Living church blog banner

victory

We drive in cars to a retreat center on a brown hill. The buildings are brick. Dry, brown Australian bush is all around, still brittle from the summer heat. These aren’t glamorous accommodations, just simple bunk beds, a hall for food and an open room with concrete floors as a teaching space.

I had only been part of this church in Australia for a few months, but those of us in the “young adult” type category went away for something called a Victory Weekend in these hills. Many churches in the charismatic movement have a kind of “deal with your baggage” program, and this was ours. The idea is that your participate in some kind of a course or weekend where you hear about how God is powerful over everything, and you confess those things that you did in the past or what you struggle with or what others have done to you. The idea is you walk away with the ties of past mistakes, the curses of the generations cut off.

There are plenty of people in real life and certainly online who would take this weekend and find every way to poke fun at it. To find every theological flaw. To use it as a means for feeding cynicism. And there are many people for whom experiences at these kinds of events caused deep and permanent pain. But I’m not writing everyone’s story here – I am writing my own, and in my life this weekend was a fork in the road. The point where I walked toward life, the place where I decided to stop dying.

There are black, brown and white faces, we’re sitting in a room listening to a preacher, and he asks, Why are you here? I knew.

There are some things that are easy to explain, others that are much harder, but that’s what I try to do in this space, illuminate what I cannot understand in the hopes that the process reveals something true.

There was a heavy load I carried most of my life, a voice that said over and over and over You are not good enough, you are a failure, you are not lovable, you are not beautiful. I am certain that almost every mistake I’ve made in my life was somehow rooted in those whispers. I was in that concrete building because I was ready to put these things on the table, ready to have someone else know. I was ready for a different life, one that wasn’t plagued with insecurity and doubt. I was ready to believe that Jesus held something more for me than only a permanent place in eternity, I was ready to see with my own eyes that what I believed had impact on my daily life.

She has dark brown hair and a Yorkshire accent, and we sit outside on some playground equipment while she reads through my book of pages stapled together. It’s a profile, one I filled out before, circling different sins, writing down statements, and I hand it to her like I’m giving her the worst part of my life, but she tells me the truth – This is not who you are. We work through the little book, the statements, the memories, the moments, after each step speak, pray, truth, love. She puts her hand on my head and prays, I pray for a hedge of protection around Devi’s mind, words I have never forgotten because I know that every lie I believed about God or about myself seeped in through the cobwebs of my mind. I forgive people and let go. I receive truth and accept love.

And it’s there, sitting on this piece of playground equipment outside, working through this book, speaking the truth, crying my tears, everything in my life that caused shame or pain is laid bare before someone else and before God, and as she speaks Truth, I’m hearing his truth in my heart as well. I watch as the slate is wiped clean.

There is space to write a new story, imagination to dream a new life, ashes swirl together and beauty begins to emerge.

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 20 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts. I’m also linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee and the #TellHisStory community today. 

Living church blog banner

cardi

I can remember what I wore to most of the significant first days of my life. My first day of school outfits from grade seven to 12 (before that I wore uniforms), first date outfit with Husband, first day at a new church in Melbourne. It was a pink top, with a small v-neck, the strangest fabric that was supposed to look like suede on the outside but was plastic on the inside. I bought it at a second-hand shop in Manila. This is what I wore for my first service at the church that would become my home in Australia.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a bit, you will know that I spent most of my childhood, young adult years and adulthood moving around. I haven’t written much about this, and perhaps one day I will, so to keep it very simple, this is what it feels like. Entering new spaces regularly, having no idea whom to talk to, rarely knowing what others are talking about, looking like an oddball because your clothes are from a different continent. It means introducing yourself repeatedly, laughing at things that aren’t jokes, not laughing when everyone else is. The opinions you have are based on experiences felt and sights seen for which the people you are with have no reference. And it doesn’t matter if you’re with white people in Arkansas, impoverished Filipinos in Manila, a multicultural mix of in Melbourne or blonde men, women and children in Sweden.

You are out of place wherever you go, and as an adult it means less. As a child, as a teenager, being “in” is everything. When you spend your life feeling out of place in social groups, having no cultural identity, and being transient between places, people and relationships, there is a fundamental insecurity about who you are that creeps into everything. I didn’t know it at the time, but I walked into that service with questions:

Who am I? Who will love me? Where do I belong? Where am I safe and secure?

These were the clothes I wore, the questions I asked, the needs I carried. More than anything else I was looking for certainty – certainty for my identity, certainty in relationships, certainty in place and a security that was certain.

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 13 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts

Living church blog banner

 

This post is sponsored by Jet Lag Fatigue and a Wicked Head Cold. I’ve tried to spend today sleeping and drinking water as much as possible, so I don’t have much to give by way of a blog post. So instead, I’m going to turn it over to you.

Do you have a journal? Some memories of faith experiences in the past? Grab a pen an see what happens when you answer these questions.

What were you looking for when you went to church (or another place of worship)?

Did you find it?

What did you find in the process of looking?

Church was something I had to attend growing up. My parents worked in ministry, so there was no way to get out of church attendance unless there was sickness involved. So when I think about what I was looking for when I went to church, my mind wanders to university years and life in Melbourne, my first foray into adulthood. And the answer is easy.

I was looking for belonging. Acceptance. Love. I was looking for a place where I could be myself and bring the parts of me that seemed sick or broken, but I would be invited in anyway when people found out, and they would walk with me, life-long bonds would form that were strong, I would get better, we would do life together and make an impact.

Did I find it? Yes and no, and I hope to write more about that in the days and weeks to come.

What I found in the process of looking was God. In my need to find acceptance from people, I found him instead, I found Jesus waiting for me at every turn in the journey.

Thanks for your time and patience, and if you feel like sharing your answers, please do so in the comments.

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 11 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts 

Living church blog banner

There are people walking down the tree-lined parking lot toward a building and immediately I’m having flashbacks of my year in Fayetteville High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Fake brick buildings. Everything looks the same. SUVs and pickup trucks aplenty. We ate breakfast in the outdoor seating area at Panera Bread before the conference. There were four groups of people, and every conversation – I was listening, obviously – was a Christian-faith conversation.

We enter the building where the Catalyst Pre-Labs were being held (I was there for the IF:Gathering pre lab), and I remarked to my friend, Amy, This is the most number of Christians I’ve been around in four years. It’s not entirely true. We did make it to a mega church once or twice when we were in Australia.

For the past four years, experiencing God and Jesus and church in Switzerland and Sweden meant small, unknown, other, strange. No one I meet asks me where I go to church. Most people presume I don’t. On the odd occasion that my faith comes up, it is usually met with a blank stare before the person who inadvertently found out changes the subject. We talk about the weather, the children, but we won’t be talking about faith again.

And I loved it. The anonymity, the feeling – finally – that no one was watching me and trying to figure out if I was a Calvinist or egalitarian or insert-irritating-category-here, I loved that I could live what I believed instead of talk about it, I loved that the few who were curious asked and that felt precious, costly. 

Culture shock, I believe that’s the correct term for what I felt in those first hours at Catalyst. The amount of make up alone was overwhelming, the fair trade jewelry that was uniform and also not, the concert-style worship beamed into an overflow room before a dynamic preacher took the stage (with an excellent sermon), the “y’all”-ing, and to finish off the Bible-beltness of it all, we eat Chick-fil-A for lunch. I’m sitting in a large room shoulder-to-shoulder with women I’ve never met (except for two friends), and I want to disconnect, I want to feel even more other and strange here than I do in Sweden, but this is when I remember.

She turns to me, the one on my right, and we have a long conversation. She asks about my life, I ask about hers. I don’t have to explain to her why I stay at home with my kids, and I don’t have to explain that it’s hard. She tells me about some choices her family has made, to live life outside of their comforts, to push the boundaries of race in their community, the way their relationships have changed, the cost they paid. I’m sure she wasn’t even scratching the surface, but in those minutes, I remember what it’s like to not be alone, I remember that there are those who are walking a road toward faith forming their culture, not the other way around. I remember that living in a way that pushes against popular culture is what I’ve always wanted. 

Several hours later, I’m standing in line waiting to talk to someone, and I start talking to the woman next to me. We exchange our basic details, and nod in agreement, one stay at home mom to another, she tells me about her life in a mid-sized town. She tells me about the prayer walking, the people on the margins, the meals given, the dream of community living, her belief that she has one life and she wants to make it count. And I remember that I’m not alone, I remember that there are others – there have always been others – whose dreams and desires have been about the marginalized, the poor, the oppressed. I remember that there are thousands of women who are working out how to live out a calling at home and a calling outside of it. 

We finish talking, the tears didn’t just well in my eyes, a few dripped down, I can’t remember the last time I stood in line crying having a conversation with a random woman, but I suppose she wasn’t random. There is a God man and a cross that connects us, his spent life for us asks us to spend our lives for others. We are connected in a way that spans continents and culture and language and background and expectations and categories and differences and beliefs. We are walking on a road, the church alive, living and breathing in us, we link arms across the ocean.

I left stronger. My mind, clearer. My heart, refreshed. My soul, reminded. You are not alone

 

How about you, when do you feel most connected to people who share your faith? 

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 10 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts

Living church blog banner

crumble

Our best Sunday mornings look like this. Husband and I quietly sleeping under the winter duvet until Little Bear starts crying from his room around 5:30am, he’ll end up in our bed where he “sleeps” on top of or next to one of us, his most favourite place in the whole world. His eyes will open and close, baby syllables slipping out from under his paci, eventually he’ll start poking us in the face or the eye, switching from Mommy to Papa to Mommy to Papa. At some point I get out of bed and leave father and son to keep cuddling, or Little Bear goes with me or on the best Sundays of all, he sleeps until 6 or even 6:30.

Ever since Husband and I married and I moved to Geneva (and now Sweden), our churches did not start early in the morning. For three years it was an 11:45am service and for the past year, we leave the house around 3:30pm for a 4pm service. The morning is slow, and we like it this way.

I head down to the kitchen, turn on the oven, pull berries out of the freezer and start mixing up this crumble topping from Shauna Niequist’s beautiful book Bread & WineEventually Big Boy gets up, and we are all in the kitchen together. Children whine about hunger, Husband makes an espresso for himself and sometimes babyccinos for the boys, and it’s holy, all of the noise, the froth of the milk, the ding of the timer, the crunch of the walnuts and toasted oats. We sit around the table and fork mouthfuls of hot blueberries and crumble into our mouths with a dollop of Turkish yoghurt on the side. The boys don’t argue about this breakfast, and neither do I.

Confession: I stay in my pajamas until right before lunch. Husband and the boys usually stay in sleep clothes as well. And yes, this too is holy. Because it takes a level of intimacy with ourselves, with each other, with our Creator to know we can come just as we are, sleep in eyes and all. There are fights on Sunday mornings, disagreements about what needs to be done, coldness from other weekend struggles, some kind of toddler drama, I would be lying if I left this out. But somehow, some way, we find our way back, and this righting of wrongs, it is holy. This is our communion, receiving our daily bread with thankfulness, drinking from a cup of abundance because over 2,000 years ago someone made a way for us be who we are, to not be afraid, to be pajama-ed and unashamed.

The boys drift away from the table, one of us clears it, I’ll start chopping veggies to roast for lunch, perhaps make cranberry and thyme butter for the roast chicken. Often Husband pulls out his guitar, Big Boy strums the ukelele and Little Bear rattles a shaker or hits the table.

And we sing.

Nothing but the Blood of Jesus. Our God. King of Heaven. Beautiful One.  Old songs, new songs, whatever Husband can play and feels like playing. Big Boy and I do the singing, I dance around our living room, waving whatever piece of fabric I can find as my flag, and it is so achingly ordinary, the sound of a child’s voice, our amateur musicianship, wrong chords, bad rhythm. But our house is a yellow cathedral reaching arms up to heaven, touching beauty, calling it down. On earth as it is in heaven. The divine reaches down to us again.

A few weeks ago we finished singing, Big Boy sits on our grey sofa, ukelele in his lap, innocence in his eyes, and says, Mommy, can we have church in our house? 

I wish I could tell you that I had a clever response. The truth is I can’t even remember what I said because my three-year-old put words to the longing of my heart, the truth we experience in our crumble-encrusted, pajama-wearing, loud-singing Sunday mornings.

Can we have church in our house?

On earth as it is in heaven. Yes. Amen.

DSC_0365

 

Shauna Niequist’s Blueberry Crumble

from Bread & Wine by Shauna Niequist (you can find her recipe for the crumble here)

Like many of the recipes from this book, I have this one memorized. I stick to the recipe in the book with a few minor deviations. This is the easiest breakfast meal to pull together (or for any time of deal, really). The topping comes together in five minutes if you have all the ingredients, and the oven does the rest of the work. I usually double the topping because I like having a thick layer of crumble (the recipe below is for the doubled topping). Also, I pull it out halfway through the cooking time to stir the topping with a fork so that it all gets brown and crisp. 

4 cups berries (I use whatever bag of frozen berries I have, sometimes only blueberries, sometimes a mix of blackberries and blueberries, raspberries and other frozen fruit of the red, blue and black variety)

Topping:
2 cup old fashioned oats
1 cup chopped walnuts (Shauna’s original recipe is for pecans, but I prefer walnuts)
1 cup almond meal
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup olive oil
1  tsp cardamom powder (totally optional – we love cardamom, so I put it into many oat-related recipes I use)

1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

2. Pour fruit into a baking dish.

3. Stir together the topping ingredients until it’s well combined. Then spoon it over the berries.

4. Put it in the oven and set your timer for 20 minutes. When it rings, pull it out and “dig up” the topping with a fork so that all of it gets a chance to get brown and crispy. Put it back in for another 20 minutes or so (depending on your oven of course, so do pay attention). Total cooking time is anywhere from 35-45 minutes.

5. Eat and enjoy! I love mine with some Turkish yoghurt on the side.

What do you love to eat on Sunday mornings? 

I’m writing every day in October (except for Sundays) about Living Church, and this is Day 9 of Write 31 DaysClick here if you want to read all the posts