No one told me that planting a church would be this hard. Actually, everyone told me, but I didn’t understand what they were saying. I saw the possibility. I saw the need. I saw the opportunity to reach people no one else was reaching, and the open door to establish a local church where we could come together and find freedom and hope in Christ, even if that often looked more like a wrestling match than a prayer circle. We were going to create space to ask questions and be different. We didn’t have the language at the time, but ultimately, we were going to cultivate environments where people could belong before they believe. (Thank you, Jeff Henderson, for supplying the language and demonstrating the heart for that idea.) We were going to take off our boat shoes and walk on the water.
No one could have prepared me for all of the relationships I would lose – the people who would start with me and believe with me and work with me, but with time, move away for one reason or another.
I remember all of the people who cautioned that this would be hard on my marriage. My friends, someday I will write a book on the miracle that is my marriage to Clark – a marriage that is holding together and growing stronger despite all of the times it probably should have, and almost did, fall apart. Our walls could tell stories, many of which need to be shared in the right time and place to help see others through their darkest moments. For now, I just want to say publicly and loudly, thank you, Clark, for never giving up, for showing up when it was hard, and being the man who consistently goes to God with me and for me.
I was told that my job in planting a church would be to set, maintain, and protect the vision. I was given the illustration of a train boarding in Kansas that I knew was supposed to go to New York. Plenty of people would want to stop and hang out when we reached the first place that was a little more populated and offered some creature comforts and predictability, but I was supposed to make sure the train kept moving. Some people would see Chicago as an easier possibility as the ride got longer and space got tighter, but I was supposed to remember that the destination wasn’t Chicago and the goal wasn’t comfort and keep the train moving. Other people would make it the whole way to New York and realize they didn’t like how it felt, how many other people were there who didn’t make the journey but wanted to join the party, how it didn’t look like they had pictured it, but I was supposed to shout the walls down anyway, and despite all of my fears and my own weariness, remind everyone we were sent for such a time, and for such a place, and for such a people as this.
No one told me that with the planting there also comes the uprooting. Sometimes the very seeds that got you started become the ones holding you back from the places God is asking you to go. And it doesn’t mean the seeds weren’t good, or even that they went bad, simply that there is a time for everything.
Ashley Ridge Church started as a missional congregation of the United Methodist Church with me, an ordained UMC elder, as its pastor. We were given a challenge to start a different kind of church, and in the process, God gave us a clear vision for what that church should be – a church that believes we’re better together (with God, with each other, and with the world). And so, we relentlessly do everything we can to find people who are going it alone and we make our table bigger so they know they have a seat, a place, an identity, and a purpose. We share life at the table (in circles), and a lot of times it’s messy – mostly because we have a TON of kids. But, if we’re being honest, the kids are simply the outward messiness that covers for the inward messiness we’re all carrying. The kids are the permission we often need as adults to learn things again, or maybe for the first time, things we thought we were supposed to already know or believe and were ashamed to admit we didn’t. Sometimes I get tired of cleaning up for the next meal, but mostly I could just ugly cry for days at the beautiful mess of people who pull up chairs beside each other day-after-day, desperate for what only God can give. And when we show up, God reminds us He never left and He’s eager to give us exactly what we need.
We’ve reached a place in our journey where this living thing God is growing no longer fits within the structure of the United Methodist Church. We didn’t intend for that to happen, and it’s not because one is right and the other is wrong, but in the process of creating something different, we created something different. So, maybe it is exactly what everyone intended, just now how we thought it would look. In recent months, we’ve been asked to adapt what we’re doing to make it fit, but the truth is, we couldn’t do it even if we wanted to. God is leading us into unchartered territory and doing things we can’t describe and certainly for which we can’t take credit.
For some time, we had hoped to keep everyone happy and make everything fit together in the more obvious ways (recovering people-pleaser, right here, raising my hand high), but God has made it clear that we have to trust Him with both the planting and the uprooting. And so, Ashley Ridge Church will not be chartering as a United Methodist Church, but instead continuing on our journey, trusting God for what is next. And I will be giving up my credentials as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, trusting that my call has not changed, but the location has shifted. And while there is some sadness in this change, our faith reminds us that what holds us together is still so much greater than the things that seem to separate us. We really do need each other.
I am incredibly grateful for our mother church, Bethany United Methodist, and their willingness to help start something different, and also their ongoing ministry that reaches and touches so many lives in our community. The United Methodist Church is in the midst of a lot of changes and uncertainty, and whatever happens, I believe we should celebrate the ministry and work that has been done that has given birth to what will come next. The Church as a whole was and is God’s idea. It is imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people, but God hasn’t given up on it, and we won’t either.
I just turned 36 years old. Today, actually. That rounds up to 40, but no one else should point out that detail to me because it would seem I’m a little sensitive to the math.
I am 36. Eight years ago, I was 28. I miss the age of 28 because I knew everything then. And when you know everything, you’re not afraid of anything. Words like “hard,” and “challenge” feel like an invitation to be awesome, which, of course, we all want to be.
Now I’m 36. I know so much less than I did when I was 28. It’s funny how that works. But even while I know less, I understand so much more.
I understand that hard things leave scars – not the cool ones you show off to your friends, but the ones that still hurt when you press on them, or when the wind blows, or even when you simply remember they’re there. I understand the expression “ride or die” not just as a hip way to describe your best friends, but as a means of identifying the precious few who will stand with you, in front of you, beside you, and behind you through ALL THE THINGS. I understand grace – not as a nice, theological concept – but as the only explanation for why marriage is possible and parenting is survivable and the Church still exists. I understand that showing up for people matters a whole lot more than having all, or any, of the answers.
I’m not ashamed of my scars – I earned every one of them and I know there will be more. I’m not sad about getting older – it turns out there really is wisdom that comes with age and experience.
And so, here’s to another year of knowing less and understanding more…together…because it’s better that way!
I grew up in a family that ate dinner together. Not every night, but most nights. Sometimes the meal was homemade, and sometimes it was pizza at 10pm as we ran in the door from after school activities, but we made it to the table.
As an adult, and especially as a parent, I’ve decided that time spent at the table is the special sauce. Our kids are at that age where going out to dinner is an exercise in exhaustion, frustration and, often, public humiliation (ours, not theirs – they are still oblivious to the fact that some people might frown on eating the food once it has hit the floor). But at home, table time means silliness and laughter, excerpts from our days spent primarily in four different places, and even tired silence, the kind that’s acceptable when you’re with your people and you don’t have to pretend to be or have more than you do.
Beyond table time with my family of four, one of my great joys is making the table bigger as often as possible. I love having people at our house and around our table. I love standing around the kitchen island on a Friday night with five of the most unhealthy dips ever concocted, an obscenely big bowl of tortilla chips, and the friends and family that make up the most incredible “framily” imaginable. Our children turn into a loud, untamed herd, but it doesn’t faze us because they’re having fun and we’re being so loud ourselves that we haven’t actually noticed.
A little over two years ago our church launched a ministry called “Expanding the Table.” At the heart of the ministry is a food truck, painted loudly in true food truck fashion, that goes out into different parts of our community three nights a week to serve free meals to whomever needs one.
To date, we’ve served well over 12,000 meals, but the joy has been watching our “table,” and consequently, our family, get bigger and bigger as we find ourselves at picnic tables, tailgate tables, and benches with neighbors in our community we may not have met otherwise. Our table includes kids, who much like our own, don’t sit still for long, but they devour grilled cheese sandwiches and look for the closest group of adults who will play soccer and kickball with them. Our table includes people still caught in the clutches of alcoholism and drug addiction, but sitting around the table we experience the gift of mutual encouragement to keep going, keep trying, and keep hoping for better days.
Family is complicated and often messy, but sharing our lives with each other is a gift. And because God says there’s room at His table for everyone – we get to keep inviting without feeling the need to protect what is our own. Jesus said there’s enough to go around. And so, we keep making the table bigger. We refuse to eat alone, and do everything we can to make sure others aren’t eating alone. And somehow, far beyond the food, our family meals give us strength for whatever is next.
What do your family meals look like? I’d love to hear some of your stories!
And if you’d like to know more about Expanding the Table, or if you’re local and you’d like to volunteer, check out expandingthetable.com.
Tonight, my dad “officially” retires from his 40+ years of ordained ministry, serving as a pastor in the local church. I use the air quotes because he not only has a full-time ministry position he’s starting in July, but also because I firmly believe some of his very best year of ministry, professionally and otherwise, are still ahead. Nevertheless, there are too many moments we miss marking that should not be missed.
For more than 40 years, my dad has worked tirelessly and passionately to make Jesus known and to equip the people of God for real, everyday, life-giving ministry in the world. It is quite simply, remarkable.
The first time the taunt “pastor’s kid” was directed at me was during recess in elementary school. One of the boys (who, coincidentally, I had just beaten in a foot race) began to chant “pastor’s kid, pastor’s kid” while we circled on the merry-go-round. I remember being confused as to why that was an insult. I looked back at him and began chanting “accountant’s kid, accountant’s kid,” as I stuck out my tongue. Clearly, I did not yet understand the implications of having Jesus in my heart.
As I got older, I began to understand why “pastor’s kid” was its own category. I became less oblivious to the fish bowl we were living in, and I would be lying to say there weren’t moments I didn’t resent it. For example, my parents wouldn’t let us go to the movies on Sunday afternoons. It wasn’t because they thought movies were a sin, or that we were fervently observing the sabbath. It was mostly because other people might see us and judge the fact that we weren’t observing the sabbath in the ways they thought we should. We argued that the only people who would see us were people who were also at the movies (someone please say, “amen”), but the issue was never one of logic. It was expectation, judgment, and the standards people didn’t abide by yet expected their pastor and his family to fill.
And still, somehow (and lets give my mom A LOT of credit here), my sister and I survived, and today we both claim a firm faith in Christ as the Lord of our lives, and we both still love the Church and believe in the Church, effectively beating the pastor’s kid odds. I once heard Andy Stanley say that he would hire anyone who applied to be on his staff who was a pastor’s kid because it meant they knew how ugly the Church could be and still had the faith to see why Jesus established it as the hope of the world and the desire to fight for it.
My sister and I proudly carry the moniker of “pastor’s kids” and that is because of the pastor whose kids we are. My dad didn’t just show up Sunday after Sunday and talk about a God who was love, and a Savior who laid down his life for us. My dad showed up on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and all of the days at home and at work and at the ball fields and all of the places and lived his life as though those things are true. He gave his best, pushed for more from everyone around him, and sacrificed himself again and again and again so that people would know God is with us and for us.
I never imagined I would follow my dad’s footsteps into vocational ministry. It wasn’t because I thought what he did seemed miserable, it was because it seemed ordinary. As kids, our parents taught us to work hard. They told us we were blessed to be a blessing, and that “to whom much is given, much is expected.” My sister and I grew up making plans and expecting to RULE THE WORLD (with compassion, grace and service, of course).We wanted to live extraordinary lives – we just didn’t realize the life we were already part of was anything but ordinary.
We didn’t know yet that not everyone grows up in a home where prayer is constant, unconditional love is practiced, and joy is found in all things. More to the point, we didn’t know that everyone’s parents didn’t take calls at all hours of the day and night because in ministry there are no such things as “office hours.” We didn’t understand when we saw our dad graduate with his doctorate that he had been up studying and writing late at night in addition to pastoring and leading a growing church, and showing up at all of our games and activities. We missed the fact that our mom worked a full-time job as a special education teacher’s assistant in addition to the hours and hours she volunteered at the church, directing VBS, putting together prayer ministries, leading small groups, filling in for the nursery when no one else showed up, directing the church choir (and this list could go on for a loooong time). And, she did all that because, even though no one ever ordained her, she also said yes over 40 years ago to God’s call on her life to ministry in the church. Frankly, we didn’t realize that eating spaghetti a few times a week wasn’t normal. We had no idea it was also because it was cheap (and a family favorite). All we knew was that we had everything we ever needed and somehow my parents always had more to give to our church, and to whomever they saw in need. Foolishly, blindly, my sister and I grew up in a home where this was ordinary.
We’re older now. We’ve seen more of the world. We’re married. We have kids. I am in my 11th year of full-time commissioned/ordained ministry, and my 8th year as a lead pastor. My sister is basically ruling the business world and sharing Jesus with everyone around her. And now, we know. Our dad and our mom are extraordinary.
And so, even with years of ministry left and more to celebrate and the finish line nowhere actually in sight, this is me, giving you a “standing O” today, Dad. I could have written this privately in a card, but it deserves to be noted publicly (and, I never remember to get cards in the mail in time – sorry, mom 😉
Dad, you are, and have always been, my hero. Well done, good and faithful servant.
I know, right? We’ve talked about this before. But here’s the thing, I’m a starter by nature. And lately, God is forcing me to see that stopping is often as necessary as starting. Bob Goff teaches it as a discipline of quitting something every Thursday. (You can pick your own day if Thursday isn’t your thing.)
So, here’s the thing I need to stop right now. I need to stop looking around at everyone else ALL THE TIME. I spend (no, I waste) so much time looking around at what everyone else has and what everyone else is doing. I’m even adept at disguising this practice as necessary work and strategy. “I wouldn’t want to re-invent the wheel.” “Readers are leaders.” “I like to stay informed.” “I want to learn from others – you know, because we’re better together.” See how good I am at justification?
Those things are true, and even good at times, but when they are excuses for looking around more than looking at God, I’m in trouble.
Too often when I’m looking around, I’m looking to see who is doing “better” than me or “more” than me. I’m also looking to see who is doing “worse” or “less.” I’m in a full-scale comparison trap, trying to decide if I’m doing okay using everyone else as a baseline. It’s exhausting – and frustrating – frustrating because we almost never get to see someone else’s true picture. Most of the time none of us are doing as well or as poorly as we portray, even in our best attempts at honesty and transparency.
So, now what?
My attempts at kicking unhealthy habits have a 100% failure rate, when they aren’t accompanied by the insertion of a healthy habit in their place. To stop looking at everyone else, I have to look somewhere else. Insert Jenn Johnson and Bethel Music –
“God, I look to you. I won’t be overwhelmed.”
Ha, it’s so true. My looking at everyone else was leaving me overwhelmed – constantly. So much so that I’ve grown tired of using the word overwhelmed. Looking to God refuses the notion that we can be overwhelmed. He is always enough. Looking around will always fuel our need for more. But God, God is enough – He’s even more than enough (see what I did there?).
God, I look to you.
For me, this looks like some more earnest time spent reading God’s Word than reading my newsfeed. It means listening less to what other people say about me, and asking God to show me more of who He is. It means laying in the newly hung hammock in our backyard, seeing with my eyes closed. It’s amazing how much my vision improves without my eyesight.
What about you? What is God asking you to stop these days? And what are you putting in its place?
Have y’all heard about Disney World?!?!
Okay, maybe I’m behind here, but I was looking back at pictures from a family trip a couple of years ago, and the place truly is magical. But perhaps the greatest magic Disney captures, is the magic, and the power, of character –
This isn’t new and it isn’t earth-shattering, but it is true. I realize the characters at Disney are actors, and I am mixing the definitions of character, but go with me here…
When Mary Poppins emerged from her house in England (Epcot world showcase), she immediately commented on the untidiness of our queue and settled us into place with a smile and a wave of her elegantly gloved wrist.
Gaston came out from his village tavern and told my boys how nice it was to meet…for them, of course. And after ascertaining the number of eggs they eat for breakfast, he invited them to flex alongside him.
Jake met Buzz Lightyear – “for real, Mom.” And later, when we battled the Emperor Zurge on the Buzz ride, he fought hard because he was fighting for his friend Buzz.
And, oh, we had special arrangements for my nieces to meet Anna and Elsa – wow! – the magic as they discussed Sven’s carrot breath with Anna and shared a warm hug like she learned from Olaf, and the wonder as they stood enraptured as Queen Elsa swept her cape around their feet. And for just a moment, even the 10-year old trying desperately to be “one of the adults” for the trip, believed again that dreams really can come true.
The “characters” at Disney never break character and it makes ALL the difference in the Disney experience.
There is precious little in this world that is within our control, but our character is one of them. When we hold onto it, it matters. Our character gives other people a reason to believe. When we let it go (see what I did there?), it matters. The magic is broken and the effects can be devastating, not just for ourselves, but for everyone standing by.
We live in a skeptical time when there are just as many, if not more, blogs and articles written about the hidden underground of Disney, the “behind-the-scenes” that explains away the magic, as there are about the magic itself. If we are going to maintain credibility, and more importantly, if we are going to be available for God to use so that others can know Him through our lives, we have to hold onto our character.
The easiest ways to break character – gossip, lie, cheat, pretend you never make mistakes.
The best ways to maintain character – be humble, be genuine, say you’re sorry when you do something wrong.
Character is one of the best ways to help an unbelieving world believe.
How is yours holding up?
This year I picked a word. I’ve never picked a word before. I thought it was clever when other people picked a word, but I never felt like it would work for me. In the past I have made resolutions in my mind even while adamantly proclaiming that I don’t make resolutions – they are for people less resolved than me…
So, this year I picked a word. Endurance.
You see, I like new things. I thrive on change and I get bored easily. I start things. I’m a starter. I’m passionate and I make a good ignition switch. It’s why I planted a church. I think it may even be why my Dad nicknamed me Sparkey at birth and “Spark” is what has stuck even into my mid-thirties.
But sometimes, a spark isn’t what is needed. Sometimes you need to find the big log and keep it burning. (My husband and I built a fire pit in our backyard a few months ago so now I use fire lingo.)
The church I planted turns 7 years old this month. My husband and I will be married 12 years in May. I’m 8 years deep in the adventure called parenting. And a lot of days, I’m tired. Actually, I lied, I’m tired all of the days. I could have picked “Rest” as my word, and there certainly needs to be more of that, but as 2016 turned into 2017, I found myself standing in the kitchen with My husband and friends deep in conversation about life and faith and family, so much so that we missed midnight. And in the quiet first hours of the new year, I felt God push fresh air into my lungs and my spirit and the words I heard were “Keep going, there’s good stuff coming.”
So many times it’s right when we’re close to giving up that the breakthrough is right around the corner. Our enemy is whispering in our ear that we should quit, but if we choose instead to keep going…endurance.
I picked a word this year. And the word came with a verse. Paul told the early church right at the point they were starting to wonder, at a moment when I imagine they were tired and considering the merits of giving up, “The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
Maybe you need to pick a word this year too. Maybe your word is endurance too – I’m happy to share. Either way, I’d love to hear what God is speaking to you in this new year. Let’s keep going together.
I run. I’m a runner. Me and Forrest Gump, it’s what we do.
I run to relieve stress. I run to be healthy. I run because I like to eat. I run to have time alone. I run to have time with my friends. I run because I enjoy pushing myself. I run because I’m competitive. I run for the adrenaline rush when I’m done running. I run because I can. I run because I’m still that girl who will always want to lose “just five pounds.” Sometimes I run for the cute t-shirt.
If you’re a runner, most of that probably makes sense to you. If you’re not, well, you probably already stopped reading because that was a long paragraph on running.
Here’s the point – I didn’t realize I was a runner one day and then start to run. I started to run for a lot of different reasons, some good, some not, some I didn’t even understand. And somewhere along the way, I became a runner.
Faith works the same way. You just start – and by start, I mean ask questions, try it out, make friends with other people who have it, read your Bible, etc. The people who live by faith don’t do it because they woke up one morning with faith and decided to use it. They started in small ways and over time, realized their faith had grown. It’s even easier than a “couch to 5k” because you can start on the couch with a Bible app.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked the question, “How do you get faith?” or the number of times I’ve been told, “I’m just not there yet.” Just like running, if you want to be a runner, you have to run. And if you wait to run until you feel like you can be good at it, you’ll never start. If you wait until your life makes sense, it just never will.
Preacher and theologian John Wesley at one point thought he should give up preaching because he just didn’t feel like he was up to the task. He was discouraged and frustrated. (Ever been there? I have.) But a mentor/friend named Peter Boehler told him, “Preach faith until you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
And so, my encouragement for you today is to just start from wherever you are and take one step forward toward where you want to be. You will likely be surprised where you end up a few months down the road. You could be a runner too!
(Oh, and just a little trick of the trade…as a runner, I’ve discovered I’m always faster and I always go farther with a partner – you know, Better Together!)
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” ~Hebrews 12:1-2
My husband and I, both being of the somewhat chatty variety, managed to give birth to two very verbal kids. Go figure. Most of the time, this makes for great entertainment. Clark and I muffle our laughter during prayer time as our kids pray for everything under the sun and we watch the surprised faces of friends and family when our kids says they’re “so exasperated” after losing a game of Go Fish. (This is preferable to the time our 4-year old was playing Uno with his grandmother and said “dammit” when she played a Draw 4 card. #winning)
You see, the other side of the loquacious coin is when our kids wield their words as a weapon. On more than one occasion, I have felt verbally eviscerated by my 7-year old only to have the reality check that he learned it somewhere…probably somewhere as close as home…well, let’s be real, from me.
And so, one of the most frequent conversations in our home is that we can use our words in two ways, to build people up or tear people down, and we are going to actively work to use our words to build people up. Most days it works out about like this:
Build up. Tear down. Apologize. Repeat.
Since we are so clearly a work in progress, I am going to share a piece of wisdom that is not my own, but is helping me overcome the cycle day by day. It’s a prayer that a dear friend shared with me years ago and now it’s often on auto-repeat in my head. It goes like this,
“Be with my thoughts. Be with my words.”
That’s it. Two sentences. One of the simplest prayers you might ever pray, but when you trust God to answer, it may also be the prayer that changes the atmosphere around you – in your marriage, your home, your job, your church, wherever you go.
Use your words well today. At least try. I will too. It’s likely, actually certain, that someone you know could benefit greatly from being built up.
Psalm 33:5 -The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.
A wise leader recently told me to always do the math. He was talking specifically about leading through change, but I think it’s a nugget that holds wide application.
When events like the horror that happened in Orlando on Sunday occur, we feel fear and insecurity and it seems as though we are surrounded by hate. But it helps to do the math. While the act of one person filled with hate caused the deaths of 50 people (and to be clear, that is 50 people too many), the number of people who daily choose love over hate is exponentially higher. The number of people seeking peace is vastly higher than those provoking bitterness and dissension.
Lots of people are writing and sharing their thoughts in the aftermath of Orlando, and many of them more eloquently and with greater depth than I am able to in the moment. But for what it’s worth, as I cry, as I get angry, as I process, as I sit with family, friends and people in our church and community, I’m doing the math. And while evil most definitely exists, and hatred is real, the earth is FULL of the unfailing love of God being lived out everyday in the lives of so, so many.
I condemn hate, oppression and injustice in all forms that it presents itself. And my prayer this morning is that I would praise 3x more than I criticize, that I would practice patience far more than I dwell in frustration, and that I would sing loudly about the goodness and love of God so that the voices of hate that are so much fewer, don’t get to be louder.