rain
Thoughts and Musings

The daily Post

... what I'm thinking

Courage to Confront Desire

Photo sourced from Creative Commons

Photo sourced from Creative Commons.

Finding the courage to be honest with myself about what I want has required great bravery.

  • To be honest about WHAT I want, instead of projecting those desires onto someone else and relinquishing ownership of my own feelings requires courage.
  • To be honest about WHO I want or don’t want in my life, instead of the usual self-sabotage I practice in relationships requires bravery.

After a lifetime of letting others make choices for me, define my feelings, tell me what I want, or subjugate my desires to circumstantial-survival needs or the holy requirements of a “higher power,” being able to answer the question “what do I want” is like climbing Mt Everest.

Even if I manage to identify a desire, the second challenge I have is labeling what the heck it is! My body often sends signals that a desire is looming… anxiety, despair, excitement, tension, expectation, but I’m not always sure how to decipher it. And the teaching I’ve received feels woefully inadequate for practical instruction.

  • The CHURCH acknowledges desire exists, but the vast majority of discipleship has to do with quieting desire.
  • SOCIETY teaches us to blindly follow desire wherever it leads… “Follow your heart,” “Pursue your desire,” and it normalizes all forms of misplaced desire.

Both of those guiding meta-narratives result in the same thing…a denial and numbing of our hearts. I don’t think either side has the lion’s share of wisdom on how to navigate our deepest desires. The truth probably lies in the grey area, but not a lot of folks write from the grey area.

This is yet another question I’m wrestling with in this season… how to navigate desire in a way that is life-giving instead of life-destroying. I’m trying to find a way to journey WITH those heart-felt desires — desires that are neither holy nor unholy, but just ARE — without numbing their existence, explaining them away, or following them into destructive places.

Again… no answers… just more questions.

Finding Faithfulness When Your Stories Disagree

This continues to be a season where I have more questions than answers.

I’m ok with that. Sometimes. Other times, I just want clarity, and certainty, and understanding.

I feel like the tectonic plates of my guiding theology and praxis are continuing to shift. The shifts have occurred because I’ve experienced excruciating pain when the faith “system” I put my trust in did not meet my expectations for clarity, support, or answers. The shifts have continued because I’ve witnessed vast sinkholes in the programmatic and prescriptive faith practices that have been handed down to me.

And though painful to push through, this process is becoming more redemptive than I could have ever imagined. I find myself entering into this space looking forward to how it is changing me, instead of fearing what I might lose. It is awakening me to the fact that God has written a story through my life that only I can tell, that only I can steward. It’s a story that I can make the choice to embrace and leave a legacy through, instead of fearing it.

Ten months ago, a leader I respect tremendously prayed that God would break the box of the formulaic faith practices I had been taught. That is happening. I can see the wake behind me… but I didn’t expect that wake to catch up with me and begin to create a tidal wave in my current circumstances. I expected to be able to live out my questions and find suitable answers for them within the faith environment that I find myself in.

But a clarifying conversation with my boss this week showed that I am living in a place where my different life stories are conflicting, and I have not yet found a bridge for re-aligning them. The conversation was so life-giving (my boss has an incredible ability to allow me to disagree with him while simultaneously affirming me in asking the questions in the first place). It also made me realize I need to ask some hard questions of myself, and then be willing to face honest answers.

Part of my story is that I love the church. In all her broken glory, I do love her. She is called to be a redemptive force in this world. I work in an incredibly healthy church environment where questions are allowed, being “in process” is affirmed (even if you are a leader), and mistakes are opportunities for growth (rather than an opportunity for the leader to be shamed). Most churches do not offer this type of grace. I believe in the CORE of my being that the church CAN make a difference in people’s lives.

The other part of my story is that I love the LGBT community, and in general I have a deeply felt compassion for all marginalized communities. I love all the broken beauty found in the LGBT community that I get to be a part of because of my family. I believe in the CORE of my being in the inherent worth, dignity, and value of every LGBT individual because they (like me) have been created in the image of God, and I want to add my voice to this important story.

I feel called to BOTH important parts of my story. I feel called to be FAITHFUL to living into the fullness of BOTH sides of my story. I want to live with INTEGRITY by being AUTHENTIC to both sides of my story. I want my stories NOT to have two sides like they do now. The conflict I’m feeling in my stories is found in the question that has been rattling around in my brain:

How do FAITH and ADVOCACY work together in a way that create an environment for me to faithfully live out my story?

This has been the guiding question that has wrecked me the last few weeks. I WANT the question to be answered safely within the environment of the church, because the church has mostly been a refuge, a safe place, a home for me to have breathing room to process the scary stuff in my life. I WANT the church to step into this question too and find redemptive answers that are healing and transformative for BOTH the church community and the marginalized communities I feel called to.

I WANT the happy ending within the faith community I find myself in. The happy ending that says “I can bring all of who I am to the table and my faith community will be willing to step into the mess and walk with me towards redemption. Even if I disagree with them, their theology, their faith practices, or their beliefs.” Gosh, is that even possible in our communities of faith? I have such hope that it is ESPECIALLY within the healthy faith community I’m a part of.

The other questions I’ve been asking are:

Am I called to the LGBT community or to marginalized women or both?

What does the gospel look like lived out in an LGBT context? Is it different than the gospel I’ve been taught?

What have we gotten wrong as the church, and what is my role in building bridges?

What is the other side of the story? (the one that has been labeled as “liberal” by the fundamentalists and thus “wrong”) What do I need to learn about who God is from the other side of the story?

Why are the guiding narratives in the church so overtly focused on an LGBT individual’s sexual identity/orientation only, rather than looking at these individuals as a WHOLE person?

I know I want to make a difference. Can I do that from within the walls of the church? If so, what does that look like?

So though I do not yet have answers, I have a deep THANKFULNESS and HOPE for the GIFT that these questions are becoming. I have a deep and abiding trust that the leaders I have the privilege of serving under are WITH me as I explore these questions… even though they might not agree with me. I have great FAITH that though the process may not be easy, God is WITH me in this journey and I am more WITH Him than I have been in a long time because for the first time in my life, I’m bringing all of who I am to the table.

Though I don’t know where this will lead… I’m grateful for the things that have happened this year to catalyze this process.

The Church is a Midwife, not an Epidural

When you find someone preaching the whole gospel, it turns your head.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been jaded by teachings of a formulaic god, a god who solves problems like arithmetic (you do a, God does b, C equals a happy life), or a god who desires for us to be healthy, wealthy, and wise. It’s exhausting to serve the god American Christianity has been serving up.

And then I run across this wisdom… from Brene Brown… and it gives me hope that there are pockets of people in the world who can still see that there is a God who runs the universe who is more than just a formula, a math equation, or a trite answer to a complex problem…

For those of you reading via email, click here for the video.

The Aftershock of Change

In 2005 I had the privilege of serving 51 displaced Hurricane Katrina evacuees. They landed at my back-door in rural Georgia after being displaced by one of the biggest storms of the century.

The physical storm that disrupted their lives was paltry in comparison to the aftershock of emotional and spiritual storms that eclipsed  their lives.

I stepped into this space and created an aftercare bench for 20 of the women. After a few weeks of care, one of the evacuees Kyla* changed the message on her phone to the following…

Hello and thanks for calling. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I have made some changes in my life. If I do not call you back, YOU are one of those changes.

My translation of Kyla’s message?

STEP 1: [Due to circumstances beyond my control] – Life has happened. I couldn’t stop it. I’m acknowledging the reality of my pain instead of minimizing it.

STEP 2: [I have made] – I can’t control what happened, but I can use it as a launching pad to reflectively look at my life and see what needs changing, and then change those things.

STEP 3: [If I do not call you back, YOU are one of those changes] – This is the action that I am committing to in order to make my life better.

Life happens. Storms happen. Shit happens.

But what Kyla taught me is that instead of bemoaning the fact that shit-has-happened, look at it as an opportunity to make changes in your life. Allow the storm to be a catalyst that motivates you towards positive life change, instead of a black hole that sucks you into emotional oblivion.

I’m ten months out of a major storm in my life.

To be totally honest, I’m still in Step 1 of processing through it. Some days I’m mad at life for “happening.” I’m frustrated at the load of crap that I was left carrying. Step 1 is forcing Step 2 to occur in my life… but I wouldn’t say that I have willingly moved into Step 2.

Step 3 is the inevitable pruning process that will result from Step 1 and Step 2. I’m already starting to look at what in my life needs to be kept, and what needs to go. I’m taking a re-look at what has gotten me to where I am, what needs to be retained, and what needs to be pruned for the next leg of my journey.

I’d love to wrap a pretty bow on this post and call it resolved… but it’s not. This is a stop on my journey from the middle of change and I don’t have a lot of answers.

 

 

*Kyla’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Is God Still In The Church?

Sometimes I wonder if God is still in the church. 

Being intimately involved in a church, I can see her in all of her beautiful, broken glory… because people make up the church… and we are all broken. I get that.

We all see God differently… because He (or She) is filtered through life experiences. Often those differences are so drastic, they cause schisms or entire denominational breaks. I get that too.

But I wonder, is God still in the church when that happens? 

Over the last ten years, I’ve seen some really hurtful things said and done by the church “in the name of…” that have devastated people close to me.

I’ve seen the formulaic God that I was taught about here fail to provide answers when my marriage fell apart — though we followed all the “rules” prior to marriage.

People around me that I care for have been devastated by church leaders words and actions about their calling. Other folks have been disillusioned by people in ministry with them who ended up causing more pain than help.

All around me I see more people who have been hurt by the church than helped by her… and it makes me wonder, is God still in the church?

We give trite answers to complex problems like “All things work for good for the person who loves God…” or “God is sovereign…” or “Well, God’s ways are not our ways…”

And I wonder, if God were standing in the middle of that conversation, would that be something that would come out of His mouth too?

In Luke 4, Jesus left the synagogue and went out into the streets.

I have to wonder, has God left our churches and gone out into the streets in search of people who want to know…

a God who is non-formulaic,
a God who separates Himself from Christianity and Christian culture and radically demonstrates love without rules and without boundaries,
a God who does not condone a growth strategy,
a God who cares for people that the church won’t even touch,
a God who can do the impossible because we are willing to step into impossible places with Him

Because THIS God, I’d want to follow.

Church Marketing Sucks: The Certification Lab Experience

Recently I had the privilege of sharing my Certification Lab experience with my friends over at Church Marketing Sucks.

Dave Shrein and I had a cool podcast conversation. Click on the banner below to watch it!

2014_09jennyrainarticle

For those of you reading this in email, click here to access the podcast!

 

Do you believe in miracles?

This weekend we start The Grave Robber series at NCC.

My pastor, Mark Batterson, wrote a book all about seven of the miracles in John and we are getting ready to do a sermon series on it.

Pastor Mark said that he is hoping for miracles at NCC as we enter into this series. Me too. That’s exciting, and faith producing, and thrilling to see God working in our midst. This is the trailer…

Yet even as Pastor Mark made the comment and presented the trailer, I found myself already doubting the power of God to work a miracle in my relationship life.

I still doubt that God is bigger than my impossibly unhealthy relationships.
I wrestle with who is more powerful — my problem or my God.
I know intellectually that God is a miracle worker, but my heart rages against the experiential truth of God redeeming 20 years of brokenness.

When you have had an issue for over two decades, you begin to think it’s permanent.

Maybe I’ll have to borrow from the faith produced by other people’s miracles for awhile; I’m ok with that. A miracle is a miracle… and it shows God is working in your midst and present, so I’ll take God being near… that works!

I’m not sure what it will take to shift my thinking and faith around this issue. I know a mental shift is needed, just not sure how to get there.

For today, I am just asking God to help me believe a little more than I did yesterday that He is the God of the impossible.

 

Making the Choice to be Holy

As a woman, we aren’t supposed to struggle with lust, but I do. A lot.

For years I didn’t have a name for this “thing” that I struggled with. It was just kind of there, invading every relationship, permeating every square inch of my attempts to develop intimacy. Lust tends to rush relationships, instead of giving them natural time to develop. Then the next day lust’s cousin shame shows up knocking and attempts to redefine your identity into something unholy. It’s a great dance the enemy sets up and it has been playing like a record in my life for 20 years.

My first waking thought this morning was “flee evil…”

As I researched instances of that in the scriptures I ran across 2 Timothy 2. I like the NLT translation:

Run from ANYTHING that stimulates youthful lusts. Instead pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace. Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.

Pretty clear. Run from ANYthing and instead pursue… What I love about the word of God is that He always gives us an alternative behavior. Even if in the moment it seems darn near impossible to do.

As I backed up in the text and looked at verses 20 and 21, I found another, even better truth:

Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver bowls, but also those of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. So if anyone purifies himself from anything dishonorable, he will be a special instrument, set apart, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

God has given us the choice of how we want to be used by Him. He has given us the choice of whether we want to be a common, or dishonorable vessel of wood and clay, or a special instrument of gold and silver. That choice to enter into God’s special provision of use? That’s grace. Full on, unapologetic grace. It is God reaching down in absolute vulnerability and saying to me…

“I’m waiting for you to realize you are better than this and step into my holy purposes. I’m giving you the option of seeing yourself as a gold or silver vessel rather than a common clay one. Remaining in lust will make you common… making a choice to purify yourself from youthful passions sets you apart. For me.”

I have a choice to partner with God in holiness. I haven’t quite figured out how to tell the kissing cousins of lust and shame to take a hike, but just knowing that I GET to make a choice, that I am not completely powerless over these things is incredibly liberating.

Navigating Relationships

Navigating relationships is tough.

Whether they are friendships or intimate partnerships, they seem to contain this elusive set of best practices, boundaries, and guidelines that I haven’t quite figured out.

This season has made me painfully aware of all that I still do NOT know about navigating relationships. 

I’ve got four decades of maturing… and yet I still find myself asking friends simple questions about healthy boundaries and what a friendship with a guy is supposed to look like. Ugh, how do I not yet know this stuff?

In many ways I feel like an awkward, gangly-armed, klutzy teenager, unsure of what biblical friendships and relationships are supposed to look like. The advice I’m able to give to friends is stellar, because I am an outside observer… but when it comes to ME navigating relationships with men, I’m apparently still a hot mess.

In this season it has become painfully apparent that “unhealthy relationships” is a stronghold over my life.

If I look back on the wake of relational destruction behind me, the one constant since age 16 is unhealthy relationships with the opposite gender. I’d love to say this changed when I became a Christian, but it hasn’t. Clearly, there is much work to be done in my life around this area.

Ironically, rather than feeling hopeLESS about this mountain before me… I feel a sense of hopeFULLness, as often the first step to change comes within the realization that an area of your life is broken.

She Treasured These Things in Her Heart

There are times when we get a word from God and it is meant to be shared with others.

For accountability. For expectancy. Or just because we want to share the great omniscience of our Father. There are other times when God shares a word with us and it is meant to stay in our hearts.

Three months ago God shared something with me about my future.

I’ve kept it under wraps and intend to do so until I get the green light from Him that I can share it. I’ve tried to over-spiritualize this word and think to myself,

“I need to share this with Heidi (our NCC pastor of prayer) so she can pray for me.”
“I need to share this so my humanity doesn’t screw up God’s plans.”
“Surely this can’t be God. This thing. It’s too big. I must have heard wrong. Maybe I can share it with Heidi or Heather and they can correct my distorted personal hermeneutic.”

But somehow God has given me the fortitude to treasure this word in my heart. To keep it under wraps. And to hold it sacred. It’s something only He and I share. A word revealed in a time of deep intimacy that I am treasuring, because I treasure the Giver of the word. I praise Him for this.

Mary “treasured these things in her heart” many years ago after giving birth to Jesus.

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. Luke 2:16-22

Mary had just given birth to Jesus and people came from all around because God foretold the birth. Mary was Jewish, so she had probably heard the teachings of the coming Messiah as she was growing up. I wonder if she knew, at the very moment of Jesus’ arrival into the world, that He was the Messiah that had been promised? I wonder if the visitors all confirmed a truth she already knew, that the Messiah had just arrived in the world to take away the world’s sin and make her pure again.

But Mary said nothing. She just pondered these things in her heart.

Oh that I would have the wisdom and fortitude to know when to “treasure these things in my heart” that God has revealed to me, and when to share them. That is my prayer for today.

GET IN TOUCH

I'm a natural connector both online and IRL and I become positively giddy when my diverse communities collide with one another!