A Church Lady Rant (or about that time I was accidentally naked in front of several semi-truck drivers)

It happened about six weeks ago. 

My boss called from Texas to tell me that a visiter from the MINISTRY OF HEALTH was coming to my office to hear about our work. She would be accompanied by the people who hold our funding (i.e. the money that pays all of our bills) and representatives from the Health Authority. My boss said “It would be great if you could host them, this is very important”.  Of course I said, though it was on my day off, though I would need to find some extra babysitting. The day before the important meeting I prepped the office, posted the posters that best illustrate our work, found some handouts they might like to see, dusted the meeting table. You know…the works. So all was looking great.

But. Then. My daughter woke up sick. Needed LOTS of me. She wanted to work in the garden so off we went.  In sweat pants. Flip Flops. Unshowered. No make up. And…somehow…we lost track of time. At 2 pm, I realized we needed to hustle if we were to pick up my son from school on time. We ran out the door.

Flip flops. Sweat pants. No make up. No shower.

We met O after school, walked to the playground, visited with some precious friends, including another pastors wife from church. 

At 3 pm we got in the car. I picked up my cell phone and a calendar alarm is going off. Isn’t that strange? What could that be?

Oh. Oh My. 

My meeting is in 30 minutes. I have two children in my car. I AM IN SWEAT PANTS. I live in the woods, if I drive all the way home and back I will miss the meeting completely. I chase my friend from church across the highway and say:

“Hey, can my kids come play for an hour, I forgot about something”.

“Of course, my kids will be thrilled”

I literally put my kids on her stairs and squealed my tires out of the driveway. I drive fast. I find myself at Marks Work Warehouse (the only clothing store on this side of town). I RUN in. Grab a dress from the rack. I pay for it without trying it on. I run to my car. I start towards the university. I stop at a red light and I take off my shirt. 

I can’t explain it.

I just did it.

It is more shocking to me than to you ok? Seriously. I don’t know what happened to my panic-stricken mind but in that moment of getting my new dress on, all I could think was “I CAN’T BELIEVE I FORGOT ABOUT THIS”.

So once I was dressed again and looked up to find my little Subaru surrounded by semi trucks terror-struck deep in my heart. “Did I just see Pastor Joel’s wife…???? No. Couldn’t be”. At least…I hope that is what everyone at Hwy 97 and Mccurdy thought.

You guys? I strode into that meeting less than five minutes late. My boss got an email from the Minister of Health telling her that isn’t it “so amazing when you get the right people in the right jobs?! Melissa is great”.

I picked up my children one hour later…they wanted to stay at my friend’s house.

SO WHY DID I TELL YOU THIS HORRIFYING TALE (it might also be awesome….my friend Alison sung me Amy Grant at a dinner party…I just heard this song for the first time and am dying) YOU ASK? Here is the point:

“Destination” churches are dying. Young people don’t believe in slick programs anymore. Driving across town to go to church DOES NOT MAKE SENSE. You need to build your community with the people with whom you are ACTUALLY doing life with. The friend I described above and I have been serving in the same ministry for almost a decade, but we did not become close friends until OUR LIVES STARTING CROSSING OVER. You can’t have genuine relationship with people you see once a month. You cannot be involved in someones life if you only see them across a busy foyer. You need to meet regularly in the nitty, gritty of life. In the school yard, the grocery store, the church service events, the small groups AND THE foyer.

I am not good at this friends. Ask anyone. I like my space. 

Some people need loads more time than I do to fall into intimacy with people…I need very little to feel like we are best friends (it makes me kind of crappy a friend, except for the fact that I am in it for life). But the truth of it is I am ready to collect my people. I want you all in one place. Those of you who are wandering, not participating anywhere, why not come build the church of our dreams? 

Or commit to your neighborhood church. I don’t care where you go actually. But it is time that church stopped being a destination to you. You do not need to go to EVERY event, that EVERY church has. You need one church. You need lots of different types of people. You need to be reminded of the beauty and the burden that is community.

I am a big believer in pendulum shifts in the church. Back and forth with the worship and the service and the evangelism and the discipleship. She swings wildly sometimes and us in service hold on tight. If the scaffolding is Jesus we will stand, if it isn’t? Well…Then we fall and start again and build up from the ground.

I’ve prayed it every year of our ministry. Every week of youth. “Lord God be ruthless with us, tear out every piece of us that hinders, collapse every aspect of us that ceases to glorify you”. You know what? He does…God help us…He does.

But it is a season to build. Will you join us? 

Fall at Willow Park is going to be amazing. Pursuit is cooking. I am excited to build something that stands time, my friends. I want to watch you get married and I want to bring you a casserole when you have a baby. I want to sit beside you when the big uglies of life strike. I want to chase Jesus with you. I want you to have my back too.

If you are a Pursuit woman….will you join us on Sunday? Sarah Bessey (one of my favorite writers and author of an important book coming out this year) is speaking and then we are just going to spend the day having picnics and getting to know each other. Think of it like you are coming for a long tea party in the woods. Its going to be adorable.

I hope you will join us; in all sorts of ways.

(Sorry to spam your life…looks like I got over my finger laryngitis)

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I See You.

Here, now, across that church foyer, that social gathering:

I see you.

I see how you struggle to fit, the way you shrink or expand depending on the audience.

I see you tying that legalism noose of religion tight on your neck, hanging yourself on the belief that nothing that looks like passion can be part of Gods plan.

I see you there. You with your cup full, wondering why you don’t get to see God making water into wine. Funny how that happens when our malt is overflowing.

I see you, the way you want to please. I see the way you care more about what people think than what is right.

I know because I’ve been you. In the space of one day I’ve been called an oppressive conservative and a raging liberal. I’ve had grown women hide their cigarettes from me, grown men question my intent.

I’ve seen you pulled along these ragged rocks too, the expectation of man. The here and now that shifts like tide, changes like a runway.

And it isn’t just the church you know.

I’ve been called an academic fraud and an intellectual in the same day.

An athlete and a sluggard.

A feminist and a submissive.

A good mom or that my kids ‘run-amuck’.

An environmentalist and a ‘ozone hole producer’.

The atheist might preach the loudest you know? They seem to have a lot to prove to themselves and the world. That says something. All those who preach with themes are struggling. This I know.

Sometimes the most virulent voices are the weakest of faith. I know. I’ve been that.

Those of us that like to live out the question…relish the exploration…we are most prone to grace-less religion when a question demands black and white. Trust me. This is an answer I can give with authority.

So here, now. I want you to know I measure my heart to the standards that don’t change.

Today. I ask for insight from those that lead me.

In this moment, I want feedback from those who I love fiercest.

The rest? With voices that chorus around us? I will hear you.

And my heart will take in the messages that are truth. Those that bring me to my knees and remind me that perhaps, my actions look different from my intent. That… my values are not seen clearly. The things that ring clear with the Truth teller…those I will hear.

But.
Otherwise? Your voice will not paralyze me. I will not cower at your vitriol.

Here now. I hang my coat with the One who sees me rightly. The One I can trust.

Linking with friends this week.

Emily, Ann, Jen, Laura, Lisa-Jo & Jennifer

There You Are

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There I am,

Throwing palm fronds like a ticker tape parade.

I like the party Jesus, when the going is easy, when the church celebrates.

I will throw down my cloak with the best of them. Let me plan the event, invite the guests.

There I am,

Kissing your cheek, though the swords are drawn and I know it.

Still though, I exchange all your promises for a bag of gold, treasure in this day.

I like the excesses Jesus. Seems there is a lot I will do to satisfy this flesh.

There I am,

Among the religious elite.

Staking claims, calling out the weak, neglecting mercy.

Tell me then who struck you down Christ? Who spit in Your face?

There I am,

Listening to the rooster squawking in the distance.

It sings a song I recognize, for all my words, still I can turn my back on You.

I’m all yours when the road is smooth, just don’t ask me to suffer, to join in your sacrifice.

There I am,

My damp hair on Your feet.

This unfaithful heart, so prone to wander,

To forget and neglect all Your most reckless blessings.

There I am,

The doubter demanding proof.

Give me the three-month recidivism rates on your miracles,

Watch me jab my filthy fingers into the gaping holes in Your hands. 

There I am,

Standing with the mockers,

Those who claim the empire and protect her against all odds.

I let their voice ring loudest, above your pained cry, I wash my hands of it.

There YOU are.

The garden is growing up around You,

The cup heavy in Your hand,  You drink it to the last drop.

You watch me the whole time. I have to look away.

Despite my magnificent failures.

Despite my betrayals and weakness.

Despite all of the ways I try to claim both kingdom come and empire now.

Still.

There

You 

Are.

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Linking with friends this Holy Week.

Emily, Ann, Jen, Laura & Jennifer

Of stables, hearts and other bloody messes…

Oh God,

When I think of the Christmas story, where  I see myself in it, I imagine myself the stable. It is a working place Lord, this heart of mine. It isn’t a place where one sits down in quiet often enough, it backs up with the muck. You know it. This heart here, it is bound to wander. Wander out into the cold of night, to leave all the peace and heat inside.
Oh Lord. How you surprised that place! Who could expect to find you there? Shouldn’t we find you in the palace somewhere? But no. You set yourself in the middle of the mess, you choose that to be the place to bend yourself to earth. How could you Lord? Live in this heart? Knowing the back and forth it sways, the extra paths it takes. The detours it chooses over your best. Still. You bend into it. You CHOOSE it. You believe it to be the only true. The stripped away of pretense. The illusions shook out. The heart, at its bloodiest, the stable at its rankest, these you choose. I still cannot fathom it. The sinner at the rocks of the bottom, the heart that looks more like the mire. You choose it. You make it home. You create it and over and over you move into it. My boy he asks me about what is BAD and I tell him the WHOLE world is Yours, You make it…and yet…everything in it we can twist into sin. All the very best gifts you gave us, we can figure a way to contort it into something that looks more like death than life.  We break it till it little resembles your purpose for it. Our worst offense Lord is what we do with the hearts you give us. Allow them to twist and shape shift into nightmares and shadow, the absence of any light.

Still. Here I wait for your surprise. For you to shock and astound and arrive. Here, this heart, that stable, the vacant and broken these you choose to embody. You Lord. YOU.

And these.

God. Be with us still.

 

Emmanuel. In this WEARY world.

 

 

Pursuit Justice is Coming…

There are not that many absolutes I know in life except this:

You are here to do good things.

When you lose the vision of what you are here for, your life becomes small, depleted, maybe even incestuous. You hang out with the same people all the time. You start looking for ways to make your own life easier. You watch out for number one. You get petty. You become the king of first world problems.
Guess what? The satisfaction in your life actually diminishes. If I can promise you nothing else, I can promise you this. You will be bored. You will be boring. I’ve watched it over and over.

The sermon on the mount,where I’ve been camped a lot these last few months, doesn’t tell us to hang out with the cool kids (even though sometimes it is more fun and often is easier). The bible tells us the opposite. Get in there.  Get your hands dirty. Love on the least.

Find out how to bring peace. Find out what justice means. Bring it.

Somehow all the complicating factors in life fall away when we are living for the right things.

Watching porn? Try and watch it again after you learn about human trafficiking…how your sisters ended up in that film…what brought her there? It becomes a different experience.

Feeling like you can’t keep up with the Joneses? Go to Haiti. Find out the Joneses are idiots for hoarding whilst people just a few hours away struggle to survive.

Feeling like you got your crap together? Go to Africa. See how together they have it and how yet, still, the seams are not meeting up.

Your little girl not doing well in school? Guess what? They get to go to school.

Trying to answer all the biggest questions? Stop it. Love your neighbor. Suddenly peace descends and you don’t have time for the trivial things that actually don’t matter. There are answers you will perhaps never make peace with. I don’t know why people suffer like they do, but I for one want to make it better.

Will you join me? Pursuit Justice is coming. We are going to read books that matter. We are going to decide how 5% of the Pursuit Live tithe is spent. We are going to serve our community. We aren’t going to be critics that drive our brothers insane. We are going to be the people of God who seek the good, the best, in every corner of this whole earth. We are going to bless the givers. Give our strength to the weak.

I don’t know what it will look like a year from now. But I hope you will be sitting with me when I find out.

(Our first Pursuit Justice will happen November 5 at 5:30 in the Hope Centre. Join us? I will write it out here too so you can join in the conversation ‘virtually’ as well)

Kick up the dust. Then wash each others feet.

“When kids grow up they face a broken world;

we need to prepare them to contend for the kingdom without fear.” (@JenHatmaker)

They poured out of the bus. Near 60 of them. Junior high boys. High on life and testosterone and each other. I would like to tell you they sat in neat rows and recited scripture to me.

They didn’t.
Instead? There were twenty odd boys in my hot tub, belching the worlds largest, cracking jokes. There were still more playing paintball with the tire rubber slingshots we bought from the roadside vendor in Kenya. Others riding mini bikes or roasting meat around the campfire.

We will send them home to you with dust streaked faces, paintball stained shirts, they will smell like fire.

This ministry we do will never be clean. We serve a God who spits in the dirt to form balm for healing. Who scratches the soil with a stick when the others throw rocks. It was almost like he warned us. Kick up the dust. Then wash each others feet. Use your tears if you must. Get it done. 

I wish life were simple. Cleaner. I wish all the kids in our youth group came from homes like yours. That they didn’t walk in with 100 pound back packs of burdens and pain, wounds gaping wide open in their chests. Sometimes we see it from across the room, those wounds so deep they suck you in.

But. So do you. So do I. Sometimes we are the ones saddling them.

Later in the night I hear a yell from the hot tub, “MAN CHALLENGE”. And a young leader says “this is the year we learn what it means to be men of integrity”. They yell again, change, and start a fire. Start singing worship songs. It was beautiful and in that moment they sparkled.

But.

They are still going to treat you badly some days and still they are going to make big mistakes this year. We will learn about the grace of God together. We will learn that the Grace walk is measured by the forward momentum from two steps back and three forward.

So yes. Expect things to get messy this year.

 

I for one wouldn’t have it any other way.

(today as I prayed for Pursuit, I realized I was thinking more about where YOU are at with Jesus than where I am at with Jesus. Forgive me. Jesus…my life is yours….Make it sparkle if you want to… also? Make me ok with the mess…mine and theirs. I trust you to sculpt it into something that matters, I submit to the potters hands).

 

Rabbit Holes and Where You Land

I jumped through a rabbit hole on the internet. I followed it down an ugly space to where horrific murders and drugs lived. I had to shut my computer and step away. I had hoped shutting it off would keep me protected. Set apart. And then…I found myself I sitting on the floor, bare legs stretched out across dirty church carpet. But, sometimes you just need to take your shoes off on holy ground. Sometimes the holiest ground exists in the ugliest places.It wasn’t the message or the worship.

It was joining with the pray-ers this morning, asking how do we step into the brokenness?
It was sitting with a sister who isn’t feeling like herself and so we spent time thinking…praying… into what ‘self’ means. It was watching my husband talk to a young man about what grief means. Giving it room to breathe.

I don’t know what you expect from church, but as I get older, as I watch life a little longer, my expectations have changed drastically. I don’t want you to tell me how to be fulfilled. I don’t want you to glitter and sparkle and tell me how happy you are, how perfect your life.

I want to hear you say…I am broken…Jesus makes me feel like I might stay all together in one piece.

I want to hear you say…I am joining in the work of HIS redemption. How can I stand beside you and make you feel more whole?

I want to hear you say…Life isn’t what I thought it would be…and STILL…I am finding HIS JOY in it.

I want you to say…Church isn’t about what I can get. It is about what HE gave and about how I can also learn to be a giver.

Church…in the midst of this very broken world…a wounded bunch…open to more wounded souls…walking each other home.