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Reimagining the Cross

Reimagining the Cross

 

I was invited to preach on Palm Sunday as a part of our “Wise Voices” series at Grace. On the second Sunday of each month we’ve been hearing from a member of our congregation about their faith journey and what that might have to teach the rest of us in our journeys. In my sermon I share a bit of my own story, as well as my journey of understanding Christ’s work on the cross. I hope it encourages you to think about your own view of the cross and challenges you to be invited up into the story of what God is doing today.

 

A Stepping Into

A Stepping Into

*This post was originally posted on my personal blog.

Last week we made the incredibly hard decision to leave our church. This week we had the conversations and the goodbyes with those who matter most. We are still trying to figure out how to tell the girls. Needless to say, these past days have kinda sucked.

I could sit here and write pages of reasons. Explain years of trying to fit our round pegs into square holes, about attempting to own and be content in our “misfit” statuses. I could write about tries at small groups and hours of tough conversations. Talk about the decision one year ago to switch service times, step into new leadership roles, and give it one more year. Sift through the months of hoping upon hope that what I feared lay ahead wasn’t what was actually there.

Maybe someday I’ll write all that. But today is not that day.

Today is the day to sit in the grief and the loss. To write about the day I was prayed over with words that I want to always carry with me. To feel the ache and shed some tears. To trust that my time there wasn’t for naught, and the time ahead in the unknown will not be wasted either.

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If we could arrive on to church on a Sunday evening, smile at the greeters, take our children to class and our places in the pew, it could have been enough.

If we could take our monthly turn in the children’s wing, and the regular worship-band appearances, it might have been enough.

If I could lead a team of creative artists with a goal of infusing beauty and truth in unique and creative ways, bringing artists opportunities to share Christ’s love with the rest of us…oh that should have been enough.

And yet, God placed this even bigger dream in my heart. This dream of serving, and singing, and leading, and teaching.

It has taken me years of banging on heaven’s door asking God what He wanted for me, to realize this dormant dream. This calling to hold a microphone and a Bible and share with people stories that can change lives. Share of this incredible man Jesus and this incredible gift we have been given to join Him in His grand Kingdom work.

Honestly, it was only a few months ago that I began to take ownership of this. I remember the day I was scrolling through my facebook feed and saw a picture an acquaintance of mine had been tagged in. She was standing on a platform with a microphone around her ear and a Bible in her hands. Behind her was another pastor (likely team-teaching with her that Sunday morning) with a confident and comfortable smile on his face. A caption read something about how she was “born to preach” and talked of how well she had presented God’s truth that day.

I showed the picture to Darin and confessed my envious feelings.

Turns out, while envy isn’t always healthy, it can be a really telling emotion. And Darin called me out on it right then and there.

“This is it,” he told me. “This is what you’re supposed to do.”

And I knew he was right.

But this thing I’m called to do, it turns out that the thing our church is called to do and the thing I’m called to do don’t quite mesh. I thought they would, I hoped they would, but they don’t. For a few specific reasons (you’d probably be surprised at them) it became apparent these past weeks that our church wasn’t the place I was going to explore and pursue this calling, this dream.

And so it was time to say goodbye.

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On Monday we met with the man who had walked this journey alongside us for months, if not years. Who was ringside to our fight to belong, to fit. Whose listening ear and thoughtfully honest responses were received with more gratitude then we knew how to represent.

We told him our decision, shared a bunch of junk, determined how best to share with others of our departure, and then…

And then…

With rare tears welling in his eyes, Darin spoke such incredible words of encouragement right to his pastor heart. There wasn’t a dry eye.

And in turn, he shared how our story had forever impacted him and challenged him. There wasn’t a dry eye.

Goodbye is not goodbye our friend.

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Next up was a woman I loved working for and serving alongside and knowing better than most how hard her job is, I hung my head in shame as I apologized for leaving. For knowing I left a hole to be filled. For not wanting to make her job any harder than it already is.

But as she accepted my apology, she would not accept my shame. She understood, she knew. This was tough, but this was not an ending.

Only a new beginning.

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We have never left a church before under these circumstances. Once we left because we had tried for two years to make connections and just couldn’t break through; but that meant there was no one to say goodbye to. We’ve left two dear church communities because of moves, because God was calling us to a new job in a new place. Those moves were articulated well and blessed. There was a time to call us up front and lay hands, give a gift and bless our going.

This one feels so different. To choose to go to pursue a calling that has no meat to it yet. There is no place we are going “to”, it just feels like a place we are needing to leave.

So when I sat in a final team meeting on Thursday, alongside another member of the team who was leaving to pursue amazing things God was putting in his path, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know how to explain. I didn’t know what to say.

It turns out I was not the one who needed to do the talking. Instead, I was the one to receive.

One dear friend looked at me across the table and as the tears welled told me that I would be missed, but that I was blessed and released. She had no idea that those were the words I had been longing for, but didn’t think I was in a place to get. Blessed. Released.

I felt loved. I felt treasured. I felt validated. I felt encouraged.

The people in the room lifted the burden of fighting, they told me to let it go. They lifted the mantle of fear, and told me to trust. They lifted the loneliness and carried me with their prayers.

They laid hands on me and prayed for God’s blessing for our family. For our girls to understand. To find a place that would feel like home. For blessings in opportunities to speak. As another friend prayed and her words of “Lord, I know you have people out there who need to hear the message Deanna brings and the stories in her heart…” oh I just weep anew with their beauty and hope.

The words, the prayers, the support, the encouragement…it was all a gift I intend to carry with me tucked into the recesses of my heart. Always. I will look to that afternoon as confirmation of the path we are on.

And the lightness I feel. Oh it is glorious to lay down the gloves and walk away from the fight.

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And now comes a time of uncertainty.

I am doing my best to lay my fears at the feet of the one who is in front. I am fearful we won’t find the right fit, the place that feels like home, the place I can pursue this dream.

I am fearful of the days, weeks, months we might spend in trying to find that place.

I already miss the people. There are a few who will forever be written on the story of our family, and I hope and pray we are not done with each other.

As a mama, I am forever blessed by those in particular who love and adore my children and this church happens to be full of this sort. People that play games with my goofballs, make plans with them, share truth with them, listen to them, laugh with them, bend down to receive hugs from them. Oh, my heart just aches knowing we’re leaving this behind.

So in the days and weeks and months to come I am living in a prayer of trust. That God will bring us home. That He will bring us people. That He will bring me opportunities.

That, as a friend told me, this is not a leaving behind.

This is a stepping into.

In the Middle of It All

In the Middle of It All

*This was originally posted on my personal blog.

In the middle of it all, there He was. He wasn’t there to take it away. He wasn’t there to fix the problem. He wasn’t there to rescue.

But God was there.

He was there with gifts to remind me of His presence, of His care, of His deep love for me.

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The day of TR’s accident we adopted a dog. We were people who swore for years and years that we weren’t really dog people, not really up for the challenges of dog ownership. And there we were in that pet shop signing paperwork and picking out toys and food and a kennel. And bringing a dog home.

It had started weeks earlier when we were moving into the new house at Camp and I just got a weird feeling. This house needs a dog. It took me by surprise and when I told Darin he just laughed. But a few days later when he learned about the neighborhood cougars, and saw the size of their paws in a patch of fresh-fallen snow, he was joining me in saying, this house needs a dog.

We set out some parameters: we wanted a rescue pup, we weren’t interested in a puppy, it needed to be big enough to not be eagle food, but small enough not to overwhelm small children. And what narrowed down our search even further: it needed to be hypoallergenic as Darin has a bunch of pet allergies. We researched breeds, narrowed things down, and checked the local humane societies daily, if not more frequently.

One day she popped up: a sweet Airdale Terrier, Australian Shepherd mix named Pretty Girl. She looked perfect on paper and the next day after church we headed to the Humane Society to meet her. Unfortunately, we were too late and she had already been adopted. We thought it might be fun to meet the other shelter dogs, but with all the barking and unfamiliar animals it turned out to be really stressful on Daisy and Dani. So Darin took the baby to visit the small dogs and us girls made friends with some kittens. Then we washed our hands well and headed home, disappointed but realistic.

Several weeks later, there she was again. Only this time she wasn’t called Pretty Girl, but instead listed as Adella. It was a Thursday night when Darin spotted her online and we made plans to check her out the very next day. I had a doctor’s appointment for the baby, so Dani and I took him to the hospital while Darin went to Petco to meet Adella.

He called me after about 20 minutes and told me that Dani and I needed to meet the dog. So after the appointment and some lunch, we all went back to Petco. Darin had spent quite a bit of time with the dog and had pet her like crazy, then rubbed his hands all over his face and eyes. He was not going to take a chance that he was allergic. She was a sweet pup, if a bit stinky, and turns out she was also very athletic. Her previous adoption had failed due to her jumping the family’s 6-foot fence, so the humane society volunteer was overly cautious about our potential adoption. But after several hours with her and another volunteer, they let us sign the paperwork, write a check, and take her home.

Turns out this dog, who we quickly started calling Gypsy, was the perfect dog for our family. She has just the right amount of energy and spunk, she adores the kids, she loves to run free along our beach, she is a gift. She gave us someone to love and cuddle and care for in the days and weeks following our loss of TR. She gave us a reason to laugh and to play and to get outside the house and away from our misery.

We adopted Gypsy on the day TR had his accident. I do not believe that is a coincidence. I believe that is our Holy and Loving God knowing the massive trial ahead for us, and giving us something to help us make it through. If you had told me 9 months ago that a dog would be a daily reminder of God’s provision, I would have laughed you out of the room. And yet, that’s exactly what this crazy bundle of fur became for us. And remains as well.

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TR had his accident on a Friday. We filled out and submitted an incident report and kept a close eye on him. Four days later we hosted his social worker and our case manager for their regular health and safety visits. We met his new social worker for the first time that Tuesday afternoon.

Seven days after his accident we no longer had him in our care and our foster license was suspended. Nine days after his accident we found ourselves in the middle of criminal and licensing investigations. An investigator sat in our living room taking down the locations of our children so that she could pull them from their classrooms in order to interview them.

We were walking through the fire, we were watching our life burn up around us. And while the flames were licking at our flesh, we were protected. We were protected by all the people who had seen our TR after his accident. By a brand-new social worker who, after two hours in our home, believed we were valuable and trustworthy foster parents. If there was a side to be on, other than the side of truth, everyone around us was on our side.

There is no coincidence in the people who sat with us and interacted with sweet TR in the days following the accident. God was providing for us once again in keeping us safe.

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Dani and Tony

The investigator interviewed our children several days before she came back for a crazy-intense and entirely stressful interview of Darin and me. As she gathered her notes before beginning, she smiled at a memory of sitting across from Dani earlier in the week.

“That Dani, wow,” she said. “Talking with her was like interviewing an 8-year-old. That is the most articulate four-year-old I have ever encountered.”

The investigator then continued on to share with us that at the conclusion of her interview she had asked Dani if Dani had any questions for her.

“Why yes, I do” Dani had responded.

Then the child proceeded to turn every question back on the investigator.

“How many people are in your family?”

“What is your favorite thing to do?”

“What happens when you get in trouble?”

“Do you have enough to eat at your house?”

And this one, the kicker, “Is there anything that scares you at your house?”

For the rest of her life, when I talk about our Dani, this is a story I will tell. She took an intimidating and downright scary woman, and made her a human. She took the opportunity given to ask questions, and asked them.

Maybe she thought it was a game?

Either way, for me, it brought some levity, some lightness. When I share the whole story of losing TR, with all the myriad of painful twists and turns, this moment in the story brings joy. It brings laughter. And anyone who knows Dani at all just nods right along with us. Yup, that is our Dani girl.

I thank God for her.

And for laughter.

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207 girls

In the middle of the deep and dark grief, I wanted to stay in the dark. I wanted to board up the windows and lock the doors and keep my little family inside. Keep us safe. No one in and no one out and we might avoid this kind of pain ever happening again.

There were some phone calls. There were some knocks on the door. There were some meals delivered. There were people waiting and wondering, will she board up the windows or will she come into the light?

And there, in a block of 5 days on our calendar, was a trip. A trip that had been planned months before when I told my best friends that I missed them and needed to get some dates down in pen. A trip that was extended when Darin had a work thing happening that direction as well.

There are few people I know as well as Jen and Amy. Few people I trust my full story with the way I do these two. Few people who would sit with me and hand me tissues and just let me talk when I need to talk and sob when I need to sob. Who will wipe away their own tears when they can pull their hands away from the grip they have on mine.

My whole heart believes those dates set aside to be another of God’s blessed provisions. The three of us girls have busy schedules, but in the middle of the gathering dark there was the time and space for them to gently lead me towards the light. I wanted to hide, but instead I got to run to them.

And there was still more. Because in the middle of the drive home I got a text from Jen saying she didn’t feel like she’d been able to give me enough of her time that weekend and that her husband had told her to buy a plane ticket. So she was booking the ticket right then and wanted to make sure it would work for her to come spend a few days with us in Indianola. I tried to hold back the tears as I couldn’t type YES! fast enough.

I wanted to let the grief consume me. But instead God used these two women and their precious families to step in and remind me that there is so much beauty and goodness and hope and joy in this world. He is the source of it all, but He lets us speak it and show it to one another. He is so good.

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When I first wrote about what was happening, I looked forward to the day I would be on the other side of crushing grief. On the other side where God’s faithfulness had won out and I was rejoicing once again.

Now I wonder if there is another side to be found at all. Instead, I am living in the “after.” I am a different person. I can’t tell this story without tears. I can’t look at pictures without grief. I don’t know if I ever will.

And that is OK.

I’m learning not to ask “why?” I’m learning to ask “what?” What is it God, you want me to take from all of this? What do you want me to learn about you from all of this? What do you want to do in me and through me because of this?

I am learning the first of the answers: God is faithful. He equips those He calls. He provides protection, and comfort, and joy, and community.

And while the storm rages, I will always, always look for Him.

He is there.

He is here.

My Heart and My Head

My Heart and My Head

*This post was originally posted on my personal blog.

This little blog of mine, though often forgotten; though often full of fluff and fun and cute kid pictures and stories; though mostly light; has always been a sort of sanctuary for me. Whenever there has been a hard thing, this is the place where I turn when I can’t possibly pick up the phone or speak the details. When talking produces tears, but writing brings healing. Where friends and family can read and understand and offer their comfort.

I’ve written about plenty of hard things here before.

But this. This time I come to this sanctuary and this blinking curser, and while my fingers hover over the keys I can’t tell the story. This time my heart is heavy with more grief than I’ve experienced in years, if not ever. And the words won’t come. The words can’t come. There are rules and there is timing.

And the cursor still blinks. And my heart still bleeds.

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My friend Rachel is this very week grieving over her fourth miscarriage and has already written several blog posts as part of her process. My sister’s best friend lost a teenage son earlier this year and I have read the most honest and heart-wrenching facebook posts as she pours out her grief onto the page. And then there’s sweet dear Sasha (whom I love to say I knew *when*) who eloquently shares the deepest feelings of her heart without sharing the details of every situation.

And yet my cursor blinks. And my heart overflows through my eyes.

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With every thing I feel I want to retreat. This is too much. This pain is too hard. I want to shut my doors and lock my windows and shut out the world. I want to protect my little family and my wounded heart from ever feeling this way again. I thought I knew the pain this calling would bring. I thought my heart was prepared for hurt. But then this.

Minute by minute I move from loneliness, to anger, to betrayal, to crushing grief. And sometimes I don’t know how I will ever get around this. This thing I can’t talk about, can’t write about.

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Lately I’ve started snapping pictures of favorite lines from books when I don’t have a highlighter or notebook with me. So in between pictures of one darling little boy, I find this picture:

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And now when I see it I want to cry out, “BS Mother Theresa. B *freaking* S.” (Yes, I’m still a good Christian girl.) There is no way I can love that much. Because I thought I was doing it, but there is definitely still hurt. So much hurt. I’m not sure there is enough love that can ever make this hurt go away.

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I have this moment that happened over 10 years ago now, that is one of those touchstones in my life. A moment I will never forget; a moment that comes back in times like these. I was sitting in my friend and mentor’s car and the tears were pouring as I was lamenting a job I believed God had called me to but that was not turning out not at all like I had planned. And in fact, was full of pain and heartache.

And then she turned to me, and she held my hand, and she asked me if what I was saying was the truth. And since my head knew that God equips those he calls, I told her it wasn’t. And then she made me do it: she made me say it out loud. She told me to claim the Truth. So there in that car while I wasn’t feeling any of it, Truth was spoken from my lips. And my feelings eventually caught up. And there was a new day, and a new way to go on.

So today we do battle, this head and this heart of mine. My head, which knows and loves and is grateful for Truth, clashes with my heart, which is overwhelmed by feeling all the feelings. I hide in bed and I wail and then my head whispers. It whispers of Truth from the Word. It whispers Truth from my own life. It whispers Truth from the testimonies of others.

And there is a new day, and there is a new way to go on.

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But here’s the thing about this battle of head and heart and powerful weapon of Truth. You well meaning Truth-tellers don’t help. Nope. Truth from your lips feels like condescension and platitudes. It feels like dismissal of these feelings of mine that are insanely overwhelming.

I don’t want your words.

Nope, I want your space. I want your time to listen. I want your dinner deliveries and flowers and hugs and offers to watch my children. I want your tissues and your tears shed in empathy.

That Truth you know, that you trust and believe, I don’t want to dismiss it. Because I do want it, I just want it without words. I want it in the silent prayers you whisper as you make me a casserole and hold my hand and offer a tissue. Those prayers you say, they sustain me. And someday…someday…when we can look back in victory, then you can share your words with me. Those ones you said so long ago when we wondered how we could possibly ever function again, let alone love again. And we will rejoice that the Truth found in our ever-loving, ever-forgiving, ever-redeeming God won out once again.

I KNOW we will rejoice. Today this Truth will win.

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This is not at all where I wanted to go with this post, but this is where we have landed. So I hit publish and I hope and pray that someday I will be back to share the Truth I have been reminded of as I walk through this fire. And you and me, we will rejoice.