Healing: A Few Years After a Church Split

A few years ago our church struggled through a complicated and difficult split. The reasons for the division were many, and there’s no need to rehash them on the internet. It suffices to say there was a time when I feared we’d never function well again. The loss was keen, the anxiety deep.

Yet this morning in worship service I sat in the back of the room and watched people streaming in until the sanctuary was comfortably full. I realized that if I had been able to foresee this in the middle of the split, I would have felt a lot better. Even though it’s too late to go back and reassure the old pitiful, anxious, and cranky me that everything would turn out all right, it’s not too late to encourage others who might be going through the same thing.

Here is what I’d tell myself (and anyone else going through this):

Right now all you can see is loss. You see empty pews, empty classrooms, and a parking lot that is ridiculously large for so few cars. You don’t know what you fear more– losing the building to the bank or having to manage that enormous mortgage with half a congregation. You will get very, very angry at everyone who voted for the enormous mortgage and then walked out the door a few years later. You will resent the changes forced upon you, you will miss the sound of happy children chasing balls in the gym, and you will grow weary of trying to explain to your children why their friends are suddenly missing on Sunday morning.

You will, quite frankly, block a few people on social media simply to save your own sanity. I’m sure Jesus understands taking a little break from someone, yes?

Give it all some time. It might feel like the end of the church as you know it, but the Church will not be stopped by a few arguments or bad decisions. Our Foundation is secure.

In the near future, you will look around at a sanctuary that’s nearly full again. You’ll see new families who come with new strengths and weaknesses, new resources and needs. You’ll snuggle new babies. New staff will come and find a space in your heart. The music will be joyful again.

You won’t lose the building, but even if you do– so what? The Church is made up of people, of disciples. The pile of lumber we paint and heat can go back to the bank and we’ll find a different pile of lumber. Buildings are everywhere, so let the anxiety go.

One day you’ll look around at the brothers and sisters who stayed, who put their heads down against the storm and picked up the load with you. You’ll remember how they suddenly filled empty elder positions, started singing on the worship team, and filled the pulpit. You’ll be so overcome with affection for them you might be tempted to burst into tears as they hand you a cup of coffee between services. They will move from acquaintance to family. You will never regret staying with these people.

Because this is a relatively small town and a very small world, you will keep bumping into the friends who left. You will suddenly find them in hospital corridors, in the book store, and at the beauty salon. The weirdness will fade. You will be truly glad to see them. You will see the fruit in their lives and realize it’s good fruit, because they may be worshipping in a new location but they have not been severed from the Vine. This realization will bring you peace and warmth.

Yet none of this healing will be possible without the Holy Spirit’s help. The bitterness and anger will grow and destroy you if you let it. Keep praying and reading the Word so you will be able to move past the brokenness into the peace that passes understanding. Take your focus off the anger, and put it where it belongs, on Christ. Pray for your church, your staff, and those who left. Pray everyone keeps their focus on Christ and his commission.

Yes, I know this verse is in the middle of a passage about reconciling the Jews and the Gentiles, but I think it works here, too.

Yes, I know this verse is in the middle of a passage about reconciling the Jews and the Gentiles, but I think it works here, too.


Today was the annual Thanksgiving meal our church celebrates together. As we ate together I was truly thankful for the family around me. I still miss my friends who now worship elsewhere, but the grief is over. I ate too much turkey and cake and I celebrated what the Lord has provided. He is good, all the time. I pray you’ll find this in your own situation.


Cupcakes, Knitting, and Chickens: The Return of Domesticity

Do you bake your own cupcakes, then frost them with icing you whip up yourself? Have you ever sewn a piece of your own clothing, then worn it outside the house? Have you ever, in your life, filled your pockets with eggs stolen right out from your favorite chicken?

domestic skills

The return to old-fashioned skills is growing in strength each day. Some of us knit, garden, and home school. We don’t have to do these things; we want to. We’re glad to do this stuff even when bakeries, malls, publicly funded schools, and grocery stores exist almost everywhere.

(Full disclosure: I do bake my own cupcakes, I have sewn clothing but it’s always ugly, I hate knitting, and we love our public school system. And I love to garden but my word is it a lot of work.)


To some extent, the earlier generations may think we’ve lost our minds. They spent their early years slaving over the oven, the sewing machine, and the knitting needles and they are eager to tell us– buying stuff is a whole lot easier than making it yourself. I remember my grandmother making a few signature dishes, then cheerfully taking us to McDonald’s as often as she could. We had donuts from the bakery for breakfast, and cold sandwiches and chips for lunch. The 1930s were long gone, in her mind. No sense bringing back all that work.

The younger generations might not quite agree with Grandma, God rest her soul. We’re baking, sewing, crafting, and gardening and then we’re blogging about it all. Not only are we doing these things, we’re not doing a lot of other things– things like 70-hour work weeks, upwardly mobile lifestyles, and keeping up with the infamous Joneses.

I’ve found another delicious book at the library: Homeward Bound: Why Women Are Embracing the New Domesticity, by Emily Matchar. The author, herself a lover of the handcrafted and homemade, set out to find out why so many women (and men) are stepping off the career path and onto the organic, natural, keep-your-own goat path. Why are flannel shirts and work boots replacing suits and briefcases?

Her answers so far have surprised me. She’s finding that many younger people are returning to old skills because they’re not impressed with the example their parents have given them. Many of these modern domestics were raised by parents who were extremely career-minded, and they don’t want to repeat these patterns for their own lives and children’s lives.

Also, the bad economy has pushed many younger people, even highly educated people, off the traditional career path. They’re making donuts and selling organic jam because budget cuts and layoffs have rendered their Masters in French Literature useless. Not only are their degrees useless, but a poor job market has economically forced many of these people to make their own things. An organic, gourmet cupcake can be made for far less than it can be purchased.

I get where Matchar is going with this train of thought, but I have to add another perspective. Many of us are choosing this lifestyle not because we’re reacting against something, but because we’re choosing something positive. We value specific things, and those values lead us in this direction. My friends who home school aren’t railing against the idea of public school, they’re thoughtfully choosing a very careful plan for their family. My friends who eat organically are investing in their long-term health; they aren’t just making a statement against chemicals in the food supply.

Many of us value these skills we’re learning and these choices we’re making. We enjoy chasing the goats out of the flowers instead of riding a train into work each day. We gladly give up a new SUV if it means we can stay home with our kids. Low pressure jobs may lead to low dollar bank accounts, but the trade-off is more than worth it for us.

What about you? Are you a make-it-yourself aficionado, or do you prefer to work more hours so you can pay someone to make it for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Deleted Scenes from the Next Book

Do you ever read a book and wonder what they left out? Like movies, books have all sorts of things cut out before the public sees them. Sometimes we writers write too much, or too densely, or (in my case) too weirdly.alien baby pregnancy

My next book, If I Plug My Ears God Can’t Tell Me What to Do, is making its way through the final steps to publication, and an editor named Dave is delicately attacking its misplaced commas and dangling participles and all the things a writer misses because she becomes blind to her own words at some point in the process. He sent me a gently worded email this week, politely requesting a rewrite for a specific section in the chapter about waiting for God’s plan to bear fruit in our lives.

I almost giggled when I read Dave’s email, because I was expecting far worse. I was expecting large chunks cut out and red notes all over the manuscript. And if I’ve learned one thing in this process, it’s to trust your editor. These people have the ability to make you sound like a genius, if you let them do their jobs.

I gladly rewrote the section, but I have to admit the deleted scene is one of my favorite of the book. I think you might get a kick out of it, too. So, with no further ado, here is the deleted scene!

What if the End Is Not Near?

I’m not one of those women who enjoys being pregnant. I’ve done it twice, and that is more than enough for me. I am not a fan of the swelling, the fat ankles, the gigantic bosom, the preggo pants, or strangers patting my belly. I’m also not a fan of waking up in the middle of the night four times to go to the bathroom, or having strange doctors manhandling my person. The whole rigamarole is an uncomfortable mess. Both of my children were more than a week late, and I thought I was going to die the last nine and ten days of each pregnancy. It was supposed to be over! I had a date in mind, and they totally ignored it!

At least I was certain of one thing: it might be two weeks later than I had anticipated, but there really was going to be an end. The doctors had promised that eventually the baby would come out, and if it took too long then they would help the process move along. It was a promise I clung to with my last shred of sanity.

But let’s imagine this: what if I was impregnated by an alien? Human babies take forty weeks to gestate, give or take two weeks. Alien babies? Who knows!? Could be a month, could be a decade. There’s no way to know how long the process is going to take. For all we know alien babies only birth themselves after their mothers have died from sheer discomfort.

My point is this: we may never get to see the end result of God’s plan. We have no way of knowing how long it will take, just like an alien baby pregnancy. It may be years beyond us. We may be a step in the middle of the plan, and generations beyond us may be counting on us to do our part now. Keep going! Have faith that God will take care of what is beyond your line of vision.

I think we can all see why Dave thought maybe this was too weird for official publication. Alien pregnancies border on tabloid material. But my point remains valid– we may all be in the middle of God’s plan somewhere, unable to see the end He has planned. Are we willing to keep going, in faith?

All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. (Hebrews 11:13, NLT)

We’ll Have Simple Holidays or We’ll Die Trying

The greatest test of our new simple lifestyle looms before us–the holiday season.

First it comes robed in autumn colors and smelling like roasted bird. It has mashed potatoes on the side and football on the television. We gather together and thank God for what He’s provided, celebrate our family and then take naps all throughout the house.

Then smell of turkey and gravy gives way to ham and cherry pie, sparkly lights illuminating the darkness, and remembering the birth of a Savior so many years ago. We give gifts because the wise men started this tradition with their presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

The New Year barrels in close behind, which also happens to be our anniversary. We celebrate new beginnings, a year well-lived, and sixteen years of marriage.

These are all noble ideas that bear celebrating. God instituted so many celebrations in the Old Testament, giving his people one reason after another to feast and party the whole year through. So bring on the turkey and the lights and the presents under the tree!

And yet, if we’re not careful, these celebrations can knock out our good intentions. It’s so easy for everything to go so wrong. A little over eating here, a little fighting around the table there, a few too many swipes of the credit card, and then a little too much booze to cap things off. Before we know it we’re stuffed to the gills, badly in debt, and not speaking to the very people we claim to love the most.

The children catch wind of this frightening hypocrisy and turn into the little maniacs that simmer just below the surface. Our greed fuels their greed. Our frustration and crankiness spawn their defiance, whininess, and tantrums. Suddenly the plans to thank God and remember a Savior are knocked to the floor as we trample them on the way to the kitchen for more pie, or throw them out with mounds of wrecked wrapping paper.

There has to be a better way. Our goals for simple living are to: 1) control our spending so we can give money where it is needed and to travel, and 2) to control our calendar so we can spend time with people and build relationships that matter. I’m going into this season with those thoughts firmly in mind. I’ve thought about tattooing them across my person but that seems a little drastic.

simple holidays

A few weeks ago I threw out a little idea to the kiddos– “Hey, kids. What would you think about getting one gift for Christmas and then going somewhere as a family?” I thought this might fall flat, but their ears perked right up. After a little negotiating about whether stocking stuffers counted as one gift and if a water park hotel might be in the offerings, we had a deal.

So far they’re even more excited about this Christmas than the others. I think last year they got a little stressed out as they made their lists. Because, quite frankly, even they knew they didn’t want too much.

As far as the budget goes, it turns out that hotels with water parks aren’t cheap in December, so we’re actually spending as much money as we would have. But we won’t be cluttering up our house with things they won’t play with and we’ll be spending time together as a family. It’s not perfect, but it’s close.

How about your family? What are your goals this season, and how are you planning to reach them?

Here are some posts you might find interesting from other super-smart folks:

If the Call Came, How Fast Could You Move?

Let’s say the phone rang, and God was on the other end:

Riiiing-Riiiiing! (Apparently my phone is from the 80’s).

You: “Hello?”

God: “Hello, my beloved child. This is God.”

You: “That’s not funny, Earl. Stop being a putz.”

God: “I just talked to Earl; he says ‘Hey.'”

You: “Still not funny, Earl.”

God: “I remember your bad perm from the 7th grade. Do you believe me now?”

You: “Half of Allegan remembers my bad perm in the 7th grade. This hardly proves anything.”

God, dropping his voice to a whisper: “Sh-sh-mu-shhssshhh, I saw all that, shs, mmmyyooo, shss.” 

You: “OH, Father! So good of you to call! What can I do for you?”

God: “I have a new project for you. Here is the very vague concept. You’ll get the details when I feel like it.” (God proceeds to give you a vision you neither want nor think is possible.)

You: Silence falls as you thud to the floor in a dead faint.

It could happen, you know. God calls all the time, giving us a new direction in life. Sometimes it’s a small, still voice in the back of our minds. Sometimes He jumps out through the written Word as we read the Bible. Sometimes it comes from circumstances, like an unexpectedly positive pregnancy test at the worst possible time, or a job loss that initiates a string of events, or even a phone call.

I have a funny story about that pregnancy test. Well, I mean, it will be funny eventually. It’s still too soon.

Don’t worry, I’m not pregnant. But for two days in October I really thought I was and I kid you not– I was nearly having an out-of-body experience from the anxiety. I was sitting at a light in my van and felt like I was floating above it.

Do you know the things that would have to change if I was indeed pregnant at 38 years old? We have no baby things. Our house is the worst possible arrangement for a baby, unless that wee thing would be sleeping in our closet. We are big fans of sleeping all night and I simply cannot bear one more round of being a parent volunteer in a kindergarten class. Can. Not. Do. It. Again.

And let’s not forget our little experience a few weeks ago, when I accidentally applied for a job in Dallas. Does the job line up perfectly with my gifts and ministry desires? Yes.

Does anything else line up, at all? Even a little bit? No. I was pretty terrified that God’s new plan involved radical change to a state that has scorpions.

I heard back from that ministry, by the way. The editor sent a very kind and encouraging email after a couple of days. He’d even read my blog post about the whole ordeal and could relate, since he’d left a good job in the secular world to move to that ministry himself. He said that if I was local they’d have me come in for an interview, but he wasn’t sure that was what our family wanted.

So, in other words, he left it hanging wide open.

I politely replied, leaving it hanging wide open myself. Something along the lines of “We’ll pray about this.”

As we were getting ready for bed a few days later, Eric turned out the light and said, “Maybe this was just a trial run for something that’s coming next.”

“Mrmph.” I said, because I was already half asleep and the idea that this could just be a trial run left me without words.

And now we’ve reached the meat of this blog post. What if it wasn’t a trial run, but the real thing? What if God was really handing us our next assignment? What would we have to do to get ready?

new life plan

Well, if I was pregnant we’d need all the baby paraphernalia, a permanent spot on the prayer chain, and probably a nanny. We’d have to stop drinking wine on Saturday nights and planning another trip to Italy.

If we were moving to Dallas we’d have to sell two houses, pay off a van, convince the children this was a fun idea and they wouldn’t miss their friends at all, and remember how to live on beans and rice again.

We’re far from ready for any new plans from God. We’re traveling heavy, packed to the gills with things we own and relationships we aren’t ready to sever. But at least we know that now, and we can work to clear that up. Because I’m pretty sure that missing out on God’s adventure because we aren’t ready is a terrible way to live.

How about you? If the call came today, what would you need to do?

A Short Explanation on Your Missing Blogger

Dear readers,

Precious, wonderful, lovely readers.

I miss you! But our computer is still in the shop, waiting for the technician to return. They said the earliest he could repair it would be tomorrow, which means we’ve been computer-free for a week. In theory I could blog from my phone while we wait, but now the poor thing is getting so old that “social media” is more of a concept than an actual thing it does.

I’ve spent my extra time–wait for it–reading. I’ve been reading actual books! It occurred to me that maybe you’d like to read them too, assuming you might be interested in slowing down and paring your life down to what matters.

Here’s what’s been occupying my mind this week:

  • Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. Do you ever step back, look at your day, and wonder: Why am I doing all these things? Do they even matter? This is the book for you! Greg Mckeown will help you chop out the stuff that doesn’t matter.
  • In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore. I am loving this book! Carl Honore’s writing style is just so…compelling. I’m learning so much without feeling like he’s even teaching. He has a few other books I’m adding to my reading list as soon as I finish this one. (P.S. There’s an entire chapter on slowing down in the bedroom. Worth the read, my friends!)
  • Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World by Lee Camp. You may have noticed there’s a huge divide between cultural Christianity and oh, you know…what Jesus told us to do. This is driving me crazy, and Lee Camp has hit the proverbial nail right on its proverbial head. Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow Him, and many other things we completely ignore as we build a protective nest around our religious beliefs. Christ-followers– this is a book you must read.
  • Romans, chapter 12 by the Apostle Paul. If we’re not supposed to build those protective nests, what are we supposed to be doing? Romans 12 gives us a good start. I’ve been reading and rereading it this week, hoping to soak more of it in.

What about you? What’s on your reading table?

Romans 12 10

I Don’t Know What Just Happened Here, but I Think It Was Just an Accident.

I think I just accidentally applied for a job in Texas.

Don’t freak out, because I’m pretty sure God is just doing a spiritual exercise here with me. I’m pretty sure this little episode won’t actually end in selling two houses, packing up, and moving 1,000 miles away.

Because God never asks His followers to do any of that, right? God’s mostly very reasonable and only asks us to do things that make perfect sense.

Oh, wait. I can hear my friends Betsy, Abbie, and Heather laughing from here. And they’re all at least 1,000 miles from Kalamazoo, where they used to live.

Deep breath, Jessie. Take a deep breath.

Here’s the whole story. This company keeps calling the church where I work, setting up appointments to speak to the minister. Twice now something’s gone wrong and a call came an hour later than we were anticipating. After the second time, I happened to pull up their website to see if we had a time-zone miscommunication. That’s exactly what’s happening. 10:00am our time is 11:00am, their time. But I found their location from their Careers page, which is when I happened to notice they need a writer and a content editor. I left the page open on my screen out of idle curiosity; it’s not often a ministry needs to hire a full-time writer. Then I poked around their website and their founder’s thoughts exactly match some things God has been teaching me and Eric lately. We’d moved beyond coincidence to very weird.

The hair started standing up on the back of my neck.

I talked to Eric and the kids about this. The kids say, “No way. Nope, nope, nope.” Eric says, “Dallas? Why not a better place than Dallas?” Frowny faces abounded.

I had myself completely talked out of applying because it’s just impossible. The kids would be so unhappy to leave their friends and school. We grown ups would be so miserable leaving our friends and family. We have 16 years invested in our church. Eric has a good job he loves. It has benefits, bonuses, and generous amounts of vacation time. We’d be idiots to leave that. Plus also, we’re from Michigan. We’re Michiganders. I’m not exactly sure what’s going on in Texas but those people are feisty and I hear they like football.

We own a football. Sometimes the kids even toss it. That’s as close as we come.

But you know how sometimes you’ve worked yourself up onto your high horse, and you’ve debated all the options and you’re quite sure you have the solution, and then the Holy Spirit starts whispering in your ear? And maybe He starts to speak words that don’t come from human reasoning, but from God’s reasoning?

It’s always so uncomfortable.

I started to realize I’m putting the security and provision from my husband’s company before God’s security and provision. I’m determined to keep our life comfortable and easy. I’m putting my kids’ comfort above God’s possible calling. For heaven’s sake, I even put our state identity before our identity as Christ-followers.

If I Plug My Ears, God Can't Tell Me What to Do

Coming in spring of 2015!

If this isn’t all bad enough, I’ve written a book about this exact topic. It’s even titled If I Plug My Ears, God Can’t Tell Me What to Do (coming in spring of 2015!). I’ve been plugging my ears for two days, hoping this all goes away. The book talks about how sometimes God calls us to things that make our family uncomfortable.

I meant our grandmothers, Lord. Sometimes Granny isn’t excited about Your plan. I didn’t know You included the kids.

The book talks about how we need to be flexible and ready to move.

I meant other people, Lord. I would like to be flexible from Kalamazoo while my husband has an excellent job.

The book talks about how Jesus didn’t come so we could spend our earthly years on the couch, cozy until we die.

But I have some extremely comfortable couches, Lord. Do you really want me to give them up? Even the one we bought for $100 at the resale shop?

I can’t very well write these things and then refuse to participate in God’s plan, so I gathered my courage and sent off the resume. I very highly doubt I have the skills this company needs, or the temperament. But I do know this– the experience was eye-opening. I’m not doing as good a job of listening to God as I thought I was.

So maybe I accidentally applied for a job in Texas, yes. But I’m quite sure I didn’t accidentally have this experience this week. What about you? What do you feel God might be calling you to next?

If any of you wants to be my followers, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it. (Mark 8:34-35, NLT)

Therefore, go and make disciples of tall the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19, NLT)