Did you get to be a child in your childhood? (Gina Butz)

Today’s post is from Gina Butz: a writer, mom, campus minister, world traveler, and fellow Redbud.

Mom2moM

13 years ago, I was exhausted. The mother of two preschoolers living overseas with a husband who was in increasing demand, I was coming to the end of my resources. We had just moved to Singapore, which meant I lost the local maid who had kept me afloat in our previous location. At the same time, both our kids decided that naps would no longer be part of their daily schedule. It was like I’d lost six hours of every day. Did I mention exhausted?

Six months in to our time there, my husband and I participated in an intensive coaching program. Part of our preparation for the time was to write out a life map, detailing the highs and lows, influences, and significant moments of our lives.

While meeting with some of our coaches during the program, one of them told me that when I shared my life map with our next coach, I had to ask him this question,

“Did God give me a place to be a child in my family?”

I thought it was a strange question, but I was willing to comply. I was sure the answer was yes, anyway. How could it be otherwise?

So after sharing my story, I threw out my question, “So, did God give me a place for me to be a child in my family?”

He looked at me with tears in his eyes, and gently said, “No.”

I was furious. Not at him. Not at my parents. Straight to the source – I was irate with God. He was the one who didn’t give me a story where I was a child. He didn’t give me that place that I needed. What kind of God would do that?
I marched back to my hotel room and raged against Him. When I finally stopped enough to hear Him respond to my, “Why?” his reply was, “Because I wanted you to be Mine.”

What followed was months upon months of searching out what this meant. What does it look like to live as His child? And how had I not been doing it?

I grew up as the 2nd of three children. My older sister is mentally challenged, which functionally made me the oldest. I took my role seriously. I became the kid you didn’t have to worry about, the one who took care of herself. After all, it was easier for everyone that way. In many ways, I wasn’t a child in my family because I chose not to be, but it was God who orchestrated the background in which that was the most natural response. How could I have known how that would change the way I related to God, to myself, to others?

I was exhausted 13 years ago in part because I had been an adult for so very long, trying to be put together, to be the person no one had to carry, the one who was strong for everyone else. I lived in fear that failure would surely make me unlovable, and in contempt for the child in myself who desperately needed to fall apart and be held.

My search began with reading: Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning, and The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for starters. Over time, I read so many books in my quest to ground myself in identity as His beloved child that I started a journal where I collected quotes from all of them. On the days when I found myself feeling insecure, unknown, tempted to look elsewhere for the security I needed, I would spend hours poring over that journal, repeating to myself, “This is who you are. This is who you are. This is who you are.”

Over time, something shifted internally. It felt like I was discovering a solid place in the core of my being. As Henri Nouwen puts it,

“There is a place in me where God has chosen to dwell. It is the place where I am held safe in the embrace of an all-loving Father who calls me by name, and says, ‘You are my Beloved child, on whom my favor rests.’”

I would love to say I fully embrace this position as His child, but I still struggle. It is so easy to wander from that truth. Like an orphan, I can doubt my place in His family, and run back to my own resources, wary of trusting others. But He keeps calling me back to this solid place inside of who He is and who He says I am.

I am so grateful for that question 13 years ago. It awakened me and invited me to a deeper, more true identity than the one I’d been living.

Gina ButzGina Butz has served in full time ministry for over 20 years, 13 of them spent overseas. She and her husband are raising two third culture kids and an imported dog in Orlando, Florida, where they serve in Global Leadership for Cru. Gina considers it a good day if she can create something with her words or her hands. She blogs at www.ginabutz.com about being wholehearted, and loves to connect with others on twitter @gina_butz

To the Brave Volunteers at VBS (or Holiday Club, or Vacation Bible Club, or whatever you call it)

to the brave volunteers at

I signed up to help with our church’s annual Vacation Bible School this year. Again.

And—just like I do every year—I’m wondering why the dickens I volunteered for the madness. Again.

But as I think about it—again—I can tell you why. It’s not because I’m great with kids: I am not the Pied Piper of Hamlin by any stretch of the imagination. It’s not because I love songs-with-dance-moves and themed snacks: trust me. And—perhaps this might surprise you—it’s not because I have three kids that will be participating and I feel the need to watch them and participate with them. It’s definitely not because I have nothing better to do.

The reason I sign up… for the tenth year in a row now… is because of the difference one volunteer made in my life, over thirty years ago. My parents were newly divorced and as is the custom for many kids-of-divorce, we spent alternate weekends and holidays with each parent. My Dad had started going to a church, and during one of the first holiday times we were with him, he signed us up for Holiday Club (as it was known there). It was next-to-free-childcare; it seemed fun, and he had to work. So, we went.

I don’t remember much about that week. I vaguely remember a gaudily decorated hall, and I’m fairly sure there were games that involved screaming as we chased beach balls. I don’t remember a single person’s name, but I do remember this: not long after Holiday Club, I got a letter in the mail from one of the leaders. A real letter. With my name on it. In the mail. With a stamp. For me.

I remember pacing my room as I read, and re-read, it. I remember crying, because she remembered what I’d told her the week before: that my parents were divorced, that it was hard, that adjusting to step-parents and juggled weekends and school stress was difficult. That I was lonely. That I was scared. She remembered and acknowledged those details; she reminded me to trust in God because he cared about me; she said she was praying for me. Her letter was less than a page long, her name signed with a flourish in the bottom right hand corner. It wasn’t much and yet it was everything.

Her care showed me God’s care in a way I’d never seen before. Her seeing me and noticing me in the middle of a crazy week with screaming games and wild distractions made me feel profoundly seen and noticed. She offered me a glimpse of the welcome of heaven, and I was desperate for it.

I wrote back, and I think she wrote me again two or three times before our correspondence dwindled.

But it didn’t have to be a lifetime of correspondence to have made a longlong impact. That first letter was enough. She was a volunteer—possibly a high school kid—and she took the time to show love to a know-it-all kid who was really hurting beneath her sassy exterior.

It’s been more than thirty years, but I think of that Volunteer every year. I think what a difference it made—and how she’ll never know—and when that sign-up clip board gets passed around asking who wants to help out with VBS, I write my name on it. Even though I’m not fabulous with kids. And even though themed snacks and decorating are not my thing.

I sign up because children are people, and I was a hurting little person once and a volunteer saw me as a person and loved me. I may not be great at children’s ministry, but I can love a little people for a couple of hours once a year. And who knows what difference it may make?

To all you brave, wonderful people who signed up on that clip board and who will be playing the games, serving the snacks, sitting in small groups, and talking with kids this holiday: I wanted to say thank you in advance. And Bless You. Yours is Holy Work, although you may never know what difference you made.

But I just wanted to say: you do make a difference.

And,

Thank You.

 

Photo credit: cbcphotos (Flickr Creative Commons) / edited by BL using Canva.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

It is no secret that it is Tim Fall’s fault encouragement that got me blogging. I always enjoy Tim’s words, and am delighted to welcome him here today with his usual blend of funny, warm and robustly encouraging insight.

Running Like an Inflated Drunkard

Contrary to the impression I might have given with posts on running a 6 mile obstacle course and a half-marathon in the Happiest Place on Earth, I am not wont to join a few thousand strangers in order to traverse long distances in company.

But I did it again.

This time it was a 5K through a bunch of bounce houses. Three miles and a dozen inflatable obstacles made for a fun-run in the truest sense. It also made me feel like the folks in this verse:

They reeled and staggered like drunkards … . (Psalm 107:27.)

Tim Drunkard

Me reeling and staggering, but not falling down.

 

We signed up along with a bunch of people from the gym. As the day approached the young guy who owns the gym – and whom we looked to as our fearless leader for the race – went and blew his knee out and ended up having surgery.

That didn’t stop him from taking the course. He said he’d do it, and he did. And we did it with him. He couldn’t run so we all walked with him 3.1 miles from obstacle to obstacle. He hobbled through the obstacles along with the rest of us, laughing and joking around. It wasn’t the way the course was designed to be taken, perhaps, but it was the right way for us to go.

The Right Way to Go

Which reminds me of another verse:

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24.)

This group of friends stuck together for the sake of the one who could not run full speed. It’s the same with the church, the people of God. We are called to come together, to be with one another, to love each other in the good times and the bad times. In fact, it’s this love for one another that shows people who we belong to.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35.)

How can you love one another so that people will see you belong to Jesus? Good question, and one I hope you’ll help answer in a comment. For me it often means encouraging people. I don’t restrict this to fellow Christians, of course. Jesus’ love is something I can share with everyone God puts in my life.

When we love those outside the body of Christ, we do it without expectation of reciprocation. When we do it with each other, though, it should be a mutual care and love for one another. It is this bond of love – the back and forth, the give and take whether everyone can run at the same speed or not – that shows people who we are.

That’s what Jesus said.


Tim Fall pointsTim is a California native who changed his major three times, colleges four times, and took six years to get a Bachelor’s degree in a subject he’s never been called on to use professionally. Married for over 28 years with two grown kids, his family is constant evidence of God’s abundant blessings in his life. He and his wife live in Northern California. He blogs, and can be found on Twitter and Facebook too.

 

 

The first year of marriage

 

Why is the first year of marriage so hard?

“So, how’s married life?”

It was a question we were asked hundreds of times in that first year. It was a question that always left me feeling a little bereft as to what to say.

The truth is, our first year of marriage was hard. Very hard. Not because we’d made a mistake, not because I regretted the decision, not because I wanted out. Even though I was sure we’d chosen right and wanted in – it was still hard.

We may have been in love, but we hadn’t yet begun to learn how to love one another well. We hadn’t yet begun to learn that beyond the declarations of love and commitment comes the daily study of learning what your spouse likes, and deeper than that – how your spouse thinks.

I cried. A lot. Tears of frustration. Tears of pain. Tears of despair. Tears of martyrdom, spilled out on my pillow before sleep finally came: “Oh God, I promised to love him even if this means feeling this way fore-eh-eh-eh- (sob)-ver…zzzz”

There was no particular sin or problem that made it hard. It wasn’t that we were mismatched. It was more just that it was painful to figure out the changes. I think the most honest thing we were able to say about that first year was that it was “a big adjustment“. Here are some of the things that were hard for us to adjust:

It was hard to change our expectations of how time together was spent. When we were dating and engaged, our time together was spent “TOGETHER”, and then we went home to our respective houses and did our alone-time things alone. But once we were married, was time at home together time, or alone time? How did we figure that out? I expected marriage to feel more like an extended low-fuss date. I think he expected it more to feel like alone time, except with me in the house. It was painful for both of us to figure that out.

We suffered from decision-making fatigue. Before we were married, we had to decide on a few things together, and we figured we were pretty good at making those decisions. But once we were married, we discovered that every part of every day and every routine in every chore needed now to be decided on: we didn’t want to presume to do it “his” way or “my” way, so that meant having to have conversation after conversation about what “our” way was going to be. When should we eat dinner? what to eat for dinner? Who will do what prep and cooking for dinner? How long after dinner is it acceptable to wait before doing the dishes? Should washed dishes be dried and put away at once, or left to drip dry until morning? None of these questions was important, but much like the fatigue of a group of friends all trying to decide on a place to go for dinner and the conversation just goes and goes and goes because no-one wants to decide for the group, or the fatigue of a 4
-year olds’ “why”…. we were tired.

Another complicating factor was that it was hard to figure out our social obligations. While dating, I had a large circle of (mostly single) friends, with whom I spent about half the nights of the week. Once
married, what happened to those friendships? I wanted to keep those friendships and not be the friend-who-dropped-off-the-face-of-the-earth once she got married, but I couldn’t leave my hubby alone at home 3 nights a
week, and I couldn’t always just invite my girl friends to our house: they were my friends after all, and while they liked him they didn’t exactly want to bare their souls to my new hubby.

And so I did what all nice-girls-in-a-bind do: I cried. In private.

Would telling the truth about it being hard that first year have been understood? Would it have been seen as betrayal? Betrayal to my husband, or to the idealized notion of marriage? At the time it felt like it might be both.

And so one night, when an older, wiser friend asked: “So, how’s married life?”, and then followed it up immediately with, “It’s hard, isn’t it?”, I just about sobbed with relief. It was hard. It was such a relief to say it. And you know what? It got better. That first year wasn’t all terrible, but to be honest – it wasn’t all great.

I have friends who have had most wonderful first years of marriage. I’m so happy for them. But I just wanted to put in writing that it was not so with us. Just in case there’s anyone out there, whether in year 1 or year 4 or year 14, who feels this marriage gig is HARD and I-didn’t-expect-this and am-I-doing-something-wrong? and will-I-always-feel-like-this? and I-don’t-regret-this-but-I’m-still-crying-all-the-time…

Just in case that’s you, I wanted to say: “So how’s married life? It’s HARD, isn’t it?”

I know. We struggled through it, and we came through the stronger for it. You can too.

You might be interested in this post over at Start Marriage Right: Why we ditched the “young marrieds” groups

Why I won’t paint my son’s toenails (or let him wear a dress in public)

Lenci boy and girl

My kids have always wanted to take part in the things I do. From toddlerhood they wanted to help crack the eggs, apply their own sunscreen, and climb into the narrow space between my body and my cello whenever I took it out to play. “Me too, Mommy,” they have said, “I want to do it also.”

Each of them has also wanted me to paint their toenails. Every time I pull out my selection of miniature rainbowed pots, my kids huddle around to watch. From time to time, I paint my daughter’s nails, but my eldest son was fairly young when my husband asked if we could please not paint the boys’ nails. Even in culturally-masculine blue tones. My then-one-year-old had just poured half the bottle of blue paint all over our bed, which made it all the easier to agree.

So, the first reason I don’t paint my boys’ toes is out of respect for their Dad.

But there’s another reason, which has become increasingly significant as the years have gone by. That second reason is this: we don’t want the unhelpful and unhealthy constant commentary that comes with things like having boys wearing nail polish or other such “counter-stereotyped” choices.

This became incredibly clear to me two years ago, one spring morning when my youngest son and I went out to run errands. In the way of many younger-brothers-of-older-girls, our son spent a lot of time being “dressed up” by his older sister. At home, under the creative direction of his Adored Older Sister, he wore fairy wings, princess dresses, feathered boas and sparkly crowns… and loved it. (And yes, we are okay with that. Just like we are okay with our daughter dressing up as a pirate and a ninja and a bear. And with all our kids playing with LEGO. And with all our kids playing Avengers. Or enacting Frozen. Or wielding swords. I am ALL FOR kids playing with whatever toys they like according to their interest, not their gender.)

On that particular morning our youngest was wearing a princess dress and loving it. It was a Cinderella dress: “a BLUE dress, Mommy, just like my eyes!” he pointed out. Since we generally don’t leave the house in costume on Days-That-Are-Not-Halloween, I asked him to take it off before we went out, but he was having none of it… so my blue-bell prince and I hit the town to run our errands. Friends, this is no exaggeration: I have never had so much attention from people IN MY LIFE as the day I took a boy out wearing a dress. Every single adult we passed that morning—from the fellow Christian parents are pre-school drop-off, to the complete strangers in our very liberal city—commented on his dress. Not one of them said something mean, but everyone said SOMETHING: each one of them variations of “oh, look at your dress!” and “today is a fun day for dress up!”

Each of the comments was benign and banal, but by the twentieth, and thirtieth and fortieth comment, the message to my son was loud and clear: LOOK HOW MUCH ATTENTION YOU WILL GET IF YOU DRESS DIFFERENTLY! EVERYONE WILL SEE YOU. EVERYONE WILL NOTICE! And on that day, I realized that I wouldn’t let my sons go out in “girl” dress-up again: not because I’m afraid of them being shamed or confused about being boys… but because I couldn’t help feeling that there was damage being done by how much attention was focused on something that should have just been child’s play.

I know that there is such a thing as gender dysphoria, and my heart goes out to boys and girls struggling with their sense of sexual identity. I don’t have neat answers for how to parent in those situations. But this I do know: for a kid who might be craving adult attention and affirmation, one sure way to get it is to dress “opposite” at a young age.

I believe that what adults say, and focus on, in talking with children does much to script the way kids view themselves when they are older. I want my daughter to know that her body is more than beautiful: it’s strong, and useful, and hers – and so I work hard to focus my words in that direction. And I want my boys to feel free to show interest in all sorts of things – in sports and LEGO and science and in dress-up – without every single passer-by commenting (and thus reinforcing) the message that dressing-like-a-girl (or painting your nails) is the Most Important Thing To Say About You.

And so, we keep our boys’ nails color-free, and we keep the princess dresses at home. Because I want the people we meet to talk about school, and play, and books, and the smile on their faces… and not what they wear. There are more important things to say to kids than “look at what you’re wearing!” Let’s say those things instead.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment!

Photo credit: Museum of Childhood, London – Lenci Boy and Girl/Suzanne Gerber (Flickr Creative Commons)

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

The Problem of Invisible Resistance

A few years ago, I started cycling.

And by cycling, I don’t mean the I-need-to-commute kind of cycling I’d done at school and doing college ministry, but the Now-I-will-wear-lycra-pants-and-shoes-that-clip-in type of cycling. To say that the learning curve was steep was putting it mildly. I still blush a little when I think of how many times I came to a stop and, having forgotten to unclip my shoes from my fancy pedals, realized too late I had no free feet to put down and so just keeled over onto the sidewalk. (It’s okay if you laugh. We all did.)

I remember taking my first longer ride out into the country: a 25 mile round trip, with a half-way stop at a cute coffee shop which was welcoming to smelly lycra-clad cyclists. The first two or three miles was gorgeous: an encouraging warm sun just rising, the breeze in my hair, the regular breathing that felt like life in my lungs. But a few miles in, I was suffering. I couldn’t figure out why: the terrain was flat, and I’d gone so much further than that on the stationary bikes in the gym before. Could I really be this unfit? Had my hours of training until now been so ineffective?

I nursed my disappointment quietly over my coffee while my riding pals chattered on, not sure whether I had the stamina to make it back. I gathered up my shards of courage and mounted my bike, prepared to make my excuses about why I couldn’t keep up with the others on the long ride home… but a few miles in was stunned to find that the trip home was going so much better than the way out had gone.

Really? Why? Why had it been so hard, and now it was going more smoothly? If anything, I’d expected the second half to be harder as the sun was higher and I was that much more tired.

I muttered to the much-more-experienced cyclist next to me: “the way home is going a little easier than I expected.” She laughed: “yup. that’s the difference a tail wind will make.”

A wind? I couldn’t feel it. I hadn’t felt it on the way there, and I couldn’t feel it on the way back… all I was aware of was the feel of the breeze as I biked… but as it turned out cycling directly into a 5mph headwind and then cycling back aided by a 5mph makes a huge difference to how much work it takes to bike. In fact, the difference isn’t even linear: it’s an exponential function (here’s a graph if you have a geeky itch that needs scratching). It requires DOUBLE the amount of power to bike at 20mph as it does at 15mph, just with regular wind resistance caused by the fact that we’re moving through air. If you have a 5mph wind against you at 15mph… well, you do the math.

As it turned out, the struggle was that much worse not because I was failing my training in ways I hadn’t even accounted for, but because I was meeting with real, albeit invisible, resistance.

I was chatting with a friend recently who has been feeling deeply discouraged in some areas of her life where she wishes she were just doing better/being stronger. She sounded exhausted, and was filled with self-reproach that the struggle she was going through was just further evidence of spiritual failure: “If I weren’t so evil, this wouldn’t be so hard to overcome,” she lamented.

But as she described her journey, I became more and more convinced that there was something spiritual going on, too. Christian theologians have long described the enemies of the soul as consisting of the world, the flesh and the devil. My friend was accounting for the world and the flesh in her struggle (and those are real), but it had not crossed her mind that there might be more at work there than she was giving it credit for.

The western church, for all its love of CS Lewis, does not have nearly a robust awareness of the spiritual realities of a dark and evil opponent in the life of faith as our older brother in the faith did. The Screwtape Letters are worth revisiting regularly not only for their written genius, but for the stark reminder that there are evil, personal powers at work to distract and discourage us. “We are not unaware of his schemes,” wrote the Apostle Paul. Sadly, that can often not be said of us.

The image of me, discouraged and beating myself up for my weakness on that first long bike ride, came to mind as I talked with her. Just like I sometimes do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the wind into account when biking, so too we do not take the invisible-but-real resistance of the enemy into account, as he blows straight into our faces to slow us down and impede our progress.

And exhausted, we collapse and say to ourselves the words the Accuser (that’s what His name means, anyway) hurls at us: failure. weak. evil. quitter. laughable. why do you even bother?

But it helps to know that there is an enemy. It helps to know that the resistance we are feeling is real, and not imagined, and that the fight we are fighting is not just because our faith-muscles are weak but also because we are wrestling against a skilled opponent. Satan is the invisible headwind on our course, and he delights to remain unnamed and unnoticed so that we will lose heart.

But we will not lose heart. Forgetting what is behind, we press on; fueled by faith and reaching forward—ever onward and upward—to complete the race. We learn, as skilled cyclists do, how to keep your head down and cycle close behind others: for these things do a lot to decrease that relentless invisible resistance.

And so, together, we will go the distance. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Ask Me: How Do I Choose A New Church?

new church

I’ve received two letters from readers in the past month asking for advice about finding a new church. Here are excerpts from each:

We were part of a church plant for a couple years: a wonderful experience of everyone being on the same page, but it has now disbanded. Now that we’re on our own looking for a new church, I feel totally lost. I realize we have to compromise… but there doesn’t seem to be a church that has everything in line with what we want.  I have no idea what’s dire to have and what’s okay to forgo. Is community more important than the teaching? What about the worship? Their beliefs on mission? Geographical proximity? Multiethnicity, women in leadership, discipleship, etc etc… I understand this question is TOTALLY personal. I just wonder if you have any suggestions on choosing the right church.

and,

After more than twenty years of working weekends, I have relocated and wanted to join a church to find a church home and make friends.  The church I was raised in was a Presbyterian church & seeing an older established Presbyterian church nearby, I gravitated there to the comfort, familiarity, music, friendliness I remembered of years gone by.  I realized recently that this church has taken a position on some issues (same sex weddings and creation) that I believe are against the Bible.  I feel the church I knew has left me. I am sad. I have made friends here, but feel I have to find another church.  How do I find a church that doesn’t turn the Bible’s words into something that suits man, rather than guides man, as God intended?

Your advice would be appreciated. Thank you.

Longing For A Church Home

Dear LFACH (x2),

Changing churches is always an emotionally laden transition. I understand the longing to be part of a faithful community, but it’s hard to do when you may be feeling disconnected, grieving for what you’ve lost, and also needing to muster courage for a new search.

I only know of one way to find a new church, and that is to visit a number in your area. You may already know of a few to visit: places where friends go, perhaps. Depending on the city, there might be some kind of local wiki which lists the churches near you and you could scout your options out online to make a list of three or four to visit. Those visits will be hard, but ask questions when you go too: ask people what they like about this church, how long they’ve been there, how they came to be there and why they’ve stayed. Of course, this assumes that someone talks to you while you are there…. if they don’t, it will take extra courage to make a second trip.
Of course you know there are no perfect churches, but I think there are a great many HEALTHY ones, and often talking to some of the people in the pews will give you a better idea of the health of the community than reading a manifesto. Finding a community who love God, love the Bible and love people seems like a short and simple list, but finding those three things really is gold, no matter what the worship style is. I also think for people visiting a church, it’s entirely appropriate to call the minister or someone on staff and ask them if they’d mind talking to you about their church. Tell them a 60 second version of your background and some of the things you are looking for, and what they say in response could be really illuminating!
My personal thoughts on things that are essential in church communities is that we would do well to stick to Acts 2, and seek out communities that devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching, to fellowship and to prayer. By apostle’s teaching, I understand that to mean a faithful commitment to understanding and applying the teaching of Scripture. We are people of the Book, and so the way the community handles the Book matters tremendously. It should be read, relied on, and the worship and prayer (whatever format that takes), should reflect the priorities and passions of Scripture. I believe this is one of those things where we can ask the Holy Spirit for His specific guidance as we visit: He is the one who is able to lead us into all truth. (I have some thoughts on different church cultures here, if you’re curious.)
When it comes to “deal breaker doctrines”, that’s a matter for bible study and personal conscience: if you have strong convictions about the earth’s origins, or the Scriptures teaching on the place of women in leadership etc – you need to figure out whether this is something you can extend fellowship to others who may disagree in the spirit of Romans 14 (which you would have had to do if you were a Roman Christian… there weren’t exactly a plethora of churches to “shop around” at), or if conscience is leading you to find a place where you can serve and submit to church leadership with a clear conscience. Certainly, finding a place where we could serve with a clear conscience was a big factor for us the last time our family found ourselves looking for a church.
Acts 2 also mentions something about communities devoting themselves to fellowship, which I think has a bearing on the geographical location of the church. My wise friend Kevin once told me he had stopped going to church in a neighboring town because “you can’t commute to community”. There is something to be said for attending church where there are small groups that meet within your area, so that it becomes workable to actually live some of your LIVES together: to see one another in the grocery store, to organize a dinner, or serve together on a project. Proximity greases the wheels of community-building.
As such, this probably means that a local church should reflect the demographics of the community you actually live in. If you live in a multi-ethnic and multi-generational area, but the church is only reaching a fraction of those, that may be cause for concern. If, however, you live in a place with a fairly homogenous population (a college town of highly educated people), then it’s a bit of a stretch to look at the church and say “why are there only students and academics here? where are the homeless people and African-Americans?” Because, in truth, those populations are vastly outnumbered in our area.)
Finally: a church that devotes itself to prayer. This might be a difficult thing to assess on a Sunday visit, but it is something that will be reflected in the way people talk about challenges they are facing, or approach problem solving in the church. I think many of our evangelical churches are great in programming and poor in prayer. I wish it were different.
All that being said: there IS a church community there that God has for you, and where YOU are currently being missed as a vital part of Christ’s body. I pray you will be able to find a place to connect and thrive soon.
Best,
Bronwyn
Got a question? You can ask me anything: contact me here 🙂 

 

 

Pick of the Clicks 6/6/2015

Bronlea Pick of the Clicks

WOW, there are some game-changer reads in this week’s line-up.

Ready? Set? GO!

Abigail Rine’s essay What is Marriage to Evangelical Millenials? raised some really excellent questions about the presumptions people bring to discussions about marriage (particularly why we marry at all). Do not miss, on this topic, Matthew Lee Anderson’s Why I Am Opposed To Gay Marriage: a masterfully written and very thought-provoking treatment on the place of eros in marriage. Anderson covers why we marry, why the sexual chemistry factor (eros) matters, how it calls us to faithfulness, and how a beautiful and true vision of marriage (the “I will always love you” kind, with eros being a feature throughout) affects the way we conduct all our conversations. It’s a lengthy essay but well worth your time. Even if you don’t want to read the application to same-sex relationships: READ SECTIONS 1-4 on love, sex and marriage.

Sheryl Sandberg’s tribute to her husband, Dave, who died tragically last month, and to the community who are standing with her as she wades through grief and love is profound and profoundly beautiful:

“Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not.”

Edward Schlosser (a pseudonymous name) wrote an eye-opening piece from his perspective as a liberal college professor, who has become terrified of his liberal students. This piece is worth reading not just by college students and educators, but for all who engage in online discussion, because he writes about the changing culture of the “politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed.”  I am not a college student, but I can see patterns of what Schlosser describes on the internet: people presenting challenging ideas are increasingly viewed as threatening people.

It’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas – they refuse to engage them, period.

Steve McAlpine’s observations on Stage Two Exile in Western Christianity are worth reading if you have read, grieved, brainstormed or prayed over how we can “do church” better in the world in which we live. To set the context, he describes “Stage One Exile” this way:

Cafes were taken over for morning conversations between up and coming exilic leaders; pubs were used for exilic church; MacBooks were bought in bulk; and emerging/missional trailblazers employed coffee quality as a spiritual boundary marker, with a zeal that would have made any adherent of Second Temple Judaism weep with recognition.

In Exile Stage One the prevailing narrative was that the Christian church was being marginalised, Christendom was over, the church needed to come up with better strategies to strip away the dross, and all of this in order to reconnect Jesus with a lost world.

This article is peppered with wisdom, laugh-out-loud tongue in cheek, and some really deep-thinking observations with massive implications for our approach to church and engaging in culture.

Alastair Roberts kicked off this week’s discussion of the Saltshaker blog with a conversation about The Eternal Subordination of the Son, Social Triniarianism and Ectypal Theology. Yes, I know: the title is terrifying, and yes, I know: Alastair is incredibly clever and it is intimidating to read things like this. BUT…. this post is fascinating because it summarizes a critique of theology which is based on the supposed nature of relationships within the Trinity and then seeks to apply them in human relationship (e.g. The trinity live in community, so we should too, or the Father is a King-figure, so healthy communities should have a King, or—in the case of the gender discussions—the Son submits to the authority of the Father, so women should submit to men because this “reflects the Godhead”.) I’ve heard a myriad arguments based on this kind of thinking before, and this article blew a hole in it for me. I’m still processing.

I loved this story of 5th grade boys who spotted bullying and took action.

This is fascinating: a ground-breaking study where they have found a missing link between the brain and immune systems – a finding which has HUGE implications for conditions such as MS, Alzheimers, and even autism.

“In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist.”

Scott Saul’s essay on The Most Honest People In The World, And Why We Need Them was a refreshing and needed read (hint: it’s children.)

Micha Boyett’s reflections on pregnancy are poignant and important: ‘As Long as the Baby’s Healthy’… But What If He’s Not? No matter what, we need to be prepared to receive the children God gives us. I just love Micha’s heart and her writing.

The Narrowback Slacker’s thoughts on How I limited screen time by offering my kids unlimited screen time is DEFINITELY something I plan to consider with our kids in the years to come.

This guy is crocheting food-shaped hats: both random and hilarious.

This delighted my LEGO-loving children no end:

And, I have to post this Dear 16-year Old Me video. I am crazy obsessive about this. So important:

From me this week?

I have a post over at the wonderful SheLoves magazine on the Surprising Wisdom of Ants:

If you had told me 25 years ago that I would one day order a package of ants in the mail, I would have laughed in disbelief.

But I did not know, 25 years ago, that there were such things as ant farms: miniature terrariums where you could observe a colony making their subterranean labyrinths. I did not know, 25 years ago, that I would have two small boys with an irrepressible love of multi-legged creatures.

How could I have known that, late one night—bundled under blankets and bulky expectations for the perfect “boy” birthday—I would click “buy now” for an online order of a space-age looking ant farm, and one small vial of harvester ants? (read the rest here)

I shared some thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce Jenner), gender reassignment surgery and how we respond here, if you’re interested.

And on the blog: a tribute to two of the most inspiring students I’ve ever worked with (and to you, the invisible hero in our midst).

Thanks for reading!

Photo Credit: Seven Pegs, by Anders Adermark (Flickr Creative Commons)

Help: I Think I Made The Wrong Choice

You're worried you've made a

Dear Bronwyn,

What do you do when you think you’ve followed God’s leading, but then it just sort of falls apart and no longer feels right or makes any sense? I know God’s plan does not involve everything being easy all the time and things don’t always make sense right away. I just feel so insecure about the choices I’ve made. I am constantly asking myself did I hear God correctly? Was that even God speaking? What if I had chosen differently?

The situation is this: after I graduated, I took a job nearby. I had prayed for a dream job elsewhere and wanted it so badly, but when it was offered I didn’t feel I could take it because I had already committed to another job. I also just didn’t feel “right” about it. I can’t say it’s been a disaster, but this job has proved extremely challenging, and recent management changes have been eye-opening. I feel like a fool for choosing to stay here and being loyal to an employer that I realize doesn’t care much about me as an employee. A big part of all of this was keeping my word and commitment, but now I’m questioning if I was subconsciously trying to be a martyr and choose that hard road because I thought it would make God happier with me. I’m on the other side of the country from my family and friends, and I am constantly asking myself -why am I here? What does God want from me?

Please help,

Second-Guessing.

Dear SG,

Those are such good questions. What I can’t do is say: Yes, you made the right decision to stay, or no, you didn’t. What I can say is this: I can really sympathize with where you’re at. We have had seasons of SERIOUSLY second-guessing some decisions in our lives – most notably the decision to come to the USA because so many things went CATASTROPHICALLY wrong that first year and we kept on saying “God, really? Is this your way of saying we shouldn’t have come?”
Here’s what I had to keep saying to myself in the midst of that uncertainty: James 1 promises that if we ask for wisdom, He gives it, and we must believe and not doubt that that is the case. So, in the face of much doubt, we HAD to believe that God had, in fact, given us wisdom in that decision making, even if the consequences of the decision did not appear to be panning out well. I believe you prayed over accepting your current job, as well as praying over turning down the “dream” job, and that God gave wisdom to you. Second guessing is not going to help you here.
My advice to you is that, rather than figuring out whether the past was a mistake, consider what you should do now. Again, James 1 applies – trusting that as you think and pray this through, God WILL give you wisdom for the next step. Maybe he is calling you to faithfulness for another few months. Maybe you should reach out and reapply to that dream job (which will no doubt have its own challenges mind you – our expectations for what work ‘should’ be like often need tempering),  and just work to keep lines of communication there. Maybe there are other alternatives God has in the wings and you need to “jiggle some handles” around you just to see what doors might open. Maybe all three of those options need to be pursued. (staying faihtfully now, but being open to a change of plan).
Thinking about what may have motivated your previous decision and analyzing what happened in the past is important for understanding the factors at play and being self-aware, but I don’t know that over-analyzing it is going to help. Regret certainly isn’t. We do need to think through our past, and learn from it and confess where appropriate, but we are also called not to dwell on the past: “forgetting what is behind, we press on…” I don’t think this means ‘forget’ in the sense that we treat it as if it didn’t happen, but that we don’t put our main focus on the past. Instead, we focus on present day faithfulness with a view to God’s promises and purposes in the future.
Know this though: These months of you being faithful and loyal are not wasted. God rewards his servants who serve Him and His world with upright hearts. He will redeem this time, and who knows what wisdom and truth He will yet pull from this experience in the years to come. Lord knows, I’ve been surprised so often by the ways in which the “questionable decisions” and sticky circumstances land up being used in wonderful and unexpected ways in the future.
I”m sorry you are in a hard space right now – it must be SO HARD to be there all the time second guessing yourself – but I don’t believe it is wasted, and I KNOW that regret/worrying about whether it was a mistake is not a helpful way for you to approach this climate. Call some praying friends around you to help you figure out what your options are, and see what step God shines the light on next.
With love and prayers for God’s wisdom and comfort to you,
Bronwyn.
Photo Credit: Will Montague – petal shadows (Flickr Creative Commons) – edited by Bronwyn Lea

Feminist Confessions of a Non-Feminist – {Jamie Rohrbaugh}

Today’s guest post is from my friend and fellow Redbud writer, Jamie Rohrbaugh.

Feminist-Confessions-Of-a-NonFeminist-horizontal

I have a confession: I’ve always said that I am not—repeat, NOT—a feminist.

I said this because I have always thought of a “feminist” as being a woman who spends her time in Washington, D.C., lobbying for a liberal cause. I thought being a feminist required me to paint my face blue or red or pink, and shout FREEDOM like Mel Gibson, and march on the Mall. I thought being a feminist meant I had to climb the corporate ladder, be as power-hungry as I could be, and carry a chip on my shoulder about the rights of women in corporate America.

And I am none of those things.

I’m a woman. A simple woman like many others; maybe a woman like you. I have a wonderful job in a Fortune 500 company, but I don’t race to climb the ladder anymore. I have a husband, and a cat, and laundry to wash, and a gym membership I pay for but rarely use. I’ve never marched on D.C. and don’t have any plans to do so, and I’ve never voted liberal in my entire life.

I’m a woman, but I never had any desire to get involved in what I perceived to be the feminist cause.

But then something happened: God began to open my ears. And I started hearing things I didn’t like.

  • I heard from a pastor friend about those who look down on women and refuse to let them work in ministry.
  • I learned from a friend in inner-city missions about women who have never been taught to read or write, who have been abused from a young age, or who sell their babies for grocery money.
  • I learned about young girls who are stolen from their families and forced into prostitution, afraid to risk their lives by running, and seeing no options for finding a better life.

I had no idea. But when I began to hear these things, my ears were opened and my heart was grieved. Suddenly the world looked very different.

And then I understood:

  • I don’t have to attend demonstrations at the United States Capitol to care about the plight of women.
  • I don’t have to picket in front of the courthouse to believe women should be allowed to work in ministry, giving their time and talent for the cause of the Gospel.
  • I don’t have to vote liberal to know that toddlers, teenagers, and adults alike shouldn’t be trapped in sexual slavery, hoping the next customer will end their misery because life has become too much to bear.

And when I understood these things, suddenly the word “feminist” didn’t mean the same thing to me anymore.

Oh, I know there are still women who march on the Mall, paint their faces, and climb the corporate ladder. That’s ok for them, but it just isn’t me.

But even in my quiet life—in my family, my job, my church, and in my circle of friends—I learned that I can still care about women, and I can still make a difference.

  • I can advocate for righteousness and justice, which are the foundations of God’s throne.
  • I can shine the light of mercy and truth into the hearts of hurting women around me every day.
  • I can hug women who are lonely. I can encourage the downcast. I can help women find practical help that will get them out of tough situations.
  • I can share real-life information with those around me who are, like I was, blissfully uninformed.

I can care. I can make a difference in the lives of women right where I am…

… and so can you.

Even if you’re like me, living a quiet life in suburbia, you can still make a difference in the lives of women. You can touch the hurting and broken around you. You can advocate for justice right where you are. You can educate your friends about the plight of girls caught in the sex trade. You can learn about resources available to help people in crisis, so that you can offer a hand up whenever you have the opportunity.

That’s what I’m trying to do. Yes, I’m only one, and I don’t fit into my old stereotype about what a feminist is. But I care about women, and I’m doing something about it.

And I think maybe, just maybe, that might make me a feminist after all.

Jamie RohrbaughJamie Rohrbaugh is crazy in love with the presence of God. She blogs at FromHisPresence.com about revival, worship, prayer, and discipleship. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her trophy husband, and together they have one cat. Follow Jamie on Pinterest or Facebook for frequent doses of Biblical encouragement.

 

Feminist-Confessions-Of-a-NonFeminist-vertical-pin-red

Image courtesy of Girlguyed on Flickr via Creative Commons license.