Thursday, November 6

5 Stories that Answer Your Question About My Church

A student of mine, finally breaking past that professor-student barrier, casually asks.  A friend tosses the question out over dinner, months absent from my weekly routine now sitting accepted at my side with bowls of soup and love.  And an acquaintance at the market, someone from the old story caught off-guard, wants to be polite.  We get the question from diverse places, "How is the church plant going?" And to that question I never know what to say because I think the question is really a different one all together.  How is it thriving in my soul?  How is it changing the way I experience God?  How is it a place you might venture into?  

We are planting a church, just a year old this week, in our town, or more specifically from our living room.  It's a small venture at the moment and yet in every way, as C.S. Lewis says, "The inside is bigger than the outside."

When we're asked, "How is it going?" or, "What kind of church are you starting?" we don't share numbers or dates, measures that are irrelevant to our present vision. We don't give locations and times as if we're only the church part-time in certain places.  We tell you stories.

As we join with the greater narrative of God, that one begun 'in the beginning' to rescue and restore all things, we find that delineating the church from the other domains of our life becomes an impossible surgery to perform. We find that the answers about our impact and mission and viability are intermixed with our accounts of common, daily life with neighbors and with our group and with the 'other.' These are our stories that will answer your question.


After I released my students from class on Monday, my life-giving part-time job mentoring future shepherds, I stopped in at the tea shop where my friend works.  Her swearing-in to the state bar was that afternoon and acknowledging important days can be done with a surprise hug. We had walked with her during her last stressful semester of law school. She'd arrive for core group with her notes in hand, having her husband quiz her on the drive over. I'd helped her find a space in the seminary library for a change of scenery during her bar studies.  We'd prayed together the night before the results came out and rejoiced, distracted and dizzy, in the morning to see her name on that laudable list. And Monday was the day her title would change.

The church comes into your labor to share the joy of what's coming.

When I was done working that Thursday during my sons' fall break I went to my friend's home where they were playing.  But instead of rounding them up to go with "thank yous" and "I appreciate its," I sat down in the chair and gathered her small daughter up in my lap and we talked about the kitties in the window.  My friend crept out on her errand while I was present with the kids, familiar and usual; they never knew she was gone.  We were trading off that day: my sons with her while I worked a few hours and then I stayed with all while she met with a teacher. A year ago the distance between our homes wouldn't have allowed that. But this summer they moved into our neighborhood.

The church moves into the neighborhood and splits the load of life.

During a weekend in May we gathered in an ample mountain home and dreamed.  We, our kids, and our dogs spilled over the sofas in comfortable company and made welcoming lists upon which no scribbled idea was bad. We talked of missional ventures, finding the acute suffering, relational ideals and worship. Thereto, sorry and shy, we named what we were not drawn to and nearly whispered it, the elderly.  Yet, four months later when we picked up steam in our service to the community, we gathered at a trailer park and painted the eaves of the smiling gray woman, pulled the weeds of the retired shuffling feet, cleaned the gutters and bagged the leaves where those looking through the windows grow dim. And then we returned again. And soon we'll serve them Thanksgiving dinner.

The church lets Jesus lead them where they are afraid to go.

When she saw the pain in my eyes and the fear of the future she said, "We'll take care of you." For months she did just that with income and presence. Sometimes it looks like she's commanding the universe to bend to her will but when we kill our assumptions and move into the depths of her heart we see she's running for her life after Jesus. She lined up work and a partner for my husband.  Then took her hands off and let it roll.  When that partnership changed, another friend took the reigns.  His faithful pledge to our community sprang forth in an interview and bloomed into a new job for my husband. And now these friends, together, knowingly smile at their creativity that elicited the income that frees us to do the beloved work, that which we can't not do.

The church enters the tension to give food to the hungry and set captives free.

When we met him, he was rough around the edges but fighting for a different kind of life. The record of his life was long with rap sheets and alarming detentions.  But friends said, "God has other plans for him." So we stuck close for this entire year; listening with accepting ears, offering affirming words, working alongside his frustration and doubt, living lives of compassion he could receive.  The other day, he asked a question far more important than any other we've received so far. "Is there room in your church for someone like me?" Yes. And there's room in the Kingdom of Jesus too.

The church intentionally lives so that others will ask.


I love that you ask me how my church is going, but I know that you're really asking, cloaked and curious. "How is your life with God?"  My answer is this: come with us and give yourselves to the stories and then you'll know just how much bigger is the inside than the outside.

Sunday, November 2

The Tricky Path of Memory

My memory from a year I had only two sons:

One in 3T cinched-waist painters-pants and the other in red, shiny rainboots better known as 'bike breaks,' they hurried through our last school things: one last link on the paper chain of every book we'd read, the final spelling test and diorama and times-table quiz.  We raced to put the markers in the box, the scraps in the trash, the final folders in their pockets.  We checked the marble jar, cheering for our success, and grabbed the last prizes from the exhausted treasure box.  And then we turned out the light and jumped down the stairs to summer.

Lifting the lid off the sandbox was summer's grand opening event. The cool grit sifted through their tender fingers, shovels flying to dig the tunnel, crash the load, scatter the granules all around.  I put my feet on the deck rail, and penned in my journal what freedom felt like: like jumping in a lake, like standing in a breeze, like love. 

That memory is wrong. 

Because I have this habit of writing down our days I looked back at the journal from that time, that very day.  And very little of it was true. 

The true story:  Youngest Son had woken up sick that morning, throwing up as my husband left the house for the job that killed his soul.  I cleaned the mess, put him back in bed and began studies with Oldest Son.  As we neared the finish, Youngest awoke and I soothed him with a cartoon. Oldest was finishing up some writing, but wanted to watch too.  And there was an explosion over the injustice of, "no." Youngest sipped some water, tossed it back up, rocked. And I sat encumbered with the duty of love: hold one for comfort, hold the other for character.

Slowly, the work was finished.  Oldest made his own lunch.  Youngest went back to sleep.  And later, when his stomach was steady, bananas and water and bread, we ventured outside to the sandbox.  We did sit out there for two hours.  We did sing over summer.  But it wasn't with anticipation. It was with relief. 


It's funny how our memories fade, how we create the pasts in our minds that we wish we'd had.  How we tell stories of joy and yet we forget that what brought the joy on was some level of grief.  None of us just hops from joy to joy to joy.  We experience it staccatoed between the hours of tedious toil.  First one, then the other.  But the photo in our mind only remembers the smiles. 

Perhaps that's the grace of God; the suffering's been consoled so let's rejoice in that. We made it through another tantrum, another hard discussion, another stretching strain.  Feel that?  Relief. Gratitude. Hope.

This summer is now a memory.  And I wrote very little, recorded few moments.  I pushed through it with tenacity and resolve. I remember some remarkable moments: one boy shaving, one boy pitching, one boy Scouting, loud and loose.

They pushed themselves into new places, because I had to be somewhere else; a mother working for pay for the first time in their lives. There were days of shooing and shushing and day camps to give them the attention I couldn't spare.  What this summer left me with were a few small but necessary paychecks -- food in the fridge and gas in the car -- and a void in that place where mother is printed first over my heart.

The pains of change are never gentle. There's a reason to call transition the hardest point in birthing a human; transition creates pain.  When Oldest was coming hard and fast I groaned to my husband that I wanted to just go home.  He wiped my forehead and said, "You can't."  As the baby needs to come out, so our new life needs to emerge, young and incomplete but so full of everything that's possible.

I wonder what my future self will remember? I wonder what my memory will record?  What in the God-hewn story of the summer they were 15 and 12 and 7 will spring forth as waxing, winsome, or worthy?

  • Those moments in film school when 15 learned teamwork and editing and tact and won the prize for his efforts. 
  • Those days in engineering when 12 found a new love to pursue this year and beyond.  
  • Those times in camp when 7 got on a bus, helped a new friend, joined a group, spoke his needs. 

Sometimes the mama has to decrease to see the babes ascend.

The only summer they will ever be 15 and 12 and 7 is now past.  And in the autumn I find again what they will always ever be: charismatic, confident and competent.

May my memory hold fast.  May I never forget.  The path of descent is the path of transformation.