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Prevent Suicide by Looking Up

8 Jun

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 9.58.33 AMThis is the second high profile celebrity suicide this week. I keep reading comments on social media such as, “You never know how a person is truly struggling.”

Having been one of those struggling people, who dared myself to swallow a handful of pills, fought the impulse to drive myself into a pole, or to  just end it all with the slit of a wrist, I can tell you this. And I really want to emphasize this point.

Yes. Yes, you can know how a person is struggling. You can sometimes see the brokenness in body language or erratic behavior.

The problem is that we as a society can’t look up from our phones long enough to see the tears rolling down the cheeks of the lady we passed in the grocery store. I’ve cried openly many times in public spaces. Not once has someone asked me if I was ok or how they could help.

Not once.

Do you want to know if someone’s heart is breaking? Or if life seems unbearable? Stop and ask. When a friend or family member seems off, ask that person to lunch or dinner or just text or make a phone call.  Don’t assume “someone else” can or will do it.

Most of the time, I don’t need advice on how to pray harder; I just need to know someone cares. I need someone to love me HARD (especially because the person who loved me hardest for most of my life–my mother–is gone.)

If I’m going to be fully honest, and why not? I AM struggling right now. I’m trying to find purpose. I fiercely miss my mom. I’m not sure how to set up my office and I want to be healthy but I’m always hungry. I hate being in physical therapy and I’m frustrated my foot is still messed up five years after I broke it. I miss going to church, but trying to visit one turns me into a physical and emotional mess.

Coupled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and whatever else is on my charts, it’s A LOT.

And it’s not just a you-need-to-trust-God thing. I DO trust God, even when I struggle to understand Him. In humans, He created us to NEED each other.

Do you see? We NEED each other. One of the gifts God has given us is our need for Him, but also our need for community.

Look up, look out, look at your Facebook friends list, talk to your neighbors, CONNECT—you just might save a life, even your own.

For more information on suicide prevention, check out Project Semicolon or The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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Reaching Across the Great Divide

31 May

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Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking about our heated political AND Church environment. While those of us who are followers of Christ should allow our faith to inform the full spectrum of our lives, we must accept that our individual walks don’t always lead us to the same places or conclusions. It’s part of the reason there are so many denominations, isn’t it?

For example, I don’t agree with baby baptism because I believe in believer’s baptism, which means that after a person chooses to acknowledge and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior erasing our sinful record because of His perfect sacrifice (and Resurrection), a person becomes publicly baptized to celebrate this holy moment. I wholeheartedly support child dedication.

There are people who will disagree with me on baptism, the beliefs of the Christian faith, and many other important issues. But I’m ok with that. I am working out my faith and living it out as I see best, though I often do so imperfectly.

As with all things, there are many who disagree with my political leanings. I used to be a good evangelical Republican and proudly pro-life. The only question I’d ask of candidates was this—is he/she against abortion?

Yes, I was a single issue voter.

I am still proudly pro-life, but I’ve expanded that view to include the lives of the unborn (not just in the womb, but beyond that), the lives of their mothers, the immigrant children who would die or be trafficked or forced to live in inhuman conditions we can only imagine in our nightmares. I care about the lives of the poor and hungry, the sick and disabled, those facing injustice and hatred due to sexuality and skin color and all those social divides. Life, in all its shape, color, width and breadth matters to me.

Let’s not forget the life of our dear planet, entrusted to us by the very God who created it. Yes, I care about the trees and the honeybees, and the dogs who don’t have homes. I care about our oceans and ozone layer and the huge amount of waste with bury in the deep wounds we dig into that earth.

To me, that’s what pro-life really means—a fight for life for all.  Not just life, but a better life for all with full bellies, adequate healthcare, shelter—a life that is filled with the basic tenets to actually live. I believe in life and that it should reflect and bring glory to God.

Just because my fight for life may be different than yours, it doesn’t make me wrong. I’ve been accused of deserting my faith in God for my criticism of Trump. I haven’t gone as far as to personally indict his ardent supporters of deserting their faith—selling out to elect a morally corrupt man heralded as the “Christian” choice for America. There is always the option to vote for a third party candidate. Yes, you all had a decision and we are all living it. Despite that, most of you are trying to live our your faith as best you can, too.

All these words to communicate this simple message: I am done with my faith being questioned because I don’t agree with you and your politics. Maybe I quietly contemplate your heart and pray it will be changed, too. I will continue to stand up to Trump and his policies, Twitter bullying, and the other things he does to make our nation look foolish and hurt its people. When you read the Bible, you can see what foolish leaders with control did to devastate the nation of Israel. The faithful praying remnant can do great things—don’t assume the person praying on the liberal or conservative side is an enemy, just a friend who doesn’t get it yet.

And be love. That’s what the world really needs to heal its gaping, infected wounds—the light and love of God to saturate all of us so we can find healing.

Kickstart My Beloved Heart?

10 Apr

I’ve been a very, very, very bad blogger.

See, I started blogging in 2001-ish when it wasn’t a *THING* yet (check the archives!) but now it’s something everyone and her mother is doing.  No, really, have you seen how many mom blogs are out there? (And, honestly, good for you, moms!  You definitely need each other!)

But here I am–17 or 18 years later–wondering what is there left to say that hasn’t been sad?  Or as King Solomon so wisely said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

Is my time here at SheisBeloved.com simply up?  Do I move on to FabFindsinPA.com and YouTube?

While this blog has gone through different servers, names, and purposes, it’s full of roughly 18 years of writing.  In a way, it’s my very public portfolio and there’s something about it that just can’t quit this silly blog.

But writers write to be read, so I’m wondering if you’re out there, what do you want to read?   Personal stories, gym stories, God stories, book or music or movie reviews, photo essays, love advice (ha!), or what…?

I’ve put it all out there and I just wonder if anyone’s listening or reading….which doesn’t mean at all that I should stop writing, but readers are nice, too.

If you’d be so lovely as to leave a comment on what you’d like to read, let me know.  This is going to look really sad if there are no comments.

I stand with them.

21 Sep

When I registered to vote, I was so proud to mark myself as a member of the Republican Party.

I was proud to carry my voter’s registration card in my wallet and I was proud to vote for George W. Bush. Both times.

When I renewed my driver’s license, I decided to change my party to “Independent.” I wasn’t liberal enough for the Democrats and certainly didn’t feel comfortable in bed with the GOP, who was/is constantly railing against the “entitlements” I NEED to live.

Now I’m probably more a Democrat than anything, but I tend to favor more centrist politicians. All things in balance, all sides talking, and doing teamwork. You know, like we learned doing all those group projects in school.

Here I am again feeling like a woman with no political party, but siding with those “evil” progressives who “kill babies” and want to take God out of America. The ones who want to let immigrants inundate our country and want the impoverished to have food and healthcare. You know, those evil liberals.

Now Jesus kept Himself out of politics siding neither within the zealots or the Pharisees or Saducees. His answer was love and He had friend in both low and high places and all those in-between. But if we’re honest, Jesus was a homeless vagabond and tended to attract the same type of people.

Both sides claim to be following Jesus…and honestly, since Jesus was apolitical, it’s hard to drag Him into the argument. Now the Bible as a whole, that’s a different story.

There are many times the Bible talks about caring for the poor and the widows, standing up for the abused and mistreated, and to give everything back to God–how we do so is the tricky part.

While I’ve seen churches provide much needed services to those in need, I’ve seen its individual members turn a blind eye. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of good people I’ve met in churches who have blessed me in times of need. It’s the other ones, who share nasty Facebook posts about the poor or private message me to ask if I still believe in God because I don’t speak highly of the president, that I call out.

Those people are the ones who have hurt and disappointed me–the ones who equate being a Republican with being a follower of God.

They’re the ones who bother me the most, probably because I used to be one.

Applying for welfare, getting food stamps, and eventually Medicaid broke my pride and I knew I could not be that kind of person anymore. I knew God changed me.

I could never be a Republican again, at least not *that* kind.

I looked at my tattered voter registration card the other day and wondered what party would stand up for me. I thought deep and hard about my love for God and others.

I also thought about the phone calls and emails and letters that went answered and unanswered from my elected leaders.

I thought about the party that made a monster President of the United States and the evangelicals (like Franklin Graham) who lauded him as God’s choice for America and of those who publicly opposed him (Ann VosKamp and Max Lucado, among others.)

I want to be a part of something new, something real, something that can’t be typed onto a voter registration card. I want to see God move in America and change hearts and minds. The problem is my prayer is to change the hearts and minds of everyone. Not one side, not the other, but both.

Until that party exists, I will remain a centrist because two parties is not enough. But if I must take sides, at least in the healthcare debate, I choose the poor, the oppressed, and the widows and orphans.

I not only stand with them, but among them as well.

And I stand in direct opposition to the Republican Party and the Christian I used to be.

I Am a Face of Medicaid

22 Jun

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I am one of the millions of Americans on Medicaid.

No, it’s not because I didn’t work hard enough. In fact, I have a Master’s degree.

No, it’s not because I don’t want to work; I want to do that more than anything.

It’s because I unexpectedly became ill in my early 20’s.  

No one plans to get sick.

I don’t have enough money to afford health care so I am grateful for the life-giving medication provided to me by Medicaid.  I am thankful that I live in a country that takes care of the poor, of the widows, and of the orphans, like the Bible tells us to.

I am a face of Medicaid, but I don’t often publicly share that I am recipient because of the shame I feel, particularly from my conservative Christian friends and family.

I don’t like to admit that I need this help. I hate that I’m sick. I’m trying to live the best life possible in spite of my illness. Or maybe I’m living the best life possible because of my illness. Those who know me know that I am kind, compassionate, and giving. They know I have struggles. Yet they also know that I am railing against my body to achieve maximum health so I don’t have to tax the system. The last thing I ever wanted to be was a burden.

In fact, if you know me, you know I’m more than just a woman on medical assistance.  I enjoy music, superheroes (especially the very patriotic Captain America), absolutely love animals, and I am pretty good at karaoke. I mentor teenagers, blog openly about my life, and have a best friend named Sarah.  I don’t have a favorite color because there are too many to choose from and my pipe dream is to drive through the desert, see the Grand Canyon, and go to Yellowstone National Park.

What little girl grows up and hopes to be on medical assistance?  I sure didn’t. It’s hard to be intelligent, to see what you could’ve been, and to fight against all odds to change it.  Still, I dream and refuse to stop. My dreams have become small, manageable, and sometimes a little hopeless, but I still dream.

Even though I don’t want to be, I am one of the millions of faces of Medicaid. And my story is one out of millions. And now I’m terrified that my Republican senator (Pat Toomey) will look me in the face and tell me I’m not worth it. Actually, he refuses to look me in the face or hold any town hall meetings. 

If the Senate passes this health care bill, which they wrote in secret, they’re telling millions of Americans that their lives don’t matter. They are sentencing millions of Americans to a slow, painful death and in many cases bankruptcy or other financial ruin.

This is not my America. We help others. We love beyond our ability. We are founded on principles of dignity and justice. Yet a bunch of rich (mostly white men) politicians are deciding our fate.

And in doing so they turn their backs to the millions who are counting on them for help.

I never asked for these illnesses or dreamed this is what my life would become. I am so grateful that I have medical coverage that saves my life. Thank you to all the taxpayers who make my life possible because I’m trying to make the world a better place for all of us to live.

I am a face of Medicaid. Will you look me in the face and tell me I deserve to die?

 

Repost: Hitchhiking with Bebo Noroman

16 Mar

Originally published September 21, 2010. 

Because Bebo Norman is my most-loved singer/songwriter, I’m sharing this article again.  It was one of my favorite interviews I’ve ever done.  Bebo is gracious, humble, and he uses music and word to cut to my heart.  I’m sad he’s retired.  By the way, don’t bother with any of the links because they’re all dead.  Who wants to start a GoFundMe to buy BeboNorman.com with me?

It was with great anxiety and distress I awaited Bebo Norman’s scheduled phone call the morning after Labor Day.  Normally, I’m not like this, but then again, it’s not every day that I get to interview one of the singer/songwriters who has been so influential in my life.  The phone rang and I said a silent prayer, “Hello?”

“Hi, Amy.  It’s Bebo Norman.” Suddenly, everything was OK.  Disarming me with his quiet charm and easy-going nature, Bebo Norman is by all accounts a gentleman—one of the many reasons the man and his music have become so dear to me since I picked up his first album in 1996 as a mere teenager.

In this, my second interview with Bebo Norman, I decided to let you into our candid, and often, amusing conversation as we talk about our battles with anxiety, Bebo’s life, and of course, his new album, Ocean, releasing on BEC Recordings on September 28.

Amy: So, in celebration of your new album, do you have a favorite ocean?  I mean, there are seven of them.

Bebo: Ah. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Atlantic or the Pacific, but I haven’t spent time in the other oceans.  So I’ve have to go with those.  How ‘bout you?  Do you have a favorite ocean?

Amy: Probably the Atlantic or the Pacific.  I mean, my best friend fell into the Pacific Ocean off a small boat, so I’d have to go with that.  It’s hard to say, it’s like trying to pick a favorite star.

Bebo: I understand.  I’ve never tried to pick a favorite star, but there are so many to choose from.

We chat a bit about sea creatures, including the beauty of humpback whales.  I also learn that Bebo’s been on several cruises to Alaska and that Matthew West lives three blocks away.  I tell him that Matthew West’s new album is really great and he says that he hasn’t heard it.

Bebo: I tend to not be up to date on music.  Isn’t that ridiculous?

Amy: That’s hilarious!  I love that!

Bebo: I have to kind of disappear from music sometimes just to keep my head straight because it’s what I do, it’s my job, and it’s what I love.  I have to have some space.

Amy: Sometimes I get all these new releases and I’m like, “This is all crap and I hate it!” So I have to pop in something good and solid like Bebo Norman or Rich Mullins so I can remember what good music sounds like.

Bebo: I think that’s part of my problem.  I’ve always listened to music because it inspires me and what’s frustrating is that sometimes you listen to music and none of it inspires you, you start to think that no music will inspire you

Amy: I know!  It’s scary because I think, “What if people think my writing is this bad?”

Bebo: That’s part of the insecurity of being a creative person.  Every single songwriter writer, musician, journalist, I know has that same fear or thought.

Amy: Speaking of writing, you said that writing an album is like an extended therapy session.  I’ve been in therapy sessions and they’re very painful sometimes.  So, what is it like for you?

Bebo: It’s very painful, very painful, and it’s very beautiful.  It’s a cathartic process, which is the beauty of writing.  I didn’t start as a songwriter because I had any intention of playing songs for anybody.  When I started writing songs, it was just an extension of me trying to process life.  I found that, for me, whether it was poetry or songs it was the best way I could process things.

I wrote short stories and poetry before I started writing songs, but the combination of music and words is a pretty powerful and sort of inspiring thing.  That’s what caught me the most about songwriting.  I could write a poem or I could hear a piece of music and both of those things would be beautiful, but when they’re together there’s something magical and powerful that happens.

In ways, it’s the only way I really know how to process life.  It forces me to sit down and be quiet, and still and reflective and internal.  The busyness of life, especially these days, with touring and my family, my wife and kids, and my community here in Nashville—sitting down and being quiet—it’s hard to find those days.

Not to mention, if you do struggle with anxiety or those things when you get down and depressed, even when you do have those days where you can sit down and be quiet those struggles can sometimes steal the life out of those moments.  Writing songs is a very grounding thing for me.  That’s the same way therapy is—you’re forced to sit down with your thoughts and expose things that might not otherwise get exposed.

Amy: Some of the things I would talk about in therapy, I would not like to release to the world.  You said that an album is the best 60 minutes out of two years of your life, but still, sometimes it’s painful to hear.

Bebo: I’ve always struggled with laying out things that are personal and intimate.  Now that I’ve got a wife and two boys, there’s a certain level of caution to where I have to consider how what I put out there affects the people around me.

To me, everything I experience is fair game for a song.  I used to really struggle with the fear of laying those things out there.  Maybe I’m just old enough at this point or I’ve just been doing it long enough that now I’m not consumed with the perception might be wrong or right.  It’s more a matter of this is where I am and this is what I’m struggling with and I’m certain there are other people that are dealing with similar things, if not the same thing, and it’s important for these things to be spoken.  As believers, we think we’re not spiritual enough if we struggle with certain things.

Amy: Thank you for sharing that.  There are a lot of songs I want to talk about, but we don’t have time.  Let’s just plunge right into your favorite song, “The Middle,” which is also my favorite song.  I was listening to it last night and I was crying because I was feeling like that song is my life right now.  I’m not married, I don’t have kids, and I feel like my life is this middle of not where I was and not there yet.  Or maybe our lives here on planet earth are the middle.  I don’t know.

Bebo: I think you tapped into something there. There’s a reality that our lives in their current state are the middle.  We’re never fully home and our faith is never fully realized until the day Jesus calls us home or comes back.

Here’s the thing, when I say “the middle,” it may not mean the middle of life.  It happened to me when I was in college, and again in my 20’s, and again in my 30’s.  As static as they may feel at times, our lives are always in transition.  I revel in the idea of transition; the real struggle for me is when I’m stuck in between transition.  That’s where this song comes from, like, “Where am I right now in the middle of these things? I don’t feel like I’m moving.”  Like you mentioned a minute ago, you feel stuck and you’re in this place where you’re not quite sure where things are going and where they’ve been.

It’s not a song about being middle-aged.  I feel like we’re always in the state of being in the middle.  When we’re on this earth, we’re always in the middle and we’re always going to be stuck between our flesh and our spirit here.

Amy: You had this goal that you were going to write one blog post a day…what happened?

Bebo: It was way too ambitious a goal, and I knew that!  But those are the only kind of goals I know how to set—one that’s too ambitious

Amy: I told you that in your comments section, not that you listened.

Bebo: I even said in the first blog post that I will mostly likely fail at this and what I mean is that, I will fail at this.  But I really did want to go for it.  I have a dear friend who wrote a new song every day for one year of his life.  He said that 90% of the songs weren’t that special, but it taught him what the day had brought him. That’s kind of what I was hoping for with the whole blog thing.  I can’t just write a blog and say, “I took the kids to school and I slept late.”  There has to be some thought in it.  The reality of the busyness of life at this point; it just wasn’t even possible.  I could have sat down and written it, but it would have been at the expense of the people I love.

Amy: Well, that would have been utterly ridiculous!

Bebo: But it was a lesson learned.  That would be a good entry in and of itself—to talk about how it started taking it away from the people in front of me to appease a group of people I don’t even know, which is the real danger of social networking.  That’s why I failed miserably at it.  Well, that sounds too noble.  Actually there were too many days I didn’t feel about it.

I give Bebo some expert blogging advice, which he recognized from his comments section.  I tell him that he ignored my comments because I’m a “girl.” Then we talk about how guys always think girls want to hit on them.  I tell him that his recent blog, “Idols of Misdirection” was excellent and seemed to go with one of the songs on his new album called “Could You Ever Look at Me.”  Bebo keeps talking, even though I’m keenly aware that he is going to be five minutes late calling his next interviewer.

Amy: One last question—how can we be praying for Bebo Norman?

Bebo: A lot of what I was writing about in that blog post (“Idols of Misdirection”) is probably what I would ask people to pray for me right now, and that is being thankful for the source of the good things in my life.  I’m in a season of struggling with that.  There’s a certain level of distance I feel right now from God, which is odd because I talk about my faith a lot.  It’s not that I doubt the truth of the Gospel because I see it fulfilled as truth every single day.  I feel like it’s robbing me of the beauty of every day.

To catch up with Bebo Norman, visit him online at BeboNorman.com, follow him on Twitter (@bebonorman), and read his blog, which he updates sometimes.

Should I Leave My Church?

7 Mar

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If you’ve been engaged in a church community for any length of time, you imagine the blissful fellowship will never end—the hilarious dunk tank in the community park, the annual yard sale, the youth car wash, and the missions trips.  You remember when your small group prayed for you when you were awash in sorrow and how the whole church rallied around a family in a time of deep need.  You’ve been the first one in and the last one out.  You have given hours of time and talent to the church and your money and your whole heart because you believed God was doing something amazing in your community.

And now, you’re not sure if you should stay there anymore.

Some of your friends have already left—a couple of your friends from small group, a respected Bible study leader, and people who served in major ministry positions.  There are murmurs of this and that, and you don’t know what’s true anymore.  You don’t know who to believe.

But really, if you’re honest, it just doesn’t feel the same anymore.  Instead of jumping out of bed on Sunday morning, you think about sleeping in—just this Sunday.  The sermons seem, well, boring.  You don’t tear up when you sing your favorite worship song. And communion—it doesn’t feel all that sacred. You’re absolutely starved for something more, something real, something authentic and you didn’t even know it until a friend told you about his or her church.

Maybe the grass is greener on the other side, you think, because it doesn’t seem like the seeds you are sowing at your church are growing at all.

You are discouraged and possibly suffering from ministry burn-out.  You thought if you built a great ministry with the vision God has given you, they would come.  And you realize you don’t even want to come anymore.

So, the question pressing on your heart is—should I stay at my church or should I leave my church?

You’ve been seeking God’s Will and asking Him to make it completely obvious to You.  You desperately want to see your church change, the leadership to turn from its pride, and for your ministries to become a beacon of light in the community.  You love your church and (most of) the people inside it.  You don’t want to leave.  You don’t want to start over.  You just want your church to be how it used to be.

I don’t have all the answers; I just have my story. (See The Church We Leave Behind) As I wrestled with all of the above, I said to myself, almost in jest if this, this, and this happen, then I will know God wants me to leave my church.  I never, ever thought all those things would happen, but over the course of five months, they ALL happened.  As I did Jennie Allen’s Restless study with a friend, I knew that my restless heart needed to find a new home.  My soul was beat down, burn out, and in desperate need of spiritual food.

Going to services at my church was gut-wrenching. I stayed because I loved working with the teenagers and didn’t know what would happen to them if I left.  As things got worse, as ministry became controlled and micromanaged, as it seemed appearances and numbers were more important than people, I knew I had to leave.

My best friend and fellow small group leader and I prayerfully developed an exit strategy to help transition our students. However, as soon as our replacements were found, we were essentially told if we were leaving, we should just leave.  While it offered no closure, it did get me out of a bad situation sooner than I anticipated.  The swift severing of fellowship left me wounded and bleeding.

But not everyone is called to leave.  When the Northern Kingdom of Israel went into the first captivity with the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom of Judah went second captivity with the Babylonians, there was always a remnant that remained in the land.  In fact, the Ezra-Nehemiah narrative shares about how Nehemiah, a cup bearer to the king, longed for the land of his forefathers and returned from captivity to restore Jerusalem.  He faced oppression from outside foes, yet Nehemiah led his people to build a wall of protection around the city. (For more information, read Nehemiah-The Man Behind the Wall.)

We all want to be Nehemiah’s.  We want to take the ruins of our broken church and use them to build something better for the women’s ministry or the children’s ministry or the youth.  We want to be the change and to see dry bones dance again because we know all things can be redeemed through God’s power.  We look at our own lives as examples of this. We are the Redeemed people.

If you stand up against the wrongs you see in your church, you could become a target of abuse and gossip.  If no one talks about what is going on, why people are leaving, and how it can change, it never will.  There are some warriors that no longer have the strength or will or call to fight anymore, but maybe you do.  Abuses of power, which can also result in spiritual abuse, will continue if no one stands up to the church bullies.  You may be called to speak truth into the silence.

It comes down to this—what is God telling you to do?  Fast, pray, ask for advice, and seek a network of support.  You cannot and should not do this alone.  Leaving a church is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, and sometimes staying is even harder.

Hold tight to the good memories of your church because that is something staying or leaving can never and should never erase.

The Church We Leave Behind

1 Mar

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I was gasping for breath as my best friend drove us away.  Maybe it was raining, maybe not.  It felt like it should’ve been raining like tears streaked on the car’s windows.  It was a full snot, screaming, and messy tears kind of crying as we pulled out of the church parking lot for the last time after we were told by church staff if we were leaving anyway, we might as well just leave now.

And so we left the grounds immediate and just like that, over five years of commitment and ministry was over. In an instant, the church and I were now two separate entities.

It felt like how I imagined a divorce would feel.

I realized that I just divorced my church.  And it wasn’t amicable.

Leaving a church under difficult circumstances, whether it is because of a difference of opinions, God’s call elsewhere, or other reasons, is heartbreaking. Even leaving one that wasn’t healthy for me anymore, has been one of the most painful and haunting experiences of my life.  Here’s why:

It’s not just breaking up with a building; it’s breaking up with a whole bunch of other people.  The lady at the welcome desk who’s always in the know, the elderly greeters, and those people who you just say “hi” to in passing—they’re not in your anymore.  Those peripheral friends with who you have a few inside jokes, but nothing more, are gone.  You say goodbye to the safe confines of knowing and being known.

Maybe it’s me, not them.  A lot of self-reflection comes with making a major life change.  Am I doing the right thing?  God, is this really want you want?  I can be the solution to this mounting problem.  Well, maybe I’m not seeking God enough. These questions and thoughts are mentally draining.  But eventually, I came to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.  I couldn’t sing on the praise team with mock sincerity.  I could not stomach attending Sunday services.  I was getting spiritually and physically ill because God told me to go and I stayed too long.  Sometimes it’s actually them, not you.

But it isn’t supposed to be like this!  We all love God, for crying out loud! No, it’s not supposed to be like this and it breaks the heart of all involved.  I did not take lightly the issue of leaving my church of five years. It was prayed over for almost 10 months.  There was restlessness, dissatisfaction, and a sense that the church was unhealthy.  And it grew more and more unhealthy despite my best efforts to allow God use me to be the change.  Change can’t happen in hardened hearts, so sometimes we need to dust off our sandals and move on.  It happened to Jesus and the apostles and we can expect the same.  Plus, people can all love God and still make decisions that don’t honor Him.  Other times, it’s just about agreeing to disagree

It causes spiritual and emotional wounds, which we try to hide.  I’m fine, right?  I followed God to a new church and because I’m doing what God wants, I’m fine.  Right?  Right?!?!  I was not and am still not “fine.” I miss things about my old church, like the youth group students and the friends I had and belonging to a community.  I miss being able to just pick a Bible study and lead it and helping with VBS.  But I don’t miss the other parts—the ones that are stuck deep within me, that ones I need to offer up to God and forgive, the ones I dare not write about because the wounds are still too fresh.  So many thoughts and feelings are between my journal, God and me.  It seems wrong to talk about our pain, how church leaders failed us and hurt us, how we feel all washed up and used up, and how we’re not sure if we want to be a part of a community again.

It can be a lonely, misunderstood journey.  It has been for me.  Literally, people just don’t get it unless they’ve been through it.  I run into people who left the old  church as well.  We talk about things that happened at the old church sometimes while standing in the hallways of our new church, not sure if we should laugh or cry at the ridiculousness.   It feels like we all survived this major thing and have become spiritual refugees in a strange, new church.  We were front row Christians, and now we still in the back row hoping no one will notice us, yet desperately hoping someone will reach out to us.

You are brave.  No matter what your old church says, what rumors you may hear, or what takes place, you must not let it destroy you.  You made the difficult decision to walk, maybe run away from a bad, unhealthy, and possibly spiritually abusive church, and that takes a lot of courage.  Walk hand-in-hand with God as He guides you for in Him is your true strength.

I had a plan.  I would slowly fade out, savor the last moments keeping a mental scrapbook, and I would move on to a new church to find rest, to be fed, and to just be.

But it didn’t end like that.

I didn’t ride off in my cosmic gray Hyundai Elantra proud of my work with youth, women’s ministry, praise team, and volunteerism.

Instead, it was harsh and sad and shameful.  Yet I know my God has and is still walking with me through this wilderness.  He knows how He will bind these wounds and use them for His glory.  He will gather these ashes and create beauty.

No matter what ending you had planned, remember that God will use this to mold you, grow you.  He has far, far better things ahead than what you leave behind.

Silenced Press Equals Fractured Freedom

25 Feb

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“I’m not teaching you what to think; I’m teaching you how to think,” emphatically stated my professor in class after class. We got it—not what to think, how to think. His assignments—papers mostly—asked us to draw deep from the well of knowledge we gained and discover our own conclusions.

In retrospect, it was one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned—teach people how to think, not what to think.

It carried over into my years of ministry. By teaching the Bible, I asked open-ended questions, presented historical data, and put some “what if’s” into the mix. God offered humanity free will—to choose or not to choose a relationship with Him. He gave us all the information, though we may not understand it, but didn’t force us to believe it.

As I survey the political landscape, I see our right to freely think being slowly taken away. See, it’s not that we can’t think what we want; it’s just that we’re are being told WHAT to think, not HOW to think.

Whenever someone disagrees with our new volatile President Trump, they are called out by the biggest bully in the world. For example, CNN has been repeatedly called “fake news” and The New York Times as “failing” on the Twitter account of the President of the United States. As a former middle school youth leader, I can honestly say I’ve seen more mature language on Instagram between feuding middle school girls.

Most recently, on February 24, “Fake News” and “Failing” along with other media outlets including Politico and BuzzFeed were excluded from Sean Spicer’s press gaggle, while other right wing news outlets were allowed to attend. When I was a college journalism student, CNN and The New York Times were THE STANDARD for televised and print media, yet now they are demonized for printing so-called lies and “making up sources.”

Trump’s repeated criticism of the media sets up a dangerous platform for him to become a dictator-in-chief. One of the first tactics used by dictators is to discredit and silence the opposition. The most troubling part is that many believe Trump as he tells people what to think, not how to think. If someone disagrees with Trump, they are removed or “reassigned” from his staff for “not supporting his agenda.”

But what if CNN, the NY Times, Politico, Fox News, and all the rest of the media are telling the truth? What if we do have a compromised relationship with Russia? What if things are chaotic in the White House? What is there’s a bigger problem in America that Trump just doesn’t what us to see? Smoke and mirrors work just as well for politicians are they do for magicians.

As you read my thoughts, I’m not telling you what to think, I’m asking you to just think. Look at the facts from all the different news organizations, the headlines and stories vary, but the news isn’t all that different. Trump’s Tweets are out there. Read them and think about them. I hear his supporters say that he just tells it like it is. I appreciate honesty, but I also value words and language. They can pull us up or drag us down.

Let me ask you—are Trump’s words elevating our nation or dragging us into civil chaos? Moreover, is Trump telling us what to think by silencing and discrediting the media or is he allowing us to look all all the sources and decide for ourselves?

A nation that cannot think for itself, where free press and free thought are stomped upon, is a nation that is not truly free. It’s a nation of fractured liberty where liberty and justice for all is a slogan of the past, not a right for the future.

When I’m Wordless

19 Jan

writing_zpsrl2zcwbgAs a child, I remember stapling together notebook paper with simple ink drawings, probably of animals, doing some sort of merry little thing together.

My sixth grade language arts teaching told me I had a gift. I thought orchestrating soap opera quality plots with my Barbie dolls and playing, “Let’s pretend…” was just what we kids did. I didn’t know it was a gift.

As I read and wrote, I didn’t know I was developing as a writer. I was just enjoying life—and the the beauty of words. The ebb and flow, the emotion, the meaning, the contrasts. Words had power to evoke emotion, to communicate information, to tell great stories.

I didn’t want to actually BE a writer. I wanted to be a marine biologist, but despite my fascination with the natural world, I’m not scientifically-minded. I thought about being a teacher like my mother or a social worker or even a youth director at a church.

All my paths led me back to writing, even snagging freelance writing gigs at now-defunct Christian music magazine seemed like a divine appointment.

But now… There are no freelance gigs. Print media is becoming obsolete (thought I will always love the feel of paper in my hands) and everyone has a blog. There are so many voices, so many words, so much being communicated and I wonder, did I miss my golden opportunity?

Because I can scribble a few words in my personal journal, but the words don’t come easy. It could be that I’m out of practice. Maybe I’m just lazy. Sometimes I wonder if I just don’t have any more words. Am I REALLY supposed to be a writer?

It was so much easier to be a writer when I had assignments and deadlines and topics, where there was a think tank. Now I feel like I write in isolation.

And something in me screams—THIS ISN’T HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE!

Not because I expected other things (I did, but that’s not the point), but because I NEED to write, even if I can’t find the words.

So bear with me as I stumble over atrophied muscles and dusty pages. I can always becomes who I was meant to be…and I trust the words will come.

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