The last straw

straw3

I used to believe there was such a thing as the “last straw.” You know, that thing that gets on your last nerve. That moment when you’ve had enough and you declare you won’t take it anymore. When you start thinking about how great it would be to run away (or at least get admitted to the hospital for a few days of sleep) and just have time alone.

The last straw used to come when the schedule got so full I couldn’t keep up, or when yet one more person was mad at something petty that had happened. Or when one more piece of equipment or an appliance broke down at home.  Or the car wouldn’t start on a day that was already stressful.

Guess what? Until 2017, I was a “last straw” novice, and a naïve one at that. The true last straw hits at the core of your being.

There’s no deeper core to your being than something that involves your child and family. I have a whole new list of “last straws.”

The last straw is…

…finding out that your newly “out” child repeatedly can’t get seated at a certain Jackson restaurant. If she goes ahead and seats herself, she does not get served until a straight or straight-passing friend comes to the table and flags down the wait staff.

…hearing how someone yelled at her and called her a f!#*ing dyke when she was merely walking down the street to her job.

…finding out she was told that “God hates lesbians!” by a total stranger.

…having your child’s school at every point let her know that she can’t have God if she’s gay.

These are last straws…

…having a doctor suggest that “there’s help for lgbt people if they want it,” and you assume he’s referring to conversion therapy that was disproved years ago.

…having people let you know that they want to remain your friend but they want the privilege of pretending your new reality doesn’t exist. In this way, they never have to acknowledge or discuss what you and your family have gone through.

…having your town put up non-discrimination protections for lgbt citizens and knowing that other Christians fought against it with all they had.

…and the list goes on and on…

As I contemplate all this, I suddenly realize something.

There is no last straw! This will not end.

I will never get the chance to say, “I won’t take this anymore!” Cause you know what? She’s my child and I’ll take it until my dying day for the privilege of walking alongside her. And she’ll take it until her dying day for the honesty of not hiding who she is as she follows God’s plan for her life.

So, for all these “last straws,” I guess I’ll say, “Bring’em on!” God and I will figure out what to create from them.

 

 

Baby-stepping to grace

baby feetI’ve posted on here lately about how I feel like I’m finally getting a small grasp on grace, starting to understand it and live in it. I had a cool confirmation of this while on a long drive this week. Please note: This is a small baby step so don’t get too excited here! (lol) It was just a cool moment for me.

I had pulled out an old Gungor CD to listen to in the car on my way down to Indianapolis to visit my mom in the hospital. I’ve always liked their sound and most of their music, especially the more worshipful songs. Anyway, I’m listening to the set and the song, “Please be My Strength” comes on. It’s a beautiful, more melancholy song, and I used to really connect with it when I would hear it. It totally describes how I used to feel about my relationship with Christ—always striving but never totally earning His acceptance.

As I listened, I still thought the song was beautiful, but it had no effect on my emotions and it didn’t induce longing the way it used to. It didn’t bring me down and make me feel like I will never be good enough for God to like me.  The words were beautiful but they no longer had the power to make me feel defeated spiritually. What a tiny, but HUGE God moment!

I’m posting the words and link below so you can hear it. I’m sure people who struggle spiritually like me will love it and identify with it, and understand how it made me feel. For all you recovering legalists, just listen and know that you will always fall short, and, no, you can’t sustain your own faith, but God will. It IS His love that’s keeping you! And me.

Please Be My Strength

I’ve tried to stand my ground
I’ve tried to understand
but I can’t seem to find my faith again

like water on the sand
or grasping at the wind
I keep on falling short

please be my strength
please be my strength
Cuz I don’t have anymore
I don’t have anymore

I’m looking for a place
that I can plant my faith
one thing I know for sure

I cannot create it
I cannot sustain it
It’s Your love that’s keeping me

Please be my strength…

at my final breath
I hope that I can say
I’ve fought the good fight of faith

I pray your glory shines
through this doubting heart of mine
so my world would know that You

You are my strength
You and You alone
You and You alone
Keep bringing me back home

 

Grace: it’s all I’ve got

Phil and Cait just left for church and I’m taking some time to reflect on 2017. For me, it’s been a time of extreme stress, loss, adjustment, and spiritual growth. I’m thankful for all God has taught me but I can’t say I wouldn’t have been happy just learning it from a book instead of experiencing it! 😉

First of all, stepping down from a 30-year ministry and attendance at JaxNaz has been difficult, and the loss of community has been painful. While we still see some people socially or run into friends in the grocery store, the camaraderie of ministry is missing. Phil and I both have described it as a feeling of being spiritually homeless. But we also know that this is in God’s plan for now. It’s not a permanent thing and God has a new plan and new spiritual home down the road for us.

Secondly, tomorrow, December 18, is the one-year anniversary of finding out that one of our children is lgbt. This has brought panic, fear, tears, study, loss (or shallowing) of a few relationships, spiritual growth, and above all, a personal knowledge of grace. THAT, I wouldn’t change!

For the past 47 years, since I accepted Christ, I have struggled to accept God’s grace for myself. I can give grace to you but giving it to myself has always been a cop-out and an excuse to get away with not doing things right. I have begged God through the years to help me grasp it and then kept right on kicking myself spiritually for not being perfect. I have gone through years of feeling that God will let me into Heaven when I die because I have tried to walk in relationship with Him, but He doesn’t really LIKE me. It has been impossible to eradicate my old way of thinking and experience the freedom that I have seen in so many other Christians.

Enter, Daughter Number Two… Through her, I have grasped grace, and I will be eternally grateful. Please don’t hear what I am going to say as an indictment on her or her orientation. It’s not at all. This writing is ultimately not about her, but about me. When I could not escape the legalistic teachings of my past for myself, I could escape them for her. And coming to the belief that Jesus first sees the heart of the person standing in front of him, and not just the always-changing doctrines of His church, has been absolutely freeing.

I have finally accepted that grace is all I’ve got. And it’s enough. I must depend totally on His mercy to cover my failures, faults and sins. Grace lets me throw away my checklist of things to do, or not to do, to make God love me. Grace makes it okay when I don’t perform the way I want to. Grace is, above all, trusting in His nature instead of my performance. It is being able to trust that, “the God I KNOW would never create someone with a particular orientation, and then hate them for it.” Grace is finally understanding that His ways truly are “higher than our ways” and His love is deeper than I can imagine. God’s grace even covers those to whom I am tempted to refuse grace, and I’m so thankful it does. It gives me the ability and freedom to love others instead of having to decide, according to my own calculations, where they’re at on the obedience scale.

When I worked at the church, one of my fellow staff members had a license plate on her vehicle that states, “Grace wins.” It’s a great reminder to me, because…

It DOES win.

It COVERS.

It’s ALL we’ve got.

It’s ENOUGH.

And it’s MINE!

Hope: it’s for everyone!

I know the lgbt issue in the church is very controversial. If it’s the dividing line between who you believe to be acceptable to Christ and who you believe not to be acceptable, this post won’t be for you, so feel free to pass on by. I’m not here to argue: I’m here to share both an experience I had and how I feel God is leading me.
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In October my husband, my daughter and I attended The Reformation Project conference in Chicago. It’s a gathering of Christians who identify as lgbt. We were thrilled with her opportunity to get to know other people who are trying to follow Christ as they also acknowledge their sexual identity.

What an experience!

First of all, I felt that I was worshipping with the persecuted church. The amount of pain in the plenary sessions and workshops was palpable. And the longing to someday be accepted by the rest of the Body of Christ was painful to feel and hear. But the amount of confidence in the love of Christ for them was equally palpable. It was humbling to listen to the testimonies and life experiences of these people who have been so marginalized.

It was also very stretching to listen to some of the people whose theology is different than what I was raised in. I was forced to struggle with beliefs that I don’t hold but that are held by other Christ-followers. I have come to realize that God includes in His Body many more people than I was taught to believe.

There will be many who won’t like to read this and you can feel free to unfriend or unfollow me, (I realize that my posts to some of you are like driving by a bad accident—you don’t want to look but you can’t help it!) but after that weekend, I am more confident than ever of God’s call on me to be affirming of all people. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t understand some areas of the lgbt continuum, but I will keep digging. In the meantime, the thing I will no longer do is believe that some people are beyond hope in Christ.

If you think about it, the lgbt community is the only group to which we, the church, give no hope. And, yet, God is a God of hope! We tell them that the only way they can ever be acceptable to God is if they stay single, have no family, and live as second-class citizens in the church. And even if they do this, they are still suspect. While I believe that God expects a purity of life for them the same as he does for me, I do not believe He considers them sub-Christian. And that purity of life that God expects is for them to work out with Him, the same as I had to work it out in my own life. (The absurdity is that we expect them to work it out with God after we’ve already told them they can’t have God!)

As to where God is taking me with all this, I have no idea. Am I called to just be the mom of a kid whose spiritual life and commitment I would stack up against anyone else’s relationship with Christ, including my own? Am I called to be more vocal, and if so, how? I’ll admit to being a coward. I don’t like people not liking me, but that’s an insignificant thing compared to what the lgbt community puts up with from good Christian people every day… And I realize I have nothing to offer the lgbt community, except my acceptance. But maybe God will want to use me to help other parents know it’s okay to love their lgbt children and to believe that they can still have access to God. There is so much pain out there in families with lgbt children and my heart breaks for these families who need support from fellow Christians who will love their children without judgment.

SO MANY QUESTIONS!

Thankfully, God is good and I don’t have to have all these questions answered today, but I do know that I am forever changed, both by my family’s personal circumstances and by the weekend spent with other lgbt Christians. Thanks for putting up with me working out life by writing about it. I don’t expect anyone else to have answers for me, but I just want to share where I’m at…

To my non-affirming Christian friends

I have been the mom of an LGBT child for almost 22 years now. Granted, I only found out about the LGBT part 10 months ago. You have known that I’m the mom of an LGBT kid for approximately 5 months or less.

As our family continues on this journey, there are a few things I want you to know about us and other Christian parents of LGBT kids.

First of all, there are many more of us, even in church, than you are aware of. Many of us don’t ‘come out’ about our children for various reasons. Some are angry and embarrassed by their children; some just think it’s no one else’s business; some have children who aren’t ‘out,’ yet, and therefore will not share that information before they do come out. And some are just plain scared of how the church members will treat their child and their family.

But we all need the church body to come around us and let us know that we, and our child, are still loved.

If you’ve never experienced this in your family, let me tell you a few things about the process I’ve gone through. (I won’t speak for my husband on this so I’ll refer to myself from here on out. This is the journey to acceptance I’ve undertaken.)

First, you panic… Especially if you’ve been raised in an Evangelical or Fundamentalist church environment. Fear of God turning his back on your child is a very terrifying thing. Your child acknowledging something that you’ve been taught your entire life is sin and knowing that they can’t just pray it away fills you with fear.

Next, you cry. You cry because you now know that the life your child is going to have will probably look nothing like the life you imagined. And now you can only imagine the worst. You cry over the possibility of your child being alone, hated, abused and looked on with disgust by all the ‘bad’ people and ‘good’ people as well.

Then, you begin to pray and study. Where once you had the luxury of doing a cursory reading of your Bible and confidently stating, “My Bible says it’s sin!”, you now read and study all theology written on those few verses. You study what was happening in the day and time in which those verses were written; you study the definition of words and what those words meant to the original writer and hearers, and you contemplate the heart and ministry of Jesus and how He treated all people. And then you pray that God’s love really is as high and deep and broad and long as you’ve been taught it is.

Finally, you begin to come to acceptance. You realize that this child that you found out 10 months ago is LGBT is the same child you knew 12 months ago. You know she had a heart for God 12 months ago and didn’t throw it out the window 10 months ago. She is who she has always been. She still loves God. She is still committed to serving Him. And He is still committed to her. And she, like you, will need Him greatly to navigate this world for the rest of her life.

But the steps to wholeness for you as a parent are not over. Physically, the months of your journey to acceptance have taken their toll. You have a permanent knot in your stomach and a physical shaking in your body that are only alleviated by sleep, conversations with your spouse, or an occasional anti-anxiety med to help you calm down. And you realize, just like your child realizes, that this is something that you will live with the rest of your life.

Because you see, I now trust God’s heart and His ability to be with my child as she follows His leading in her life. What I’m left with is the fear of God’s people. While I will be forever grateful to those affirming church friends who have been my rock this past year, for the most part, where I once considered my fellow believers to be the safest people in the world unless they showed me otherwise, I now see them as unsafe until they show me otherwise. I’m afraid of what they’ll say to my child. I’m afraid of their rejection of her. I’m afraid that their reaction to her will be mistaken for God’s rejection of her.

The knot in my stomach comes back when a Christian professional tells me that “there’s treatment for lgbt people” (Which, by the way, there’s not. Could YOU be treated into having a same-sex orientation?) when I tell him why I have anxiety. Then when I tell him I’m afraid fellow Christians will make her think she can’t have a relationship with God, and he states, “I think it’s their own sin that keeps them from God, not other Christians,” the panic comes flooding back in.

When someone emails me because I’m married to the pastor and wants me to reassure her that my church will not become affirming, and I assure her that it won’t, because it’s a denominational church and can’t be officially affirming due to its affiliation (I didn’t tell her that there are affirming people who attend the church), and I hit SEND, I realize that I have just reassured her that the church I love will never let people like my daughter think that they can have God’s love and acceptance. I get up, knowing that I just set myself on fire to keep someone else warm.
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For those of you who are hearing my heart and not getting angry or defensive and have kept reading, these are the things on this unchosen journey with my child that I need.

I need you to not act like my child doesn’t exist. She is still who you knew. She hasn’t changed.

I need you to speak to me. If you are uncomfortable with this new knowledge of our family and don’t know what to say, I’ll always welcome you telling me that you’re praying for our whole family as we navigate this new reality. You see, the problem is, your silence speaks even louder than your words. And I’m the one left to fill in the blanks. Because in this new silence toward us, I don’t know that you still love us (or my daughter) and those blanks get filled in in the worst way possible.

Next, please read. It’s worth it. Some day it may be your child or grandchild who tells you, “I love Jesus, but I’m gay.” At least if you’ve read, you’ll have perspective on both sides of the theological issue. Reading both sides may not change your beliefs on the subject, but your argument will be much more respected if you’ve thought through all sides of the issue. (I can give you the titles of books that have helped me.)

Finally, remember when you talk to me that I’m not dealing with a theological issue, I’m dealing with the young adult who stood in front of me and shared a terrifying truth. You can, and should, discuss the theological issue with others and you should study, but it probably won’t include me. You see, if I discuss this with you, 10 minutes after we’re done, you may be deciding where you want to go for dinner that night. On the other hand, 2 days later I’ll still be on the floor recovering from our time together. We would not be having an equal conversation-my stake in the conversation is not equal to your stake in the conversation.

I hope you have been able to hear the heart of a parent and not taken this as an indictment on the church. It’s not. I love the church and have given my teen years and adulthood to it. I’m not done giving. But this is a topic that will not go away just because we don’t know what to do with it. And I have peace that if I’m wrong on this issue God still has the power to convict and convince people of sin. When I stand before God some day, I’ll be able to say that I loved unconditionally. However, if I take the other route, saying that having a same-sex orientation disqualifies one from Heaven and I’m wrong, I will have helped keep a whole group of people whom God loves, away from Him.

I’ll risk grace…

Say, what?

Just sitting here rather amused today at the comments I’m hearing about my husband resigning his position as Lead Pastor at our church. I thought I would share a couple of them and answer them for anyone who might be confused.

Here goes…

1. “I heard that Phil got forced out of the church!”
If he did, the board did it so well that we didn’t even realize that’s what happened! Wow, Board, you’re good!

Nothing could be further from the truth. Last summer or fall (I can’t remember which and Phil’s not home to ask) Phil went to the board and told them that he felt his time here was drawing to a close. He felt that it was time for new, younger leadership to whom God would give a new vision for JaxNaz Church. He also told the board that he was serious about it and they should start taking steps in that direction. They talked to our interim District Superintendent and he began meeting with Phil and the board to study how to implement this plan in the best way possible.

2. “How is Phil adjusting to being voted out of the church?”
He’s not adjusting because he didn’t get voted out. (Refer to answer to Question 1.)

Our adjustment is in waiting to see where God would have us serve next. I know He has a plan for us but we just don’t know what it is yet. Some people might think we’re crazy for stepping down before we have the next job(s) lined up. But isn’t that what God calls us all to do if He asks? When He called Abraham in the Old Testament to go to a land that he did not know, He expected Abraham to start walking, even though Abraham had no clue what he was doing. (Lest you think this is easy, know that I, at least, am doing this with fear and trembling. No spiritual giant here… and no short jokes from any of you either!)

3. The rumor I haven’t heard yet , but I’m assuming is out there or will be out there: “Pastor Phil stepped down because one of his children came out as gay so he had to leave the church.”

First of all, the transition out of pastoring started before any conversations with our daughter. Those conversations were private, personal and precious to us, so you probably won’t hear about them. However, if you run across someone who thinks we would have to step down because of our child, then assume they don’t know this church! This church has spent 30 years loving our entire family in all ways possible. They have helped us raise our children into good, loving adults who love Jesus. They have been our friends, our family and our loved ones for all these years and they are not the kind of people who love conditionally. They have a Christlike love that reaches to everyone. I am proud of them and the way they have helped me grow spiritually and helped me learn about the LOVE of God which was sorely lacking in my church upbringing. In other words, don’t diss my church!

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We really do ask for your prayers for our future. Pray that God would make clear to us what we are to do next and that we would recognize His voice daily. You guys can feel free to ask us in person anything you want about any of this. We’ve tried to be open all these years and we will continue to be so. We love you, we love our church, and we love God above all else. Thanks for being family!

And one other thing: We put a ton of work in this body of believers. Stick with them and help them reach even more people for Christ! You might even grow spiritually in the process! 🙂

 

Where feet may fail

Yesterday my husband resigned as pastor of a church he has led for 30 years. The timing is right in order for the church to move forward with new, younger leadership, but we are leaving after living half of our lives here. This church is not only our job, it is also our friends, our family, and basically, our entire life. At this point, I have a peace about the decision but I still battle the fear of the unknown.

For those who know me well, you know what a worrier I can be. Deep down the trust in God is there but on the surface I am definitely one who needs to be able to SEE the next step. (Think Indiana Jones when he takes the first step onto the invisible bridge…). I am struggling with what that bridge looks like, where it’s at, and what waits on the other side. I am also afraid of having to learn more faith lessons – I haven’t done so well with those in the past. They’re not easy or fun lessons to learn! I remember when Phil and I were first married and in seminary, and our income was negligible. I would hear stories of people who had great faith and how their needs would be miraculously met. I knew in my heart that God would watch over us, but I lived in fear anyway. Looking back, I feel bad about the way I let worry take over, and, yes, all these years later I can see how He provided for us through every life circumstance.

Now I’m standing in front of another invisible path and God is asking me to start walking. I so want to handle this well with the faith that God has something wonderful ahead for us. But I’m also afraid of becoming the ‘old’ me. I have so much more life experience now, and so many circumstances on which I can look back and see how God protected us. I so want to be pleasing to God in how I handle the unknown this time. For those of you who pray, pray that on days where I am tempted to give in to worry, that God will help me recall all that He has done in my life and how faithful He has always been.

One of the songs we occasionally sing in church has taken on new meaning for me during this time. It is my prayer and my hope and I want to share it with you. Enjoy!

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine