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.

The fallout from that day was severe. I was threatened, coerced, made fun of, shamed.  “She better like the big church she’s leaving.  Tell her that big church is the one that paid for that sabbatical.”  “Michelle preempted Rob’s plan, Granger’s plan.” “How dare she,” etc.

All of these statements and MORE from people I loved, trusted and served with from when I was eighteen until I was forty-two.  I was devastated.  A sacred and sorrowful moment of parting was met with rage from people “trying to protect the organization.”

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 Sunset Tree

The Sunset Tree, in all its brilliance, has held so many rainbows high on the horizon, so many sunsets in the forever stretching western Kansas sky.

The weight of that glory from a million sunsets and a few hundred rainbows was too heavy, as the trees arms grew tired with wind whistling at her back storms blowing her branches for centuries. She lifted her arms to the most brilliant sunset her tree eyes had ever seen, then beheld a cloud full of lightning and wind coming her way. She smiled as the wind blew her branches. The leaves clapped for joy and danced in the wind and rain. She sighed, breathed out, her core broken, and gave her spirit up to God and her body to the wind.

There was a loud thud heard for a mile, earthy dust billowing from beneath her windswept body. The dust held a magic though—it knew the secrets of the tree, the glory it held had seeped into the earth, wildly electrifying everything around it with living life.

The dust that sparkled blew and blew and blew away on the wind, far as the eye could see. The magic landed here and there, glory to be found only with the most careful eye, by the Noticers. These souls are special. God gave their spirit eyes a gift to see the glimmer of God in the wind, through prairies, over mountains, desert savannah’s and high on the seas.

If you are a Noticer, you already know. In sleepy dreams or awake, you know that glory, and you are learning it by name. You don’t know what to call it, but you will. Just notice for now. You will grow into your soul eyes in time.

Live in wide eyed wonder for what holds up sunsets and rainbows. Tell your secrets, but only to a few.

You have probably guessed, but I am a Noticer too—So, my sacred bit of wisdom to you is this-

Every evening when the sun is setting, keep your eyes alert for magic especially then. Everything glitters in sunlight and moonlight. The places in the morning where the night fades into day…you will find the glory spots most bright.

Look for the trees that awaken the day with songs of praise. The yellow flowers on the hill beaming back the magic light of morning light back to the sun, the birds that sing the loudest are the ones who used to perch on the old wise branches of The Sunset Tree. They are her messengers. Listen to them.

These are only the places I have seen the sparkle of glory. So it’s your turn to Notice and tell about the places my eyes have not seen. Look high, look low, and do tell, but only to a few

There is a sacred to this glory

You will only understand one day when you are maybe as old as the Sunset Tree on the hill that once held up the Western sky. Listen, watch, wonder, and Notice the glory most especially when you see the sparkle of your own eyes in a mirror.

You sparkle and shine with the dust of the earth alive with the glory of the One whose hand created, and feet that once walked on it. I see it in your soulish eyes. Do you?

When Christmas Cannot Be Merry and Bright

IMG_0577.JPGI’m in a quandary this Christmas season.  We’ve been through the most difficult transition year of our married lives, our girls have said goodbye to all of their childhood friends, we sat in a room with a dozen friends we raised our babies with and sobbed.  Gut wrenching, heart aching, sobs.  I’ve never cried harder in my life than that evening, saying goodbye to lifelong friends.

In May we made the move from Granger, In. to Shawnee, Ks.  The best, but most difficult family decision we’ve ever made.  I’ve felt like an ocean has been moving under my feet since we landed, trying to get acclimated myself, get my girls acclimated, figuring out how to fix a new bathtub with new problems, how to keep the hot sun from killing my plants, and all that normal stuff.

And then in September, my precious Uncle died.  How do I tell my aunt, who spent years of her life dedicated to him, to Jesus, to their children…translating the bible into unwritten languages, whom she loved…how do I tell her to be merry this christmas?

In November, my cousin died.  He was too young.  Only 5 years older than me.  The thought of losing him does not ring true with “Merry and Bright” or a cup of Christmas cheer.

A mamma lost not one, but three babies, triplets, born too early this week.  They suffered through the trauma of the funeral of the first two, held out hope for the third.  He died.  Now another funeral.

The news…the news.  I cannot even bare to watch it with my children asking questions about atrocities committed against children their own ages.  I cannot even watch the news alone.

But I can walk in the darkness of this Advent hour.  I can walk in peace, with lots and lots of tears, but with peace.  Knowing my Savior was born.  He came to save a fool like me.  He came to abolish slavery, to set the prisoners free.  He came to love.  He came to forgive.  To teach us to love and forgive by what He did for us.  Born humbly.  Walked through His ordinary days like an ordinary guy, but holy.  Perfect.  Full of love.  Never casting the poor or needy aside if they did not match up with His holy critera for those worthy of His time.  He walked slowly.  He touched.  He held.  He healed.  He lifted heads.  He gave new names.  He brought joy.  He brought mystery.  He brought laughter.  He brought light.  He embraced the unembraceable.

He was the light.  And He is.  He is the lifter of our heads, the light in our darkness.  Forever.

Jesus is our hope in a very dark place.

 

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

 

Nine Hundred Moments

Our 2013

In case you didn’t know, I really like to take pictures.  One thing I like to do every year is sort through my own photos on my camera roll and pick out the top 100,  30, then the top 10, then my top 3, just for fun.  Since I am immobile until I get my cast off next week, it’s a good time to do my “Year in Review” stuff. Right now I have 900 or so from the past year to sort through. One of the secret reasons I take so many photos is because it causes me to reflect deeply on all the beautiful moments we shared as a family.  As I’ve sorted through them in the past few days, I was struck by a few things I thought I’d share.

  • I’m proud of my family for sticking together and pulling closer to one another than we’ve ever been. I’m proud of my girls for loving each other well, sticking up for each other, cheering for each other and making our lives better by becoming the beautiful young ladies they are inside and out.
  • I’m proud of my husband for pulling through the most difficult year he’s ever had-for loving me when I’m unloveable, for supporting his mom through the death of her husband, for driving the girls to a hundred practices, and being the dad who is all up in their face at every lacrosse game taking their pictures, watching them shine, making them glow with the joy of being deeply loved.
  • I’m humbled by the grace I’ve come to know through brokenness.  My physical body and my heart have been broken this year, but I’ve come to see God and His ways a little more clearly. I’m humbled by the love of many people poured out to our family through meals, gifts, calls, cards, and a thousand acts of kindness.
  • My extreme independent self is humbled to have to send my husband twenty texts a day, asking for things I cannot get for myself because of not being able to walk for the past two months.

Looking back I see with blazing clarity that Grace and Love and Light and Joy are mine. I’m grateful for the ways God is showing me sides of Himself I would never see if it weren’t for the circumstances of this year-the high’s, the low’s and the in-betweens.

God is Good. He is love. He is light. These things are true. These things I know.  And I’m grateful. Though everything around me is changing, He never changes. And that, my friends, is good news.

I’d love to hear what you’re reflecting on as this year draws to a close. I have nothing but time as I will be immobile for at least another week or so. Drop me a message. Send me an email. Write me on Facebook. I sincerely would love to hear from you. If not, have a very Merry Christmas!

With You Always

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I had surgery on my ankle this week to fix the tendon that was 90% torn and 10% hanging on for dear life. Needless to say, it’s been a painful few months in many ways. Rob’s dad passed away two weeks ago…a devastating loss to our family. We will miss Papa so much. Seeing his chair empty at Thanksgiving was so difficult for all of us.

The physical pain I’ve been dealing with as well as the heartache pain of losing one so dear to all of us has been very hard. We’ve also been dealing with the pain of leaving GCC, a church family we have been a part of for twenty-one years.

I’m completely confined to bed for five days, which leaves a lot of time for thinking.

What do all these losses have in common? What are they trying to teach me? I’m not really sure about how they are all connected, but each loss is significant in it’s own respect, varying levels of pain come with each loss.  I know I’ll get my foot back eventually.  I know Rob will get a new job, that we will find a new church family to be a part of, that our time at GCC for the past few decades has given us the gift of lifelong friends that we will always cherish no matter where we may end up.

We will see Papa again, in Heaven someday. He will be healthy and strong and his eyes will shine with light and life. I am looking forward to seeing him again, we all are.  We have hope.

On this side of eternity, there is no guarantee of a pain free life. We all deal with pain and loss and death because all things are being redeemed, and will not be set right until Jesus makes all things new in His time.  I’m learning to trust that His ways and His timing are perfect. He never promised that on this side of eternity all things would be perfect.  He did promise He would be with us through it all.

In His last words to His diciples before He went back up to Heaven, Jesus promised, ” I am with you always, even to the end of the age.(Matthew 28:20)

He promised He’d be here.  God with us. Through death, loss and pain. Through the good times and the bad. He’s given us His presence, to comfort us, to guide us, to never leave us. Sometimes it feels like God is hard to find, in the middle of dealing with so many losses, it’s hard to see God through pain. But He’s there. I know He is. His presence is with me, sometimes I just have to be still to remember.

  My friend Nancy sent me this quote this morning, and it fit so well with what I was thinking about, I’ll share it here as a final thought for you to dwell on today:

“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there too. But more often stones and grit block the well,and God is buried beneath. Then God must be dug up again. I imagine that there are people who pray with their eyes turned heavenward. They seek God outside themselves. And there are those who bow their heads and bury it in their hands. I think that these seek God inside.”

~Etty Hillesum