The Church Search

I would not have chosen to leave our church, but when we moved 90 miles up the road last fall we decided that was too far to drive each Sunday. (Although for a minute we considered it.) There were a slew of things that made it difficult to leave, the most significant being many of the people in our church had become like family.

In 2011 Christmas landed on a Sunday, the question wasn’t if we were going to church, in fact I thought it would be quite special to sit with so many good friends on Christmas morning, the question was ~ what to wear. Our family stays in pajamas all day on Christmas, with feeling like our church is family the girls and I decided to go in our pajamas. (The guys wore suits – to balance our attire.) Our church family had become so much a part of our lives that our pajama decision seemed natural. (Note: except for a few children, we were the only people, in a packed church, wearing pajamas! I still don’t regret that decision.)

For fourteen years our church was a central part of our lives. This tribe came alongside us and our children, having influence in each of our lives. They led us, ministered to us, loved us, and gave us opportunities to grow in service to, and care for others. Consequently our search for a new church is not something we’ve taken lightly; this new community will matter to us.

It was harder than expected to begin the search, in fact we took many Sundays off. (During this time so many kept asking us if we had found a church yet. That, my friends, is a caring question for which we were grateful.)  Kevin and I knew we wouldn’t give up meeting together with a group of believers, so at last we began our church search in earnest. When we did began our quest to find a church home I quickly discovered it was with grieving heart; I missed my people and the connection I felt each week. Going to church doesn’t feel the same here, but I have been known to say, “God is not a feeling”, so our search is about so much more than settling into a feeling. We are not going to feel connected right away anyway, so we will look for the things we’ve learned are important through our home church, they did these things well.

As we talk through our Sunday experiences we’ve focused on these things:

  • Is the message scripture based, and is scripture used in context?
    Teaching the Word is what matters. We’re looking for the Word to be clear and the gospel truth to be heard.
  • Is worship led or performed?
    Worship leaders have the awesome responsibility and honor of leading us to the throne, the cross, to God. Excellence in worship matters, performing does not.  I’m being challenged with a little different worship style, but worship isn’t about me, it’s about God. I want familiar worship, but what I need is to focus on what matters, and that’s not me. This is not a bad challenge for me to be working through.
  • Do the people seem connected to each other, is the atmosphere friendly and welcoming?
    This matters because “the church” is the people. How they interact with each other gives a window into who they are.
  • Is this a church that serves beyond it’s walls?
    Love God, love others ~ this is the greatest command, so this matters.
  • Does what we believe align with their “What we believe” statement?

We have chosen a church to attend each Sunday. We are mostly in that place of “last in and first out” on Sunday mornings ~ we call it hovering. We’re getting closer to the ground, but we’re not quite ready to land. We’re grateful for the opportunity to occasionally drive to our home church, where they did the above things well, and also feeling peaceful about the steps we’re taking to land in a new church community.

If you’ve had to search for a new church home, please feel invited to share your experience by leaving a comment. I’d be so interested in learning about your church search process!

He Can Move the Mountains

In the course of our adoption journey, when I have been at the end of myself, with nothing left to give and seemingly nothing at the bottom to even scrape, God would give me this song ~

Everyone needs compassion
a love that never fails
let mercy fall on me…

~ and something within me would stir. When at church, I’d glance at our angry boy standing in the front row, right across the aisle from our pastor, and despite my anger, frustration, sadness or emptiness, I knew those words were true.

Savior, He can move the mountains
My God is mighty to save
He is mighty to save

I could feel the mountain inside of our boy’s heart and mind. It was a massive, seemingly immovable barricade. The weight of that mountain and it’s jagged cliffs were hurting him, and me, and the rest of our family. It was impeding forward movement.  Each time I heard those words I was reminded God could move that mountain, that He was mighty to save.

So take me him as you find me him
All my his fears and failures
Fill my his life again…

Those are the words I would sing.

Shine your light and let the whole world see
We’re singing for the glory of the risen King…

In my darkness I could sing for the glory of the risen King.

In October of 2012 my husband flew 1,500 miles with our boy, leaving him in a program that was to allow him time and space to mature and heal. 1,500 miles away. In a foreign country. On a mountain. It was the next thing that was presented to us in our journey. It was not what I had expected. It never occurred to me when we adopted him that we would send him away. But maybe, just maybe God knew He could trust us to make this hard, right choice. I don’t know that, but I wonder.

CMA ChurchMany months later when Kevin and I flew down for our first parent visit, our boy was still angry. The last day of our visit was a Sunday and we went to church with him. The church is on the campus of the academy; a simple but beautiful little church. The pews face a wall with a large window, and out that window is a stunning view of a very large mountain. As I stood next to our boy with his own mountain, the visual was not lost on me. An obscure verse we read on a screen recently while visiting a friend’s church in Denver  ~ which spoke to me about our boy ~ was now put up on the screen in this little church facing the mountain, while I sat next to our boy. “OK, God, I see you.” I thought. Then the worship team led us in “Mighty to Save”. My heart lurched and tears streamed down my face, I put my hand compassionately over our boy’s hand with a love I hoped would not fail him; he stood there rigidly. But I was at peace because I sensed God was once more affirming that He was in this whole thing.

Even with this perceived affirmation I wasn’t confident we would ever see this mountain move. But I also knew my Savior had the power to move it. I prayed through that song that God would take him ~ with all his fears and failures and fill his life.

When we returned home my heart was heavy. That first Sunday as I stood in our church I pictured our boy in his church so many miles away. My mind wandered to that mountain out the window and the one within his heart. Then our worship team led us in “Mighty to Save” and tears streamed, I was reminded once more that my God is mighty to save.

On March 22, 2015, after two years and five months, in which our guy   s l o w l y   completed the program, he stood next to me in our home church once more, no more than a few inches separating us.

I quickly had this little conversation with God as we stood to worship:

God,
I know you brought our boy home. I know it’s true because he’s standing next to me. But right now, right here, it would be really cool if our worship team led us in “Mighty to Save”.

Wait…sorry God, it seems I’m always asking you, “Please give me a sign so I know that it’s you.”  I don’t need another sign. I have it ~ the sign is life size and standing next to me. Only YOU could have moved the mountain within this boy. I am grateful. I do not need more of a sign than that.

I started thinking of God telling Moses “…this will be the sign to you that it is I that have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Genesis 3:12

I was at truly satisfied and at peace.

And then our worship team launched into “Mighty to Save”. I felt my knees go weak and there was no stopping the floodgate of tears as my husband reached for my hand. How could God be so compassionate to me? I don’t deserve it, yet he takes me as he finds me, all my fears and failures and fills my life with the lyrics and timing of this song again and again. How Great is our God?! Oh yeah, we also sang a chorus of that at the end of Mighty to Save.

Thank you, God for your compassion and love that never fails. Thank you for your faithfulness and providence over these many years and in the years to come. Thank you for the healing you have done in this boy that you grafted into our family. May we shine your light and let the whole world see, we’re singing for the glory of the risen King!

(We’re on day 8 of the reunification and it’s going well. He has matured much. He actually wants to be here now. He finally trusts us. He’s letting us in. I’m not naive, I’m aware there are likely to be challenges along the way, but with the mountain moved, the journey likely won’t be on such rugged terrain.)

Mighty to Save by Laura Story
How Great is our God by

I could not send her

“I love Ava so much, mom. I just couldn’t do it…”

Ava's bornMelissa, our very close friend (really more family member than friend) had her first baby in August and we have all been over the moon in love since. We’ve loved Melissa for many years, my kids consider her more of a sister/aunt/friend. When she and I try to describe our relationship its like friend/sister/daughter. When she met her husband we felt like we all had to approve (and we did!) and when Melissa became pregnant we all knew something special was going to take our relationship to a new place. And she did – Ava arrived and we all flocked to the hospital to meet her, with Kevin even driving 90 minutes to come meet the little bundle of love within hours of her arrival.

Erin & AvaWe’ve had the joy of seeing Ava a lot since she was born and we have all fallen so in love with her. A few weeks ago Erin was rocking Ava and talking about loving her so much. She went on to talk about God loving Jesus even more. She looked at Ava and said “I love her too much, I couldn’t send her to earth to live, suffer and die that way. Even to save all mankind. I just couldn’t do it.”

So we talked about how much God must love us to have sent His son, the One He loves, to earth ~ knowing that many would reject him, that for some this suffering and death would be meaningless. Which took us back to looking at Ava…if you knew EVERYONE would come to the saving grace of Jesus, then could you do it? She still wasn’t sure. What about knowing for many her suffering and violent death would be meaningless. No, we were confident we couldn’t send her. It’s a love we cannot comprehend.

Nativity AvaA few weeks ago our church put on Breakfast in Bethlehem – it was beautiful, stirring, joyful and brought Christmas close. And guess who was baby Jesus? Yep…Ava. When Mary, holding Ava baby Jesus, and Joseph walked in the room and down the isle with their donkey, tears quickly dropped from my eyes…”This is a taste of it.” I thought. So innocent. Just a baby, here to save mankind. Then Erin, who was a tall shepherd tending to a little shepherd walked down the isle. When she stopped to bow and worship baby Jesus I was again overcome with a tiny morsel of the real story ~ just that week Erin had changed “baby Jesus” diaper, now she was bowing to “him” as her Lord.Shepherds Are these some of the things Mary pondered in her heart?

The Christmas story got real close and personal to us this year. Our hearts literally not comprehending this amazing love that cost so much. I’ve found myself seeking more the real meaning of Christmas and resting more in the peace of it all instead of the lists that I tend to create. None of that will make it Christmas ~ it’s a pure and simple scene I am gravitating toward. The story that makes Christmas real and has the potential to bring us all up real close and real personal to our Savior. Merry Christmas to you all.

Some of these photos were taken by myself, Melissa and Keepsake Portraits & Design

thankful and centered

Last night our family (at least the small remnant that still lives at home) went to a Gratitude Service at our church. I remember the first service like this we attended – it was held on the eve of Thanksgiving. A portion of the service was to sing songs of thanksgiving to God for who he is and all he had done. There were also open microphones set up in a few places and people got up slowly but surely to share what they were grateful for.

I remember thinking that the eve of Thanksgiving didn’t seem like the most convenient time to take a break and go to church, after all there were pies to ready and stuffing to make, among other many details. But sitting in a peaceful candlelit service reflecting on and thanking God for all he had provided suddenly felt right, natural, and centering to my soul. Last night as we sat in that gratitude service, my heart was pounding – the multitude of blessings I have to be grateful for is stunning. I felt overwhelmed as I slowed my thoughts to truly consider some very specific things for which I am thankful.

This is the time of year when it can seem like the whistle has blown and we’re off and running, running , running. Planning this and stressing over that. Shopping, wrapping, baking, counting the days – and not necessarily in the Advent season kind of way, more along the lines of “I’m running out of time and still have so much to do” kind of way. I’m intentionally going to take some time to just “be” even in the midst of all I will also need to “do” over these next 30+ days.

This week I am encouraging you and me to intentionally take some time (that we are sure we don’t have) to really pause. Take some time and space to feel the gratitude that already exists within us; sometimes I’m so busy fluttering around in this life that I find myself many times acknowledging but not really feeling gratitude. I felt it last night – and it centered me once more.

At some points this season may we each find ourselves centered and grounded while much (even the very hard stuff that we do not understand) swirls around us. May you and I make a way to speak our grateful thoughts out loud and express them to each other, as well as to the Lord.

25 Years of Making a Difference

The other night our church celebrated it’s 25th Anniversary; twenty-five years of service to our community and the world, 25 years of changing lives. We celebrated, honored and appreciated our founding pastor, Stan Buck and his family. It was an amazing, moving, incredible evening; one I may never forget. I’m sure there will be more posts to follow, but for now I am captivated by those 25 years; what it was, and what it means.

I was sitting in the second row and when I turned around to see all the people behind me, it was a sight to behold. Every chair filled, right to the back of the room, then people standing behind and around the chairs, then people standing in the lobby. So. many. people.
Can you imagine being at the first service? You’ve prayed, made over 19,000 phone calls to the people in the area, you’ve done a mailing, prayed, set up chairs, prepared your message, prayed some more, and then you watch the door and hope people come through it.

In a video message, Stan mentioned, at times, during those early years, wanting to make the phone call that would allow him to walk away from ministry. This surprised me, I only know him to be a very strong, organized, determined man. But I cannot imagine the many frustrations of beginning and leading a church, so many things likely not going the way you imagined.

Ministry = people, and the truth is, people = messy.

As I thought about then…and now, this thought has come to me over and over…our culture today is very instant. We aren’t used to waiting very long, if at all, for feedback, results, change and more. We lose our focus, and we want the next thing. When discouraged, it’s easy for us to move to the next thing – as there are many next things screaming for our attention and time. But when you’re in the business of people, well…people need time. We’re set in our ways, we don’t want to change, we’re confident in our beliefs, or non-beliefs, or simply comfortable in our questioning. We want to know what the church will do for us, we sometimes show up with our consumerism attitude. We church-hop if we don’t get, hear or experience what we like.  But....we’re also giving and generous. We are hungry for a change in our lives, we want to know God, or know him more. We’re a mix of all of that…which I imagine can be exhausting at times for pastors.

I saw so many of our young leaders at this celebration and I wondered what they were thinking. Here’s what I was thinking, Look at all these people! Young leaders, know that 700 people did not walk through the doors that first service, or the 100th service, or the 500th service. Life change did not take place after each and every service. (Be encouraged young leaders.) But after 25 years of sacrifice, leading, hardship and heartache, after hundreds of good decisions and probably a few not so good decisions, of having babies, sending those babies to college and then walking those babies down the aisle, our founding, and senior pastor had the honor of sitting and watching people POUR through the doors one Sunday evening.

Perseverance, commitment, passion, faith, obedience and so much more, poured over 25 years, sprinkled upon thousands of people, passed on to countless more. Our founding and senior pastor is sick, which makes this more than just a celebratory piece – it’ a challenging piece to other leaders, and it’s a reflective piece. The time for him to add to his legacy is nearing an end but the impact of his legacy will endure because he invested, cared, nurtured, made wise decisions and hard decisions, and the truth is, he likely screwed some things up too – he isn’t perfect. But he is good, and he is faithful. He loves his wife, adores his girls, cares for his congregation – and dare I say, the world. Congratulations to you, Stan Buck, on 25 years of service to the church. You have been a good and faithful servant, and when you enter into the presence of the King, I believe you will hear, “Well done.”

 Keepsake Portraits & Designs.
To read more of what I have written on Stan Buck since his illness, click here.
His CaringBridge is here.

Messages on Monday

I have listened to two great messages on parenting recently and have decided to share those links here on my blog. Sometimes I will listen to a message from another church when I am working in the kitchen, sitting on the porch or driving in the car. It’s a great and easy way for me to learn and grow!

One of the messages was from Newspring Church in Wichita, Kansas, (this is my sister Jamie’s church) titled It’s Apparent: You Can’t Do That. A few takeaways for me from that message were:

  • …bring them UP in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4
  • We as parents can be so bold and confident in some areas of our lives and yet sometimes have a hard time talking to our kids about crucial matters.
  • We need to discipline our kids while we still have a chance. Indulging them destroys them. Proverbs 19:18
  • No discipline is enjoyable while it’s happening – it’s painful…heavy…sad. Hebrews 12:11 When we are off track, God is heavy in his heart, but we may not be…so God will bring us discipline to bring that heaviness to our hearts. The pastor does a nice job talking about this.
  • Many of the guardrails of previous cultural norms are down today. We get almost no help from the culture today, in fact it can almost feel like the enemy. (I believe this is true.)
  • We need to ask ourselves this question ~ What do we really want as we discipline our kids? Ultimately, it is an ordered life – not a chaotic life. Peace comes from being in right order. We want our children to have peace…peace with God, us, their siblings, future mate, peace within themselves.
  • It’s never too late to parent.
  • Ephesians 6:1~ We gain a peaceful heart from right living.This was a really really good, insightful message. I definitely recommend it. You can listen to it here. (May 20, 2012 It’s Apparent, You Can’t Do That)

The other message was from my pastor, Stan Buck, at Sonrise Church. His message on parenting is titled Imagine the End. (Interestingly, it was also given on May 20, 2012!) Here are a few bullets I wrote down from that one:

  • Fight for the heart.
  • Focus on what matters
  • We sometimes make the mistake of putting our kids first…the order actually is God, marriage, kids.
  • We are here to serve God…not you.
  • Our goal is not to make our kids happy, our goal is to make our kids holy and complete. (Good, good stuff.)
  • It really doesn’t matter what our kids know if they don’t really know what matters.
  • LOVE this one: What I give to my children and do for my children is not as important as what I leave in my children. (That needs to be splattered all over our mirrors and calendars, and should be texted to us daily!)
  • Train a child in the way that they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6Stan also gave several very practical parenting tips that they used while raising their daughters…I really recommend listening to this – especially if you have older children. You can listen to that message here. (May 20, 2012 Imagine the End)

I really appreciate hearing from different pastors – if you have a message you have listened to that you want to share, you can leave a comment below or send me a message using the Contact Me page. Thanks!

 

 

Going to Church

I want my kids to go to church. Although “going to church” really isn’t the goal.

I wrote here about Zach and Erin going to spend the weekend with Courtney recently. At the end of the article I mentioned that they even went to a church service while together…without parents. Meaning no one told them to go to church. I love this. But even as I write that – I know it isn’t the act of going to church that I desire. I don’t long for obedience, I hope for them to have their own desire to take time out for God.

Lots of people go to church. There was a time (actually there were years) where I “went to church”. It’s what Kevin and I did on a Sunday morning. Then we came home, read the Sunday paper, got groceries, maybe took a nap and then prepared for the work week. I was able to check the box, “Went to church”, but it didn’t carry over into the other parts of my week.

But I do value my kids to going to church because I believe when they go to church, they have an opportunity to focus on, consider, learn more about, and take time to worship God. The hope is that they are taking in teachings, using their minds and their hearts to consider positions, feeling challenged in areas of weaknesses and convicted in areas where they are off track. I hope they use this dedicated time to block out the distractions and worship the one who created and calls them.

The world is constantly crashing in on them. They don’t need to put any effort into being influenced and challenged by culture, but we all need to put effort into holding the world at bay to consider what we believe and what we will do about what we believe.

I don’t long for obedience, I hope for them to have their own desire to take time out for God. When my kids choose church for themselves, my heart feels not pride, but gratitude. I believe one of my “jobs” as a Christian mother is to lead my children to Jesus, introduce them, hope that they take His hand, and then allow Him to lead them in this world.

They will leave my home, I will lose my “majority stake” in influencing them, but if through our partnership with the local church they have their eyes on Jesus then I will be more confident in letting them go.

These Sibling Relationships – read it here.

Thank God!

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you might remember that in May our pastor was diagnosed with a malignant glioblastoma, grade 4. It dropped many in our church, in our community, and because of his influence, literally around the world, to our knees. I first wrote about it here. It’s been a long five months of taking this in and praying…constantly.

With the amazing blessing of Stan’s return to teaching this fall, (after surgery and a summer of recovery as well as treatment) we’ve been learning about Living with Dying, (we’re all doing it) Healing, Strength in Weakness, Hope, Prayer and more. I’ve experienced deeper worship, lifting my hands without knowing the outcome has forced me to lean into this God who I believe is good – all the time. We sing in one song that the Lord gives and takes away, and so we stand with hands lifted in gratitude or surrender, or pleading. The giving is easy to accept, the taking away…not so much. (Here is a link to page with the above messages that Stan Buck preached.)

Well, last week Stan had his first MRI scan since the removal of the tumor, and he is cancer free! It absolutely is a miracle. When I first heard the news, tears sprang to my eyes and just flowed and flowed. I was immediately aware of how different those tears were from the ones I shed in May, they actually felt lighter on my cheeks.

I am overjoyed! I am beyond thankful for him and his family, and thrilled for our church. (You can read what he posted about this news on his CaringBridge site here.) As I drove by our church today, this was the marquee. It gripped my heart (as much as the one in May did that simply said “Hope”) and I wanted to let out a WHOOP!! I wanted to yell at all the drivers around me “Did you see our sign?! Have you heard our news?!” Instead I drove home to get my camera, I knew I wanted to share about this news here. I took the picture and then understood in my spirit that I needed to drive up to the church and stop in our Prayer Chapel.

I felt drawn to my knees once more and realized it was to give thanks to the Lord. I dragged a kneeler in front of the alter where there is a very large Bible. I put my hands on the Bible, my head down, and said “Thank you.” Immediately, I began to sob. I continued to pray – the only words were…Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you

I wanted to share that because I didn’t expect that response from me, and it made me wonder how often do I want to shout to others….“Did you see that!? Have you heard what God has done!!?” Which is great – wonderful – we should share what God has done. (1 Chronicles 16:8-36) But how often do I get down on my knees, I do mean literally, and simply thank God for who He is or what He has done? The answer: not often enough.

I’m learning a lot through this.

Thank you Lord, for setting our pastor into remission. Thank you Lord, for comforting those who love you the same yet do not receive this same news. Thank you, Lord for who you are. Because of Jesus, Amen.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever. 1 Chronicles 16:34
Previous posts: Face Down, Getting up to Follow, He’s Back!

He’s Back!

Sunday, August 7, 2010, our pastor, Stan Buck, was back in his spot at our church. He hasn’t been in his spot since May 15th. On May 19th a brain tumor was discovered and May 20th it was removed

Its been a long eleven weeks.
Its been a miraculous eleven weeks.
Its been an emotionally draining eleven weeks.

If you go to church, you know that many of us have “our seats”. Mine is in the front, third row, right side, on the end. I sit here because I am easily distracted, in this spot I can focus more easily on worship and the message. Our pastor sits two rows in front of us, and its been unnerving to not see him in his spot this summer.

But this past Sunday he was back! I didn’t realize how much I appreciated seeing the back of that guy’s head over the past nine years! Its hard to articulate what it felt like. It was overwhelming, it was comforting, it was joyful, it was evidence of the grace of God. It warmed my heart and made my feet move during worship.

He will be preaching “Messages that Matter” over the next three weeks, I cannot wait to sit under his teaching again. I am overjoyed by his return. I am praying still for his recovery. I am mindful of God’s grace. I am aware of my own brokenness and mortality. I am stronger for this even as I feel weak in the knees.

In all of this, with hands lifted high – in grief and in joy –  I am again made aware that God is good…all the time. No matter what.

Click here for “Face Down” my first post about this.
Click here for “Getting up to Follow” my second post.
Click here for the messages from Sonrise Church, Southwest Campus

A Mother of the Year Moment

I had just walked into church and stopped to greet to a friend who was sitting in the back holding her grandson. As I walked away I ran into my friend Jill, and with an exasperated laugh and a huge smile, she said she went to drop the baby off in the nursery and realized she didn’t have him! She retrieved him from his grandmothers arms and returned to the nursery check-in process.

We laughed together, because really, what mom can’t relate? Seriously, this was funny.

(Keep in mind, I have forgotten to pick up my son from middle school football practice…twice…in a row, and somehow I still bear the title National Young Mother of the Year.) Tell me you can’t relate to this.