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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Carry On, Warrior: A Review

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As you’ve noticed in in my bullet journal, I’ve been trying to read more books this year. Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton was the second book I chose to read.

The story of how I found this book is interesting. A couple of months ago, one of the trends on my Facebook page was this author’s name. The tag line said, “Prolific Christian author comes out as gay!” I’m ashamed to admit that the attitude with which I clicked on the link wasn’t a positive one. As I moved my mouse to the link, I felt a sense of smug satisfaction. Ah yes, turns out that another holier-than-thou is just like the rest of us. I wondered if she had ever preached about the evils of homosexuality and if she regretted it now.

I know, not the best attitude.

But I don’t regret clicking on the article because I started researching who this woman was and she wasn’t the person I had expected. She still spoke about the unending grace and mercy of God, how important her children were, and how this new identity fit within faith. She wasn’t defensive at all. So I followed her on Twitter because I wanted to know about this person. And her tweets were often encouragements to other mothers or speaking out for the weak or reminders that God loves us. There was something… different about this woman.

So I asked for any of her books for Christmas and Brian bought me this one. And let me tell you, it was like she had transcribed my own heart and read it back to me. Her past is filled with struggles with drugs, alcohol, sex, and loneliness. She’s unapologetically honest about each thing and then reminds us that she is still a child of God, she is still unequivocally loved. No matter her past, her present, her future, she is loved. And that love is powerful.

There were three passages that I read aloud to Brian because they felt like my own words. She had words for the things I couldn’t describe on my own. It was freeing. She tackles big topics, all through the lens of love. She doesn’t have an ounce of holier-than-thou. It’s refreshing to hear something so real, so authentic.

The wonderful thing about books is that they can give you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. This book does that. It taught me about celebrating my children, about finding the reflection of God in each person I meet, about building the foundation of my marriage, and about loving others no matter their history. I imagine there are many things that more traditional or conservative Christians would find contrary to some of their beliefs, but I still think they should read it. Not because I want them to change their minds, but because, as Rachel Held Evans said, “Glennon Melton… [gives] her readers a precious gift: permission–permission to doubt, permission to believe, permission to struggle, permission to laugh, permission to tell the truth, and permission to do it all imperfectly.”

So if you’re looking for a book that reminds you how much God loves you and helps you learn how to pass that love onto others, read this book. Borrow it from me, get it online. Whatever you need to do. I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.

Being Thankful

So a couple of weeks ago, I posted a blog with five things I’ve learned after being married for five years and people seemed to really respond to tip #4: having an attitude of gratitude.

Well today I got another lesson in gratitude.

A summary of what’s been going on in our lives: when Brian’s mom passed away a couple of years ago, she blessed us with a lot of help to start our lives as a couple. She thought ahead and while I’m sad she didn’t get to enjoy the money she worked so hard to save, I know that she would have been thrilled to know that she gave us a chance to start a family significantly earlier than we would have otherwise. Anyways, after buying a home and vehicles, there was only a little left. We needed to have some to pay for landscaping and then the rest was meant to be saved for a rainy day.

Moving out of the city and back to my home town meant that I left a job behind. And as much as Becka two years ago won’t believe this, I am dying to get out of the house. Some people are cut out to be stay-at-home parents and I am convinced that I am not one of them. Brian and I both believe that I would serve my boys better as a mother and a role model by at least working part time. But there’s not a whole lot out here in our small town. So we talked about me going back to university to finish my degree. I have three terms left in my bachelor so we thought let’s apply and see.

I re-wrote the entrance exam and was accepted, which was great, but by the time that I was able to choose my classes (students who went to school in the last school year got first choice of classes and I had to wait), all the classes I needed were full. There was a time limit for me to finish my degree and with the classes I needed being full, there was no way it was going to work.

Now, without going too deeply into my spiritual journey, I decided that I had to rely on God. If I was supposed to be going to school, He’d make it happen. If I wasn’t, then I’d have to figure that out. So we left it there and continued on with our lives. I applied to a job, but never heard back. September felt so far away anyways so I just pushed the whole thing to the back of my mind.

Then one day I was just checking the classes, just cause I’d exhausted all my social media entertainment while I waited for Eggs to fall asleep in my arms, and the two classes I needed suddenly had a single seat left. My classes had aligned and I’d be able to take all my classes in 3 days a week so that I could spend the other four with my boys. I was thrilled! It was a time of thankfulness and a little uncertainty. Was this a sign that I should go to school? Or just a coincidence?

Now that I finally had a schedule, I had to figure out childcare. And childcare is expensive (which I completely understand because the workers need to earn a living too). We were living more or less paycheque to paycheque now that my maternity leave had ended and we were officially a single income household. Three days of childcare a week would take up a full third of our monthly income. So again I turned to my beliefs and left the stress with God. While September was getting closer, it still seemed like an eon away.

A friend told me about government subsidies for child care for qualifying families. Yes! This is what I was looking for! But wait, you have to have your children enrolled in a licensed, approved family day home. The one that we were looking at was private and, therefore, not eligible. So I did some calling and emailing and got us on a list. Turns out the waiting lists for these things are insane. I was told not to hold my breath. Thankfully, the lady running the day home we originally wanted to go with told us to keep her updated and that she may still have space for us if we couldn’t get into the other homes.

So I dumped that in God’s lap too. But now I was wondering, is this a sign that I’m not supposed to go to school? Is this just character building? Is it just a coincidence? We kept waiting. And waiting. And we fielded off questions about school because I’d been so excited before and now I was a little less so and people were noticing. But people were also praying.

And now it’s today. School is just over a month away. I’ve been stressing a little more as each day passes, but with the definite feeling like I’m supposed to be going back. Brian was stressing too, I could tell. Not that I blame him. He’s being a saint in his support for me and this plan, knowing that he will be taking a huge amount of work with the boys on the days I have school.

This morning I had a dear friend over to visit while she was in town and I told her about the worries we were having. Told her about how I wasn’t sure that there was going to be the money for school and the house and living and maybe how I was afraid that I’d go back to school only to find that now I didn’t have enough money to feed my family and I wasn’t even enjoying the program. She commiserated and encouraged me. She left and while I was enjoying the boys’ nap time, I thought I’d check on our bank account. And there was a lot more money in our chequing than I expected.

Our child tax benefit has come into effect today and we will be receiving enough money to cover 2/3 of our child care costs every month. I know that our government was revamping the child tax benefit and I’d heard people talking about it pretty negatively so I didn’t look too much into it. So now I had this stress-relieving surprise that let me take a deeper breath than I have in a long while.

This school thing has come together in a way that I wasn’t sure it would. I’ve been afraid, but I trusted that it would work out if that was the plan for me. And I feel like it is. So, come September, I’ll be driving 1.5 hours one way to school three days a week with the assurance that I’m going where I am meant to. It’s going to be so hard on Brian, the boys, and myself, but I haven’t been this sure of our direction in a long time. And for that I am so very grateful.

Desperate: A Book Review

Today’s post doesn’t really know what it is. Is it a review or an advice column or just a rant? I don’t know, but that’s okay. The confusion today is brought to you by joy.

Yes, joy. It’s been a really hard week in the world, especially for my LGBT+ friends with the shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. And I am grieving, but in the midst of the heart break that surrounds us daily, I’ve found a small glimmer of hope. Hope in the form of a book.

Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson isn’t a book that I would usually pick up on one of my book raids. I wouldn’t even glance down the self-help aisle. But circumstances brought this book to my house and to my heart.

You see, I moved back to my home town just over a year ago and it is not the same place that I left. The close friends I had here are all over the world doing amazing things (living in London, graduating from optometry school, saving lives, that sort of thing) and I found myself more alone than I expected. A dear friend of mine sweetly introduced me to a mom’s group from her church and I, too afraid of being impolite to say that I was uncomfortable going, met at the hostess’ house on a Friday afternoon. And it went really well. I was welcomed, something I didn’t expect. I wondered if I’d get side-eyed all afternoon because I went to a different church and what was I even doing there and maybe I should just leave.

But that wasn’t the case. I was welcomed and prayed for. They didn’t even ask me to leave when I had to change Monkey’s stinky diaper. I started going again and again. That’s what introduced me to this book. We didn’t read it, but we would watch a minute video where the two authors would summarize the chapter. Then we would talk about it and pray together. I was so touched by the kindness of these women and I thought that if this book had anything to do with why they were treating me so well, I’d better read it.

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So I ordered the book (I couldn’t find a physical copy of it anywhere) and when I got it, I burned through it in two evenings. Quite the feat if you’ve got two little ones. And it really spoke to me.

It’s divided into three sections: “The Dream Life… Altered,” “Getting Real About Mama-hood,” and “The Redeeming.” I found that it started out being really helpful, but kind of petered out by the end. The introduction spelled out exactly how I was feeling about motherhood: “I can’t be a mother today, Lord. I’m too tired.” I wish I could type out the whole intro because I felt like I had written it, but here is just a very small part:

I felt very alone, and very, very tired. Depression snuck up on me; there was a shell of a woman where I once was. My ideals, my hopes, my joy were snatched away before I had a chance to notice. Pleas for help aimed at heaven seemed to be met with silence. The message was clear: this was my life, and I needed to just deal with it.

Adjusting didn’t go well. Anger and resentment were living just under my skin. Exhausted, out of my mind, and still hormonal, every day felt like a fight. Feelings of desperation were like an ever-present shadow over the good in my life… Motherhood was something I planned for, something I wanted, so why was living it out so drastically different from my expectations?

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This was me. Exactly me. The feelings of guilt and shame I was carrying around seemed to dissipate when I read this introduction. There was someone else out there who felt the same as I did. Someone who loved her children, but felt like she was living the wrong life. I read nearly the whole thing to Brian and saying, “This! This! This is me! I’m not broken!” It was such a relief.

Once the book proper started, I learned some things to help me make it through motherhood with a joyful, intentional spirit. It’s written by two women: Sarah, who is a mom of three young children, and Sally, who is a more seasoned mother and a mentor to Sarah. Each chapter begins with Sarah’s experiences, her triumphs and failings, before Sally’s passages, which focuses more on advice. Some of the chapters are helpful, some are not (I’m looking at you, housework chapters). The advice that stood out most for me were: find a community, make sure to rest, and decide what is important to your family and emphasize it.

Sally’s advice for finding your community centered on moms. She firmly believes that we weren’t meant to parent alone, but in large groups of friends and family. How to build that community? First, find a group of peers who are in the same stage of their lives as you. Find people that can commiserate, celebrate, and spend time together. These are the people you can rely on for play dates, heart-to-hearts, and accountability. Your kids can spend time together, which can equal free babysitting (both for them and for you). Second, find a mother or two who have kids much older than yours. These women will be your mentors, encouraging you when you feel like this stage will never end and helping you when you are overwhelmed. Third, find mothers with children younger than you for you to mentor. My mother explained why you need to mentor someone as well with this analogy: the Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River (North) and feeds the Jordan River (South). It is vibrant and gives life to the land surrounding it. The Jordan River (South) then feeds the Dead Sea, which has no output. Nothing lives in or around the Dead Sea. If you only take and never give, you will become like the Dead Sea.

I appreciated this advice. And I felt thoroughly chastised when the book told me that I can’t expect a community to find me. I need to go and initiate. Ask people to come for dinner. Have coffee. Offer (free) babysitting. Not just sit in my house and hope that someone would knock on my door and say, “I hear you’ve been looking for a community. Well, here I am!” Suddenly, I could take the responsibility rather than cry in the drive-thru at Wendy’s because no one talks to me at church (which is totally a hypothetical situation in which I was very emotional and irrational and it definitely didn’t happen).

The second piece of advice seemed like common sense, but at the same time, it wasn’t. Yes, we hear “treat yo self” lots from the tumblr abyss, but when mothers take breaks, how often do we criticize because “she should be with her family”? This book gave me permission to say, “I need a break sometimes.” Turns out, parenting is a huge amount of work and there is rarely any time to rest, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, creatively rest. It’s years before you get to consistently sleep through the night or get time to do something that renews your spirit. So get a babysitter or take time here and there to do something you love. Ask one of your community members to watch your child for an hour or two. Your child(ren) deserves you at your best and you can’t be your best when you are burned out.

And the last piece of advice that I really liked was about decided what was important to your family and incorporate in your family life. For example, Brian and I both love reading. Our bookshelves fill up a whole section of our basement. Before we had kids, we devoured books like bacon, but there is very little quiet time to read anymore. We would love to instill that love of books in our boys so before bed, we read them two books. And anytime they bring us a book, we try to put down what we are doing and read to them. This is also important when you are trying to cultivate traits in your children. Like gentleness. We want our boys to be gentle with those around them. So we have to include gentleness in our lives. Yes, we rough house with them sometimes, but we are working very hard to be gentle even when we are upset. So no spankings or slamming cupboards or raising our voices. I’m not saying that we do it every time. We are imperfect people, after all. But we are trying.

I learned a lot from this book and I can think of several moms that I think could use its advice. There are some duds in it, for sure. The authors don’t encourage women working outside of the home full time and there is a yucky little passage about feminism warping our world (*rolls eyes*). But like all advice, you’ve got to find the things that will work for your family and the things that don’t. You don’t have to agree with all of it to use part of it.

So I am going forward trying to live a little more joyfully with my boys. I’m going to keep building my community and taking time to rest. I’m going to love on the moms around me because we are all in the same boat, even if our Facebook profiles look like we are Pinterest perfect. Motherhood is really hard, so let’s be in it together.

Being Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving to all my Canadians out there this weekend!

This is the weekend each year that we set aside to remind ourselves of how lucky we are to live so privileged. And we have a lot to be thankful for. This year, Thanksgiving falls a week before our federal election and I’m asking for you to be thankful for something very specific this year: religious freedom.

We should always be thankful for the food on our table, the people around us, and our health. We are told to be grateful every day for these things. And rightly so. There are millions of people who don’t have enough to eat, are isolated from their loved ones, or are dealing with health issues. You might be one of them. I don’t mean to downplay those issues. They are huge.

But the election this year has brought something up that seems to have emphasized an ugliness in our hearts, especially us white Christian types. Somehow we started a debate regarding wearing a niqab (a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the entirety of the face except for her eyes) to a citizenship ceremony. Then the debate grew to why do we allow Muslims to enter Canada and not assimilate into our culture. And it’s been ugly.

From “Stay the hell where you came from” to labeling them as terrorists, I’m sure Canadians who are Muslim have heard it all. And a lot of that hate is coming from my home province. I’ve definitely pared down my Facebook friends list because of it. Alberta is a hotbed of racist remarks probably because of the fact that many of the people in Alberta (specifically small-town folk) haven’t met a Muslim person in their lives. It’s easy to call a group of people “other” when you haven’t met someone belonging to that group. And when you’ve classified someone as “other,” they begin to seem less human to you.

I want to go back to our topic today: thankfulness. We, most of us, are immigrants here. If your ancestors are from Europe, there is a good chance that they came to North America to escape religious persecution. Europe in the 1700s believed that a society had to have uniformity of religion to survive and that the government had to enforce that uniformity. Anyone not following that area’s specific brand of religion could be arrested and killed as a heretic. So many people left and came to North America so they could practice their religion in peace.

Fast forward to Canada in the twenty-first century. Since the people who are most vocal about their distaste of Muslims in my experience are Christians, let’s look there first. How many different branches of Christianity are there? Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Unitarians, Methodists, Presbyterians, and the list goes on and on. Each practices Christianity in their own ways. And we are thankful for that, right? You are thankful that you get to pick a church, or not pick one if you don’t want to, as you please. Whatever fits you the best. And the government stays out of it (except, you know, enforcing Christian religious holidays on everyone and other topics I don’t want to discuss here).

Religious freedom and keeping religion and state separate is part of why our ancestors came here. It’s been such a big part of our culture, we don’t know any different. Somehow, though, we seem to think we are the only people who “deserve” it. Part of it has to do with racism. And, yes, part of it has to do with the conflict in the Middle East (though we exaggerate this second part to downplay the first). And part of it, in my opinion, has to do with controlling what a woman can and cannot do with her body (because we aren’t debating turbans or kippahs or hoods).

Whatever we tell ourselves, we have got to stop this. We need to stop dehumanizing people based on their religious beliefs. Let’s remember that religious freedom goes two ways. If we expect Muslims to be restricted in their freedoms as Canadians, there will be people who expect Christians to have the same restrictions. Let’s just not go there. One of my favorite religious quotes is “You can’t evangelize and antagonize at the same time.” And, granted, that pastor was talking about how the church treats homosexuals, but I think it’s true of ministry in general. You want Canada to be a wholly Christian nation? Evangelize. Share the love you were shown. Show that Christianity is a place of refuge, a place of forgiveness and love. Show the scars of the life you lived before and how you were healed. Make Christianity a place of redemption, not rules and regulations. We are not a bureaucracy, we are a living body of Christ. And where does that start? With thankfulness.