Comings and Goings: Why Endings and beginnings in the church world can be difficult, and how I have learned to navigate changes with dignity and strength.

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When you leave a church and have been in that church’s active ministry, it’s hard.  It’s hard, because so many people misunderstand.  It’s hard because people tell people what they heard, leaving a long and confused string of thoughts and ideas about why the leavers left.   It’s hard because it is a loss-both to the leaver and to the stay-er.  The sense of loss on either end no doubt can be measured by the investment of time in the place, and the people of the church.

In my experience, we have only served at really large churches, and I am guessing the “large” mega-ness of these mega churches only amplify feelings, raw emotion, words, insinuation, etc., although I have also learned that People are People Wherever You Go.  I am sure small churches have issues that are just as difficult to navigate.  For myself and our family, we’ve lived large, and that can come with a lot of interesting factors when raw emotion and sincere beliefs are mixed without much direction for how to handle t hem in a healthy and productive way.

Rob was a pastor at Granger Community Church for 21 – 22 ish years. We moved to Kansas in 2014 so he could serve on the pastoral team at Westside family church.  We’ve lived in Kansas almost five years now.  It is difficult for me to believe Belle was in third grade when we moved here.  Whitney was finishing up eighth grade, and Maddie finishing up her freshman year in high school.   The girls are now 20, 18 and 15.  Belle has her drivers permit.  I still cannot wrap my head around that, considering such a short time ago we packed up her Polly Pockets, Barbies and Littlest Pet Shop toys.

Leaving Granger was by far the most difficult decision Rob and I have ever made, because it broke our hearts to leave a place, we poured so much life and love into.  Nearing the end of our time there,  I was feeling bewildered, un-needed, unnecessary.  Rob was working harder and harder to fix everything that was wrong in that moment, I had my hands utterly full with three delightfully spirited girls, so much so that I forgot that my feelings lay somewhere below the surface of my busyness. I forgot Rob had feelings too.

When I allowed myself to slow down, I realized I was sad that Rob was never home on the weekends.  I was sad that my friendships frequently went wonky because of his position in the church and community.  My friends would disagree with something church related, which they absolutely had a right to do, and it was often too difficult to navigate issues too complex for me to figure, in order to save the relationship.  There seemed to be more that was complicated in our lives than what made sense.  It was hard.

Rob was given a sabbatical as a gift for a “Job well done” after serving 20 years at Granger.  That summer we sat with friends and Soul Care professionals Steve and Gwen Smith at the Potter’s Inn.  They peeled back those painful layers so we could see the raw emotion we were both stifling under the surface of our lives.  It was incredibly painful to come to terms with the fact that the way we were living was not good or healthy for ourselves, our family, or for anyone.  We decided together that it was time to change the scenery and save our marriage and family.  We needed to make some drastic changes.

And so we did.  As I have mentioned, there were ripples and waves of discussion and speculation.  I wrote a post the day Rob resigned, published it two hours before the announcement came.  I was instantly and permanently shamed from the inside circles, people I loved and adored, raised babies with, prayed with, vacationed with, etc. in one moment turned against me. I was devastated and confused.  It knocked me down for a long, long time.  I loved the people of Granger with all my heart.  My post simply stated that we were tired, we needed to focus on our marriage and family, “mega” was not working for us any longer, and we needed to move on.  I was hoping my post would help explain that.  To many it did.  To several it did not.

Along with the negative, there were hundreds of positive words and kind thoughts sent our way.  Why is it that the few less than kind comments hurt the most?  I’m not sure.  I wish I were mature enough to dismiss them with grace, shielding my heart in the most appropriate way, while navigating the pain in a perfect way that never stepped on the toes of anyone ever.  But I have found I am not that person.  Not at all. I say what is.  I cannot say more or less.  I have lived a long forty five years, and have found that the most comfortable in my own skin I’ve ever been are the times I’ve shared my truth without the commentary of a hundred voices in my head.  I listened to and tried to please everyone, and that was part of my demise.  I can’t please everyone.  I cant make everyone happy, or even like me.
Here we find ourselves, at the crossroads of another ending and a new beginning.  Rob left Westside Family Church in November, and now…we are planting our own church, The KC Underground.  We are loving it, serving together and living it together, as we love to do.

There are many differences in why we left both Granger and Westside, but I have changed, quite a lot.  What did I learn from what really hurt?

A few things.  I learned that:

1: My heart is worth guarding.   I do whatever I need to do to keep my heart safe.

2: To trust the few, rather than the many.  My close friends and confidants are  the ones I lean and depend on.  The public-ness of our lives does not mean that the public can have full access to my words, thoughts and feelings.

3: To make my closest allies people who are not affiliated with my husband’s workplace.  These friends can offer fair perspective because the only skin they have in the game is their relationship with me, not with me, my husband, and whole church.

4: Not to take criticism too much to heart. I can let criticism crush me. I’m learning to take in what I need to and let the rest go.  Words can hurt, but only if I let them.

5: Jesus is my best, best friend. Walking with Jesus down lonely roads has made me stronger than I have ever been. His love and grace and poured over me and in me, capturing my heart and imagination, setting my soul on fire.

If you are in full time ministry or church work, prepare yourself for the comings and goings before they happen.  Keep your soul healthy as you know how.  Trust Jesus and let your friends love you.  Stay strong and remember your true north.  Your soul is worth it.

The #metoo Movement in the Context of the Church

People will no doubt go round and round for the rest of all time about guilt or innocence of Bill Heybels, lead pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. We have been extremely close to the leadership of Willow Creek church over the past 25yrs. We love them deeply. We hurt with them and for them.

I have thought long and hard, as you probably know, about the #metoo movement within the context of church culture.

Sexual impropriety is a part of human nature. Just because someone is in church leadership doesn’t exempt them from being a part of what the rest of the world is drawing attention to.

I absolutely have been treated in the most respectful manor by 90% of men I have known in church leadership over the years.

Working and living close to the center of the circle of church staff leadership for 30yrs, I can say without shame or doubt that absolutely sexual harassment has happened in just about every church I’ve ever been a part of.

Nothing turns my stomach more than when I hear about a pastors or church leaders messing up. It’s just awful and sad. I’ve seen time & again what happens to the accused, their spouse, their & children—So incredibly devastating for everyone involved.

With that said, know how firmly I believe that PASTORS ARE PEOPLE TOO! They are imperfect just like you and I. They make mistakes. Give grace, give hope to them and their families. Give them privacy and space to heal.

Because they are not super human as many might think, please, please, hold them accountable just as anyone else you might care or worry about.

Love people who mess up. Don’t gossip. Don’t gossip about people that write or talk about their #metoo experiences within the walls of the church or out. Nothing is more hurtful to a victim than to be shamed for sharing their experience.

Peace to You

THRIVE.

THRIVE

“Look at your glass as half full, not half empty. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade, When one door closes, another will open…”

You’ve heard these lame excuses for encouragement. We all have said them, hoped to believe them. Hoped they might help someone look on the brighter side of things. We were trying to help because we didn’t know what else to say or what hope there really was to offer a really dismal and bleak situation.

But deep down, we all know that sometimes the dumb glass is just half empty. We hate lemonade, have no time to make it anyway, and the door was just slammed in our face.  Sometimes life is just painful and hard and we just want everyone and their trite sayings to go away and let us sulk the day away.

In times like these, I am encouraged by those who encourage me to move beyond what is trite, and on to what is holy. I’m encouraged by those who encourage me to THRIVE despite my circumstances.   In the matter of a few months time, our whole lives have been shaken and stirred. Just to name a few of the more obvious tough circumstances:

Rob resigned his job with Granger Community Church, after serving with them for 21 years.

Two days later, I fell down one step, yes.  ONE step.  I tore my calf muscle, sprained my knee and ankle, and tore my ankle tendon 90%.  I had surgery, a cast, have been almost completely immobile for 4 months.

A few weeks after I fell, Rob’s dad passed away. His death devastated our family.  Our girls have never known real grief.  Walking them through this new grief was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever done as parents.

In the middle of all these life-changes, I have discovered a few things to be true:

  • We are family. And that is enough.  Who we are when no one is looking has turned out to be my favorite “us” there is.  I’m a housebound wife.  A  shut-in, a person who can’t walk in the park to rejuvenate my soul.  My husband, a temporarily unemployed pastor.   We are just us. Just Rob and Michelle and Madeline and Whitney and Isabelle.  They are not pastorskids and I am not a pastorswife.
  •  Who we are when no one else is around is what counts. We are discovering our inner uniqueness, apart from the blaring lights and noise, the applause of men and women–Good, kind, true men and women. There’s nothing wrong with being a pastor or a pastor’s wife or a pastors kid, but these things do not bring us value or worth or importance.  Who we are is who we are being made to be, day by day.
  • I can make my life better just by sitting here.    I started practicing Zentangle doodles and have found myself and my soul a new creative outlet.  I spent several of the hours laying in my bed recovering from my surgery praying for every tween and teen girl that had been to our house to visit our girls that signed my cast. Their names blared up at me in bold neon letters, praying for them by name was a gift.
  • I’ve realized more than ever that every minute I have with my family counts.  Losing a family member so dear has caused us all to hold each other  closer–Every day.  Every minute is special. In the chaos of our day to day, I have found myself hugging my husband more, speaking words of light and light into each of my girls, making our time together matter by taking the time to notice them, really, really notice.

Many times during these past few months, I have asked Jesus to end this  what feels like to be never-ending series of trials.  I’ve asked Him To make everything better, to take away the pain, both the physical aspect and the heartache.

However, I am starting to see the deeper lessons of deeper living, of what it means to THRIVE through trials and hard times.…I think it’s been worth it for all of us–Actually, I know it has been.

We are as a family learning to linger over love longer, to talk deeper, to live fuller…

They way God has orchestrated our circumstances is certainly not how I would have, but He has taught me to THRIVE despite anything that comes my way:

That in anything,

  • He has the power to give me strength.
  • That HE is all about me living life abundantly. He said that’s what He came for.
  • Jesus is teaching me how to live– In anything, for anything, through anything.

Wherever you are, whatever your mess is, your sadness, your grief, or just your ordinary day to day living. Thrive from where you are. Ask God.  Ask yourself.  “How can I live better? How can my life be richer? How can I feel stronger?”

I can promise you He will show you. He promised us in the Bible, John 10:10 to be exact: “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. “

Trust Him.  Ask Him.  Wait and see and THRIVE.

“This post was inspired by Casting Crowns new album “Thrive” available

January 28th.

Learn more about what it means to Thrive at 

https://www.facebook.com/castingcrowns

 

Balloons

 

20 Year Celebration

Twenty years. Twenty years is a long time. As our twentieth anniversary at GCC has been approaching, I have been amazed at the comments people have made.  Ones like, “No one does anything for 20 years anymore.” Or “Did you start ministry when you were 10?” Generally people have been shocked, not realizing Rob and I have been at GCC for that long.

I was 19 when we came to Granger, Rob was 21.  Mark and Sheila Beeson have given us a place and space to grow and change over the decades, finding ourselves, finding Jesus, and leading others in the Jesus way all the while.

Last Friday night, we celebrated our 20 year anniversary with some friends from GCC in literally “The Party Of The Century.”  We were humbled, amazed, honored…there truly are not enough words in the human language to express the way our hearts exploded with the outpouring of love from the staff, friends, and family who came along to celebrate.

Several friends sent video messages, Pastor Paul Wirth from Relevant Church in Tampa, Florida, Dustin Holiday from Christian Fellowship Church near Washington DC, and Pastor Rick Warren from Saddleback Church in California. Rajendran from India recorded a message about how grateful he is for Rob’s faithfulness when it comes to serving the people of India…it was all so very meaningful.

There was an amazing media piece with stories from our lives told by others, photos someone had stealthily stolen from my house (with a little help of 3 young accomplices) draped on a clothesline at the GCC property. It was stunningly artistic, and took our breath away.

Our girls had made a secret media with the help of Elle White and Kristin Baker. It brought both Rob and I to tears. It was so beautiful and funny…we are so grateful.

Rev. Dan Gute, our youth pastor made a surprise appearance, speaking words of life and hope into us, and his lovely wife Dianne came too.  We could not believe it.  Both sets of our parents came, along with Rob’s sister Lisa, our brother in law Jim, and our niece and nephew.  What a blast to have all of us in the same room together!

The Senior Management Team each took a minute to say a kind word to Rob and I, and we were humbled by the gracious things they said.  The Culps made a special Rob and Michelle tribute, and we laughed so, so hard.  I was touched when the Culps were transformed back into Dan and Lisa, and they sang the Song “Captivate Us” by Watermark, and played the You Tube video I made of my Instagram pics.  It was a fabulous surprise.

The shock of our lives came when Trace Rorie and the GCC band began playing an old school Petra song.  Those who know Rob well know what a huge influence Petra was on his early faith in Jesus. Whenever he tells the story of how he deditcated his life to Jesus, he talks about the Petra songs that sunk deep down and made him think, change, and grow.

As Trace began singing the song, all of the musicians started looking sort of nervous. I felt bad for them because I thought these old Petra songs must be “new” to them and they might not know them so well.  I felt even worse when they really messed up and had to stop the song. Then it clicked. I put my hand over my mouth as Trace said something about “Four time Grammy Award Winning Artist…” and JOHN SCHLITT FROM PETRA WALKED ON THE STAGE!!!!!”

I don’t know if either of us will ever be able to recover from the shock. John Schlitt is a super-mega-famous Christian Rock star, and has been for decades.  BUT, to us, he’s way more than that.  We went to his concerts as high-schoolers and middle-schoolers ourselves, acted crazy and had fun…but always left profoundly impacted by Petra’s love for Jesus and their compassi0n for kids like us.  John Schlitt was the guy who sang to us while we worshipped Jesus alone in our rooms, or  listening to headphones while walking to high school.  Petra’s songs literally ignited our faith and gave us courage to stand up for what we believed in. The voice of Petra brought each of us to our knees in countless moments of standing before Jesus.

John Schlitt’s presence with us there on Friday night was so symbolic of our lives coming full circle.  It was crazy.

 

 

I have to tell you, one of the funniest moments of my life is captured in this photo below, where Pastor Dan (our youth pastor), and Rob’s mom are talking with John Schlitt.  His mom is telling John how she “put up with that loud music” for so many years, and Dan was telling John how he used to drop us off at Petra concerts and drive around the block about a thousand times so he wouldn’t have to stay and listen to the loud music.  John just laughed and laughed and thanked them over and over again for doing a great job in raising us.

I respected the man from afar for all these decades, but when I saw him speaking to these two, I was deeply moved. I was standing next to John when he spoke to my own dad. He spoke to my dad like they were old friends.  He thanked my dad over and over for allowing us to listen to his music growing up.  He said, “I know Chicago was a dark place to grow up. Thank you for allowing your children to listen to our music, hopefully we brought a little light.”  His words were profound and heartfelt. He spoke to each of our girls with respect and admiration, thanking them for how they celebrated us as their parents through their words on the video, and the letters they had each written us.

John’s humility and compassion were so obvious, and we are so, so blessed by the staff of GCC for allowing this to happen, and for everything they did to make us feel loved and honored.

Our worlds were rocked…literally…on Friday night.  Thank you to each person who came and celebrated with us, and those who celebrated with us by watching the service live stream at gccwired.com .  Our lives are permanently rocked by this amazing celebration.

 

Letting Go-A Lesson My Parents Taught Me

As Rob was teaching this past weekend about How To Wreck Your Life this weekend, (watch the service here…it was amazing)  I had this flashback to a conversation I had with my parents when I was in college.  I wanted to go to Uganda on a mission trip.  My Mom said yes pretty much right away.  She’d been to Kenya when she was my age, and it was an experience that marked her forever.  My brother had been to Zambia the year before, and I knew I wanted to do something similar before I got married (I was engaged to Rob at the time).

I remember talking to my dad about it.  I felt very strongly that God was calling me to go.  His first response:  “No way.  You’ll get yellow fever.  You’ll get malaria.”   My parents love God.  They are strong Christians, and my Dad secretly knew he’d eventually say yes, but had to pose his argument first.

Fast forward a few months to the only phone call I made from Uganda.  It went something like this:

Me: Dad!  It’s me!

Dad: (choked up) Hey!  How’s it going?

Me: Um….I got malaria.

Dad: ….

Me: But I’m doing better!

Dad: …..grumble….

That phone call was my Dad’s nightmare come true.  I was sick and a million miles from home.  He couldn’t do anything about it. Now that I am a parent, I know how hard it was for my mom and dad to let me go on crazy adventures around the world. I am so thankful for their ability to trust God with me, shaping my future, and helping me to learn to be a good parent by their example. It will be hard, very hard for me to let my kids go on the same kinds of adventures I went on (and still go on…my poor dad).

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It’s my Mom and Dad’s 41st wedding anniversary today!  They are amazing people, and I thank God for them all the time.  Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad!  Thank you for trusting God with me on all my crazy adventures around the world.

10 Parenting Mistakes I’ve Made

Last week was a tough week.  We had a bazillion little things go wrong, but in the end, it was amazing to see how God worked it all for good.  Belle had to go to Medpoint late one night, and before she headed out the door, Whitney handed her her most treasured Silly Band-the Angel.  The next day I went to the Hallmark store and bought Whit a full pack of Harry Potter Silly Bandz to show her how you can never out-give God. After I gave them to her, Whit went in to check on Belle who was sleeping on my bed, surrounded in her own pile of Silly Bandz.  Whitney gave her a kiss and put a quarter next to her.  Basically, it was an all-out love fest.  I wrote a quick Facebook/Twitter status update saying, Whit gave Belle her angel silly band last night when she was so sick. I bought Whit a whole pack to show her how u can never out give God.

A lot of you wonderful people praised my awesomeness as a Mom for this.  I replied, Yes, but I rarely tweet about what I do wrong as a parent.  Really, who would want to blog, Twitter or Facebook what they’ve done wrong?  Who would want to admit that they’ve made parenting mistakes?

So, I decided to share some mistakes with you.  Here are ten things I’ve done that I’m not proud of, but hope you and I can both learn from.

  1. Rushing Bedtime and shushing the quietest thoughts of their day.
  2. Being scatter-brained and disorganized-causing myself to forget their important stuff-causing them sadness at missing out.
  3. Letting someone else tell me what’s best for my child and going against my gut.
  4. Allowing my displeasure at their bad behavior spiral out of control until I lash out at them with angry, not correcting words.
  5. Letting the girls watch too much junk TV and eat too much junk food because I am too tired to offer a creative solution.
  6. Failing to do a complete background check on people I trusted them with for a week.
  7. Saying No to something simply because it’s easier than saying Yes.
  8. Sharing information about them with others without asking the girls first.
  9. Hiding my chocolate
  10. Being seen out in public with Belle’s Barbie glasses.

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Really, I hope this list is helpful.  I am a pastor’s wife, a mom, and I have done things wrong.  It is my hope that we can build each other up as parents instead of tearing each other down.  We really can learn so much from one another.

  Your turn!  Any mistakes you’d like to share?  How about sharing your biggest victory as a parent?