simple thoughts on faith and leaving

Many of you have written me kind notes of encouragement since I first shared with you about why my husband is quitting his job. Your emails, comments, (and even some letters!) have been cool water on dry days for us. Today, five days before his last day as a youth pastor, we are encouraged, thankful, and filled with hope.

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I have wanted to update you on how things are going as it relates to John’s job and what comes next, but before I do that there is something that has been rolling around in my soul and I’m unable to move forward in writing or in thinking until I find the words to express some thoughts regarding this transition.

Since we announced to our community and to the public that we have made this Very Big Decision to quit our perfectly acceptable job with our perfectly regular paycheck, we are never sure exactly how people are going to respond. But there are some common themes to most of the responses we hear:

You have so much faith.

You are brave.

You are an inspiration.

And every now and then, we also hear what people say behind our back to friends and relatives: What in the world are they going to do?!

I think I love that one the most, because I know that’s really what many are thinking but they worry it will offend us if they say it to our face.

I understand where people are coming from when they say all these things. I’m deeply grateful for the encouragement and don’t want to take away from the genuine and heartfelt support people so kindly offer. But I wanted to take a few moments and point out some of the unspoken assumptions that might hover invisibly over words like “you’re brave” and “you have great faith.”

There is a part of me that gets a little squirmy with the implication that we have faith in greater measure just because we are leaving a job.

It’s true, faith is often required to leave a job.

But faith is also required to stay at a job.

“I’ve never attended a ‘steadfast obedience’ party at work. I’ve never been invited to a ‘staying put’ get-together. I’ve never heard of a ‘sticking around forever’ shindig. And I haven’t for one simple reason: We live in a corporate culture that celebrates people who leave and ignores those who stay.”

Jon Acuff, Quitter

We have to be careful not to point to outward actions as the only implication of an inward reality. You can’t always tell from an outside glance what is happening on the deep level of the soul. Over time, theses realities become clear. But be careful to elevate those who seem to be making noticeable decisions that have obvious impact over those who make small decisions in quiet corners with little noticeable impact at all.

All movement requires faith no matter how big or small it may look on the outside – whether you’re stepping into the unknown or stepping into the same thing as yesterday.

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John and I have have been praying for over two years about what might be next for us. For two years, we have quietly waited, listened, and stayed right where we are. During that time, no one said we were brave or had a lot of faith because there was no action to point to as proof. But those years of waiting and listening were necessary for the movement happening right now – the kind of movement people can see.

Maybe your movement is small right now, too. Maybe you watch as others around you seem to be making “big moves” and have “great faith.”

Take heart, friend. The size of your faith isn’t really the point; only the size of your God.

So yes, we are leaving a job. And over the next few days, as kind friends and curious bystanders send us off and say some of these lovely words, John and I will receive them with gratitude and beg God to filter words of praise for us through the person of Jesus who did only what he saw his Father do and said only what he heard his Father say.

May it be so of all of us no matter how big, small, or ordinary our next steps might be.

3 questions to ask yourself before you change the world

Change the world is a tired, over-used phrase. I know that. But you know, we could say the same thing about “I love you” so I’m just going to go with it. These three questions are for anyone who wonders if it might finally be time to do something – write, teach, move, speak, listen, join, or quit. They are questions that help me – but maybe your questions are different. I’d love to hear what they are.

3 questions

In an interview Jeff Goins did with Seth Godin, he (Seth) said all his books were a result of his being frustrated by something. (By the way, raise your hand if you have ever called them Jeff Godin and Seth Goins – I mean, really. Could their names BE any more similar?)

Seth: “For me, I don’t wake up in the morning saying I need something to write about or I owe the world a book. It’s totally fine with me if I don’t have anything. If I’m gonna name something or if I’m going to bother going the year long trouble of writing a book, it’s because I’m frustrated. The only reason I do any of this is because no one else has done it in a way that I think is going to push an idea forward that I think is worth addressing.”

I’ve thought about this for a while and compared what he says to the way I feel about why I write or explore an idea.

I wrote Grace for the Good Girl and Graceful because I saw myself in the girls in our youth group. Jesus didn’t seem to be an answer to real problems in their lives. He was only an example to follow when they wanted to be good Christians.

This gross distortion of the Gospel broke my heart and made me mad. Are we teaching our students a compartmental salvation? And am I partially to blame for that?

So yes, frustration was the first spark of my motivation.

Being frustrated didn’t make me qualified or ready. But it did wake something up within me, something that compelled me to move, something that made me want to get ready.

The frustration rolled into a compulsion towards change – passion to communicate a message, to move into the chaos of the questions even if I didn’t have all the answers.

But being frustrated about an issue and compelled to do something about it won’t sustain the message for the long-term. For me, what really keeps me moving is the hope of something better.

In my experience, when I am frustrated and passionate without hope, I’m vulnerable to cynicism. If I don’t have hope for change, despair creeps in and I want to give up.

Am I able to peer behind the mysterious curtain of the present and catch a glimpse of what could be?

Am I willing to move into the darkness even though I don’t feel fully qualified or confident or prepared?

These are important questions for me to ask about the work I do. There are plenty of things that frustrate me. But that doesn’t mean I am called to tackle them all. It’s only when I sense all three of these motivations working together that I begin to accept I might need to explore an idea, a thought, or move towards influencing change.

Frustration wakes me up.

Passion gets me moving.

Hope keeps me going.

What about you?

What frustrates you?

What compels you?

What do you most hope for?

Maybe these questions will help you define and refine your goals, your dreams for yourself or for others, and your desire for change.

A quick thanks to you for your kind comments, emails and prayers regarding my last post. John read some of your responses as well and afterwards he looked at me and said, “Wow. A lot of people are in transition.” So here’s to waiting, to believing, and to seeing what’s next.

What Now? (and why my husband is quitting his job)

The book return slot was out of order at the library so I had to walk in to return my books. Since I was already inside, I decided to browse around a little, just to see if anything caught my eye.

library books

I walked out with a stack of books I didn’t plan on, one of them by Ann Patchett called What now?

The small book is actually a commencement speech she gave at her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, and it seemed short enough to read in one sitting. (Two, as it turns out, but close enough).

The main reason why I ended up taking this book home was because of these words from the dust jacket:

“What now? is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown. What now? can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow.”

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John and I are living in a What Now? kind of moment, so this book seemed fitting.

If you go to our church or receive my letter every month, you already know this. But I thought it was time to go ahead and share the news here on the blog.

After 12 years as a youth pastor, my husband is quitting his job.

And after his last day at work on June 30th, we’re not sure what we’re going to do next.

There are so many angles I could share this news from – I could tell you of our finances, our hope for the future, our life stage, our thoughts about church and community.

My rational good girl side wants to over-explain myself and assure you that we are not stepping blindly or making any spontaneous decisions.

But for now I don’t want to talk about those parts of this transition. I just want to let you in on what is happening in my life. And here it is, in four words: We are dreaming together.

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In the mornings, after we take our three kids to school, we talk about what it means to have the Spirit of Jesus Christ himself living within us. And if you don’t know him, I realize that sentence sounds insane. But if you do know him, maybe you’ll agree that Christ himself is the most spectacular gift.

As we talk, we consider our individual personalities and our mutual desire to contribute to the spiritual conversation in our local community.

We toss around ridiculous ideas about what we might like to do, what shape our vocational dreams might take, what context there might be for me, a woman who comes alive through writing and conversation about the deeper life and John, a man with the training and heart of a pastor.

We consider how we long to listen and be spiritual friends with others and what that even means.

For the first time in our marriage, we are cultivating a respectful curiosity for our mutual desire as a couple.

We laugh.

We roll our eyes at ourselves.

We take notes.

We make plans.

We pray.

Sometimes we worry.

Other times we tear up.

We tear up because we are beginning to catch the tiniest glimpse of a vision and what we see both delights and terrifies us, depending on the day.

We also embrace the distinct possibility that we might be a little bit crazy.

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But here is what makes this crazy ride worth taking: I’m watching my husband come alive in ways I never thought were possible for him. And I feel courage growing inside me in the place where fear used to live.

I’m telling you this because in a way I’m sure you’re not aware, you are part of this transformation.

Writing at Chatting at the Sky for the past seven years has served to wake up part of my soul. I sincerely hope that makes sense and I apologize for my inability to explain it further than that right now. But perhaps you know what I mean?

I know we aren’t the only ones in the midst of transition. This time of year represents transition for a lot of you – graduations, weddings, the end of school, the beginning of something new. Maybe you’re grieving a loss, a move, a heartbreak. Maybe you’re asking what in the world is going on in your own life.

One way to ask that question is with a frantic soul, a furrowed brow and two tightly clenched fists, What now?!? Admittedly, that is always a temptation for me.

But there is another way to ask – same words, different posture. In the midst of the waiting, of the wondering, of the time of transition, we can rehearse the things we know for sure.

Our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

Nothing can separate us from his love.

We will never be alone.

And so we ask with hopeful expectation, with open hands and a willingness to sit with our questions as we whisper these words before God. What now?

For us? We don’t know. But we’ll be sure to keep you posted.

“Sometimes the circumstances at hand force us to be braver than we actually are, and so we knock on doors and ask for assistance. Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined.”

-Ann Patchett, What now?

12 things your daughter needs you to say

In high school, I loved all those little sayings I heard Christians say. You know the ones – When God closes a door, he opens a window. Or Don’t put God in a box! My personal favorite was when one of my friends in my small group went through a break up with a boy, our small group leader proudly announced: Rejection is protection! And we all promptly dove for our journals to write that one in big, bold letters.

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I tried to use that one once  on my current small group to see what they would do. They just stared at me and rolled their eyes. Then they laughed because they knew I was joking.

Maybe teenagers in 1995 were a lot more corny than teenagers in 2013. Or maybe it was just me.

There are things our daughters (and sons, too!) need to hear us say. And even though the clichés may encourage some of them and may look cute on a poster, they will most likely fall flat on young ears. Here is my best attempt to come up with 12 non-cliché things our daughters need to hear us say.

12 Things Your Daughter Needs You to Say - by emily p. freeman1. I have hope.

could tell her “Have hope.” But, I speak as a daughter here, it means more to me to see my parents have hope than for them to tell me to have hope. My hope (or lack thereof) speaks louder to her than my words about hope.

Show her you have hope – you trust God with your family, you have hope for her future, you see light in dark places.

2. Live with God rather than for God.

It is common to tell young people to live their lives for God. And though I get the sentiment, I have seen how telling her to live for God can be confusing. The truth is the life she now lives, she lives by faith in Jesus. To tell her to live for God could lead her to try to perform for acceptance rather than living from the acceptance that is already hers in Christ.

God isn’t sitting out in the audience of her life, waiting for her to get things in order. No, he’s standing with her on stage. Even better, he stands within her. Remind her of her kind, compassionate, powerful companion who goes with her wherever she goes.

3. I’m sorry.

Of all the words I’ve ever spoken to my children, these two seem to have had the most powerful impact. Admit you are wrong when you are wrong and own the consequences.

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4. Be who you already are.

She needs to be reminded of who she is, not who she is expected to be. In Christ, she is loving, even if she is acting unloving. In Christ, she is patient, even if she is acting impatient. Appeal to her new creation identity rather than simply shaming her for her wrong behavior.

Tell her she is beloved. Tell her she is beautiful. Remind her what is already true. Invite her to live into the truth of who Christ is forming her to be.

5.You can’t save people.

Only God can do that. I grew up with a mom who knew Jesus and a dad who didn’t. So I spent four years of my young life carrying the weight of my dad’s salvation on my shoulders. The story ends well as he accepted Jesus when I was 11. But looking back I realize what a ridiculous expectation I put on myself. Remind her to pray for those who don’t believe, but to never carry the weight of trying to save them on her own.

6. I’m trusting Jesus. Want to join me?

John says this one a lot to our kids (our twin girls are 9 and our son is 6) when our family is in the midst of a transition or facing something potentially scary. It may seem a little corny for older ones, but the message it sends is this – I am trusting God and am okay whether you join me or not. I invite you to join me and would love for you to join me, but the choice is entirely yours. 

I’ve heard it said you can’t make a kid eat, sleep, or use the bathroom. And I’m going to add this: you can’t make a kid trust God. Remind her that your faith is your own and so is hers.

7. You have something to offer the world.

I realize this dances dangerously close to You are a unique snowflake. But it’s kind of true, isn’t it? She is the only one of her there has ever or will ever be. She is made in the image of God and has the distinct privilege of carrying that unique image around in the world. Christ lives within her and will come out of her through the filter of her unique personality. Remind her she has something (lots of somethings, actually) to offer the world. Walk with her as she experiments with what those things might be.

8. I trust Christ in you.

When I was in high school and would have a problem I was trying to work through, my dad would listen and offer advice, but he would often end our talks with this statement: “You know where to go.” He never freaked out, never tried to push me into a decision. He could have said “I trust you” and that would have built my confidence some. But what I knew was that he actually trusted Christ in me – and that is where the mystery Paul speaks about in Colossians 1:27 comes in – Christ is in me. So it’s me, but it’s him, but it’s me, but it’s him – what a beautiful mystery indeed.

For me, knowing my parents trusted me built my confidence – but knowing they trusted Christ in me took the pressure off.

9. You are deeply loved.

Or, to put it a little differently, I like to use these words from Andrew Murray:

why does God love us?

10. You are not alone.

This could be one of the most heartbreaking realities I see among girls – they feel so desperately alone. Remind her you are with her, Christ is with her, and be careful not to try to fix her loneliness. This may be the very intimate place where Jesus could show her his companionship as he never has before.

11. Want to go get some FroYo?

She might roll her eyes. She might say no thanks, Mom. She might rather spend time with her friends. Keep asking. When and if she finally says yes and you have the chance to sit across from her with a cup full of cake-batter flavored frozen yogurt with strawberries and gummy worms on top, look into her eyes and release your own agenda. If she wants to talk about the weather, let her talk about the weather. Be curious. Be open. Be available to her even if it seems like she doesn’t care if you’re available or not.

She does care. She absolutely cares.

12. ________

No, that’s not a typo. Sometimes the one thing our girls need to hear us say is nothing at all. Words mean nothing if our lives don’t speak for us. I am personally aware of how I sometimes use words of belief to cover up for my lack of real belief in my daily life. It’s easier to tell my kids a bunch of things that are true than it is to live as though I believe those things are true.

12 things to tell our daughters

I’m reminded of a story Brennan Manning shared in The Wisdom of Tenderness of the elderly Uncle Seamus who joyfully skipped along the Irish shoreline. And when his nephew asked him, “Uncle Seamus, you look so very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

And he responded, “Yes, lad. You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

May we be able to speak love into the lives of our girls only and always because our Father speaks love into us – and may we say with Uncle Seamus, the Father is very fond of me.

As I said before, this list is by no means exhaustive. I’m sure tomorrow I could come up with 12 more. But since I shared earlier this week one thing your daughter doesn’t need you to say, I thought it only appropriate to offer some things she might need to hear. And if I’m very honest, I need to hear them, too.

12 things your daughter needs you to say

What would you add to the list?

Want a resource to read with the teen girl in your life? I wrote a book called Graceful just for her. Read the first chapter here for free or watch the 3-minute mini-movie

one thing your daughter doesn’t need you to say

In the middle of a radio interview I did last week, the host decided to take calls from listeners. This happens during longer live interviews – the host greets the caller and then hands the reins of the conversation over to me. Might I pause here to point out how this practice evokes equal amounts of panic and excitement into my bones.

I panic because I have absolutely no way to prepare for what a caller might say. This isn’t a problem in normal conversation but on the radio it gets a little tricky. Because after exactly 15 seconds of listening I will be expected to have some kind of “expert” answer which stands in direct opposition to both my personality and the natural way I believe a conversation is suppose to work.

I gag. Still, I realize this is the nature of interviews like this and I accept it as part of the process while I work desperately to avoid ever trying to sound like Dr. Phil by refusing to say statements like “How’s that workin’ for ya?” and “Do you wanna be right or do you wanna be happy?”

Still, there is also something exciting about having people call in. It’s true, there is no way to prepare for what someone might say, but that’s kind of the fun part. There is no way to prepare for what someone might say!

In a way, this takes the pressure off and frees me up to be myself.

So last week when the host opened it up to callers, I got that familiar ache in my knees I always get when I am anxious and also excited. One of the first callers was a girl, a junior in high school.

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After two minutes of listening to her story, it was obvious she was a good girl – dedicated student, obedient daughter, sweet disposition, high anxiety, unrealistic expectations of herself. Her main concern was being a Christian in high school and wanting to be a good example for her friends.

But it was hard, she said, to always be a consistent one.

Then the host turned it over to me.

I made a few observations, told a story about how I could relate – I don’t think anything I said added much to the conversation in that moment, which was fine. This is the downfall of handing over the reins of conversation to an INFJ on a live call – I can usually assess the situation fairly accurately but it takes a lot of time for my observations to reach my mouth.

I tend to just want to ask a question or say, “Hmm, that’s so interesting!”

Which is decidedly not interesting on the radio.

Lucky for me, this particular radio host was deeply invested in the conversation and responded to her in an appropriate way – he told her the worst thing she could do is to try to have it all together in front of her friends.

Instead of trying so hard to be an example, just be honest. “If you struggle,” he said, “say so. If you hurt someone, apologize. Then they really will get to know you and they won’t have reason to call you a hypocrite.”

Brav. O.

When the interview was over, I sat in my room and thought for a few more minutes about the conversation. I kept rolling her words around in my head: “I want to be an example to my friends, but sometimes it’s so hard to be a good one.”

The more I thought about her struggle, the more frustrated I got. I paced my room, made my bed with the excess energy. I thought about what the host said to her and began to think how I would put his response in my own words.

Here’s what I came up with: She isn’t supposed to be an example. Her friends don’t need an example, they need a friend. A real one. An honest one. A touchable one. They  need a friend who doesn’t think she’s better than everyone, but one who knows she isn’t. They need a friend who knows she needs Jesus.

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So what about being a leader and setting the example? Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what parents and youth leaders tell students all the time?

The more I think about it, the more I believe this well-meaning statement is not only a manipulative way to try to control our daughters’ behavior, but can also be dangerous to their spiritual health. When we tell her to be an example, we may as well just hand her a mask right there – Here. Hide behind this. Don’t let them see you struggle.

I know that’s not what we mean. I know. But it doesn’t matter so much what we mean, it matters what she hears.

And when she hears adults tell her to be an example, she thinks that means she can never mess up, can never have problems, can never just be a teenager with struggles like everyone else.

She might then mature into a woman who believes being a Christian means having it all together, saying all the “right” things, staying a few steps above everyone else.

She may become a person people look up to, but she will never be someone they can relate to.

She may be successful at managing her behavior, but she will always struggle to manage people’s opinions.

She may have a great reputation, but her character will be clouded with bitterness and anger.

She may be a good church-goer, but she will not know how to be a good friend.

This may keep her out of trouble, but it will suffocate her soul.

But what about holiness?!  I can hear the protests now. Don’t we want her to be a light in a dark place?

Yes. But telling her to be an example won’t let her shine, it will just cause her to shrink.

She already is a light in a dark place, but here is the part most of us forget when we’re telling our teenagers to be an example:

Her light comes from Jesus, not from her awesome behavior.

Do you believe Christ himself has taken up residence within her? Do you trust him with her life – her decisions, her emotions, her relationships? Do you truly believe he goes with her wherever she goes?

If so, then instead of telling her to be an example, how about encouraging her to be herself?

When she is hurt, she can deeply feel it. When she messes up, she can own it. When she hurts someone, she can apologize. When she has doubts, she can voice them. And when she is joyful, it will be from a real place inside her, not a manufactured mask she puts on for show.

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If you have a daughter graduating in a few weeks, don’t be afraid. As she packs her bags for her summer trip or her college dorm, encourage her to leave the mask behind.

One Thing Your Daughter Doesn't Need You to Say - Chatting at the Sky

Believe Christ is in her. Believe she already has everything she needs. And for the love, don’t tell her to be an example. Free her up to be herself – a girl who has the living Christ living inside her.

Need a resource or a gift for the high school or college girl in your life? (Or, let’s face it, for your 54-year-old self?) Consider one of the two books I wrote on this very topic: Grace for the Good Girl or Graceful (For Young Women)Both books encourage women of all ages to let go of the try hard life.

UPDATE: I have written somewhat of a follow up post to this one – since I’ve shared one thing your daughter doesn’t need you to say, I thought it only appropriate to offer 12 things she might need to hear. Let’s call it part two. Ish. Thank you for reading – it is a gift to say the very least.

state of the blog, brought to you by the color pink

Last Saturday I loaded up my car with five of my small group girls and we headed down to Charlotte to do a little shopping because we could and also it’s fun.

pinkBefore heading home, we stopped by my sister’s house because “she has a blog and is awesome and like, famous!” I don’t think they even know I have a blog. Or wrote two books. I mean, I’ve been on TV in Canada. But whatevs.

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She had Valentine crafts for us to do because she’s The Nester and that’s just the kind of girl she is. They loved every minute of it.

pinkObviously. Goes to show that sweeping your floors and making your bed is one way to prepare for guests. But iced coffee, pink gum balls and paper streamers will mean more.

craft day at the nester's

valentine craft

hello gloves

While these photos have little to do with the state of the blog, I had to share them because 1) they’re cute and 2) after tomorrow it will be too late because Valentines Day will be over.

Now a few words about the state of things around here. Every few months I think about all the things I would put in a sidebar if I had one. But since I don’t, I have to put them in a regular post like this one. Warning: I might start to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher in 3, 2, 1 . . 

  • Oops: An apology if you received Monday’s post twice in your inbox. We are in the process of transferring all readers who subscribe by email from Feedburner to MailChimp and that post accidentally went out twice. If you normally receive Chatting at the Sky blog posts through email, this is how they will look from now on.
  • Podcasting: I’m now one of Tsh’s regular podcast guests, which basically means there is a record of Tsh and me having a phone call and chatting it up about writing, parenting, and Friends once every six weeks. It’s more fancy than that because we don’t use regular phones we use microphones. Actually, if you have seen the microphone we use, you would call it a macrophone. Because it is huge, people. The podcast won’t change your life, but it makes folding the towels more interesting, no? 

podcast mic

It’s backwards here, but you get the idea.

  • Book 3 Update: I’ve been working on my first round of edits for book number 3, what has affectionately become known as The Art Book. That isn’t actually the title but among friends, that’s what we call it. We finished the cover (!!) and I can’t wait to show you that. Soon!

small group at the nester's

  • Readings for Lent and Easter: I will be reading Bread and Wine during the season. It’s a collection of writings by some of our favorite writers: C.S. Lewis, Henri Nouwen, G.K. Chesterton, Amy Carmichael and many others.
  • Footer: We’ve added stuff to the footer! When a blog has no side bar you learn to cram stuff into the footer. As we have now done.

What about you? Any fun updates? Great dinners you’ve made lately? Favorite blog post you’ve read? New design? Put on your Al Roker hat and tell us what’s happening in your neck of the woods.

Artists & Influencers :: they’re teaching me about church

I don’t remember a time in my life when we didn’t go to church. Growing up, it was always a Baptist church until high school when my parents decided it was time to move on from where we were for reasons that I never quite knew because I was in high school and what did I care?

They chose a small church with the word “evangelical” in the name. When I told one of my girlfriends from the Baptist church that we were now going to an evangelical church down the road, her eyes got big but she didn’t say anything.

I later learned she didn’t know what the word “evangelical” meant and assumed our entire family had joined a cult.

My husband and I have been married over 12 years and for all of that time, he’s been a pastor at two different non-denominational churches.

I’m thankful the churches we’ve worked at are both churches we would have probably gone to anyway.

But I’ve recently become aware that we’ve never chosen a church as a married couple the way most people choose churches. We’ve basically been paid to go to church.

That sounds harsh, but I don’t mean it to be so. I simply mean to tell you that my idea of church – both as an organization and as a body of people – is seen through the filter of being married to a man who works at one.

Just like any other job, it can be both delightful and maddening. Sometimes both at the same time.

This past year, my husband and I have done a lot of thinking and praying about church – what it means, why we love it, and why we sometimes don’t.

Here are some of the artists and influencers who are teaching me about church these days:

1. Sarah Bessey.

I’ve never met Sarah, but the more I read of her, the more I want to. She writes of a time when she was “a mega-church refugee, a burned out ministry wife, a doubter, a questioner, a people-pleaser, a tired performer, a new seeker all over again.”

In her own words:

“I needed Lectio Divina, a labyrinth, liturgy, and the Jesus Prayer, I needed my Bible, and my friend Tez in Australia, and I needed the Book of Common Prayer. I needed the established theologians, and poets, and the up-and-coming bold bloggers, I needed the emerging church, and now I need my little community Vineyard.

I need happy-clappy Jesus music, and I need the old hymns I sing into the cavern of the bathtub while I wash these small tiny souls in my care, and I need Mumford and Sons, too . . . I need it all, still, always, I hold it all inside.”

She is teaching me on new levels what I have always strongly suspected is true: there isn’t only one exactly right way to be a Christian. There isn’t one right way to be a woman. And there isn’t only one right way to have church.

There is the Church, the body of Christ. And he is

“…bigger and bolder, more lovely, in the wilderness, than I’d ever known or expected if I’d remained only in my one little camp. It was my crossing camp lines through reading, conversation, friendship, showing up to listen, that kept me. I’m all of it, I think it’s mismatched and holy and beautiful.”

These excerpts are from a post Sarah wrote for Prodigal Magazine: In Defense of the Cafeteria.

2. Dr. Larry Crabb.

Remember when I went away for a week back in October during my Hush series? And remember how I didn’t tell you where I was going?

I went to Colorado Springs to take a week long course with Dr. Larry Crabb. Now you know.

I’m reading one of his books now called Real Church: Does it exist? Can I find it? In it, he admits he doesn’t like going to church. But he isn’t without hope, and so he casts vision for the direction in which he heads.

“I’m not always convinced I’ve done the right thing, but I’ve pretty much jumped ship, and with a few friends (actually quite a few, a growing number) I’m paddling a small lifeboat in what I think is a different direction from where most churches are heading.

I think I’m moving now in a direction more in line with where the Spirit is heading, toward eternal truth that spiritually forms and relationally connects and culturally engages, all as part of a wonderful love story.”

Spiritual formation.

Relational connection.

Cultural engagement.

A compelling love story.

And the Spirit within me is moved with life and hope and longing for this.

3. Our small group.

Our small group time is one of the places we have the kinds of conversations filled with half-ideas and whole hearted questions. My husband and I have had arguments right there in the middle of small group. They’ve seen me cry like a crazy woman, and I’ve seen them do it, too. We’ve grieved together over miscarriages and adoptions, celebrated babies and new houses, and lived the everyday kind of faith.

These two couples are the real. We all have kids and our time together isn’t as consistent as any of us want it to be. But when we get together, we lean in close to Christ and to each other, and we listen to how the Spirit might be moving.

Those two couples are teaching me about church.

4. Peter and John.

I’ve been spending some time in the book of Acts:

“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.”  –Acts 4:13

Do I have this kind of courage, the kind that doesn’t come from me? Have we, as a church, been with Jesus? Can anybody tell?

I could think on this verse for a very long time.

***

This is a post in a series called Artists & Influencers. Here are the other posts in the series so far:

I’m linking up this post with Christine over at Grace Covers Me as she releases her new book, The Church Planting Wife: Help and Hope for Her Heart

From January 30 – February 4, she’ll be collecting heart stories from women about church planting and ministry.

Maybe you’ll want to share your own, or at least check out some of the stories women are sharing over at Christine’s place. If you are in ministry, I’m sure they will be encouraging reads!

Who is teaching you about church?

seven reasons why I can’t keep my eyes dry

A big week. Thanks for being awesome and supportive and putting up with me and my big self talking about the new book. I’m feeling small and thankful and emotional. Here are some reasons why, besides the obvious stuff.

1. Friday Night Lights is over. It’s been over for nearly two years for normal people. But I’ve been waiting to watch it on Netflix because I didn’t want it to end. This week I finally said goodbye to Tami and Coach Taylor and Tim Riggins and Buddy Garrity. It’s sad is what it is.

2. Annie Downs wrote a book. I spent some time with Annie this past weekend. Her book and my book released on the same day for the same audience and can I just be very honest with you? We are technically competitors. But it doesn’t feel that way. At all. The truth is, I’d rather do this with her than without her.

You’ve heard me talk about her book. It’s called Perfectly Unique and y’all? Annie is. She is all kinds of crazy brave and courageous without being obnoxious about it. She has a sweet mix of funny and normal and faith. She is a true friend and a great writer. So I’ve been thankful for her, for the unique relationship we have as writers of books for teen girls. It’s a gift to have a partner in this. Buy her book. And then? Read her letter to her teenage self. It is exquisite.

3. I’ve been thinking through things about church, about the shape of our souls, the beauty of community, the sacredness of truth. Lately, I feel like I’m changing a little everyday. It hurts and also is lovely. The Man and I pray together every morning and there’s something about love, coffee, prayer, and front porch sitting that gets me all teary and thankful.

4. My sixteen year old self needed a lot of tenderness and I didn’t realize it. I wrote a letter to her and I tried to be as honest as I could, to put myself back in that time and feel all of those emotions. It worked. I am a hot mess. And also?

5. Reading other people’s letters is slaying me. I still can’t tell why yet. Even the funny ones are bringing out weird emotion in me that I didn’t expect, can’t explain, and won’t try to.

6. On the Shores by Melissa Helser and Johnathan David Helser. First of all, they were so gracious to let us use their song for the Graceful video (by the way, the video was directed by Jason Windsor and was awesome). This song is powerful and living and every time she sings hallelujah, I have to raise up my hands.

7. The twins have made up a language. It’s ridiculous and awesome and just sounds like a lot of z’s. But they are 8 and they have their own language that they understand. I watch them and I am overcome with emotion, thankful they have a person, a sister. A gift.

What is something bringing out weird emotion in you lately?

graceful for young womenStill writing those letters. If you would like to join in, we would love to read it. Simply write it on your own blog and come here this Friday, September 14 to link up. Here are all the details. Some of my favorite writers who are writing letters today:

Annie Downs – I linked to it up there but I’m putting it down here because I don’t want you to miss it.

Stephen Martin – I love Stephen’s writing and his letter does not disappoint (you should check out his book, too) And also I feel kind of awesome that four men agreed to write letters. Stephen is one of them.

Mary DeMuth – Mary is an early mentor of mine. I’m thankful for her and her willingness to join in.

Kristen Strong – She read Sweet Valley High books as a teenager. Automatically love her. Her writing is lovely and kind.

Gary Morland – My dad wrote a letter. He is also a man. You can learn a lot about your family by having them write letters to themselves.

what’s it like to be an introverted woman in church circles?

Today I’m happy to have Adam McHugh join us here. He is the author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. He is also a Presbyterian pastor, spiritual director, and a hospice chaplain. And he is a better public speaker than you might expect. He is writing a second book called The Listening Life (a book we’ll have to wait until 2013 to read). You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog Introverted Church. I’m honored to serve as the hostess for Adam’s official last guest post on introversion, ever. Take it away, Adam.

I have been talking about introversion and church for so long that I have developed what I call my “introvert stump speech.” Here’s how it kicks off:

Let me paint you a picture of someone who might be held up as the very model of faith in many Christian communities. Imagine a person who is highly social and gregarious, someone with an overt passion, who finds it easy to share her faith with strangers, who is expressive and enthusiastic and transparent, someone who participates in a wide variety of activities, who knows tons of people, who eagerly invites people into her space, who quickly assumes leadership responsibilities, and who wears her faith on her sleeve.

Such a person would be highly praised in most churches, right? Churches would have a bidding war over her. If we met someone like that, we might be inclined to say that she is the epitome of faithfulness, that she really understands what it means to follow Jesus. And it is likely true that you would be describing a beautifully faithful person; however, you would also be describing a very extroverted person.

I chose the female pronoun “she” in that talk in order to be inclusive, but as I think about it, the gender issue raises another question for me. Is introversion and extroversion perceived differently among women than it is among men? I have been talking for several years about the “extrovert ideal” that pervades much of our broader culture, but I wonder if it is an even more acute issue for introverted women than for introverted men?

There is a type of introverted man in our society who is still heralded: the strong, silent type. Perhaps he is more common in older generations, but he still shows up among younger men that I know too. He keeps his emotions and his opinions close to the vest, yet he is perceived as a strong and influential leader. He is rugged, individualistic, thoughtful, a good provider, his own man, a little mysterious – just enough so that women think they can change him. He is a rock in stormy seas. But enough about me.

As far as I know, there is no female equivalent to the strong, silent man. I’m wading into uncertain waters here, but my sense is that a woman who is quiet, less forthcoming about her emotions and inner world, and less eager to participate will be perceived as standoffish or stuck up. If you’re the mother of a pre-schooler and you’re not sure whether you want to join MOPS because of inevitable social exhaustion that will ensue, then you’re in danger of becoming a pariah.

To be honest, I am constantly amazed at the social capacities that women have. Last weekend my wife graduated with her MBA, and I played the role of the proud husband, following her around at the reception and meeting all her friends. I witnessed a 25 minute conversation between my wife and one of her good friends, in which they discussed life, relationships, pets, books, interior design, families, food, and the future.

At the end of this conversation, my wife’s friend said, “Well, we should have dinner soon and catch up.” WHAT?? You’ve covered more topics in this conversation that I have ever discussed with my friends, in all our cumulative conversations since college, and you don’t feel like you’re caught up? If I talked about that much with one of my friends, it’s possible we would not feel a need to talk again, ever.

But such is the wild and wonderful world of female social dynamics. From my outsider perspective, it seems like an incredibly extroverted world, and I have to wonder what it’s like to be an introvert in such a relational culture. So, Emily’s readers, fill me in. What is it like to be an introverted woman in church circles, PTA circles, and any other social circles you participate in?  

We would love to hear your thoughts on that. As a thank you for adding your voice to the conversation, Adam has a couple of copies of his book to giveaway to  a few commenters. I am reading Introverts in the Church slowly and am about half-way through. He did an excellent job with it and it’s not one to rush through. We’ll notify the winners Monday, June 11.

are you an open minister or an opinion manager?

For the ten years we’ve been married, my husband has worked as a youth pastor. In youth ministry years, that’s practically a lifetime. And if you don’t already know him in real life, then whether you admit it or not, you already have an idea of what he might be like. I know you do.

It’s true, we fit many of the stereotypes a couple in ministry might have: I went to Bible college, he went to seminary. I am a sign language interpreter turned author.  He reads commentaries for leisure. We have three kids, a dog, and a white picket fence. It’s mildly ridiculous.

But there are other ways in which we are perhaps nothing like what you might think. Yesterday we talked about how, in many ways, we always think we are the complex and complicated ones and they (whoever they are) are the ones who need to adjust, grow, open their minds. We’re defined by God, but other people have their opinions as well. For those of us in ministry (or anyone, really), how much do we allow their opinions to matter to us?

I was asked to write for Ed Stetzer’s Thursday is for Thinkers spot over at his LifeWay research blog, and let’s just go ahead and state the obvious, I’m not nearly smart enough to post over there. Seriously, I scored way low on the Myers Briggs Thinker scale (Feeler all the way) and also, way low on the SAT back in high school. But we don’t need to talk about that. Needless to say, it’s humbling to be there and I would be ever so thrilled to have you join me. (Read, please join me). The post will go live at 11 EST – would love to have you enter into this conversation.