Monday, May 5, 2014

Finding My Tribe

I have always had this struggle with church.  I have always wanted it to be home - my tribe, my people, my family, my place to belong.  In an ideal world, the church should be a place where we walk in the first time and feel "this is home" and feel surrounded by love and acceptance and this sense of God's presence and of being where one is meant to be.  Obviously, given that the church may be divine but also is populated by human beings, this desire is slightly ridiculous and also unfair.  I have a hard time shaking it, though, and it has probably made it harder for me to find that "home" - unrealistic expectations rarely lead to comfort and joy.

I've had a few moments in life of feeling "at home."  When I was a kid growing up and church was Grandma passing me Lifesavers and going to church picnics, it felt like home.  I was too young and too blissfully unaware to know what was going on behind the scenes (or to know that our mainline inner-city church was always mere steps from closing).  I hit youth group at an established, still urban but much more secure church and the full impact of how unwelcoming a church can actually be hit me in the face.  After several years of struggling there, I gave up on church until Dh and I moved back to the city at the end of our undergrad degrees.  We did some church exploring and ended up at a very eclectic little inner city church that had an eccentric minister and while it was a mainline congregation, it was populated largely by immigrants who had struggled in life and had a firm sense of the present of God and had no qualms about sharing their faith.  Even there, I never entirely felt as if I belonged but it was the closest I have ever come.  It was hard to say goodbye to that church when we left the city.  Up here, it's been even more of a struggle.  We tried one church that seemed like it might have been a fit thanks to a wonderful minister but the congregation turned on the minister after we had been there a few months and we ran (Dh claimed that he was waiting for someone to stand and start shouting, "Crucify Him!")  The church after that we tried was just too big and too child centred (while we understand how important it is to have an active children's ministry, if the church seems to exist entirely to minister to families with kids, something is wrong).  Then, of course, there was the church we attended for the last 6 or 7 years.  At times, it really began to feel like home, especially when we were active in small groups but then, all of a sudden, it began to feel like there wasn't a place for us there and we weren't welcome.  For several reasons, we felt like the door had been closed on us and it was time to find a new place to journey.

We've been trying a new church over the last 8 months or so and to this point, it's been good for us.  The preaching is terrific (I'm big on wanting to learn and be challenged and amazingly to me, while I have basically attended church my entire life and heard "Bible talk" around the house all the time, the pastor consistently is showing me new ways of seeing things or new texts that I had somehow missed each week and I'm really excited by that).  My children LOVE the programming and participate in a weekly kids programme, Sunday school and have performed in two kids choir presentations.  Dh is happy there (although he's not a joiner, so the fact that he is now on the sound rotation is about as "joined" as he will ever get).  I'm still a bit lost.

I hang out with the moms at the kids rehearsals, I chat with people after church on Sunday, I've got some Facebook friends now from the church and I go to the monthly women's group meeting.  Everyone has been nice and there have been flashes of feeling a sense of belonging but they are still just flashes.  I know, that if we got into a deeper discussion, that people would find me weird or controversial or a bit crazy.  I know that while I ADORED the book, "Red Letter Christianity", that if I participated in a discussion about what it has to say about Muslims or homosexuality or the military, and how it makes so  much sense to me, that I would be received with a distinct chill. Honestly, it leaves me feeling inadequate, sad, wondering why there is no place for me.

It's been bothering me quite a lot lately and I've been doing a lot of pondering.  I find it interesting that many of those who speak to me most tend to be Christian women bloggers, many of whom border on (or just are) somewhat controversial - Rachel Held Evans, Addie Zierman, Sarah Bessey, to name three.  In terms of the men whose writing I am drawn to, they are equally controversial - Donald Miller and Shane Claiborne, to name a couple.  Something has dawned on me in the last couple of weeks - maybe, just maybe, they are all bloggers because they don't "fit" in church either.  Maybe those of us who tend towards the "evangelical progressive" are really just that rare.  We don't fit in the mainline churches (at least not the ones I have attended, where, often, people are so quiet about their faith that I don't know what they believe or where I have a sense that most are attending because it is what their families have always done).  We don't fit in the evangelical churches because we don't see the world in black and white, we aren't comfortable with the "in" crowd with everyone else "out" and ours is a God of love, who demands more of us than judgement of those who don't conform.  These bloggers have helped me to begin to see that perhaps I am not entirely alone but that we are a tribe that is somewhat doomed to wander because the "church", as it exists now, struggles with us.  

 This has led me to a conclusion.  I am going to try to stick it out at this new church for a while and see if it can become like home to me after a while.  I won't force anything, I won't try to push too hard at it, I'll just let it be what it is and I'll see where I fit.  In the meantime, I'm going to work harder to find my "tribe" online.  I decided today that I would start by looking at who some of my favourite bloggers read to see if I connect to anyone and already, I found someone - Leigh Kramer whose post on being an introvert in church grabbed me right away Introverts in Church (she references a book here that I have been meaning to read forever and I think I NEED to read - I'm hoping it will give me some insight into myself).  I'm going to devote more time in the evening to actually reading from my feed and try to connect more with those who seem to speak for the church that I feel called to be part of.  I'm going to try not to try so hard - not to expect so much from church and to just let it be what it is. 

The hardest part?  I'm going to try not judge myself as being inadequate for not feeling that sense of "home" that I crave so badly.  I can't remember where I read it (it might have been Max Lucado) but I read somewhere and it really spoke to me that perhaps we aren't really meant to feel at home here because we aren't at home - this is just a temporary stop on the journey.  Maybe that feeling of homelessness is a gift.  I'm going to try to think of it that way.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Our Passover

I had a terrible (!) week at work this week and I came home so tired tonight that I really debated just giving up on my plan to do a Messianic Seder with the family and getting pizza but once I got home, I thought that I needed to do something positive to end this crappy week.  I often find that when I try to make up a special celebration, it backfires on me (the harder I work, the less willing to humour me the kids seem to be).  I am so grateful that I kept with the planned Seder.  I followed the outline from Ann Voskamp (clink link here) and it ended up being beautiful and a memory maker for our family.  I will never forget LB's face when he tasted the matzah dipped in horseradish (and I made my own matzah this year - hooray for me!)  Both kids adored being allowed to drink from "real" wine glasses (although Pk did ask several times whether they were real glass or just plastic) and many toasts were done, complete with glasses clinking.  The kids were interested in the story and fascinated by the change to dip the parley, drink from Elijah's cup and taste the charoset.  The lamb Dh grilled was mighty tasty, too!

This will definitely be an annual tradition and was a beautiful way to remind us of what this weekend is all about.  It might be too much to expect that much cooperation two years in a row...

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ripping Off a Scab

I don't know whether I have mentioned here that last fall, I lost a friend.  It was a friendship that probably would never have worked anyway - I value my privacy way too much and I get scared of people who see the world in black and white.  This friend was the mom of one of Pk's good friends and for a while, we had fun together, although I sometimes found myself feeling a bit... well.. claustrophobic.  Any of my closest friends will tell you that while I adore them and I love spending time with people who are ideas people and who are wise and fun and who are compassionate, I still need my space and that people who are overpowering, especially those with REALLY strong opinions who don't leave room for other views make me afraid.  I don't know where it comes from but it actually gives me a bit of a nauseous feeling.  On several occasions, this person turned on me (and I never saw it coming) when I held a different view and it shocked me when the attack came.  I AM someone who doesn't need to have my friends agree with me (well, that's not entirely true, compassion, kindness and a willingness to extend mercy are qualities that I need to see in friends but you don't have to share my religion or my politics or my way of parenting) but I do need to have friends who are willing to allow me to have my own opinions and who won't always push me to tell them they are right and I am wrong.  Being a teacher and as a member of a union at times puts me in positions where people feel they can take shots at me and this friend had a tendency to do that.

While I will not get into specifics, last fall, I finally couldn't handle the constant stress and self-doubt anymore.  I had actually stayed out of an angry lashing out she did at another friend of ours and then, out of the blue, two weeks later, I was accused of being disloyal for not immediately coming to her side and soothing her wounds.  At that time, my dad and Dh had pneumonia, my mother was in the throws of what was suspected to be a heart attack and both LB and I were sick.  My daycare situation had blown up (due to nothing to do with me) and I was doing a new job and feeling so much uncertainty.  I wasn't in a good place and I wasn't up to being attacked yet again.  I did something that I have never done before - I took a stand and said that I wasn't up to being the target for her rage anymore and that I needed to back away.  I discovered that I had been unfriended on Facebook and after several very intense emails listing all of my failures, I stated that I would no longer be continuing the conversation, I needed some peace.  I cannot tell you how hard that was for me, conflict-avoiding, insecure little me.  Dh was thrilled (he actually said something about Marty McFly finally punching the bully in Back to the Future) and he said that life would get much easier without that constant stress of a relationship that was evidently harming me more than it was giving to me.

I had no idea how much harder walking away from a friendship would be than I had imagined.  Every time I hear a sermon on forgiveness, I wonder about whether I am a bad person.  I have tried to continue to be kind without actually reinitiating contact.  I still drop off Pk's outgrown clothing for her girls, we delivered Christmas gifts for the girls, we sent a card and I sent a birthday greeting text.  On the few occasions that I have seen her around town, I try to be friendly and to seem as at ease as possible.  I pray for her and her family every single day, hoping that my sincere prayers for their happiness and well-being will take my pain away and help me to disconnect.  Honestly, though, it still really, really, really hurts and brings up all of the old feelings from high school of worrying that it was all my fault, that I was somehow to blame or that I am in sin and need to somehow repair the relationship.  I start feeling that way and then, just the mere thought of having to sit with her in a room terrifies me.  It's amplified because we live in a small town and our girls are roughly the same age and we have several contacts in common.  I start to feel like I have moved on and then, I see her comment on someone's Facebook page or I realise a contact that she has with a friend (in one case, a friend about whom she said TERRIBLE things and it was our first big conflict, when I said that I wasn't comfortable hearing her speak about my friend that way - I would never pass on the things that she said but frankly, I wish the friend somehow knew - I wouldn't want to see the friend hurt and it starts to feel as if the ex-friend is trying to take my friends).  I would like to just forget her and I honestly have come to wish so intensely that I had never met her.  I wish that I could pass her on the street and smile a vague hello and not know her story or feel like my life had been altered by this severed relationship.  I have never had anything like this before because, frankly, I avoid people who I sense are angry for this exact reason.  Conflict is draining and toxic and to me, scary.  I don't know what early life trauma made this so horrid for me but it reduces me to a miserable mess.

My big issue?  Every time I have a renewed contact, I feel a mix of guilt (for possibly being unforgiving and for not initiating full contact to show that I am not harbouring anger), fear about what she might be saying about me to others and this overwhelming worry that perhaps, just perhaps, despite the fact that I tried and tried to get along and that she has a track record of short friendships and hurt feelings around her, that the problem was me - that I am not a good enough friend and that I am the problem.  Every time I see her name, it's like the scab that signified my moving on and starting to heal has been ripped off and I realise that the pain is just below the surface.  It's a hard place to be.

It makes me see why forgiveness is such a constant issue - it's so much easier said that done and while it's easy to see others holding grudges or getting angry about something that seems like nothing to me, when you are the one who was hurt, it's so much harder to let go.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Holy Week

What are your plans for Holy Week?  Yet again, I have been frantically pinning to by Easter board on Pinterest and trying to make plans but sadly, a combination  of a horrid bout of strep throat (is there any other kind) and a general lack of direction on my part have led me, yet again, to having no great plan.  I'd so like to make Holy Week special - for me, anyway, it is at least as significant, if not more so, than Christmas and we do SO much to prepare for Christmas.  I'd like Easter to be the same.  On the other hand, though, as my father raised a few years ago, when a blogger I was reading had suggested that we listen to Easter music  in the period leading up to Easter to prepare, as we do before Christmas, it doesn't seem right to be singing about resurrection when the horrible stuff hasn't happened yet.  Personally, I'd rather experience each part as it comes so that by the time we make it to Easter, the full import of the sacrifice made and the power of the gift given seem so much more real.  Decorating and the joyful Easter music need to wait until Easter Sunday morning in our house.

So, what WILL we do?  Well, we began with Palm Sunday at church today.  It was wonderful and PK has been so excited because they had been told last week that Pastor S was going to call them up and they would get to sing and march around the church.  She couldn't wait!  We got up this morning and watched out kids Bible DVDs to see the triumphal entry and I tried to be sure that the kids had some understanding of what was happening (although, frankly, it's taken me probably most of my 40 years to really develop my own understanding of all of the complexities of the sin offering and what it meant to the Jewish people in their relationship with God).  It was wonderful to see the church so filled with children (and to have my son decide that he was going to be the life of the party, laughing his head off and deciding that while everyone else was going around the outside of the church, he was going to proudly march down the centre aisle, making sure everyone appreciated how cute he was and how exciting this was).  It made my heart sing to see the kids so excited.  I have to admit, it was a Sunday, though, that also made me the tiniest bit sad.  As you know if you have been around here a while, we have been in the process of probably making a church shift (no final decisions have been made but it's feeling like we are where we need to be, at least for now).   Our new church is very contemporary in terms of music and at times like this, I sometimes really miss the old favourites that were such a part of my childhood.  My dad and I have this odd tradition of sobbing through, "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty" when we come to the line about the angels looking down in horror at the sacrifice to come.  I missed that.

So, how are we going to spend the rest of the week?
Here are a few things I have planned:
1.  I found a terrific printable resurrection scene and the kids and I have already starting putting it together.  My mom always did this with us as kids and my own kids are old enough now to enjoy it as well,  Click here to print off your own copy and a huge thank you to Catholic Icing for sharing this wonderful resource.
2.  We will hang our "Names of Jesus" banner which I found several years ago at "The Homespun Heart", which has also become a thing that we treasure each year.
 3.  The kids and I have put together little gift bags for all of their friends for Easter.  If we are sharing little gifts at Christmas, it just seems more appropriate than ever to do so at Easter, a time when we should be sharing the good news.  Pk will take them to school and LB will give them to his friends at daycare.  I wouldn't want my kids to force their faith on others but I think that giving an Easter treat is a nice way to instigate a conversation with someone who is interested.
4.  Pk is singing in the kids choir for Easter Sunday morning and so we have been deep in listening to "When I Survey," "Nothing but the Blood" and "Amazing Grace" for weeks now.  While we aren't going to be able to go to a sunrise service (which I would have loved to do - there is a local Salvation Army core that does it on the shore of a lake and we have gone to that before and loved it!), at least the concert at church will ensure how special it will feel.
5. I am hoping to find a local Maundy Thursday service (this is something from my home church in childhood that was always part of Easter and both the church that we were attending and our new church don't hold a service Thursday night, which makes me sad).
6.  Of course, we will be visiting family a lot and trying to remind the kids that Easter is about much more than the bunny and candy.  We do have the bunny come and we have friends coming to go to an egg hunt with us Saturday but we tell our kids that the bunny is celebrating the resurrection, too.  I know, some people think that's a cop out but I'm fine with being Christians who have fun.  If the time that our Saviour was resurrected isn't time for joy and celebration, what is?

I'd love to hear any suggestions that you have or to see some fun links.  I'd love to add to our repertoire and make this meaningful for my family.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


I don't know about you but for me, this mothering job of mine is somethings extremely hard.  Yes, there is just the daily managing and the busy-ness and the neediness that can be so very draining and there is the fact that sometimes, I feel a bit as if I have ceased to exist as my own being.  That is overwhelming sometimes.  For me, though, there's another side that is even harder - the managing of how my children "should" be.

In theory, I will tell you that I believe that we need to allow children to develop into the humans they were intended or designed to be.  Your child may be gifted academically (I'll write another post someday on how strongly I object to that term).  My child may or may not be a strong student but he or she can be a passionate, kind and loving human being and that is equally of value.  I would tell you that we, as adults, can't impose our own desires on our children (or, as I know I do so often, try to correct flaws in myself by directing my kids).  I have told countless parents over the years that it is about how the child is improving and developing, rather than how he or she compares to others that matters.  I would tell you that on the report card, it's not the grades that matter but the learning skills and the effort that the child is putting forth.  I honestly thought that I believed all that.

I've come to realize that while I would like to believe all that, in practice, it's not how I feel with my own kids.  And it is a hard thing to face in myself.  Very hard.  I am so jealous of the moms I know out there who don't care and who accept their kids for who they are.

Almost the moment my daughter was born, I began to face it - the weight of the expectations and the comparisons.  Is she a "good" baby?  No, she was a horrible baby in the scale of the "good baby/bad baby" spectrum.  She never slept, she had colic, she cried all the time, she wouldn't nap.   Other moms offered advice (particularly on sleep training) and the ones whose babies had come home from the hospital sleeping through the night on their own were the greatest experts.  There were the moms at play groups who would talk about how their babies were starting to talk, rolling over, walking and doing all kinds of amazing things that Pk wasn't doing.  I tried not to let it bother me but honestly, it was overwhelming.  I felt like such a failure.  In my life to that point, I had always been able to control things by working harder.  Now, it didn't seem to matter how hard I worked, it was never good enough and never got me the desired results.  It didn't help that Dh was no help - me, the person who worries about what everyone thinks, is married to the man who really doesn't care what anyone things as long as he feels he has done his best and his constant refrain, when I mentioned my concerns, particularly those based on what other mothers were saying, was, "Well, you know this from teaching - parents lie."  I would argue that he was being unfair and he consistently answered that they might not be intentionally lying but that they were inflating, imagining or didn't really know what they were looking at.  It didn't help and I found that I only had one friend who I could really talk to about this stuff and she would understand and she was far away and trying to manage a schedule as crazy as mine so we didn't connect much.  She's also much saner than me and better able to see through crap than I am.  What a lonely time.

For a while, it got better.  I got back to work, we had LB and life just got so busy that for the most part, I was able to just keep pushing forward and ignoring other people's expectations.  I saw a counsellor who really pushed me to stop, in her words, "buying into everyone's perfect PR".  She said I bought too whole heartedly into what other people put forward as being true, rather than seeing that we all have flaws and that everything comes at the expense of something else.  I thought I had come to terms with trying to please and be good enough.

Then, PK started school.  Ouch, that hurt.  (As an aside, I will say that it has completely changed how I approach things like writing report cards.  I really didn't grasp the impact that that evaluation had on families before - now, I know).  It happens that we have friends whose kids are MENSA candidates, it would seem, and they were always quick to share how brilliantly their children were doing.  Pk did well and her teacher kept telling me that she was bright and doing just fine, but I wasn't hearing the raving praises that these other moms were and they were constantly posting on Facebook and raving about.  I got to the point that I dreaded report card time and all of the comparisons.  I was having a hard time not feeling like everyone thought Pk was a lesser shadow of their own children and I am ashamed to say that I think we put a LOT of pressure on her to achieve.  I was still telling other parents that character mattered more than academics, that straight A's don't necessarily lead to a happy and fulfilled life rich with friendship and love but somehow, yet when it comes to my own children, I have a different set of values.

It just keeps getting harder for me.  Grade 1 is the year that actual letter grades are introduced here and I've been listening to these friends going on about how brilliant their children are.  I go to the church women's group and I hear about how several of the mother's kids are just doing SO WELL and there is always the unspoken idea that other kids are somehow lesser.  I encounter other mothers whose children's report cards were PERFECT (whereas for us, the report card marks were strong, we were a little shocked at the learning skills and discovered that Pk has a major problem with talking non-stop - something that should not have surprised us).  I've been hit hard with the knowledge that Pk is not the dedicated student that I want her to be and then, this past week, her teacher mentioned that she was having trouble with a friend in class because the friend says she is too bossy.  Ouch again.  I really, really want her to be that kid with all the friends who gets the straight A's and is the all-around perfect child.  And she's not.  And it bugs me so much more than it should if I believe what I say I do.  (For the record, I also know that the "perfect" children are not so perfect - I can think of several who definitely have "issues" that their parents aren't willing to see).   I still can't shake the fact that Pk should be more of what she "should" be in my mind.  As a teacher looking at how she's doing, I should be able to see that she is doing very well academically and she is doing well in terms of social-stuff, too but she does have some things to learn because she is only 6.  I can't believe that, though - she's not doing well enough compared to everyone else, is how I am feeling (which upsets me a lot).

It's kind of ironic really - I'm upset with myself because of all of the "shoulds" - Pk "should" be more of the perfect child and yet I believe that I "should" not be so concerned by the "shoulds".  I'm trying and failing to deal with all of the "should-ing" in my life.  I don't really have the answers and it's a hard thing to talk about with people because I feel guilty and like more of a failure for feeling the "shoulds". Part of the "should" as mom is that we "should" accept our kids for who they are and we "should" never compare them to other kids.  I can't seem to help it and I know it's bad for my kids.  I guess that all I can do is to try, as hard as I can manage, to just let go, pray a lot and try to model and support her in being who she is and in developing the character that we believe to be so important.

I know that I should but it's easier said than done.  And it's painful sometimes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


On the rare occasions that I am here, I talk a lot about the hard times (and I feel as if the last six or so months have had more than their fair share).  On the plus side, I have a new job for September (a story for another day but SUCH a source of hope for me) and with the longer daylight, I am starting to really feel as if things are turning around.  Today, I found myself noticing things that made me smile.  That may not sound like a big deal but I have been running so hard for the last while that I haven't had time to notice much of anything.  It's been such a treat today and I thought I might share some of my smiles from today:

1. Good reads - I love reading kids classics, especially ones that I missed as a child.  Pk and I are reading "A Bear Called Paddington" and my anglophile heart is loving it.  I plan to spend some time online tonight researching some new titles for us to share.  Needless to say, the Diana Gabaldon is NOT for Pk and I, that's my current guilty pleasure :-)
 2.  I adore my dogs.  Chelsea, my old girl, has a capacity to relax in a way that I wish I could emulate.  I keep finding her curled up and cozy and it never ceases to lower my blood pressure.
 River is our newest addition.  He's technically a foster dog that we have had through the rescue since August but I could never let this boy go.  He is always with me, not clingy or demanding but as I sit and type here at the computer, he is asleep beside me.  As I read in bed, he's asleep beside my side of the bed.  He's a very comfortable companion and I can't understand how anyone could possibly have abandoned this old gentleman.  I can't allow myself to think about his life before - either that someone might have mistreated him or that someone might be out there looking for their lovely old boy.  He seems happy here, though, and his loyalty means a great deal to me, especially on low days.
 3.  Aren't these lovely?  My good friend had these for me last Friday night when we had dinner to congratulate me on my new job.  It's a blizzard outside today and these flowers are like a hint that maybe, just maybe, there might be spring around the corner.
 4.  I had totally forgotten about this until today.  We are scent-free at work and while I understand and try to honour that, I find it a bit sad sometimes.  I'm a big "smell-girl" - I tend to be very aware of scents around me and having a gentle smell that is somewhat along the aromatherapy line really does a lot to lift my mood.  Since I can't wear scent to work, I tend to put it on at home for myself at the end of the day and I love the smell of lilacs.
 5.  Don't you love my new teapot?  I redefine the term "tea granny" and for me, drinking tea is much more than just having a beverage at hand.  I have been looking for a "just right" teapot for a while now and hadn't found anything.  We were up visiting the in-laws last week and I remembered that I had seen a display of colourful teapots in the window of a hardware store, of all things.  I went in and to my pleasure, discovered this apple green teapot and it was only $16.99 and it pours well (the true sign of a decent teapot).  They have lots of colours and it will be hard to resist another (the read one with white polkadots was really fun).
 6.  Finally, the best part of our day?  Being on March Break, not having to run and having the time to do the simple things that give us pleasure.  The kids didn't get out of their p.j.s until well after noon and much of the morning was spent tenting in the living room.  It was wonderful!  I'm sure, after several days of being home, we'd all be stir crazy but today, it was just what we needed.  I remember hours of fun tenting with my brother when I was little and this brought a big smile to my face.
What is making you smile these days?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Do you ever have a blog post that just keeps spinning around in your head?  For me, they usually appear in the early morning, when I am out walking the dogs.  I find myself composing and by the time I get home and am faced with the up and demanding kidlets and the requirements of the day, much of what I wanted to say is gone.  In this case, this post has been bouncing around in my head for a while for forgive me, I'm going to give it a try.

I've been struggling on the subject of church for a while now.  I should probably define that more clearly.  I have no trouble with the greater "church" - the fellowship of all believers, the world over, who all join together to glorify and worship God and to join together in our belief in a risen saviour.  I'm good with that kind of church.  Like so many these days, though, it's the local church that causes me so much confusion and guilt.

Some of it comes from a few blog posts I have read lately, especially these two:
This one by Geoff Seurat and and this one that appeared in Christianity Today.  They both hit on exactly the area with which I have been struggling for a while now.

I am lucky in one sense.  I grew up with parents who were church outlaws, which meant that early on, I was able to separate church from Christians.  I knew that the people who made up the church were human beings and fallible and that whatever they did, it didn't mean that God was any less.  We were always outsiders - my parents' social justice politics and commitment to the message of the Sermon on the Mount made a lot of people uncomfortable.  They were always a bit "weird" to some people and the churches we attended always had wonderful ministers of integrity who blessed us with the message of love and compassion (and left-wing politics and anti-war positions!)  While we were always different, I learned early that you could be part of the church and yet not always agree.  We were not typical and my parents often were viewed as outsiders or rebels.  As a child, I was o.k. with that because for me, church was my grandma passing Lifesavers down the pew to us during the sermon and music that I loved and the smell of candles during Advent.  It was a safe place to be told by old ladies that we were special and I was too small to know and understand how hard it can be to not be truly accepted at church.

I hit my teenage years and I hit that lack of acceptance at church hard.  We went to an inner-city mainline church.   I don't know what those kids actually believed but the kids in the youth group that I knew never showed any signs of faith and youth group was purely social.  We didn't talk about faith and Christian music was for weird kids.  I was an introvert and I wasn't especially interested in their kind of partying so it wasn't long until I left.  Luckily for me, a Lutheran pastor with a gentle yet challenging midweek Communion service on campus in university led me to start thinking that church, in some form, would be something that I might want or even need, as part of my life.

I met my husband and got to see a new side of church - a side that impressed me a bit but also scared me a lot.  He grew up in the Salvation Army and for him, church was his extended family.  People lived there - there were always activities and they all camped together and played together and lived life together.  That sense of belonging that I had always felt was missing?  It was there, all right, if I was willing to fit the mould.  Sadly for me, my parents strong teaching that certain aspects of the Gospel message couldn't be ignored, even if they were inconvenient, kept me from feeling like I really belonged.  While the people were kind and truly committed to the message that EVERYONE mattered to God, I just couldn't fit in a church (remember, I was a big city kid who had only ever attended mainline churches and this was hard core small town) where everyone had to hold the same views and those views meant that a great deal of the world was condemned.  You didn't ask questions and you didn't disagree with the party line.  I had grown up with the love message but without the legalistic, anti-gay, end-times theology which scared the crap out of me when I ran into it (and, which I might add, has largely left Dh's parents church in the twenty+ years we have been together).

Since then, Dh and I have wandered a bit.  We attended a terrific city church for several years.  It was a mainline church with many of the mainline problems (such as being trapped in 1948 in many ways and it was struggling to be relevant to its challenged, changing urban neighbourhood).  What saved that church was a minister who was willing to let things move in the way that they needed to and several amazing Filipino families with a faith so deep and so overarching that it brought us all in.  Then, we moved  out of the city and it got harder again.  We tried several churches where we were the only people under 70, a couple that, after quite a few weeks, nobody had spoken to us and finally, one that we thought might be "the one" until someone made what turned out to be an untrue allegation against the minister that led to the dissolution of his ministry and the breakdown of his family and a congregation that was so quick to judge that Dh said that he could never go back - he said he felt like people would start shouting, "Crucify Him!" during the service.

I started to really question whether I would ever find my tribe and to be honest, as I get older, I am finding that more and more important to me.  I've come to the conclusion that I will never entirely belong in a church - my parents have taught me to question too much and to study too much and a theology that is too easy or too black and white or too trite or too judgemental just doesn't feel like God to me.  Yup, I am judgemental but when I sit in a church and I hear a message that is self-congradulatory or condemning of others or factually incorrect (that one REALLY gets me, I can't handle that - I come from a tradition of pastor as teacher and if the teacher doesn't have his facts straight, something is wrong here), I feel like I am choking.  I have decided, to a large extend, that my "tribe" is online - there are several Christian bloggers, like Rachel Held Evans, Megan at SortaCrunchy, Sarah Bessey and, to a lesser extend, Donald Miller (whose book, Searching for God Knows What was the biggest faith "Aha!" moment of my life - his message that the Bible needs to be seen relationally or it becomes everything that its critics accuse it of being) have helped me to see that I am not entirely crazy and that wonderful people with deep faith walks CAN have issues with the church.  I have joined an online Bible study group that I adore and while I regret that I am not as active in that as I want to be, those women are mentors and models to me and I learn so much from them.  I am not alone and it's o.k. to be shocked by the disconnect between Christians and church.

That all being said, though, I am strangely not able to entirely abandon the idea that I want to belong to a local church and that's led to a great deal of struggle for me.

We were members at a wonderful (for us) church not too far from here for several years.  The church met in an arena viewing area and it was so uncomplicated - people loved and worships and sang and spent time together and then we packed up until the next week.  We loved it and for a while, we really felt that we belonged.  There were terrific small groups and we felt part of things and had conversations that I had wanted to have at church for years but hadn't been able to have.  Somewhere along the way (after the church was build, I think and after I had my daughter), it changed for me.  I couldn't be a part of small groups anymore because of my life and I was becoming more and more involved in work at the church.  I wanted to contribute and I wanted to build the church but I also was feeling more and more torn about how to balance life as a working mother and my job and my church commitments.  I started to feel that I was sinking and I was trying to tell people that and people weren't hearing me.  Maybe it was me not being clear enough but especially during the last two years, when anxiety and overwhelm and, frankly, I think, clinical depression, started to get their claws into me and I kept trying to say that I was struggling, I felt like the message was, "That's too bad… we need you to come to this meeting or arrange for someone to cover Sunday school" or, even worse, at times, "Well, maybe you are just too busy and you need to focus more on church", or, worst of all, "Well, I used to feel that way so I quit my job and now I'm a stay at home mom and I'm so fulfilled and life is great" (and, I have to say it, the mom who said that skips church for most of the winter because her kids are at hockey).  It felt as if the contributions I was making outside of church didn't count (I have baked for the town A.A. meeting for the last four years, EVERY SINGLE WEEK, I have arranged major food/money donations for two different families with children with critical illnesses and I have tried to maintain my job and my family).  Also, as the demands of being a mother increased and I tried to balance my desire to be a committed mom to my kids with the finding a way to be active in the church, that there just wasn't a place for me anymore.

So, here's my dilemma.  When I read the blog posts above (and in some conversations at church), I have really come away with the message that it is selfishness to say that I am not getting what I need from church.  To misquote a famous quotation, I "shouldn't ask what my church can do for me but only what I can do for my church."  I feel such guilt but at the same time, I can't help but feel that I came to a point where my experience of the local church was actually moving me further from God rather than closer.  I was never in worship because I was either teaching Sunday School or in the nursery with LB, who hated the nursery and wouldn't be left.  I couldn't attend a small group because they were all at times that didn't work for me.  I was being asked to attend meetings and plan things when I had been emphatic that I wasn't able to serve in that way.  Nobody asked me how I was doing, often few people spoke to me about anything other than church and I felt like an outsider.  I was hurt and I was overwhelmed and I was feeling very, very, very invisible.  It has really led me to ask the question, "Am I allowed to get anything out of church?  Is it too selfish to want a tiny bit for me?"

I don't know the answer to that question yet.  We've taken a break to worship elsewhere for the last several months and so far, it's really helped.  My kids love where we are going and BOTH of them go to Children's programming and I am getting to hear powerful preaching that leaves me changed and recharged.  I am helping out with several things but I also feel, at least at this point, like it's o.k. for me to say that I can't do more at this stage of my life.  I am attending a monthly women's group (that meets Friday night after our kids are down so I don't feel like I am taking away from my kids).  We have attended several family activities so I don't feel like I have to choose between family and church.  It's not perfect - this church has some conservative views that I struggle to accept and I haven't decided how much I can disagree before I have to go somewhere else.  I think the fact that this church comes out of a Mennonite tradition and values a lack of conflict and peace between believers goes a long way to help me because I do feel as though I won't be kicked out for believing that God loves gay people and that salvation is not mine to give out and that I choose to not make judgements on who is saved and who isn't (although there are a few "angry white men" types who will give me a dirty look).  I do miss the fact that while I had issues with my previous church, when a friend put her lesbian boss whose life partner was dying of brain cancer on the prayer list, nobody batted an eyelash and the prayers offered were heartfelt and compassionate - I'm not sure how that would be received in our new church.  My problem right now is that I still carry a load of guilt because I do worry that I have been too selfish in leaving the other church and that I have been too focused on what church can give me.  I'd love to love the local church and most of all, I'd love to feel like the local church accepts me.  I just don't know whether that will ever happen.

I guess I just have to decide how much it matters to me and to God… Is it wrong to feel like I deserve to feel a sense of belonging at church?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Intentional Week 1

We go back to school tomorrow after two weeks at home together.  I am feeling very sad about that fact tonight.  It's been so much fun to be home with my family and, I can honestly say, I'm managed to be fairly intentional about things.  We've made time for important things (such as visiting a favourite bookstore that is closing, playing outside together, going sledding twice and making a snowman) and I've had a chance to slow down a bit.  Going back and getting back into the insane pace of our "normal" life will be the true test of whether I can find a way to be more intentional.

Since I was feeling sad, I decided that I wanted to do something special to let the kids know that I care about them when they are at school.  I pondered it for a couple of days and then it came to me - I could make a special bracelet for each of them.  Rainbow loom bracelets are a big favourite with PK right now and I knew she'd love to have another one.  Then it came to me - I'd make a family set and each colour would represent something.  I mentioned it to DH and he even said he'd wear one (which floored me, this is not normally his "thing").  We have purple for Dh (his favourite colour), blue for LB (his fav), green for me (my fav), pink for Pk (her fav) and white for God.  I'm going to wear it with pride tomorrow and I can't wait to make sure that the kidlets know when I pick them up that I wore my bracelet all day and thought of them.

I honestly hope I can keep this up because at the moment, I feel very happy about it!

Friday, January 3, 2014

It Matters

I don't know about you but for me, sometimes, I feel as if nobody is noticing the little things I do to try and make things a bit more beautiful for those around me.  Young kids and the chaos that goes with them means that a lot gets lost in the shuffle and it's easy, as a mom, to feel as if one's efforts are invisible.

I had the nicest reminder today of how important the little things can be and that they are noticed.  Since she started school, three years ago, I started writing Pk a note every day in her lunch.  I usually include a picture (I do these on the computer) and each month is done on a theme, either of something that Pk loves, like My Little Pony, Rudolph, horses, our dogs or something that we share together (e.g., in December, each picture was somehow connected to the stories we were exploring for our Jesse Tree).  I don't see the notes once they go in her lunch and I just assumed that they get recycled.  Today, I learned what happens.  I was cleaning out her backpack to get ready for school on Monday.  Her teacher had asked each student to bring home pencil cases from desks and Pk had two.  I checked them to see if she needs anything.  The first one contained all of the items I expected - her scissors, her pencils, markers, etc.  The second one surprised me.  It was filled with paper.  I was shocked to see that every note I have written her this year was in the pencil case.  I asked her about it and she told me that she likes to save them so she can read them again.  That means more to me than I can ever say.  I feel so very lucky to be her mom!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


I make no promises that I will be around here much but at least today, I've had a chance to visit and I'm really excited.  It's been a terrific day - I sorted through my bookshelves (which were an abyss and which was like spending time with old, dear friends), we played games with the kids, we watched a movie together as a family and I even found time for a nap in the chair in the living room.  It was the kind of quiet day that we NEVER manage to have.  I couldn't think of a nicer way to start a new year (and a new year that ends in a 4, my favourite number!).

I also had a special treat this morning.  We have been forgetting to put see in our birdfeeder and two days ago, I remembered.  I didn't think we would have any visitors (usually, it takes a while for the birds to come back when I have been negligent).  I had such a pleasant surprise this morning:
I only managed to capture 2 but we had four cardinals who spent probably 30 minutes at the feeder (along with a persistent squirrel!) Cardinals are my favourite birds and given that I had a friend tell me a wonderful story about cardinals who are a sign of God's presence, it seemed like a great way to start the year.

Happy 2014!