I Am The Reason Church Is Hard

I’ve seen a couple of things going around the internet lately about how church is hard. I’ve shared a beautifully written post to that end. Because church is hard. And I know why.

I am the reason church is hard. I am a walking, talking ball of hurt, heart break and, if I’m being totally honest, unforgiveness.

The church is full of me. People walking around hurting, angry, trying, failing, wanting to do better. Be better. Wanting, trying, praying to forgive. And the moment we think we have succeeded. We’ve grown. We’ve healed – BAM! A new “offense” returns us to that place of pain we thought we had left behind.

Much like the smell of baking cookies can take you suddenly back to your grandma’s kitchen, a new church hurt can send you reeling, sliding back into that pit of hurt you thought you’d climbed out of.

As I stood last night sharing my frustrations and angers and hurts with perhaps one of the most bluntly honest friends I know, I really realized, maybe not for the first time but certainly more fully than before, how much these old hurts drag us around, through the mud and muck and leave us unfit for ministry.

Or do they?

Perhaps they leave us unduly fit for ministry. Perhaps it is only through our hurts that we can finally begin to minister. I don’t know. I’m honestly trying to figure this out.

A little over a decade and a half ago I started this journey of “ministry”.  I told the women mentoring me at the time that I was pretty sure I didn’t want to get to be too useful to the Kingdom because I didn’t want the attacks from the enemy.

I didn’t listen to me. I ended up diving headlong into one of the messiest ministries in the known world. No, not Children’s Ministry. That is just the cover for what we really do. Family Ministry. Momma ministry. Ministering to the mom who knows she’s blown her relationship with her daughter because of her life choices, and the daughter whose heart aches for a mom who is present. Ministering to a wife trying to save her marriage and a wife trying to leave an unhealthy one. Ministering to a friend who is heartbroken because she just can’t seem to find her way along God’s path for her.

I didn’t listen to me. I poured my heart into my church. My family. And my heart was trampled.

I didn’t listen to me. And I’m so glad I didn’t. I honestly don’t think I would choose to avoid the heartbreak by avoiding the moments I’ve been privileged enough to show the love of Christ to a child, a momma, a friend.

No. I wouldn’t.

But I’m still hurt.

And that brings us back to the problem. Me. I am the problem. I have been ignored, scolded, placated, slandered. I have had my heart broken. I have also ignored, placated, slandered and broken hearts.

Because churches are full of people. The non church going world sees the church as full of hypocrites and maybe we are. What we in the church know is that we aren’t perfect. We are loved and saved by grace. Saved by a grace-filled God who died simply so that we might live. But perhaps we forget that we are all, ALL, imperfect creatures. Whether we’ve been saved a day or a decade, have attended seminary or a few sermons, none of us are perfect. We hurt each other intentionally and unintentionally.

We forget. But you see, the enemy, he doesn’t forget. And he doesn’t want us to forget. He doesn’t want us to forget the times we’ve been hurt. He doesn’t want us to forget what that other pastor did to us. He doesn’t want us to forget that we are sinners and undeserving. He wants to bring up every moment that hurts our hearts and smear our faces in it. Make us taste and smell the foul stench of our brokenness. Of the brokenness of those around us.

He wants us to walk away, hoping that leaving the scene of the crime will wash away our guilt or hide us from our shame. So we go to other churches. And, surprisingly we find it is also full of sinners. Hurt, broken people fill those pews as well. And in time we begin to find new offenses that bring up our old broken heart.

I am the reason church is hard. I am.

God is here and He’s offering us all a clean slate, a blank ledger, a new start. And time after time I think I’ve taken the clean slate, but it turns out I’ve picked up my old dirty one and I begin to see the faded lines of the past mistakes. And I decide it’ll always be this way.

I honestly don’t know how to stop the cycle. I do know Who. I am certain that God has the clean slate and is handing them out to anyone who is willing to pick it up. But I think the key is whether we are willing to throw away the old one so that we can never again pick it up.

I know the church is full of people like me. Hurt. Tired. Weighing the options. Is it worth it? Do I step up again and get smacked again? Do I open my heart? Throw away the slate with the faded marks of my past? Never again look at how I was hurt? Do I stand and say “send me”?

Or do I stand and complain about all the past mistakes of others, hoping their mistakes will somehow hide my own,

I See You

Shared grief is not lessened. It doesn’t take away your hurt and pain when others know of it, care about it and carry it with you.
Shared grief is not lessened. But sharing your grief does allow some comfort to a hurting heart.

When we lose a loved one, it doesn’t take away the pain when others express to you their heartfelt sympathies. But somehow it does help, it makes you feel loved and less alone.

Secret grief. Secret pain. Unknown hurt. Those. Those are harder to carry.

There are times in life when you are so hurt, hurting so much, that you desire nothing more than to tell the world of your grief. Or at least those around you. You want others to know, to understand, to sympathize with your hurt, your pain, your grief.

Sometimes you cannot share your hurt. Your pain is yours alone to feel and carry because the story of your hurt is not yours alone.

When you cannot share your hurt, your heartache, your despair. When you walk alone in your grief, your pain. When you cannot tell those close to you of your sorrow because the story is not yours alone. When your sorrow is tied closely to that of others and your pain is mingled with theirs, you do not get to decide who or when or how your pain is shared.

It hard to walk through the hard things of life when others don’t know you are hurting. It is hard to be silent and alone and plaster a smile on your face when no one knows you are crying inside.

Friends, I write this not to encourage you that it is all going to be ok.

I’m write this only to tell you one thing.

You are not invisible.
You are seen.
Your hurt is known.
Your grief is shared.

Perhaps not by the people around you. But by the God who made you, loves you and knows you.

Maybe it seems like a small consolation now. But take heart, dear friend. God sees you. He loves you.

On Sacred Ground

Once upon a time, I read a book.

It left me undone. Redone.

It left me wanting more.

In Stolen Jesus,  Jami Amerine shares a message of finding the Real Jesus who loves me wholly, unconditionally, and with unmerited favor and adoration.

I read this book. And I wanted more. More Jesus. More understanding of grace. More application of grace in my life.

Jami knew. I’m sure she did. I know that she wrote this second book just for me. Because she knew I needed more grace. Grace in my parenting. Grace from my Jesus. And Grace from myself.

Enter Sacred Ground Sticky Floors: How Less-Than-Perfect Parents Can Raise (Kind of) Great Kids

sticky-floors-book-two

Too many times when I have read Christian Inspiration books, I have walked away half inspired to do better, be better. And half dejected, knowing I could never be as good as those Christian “experts” and would therefore almost certainly never be able to succeed at being a better Christian.

I never could quite get the hang of it. Being a “Good Christian“. I tried. But I always fell flat on my hiney bottom into a big ole vat of Christian Guilt.

But Jami sailed into my life with her stained blouse and Starbucks cup, wrangling a couple of tiny Vandals and juggling a handful of grown-up (and nearly grown-up) babies and tells me the truth.

Loving Jesus doesn’t always look like a perfectly coiffed lineup of your children posing for the church directory. It doesn’t always smell like brownies baking in your oven. And it certainly doesn’t always sound like a chorus of pious children singing in the church choir.

No. Jami shows us that Loving Jesus looks like a mom with black circles under her eyes, smells like toast burning in the toaster and sounds a bit like muttering through clenched teeth “… or so help me!” at a child who seems to have forgotten, yet again, that markers are made for paper not walls.

Loving Jesus isn’t about the perfection of ourselves. It is about accepting the perfect love of the Perfect Jesus and letting him work His perfection in our hearts and lives.

The truth of our relationship with Jesus is that He loves us. Wholly. Unconditionally. Sticky floors and all.

And that is how I want to love Him. And the people He has put in my life.

**Disclaimer – I have no affiliate links. All the links here are for your information only, I receive no gain from them.

 

So I Bought a Firetruck

We are quickly coming up on the two year anniversary of one of the coolest things God has ever done for us. And I realized I hadn’t blogged it. Insane!

There are posts on here about the continuing saga of the water issues we’ve had. But I will summarize thus:

  • The day we moved in to this house, 11 years ago, the water went out. If we had known then…
  • It took a week to get it figured out, but the well was not dry, as we feared, it was merely a slow well and required the water being drawn to be set at a much slower rate than “normal”.
  • Once the water worked we discovered that the homeowner had gone to great lengths to hide how orange the water was. I’m not talking regular orange well water, I’m talking my ankles were turning orange. After one shower, the ceiling would have orange spots from the condensation. Like a gallon of water standing on the counter looked like a rather weak tea/koolaid solution.  It was really orange. Almost the worst the guy who sold us our softener and rust filter have ever seen. But I digress, as usual.
  • Once the house was fitted with a rust filter and water softner, life went on for a good while as a mostly “normal” life.
  • Until the well leaked into the crawlspace. Apparently though the rest of Indiana was experiencing a drought, I had standing water and mud puddles. Eventually, my hubby and I realized something was off and discovered that there was a leak in our crawlspace, which had filled with THOUSANDS of gallons of water. My rough estimate is that somewhere around 1000 cubic feet of water had filled my crawl space and we had no idea it had been leaking. Apparently that slow well was capable of a lot of water output over time.

So it would appear that we would be abundantly blessed with water, being as our well could make so much water. The fact is we would be abundantly blessed with water struggles.  Because, guess what happened a year later.

  • No water. None. Well was dry. Not from the leak. It had recovered just fine. No problem. It just mysteriously stopped producing water. Ironically, the neighboring county drilled a series of wells about a mile north of my house at this same time. Ironic. But they won’t let us use their water from their wells drilled a mile from my house coincidentally at the same time that my well stopped producing water.
  • So we drilled a new well. It had no water.
  • So we cleaned the well. The well guy said after cleaning it, it would be as good as it ever was, would produce as well (ha!) as it ever had. So he cleaned it. And said he couldn’t figure out how on earth we had ever gotten any water out of that well, it simply would not produce enough water to maintain.

This is the short version, so I’ll wrap it up.

  • Basically we spent the next several years (5) with a variety of methods of hauling water.  From a very rough pick up truck with a 400 Gallon tank to using a friend’s flat bed “log truck” and two tanks to haul 1000 gallons of water.

Water hauling in 0 degrees is beyond sucky. You can’t imagine how fast water freezes…

Then my husband saw a firetruck for sale. And I got the information. They were asking more than we really had the money to spend. So my husband asked me if I was really interested, he had a message and was going to call the guy. I told him “Look, unless the guy says ‘We’ll take a thousand dollars’, I don’t think we can afford it.” This was less than half the asking price so I went on about my business.

Then my husband calls. “Um, so I asked how much they wanted to get from it and he said ‘How about a thousand’ so…” So, yeah, I bought a Firetruck.

And it is a super cool Firetruck. It turns out that when it was brand new it was purchased by my Uncle’s fire department, my uncle himself being part of the process of acquiring it. Years later it was sold to the fire department where my sister volunteered. And then we bought it.

So yeah, God gave us a fire truck. It make the process of hauling water a one hour job instead of three and it makes hauling water in 0 degrees go from miserable and sucky to just not fun.

And, it’s just fun to own a firetruck.

The Mysterious Case of the Stolen Identity – I am not who I think I am

Warning: I’m about to get preachy here. You might want to turn the page. Er, um, click to a different tab. But don’t worry, I’m preaching to me here. The only toes I’m looking to step on here are my own. 

I woke up this morning pretty much the same as every day, unwillingly. I dragged myself out of bed and began my morning process. As I stood there packing my husband’s lunch I heard these words, “You have let your identity get stolen.”

God made it pretty clear that this was what I have been waiting to hear and what I’ve been needing to write.

I’ve been letting my identity get stolen.

We live in a world of identity theft. It is rampant. As such we also live in a world full of warnings and tips on how to prevent identity theft.

We know how to check gas pumps for card skimmers, position our bodies so people can’t see our PIN, and to check our bank accounts and credit scores frequently in order to monitor them for identity theft.

We try to prevent identity theft because once your identity is stolen it is such a pain to get it back. Proving who you are, removing unwanted charges against your credit, notifying all the people with whom you do regular business and having them change their records of you. It is a hassle. And once you have done it all, you have to periodically recheck to make sure your identity is still protected against unwanted assault.

Years ago my Mother-In-Law had her wallet stolen. It was a hassle to fill out a police report, fix all the unwanted charges, change all the information that was no longer correct, and in general return to normal life. During the course of the investigation, video footage was found of the person claiming to be my MIL checking out at a store. Viewing the video, one was able to easily say, “That isn’t her.”

Friends, that is Jesus. When our identity is stolen by satan, Jesus looks at the footage of our life and says, “That’s not her.” The problem is, we don’t always hear Him. Because we don’t listen.

Do not misunderstand. Your identity can never really be stolen. Not from Jesus who knows who we really are. But it can be stolen from us. We can begin to soak in the lies and forget all the Truths we have known until we believe the lies against our identity and begin to question who we truly are.

Satan is such a dirty rotten liar and thief. He is out to steal our identity. He wants to steal our joy and lie to us about who we are. He doesn’t want us to remember who we are. He wants to steal that identity so that we wander around wondering who we really are. And he distracts us long enough that we begin to question who we used to be. Were really ever who we thought we were?

Let’s take a moment and remember who we are and Whose we are.

I am the daughter of the King. I am the heir. I belong to the Holy King of Kings. I am all the things that He says that I am.

And no amount of lies from the pit of hell will change who I am.

But if I don’t monitor the statements of who I am, monitor my identity, the lies will change who I think I am. They will allow me to wallow in the stains and blemishes on my credit made by the thief.

When your identity is stolen, you are not liable for the dings on your credit made by the thief. But when we allow satan to steal our identity from us, to convince us we are not who we thought we were, we allow him to stain our credit with Christ. Or to think he has (or we have). Truthfully, Christ is watching the footage and saying, “That’s not her” and instantly cleaning our credit, removing the charges against our credit made by satan. But we let the filthy liar make those charges, unchecked. We, maybe it’s just me, I stand there and look at the charges to my credit, my character and I begin to believe they must be true. There are so many. They must be real.

And somewhere in the back of my mind I remember all the lessons on how to protect my identity, the steps to take to regain my identity once it has been stolen, and I ignore them, feeling somehow like I deserve the punishment for allowing the situation to happen. I didn’t safeguard my identity well enough so I deserve the punishment.

I think maybe I want the punishment.

I think maybe I am more comfortable with punishment than Grace because I understand it. It makes sense. And I have some control. Punishment puts me in control because I can choose to avoid punishment with my behaviors. (Not that I am any good at that, mind you.) Grace puts me out of control because God’s love for me is all His to give and not mine to earn.

Which is delightful.

And terrifying.

You mean, God just loves me? Just because? Just because He chooses to? Not because I earn it? Deserve it? But because of who He is? Man, that gives all the control to God. All the power and control of loving me is God’s. I’d like to say I’m happy with that. But I’m not really.

I mean I love Grace. I love that God loves me even when I am so unlovable. And I’m glad that I can’t earn it, because I can’t lose it either.

But if I’m being honest here, and why not be, I’m rather terrified of it. If God loves me wholly by choice, then will He choose to stop loving me? I’m so wholly unlovable. Maybe that is what terrifies me. But God. Oh, He is so Good. You know He even understands that fear because He tells us in Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

These words are of great comfort. Because they remind me that I can’t really separate myself from the love of God. And He won’t choose to be separated. Grace is hard and messy. But Grace is what I really, really need.

So today I realized that I have let my identity be stolen. From me. But not from Christ. He has always known who I am and He still knows who I am. I may have a bit of an earthly mess to clean up, may have to reestablish credit with people who came into contact with the satan-stolen version of my identity. But my Creator knows me. He believes me. He knows which purchases toward my character were made by me and which were made by satan.

The key is to stay in connection and communication with the issuer of our credit, to stay connected to God so that He can help us clear the charges as satan makes them before we become so buried under the pile of charges that we can’t hear Jesus saying, “That’s not you.”

Why My 18 Year Old Homeschooler Isn’t Graduating This Year

It is that time of year. Graduation announcements are starting to come in the mail and on Facebook. This year is particularly tricky for me. You see, this is the year that my first two kids were “suppose to” graduate from high school.

Once upon a time a young momma, and recently “retired” public school teacher, started her first year of homeschooling. “Well,” she thought, “I’ll just put this 4 year old in class with her 5 year old brother because she’s high verbal and smart and they will go merrily about their school years together and graduate in 2018 together.”

Then same said teacher/momma realized that low verbal boy was also struggling with certain skills that so often give young boys cause to struggle. Highly trained momma/teacher with years of experience teaching struggling readers employed all the tactics at her highly trained fingertips and pulled nearly every last hair from her ever graying head only to realize something….

This kid wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready to read and write. He was ready to build, dream, run, experiment. He was ready to learn. He was learning a lot. He was not ready to read and write.

The trouble was, this teacher/momma was still too highly trained and hadn’t been untrained yet. She hadn’t learned about learning. “Reading readiness” was something she had heard about all her years of training but it had been poorly taught. Reading Readiness simply was not what she thought it was. This momma/teacher lost a lot of time worrying and struggling and fighting and generally trying to shove this terrifically square peg in this precisely made round hole.

By the time this teacher/momma realize that she just needed to find the proper square hole for this square peg, she looked around and realized how much time had been wasted fighting a battle that had never really existed. The battle to hit certain arbitrary lines drawn by some unnamed “expert” in some sand on a beach somewhere far away from this battlefield.

Eventually this momma realized the goal. It was the goal that was important. “To raise decent humans who love Jesus, love others and are productive members of society.” No where in that goal does it say “To graduate high school at 18 (or before if you start Kindergarten at age 4 to keep your brother company)”.

So this momma/teacher sat back and evaluated life. She looked at what these two kiddos of hers knew and needed to know. She looked at how much they had grown and changed in the last few years of high school. She especially looked at their goals. Boy wanted certain things that did not include college, but did include gaining certain skills. Girl wanted college which included certain courses yet to finish.

Teacher/momma did what made absolute sense. She established a set course to get said children prepared for their future. Same said course included girl graduating the year she would have had she gone to public school and boy graduating a year later than he would have but the same year as girl.

The world was ending! Boy would not graduate at 18! Girl would not graduate early! Oh no!

Not actually. Momma/teacher realized, boy child was not ready to take off into the world at 18. He had dreams that made him living at home a better choice during that 18/19th year than being “out on his own”. So if he was living at home training for his desired future, why does the year of “graduation” matter? Turns out, it didn’t.

Turns out, there was nothing wrong with this boy. He, like so many boys, just matured at at different rate than the girls in his life. When this boy turned 17 a switch went on and he began to mature and learn and explore at such a rate that it was like a whole different kid. He’s on a good path to reaching the goal “Love Jesus, love others, be a productive member of society”. And when the pressure was released to fit that square peg in that round hole? Ah, boy child began to flourish and find himself.

And girl? What about said girl who was going to graduate at 17 and conquer the world? Momma/teacher decided that maybe being released into the cold hard world of college life a year early and being allowed to push herself academically in pursuit of a career she had not yet decided upon at the expense of exploring many areas of interest and finding something she truly loves was perhaps not in girl child’s best interest either. So rather than bury herself in the books of academia, girl child has become a widely read, well-rounded young lady of many interesting interests and will happily graduate “on time” in 2019.

So what was the point of this little tale, you may be asking yourself? Simply this, don’t get so buried in making sure your children, be they homeschooled or public schooled, do all the right things at all the right times in all the right order that you forget to look up and breath, look around and see where they are headed, correct the course as needed and guide them to the goal you have set forth for them. Don’t let the “suppose to’s” and the “everyone one say’s” push your kids off the path of the course before them. Don’t be afraid to tell other people that the course for your square peg doesn’t look like the same course for their round peg. Or even for your other pegs, whatever shape they be.

Stay strong mommas and daddies. You are uniquely designed for these multi-shaped pegs, and you alone are tasked with being certain the hole they are headed for fits their shape.

My Deceitful Heart

Ok, so here is my question. What if you serve but your heart isn’t in it? What if you do a good thing, for a friend or stranger, because you know it is the right thing, you know you should, but you don’t want to?

Maybe you are pouting. Whining. Grumpy. Just flat out don’t “feel” like doing it.

But you do.

So what?

Does that matter? Does it not “count”? Are your good deeds tarnished and tainted by your cruddy heart? Do they not honor and bless the receiver if the giver gives with a less than cheerful heart? (This is presuming that the receiver isn’t aware of the giver’s cruddy attitude, we are talking how you feel inside, not how your act toward the recipient of your kindness.)

My BFF and I have pondered this a few times (not that she would ever feel this way). I have had the random occasion to babysit for a friend in need. And a vast majority of the time I am beyond happy to do so. Really. But there might have been a few times (friends reading this, never with you, other friends from other states) where my heart wasn’t in it. Perhaps I was tired, hormonal, cranky, or in some other way less than thrilled to watch someone else’s kid but have done so, with outward cheerfulness. Does the fact that I didn’t want to, that I was rather uncheerful in my heart but still cheerful on the outside make that blessing less of a blessing to my friend?

I don’t think so.

I really think, maybe you disagree, that sometimes you have to “fake it ’til you make it”. Sometimes you pretend to want to do some thing or other for a friend because you know they need it. And sometimes, most of the time (dare I say all the time?), in the end you are happy you chose to do so.

I believe the heart behind your actions is crucial. I really do. God tells us that if we do all the good things but have not love, (1 Corinthians 1-3) it profits nothing. I believe that.

But I also believe that where our hands and feet start, our heart will follow if we allow it, if we are servants of the One True King.

So, I ask again:

What if you serve and your heart isn’t in it?

If you have a heart to love, a heart to serve, a heart to give, some days even that heart will falter. The human heart is a wicked deceitful thing (Jeremiah 17:9). We cannot rely on it alone. My heart lies to me often.

Which is why we need Jesus so desperately. We need Him to tell us to love. To remind us to give. To encourage us to serve.

If your heart is always bitter and angry, if you never want to do good, to serve, to help a friend in need, well, you need a little more Jesus.

But if you usually love to help, yet you find yourself bitter and angry today at the prospect, maybe you need a little “fake it ’til you make it” cure. Maybe you need to just suck it up and do what Jesus has placed on your heart. Babysit. Fix a meal. Clean a bathroom. Serve someone when you least want to do it.

I’m pretty sure you will find that you are blessed as much as, perhaps more than, the one you served.