memoir of a good Christian girl.

For my own growth, I want to explore some of what it has been like for me to grow up as a female in a Church of Christ. This is a relevant topic today and uniquely personal because I was married to a Church of Christ minister for many years. We are still married, praise God, but just the other part does not currently apply. Remember, this is my unique experience and not necessarily yours.

I grew up in a traditional Church of Christ family. My father was the spiritual leader of the family, held regular Bible studies, and had active leadership roles in church worship. My mother was everything beautiful, kind, feminine, and funny.  Our family and church life made sense. Good was good, bad was bad, and we were on the right road to heaven. Granted, I do remember being concerned that I would not be able to go to heaven if I wasn’t baptized and children were too young to make such a decision. But, I figured I would get in because my daddy was a good Christian man.

Things changed dramatically when my father died after a devastating battle with cancer. My mother was left with four children, no college degree, and “housewife” her most recent career experience. My mother remarried within two years to a non-Church of Christ man, but he was “converted” before they married. My new step-dad was very different than my dad and eventually stopped going to church because he was bothered by the hypocrisy he witnessed.

We all sort of scattered in different directions over the years trying to find meaning and comfort. I tried desperately to hold on to the things my dad taught me because I hated losing him and everything that had been familiar to me.

Needless to say, church has always been important to me and I have fought to belong in church despite feeling that for some reason it just wasn’t right anymore. I can tell you exactly how it felt when I was a teenager by describing an experience. I had my step-dad drop me off at the church we had attended when my father was alive. I was fifteen years old and shy but I longed for peace and fulfillment. I sat by myself in a church of about 200 and left by myself. A palpable sense of loss and grief poured over me. What had changed? Why wasn’t church the friendly, welcoming, safe place I remembered? I did not blame the congregation for the misfit but felt like something was wrong with me. I felt I needed to try harder and make more of an effort. I felt like it was my mom and step-dad’s fault for not taking me and participating. It was my sibling’s fault for making bad choices. It was God’s fault for taking my dad.

College was a comfort for me. I attended a Church of Christ college and it felt like I was at church camp everyday but better because people were a little less judgy and more open to questioning. I tried to be a “good girl” and be a regular church attender but struggled with the same feelings of isolation and grief. As I became more educated I learned that not only did I feel uncomfortable, but that I had the potential to make others feel uncomfortable when I allowed myself to be seen and heard. I laugh because I cannot pretend. I am not naturally blessed with certain social graces and was having trouble understanding where I fit in God’s family. I experienced belonging in academia and on the mission field. In Africa and Honduras, Christian relationships prospered and people seemed to appreciate me in all my glory.

I fell in love with Drew after we met on a mission trip in Honduras. I loved his passion for God, his commitment to church, our discussions on spiritual topics, and his accepting spirit. He was on track to be a youth minister and I was following in my dad’s footsteps trying to pursue medicine. We married our senior year and shortly moved to South Korea. We chose Korea after Drew was rejected for a youth ministry position and was working in construction. Stepping outside the comfort of our only known world narrative was terrifying and amazing.

So, yes, Drew wanted to be a minister. I had no idea what that would look like. I was terrified. Again, I thought there was something wrong with me and I needed to try harder.

After Korea, Drew accepted his first youth minister position back in the states. Did I mention I was terrified? I had to tell myself, “They are Christians; they are nice; you are okay.” We were there five years and greatly loved by the congregation. That was one of my first real church families as an adult. They loved us well and I experienced growth and healing. I must mention that during this time I still struggled with my identity in the church and bought a book entitled, Becoming a Woman Who Pleases God: A Guide to Developing Your Biblical Potential. I hate that book now. I entertained its nonsense a little too long then found my calling in nursing school and my career. Drew was interested in pursuing a career as a professor and I was all for that.

I remember the first time I attended a church where women were allowed to lead communion and stand before the congregation. I hated it. I couldn’t stop focusing on their appearance and how their voices sounded. I meanly felt like they were attention-seeking. I didn’t understand why any woman would want a leadership role in the church. But that image of women standing before a Church of Christ congregation stuck with me. I analyzed my initial reaction and found myself shallow and judgmental. I was beginning to see the outline of a narrative I had not realized existed. Pretty women were good. Nice women were good. Smart women were good when they stayed in the areas of education and the arts.

Becoming aware of this narrative prompted me to put the Church of Christ in a box. Now, I have already revealed my initial tendency towards judgmental views. I had reverted to my childhood organization of bad, good, and no in-between. My experiences as a minister’s wife further challenged my spirituality and prompted unwanted reflection. I did not want to think deeply about spiritual matters. For some reason it felt bad and it hurt. I know part of this bad feeling was guilt over not agreeing with the common beliefs in my setting. I was trapped because I was beginning to understand my beliefs but was not free or ready to show any sign of them because I didn’t want to screw things up for my husband. I was also not ready to share because the thoughts felt tainted by bitterness and sarcasm.

Drew and I had many discussions. We felt that he was doing beautiful things and there was hope for change. Avoidance and school were my safety bubbles. Again I found freedom in academia and freedom among the outcasts. People who were homeless, awkward, drug addicts, and mentally ill were my comfort. I did not know where to begin in freeing myself in the church setting.

As a girl growing up in a Church of Christ I was very confused. I remember studying scripture and genuinely wondering “Are we sure women can go to heaven?” I was asking my husband for reassurance in this…ha. In my personal experience, continuing with the tradition of limiting women in church birthed role confusion,  identity confusion, and even doubt of salvation. I think this tension is highlighted in modern day culture where women have the freedom to pursue education and leadership roles outside the church. I know my daughter at three told us she wanted to be a minister and we were like, “Oh dear! What will we do?”

Upon reflection, my personal experience has been shaped by mixed messages and stunted growth. I personally felt a strong spoken and unspoken herding towards children’s ministry (younger than middle school of course). When I spoke in these traditional settings I found that I made people uncomfortable if I did not play along in the role they assigned me.

Right now, I am in a place where I feel free. I feel open to the beauty of participating in church. Strangely enough, I feel excitement. Does this mean I think everyone should feel like me? Does this take away from all of the good experiences I had growing up in the Church of Christ? No. It is a valid and important part of my story, just not the whole story.

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stinking rich

“Grandmother is the sweetest living being I’ve ever experienced. No offense everybody.” ~my son

I am incredibly wealthy. You read that correctly. I am filthy rich, loaded, flush, BOOMING.

I am a woman of great wealth—not the usual green paper kind either so don’t get too excited.

I have the gift of a ninety-two year old woman in my life…a woman I call Grandmother.

Grandmother stands at about 4’10” and probably weighs 90 pounds. But don’t be deceived by her diminutive appearance, because within this small form lives a spirit of profound greatness and strength.

She has always kept it real. I mean Grandmother was real before it was popular to be real—before Brené Brown did her research on shame and vulnerability (research for which I am eternally grateful).

GM married my Grandaddy when she was a teenager. He was a teenager as well and was in the Navy. He is wearing his classic Navy uniform in their honeymoon picture. BE STILL MY HEART!

Aside from Navy life, Grandaddy was a cowboy. He married my Grandmother and they ranched in West Texas (not easy living folks). I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. Ranchers, especially young ranchers that are leasing a ranch and do not own it do not make that much money. So, in order to feed and clothe the family, Grandaddy took on extra work doing all sorts of physical labor while GM stayed with the FOUR children in a home in West Texas with no air conditioner.

Now that I have painted a picture I want to gift you with some of the pearls I have gathered from sitting at her feet:

Love shows up.

For me, this looked like my GM and GD driving 430 miles from their ranch outside of Sheffield to Houston, picking me and my siblings up and driving the 430 miles back to Houston. In the summer we would attend church camp WITHOUT FAIL. In the winter we would be at the ranch with 30 plus cousins, aunts, uncles and a huge tree under which EVERYONE could find a present with their name on it.

Showing up looked like regular phone calls, handwritten letters (which I still have and you can see a sample below), pats, hugs, kisses and conversations at Steak and Ale or Red Lobster where they asked questions about me and listened. Let me just tell you it feels good for someone to ask about you and actually listen. 

Love was showing up when I cheered at football games. I was the flyer because I was skinny and managed not to fall most of the time. Imagine my cowboy GD and perfectly coiffed GM sitting in the stands at Delmar Stadium in Houston, TX circa 1996 while I did the Harlem Shuffle on the field.

Did I mention the 430 mile drive AND they were ranchers? They showed up BIG time.

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Kindness is Sweet’s wiser friend.

I think sweet tells you what you want to hear while kindness firmly and unapologetically tells you what you need to hear. Kindness encourages growth. Sweet leaves a sour taste in your mouth which hopefully prompts you to go brush your teeth. Now, don’t get me wrong, sweet has its place. But, it does not stand alone well and needs the strength of kindness to highlight its worth.

Kindness is Empathy’s friend. Empathy sits with you in your pain and says, “me too” while Kindness holds your hand or strokes your hair.

Kindness invites the outsider in, befriends the lonely, sees the hurting and does something.

Kindness is the action we all so desperately need, not the sentiment of sweetness.

Love the church.

This one has not been easy for me at all.

But, GM, I don’t like church people, they can be hoity-toity, narrow minded, too quick to give unsolicited advice and JUDGY. They follow tradition and try to put Jesus in a box! Don’t church people know Jesus went right into places of discomfort and suffering?

Were I to voice this, GM would respond with no words just a look. A look that says you are part of that mess and remember the part about love and showing up? You better jump right in that mess and take full part. That is your family and that is the Bride of Christ. Alone you are nothing, but together? We are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world.

Laugh and laugh often.

Life is funny. People are funny. I am funny and hardly ever when I am trying to be. I think the ancient art of laughing at oneself is one of the cheapest and most effective forms of therapy. I am not talking about unhealthy self-deprecation where you call yourself a loser and beat yourself up. That’s not funny. I am talking about taking enjoyment in ones quirks and foibles. Fully embracing ones uniqueness and inviting others in to laugh and enjoy my hot mess. The key difference I see is viewing oneself in the light of grace.

Read your Bible and pray.

GM, to this day, wakes up around 4:00 in the morning to pray. She prays for ALL of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren AND their spouses. She prays people. It is her personal time with God, so honestly I don’t know what all she prays for, but I do know it is powerful.

I can not tell you how many memories I have of GM sharing the Bible with me. She made it a point to tell me and my siblings my Dad’s favorite Bible verse.

Isaiah 40:28-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Now, it must be relayed that my precious Dad died at the age of 36. GM always shares him with us and helps us know him.

But she is on to something with this reading your Bible business. Such a brutiful story. Now it can be rough if you get stuck in Leviticus or Numbers, but push through to the end and you will meet this God who is all-powerful and tireless in His love. This God does not leave us but literally meets us in our weakness, in our mess and tells us we are good and we are worthy.

I genuinely hope you all have been blessed with a GM like mine. I hope if you have, you recognize her for the priceless gem she is and call her on the phone or visit her as often as you can.

Sarah

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afeared

Most of us are aware that fear lies at the root of all sorts of problems in life. Stunted potential, withholding love and the sin of silence to name a few.

Well, I’m not having any of that. I want my potential fully reached, thank you very much!

Experts say taking the time to reflect and name your fear decreases its power.

So I submitted to an exercise in naming some of my fears. I stopped at 25 to spare you.

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1-Ruining my children’s lives

2-My children using public restrooms without me

3-My children not feeling that I love them

4-Never having rich authentic friendships

5-Being alive but not living

6-Dreams where you cheat on your spouse

7-Being Jude’s mom

8-Being Rowan’s mom

9-Typing while Drew is driving

10-napping while Drew is driving

11-the work it takes to have rich authentic friendships

12-not finding my voice

13-squats, lunges, burpees. WALL SQUATS

14-my feelings, jude’s feelings, rowan’s feelings, drew’s feelings, anyone else’s feelings i have to hear about

15-trust

16-toilet seats that shift slightly when you sit down giving you a nice moment of uncertainty

17-finding my voice but not using it

18-discovering through writing that I am vapid and have nothing to offer in words and am only good for an occasional sarcastic quip at dinner parties.

19-a world without coffee or wine

20-being a thoughtless and rude person that only wants to put on her jammies and read low-quality fiction because she is scared to engage in life

21-people with poor boundaries

22-yogurt with fruit chunks

23-vacuuming in a room and someone walks in behind me and says something. not cool.

24-bitter people with no verbal restraint especially when they come up to you in places like church where you might be emotionally vulnerable and share their caustic opinions. BYE FELICIA.

25-catching a firefly and holding it after its light has gone out and it becomes a regular bug, AAAAHHH, FLICK!!

Sarah

longing for more

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.

As a Christian, I have often noticed that at times I am not as excited about Jesus as I feel I should be. SHAME!!

Say, we are sitting in a Bible class taking prayer requests and others are raising their hands and asking that the world may come to know Jesus and I am like…hmmm, are they for real? Or, why am I sitting here like an empty-headed fool with a numb heart?

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.

I am often discontent with traditional church talk. I feel a need to probe and dig deeper. The simple answers do not work for me.

Granted, I know that some of this is a reflection of my dominant introverted personality which leads me to crave meaning in discussions and interactions.

But in spite of this, I think these feelings are worth exploring.

For instance, how does my loving Jesus make my life look different or feel different?

The needs of the vulnerable seem so overwhelming and my faith is too wishy-washy and immature.

How can I help others when I myself am a hot mess?

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.

When I notice this numb-heartedness I realize I am at the beginning of a spiritual struggle. These feelings are growing pains.

They are signs of life and thirst and hunger.

Praise. God.

I am leaving the life of the walking dead and entering into a life of transformation.

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Now, if you are anything like me, once you begin digging you find fear.

Fear that the need of the world is too great.

Fear that I am not enough.

Fear that a life that acknowledges and enters into others pain will leave me empty and wounded.

Henri Nouwen wrote a book for those who devote their lives to ministry, The Way of the Heart. In it, he addresses this apathy and recommends the spiritual discipline of solitude, silence, and prayer.

“It is this nothingness (in solitude) that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone. The wisdom of the desert is that the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So, we need to admit our nothingness or brokenness. For me that is the easy part. What’s next?

I think the next step after naming my need for growth is admitting that the situation is bad.

When I peep over the fence of my false Utopia, I see a lot of pain. There is a lot of need. It is not good. What next God?

“Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” Proverbs 31:9

In response to this urging by the Holy Spirit (I have no doubt) I was drawn to read a book entitled Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I will give you fair warning that this book has the potential to rip your heart out and tear it in two.

Bryan Stevenson is an American lawyer, social justice activist, a clinical professor at New York University School of Law AND he founded the Equal Justice Initiative. EJI is a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the furthest reaches of our criminal justice system.

Hmmm. I don’t know about you, but I sense the presence of Jesus in this work. (the Jesus I want to follow)

Stevenson writes, “In fact, there is a strength, a power even, in understanding brokenness, because embracing our brokenness creates a need and desire for mercy, and perhaps a corresponding need to show mercy. When you experience mercy, you learn things that are hard to learn otherwise. You see things you can’t otherwise see; you hear things you can’t otherwise hear. You begin to recognize the humanity that resides in each of us.”

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me…but let it not end with me. Help me receive your mercy and in turn give mercy freely.

Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abiyoyo

abiyoyo

My precious eight-year-old son was humming a tune the other day and said, “Mom, have you heard of Abiyoyo? It’s a real song. It’s from South Africa.”

Well, you don’t say. We then proceeded to you-tube the song and it was indeed adapted from a South African lullaby and folk story.

Abiyoyo is a sheep-eating giant who is defeated by a young boy with a ukelele, a song, and his Dad, who happens to have a smidgeon of magical powers. Dad and boy had been cast out of the village because Dad had the unfortunate habit of pranking everyone in the village. But, after the magnanimous defeat of Abiyoyo, they are welcomed back.

I am inspired by this story and song for several reasons. One, my son was taken with it enough to be singing it and to tell me about it at home, which is a big deal for him. He is not one to go on and on telling me every detail of his day. Usually, I have to exert great effort and cunning to get him to share a little.

The other element that fascinates me revolves around the nature of a folk story. Folk stories are generally understood to be transmitted by word of mouth from one generation to the next. The story may be changed in the retelling or appear in a variety of versions depending on who is relaying the tale. Thus, you could say the story is influenced by the soul or character of the storyteller.

On thinking of this and acting out an assortment of Abiyoyos with the kids, we asked ourselves what the Abiyoyos in our lives looked like. Who or what is my own personal monster or  villain?

Well, to answer that we need to reveal a few things about Abiyoyo. For starters, he has quite an appetite. He grabs up sheep and goats and pops them in his mouth.

He does not practice good personal hygiene. Pete Seeger describes him in his book, Abiyoyo, “He had long fingernails, cause he never cut them. Slobbery teeth, cause he never brushed them. Stinky feet, cause he never washed them.”

Abiyoyo has a touch of narcissism. When the boy starts playing  his ukelele and singing a song for him, Abiyoyo smiles and starts to dance because, “he had never heard a song about himself before.”

Who in our modern day lives is greedy, self-serving, and has questionable hygiene?

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Hmmm…no one immediately comes to mind.

What happens when we act out the role of Abiyoyo? How is my own unique darkness revealed when I take on the role of villain?

I am the taller than trees monster who gobbles up everything in my path. I am driven by the power of scarcity and feel I better get mine before it’s all gone. I WANT A BIGGER HOUSE, NICER CLOTHES, WHITER TEETH, FANCY VACATIONS!!!! I do not have time for the niceties of self-discipline and reflection. I am a monster driven by my immediate wants.

Now, climbing out of the pit of self-deprecation, I can allow that the above revelations are not the entire truth. I hope and believe there is power in examining our inner monsters. Greed can be transformed into giving, self-serving to service of others, questionable hygiene into hmmm…a passion for wellness.

Abiyoyo is now a power word in my family we use when someone needs to check themselves or take themselves a little less seriously. If only we could add the ukelele and magic wand, but alas, we cannot.

Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

finding friends

In six minutes a lovely couple from our church will arrive with their baby and child in tow in an effort to develop community. We asked this couple if they would be willing to “date” us and amazingly they agreed to a first date.

We are in our thirties and have found that it is difficult to make and keep friends at this age. Not just, “Hi, how are you? I’m fine” friends, but friends that you engage and do life with.

We go to church regularly and participate in many activities, but something crucial was missing.

We were lonely. Okay, yes we are lonely, but why? And how do we fix this? And, what is wrong with us?

One answer is revealed by doing some simple personality tests online. Drew and I are both introverts. We need much less stimulation than some people to be satisfied and most of that stimulation is provided by our precious children and each other.  Usually, by the time we are done filling everyone’s buckets, all we want is to retreat to our own minds.

Then there are the less interesting obstacles like scheduling, what to do with the children so meaningful conversations can happen, and laziness. But there are also deeper and more significant barriers to be explored.

One of these connection-blocks I have uncovered is the willingness to be seen by others in our real and relaxed form–in my comfy clothes with wet hair, house messy, and inept conversation skills.

It is unlike when we were children and you asked someone to be your friend, they agree, and you are BF4-EVER! The stakes are apparently higher. I feel we are more afraid to be real with each other. I think part of this fear comes from the awareness as adults that some people have serious problems.

Thankfully, a friend of mine suggested I read For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. In it, she says, “If Jesus is the heart of the church, people are the lifeblood” and “People crave what they have always craved: to be known and loved, to belong somewhere. Community is such a basic human need. It helps us weather virtually every storm.”

Hatmaker describes herself as “friend-rich” and proceeded to give some examples of how she and her husband create a life that welcomes others in.

 

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this is us, smiling it up

Thankfully for Drew and I and our future life-friends, we already know we are those people with problems. As Hatmaker says, “Don’t fear your humanity; it is your best offering.”

We are just hoping to find friends whose problems blend well with ours and set the stage for shared life experience, genuine humor, team parenting, and perhaps a little free therapy.

Sarah

one thing

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I recently had a conversation with my dear sister-in-law about raising our children and we indulged in some truth-telling.  She gave me the freedom to reveal the scary truth that oftentimes I feel I have no idea what I am doing raising these children.

UGLY TRUTH ALERT!!

Sometimes I feel so afraid I am not enough for my children. I feel I am crushing their spirits. I fear I do not know enough about important mom-things to help them turn out well.

I was telling her about the latest book I am reading, The Nurtured Heart Approach: Transforming the Difficult Child by Howard Glasser. In it, I learned that intense children are attracted to our energy and sometimes they get the most energy from our negative responses. We as parents are our children’s favorite toy and most parents, like me, become more exciting when our children are not following rules.

Each chapter then adds a new method to help us deliver more energetic responses to desired behaviors. And, through reversing the energy display we are also building up our child’s store of inner wealth.

Wow. Right?

So, my sister-in-law listened and affirmed this book-wisdom, but gently reminded me from her own experience to take things slowly and to give myself grace when needed.

Her words gave me so much peace and helped me understand that I am an impatient perfectionist.

Once I have seen, recognized, categorized, and named a problem I then search for a solution. Then, once I find a solution I feel is somewhat realistic for Drew and my unique human limitations I immediately begin putting this solution into effect.

CHARGE in head-first, rush, rush, rush, we must fix this problem RIGHT NOW!!

Patience…what’s that?

The challenging part of this process is that most solutions in regard to parenting are not simple. Most solutions involve the day-in, day-out relationship with your child that ideally will go on and on past grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

So with impatient perfectionism, I am prepared to run a mile and then I show up to the race and discover it is a MARATHON.

What?!! Surprised every time!!

Did you not know when you had your children it was a lifelong investment? That these precious souls will need your guidance long past high school and college?

My sister-in-law in her gentle wisdom spoke exactly to the needs of my soul when she told me it is sometimes helpful to her to focus on one new thing a week.

Focus on one thing to improve, it doesn’t matter what that is, it could be anything from 10 squats a day to reading a chapter from 1 corinthians a day to meditating 10 minutes in the am to intentionally putting more energy into noticing the good things my children are doing.

And yes, parenting is TOUGH!! I will give myself permission to admit this and to shout it into my pillow if my children are within hearing distance.

When I let myself state the truth that parenting can be taxing I am able to understand that there is no quick-fix to this challenge.

You can NOT tackle this mountain by brute force… not that I am capable of brute force.

This child-rearing is a complex, messy, beautiful challenge and beautiful gift. Life-changing, soul-deepening, bring you to your knees task.

And, I would not have it any other way.

Sarah