Church, what in the actual hell is going on?

For years I’ve been fascinated and devastated by the mass exodus of people leaving the church. Statistics show a dramatic decline in Americans who say they attend church regularly and/or identify themselves as Christians. I’ve read blog posts and news articles on the topic. A quick search on the world wide web will net you a plethora of results. Research has been done and studies have been held. People have been polled and numbers have been crunched. In a nutshell, it’s not good.

Preachers and pastors and professors have theories about why this is happening. Some fault church leadership. Others note that church has become “boring”. Hypocrisy is often mentioned as a cause. It’s not that I don’t believe preachers and pastors and professors. I do. But because I live in Missouri (the Show-Me state) I like to do my own digging.

About a year ago I drafted a list of questions about church and asked my friends to answer them. I am not a scientist or a theologian. I am just a girl asking questions. Thirty people sent me their responses. The folks who participated come from various religious backgrounds, live in different parts of the country, are of different sexual orientations, in different seasons of life, and each carry their own church celebrations and hurts.

I’ve read through the responses a number of times over the last several months. I’ve prayed about how to share their words and feelings in an authentic way. I have felt very overwhelmed by the prospect and piled the responses up into a neat stack and placed them in the bottom drawer of my nightstand.

Last weekend my precious, tender hearted 11 year old daughter made the decision to give her life to Christ. She was baptized in a small, simple ceremony surrounded by close friends and family. It was beautiful. It made me dig out those survey responses and read them with renewed purpose.

Guys, my church is GOOD. It is filled with jacked up people who aren’t afraid to admit their faults. They love one another and they love God and they love ME. This church steps up when there is a need, in the church or in the community. I leave a service feeling edified and convicted and like I have really worshipped my Creator. Our church family has prayed for us and fed us and babysat for us and supported us.

I’m not the only one with positive church experiences. Every single person who responded to my survey had at least one positive thing to say about the church. Many of their responses are similar to my own experiences. “A sense of community. Relationships. Support. Opportunities to serve. Feeling included. Acceptance.” Good stuff there. I want my girl to have this as she grows up.

On the other hand, there are just as many negative experiences. Here are a few. “Disagreements over trivial things. Cliques. Lack of commitment. Apathetic attitude. Arguing over traditions. Fakeness. Legalism. Selfishness over selflessness. ‘I’m right, you’re wrong’ attitude. Preaching hate.” I don’t want these to be my daughter’s words in another ten years.

I’m convinced that Satan LOVES the current state of the church. Folks are hurting. In church. Because of church. It’s heart breaking and gut wrenching. I imagine the devil is scheming and planning and stirring up frustrations. He’s celebrating hurt feelings and division. HOW DO WE STOP THE BLEEDING???? How do we create a church culture that our children can grow up in, feeling safe and loved?

I want to have a magic formula. I want there to be an obvious, fool proof method to fix it. A ten step plan. With bullet points. Maybe an acronym (like S.A.V.E or F.I.X). But guys, it’s too big. Too hard for me to figure out. 

Or is it?

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that Satan is rubbing his hands together in smug satisfaction, confident that he has fooled us into believing this problem is too big, too hard. If we assume we can’t do anything to fix it, isn’t Satan winning? 

I believe we CAN do something. 

Here’s the deal. All those people who have been hurt by the church? They were hurt by people, individuals. Folks just like me (and you?) who claim to be Christians but get all twisted up in rules and rights and wrongs. People who think they’re doing the right thing by fighting for good but who might have forgotten that the most important thing is to love. 

So here’s what I’m going to do. Or try really, really hard to do. I’m going to try to treat all the souls I meet the way I want my daughter to be treated. With dignity, with respect, and with love. It sounds simple, because it is. It’s not a program or a plan, it’s not complicated at all. Satan would like me to think that I need to spend hours and weeks and years figuring it out when all I think I really need to do is treat people like I want my daughter to be treated. Like their precious, tender hearts are as important as my own child’s. Because to God, they are. And if I’m to be worthy of the name Christian, they should matter that much to me too. 

Don’t feel overwhelmed like I have felt. Don’t let the enemy convince us it’s too hard. 

Let’s stop the bleeding. 

Let’s cultivate a church culture that will hold our kids up, and embolden them to love fearlessly and be loved completely. 

It starts with us. 

You and me. 

I really think it’s that simple. 

 

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Tonsils. Who Needs Them??

Update: The New Kid has to have his tonsils removed. This is new territory for me. #1) I’ve never had a foster kiddo who had to have surgery and #2) I’ve never had a kid that had to have a tonsillectomy. So.

I’m not really nervous about the surgery itself. A quick google search told me that just over half a million of these procedures are done each year. The doctor who will be performing the procedure seems very qualified. The New Kid will be in and out within 30 minutes. No biggie, right??

What I’m worried about is the week following his surgery. This kid is going to need A LOT of extra care. And although he is hilarious and we are really growing to love him, he is still just a few weeks post “complete-stranger” status. It’s a little intimidating to know that I’ll be responsible for this child as he goes through what will quite possibly be the most excruciating few days of his short little life and we are still just getting to know one another.

This reminds me of a few years ago when my then-foster-child-now-son had a stomach bug. I had a vicious case of the “am I doing it rights?” and second guessed myself in a bad way. Turns out, I was doing just fine all along. Re-reading my own words reminds me that I can do this!!

Prayers and good vibes appreciated for The New Kid. 

1/22/13

No one likes to be sick. It’s the pits. You’re weak and achy and tired. You don’t feel like eating or reading or even really talking. Even worse than being sick though is having a sick kiddo. It’s heartbreaking. You wish you could be sick in their place; somehow take the illness away from them. They’re so fragile. They’re weak and achy and tired. They don’t feel like eating or reading or even really talking. But what seems almost universally soothing to pretty much every sick child is snuggling. That wild, energetic ball of energy who rarely slows down for a quick hug seems to want nothing more than to climb in to your lap, cuddle up under a blanket, and just be. Comfort. I get a guilty satisfaction for being the giver of this comfort. I genuinely don’t want my sweet one to feel bad but I will SOAK THIS UP!!!!! This is a momma’s time to shine: to nurture and care for and to….mother. I mean, I still want MY mom when I’m sick. Which makes me wonder, does our little addition want his mom right now even more than normal? Does his weak, fragile state cause him to recall how her lap felt, how she rubbed his back or touched his face? Did she feed him 7-Up and crackers or popsicles or broth to soothe his sick belly? AM I DOING IT RIGHT?!?! Or does it really matter? Soup or 7-Up, back rub or back scratch…as long as it’s done with love I’ve found that he will gratefully accept my attempts to help and he even seems to be comforted by them. Apparently my lap snuggles just fine.

Birthday blues

Have you ever had a zit in your nose? Not on your nose or beside your nose, but INSIDE your nose? If not, you’re lucky. If so, you know they suck. I have one right now. The self conscious side of me is happy that at least the blemish is where no one can see it. The practical side of me is miserable. It’s allergy season so I’m a sneezing, nose wiping mess. Every time I sniffle I’m reminded of that pesky little pimple. Ew. Ow. TMI? Sorry.

Have you ever had a sad day? You don’t really see it coming and you can’t exactly explain it but you also can’t deny it? I’m having one of those. It’s not the soul crushing devastation that I’m unable to cover up. It’s more of a subtle nagging in my heart. A little “sad tug”. I can put on a happy face and count my blessings (I will. I. AM. BLESSED) but deep down, I am sad today.

Today my boy turns 8. When we met him, he was 4. This will be the year that he will have spent more than half his life with our family. It’s not like he will be any more “ours” when the scales tip, but I’ve been waiting for this. Now that it’s here, I’m unexpectedly sad.

When we celebrated his 5th birthday we had known him less than a year. On birthday number 6 the “plan” was so up in the air we didn’t know what was going on. By birthday number 7 he was an offical part of our family. And now we have reached the birthday that will mark half his life in our home. It’s a day to celebrate! We will eat cake and give presents and sing and smile and have fun, but inside I will be kind of a little sad too.

Today I’m reminded of the beautiful tragedy that is adoption. Adoption is redemption and love and grace. It is also grief and loss. I don’t know how you get one with out the other. It’s a package deal. Today I am sad because of all I missed those first four years. The more I get to know this incredible kid, the more I am grieved by what I don’t know. I wasn’t there for the first steps and the first words and the first birthdays. And that makes me sad.

I get the feeling he might be a little sad too. Grieving his own stuff. So tonight, after the wrapping paper has been picked up and the candles have been blown out and the wishes have been made, we might talk a little about our sad. Just because it isn’t visible to the world doesn’t mean it isn’t there. You know, like a zit in your nose.

I don’t care….because I care?


In 2005 Jo Dee Messina released a song titled “My Give a Damn’s Busted”. In the song she tells the story of a woman who has been burned by so many men that, try as she might, she just doesn’t give a damn any more when they make advances toward her. While I can’t sympathize with her reason for not being able to care, in the last several months I have echoed her sentiment. I have felt that my own “give a damn” has been in need of repair.

From a young age I’ve been a girl with an opinion. Many opinions, in fact. You could  throw any topic my way and in pretty short order I could come up with not only an opinion, but a pretty good argument to support it. Hair styles, shoes, work stuff, laundry detergent, politics, whatever. Ask me and I could tell you what I thought. Lately however, things that I used to get all fired up about, I just can’t make myself care about. I heard myself saying, “I don’t give a %H*t” far too often and decided it was time for some self reflection.

Ambivalence can be a sign of depression. Could that be it? Could I be in a funk and that’s why I don’t seem to care about things? I don’t think so. Even though I don’t seem to care about some things the way I used to, I feel like I’m in a good place. My marriage is solid, my kids are at an incredible age and although they can make me a little crazy sometimes I really, really love them. I look forward to doing fun things and have a generally positive outlook on life. I sleep fine and haven’t had significant weight gain or loss recently. No, I don’t think I’m depressed.

Could it be that I’m too busy to care? Is my schedule is so cram packed that I’m always run down and exhausted and simply don’t have the energy left to care about simple things? Two years ago the answer might have been yes, but these days I’m pretty deliberate about what I commit myself to. I have worked really hard on telling people “no” (occasionally) and have made an effort to keep my family’s schedule manageable. No, I don’t think the reason I’m unable to give a crap is because of a busy schedule.

Could it possibly be that the things I no longer seem to care about are things I never should have cared about as much as I did? I feel an epiphany brewing here. Is it possible that I have matured to a place of not caring about stuff that, in the overall scheme of things, DOESN’T REALLY MATTER?? Is it possible that my broken “give a damn” is a good thing and not something in need of fixing? I’m beginning to think this could be the case.

My little world has been growing over the last several years. I used to have a fond affection for my comfort zone and rarely dared to step out of it. I liked things neat and tidy and safe and manageable. I liked control. In order to keep that, I needed my opinions. I think God looked down and saw what was going on with me and in His infinite wisdom, laid foster care on my heart to cure me of my chronic caring-about-things-that-don’t-matter. Then, about a year ago, He broke my heart for the homeless in our community. Again, shaking me up and giving me a whole new perspective.

I have heard stories that I would have never imagined to be true in real life. Things I only thought happened in movies. Unspeakable horrors that happen in my town. Neglect, abuse, hunger, loneliness, desperation. I’ve met folks that carry everything they own in a backpack. EVERYTHING THEY OWN. I’ve heard stories of kids being abandoned and sold (yes, you read that right). I know people who have self-medicated to the point that they don’t even recognize themselves. It’s hard, heartbreaking stuff. It is reality.

The real world knowledge that I have gained has been eye-opening. There has been a paradigm shift in my world. My small circle has grown and I don’t even know everyone in it yet. My focus has changed. And it needed to. I was using up my  energy on things that, in view of eternity, simply do not matter. I was straining out gnats and swallowing camels (Matthew 23:34).

I’m learning to be grateful for the fact that I’m able to not give a %H*t about silly things. I’m done trying to diagnose myself and figure out what’s wrong with me. I’m thankful for this new outlook on things. I pray that I am able to continue to focus on things that matter more often than things that don’t. And if I start getting all twisted up about silly stuff, I hope I can take a step back and realign myself with what is truly important.

I thought my “give a damn” was busted but it turns out  my heart was. And I’m better for it.

 

 

Trekking poles and the Holy Spirit

DSCN0248.JPGI’m a hiker. Correction: I want to be a hiker. I am an amateur hiker. There are expert hikers out there. I admire them and watch them to see what makes an expert hiker an expert. My “gear” is a dead giveaway that I’m not a professional. I recently bought my first pair of hiking boots, their lack of wear is like a neon sign flashing: NOVICE, NOVICE, NOVICE. I carry a boring backpack. I don’t have a Nalgene water bottle or a Patagonia hiking shirt.

As a pro-hiker watcher, I’ve been utterly befuddled by trekking poles. While I’m generally easily impressed with hiking gear, those darn poles have always looked sort of ridiculous to me. It looks like someone is trying to ski where there’s no snow. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how in the world carrying a couple of sticks through the wilderness would make navigating the trails easier. But the expert hikers use them.

My husband and I planned a weekend of hiking for our 15th anniversary. Yes, we really did that. Some couples celebrate their anniversary in Hawaii or at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or on a cruise. Not us. We try to kill ourselves. On our way out of town we made a stop at the outlet mall and on a whim I bought a cheap set of trekking poles. Bright yellow ones. After we checked into our cabin and grabbed a quick lunch, I laced up my (brand-spanking) new hiking boots, grabbed my shiny trekking poles and we were off.

As we arrived at the trailhead, I tried to figure out my poles. There are multiple places to adjust the height and convoluted straps for your hands. I felt like a little girl playing dress up, trying to balance in her mom’s heels and keep her purse on her shoulder. “Am I doing it right? Do I look like a moron?” I asked my husband as we hiked along. I would walk with the poles for a while and then fold them up and put them away when I felt like a complete idiot. After a bit I’d get them back out and try them again. The hike took about 2 hours and by the end I was using my poles more than I wasn’t. I passed them to Eli (hubby) for him to try and after just a few seconds I missed them. We were climbing up some rock stairs and I realized that the silly sticks were actually making it easier. When I didn’t have them, I wished I did.

The next day we tackled a 7 mile hike. It was somewhere around 1,600 feet downhill to an impressive waterfall and then something like 10,000,000 feet back up (I don’t even know how that’s possible but I swear that’s what it felt like). On our way down we commented about how difficult it was going to be to get back up. Truthfully, the trip down was no cakewalk…I complained….a lot. Once we reached the destination and admired the waterfall, I decided I was glad we had done it and I determined to NOT COMPLAIN on our way back up. Every time I would feel a gripe brewing I would squash it with a praise. “I’m thankful for my legs. I’m thankful for my feet. I’m thankful I don’t have ingrown toenails. I’m thankful for shade. I’m thankful for the breeze. I’m thankful I don’t have asthma. I’m thankful for my husband. I’m thankful for our kids. I’m thankful we didn’t bring our kids.” And do you know what else? I was thankful for those ridiculous trekking poles.

I still don’t really understand the mechanics of it. I don’t feel like when I’m using trekking poles they are making much of a difference. It doesn’t seem like I’m relying on them or putting much pressure on them. I don’t feel as if they’re pulling me along or lifting me up. Honestly, all I really feel is like I’m not doing it right. But even in my very awkward, incredibly ungraceful way, I was somehow doing something that helped.

As I was hiking, marveling at nature and trying to figure out how the trekking poles were actually helping, I thought about the Holy Spirit. I recently facilitated a 7-week study on the Holy Spirit. God bless the group of women that patiently stuck with me through it. We talked and questioned and discussed and laughed and cried our way through Francis Chan’s ‘Forgotten God’. In the end, I still hadn’t figured it (him) out. How can God be insinde of me? How can He direct my paths but give me free will? How can I know that I am following His will and not my own? I DON’T GET IT. I grew frustrated and then realized that I was missing the whole point.

The Holy Spirit isn’t a puzzle to be solved. It isn’t a hidden treasure to be found. It isn’t a goal to be earned. It is a gift. A GIFT. A gift to be used. It is access to superhuman amounts of love and joy, peace and patience, kindness, goodness and faithfulness, and even self-control. I don’t understand it but I’m trying to live like I own it. I lean on Him when I’m rundown. I think I start each day with 10 pieces of patience and, more often than not, I’ve used them all up by 10:00a.m. But when mine are gone, I dip into the Holy Spirit’s supply. Self-control? I think God shorted me on that when he created me (and gave Eli my share) but when I fail, I can borrow from the Holy Spirit. Joy? Well, even when I’m climbing straight up a 10 million foot slope, I can be thankful for the good stuff.

I still don’t understand it. I still don’t feel like I’m engaging the Holy Spirit correctly. I still feel silly sometimes even talking about the Holy Spirit because I’m such an amateur. I still occasionally ask myself, “Am I doing it right?” I still don’t understand the mechanics of Him. I still don’t feel like I’m really relying on Him or putting much pressure on Him. I don’t always recognize that He is pulling me along and lifting me up. But somehow, even in my very awkward, incredibly ungraceful way, God is helping me along.

Shiny yellow trekking poles and the Holy Spirit. Who knew?

 

Transparency

“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” -Mother Teresa

We crave authenticity, don’t we? We want people to be REAL. Being able to walk alongside someone who can say, “This is beautiful, but this is freaking hard” can make things seem less scary. When your heart is hurting or you’re rejoicing a minor victory and there’s someone who really GETS it, well, it just makes it so much easier/better.

If transparency is something we all want, why is it such a rare find? Because it’s hard.  It’s hard to put yourself out there and make your thoughts known. To expose your feelings is scary. When you put your heart out there and you’re met with a raised eyebrow and a look of judgement, it can be crushing. Laying my own tender feels on the table makes me cringe sometimes, but I (try) do it anyway. Because I want your honesty, I offer you mine.

I’ve learned a thing or two about honesty and transparency and authenticity over the years. Some lessons were tough so I’m going to share what I’ve learned so that maybe you can avoid some of my mistakes. You’re welcome.

Lesson #1: not everyone wants to know everything. You can free yourself of the pressure to share ALL of your opinions and ALL of your knowledge and ALL of your thoughts with ALL of the people.  Seems crazy, because you’ve spent a lot of time and effort and energy reaching your conclusions and you want to save others the trouble, right? Here’s what I’ve learned: unless someone asks for your honesty, you don’t HAVE to offer it. Liberating, huh?

Lesson #2: not everyone needs to know everything. Sometimes in the foster care world folks will ask me questions that I legally cannot answer. I’m obligated to protect the littles in my care and their stories. I’m pretty much never offended by questions because I know, more often than not, they come from a kind place. That does not necessitate a revealing response though. Sometimes the most honest answer I can give is, “sorry, I’m really not at liberty to share that information”. I’ve learned that most people understand and are completely fine with that response.

Lesson #3: not everyone can handle knowing everything. When my innocent kids ask me questions, I have to be delicate with my answers. I can explain drug use in generalities but I don’t have to go into detail with the facts or my opinions. It’s ok to just leave it at “sometimes people make bad choices” without divulging all the complex parts of those decisions. I need to be gentle and age appropriate with my answers. Sometimes they push for more information but most of the time a simple answer will satisfy their curiousity.

Lesson #4: be gentle with others who are making an effort to be open and honest. Recognize how scary it is to put one’s self out there, even if you don’t agree with their stance or opinion. Acknowledge their bravery. Try to assume the best in people, especially when they’re opening up, because they are tender and vulnerable and need your love and acceptance.

Then there’s stuff I’m still figuring out (“figuring it out as I go” isn’t just a catchy blog title, it’s my life). Sometimes my authenticity is offensive and I’m not sure what to do with that. For example, in the spirit of transparency I’ll admit, I sometimes have a rather colorful vocabulary. I think a well placed 4-letter word can add a certain depth to a conversation on occasion. If that’s news to you, it’s probably because I assume it would be offensive to you so I reign it in. Also, I enjoy an occasional glass of wine. I feel confident this falls into the “all things in moderation” category (see previous post) but I know that some of my friends feel pretty strongly that any amount of alcohol is too much…so I won’t imbibe when I’m around them. Am I being sensitive or am I compromising my authenticity? I honestly don’t know so I guess I’ll just have to keep kicking that around.

Let’s all strive to be authentic and honest, ok? We are all a bit of a mess, aren’t we? Pretending it’s not the case does us no good. Paul wrote this in Ephesians: “each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor…” Basically, BE REAL. It’s tough and scary but it’s so good. When you find an authentic person, thank them. And try to be that transparent person yourself. No facade, no mask, no front, just BE YOU.  I’m thanking you in advance. It’s a big deal.

Meth, love and other exceptions

 You’ve heard it said, and likely quoted it yourself: “all things in moderation”. It’s true. Sunshine is great but too much and you’ll get a sunburn (says the fair skinned lass over here). Coffee is incredible but drink too much and you’ll get the jitters (trust me). Bacon is amazing but overdo it and you’ll clog your arteries (mmmm…bacon). All things in moderation. Yes, but.

I added an addendum years ago. My version has been “all things in moderation, except meth”. I guess I’m always looking for an exception to the rule. I said it as a lame joke but, duh, it’s true. Kids, meth is bad. If you don’t believe me, I know some folks that can convince you. Addiction is a force that can overpower a person and rob them of their happiness, their family, their life. Don’t dabble in it, don’t test it, and don’t think you’re the exception to the rule. Meth is bad. All things in moderation, except meth.

Today I’m amending my addendum. I’m not even sure if that’s legal or allowed but I’m doing it. I now proclaim “all things in moderation, except meth and loving people.” Meth and love. Opposite ends of the spectrum. Meth=not even once. Loving people=all the time. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? You simply cannot overuse love. It won’t get old or tired or used up or tattered or boring. You cannot overdose on love. You don’t have to be moderate with love.

The bible has much to say on the topic. Love with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your enemies. Love your neighbor. Love fulfills the law. Love never fails. Love each other deeply. Love comes from God. Love is made complete in us. There is no fear in love. Love those who are foreigners. Love the Lord your God. By your love you will be known.

You can’t really mess up loving people. It’s never too late to love people. It’s never too early either. You can love people quietly and subtly. You can love people in big, obvious ways. You can love people from a distance. You can love people right in their face. I think the only way you can really screw it up is to not do it.

Other exceptions fall under the love umbrella. Mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness. We can give them away freely because we have our own unending supply provided by God. No need to be stingy like you’re giving Halloween candy to greedy teenage trick or treaters. No moderation necessary. You can be as generous as you are with the leftovers at the end of a 2 day garage sale in hot, sticky July. You want some grace? Please, take it. Compassion for you? Here, it’s yours. Oh, you’re looking for some mercy, you say? I’ve got some right over here, all yours, no charge. We don’t need to take names or keep count or determine who is worthy (we aren’t really qualified to determine worthiness anyway, are we?) because it’s love and there’s no need to moderate love.

Here’s the other cool thing about love. God doesn’t hold back either. He calls us to love our enemies. The assumption there is that we will have enemies and we need to figure out how to love them anyway. That’s not how he loves us. He loves us like His children. He loves EVERYONE. Even that one guy/gal. You know the one. And even me. Weird, talkative, opinionated, frazzled, nail biting, stubborn, sarcastic, sinful Abbie. And even you, with all your own quirks and strange habits. We can leak love all over the place because God is constantly refilling us.

All things in moderation can apply to so many things. Sun and bacon and coffee and cleaning and shoes and cars and travel and exercise and spouses (one is all my husband can handle). But not loving people. Get out there and love the heck out of people!!!

And stay away from meth. Seriously.