Dear Church

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Tulips from a friend today ❤

Today was quite the scary day for me. Today I spoke in front of my church. As someone who shakes and stutters through school presentations, this was quite the feat for me. But why would I do this?

Some background: I became friends with a couple, one of whom happens to be a pastor. Our pastor. On the one hand, it’s absolutely amazing because they are incredibly sweet and their kids are just the cutest and I think the whole family is so wonderful. There actually isn’t another hand. I just really like these people.

So when the pastor asked me to write a letter to the church, I had to say yes. I was flattered, I mean, I’m a writer. So when you ask me to write something, obviously I’m gonna do it. But reading it was a little more nerve wracking. So we came to today where I read my letter in front of like 200 people.

The sermon was on the prodigal son. You know the story, I’m sure. Our pastor talked about the behaviour of the younger son and then turned the parable around and talked about the self-righteous gate-keeping of the older son. It was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard and, let me tell you, I’ve heard a lot. So at the end of this sermon, here I came, trundling up to the stage to shakily read a letter about Christian gate-keeping and how it can change your heart when someone opens the door instead.

Apparently, my letter touched some hearts and so I thought, maybe this would be a good place to share it. So here we go, Rebecca’s letter to her church (note: I’ve removed the names of the church and those involved for privacy reasons):

To my church in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.

Yes, that’s how Paul began his first letter to the Thessalonians and how I begin my letter to you today. I’m no Paul. In fact, when our pastor asked me to do this, I compared myself closer to Moses. Not the chosen, obedient, plague-wielding Moses, but the one who stuttered and stumbled when he was asked to speak to Pharaoh.

I’m not Paul, but in a way, I mirror his story. I grew up a Christian. Here, actually. I went through Sunday School, youth group, Awana—I still have my Sparkies plaque—before being released into our unforgiving world as an adult. My faith was untested and proud because, like many young adults, I knew everything. I learned very quickly that wasn’t true.

The past ten years have been a boat ride on a stormy sea. Life tipped me over and nearly drowned me. I’d had this idea that if you live the right way, God would protect you from everything except persecution. That bad things only happened to good people that screwed up. So when some of the darkest things happened to me, I was angry and afraid.

Angry that God didn’t intervene when someone was hurting me. Angry that I’d believed a lie for so long. Angry that Jesus promised in John 16:33 that “he has overcome the world.” What a load of garbage, I thought. If you can be raped and murdered and abused and abandoned in this world, how has he overcome anything?

I wasn’t just angry. I was afraid. Afraid that I had become everything my youth pastor warned me about. In my heart of hearts, I still believed there was a God, but He was cold, distant, disinterested. That He’d saved the world from Hell and then washed His hands of Earth with an “I regret everything.” I was afraid to negotiate with this world without the surety that I could be safe. But more than anything, I was afraid that there was no place for me in any church, especially this one.

Dear church, I was afraid of you because I didn’t think I was like you anymore. I thought you naive and judgmental. You know that dreaded phrase: holier-than-thou.

Still, I attended this church for the past two years without really being here. I wanted my children to have the same foundation I had, though I couldn’t tell anyone why. I was asked to do music and I like music, so I figured why not. On the outside, I did the good Christian thing. I pretended. That’s what you do on Sundays, right?

In January, a few careless words nearly sunk my boat. It was at that point that I quit. It felt like an official “Keep Out!” sign had been placed on these glass doors. No Rebeccas allowed. No sinners allowed. No one who disagrees allowed. Maybe I wasn’t through with God, I thought, but I was definitely through with the church. Maybe all churches. The problem, though, was that I was committed to doing music. I couldn’t just not show up anymore. So I sent a message to the worship ministry coordinator politely asking her to remove me from the worship team and from the schedules.

The response, basically, was that coffee was required to quit music. I dreaded the coffee date for the whole week. She was obliged to meet with me, I thought. She can’t willingly just let a church attendee stop coming. But we met anyways. I was ready to spill out the entirety of my heart from the last ten years because I figured I wouldn’t see her again anyways and she’d be more willing to not pressure me to stay in church with the sheer amount of baggage I was carrying.

Acts 9 recounts Paul’s conversion to Christianity. The English Standard Version says in verse 1 that Saul was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” And while I wasn’t breathing literal murder, my heart was so full of hurt and anger that I might as well have been. My coffee date listened to my story and everything that came with it. I half expected her to just get up and walk away. I didn’t know I was asking the same question as Saul: “Who are you, Lord?”

And He answered me.

I remember in one of my Sunday School classes as a little girl, we would often recite: “God is love.” It didn’t mean much, especially compared to the stickers I’d get after saying it. And as I grew up, I’d learned a different phrase: “God is rules.” But sitting in Starbucks late that night, I learned again that God is love. He showed me that through this new friend. It was as if she looked over all the trash I’d laid out from my past and she said, “Cool, but it doesn’t matter. Your value to God, your value to the church isn’t here. You are loved regardless.”

Like Saul, I was blinded. While preparing for all the worst circumstances, I hadn’t taken account of the best. I was invited to a small group and promised I’d be welcome there, no matter what. She wasn’t lying. Not only was I welcome there, I was wanted.

When I went to small group, it was like the scales that covered my eyes were removed. Like Paul in Acts 9:19, I was strengthened.

Dear church, it was this act of love that brought me back. A love that has made we want to jump into this place with both feet, the way my son jumps into puddles. And like Paul says in Ephesians, “For this reason,… I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.”

It was not an argument, a confrontation, or a challenge that has me writing this to you. It was not condemnation or a call for me to change my ways. It was love. It was grace. It was a reminder that brokenness is Jesus’ specialty.

So I end this letter to you with encouragement using the words Paul used in closing to the Galations: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

 

So that’s it. That’s the letter.If you want to hear the context for my letter as well as me shakily reading it, click here.

I’d love to hear your responses, good or bad. So feel free to comment below!

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Ugh School

Welp, I’m trying to plan the last six classes I need to graduate. Woo hoo! I’m almost done! I’ve been plugging away at an undergraduate degree for the past ten years and it feels really nice to be finished soon.

 

Oh wait. My school is the worst scheduler in the world.

 

Yes, today might be a bit of a rant because I’ve struggled with this every. single. year. I’m serious. It’s part of the reason I left school to have a family.

You see, I should have been able to graduate in December of this year. That’s how Brian and I planned it from the beginning. When I got into classes for this winter term, there were only four scheduled that I could take. Annoying, but it meant that I would need to take an extra spring class. Oh well. So I planned my spring classes. I needed to take four, but they only offered three. Annoying again, but it just meant that I would have to jump through a few extra hoops in the fall.

Here’s the thing: you have to be approved to take six courses in one term because a regular full-time course load is five courses. My grades are good enough that I could handle it just fine. I’m sure that approval isn’t a big deal.

Then enrollment happened. There are two courses open for me in the fall of this year. There are the full five offered in the winter. One course is not offered at all. It’s just not scheduled. Where the “View Course Selections” button is, it just says ”
*** This course has not been scheduled. ***”

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Sigh. It doesn’t even sound fun.

I’ve sent an email to my adviser about this problem, which hasn’t been answered. She’s a busy lady. So I’m going in on Tuesday to meet with her. I’ve got no hope of graduating in December. If I can figure out something to do with this *insert curse word* of a class, hopefully I can graduate in April 2018. Sigh.

So, as it stands, I won’t be in school at all in the fall and I’ll be taking five classes in January next year. So that’s just super.

 Update (21 March): I met with an advisor to figure things out. While I’ll still be graduating next April (sigh), they’re letting me take a substitute class for the one not offered. While I’m still frustrated that our program struggles with planning, I am grateful that they’re working with me. I’ve been placed into 3 classes in the fall and 4 in the winter. Since I wasn’t graduating this fall, I figured I could bump an elective from this spring to next winter. All in all, progress is being made!

 

Top 10 Dates for Parents of Toddlers

If you’re like me, you’re always on the hunt for new ideas to keep your marriage/partnership strong. A great way to do that is to take some time out of your day just for the two of you. And if you don’t have the money for a babysitter, that’s okay! There’s plenty to do at home.  For some ideas, here are my top 10 dates for parents of toddlers:

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1. Cook Together

Nothing is more romantic than mixing up some aphrodisiacs while your children scream “up!” at your feet. Gaze lovingly at one another while setting the table. They bring the cutlery and you bring the ketchup because your kid literally will eat nothing unless its coated in that tomato-vinegar-sugar concoction that you end up smelling in their hair for days.

When the meal is ready, sit down together and taste the love that you put into it as well as the salt because “did you put salt in this?” “yeah” “I put salt in it. I didn’t think you did.” “Well, how am I supposed to know that you did?” “Well, maybe just listen to me for once in your life.”

Mac and cheese has never been so sexy.

2. Watch a Movie Together

Curl up on the couch and escape your lives for a while in another episode of “Paw Patrol” because that high-pitched fake barking is the only thing that will stop your kids from saying “What’s that?” “What’s that?” “What’s that?” “What does $!&# mean?”

Make sure to bring some chocolate you can feed each other and then lose because for someone so loud, your toddler is surprisingly sneaky and he seems to have run off with the rest of the bar and you’re now playing a murder mystery with chocolate finger prints as the clues and the murder that is sure to take place when you find that stinking kid.

Paw Patrol, Paw Patrol, whenever you’re in trouble…

3. Take a Romantic Stroll

Enjoy a beautiful afternoon together while soaking up some sunshine. Not only will you get some much-needed fresh air, you’ll also get a huge amount of exercise pushing those ridiculous strollers or chasing after a kid who has a knack for finding every. Single. Mud puddle.

You’ll love the looks from passersby as you try to wrangle a child who’s screaming bloody murder because you put their hat on the right way or that dog that walked passed wasn’t blue. The mounting adrenaline from the fear someone will call child services will kick start that sex drive.

And nothing is more relaxing than collapsing on the couch when you get home while the bundles of unending energy destroy the living room around you.

4. Get Some Ice Cream

Sweet, cold, and delicious, ice cream is a fun way to remain children at heart. That creamy soft-serve is sure fun to eat and clean up as it drips down your toddler’s fingers, chin, and shoes. Race to keep your own hands clean while your child runs her fingers through her hair and your hair or wipes her hands on the person sitting in the booth behind you.

And don’t forget that hard chocolate shell! That satisfying snap as it cracks beneath your teeth will send shivers down your spine–or is that the cone that has suddenly been placed on the nape of your neck because the kid is “all done!”

The underpaid teenagers will surely welcome you back to their place of work, especially when they find that someone at your table had an accident that didn’t involve the food.

5. Take a Shower Together

As every romantic movie has ever taught us, showers are a great substitute for that romantic kiss in the rain scene. The water will fall on only one of you and the other person will be covered in goosebumps because the apple of your eyes is busy swinging the door open and closed to play peekaboo with the dog.

Don’t forget to hold each other close as the shower curtain is violently pulled open and that small person climbs inside and immediately pees.

6. Stargaze

On the clearest of nights, curl up together in your yard and gaze at the sky. Watch for a shooting star so you can wish that your freaking kid will just go to sleep because it’s like midnight, Buddy, and you were supposed to be asleep five hours ago and I swear to God that if you ask for another glass of milk, I will lose my mind.

Make sure to make the most of that wonderful quiet time by starting to make out before packing it in because you’re going to have such an early morning and it’s already pretty cold.

Laugh together when you realize that your kid might have locked you outside and now you’re going to have to call your parents from across town to come and let you in your stupid front door.

7. Breakfast in Bed

Remind your spouse about how important they are by surprising them with waffles and coffee in bed. They will love being pounced on by a bunch of wild people and spilling syrup on what was once white sheets. Watch as the food that you made is ravenously consumed by the kids who refused waffles in their high chairs, even with ketchup, but somehow learned to love waffles on the way up the stairs.

You’ll even get to leave the house to treat your spouse’s burns from the coffee that was basically thrown at them when the toddler tried to drink it and burned their tongue.

All in all, a great way to start the day.

8. Cuddle in Front of the Fireplace

Gaze into the warm comfort of a fire while you snuggle. The entrancing beauty of the flames will distract you from the iPad playing at full blast as the toddlers watch another episode of “Paw Patrol” or play the loading screen of an app on a never-ending loop.

Watch your spouse heroically stop the kids from touching the hot glass on a gas fireplace or grabbing the red coals from a wood fireplace. You’ll never be hotter for them.

9. Go for a Romantic Drive

Take an excursion out into the countryside to see the local fauna and flora. The beauty of nature will excite and surprise you. You’ll be able to encourage your spouse not to drive into oncoming traffic while your toddlers scream in the back seat because they’re hungry or bored or thirsty or tired or fighting.

Discuss the world at large and hold each others’ hands until a prairie dog runs across the road and bump, bump, bump under your tires. Think about the deeper things while you try to explain death to your children when they see a bleeding mound of roadkill on the side of the road.

And just as you’re about to turn into your driveway, tell your spouse how much you love them and turn to see that your kids just fell asleep even though its only like two hours before bed and this is going to keep them up until midnight again.

10. Sneak in a Quickie

Enjoy the ultimate in marital bliss after you quietly close the doors of your napping children. Be in the moment with your spouse as you take off only what clothing is necessary to get the job done. Nothing connects the two of you more than being caught by the actually not sleeping kid because both of you assumed the other person would lock the door.

Okay, you know what? Just… screw it. Wait until the kids are teenagers.