how not to be mute and to speak up vocally and authentically in person as well.

4. How does my writing process work?

First of all, I live. I make observations. I people watch. I think. I do a whole lot of each one of those. That is first. Then, the thoughts must be given rest, and so I write. Writing helps me to realize why I am bothered, or what I think about my thoughts, or why I am thinking about whatever I am thinking about.

Next, I listen. I listen to others, I listen to myself. I listen to the Spirit. Sometimes I write in response to needs and to answer the call of the Spirit.

My writing is not the best it could be because I often write spontaneously with little editing. Did I just tell you that? oops.

In regard to my last post, “Reforming Church: selling us,” I wrote a rough draft first. I reread it a few days later; I let my husband read it. It was unfinished – just a skeleton of words. Much needed to be added to make it a body. I left it alone for weeks. One because I was addressing leaders. During those weeks, I thought about it some more and researched and listened to the Spirit. Then I was ready to begin the final process, and I adding a great deal more, but it was now in an order that did not flow properly. I printed out my work each day I worked on it, and made red mark edits and additions. The Tribe Writers class helped that piece to speak with authority because I learned to cut out all of the wishy washy language like, “I think,” “it’s a fine line,” etc. I would do all I could to make it better, and then set it aside each day. Then the next day I would look at it again with fresh eyes and read it aloud doing the same thing as the day before until it was finally finished. I used these editing strategies given by Denise Hughes. So overall, I spent more time on that piece than any other, and it was the most well received. I should be taking care of my audience and my editing more often.

So, with that let me introduce you to some other bloggers and writers I know.

1. Rebekah Gilbert – A New Song to Sing

Rebekah Gilbert is a writer and singer/songwriter. She loves to compose words and music that tell stories that speak to the soul. She is on a spiritual journey of finding beauty in the messiness of grace. Rebekah lives in Alabaster, AL, with her husband and three girls and blogs at http://www.anewsongtosing.com.

Rebekah’s family moved to the small town I grew up in during her senior year, and so for a year, we were in the same church her dad pastored. We didn’t really know each other then, but we connected when we joined fb through our love of writing words.

2. Mary Boswell – The Calm in His Presence

Mary is a wife of 15 years, mom to 2 beautiful children and daughter of her Heavenly Father. She and her husband Jeff seek to honor God in their marriage & raising their children. Through each twist & turn life has thrown them during their marriage they have learned more about God’s immeasurable Love and Grace. With two young kids Mary’s days are anything but quiet. Mary writes at her blog The Calm of His Presence where she shares what God is teaching her during the quiet & sometimes not so quiet moments of her day. So, won’t you take some time out of your busy, hectic day and join Mary as she sits in the Calm of God’s Presence at www.thecalmofhispresence.com.

Mary and I met at Allume last year, and I am so glad I did, because we ate practically all of our meals together. She was a God-send when I was a small fish in a big blog conference pond. She made everything about Allume more comfortable for introverted me.

3. David Dollar – Clouds in My Coffee

David Dollar is a husband and father who loves 90s nostalgia, Billy Joel, Hootie & the Blowfish, early Jennifer Knapp, audiobooks and writing.  In addition to his blogsite, he also co-hosts a movie podcast called The Deucecast, as well as helps people as a professional Disney Travel Planner.  He follows Christ, loves his family and studies pop culture, praying regularly for a dcTalk reunion.   Follow him on Twitter at @davedollar and follow his Disney page on Facebook at facebook.com/disneyonadollar.

David and I attend the same church here in Birmingham, and within our little body, I suppose we are known as the bloggers. David has been a great encourager of my writing. He is currently helping Daniel and I plan a trip to Disney.

Reforming church: selling us

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This church stuff is a weighty topic, thus the reason it has taken me much longer than anticipated to write this – not as though I don’t love weighty topics, but I want you to hang out with me because this post is going to need some “‘splaining to do” said in my very best Ricky Ricardo voice. I am asking God to guide me as I write this post in particular because I want my posts to convey truth in a compassionate and graceful way to anyone in leadership over me or otherwise. Let’s dig in.

We sell the gospel. We sell ourselves. We sell our leaders. Our leaders sell us.

In the last post, I mentioned have it your way church, and we looked at driving thru. I told you that in this post we would look at the ones being served as we drive thru. We want to be noticed when we are served. We don’t want to drive-thru mindlessly without eye contact in the face of faster and more, more, more.

Vanity Vanity

There is an art to leadership that has been lost in the face of bigger and better for the kingdom. Shepherding a flock of believers is no longer enough for many leaders today. They make provision in the name of God to do “BIG things.” In our faster paced culture, we’ve lost the art of contentment, and being “small” is often not enough. Shepherds need book deals, speaking engagements, and numbers to drive their ministry.

Anything done in the name of the Lord that the Lord does not desire us to do is vanity. If I say I write this blog because God directed me to do so, but in fact He did not, I take the Lord’s name in vain. Only Jesus knows the hearts of His shepherds, but is everything genuinely done for the Lord?

Feeding your ego or gaining a following as a result of ministry is not new. There have always been superstars for Jesus. To reiterate my last post, are these men contrite? Either way, are we not one in the body? All equal members united in service and purpose? If it seems leaders make much of themselves, something may be amiss.

Selling Members and Losing Sheep

If our leaders are driven to do more by us or of their own accord, they inadvertently sell their membership. If we are going for bigger, better, faster, more, what pastor has time to develop personal relationships with his congregation? If a pastor or shepherd does not know his congregation, how can he shepherd them? At times, it seems to be a tradeoff – find the lost men and reel them in or care for the ones in your fold. We must not do one at the expense of the other. We misunderstand the parable of the lost sheep when we do. We must feed the body and allow it to work together while searching for the lost.

Some shepherds are so busy trying to attract more sheep that they are busy losing part of the original flock, and sadly, many are not actively searching for the sheep who become lost. No earthly shepherd is the Good Shepherd. He does not know if the ones leaving are part of the lost or part of the flock. As in the parable, a shepherd makes sure the 99 are safe, and then he starts out on a potentially life threatening path to reach the one lost. If an earthy shepherd does not know if a sheep is part of the flock or part of the lost, how can he assume that a church member who leaves is going to a safe place? He must treat those who leave like lost sheep, care for them, and bring them back to safety. Until they’ve rooted themselves into a new church body, they are still his sheep to seek after and care for. If he doesn’t know his flock, he will not realize they are missing. He must be intentional to build relationships over agenda. This needs to happen before sheep stray. Otherwise, the sheep will not know if the shepherd is safe when he seeks to bring them back into the fold.

Losing Sheep due to Image Building

If a pastor is into image building, he may make changes to his business model which cut out members of the church body. This is where wounding of the church body occurs. This causes sheep to scatter. You all know stories of staffing changes that cause mass turnovers in the church body. Staff changes do become necessary, but they must be done in a way that does not promote image building and that administers grace to the fallen sheep and the wounded body affected by business models. Otherwise, we self harm the body of Christ, and while Christ does tell us to cut off body parts in the case of recurrent sin, self-mutilation is intended to be a last-ditch effort. Ultimately, we are to be healed and to keep one another from wandering away. If grace is not administered, chaos and disorder abound instead. We must consider James 3:16, which says, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

If we are members of one body, why do we think it is okay to sell one another? cut one another off? and stand in opposition to one another all for the sake of an image? My friends, this cannot be. It is grievous.

Shepherding without Integrity

Pastors may sell out their congregants when they are seek self gain, either in the eyes of the world, church growth, or their own denominational leadership, or because they’ve forgotten ethics. Consider Mark Driscoll. He bought a marketing strategy that allowed him to be a best-selling author. His integrity was compromised, he regretted his decision, and he retracted his best-selling status. Leaders are being taught that marketing the gospel is good stewardship of the message itself. I know because I have heard this message, and I bought it for a while.

When God began opening my eyes, there was a news article going around at the time about Stephen Furtick and Elevation Church. I don’t know anything about Stephen Furtick other than this article. I’ve never read any of his books or listened to his sermons, and I don’t know whether he used people to manipulate mass baptisms. However, the document produced by his church did seem to imply that he would set up people in the audience in order to create momentum to spur people to baptism. He denied the claims and said he was being persecuted, but it was nevertheless concerning to me. The thought that using manipulation to maneuver people into following God truly is scandalous and reprehensible. I agree that when we as believers follow God whole-heartedly we will receive criticism and persecution, but our integrity should stand alone. When it is called into question, we need to take an honest look at whether or not our integrity has indeed slipped.

I once heard a leader say he had the worship service down to a science in how to get people to respond, and indeed he did. He said that some people call it manipulation but that he saw it as stewardship. Why does a leader need to defend whether he is manipulating someone in the first place? A manipulator will manipulate his point to the death.

An Example for Shepherds

“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” Brother Lawrence

Today I heard the story of Father Damien. He was a missionary to Hawaii in 1864 to 1889. He died when he was 49. Some would say his life was too short or that nothing could be accomplished in such a short span. When he came to Hawaii, there was a health crisis, and many men and women were moved to Molokai to a leper’s colony there. He was the first priest to volunteer to serve and live among the lepers. You might guess that he too became a leper. He accepted a death sentence, and lived, died, loved, and served among the least of these. His life is an example of reaching down and washing dirty feet. He lived and died as Christ. What would it look like if our leaders were willing to die for us? And what would it look like if we in turn died for them? Are we not Christ unto one another? Through dying, we bring life to one another.

Finding Sheep

While this list is not exhaustive as to why church members leave, what if they leave because they’ve inadvertently been taught to dine at the next fast food church? or what if they leave because they are tired of being sold by pastors in favor of whatever bigger and better thing the shepherd seeks? What if they are hungry for a real meal? and what if they want to know they are accepted at the table? It is important to seek the lost, those outside the faith, but it is equally important to care for the body when it is sick, as it is.

The solutions are not complex, but may be hard to practice. Stop giving people fast food. Give them a real meal on which to feast. Slow down and get to know the people God’s given you to shepherd. Practice contentment within your local body of believers. Stop marketing the gospel, prostituting the body, and tear down idols. Do not cut off members for the sake of your church image. Offer love in all ways at all times and always continue to administer grace.

What if there was a return to the church, a revived interest in truth, because “they will know we are Christians by our love”?

 A Note to Scattered Sheep

Express your concerns before you leave. Try to follow the model of forgiveness Jesus has laid out for us. Consider your heart – how might you love your enemy and lay down your life for your church body? If you must change church bodies, look for a place where grace is taught, rest is valued (you will need to heal), and entertainment and self idols are cast down. Ultimately, look for a place that loves the gospel so much, marketing it is not an option.

Do not give up on the institution of church and stop going altogether. We need you. You are a kingdom asset. Serve the broken. Feed the body. It might just be that you out of all of us understand how to do this best. Remember that never once has Jesus stopped being your Good Shepherd. Church is broken because we are all fallen sinners. If she is sick, she is also healed, because as sinners, are we not declared righteous as well? In Christ, the bride of Christ is broken yet righteous. So come home.

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.

On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.

1 Corinthians 12:18, 22-25

On Speaking Life

on speaking life

I know this woman. Every time I am with her it is like I am in a torrential downpour of negativity. There is no dam to stop her flow of words and thoughts. They come at a rate of hurricane status, and never once do her words slow to ask me how I am or if I am busy. When she is done, I feel I am drowning in a sea of despair. She never notices me. As a result, this relationship, which is an important one, always takes and never gives, and sometimes I try to limit my interaction with her.

When our interactions are done, I feel like years, days, and hours have been sucked away from my life. I feel heavy, overwhelmed, defeated, judged, and frustrated. I don’t know how to solve the problem. Each time I wish I knew how better to handle the situation, and each time I feel a sense of foreboding and fear that I too will use my words negatively. I fear that she is me, and I am her, and that I am trapped. I cannot seem to stop the oncoming doom. I cannot cut her out of my life. I create boundaries, and she runs over them like a truck that will not stay on the path.

This woman has me considering how to speak life and truth into others. I believe that every word that I speak to this woman is sucked into a black hole never to be pondered again, a vortex of lost words and light given unseen, which is not entirely true, as occasionally I see evidence to the contrary. But, sometimes I don’t say much at all, and I feel incapable of being vulnerable with her.

She slays me with her words, and I wonder if offering life-giving, light-filled words are worth it in return for the death I die each time her words are breathed into me.

I cannot help but wonder if she and I are both deceived in thinking she is a child of light if death is her only offering?

O, my tongue! O, my head! They hurt for the thinking of careless words said by me as well. So I know I am just as capable of speaking deadly words.

I must offer her life even if the pit of darkness swallows my words whole, and I must remind myself of His power over all the fear, the shame, His victory over death. This is how I will rise again – by speaking truth to myself, and eating His healing manna, even when I don’t know what else to do. I choose to speak, and these dry bones in me begin moving, fleshing covering them – an offering of hope in a dry and weary land.

When I speak life to her – she gets to choose which way she will go. Down to the pit or into the light. She may keep choosing the smell of decay over the sweet fragrance of hope, but maybe one day hope will be the one thing that rises and stays. He heals me, and I have to believe one day she’ll be full of light and life too. If enough life-giving words dwell into the dark – surely they will burst forth making her new and free, negativity swept away, gorged by the light?

I speak light because God tells me over and over in His word to do so, and I speak life because I know firsthand that His word is true.

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it, eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21

 

Linking up with these lovely ladies: Kelli, Michelle, Laura

photo credit: donut2D via photopin cc

 

Happy Harper Home Journal 1: on stillness and quiet

It is quiet. My kids are up, but the only sound I hear is the fan blowing in my bedroom and my fingers clicking the keys, and the occasional pause, as I pause to reflect on what to say and to type.

Summer is over half over here. I begin to mourn a bit for its coming end, and ponder what magnificent thing we should do today.

My son appears because he is on all electronic time out and is learning out to be bored and find fun in the quiet.

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My sister had the baby whose heartbeat we heard. We went to visit her and him this week, and Annabelle held the sweetness of a new life. So tender, so sweet, so gentle and soft.

Annabelle and Cooper

My girl is growing up. The other day when we asked around the table what we hope to accomplish by the time we were 70, she basically said she wanted to be me, only her version sounded better. I don’t know how long it will last – these special moments between she and I but I cherish them. Though she is only 8 1/2, there were days when I thought this would never come. When all the work and time and effort I put into mothering seemed small and worthless, and now, at least momentarily, I am reaping its benefits. Praise the good God above.

I don’t know why some seem to struggle more with the hearing of and listening to – God.

Daniel and I have been praying for God to speak to a certain subject in particular, and God is quiet. Still. I have heard small whispers, and Daniel still waits.

Earlier in the week, I drove to visit my sister and the baby by myself, and on the return trip, I began to pray adamantly. One of my favorite lines from my favorite movie, Anne of Green Gables, is this:

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”

I realize that I am wordless, and God is asking me to be still before Him, just quiet and still. I turn off the radio, and as best I can, I lessen my thoughts and quiet my soul.

“Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

For a moment, it is as if my stillness and knowing, each of themselves, bring exaltation among the nations and among the earth. For a moment I visualize myself prostrate, and the nations and the earth recognizing God simply because I refuse to recognize anything else. I immediately think of those who are prosecuted, who are still in the name of the God, and refuse to deny Him. In doing so, they carry the gospel to the nations. I am humbled.

The next day, I read this and smile, for a God who is active in my life.

My second return trip is not as quiet, as my car is full of kids and my mind is weary and cluttered. I am returning home to find the stillness again. But in the weary, heaven laden thoughts, I recognize that I could keep turning them over in my mind, worrying about all. the. negative. things. Or I could choose to still them and know that He is God. To trust Him with the very things that I am wrestling with. To believe that He is big enough to change things and people who seem never to change, even me. This is how He is exalted among the nations and in the earth.

I think of myself – a constant work in progress, a great masterpiece. I think of my Annabelle, who is so beautiful in her becoming. I hope for my son that change will happen. I believe in my little Lisabeth, and I know that even now, God is listening and answering prayers for my husband and I.

Lisabeth

And you, dear reader, I treasure your silent presence with me. Is God asking you to be still before Him? To allow Him to search your anxious thoughts? I pray today, you find Him in the quiet moments of your day.

I leave you with this song, “Everlasting,” by Matt Brouwer, because it reminds me that I can take my anxious thoughts to Him, and He will lead me in the way everlasting (email subscribers click here to view the video). More writing to come – summer has kept me busy with activity instead of words.

How to Give when everything says Give Up

I will be back next week with Reforming Church, but since this week is VBS, I will give you a glimpse of that.

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 The good church girl is not supposed to say that next thing I am going to say: I dread the week of VBS. Oh I remember how when I was a girl, I loved it. Back then we still pledged to the Christian flag, the American flag, and the Bible. There was an order to it that felt like school and learning (it is where I learned the books of the Bible and more) and less about entertainment, but I am not here to dissect the ways and whys of the current state of Vacation Bible School.

As an adult, serving children hasn’t always been my favorite thing to do. I remember how as a middle schooler and teenager and young 20 something, I had every intent to remember how to be childish and feel like a kid and reach them on their level. I grew up, got a job, and for 5 years, VBS was something I did not participate in. Then on the cusp of motherhood, I began again, and I soon learned the miry ways of motherhood, and I forgot how to be a kid. I really did.

In motherhood, I became old and tired, and it felt like I was giving every part of me just to being and learning the ways of being wife and mom. But I served in VBS anyway, each year. Last year being my year of shmita, instead of teaching kids, I wrote a newsletter and devotionals for the workers. It was my favorite act of service for VBS, because it was the most me. So this year, when the ladies started asking me to teach, I was resistant. I knew my limitations – my energy levels and health being a factor. Shmita being over however, I knew I would serve in some capacity. I would say yes, for shmita Sabbath lasts for a year, not stretched out into never serving or working.

When I got to church on the day before the day that VBS started, I remembered why I always feel so…different. Here I am – a woman who feels uncomfortable in a woman’s world. In this world where teachers rule and paper bulletin boards are hung, I remember that it was me – a girl who majored in engineering – a boy’s profession – and felt mostly at home there, I have no ideas for cute bulletins and decorating – it is not my skill-set. Tell anyone that I was an engineer – only for 5 years mind you – and I am always and forever defined by that. It’s a title I never wanted to have. But now as I see myself, I see the truth of that title for me. And yet, I let it limit me.

I do as I am told to do. I hold the paper up high. I hang the paper, I make the cuts in the paper, and tape the papers to one another to make a city skyline. We improvise, and I am utterly clueless with ideas. I must take direction, and for 6 hours we work on the room. We set up partitions and hang the decorations, and it seems like we are doing all. the. work. so. slowly. and yet, I feel spent when I am done. We talk about how bad it looks. We think of scrapping the whole thing, and I fight to keep it for the sake of all we have done. I go home to write the newsletter and read the script for the coming day, and fear I have no idea what to do. Every piece of me wants to give up when it is not what I am gifted to do.

I pray, “Father, be the strength I don’t have. Work in me when I am weak. Let this be utterly unto You, for I am empty.”

It is all the empty moments of VBS that cause me dread, not the children. The energy loss. The constant motion. I want a job in which I don’t have to give. I sign up to do the newsletters, bring the food, and help in missions. Giving will be required. I will forget to sit down, and I will stand until my back aches, and I will be tired when I come home, and then I will cook and write some more. And my giving will only be a fraction of the giving that others will do.

How do you give when everything says give up?

I always talk about giving out of the overflow, and giving out of the overflow of all that He is, is definitely how to give. Very often, there comes a time to give out of your scarcity. Giving all you have left to give. What if the rich give all to the poor, and the poor give all to the rich, and together we become sacred life givers to one another? We give like the widow giving her mites when all we have left is emptiness.

Widow's Mite

There was this Jesus God-man, He gave until He gave up His life for you and me. He gave it all until it hurt, He sweated blood, and was wounded by whips, and sinful men condemning Him to the death. He could have stopped it all, giving nothing. But He gave everything. He is the how to our giving now.

This giving, this emptying out, is a sweet aroma to our Lord. This giving all or nothing shows our love for the Lord. How to Give? I give by loving. I give because I was loved first. I give because I follow the ultimate Giver. He gave His all, so I will too. Only by spending time with Him and stretching deep into Him will I know how to give. To give like Jesus, I’ve gotta first know Jesus and be Loved by Him.

I am reminded by my friend, Dana, that sometimes the giving is the resting and the giving up. Don’t assume that giving means being more or doing more, the striving. The giving is the blessing. I just want to remind you that sometimes our giving is the seasons of rest, like shmita.

How and what is He calling you to give?

photo credit: IronRodArt – Royce Bair (“Star Shooter”) via photopin cc

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