Don’t Judge Me…A Matter of Perspective

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It really was innocent, but it looked scandalous.

Let me take you back to my last winter youth retreat in my “cult”. I was super close to being out. In fact, I was already a closet rebel as this story will confirm. 😉

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Our church had rented this small Christian camp for years, both for family camps and youth retreats. I loved the rustic chapel with its fireplace and knotty pine beams. I thought I knew every crook and cranny until my friend’s younger brother asked me if I’d ever seen the attic. Apparently there was a secret staircase in a closet that led up to a small storage area.

Always up for adventure, I decided to let him show me. Just going up to the attic together was sketchy because it was a boy and girl alone. But things got worse from there.

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From my Scrapbook! 🙂

For some reason the closet door was located about two feet off the floor and the closet was filled with old televisions and other junk. So we had to climb over and around to reach the stairs. Going in wasn’t a problem. But my long, straight, denim skirt became an issue on the way out. I tripped over a television, my legs got trapped in my skirt, and I fell out of the door. Fortunately, Dan was there to catch me. But that catch was another shocking sin because he was a boy and he touched me!

 

It would have been fine, but as we turned and he set me down, we were face to face with a young, all-in, super committed girl from the youth group. Her eyes and mouth were wide open. The realization of what it looked like struck us. We started laughing so hard we couldn’t even breathe let alone explain.

Christy and Dan were alone in the closet and came out touching each other and giggling!!!

It’s a funny story, but we all do it. We make snap judgments and condemn people without knowing all the facts.

Years later, I was out of my cult and working at summer camp. Normally I worked on the elementary camp, but today I was up at the high school camp helping my friend teach a choreography to some of the older campers. It was an elective drama class and there was one boy. I knew why he was there. Girls! He must be a total player with terrible motives. What a jerk. I only spent an hour with this guy, but he made such a strong impression on me that I can still remember what he was wearing.

Four years later I married him.

Yeah…

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I have come to discover that my perspective is just that, my perspective. In order to get a clear and accurate picture, I need multiple perspectives and all of the facts. It’s easy for us to feel wise and discerning, but we are not infallible. We need community, and we all need grace.

Will you join me? Let’s give grace before judgement. Let’s listen before we condemn.

“Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.” ~ Jesus, (John 7:24 NLT).

Making it to Round #2 of American Idol…Sort of. (A Book Update)

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On May 20th, I flew down to Asheville, NC by myself. Then I spent five days by myself at The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference (or BRMCWC for short). As a stay-at-home wife and mother-of-two, alone time is pretty scarce. Just being me for five days would have been amazing, but I also made it to The Second Round of American Idol. Sort of…

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That’s the best way to explain what happened. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that I’ve been talking about writing a book…for some time…okay, maybe three or four years. It’s been a learning and growing process.

Anyway…

Last year I attended a different writers conference, called Speak Up!, here in Michigan. My dreams at Speak Up totally bombed. But because of them, I was able to take a completed book proposal, one sheets, and business cards to North Carolina…completely prepared, with little effort, for what God had planned. Funny how God works sometimes, isn’t it?

It was obvious that God planned this trip. Without me even searching for it, the BRMCWC fell into my lap (along with every penny of the $1150 I needed to pay for the conference, food and lodging, airfare, and even my baggage fees)!

The conference was incredible, even though it rained almost the entire time. I met some wonderful, precious, amazing people who love Jesus and encouraged me! My sister-in-law and I got to spend quality time together and deepen our friendship (which can be hard to do when you live 900 miles apart). I was challenged and stretched by talented authors and others in the writing industry. They gave me concrete steps to take and specific areas to work on.

AND… Three agents expressed interest and took my book proposal. Two publishing companies also requested that I send it to them. What? Woohoo!! (Unlike previous years, I actually sent it in.)

So…now I get to wait and see what happens. Nothing is certain; this is not a guarantee that my book will get published. But it sure is a step in the right direction! Very similar to making it to round #2 of American Idol. I didn’t get cut, but that doesn’t mean I’ll win.

Please continue to pray for me…

  • That I will obediently follow the path that God has so clearly set before me. I feel like I’ve spent the majority of the last 3-4 years fighting God’s leading, resisting, and making excuses. I long to cast off fear of failure and rejection and just run freely after my Savior.
  • That I will listen to the Voice of Truth and refuse to believe the lies of our enemy.
  • That I will boldly pursue the open doors in front of me…such as writing for online group blogs and magazines.

Thanks, friends! ❤

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Coffee and processing at Clouds, the amazing coffee shop at Ridgecrest Conference Center!

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I snuck out between storms to catch these beautiful rain drops and flowers.

“An Impostor Jesus” – The Introduction

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I wish I looked this cool when I write!

Last week, I gave you the first paragraph of my book. In honor of the fact that I am going to The Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in less than a week, I have decided to give you more. 🙂 Pray for my journey! Pray that I will listen to the Holy Spirit, that I will be humble and available, that I will be bold and courageous, and that most of all God’s will is accomplished!

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***

“I’ve been brainwashed. The unexpected thought tugged at my mind. We were a sleepy bunch of teen girls, dragged from our beds after midnight to be lectured by an adult chaperone. Clumped together on a couple of ratty old couches, we yawned and tried to listen. I was all too aware that my alarm was going off in less than six hours. Prayer meeting started at 6:30am and if you cared at all about giving off a spiritual vibe, you would be there. Which meant getting up even earlier to shower, and blow dry and curl your hair, because for some reason curly hair was also a sign of spirituality.

Mrs. W droned on and on about cliques, and friendship, and I felt myself drifting off. Then she said it, the real reason this meeting had been called.

“It just grieved my heart, to look out the window today and see you all playing in the snow. I couldn’t tell who the boys were and who the girls were since you were all wearing snow pants.” Her voice dripped of judgmental disappointment.

Yes, at this winter youth retreat, we were all wearing snow pants to play in the snow. Shock! Horror! What?

In previous years, most of us, at least the “godly” ones, had worn skirts or culottes over our snow pants.

How do I explain culottes? They are kind of like gauchos only much, much uglier. The first ones I wore as a young teen were homemade and looked like an intensely gathered skirt with a waistband. However, unlike a skirt, if you grabbed the voluminous sides and pulled, voila, there were two sections of fabric, one for each leg. Over the years, our culottes eventually shrank down to a slightly larger version of the more familiar gaucho. We wore them when a skirt was a health hazard, such as swimming, horseback riding, or downhill skiing. However, it should be noted that downhill skiing in culottes, even skinnier ones, feels a bit like skiing with two flags attached to your legs flapping wildly in the wind.

The ridiculousness of it all began to sink in. We had been dragged from our warm beds in the middle of the night to be lectured about modesty and femininity because we had failed to put another layer of clothing over top of our already poofy snow pants.

I rested my head on the shoulder of the girl next to me and stared skeptically at the woman lecturing us. An increasingly familiar feeling of rebellion crept over me. I had always been a “good girl”, one of the “godly” ones, but that was about to change. Surprisingly enough, it wasn’t rock music, or blue jeans, or college that was turning me into a rebel (like we’d been warned about). It was Jesus.

If you are at all familiar with TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting” show and have seen the Duggar family, then you have an idea of how I grew up. Only, don’t think of the “stylish” Duggars we all know now. Do me a favor and Google the 2004 version of the Duggar family. Yup, that was me: long hair, awkward bangs, homemade jumpers and all.

My siblings and I were homeschooled before homeschooling was a thing. We were educated at home back in the day when kids like us were afraid of the yellow school bus (there were occasional conflicts with a local school district). Back when grocery store clerks had to scrape their chins off the floor when we told them why we weren’t in school. “Is that even legal?” was a commonly heard question.

Obviously, not all homeschoolers are Duggar-ish. How did I end up at a youth retreat getting lectured about snow pants at midnight? The short answer is that my parents joined a cult…

I’m skipping this section because you can read it on my blog. Just follow the link above.

“Once I “got out” I chose to close the door on my past. After being chased through Cedar Point by a former friend so that they could yell at me about my new cartilage piercing, I just needed to be done. We were no longer attending the cultic church, so I moved on and started college. (I might have still worn homemade jumpers and had waist-length hair my first year, but hey, it was a step in the right direction.) I told new friends that I had been homeschooled in a conservative Christian home and that was all. My husband didn’t even learn the truth about my past until we had been married for over five years.

A few years ago, I started to get connected with former ATI students and people who had been influenced by Bill Gothard’s teachings. Many of them were no longer Christians. Having been burned by the version of Christianity they experienced, they wanted nothing to do with God, Jesus, or church. I didn’t blame them, but it made me wonder. Why was I still a Christian? Why hadn’t I run away? I started to go back and process for the first time in over a decade. As I worked my way through memories and former ways of thinking, I came to a simple conclusion. I met Jesus. He became so real to me, even while I was in the cult, that I couldn’t leave Him behind. I left the legalism and lies, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. After all, He was the one who showed me I’d been brainwashed.

One afternoon, after an online interaction with some of my former “cult-mates”, I found myself in my basement doing laundry and talking to Jesus. It broke my heart to hear from people who had such misconceptions of God and who didn’t want to give Jesus another chance. I got it, but I hurt for them. Sitting on my basement floor, with tears rolling down my cheeks, I whispered “I just want to represent You well.” And the Holy Spirit whispered back to my heart, “Write. Tell your story.” So, here I am.

It’s not just people raised in a Christian cult who are walking out on the church and Christianity. Many “normal” people raised in good, “normal” churches are leaving their former faith as well. Recognizing this growing trend, I started to wonder if there was a common thread. What if people across the board are leaving the religion and tradition of Christianity because they have never met Jesus? I think this common thread is what makes my rather extreme story universal.

Think of me as the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four. I met this amazing, radical, mind-blowing man named Jesus. He changed my life, and I want you to meet Him too. It is my prayer that as you read this book and hear some crazy stories, you will consider lies you might be believing, and question your own view of God and Christianity. By the end, I pray you will be able to say with the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42.”

I hope you enjoyed that sneak peak! Thank you for your prayers as I take the next scary but exciting step forward. 🙂

When God Opens a Door (A Book Update)

“I’ve been brainwashed. The unexpected thought poked at my mind. We were a sleepy bunch of teen girls, dragged from our beds after midnight to be lectured by an adult chaperone. Clumped together on a couple of ratty old couches, we yawed and tried to listen. I was all too aware that my alarm was going off in less than six hours. Prayer meeting started at 6:30 am and if you cared at all about giving off a spiritual vibe, you would be there. Which meant getting up even earlier to shower, and blow dry and curl your hair, because for some reason curly hair was also a sign of spirituality.”

This is the opening paragraph of the introduction to my book, An Impostor Jesus that I am writing. That I am writing… It’s strange to say that. It’s been such a process!

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Even though humanly, logically, if you know me personally, the timing doesn’t make any sense right now…

God is flinging open the door!

  • God provided $1,100 for me to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference in North Carolina in a couple of weeks!! Seriously! I’m still in shock.
  • This is a pretty intense conference: five days, tons of writers, agents, editors, etc. I know it’s the next step but I’m a bit terrified.
  • Not only did God provide money, I also get to go with my sweet sister-in-law! In fact, she is the one who suggested it and sent me her extra copy of The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017. Which is where I found the name Steve Laube…
  • Steve Laube is a highly recognized agent in the industry (he represented Jennie Allen), he is the author of The Christian Writers Market Guide, and he will be attending the BRMCWC. After reading his agency description in the Market Guide, I’m going to do my best to connect with him. Because you know, why not? Go big! I might be insane…
  • Mr. Laube wants three chapters in a book proposal, which meant that I had to write another chapter before the conference…which just happened to be the hardest chapter of the whole book…
  • But, it’s done! Chapter 2 is done. (Intro + 1+2 = 3, for those of you wondering at my math skills) All I can say is that it was God because even though I had scads of papers covered with scribbles, thoughts, and organization clouds, none of it made any sense. Until, it did. I seriously got the whole chapter written in three coffee shop sittings!
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Writing and latte art…does it get any better?

God’s timing is so crazy.

This last almost-year has been so hard…incredibly difficult…and yet…

  • God has used it to break and humble me. I can see this reflected in my writing, and it’s a great place to be when you are trying to tell people about the real Jesus.
  • I have more passion than ever for the call and purpose that God has put on my life.
  • I’ve spent so much time resisting the idea of writing a book, but now I am embracing it. God has made it SO CLEAR that this is what He is calling me to do. I’ll be honest, it terrifies me, but as a good friend said recently, “God’s not asking you to gather 50,000 Facebook followers, or be a famous public speaker, He’s just asking you to write this book. So, write the book!”
  • Words, and thoughts, and ideas are pouring out of my mind lately. I feel like I actually know where this is going, and I can see it happening. It’s really exciting! I know that it’s Jesus!

Want to know what you can do?

  1. Pray for me! I need so much prayer!!! Pray for the upcoming conference, for the contacts that I will make, for safety traveling, and that God will clearly show me the next step…
  2. Follow my blog. I know it sounds silly and I don’t usually talk about it, but publishing companies look at this sort of thing. They want to know how big of a “platform” you have. There is a place on the side bar where you can sign up with your email address. This will send you an email every time I write a new post, and it will make it seem like my blog is more popular. 😉
  3. Like my Facebook page. You can find a link in my sidebar. Again, another platform thing…but numbers are important to publishers.
  4. Share my blog or Facebook page on social media. Numbers again, but also getting the word out. 🙂 Thanks, friends!

I’ll close with the last paragraph of the introduction to An Impostor Jesus…it’s the absolute cry of my heart both for my book and my blog.

“Think of me as the Samaritan woman at the well, in John chapter four. I met this amazing, radical, mind-blowing man named Jesus. He changed my life, and I want you to meet Him too. It is my prayer that as you read this book and hear a few bizarre stories, you will consider the lies you might be believing, and question your view of God and Christianity. By the end, I pray you will be able to say with the people of Samaria, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” John 4:42”

A High Ropes Course Called Life…

I strongly dislike high ropes courses. But, I adore zip lines. This has been my dilemma as a youth pastor’s wife for the past five years. High ropes courses seem to go along with youth retreats and camp experiences. I hate them. They terrify me. But, I want to participate, to be a positive example to teens who are also terrified. Plus, there’s almost always a zip line at the end! Did I mention that I love zip lines?

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For those of you who have never experienced a high ropes course, let me explain the horrors. High ropes courses are called “high” for a reason. They are located in trees or atop poles that I’m sure are at least 50 feet in the air. Okay, maybe not 50 feet, but high enough so your brain is fully aware that if you fall, you will die. Even though your brain also knows you are strapped into harnesses and ropes and such, there is still a primal fear that never really leaves. All obstacles are designed to terrify you further and are concocted with tiny, wiggly, cables, moving pieces such as swings or logs, and wobbly ropes that you are supposed to use to balance.

I do not attempt high ropes courses because they are fun. I do them to get to the zip line. Until last weekend.

Last weekend, I was at a special women’s retreat and one of the optional afternoon activities was a high ropes course. There were no teens around to encourage, and I didn’t even know if there was a zip line at the end. But, I knew that I needed that high ropes course. I needed a physical example of trusting God.

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My personal life is kind of like a high ropes course right now. It’s been a hard year…full of challenges, and fears, and doubts. Things haven’t gone like I wanted. Stuff fell apart. It’s been scary. It can be easy to look at the circumstances around me and wonder if God is really real, or if He’s really powerful, or if He really cares.

So there I was, standing at the bottom of the high ropes course that no one was making me do, talking to Jesus, telling Him that I needed a visual example of trust. I had my harness on, my lobster claws attached (see the next image), and my helmet secured to my head. The guy running the ropes belayed me as I clambered up some metal spikes stuck into the tree, and soon I was connecting my lobster claws to the cables and unclipping the carabiners holding me to my belay rope. It was just me, and my equipment, and the looming course.

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The first obstacle was a single tightrope with a few short ropes to help you balance. They were too short to keep hold of across the entire tightrope, so you had to let go of one and grab another. Who puts a tightrope as the first obstacle??

I made my shaky way across, talking to Jesus, telling Him that I wanted to trust Him. Somewhere in the middle, this verse popped into my mind: “You hem me in behind and before…”

I couldn’t remember where the verse was located or what came after that, but I realized something. In the high ropes course of life, Jesus is our harness and lobster claws! He’s beneath our bum and above our heads securing us, holding us together, keeping us safe. In the same way that my equipment was protecting me up in the trees, Jesus was taking care of my crazy life.

When I teeter across a challenging obstacle and all I can see is a shaky wire under my feet and the 20 feet of air beyond that, my equipment is still holding me. I might not notice my equipment or even think about it, but that doesn’t make it less real. Isn’t that just like Jesus? When prayers don’t get answered, or we get terrible news, or things are falling apart, and all we can focus on is the scary challenge ahead…when the terror is real…when we can’t see Jesus…He is still there holding us.

People, I prayed my way through that high ropes course! I made it to the end in one piece. And guess what? There was a zip line! 🙂

Later, I looked up the phrase “You hem me in behind and before” on my phone and this is what I found:

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” Psalm 139:5-6

The whole first part of Psalm 139 is all about God knowing us intimately and His Presence never leaving us. So much beautiful truth! Our challenges, our circumstances, do not change who God is. Our inability to see or notice Him does not change the fact that He is with us. I love that!

No matter what terrifying or heart wrenching obstacle you are on in this high ropes course called life, Jesus is your harness and your lobster claws! He will not let go and He will not fail. You can trust Him. 

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A Vision That’s Bigger than Me (Book Update)

I’m going to be honest today and just share the thoughts going through my heart and mind…give you a little glimpse into what Jesus has been doing. And, I’m begging you for prayers, lots of prayers!

My husband, who is a youth pastor, and I took some of our youth group to Chicago this past weekend for Dare 2 Share. It’s a great conference, all about teaching teens to share the gospel. I love it!

Anyway, so there I am being a youth leader, minding my own business, and suddenly God is speaking to me about my own life. Funny how that happens!

We had left the teens in the main session with our other youth leaders, and were in a special “youth leader training session”. Greg Stier, the founder of Dare 2 Share took us through six keys to being a strong leader in a shaky world. And suddenly there it was, right in front of me on the page. This quote:

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Honestly, this past year has been incredibly hard for me personally. I’ve struggled with identity. I’ve struggled with fear. Some of my “not so nice” parts have come out. I’ve felt empty. Much of the time I haven’t felt up to the challenge of writing. My book has pretty much been on hold. It’s been really humbling. (Which isn’t a bad thing.)

As I looked at this quote from Greg, I realized that I’ve basically abandoned any vision I might have had. Instead, I’ve believed the lies Satan has whispered to me: lies about not being good enough, or talented enough…lies that encouraged fear and doubt…lies that distracted me from Jesus and the power that I have in Him. I was convicted.

Just wait, it gets better! I love when Jesus shows up. 🙂

On Sunday, our pastor “just happened” to be speaking about every believer using their gifts to strengthen the body of Christ. It was a powerful sermon and I was filling in the second point (Using our Gifts is a Matter of Stewardship) when all of the sudden I felt the Holy Spirit poke me. I wrote down the words I sensed in my heart. “You have been gifted to speak truth. I want you to speak for MY glory. Expose the lies of religion. This is what I have called you to do. Stop being afraid. Catch the vision and obey Me.”

It sounds kind of crazy, but I knew that what I had written was from God. Ironically the next point was Using our Gifts is All for the Glory of God. I wrote it down.

“What do you want, Christy?” The Holy Spirit was talking again… What did I want? If I let go of my fear and doubt, if I chose to live with a vision that required an act of God to accomplish, what would it be?

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“I just want the world to know You, Jesus.” I wrote on my sermon note paper. “I want people to reject religion but search for You. I want a genuine revival in the church…a revival that happens because people actually experience grace and salvation through You. I want to speak truth. I want to destroy the Enemy’s lies.”

Friends, I’m tearing up writing this! Because, I feel the passion in my soul, but I know the terror in my heart. I can’t do this…I can’t make this happen. It would take an act of God to accomplish this vision. I think that’s what I’ve been missing.

I write about grace, and the Holy Spirit, and the power we have because of Jesus. But I’ve lived in fear thinking that I have to DO life on my own. Not any more.

By the grace of God, I am grabbing hold of this new vision. Not because I am anything special…but because I serve a God who is!

I need your prayers! 

  • My sister-in-law “just happened” to get two copies of The Christian Writers Market Guide 2017 and gave me one of them. This book is full of publishers, agents, editors, writing conferences, etc. I know that if I am going to “be published” then I need an agent. I read through the descriptions and found a handful that seem to be interested in my type of writing. Pray that I send it to the right person/people.
  • In order to get my book proposal ready to send, I need to write one more chapter. The chapter is on lies we believe about the Bible. I’m struggling to get my thoughts organized. I have a lot that I want to say, but I need wisdom in how to put it together. Please pray that God will sort out my thoughts and help me to connect the dots.
  • I’m thinking that God might be asking me to do a “Bible study” walking through the lies I want to expose in my book Impostor Jesus…lies like God being disappointed in us, feeling like we need to perform and be good, etc. Just pray that I would listen to God’s voice and not to fear and doubt.
  • There is a highly recommended writers conference in North Carolina in May that I would love to attend, but financially it’s impossible. Please pray that if it’s God’s will for me He would provide the money.

Thanks, friends! For your support, encouragement, and prayers… And for letting me be honest today and loving me anyway!

“The Cult Next Door” A Documentary

Does your voice sound strange to you when you hear it on a recording? Tell me I’m not the only one! I always think, “Oh gosh, do I really sound like that?” No one else seems to notice because, yes, I really sound like that and everyone is used to it. It’s even worse to watch myself on tape. Yikes!

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I’ve done two on-camera interviews over the years, and both times were…unique. The first interview was for the Bible school we went to after we got married. We were supposed to answer the questions with scripted answers put into our own words. I couldn’t get my lines right and it felt silly, so in the finished project, my husband does most of the talking and I just look like I’m about to burst into giggles at any moment.

Our second interview was a couple of years ago in Israel. We were supposed to talk about the tour we were on but had no script. We were on top of a building having lunch. I’m squinting in the sun trying to come up with something to say. Awkward!

I’m not overly comfortable on camera. So what am I doing in this picture, obviously being interviewed? 

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Photo courtesy of Youngman Films

In November, I was contacted by a gentleman, Jake Youngman, who was working on an investigative documentary focused on my old cult leader, Bill Gothard, and his organization, The Institute in Basic Life Principles.

I am more passionate about exposing the truth than I am uncomfortable being on camera. And so, Jake and I talked on the phone and then met twice to do interviews. Even though it was sometimes awkward, in the end, I’m very happy to have been a part of this project!

The documentary, “The Cult Next Door” was released online last night and I am excited to be able to share it with you.

Bill Gothard has had more influence on Evangelical Christianity in the past fifty years than we may ever know. Hundreds of thousands of Christian men and women attended his seminars and were influenced by his faulty belief system and blatant lies. Many of them never went farther into his cult, never joined his homeschool program, or believed he was a “messenger from God”. Many attendees probably never recognized how Gothard’s teachings skewed their view of God or His “principles”, and yet they carried those subtle lies into their churches, seminaries, ministries, and homes. They in turn influenced many others.

My goal in life is not to expose Bill Gothard, but to point people to the real Jesus.  It’s overwhelming to try to identify and correct all the many lies spread throughout Christianity. But, I know that if people begin to search for and find the real Jesus, He will show them the truth about who He is and who we are because of Him. I know that the real Jesus is fully capable of revealing truth and exposing lies. So, I will continue to talk about Him and point people to Him with every bit of my energy for the rest of my life. That is my passion.

The Cult Next Door (Official Short Film) from Youngman Films on Vimeo.

When your Neighbors Pee Outside your Kitchen Window (some thoughts on losing your life)

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I should preface this story by telling you that I’m a country girl. I grew up in the country. We didn’t have any neighbors next to us; we had corn fields and fence rows. And, while we did have a neighbor across the street, we were separated by our huge front yard, and the road, and lots of trees, and their front yard, and their trees. You get the idea.

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My husband and I moved into our current home in the month of November. It was cold. Everyone in our new small-town-neighborhood was safely inside. I recognized that since we had a corner lot, most of our yard was on the side of the house. I realized that my “back yard” all fifteen feet of it, directly overlooked the neighbor’s yard and their shed. I just didn’t think it mattered. And it didn’t, until spring.

As it turns out, that yard was something of a party place. There were crowds of teenagers and young adults (mostly male) hanging around all the time. In fact, I couldn’t really enjoy my own yard because of the smoke and language coming over the chain link fence that stood between us. To top it off, suspicious stuff happened in that shed. I knew because when I was standing there, doing dishes in my sink, looking out the window, I could see things. Things like people constantly coming and going, to the point that they wore a path to the shed, and sometimes I even saw sketchy packages and money exchanging hands.

If all this wasn’t enough, those same smoking, partying, and possibly drug handling boys would pee behind their shed. “Behind” is a relative term, because although their friends couldn’t see them, they were in full view of their innocent, suddenly surprised, dish-washing neighbor. That was the last straw for me! I wanted to call the police…my husband wanted to be good neighbors.

Thankfully, one day during dish-washing, when a young man got the urge to take a leak, my husband opened the window and yelled, “Hey, we can see you!” That got the boys’ attention. After that they went under the tarp which was over the shed when they peed. I still knew what they were doing, but at least I could only see their feet.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:34-35

These words are so uncomfortable! What is Jesus talking about? Surely he doesn’t mean that I die to the idea of having a pleasant yard or being able to do dishes without seeing someone peeing outside my window. Aren’t those basic human rights? And yet…what’s more important? Being able to “enjoy” my life or being someone who shows the love of Jesus to a broken world? “…for My sake and the gospel’s…”

Unfortunately I’m not a very fast learner…which is bad for me but good for stories.

A month or two later I was coming home with my children. My husband was gone for the night. As I turned the corner in my mini-van, I noticed two teenage boys standing under one of the beautiful maple trees in our front yard. They were smacking at it with sticks, leaves were flying, and small branches covered the ground.The minute they saw me, the boys took off. I was furious! I’d put up with so much from these neighborhood hoodlums, they were not going to get away with destroying my tree.

Without thinking, I slammed my van into park, grabbed my babies, and chased those boys down the street. Seriously! With a baby on my hip and my three-year old dragging behind me, I yelled at those big, scary, teenage boys to stop because I was done with this! Surprisingly, they stopped and let me question them. Even though I’d seen them with my own eyes, they vigorously denied knowing what happened to my tree.

About this time, I realized that I was home alone tonight, and these boys weren’t the safest people, and they had a lot of friends. With that in mind, I let them go and took my babies home. Then I got scared. What had I done? Was I safe? What happened to being a light in a dark world and showing our neighbors the love of Jesus?

I locked myself in my house, put my children to bed, and prayed.

A short time later I heard noises outside. The boys were back…with rakes and plastic bags! I went out on my porch and watched them as they cleaned up the leaves and branches under my tree. We talked. I thanked them for admitting what they’d done and cleaning it up. They were surprised I wasn’t angry with them any more. We enjoyed the summer evening together. It was good.

Somehow after that, we were friends. They would wave at me when they walked by, and I’d wave and smile back. I felt safe because these “hoodlums” were on my side, even if they did still pee under the tarp outside my kitchen window.

The next school year, one of them unexpectedly showed up at our youth group for a night. Even though he didn’t come back again, I know he heard the gospel and the saw love of Jesus.

I wonder how  different things would have been if I’d had my way and called the police instead of choosing to love and be good neighbors. I have a feeling that by trying to “save my life” I would have lost a lot…

This “losing your life” stuff, this “denying yourself”, it’s hard! Sometimes it hurts. And it’s not a one time deal. This story is from almost four years ago, but I’ve been learning more about taking up my cross and choosing to lose my life in the last few weeks than I ever imagined was possible. It’s uncomfortable and humbling and it goes against our human nature. But it’s worth it! Jesus is worth it! The good news of the gospel makes it worth it!

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Let’s Be Honest…

2016 was not my favorite year. And from what I see on social media, I’m not alone in that feeling. I came across this great meme a while back on Facebook:

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This image pretty much sums it up for me! Yikes! That’s not to say that there weren’t great moments and fabulous people in my life, because there were. I have many blessings that I am grateful for…but it was still a hard year.

I’m normally a pretty optimistic, positive, hopeful person. And I normally look forward to a new year with excitement, anticipation, and a sense of adventure. However, on New Year’s Eve, as I enjoyed some quiet after my kiddos were in bed and while my hubby was still out partying with the youth group, I realized that I’m struggling to look forward to 2017. The clock striking midnight wasn’t going to magically erase the hard things that would be following me into the next year. 

I know that a lot of you understand what I’m talking about. Most of us carry around heaviness and burdens. (Some of us just hide them better than others.) We live in a broken world and it hurts! Life isn’t peaches and cream, there isn’t always a “happily ever after”, and the prayers we pray through tears don’t always get answered in the way we want.

That said, we still have hope. Praise Jesus!

My husband and I are almost finished with an incredible book called “The Insanity of God” by Nik Ripken. We love and hate this book at the same time. It is challenging our beliefs and stretching our faith. (If you haven’t read it, you should make it a goal for your new year.)

The first half of the book is the author’s story of being a missionary/relief worker in Somaliland for six years. Nothing goes well, he fails in every attempt, there are no new believers at the end of his years of sacrifice, and the believers who were there before him have been murdered. Despite Nik’s best efforts, he hasn’t put a dent in the overwhelming humanitarian disaster that exists. Finally, his son unexpectedly dies. Talk about a crisis of faith…

But, the story doesn’t end there. In the second half of the book we find Nik traveling around the world discovering personal stories of Christians living in persecution. His own faith is restored as he sees the faith of these believers and hears stories of how God is incredibly real to them despite terrible situations.

That’s kind of how I feel.

I’ve faced some hard times this year. I’ve felt defeated, confused, alone, frustrated, and empty… But, in those broken places, I have also experienced God’s grace free and undeserved. I have been humbled in a good way, and as a result, I have seen Jesus more clearly.

I don’t know how your 2016 went, but I do know that we can face 2017, despite everything, with confidence. We can have hope because we have a Savior who is bigger than our circumstances, who meets us in our pain, and who loves us unconditionally. We can trust Him even when we can’t trust anything or anyone else. He’s got this and He’s got us. And that’s enough.

 

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Married to Your Best Friend…

It’s my fault. If I planned better, I would actually schedule a massage with one of my favorite female therapists. But, I usually wait until I’m in desperate pain and then I get whoever happens to be available the morning of my chiropractic appointment.

That’s how I ended up, face down, talking with my young male masseuse about relationships and his new girlfriend. After finding out I was married, he wanted to know for how long. At the time it was just over eight years. I will never forget his response.

“Wow!! (pause) You must be one of those people who is really into commitment!”

Yup! That’d be me…one of those commitment freaks.

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My wonderful and incredibly opposite husband and I are in our tenth year of marriage. After nearly a decade together, I feel like I can say a few things about married life.

Every relationship has its own unique flavor. My brother and his beautiful wife led the way in our family as classic romantics. They sat close together, gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes, and whispered sweet nothings. My father, who enjoys his children’s relationships almost as much as his own, would watch them with a sappy smile on his face. Then Josh and I came along. We preferred chasing each other through the house with water guns, or frosting, or rolled kitchen towels complete with screams and giggles. I’m pretty sure my dad thought we were nuts. On our wedding day, we chose to have cheesecake instead of traditional cake just because we wanted to avoid the whole “cake cutting” situation and the mess that was inevitable. 🙂

I married my best friend, you guys, and we have worked hard for almost a decade to maintain our best-friend-status. Some years were easier than others. The baby season was the hardest, but we conquered it…hormones, dirty diapers, sleep deprivation and all.

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Please join me for a peak into our marriage. This is shared with permission. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago Josh got sick. We have totally different sick styles. Typically when I catch a germ, it’s such a light case Josh won’t believe that I’m sick. When Josh gets sick, he almost dies.  I don’t do well when Josh is sick. I’m usually a strong, no-nonsense woman who can take whatever life throws at me.  But my husband is my rock, my support, my comrade, and when he’s practically dying, I sort of fall apart.

As I try to take care of my poor husband, I start to realize how much I love him…like LOVE him. You married people will understand this better than my single readers. Emotions and lovey feelings tend to come and go once you are married for a while. The commitment of love should stay, but the butterflies aren’t always there.

For the rest of the week, I continued to feel these super strong emotions as he recovered and I kept trying to show him how much I loved him…but he just didn’t seem to get it. (Love language differences and all.) At least he didn’t respond with reciprocal love like I wanted.

Finally we reached the last straw.

It was Josh’s day off and I knew he wanted to take a nap and I was hoping we could nap together. But he just came in and said, “I’m taking a nap” and didn’t invite me. My overly-emotional brain freaked out and felt super sad, and I wanted to go pout in the basement until he came and found me (Sound familiar, ladies?), but I knew that wouldn’t work because, duh, I’ve been married for almost a decade, and it never works. So instead I went and mowed the lawn.

I never mow the lawn. We have a push mower but a really tiny lawn so it’s not a big deal, it’s just always something Josh does. My thought was, “Maybe if I go mow the lawn (something he needed to do that day), he will get it and feel how much I love him and love me back!”

I was even nice and started on the side of the house away from our bedroom where he was napping.

My poor, tired, still-recovering husband slept all through the lawn mowing. He literally came out just as I was finishing the last 3 or 4 strips. I am pushing the lawn mower, now in the rain, and he is staring at me with a confused smile on his face. “What are you doing?”

“Trying not to pout.” It came out kind of grumpy. He shook his head and walked away.

I finished up and took the mower back to the shed where he was puttering on some stuff. “What’s going on?” he asked.

I don’t normally cry. But there we were, me blubbering about how much I love him, and him shaking his head and smiling at me and wiping the tears off my face. Next thing I know we are hugging, and I’m sniffling, and he’s laughing, and we are friends again.

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In the weeks following this, I started thinking about our relationship and wondering what it is that makes us best friends. I think these six things definitely help.

  1. We communicate, eventually. After nine years of trying to be telepathic, I have come to the conclusion that Josh cannot read my mind. He doesn’t get hints, even ones that I think are obvious. He needs me to spell it out for him. We try hard to be honest with each other and we take time to talk.
  2. We serve each other. While we do have his/hers chores at our house, we are (usually) willing to jump in and help the other one out. We also take care of each other…for instance, it is pretty normal for us to give shoulder rubs/back massages at least once a week.
  3. We laugh together and at ourselves. Although becoming parents has tempered our rambunctious frosting fights a bit, we still have regular times of laughter and teasing. We enjoy humor and messing around with each other.
  4. We have never gone to bed angry. There have been times when we went to bed still not seeing eye to eye on an issue, but we have never gone to bed actually angry with each other. Not once. We have tried, but someone always wakes the other person up and makes them talk. As a result, we forgive and don’t hold grudges.
  5. We do life together. Josh has been a youth pastor for most of our marriage. I have been a youth leader with him for all of that time. Even when the kiddos were babies, we packed them up and they played on the floor of the youth room. We are in ministry, not just him. Although we have separate hobbies, we make sure that our relationship has the priority. We schedule dates every month, and try to get a night away together (or home if the kiddos are with grandparents) at least once each season.
  6. We have a bedtime routine. People laugh at this one, but I think it’s one of the main reasons for our closeness. Literally, almost every night we do the same thing. After the kiddos are in bed, we watch Netflix or CBS online together and eat ice cream. Then we brush our teeth together and go to bed. Bedtime together is our opportunity to talk, laugh, and pray. The only times in our nine years of marriage that we haven’t gone to bed together is when someone is gone or sick.

 

I don’t want you to read this and think we are perfect. Far from it. I could write many more posts about our fights, misunderstandings, and stupidities. Marriage has the potential to be a beautiful, wonderful thing! My hope is that this post will encourage you in your own marriage, to be real, to seek friendship, and to keep fighting. It’s worth it!