The Christian Phrase I Hate (Gray Faith Study Ch 4: Gray Sin)

Does the very phrase “gray sin” make you uncomfortable?  Each generation seems to be getting more and more fuzzy about what sin means and how we handle it.  But if we’re going to live and love in God’s kingdom, we need a give-and-take discussion about sin.  And frankly, people, we all have room to grow in how we respond.

Check out my video to find out one Christian phrase I’ve come to hate- then stick around to check out this week’s on-your-own experiment and study questions.  (To follow along with the book, download or purchase here: Gray Faith on Amazon. )

Experiment #4:  

(PART 1) Find a comfortable place to kneel down.  Read through Bible passages that declare God’s holiness and power (Revelation 4:8-11, Job 38, 1Timothy 6:15-16)  Or listen to songs like “Revelation Song” by Kari Jobe, or “The Stand” by Hillsong, “Your Great Name” by Natalie Grant.  (These are suggestions- feel free to play songs you most resonate with.)  The posture of kneeling or bowing sometimes helps us to physically acknowledge who God is. Verbally acknowledge His holiness and that you accept His Lordship in your life.  Consider your smallness and brokenness in relation to who He is.

 

(Part 2) Instead of dwelling on your smallness and brokenness to the point of guilt and despair, now consider the amazing love of the Father who made a way for you to approach His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16).  Relish the fact that you’re covered by Jesus’ holiness, that God has removed your sins “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12).  Take a moment to just dwell on how great His love for us is, that covers over our worst sins.  Write any thoughts that come to you during this time.

 

Chapter 4 Study Questions:

 

  1. What did you grow up believing were the “big sins”?  Has your understanding of or reaction to these sins changed over time?

 

  1. Can you live in the tension that someone else who loves God may not follow God the same way you do?  Explain.

 

  1.  What is the difference between standing up for what we believe in and arguing with someone over belief?  

 

  1. What does it look like to confront sin in love?

 

  1.  We’re all broken- prone to fail and fall short of God’s glory.  How have honest relationships in your life have helped to break down your judgment towards others?  

 

  1.  The “discomfort of grace” means that God covers our sins, even those we aren’t aware we commit, and he covers others as well.  We’re partly right, partly wrong.  Discuss what implications this has for our moral disagreements and how we interact with others.

 

  1. How does the magnitude of God’s holiness affect the way you view sin?

 

Bible passages for further reading:

Romans 14 (Don’t judge, Disputable issues are between us and God); Matthew 18:15-17 (sin in the Church); 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 (we know in part); Philippian 1:4-11 (God continues a good work in us); Luke 7:36-47 (Those who are forgiven much, love much); Luke 17:1-4 (Causing to sin); John 8:1-11 (A Woman Caught in Adultery); Acts 2:38 (Repent from Sin and be forgiven);Luke 18:9-14 (Humility before God); Revelation 1:9-18 (A Vision of holy Jesus


Tough conversation, but if you care to join, please comment below with your thoughts on anything from your own experience with Christianity and sin, to answers to the study questions. Thanks for joining the online study!

Gray Church (Ch 3, Online Gray Faith Study)

The Church isn’t always perfect.  OK, sometimes we’re a long way from it.  Yet there’s a mystery to this group of believers that we’re called to live within.  God intends each of us to build up those around us with the gifts, love, and abilities He’s equipped us with…yet we often disagree and divide instead.  I don’t believe we’re meant to sit stagnant and ignore the areas where our church may be missing God’s heart.  But I believe we’re called to be humble catalysts of change, often right where we are.  Watch this video and check out the discussion questions below as we continue our online study together!


Gray Church Video: Three C’s for Investing in Healthy Church

Gray Faith Chapter 3 Experiment/Study Guide:

Experiment #3:
If you’re a regular church attender, and especially if you’re very active in your church, plan a time to take a week off. If you feel comfortable, try taking a week off from church altogether. Instead, carve out some time to meet with God on your own or with your family. Worship God in a stripped setting- perhaps out in nature, or a personal favorite place. Understand, this isn’t meant to drive you away from your church. Rather, stepping back gives you a chance to breathe in God without feeling the weight of a “role” to perform, and it allows you to step back from routine so you can gain fresh perspective. During this time, honestly give God your ministries, your experience and expectations within the church, your relationships with members and leaders. Ask God to show you where your heart is in line with His and where He wants to shift your heart, roles, or expectations. Write down your thoughts from this reflection.

Chapter 3 Study Questions:

1.What is the role or purpose of the church? (the local church and the global church)

2. We want our churches to be relevant and inviting to the outside world for good reason. But have you ever gotten more caught up in what church looked like than the God who is relevant regardless? What does it mean to be “seeker-friendly” in a way that doesn’t diminish God?

3. How have you experienced the brokenness of the church? How have you been a part of the brokenness of the church?

4. If you’ve never done this before, sit down and make a list of church “non-negotiables”: the doctrines and practices that you MUST agree with in order to be part of a church family. Then make a list of “secondary issues”, such as worship style, ministries or activities offered, etc.

How often do your church frustrations stem from the list of non-negotiables vs secondary issues?

5. All of us within a church family have weaknesses. What does it look like to stay together as a church and balance each other even through disagreements?

6. When you consider that some people will never enter a church building, how do you feel? What does it mean to be the church outside of the church building? Think of examples that are specific to you.

7. In what areas of ministry do you serve the church? Do you feel that you are serving in a healthy way? (Consider your time commitment, affect on family, energy spent, motivation for serving, people you may feel the need to please, etc.) Have you ever stepped back to reflect and pray about your role?

8. Discuss the cost of our lack of unity between churches, especially across cultural and denominational lines. How can we begin to bridge the gap?

Bible passages for further study:
The Book of Acts (beginning of the Church); Romans 12:3-13 (The Church as a Body); 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (The Church as a Body); Hebrews 10:23-25 (Encourage and Meet Together); 1 Corinthians 14 (Instructions for Worship/ Order)

How Many Shades of Gray Faith?

No, the answer isn’t 50.  At least I don’t think so.  It’s a gray area.

Understanding and finding more of God is a process, and we need to give ourselves permission to seek God where our answers seem to run out, where our expectations aren’t quite met, where we can simply be our honest selves.  We might gravitate towards black and white answers and easy spiritual growth- but in my experience, we’re missing so much of God in that safe and sterile Christianity.

I believe we find a lot more of God in the shades and tones of gray, at the end of our control, at the end of what we think it means to just be a “good Christian”, at the end of the simple answers we’ve believed in our head but missed in the depths of our soul.

If you’re looking to step out and meet God in the middle of real life and mess and questions this summer, I invite you to join me for an online “Gray Faith” book study this summer starting Monday June 26th!!

Here are just a few shades of gray you can expect to explore as we go through the 8 chapters of the book:

Gray Beginnings:  Are we believing the lie of “Good Christianity”?  What have we picked up from our spiritual beginnings? What have we grown up believing and how can we critically question those beliefs and spiritual routines in a healthy way?

Gray Christian Culture: What have we been raised in the church to believe?  How has our “Christian culture” shaped our view of God and others, and are we brave enough to step outside of that culture long enough to see the parts that honor God and the parts that may be keeping us from fully experiencing Him?  What are those outside our Christian culture really seeing and hearing from us?

Gray Church:  What does it mean to be part of a church or body of Christ?  How do we handle disagreements and denominations, loving each other and loving the world?  What does it mean to balance each other?  Does God have a one-size-fits-all plan for how church looks?

Gray Sin: What does it truly mean to love a broken world?  Does that look more like waving a protest sign or sincerely listening to people we may not agree with? What does it mean to acknowledge that we’re all broken and need grace?  How do we keep our hearts in check before a Holy God?

Gray Evangelism: What does it look like to “share our faith” with others?  Do we need an exciting before and after story to impact people?  What motivates us to share God with others?  How can we share physical love with people that goes hand-in-hand with our words?  Where have we gotten “evangelism” twisted?

Gray Expectations: What are some of the expectations and assumptions we’ve come to make about God?  Do we perpetually think He’s unhappy with us?  Are we frustrated with Him for not blessing us the way we thought He would when we followed Him?  Our expectations have the power to reveal our true beliefs of God- and wrestling through those expectations honestly helps us find God more intimately.

Gray Walk: What does it look like to grow and change over time with God?  Where are the places that God has been changing our views or opinions?  How do we continue to find God in each season; the waiting and the receiving, the loss and the joy, the beauty and the ashes?  Can our process with God lead us to crave His presence even in the ups and downs?

Gray Answers: At the end of the day, on this side of eternity, we simply won’t have all the answers.  What does it mean to humbly walk with others knowing we don’t have all the answers?  What does it look like to encourage friends without trying to fix their problems with the “right” answer?  How do we handle difficult questions like why God allows pain and suffering?  Can we trust that God is big enough to meet each us uniquely precisely in the gray?


The beautiful thing is, if you’re the extrovert kind of person who wants to get a group together and go through the study with friends, go for it!  I’ve done the study with friends and absolutely loved the raw, genuine conversations that came up.

But if you’re the kind of person who still feels a bit uncomfortable asking gray questions in front of others- if you’d rather just wrestle with God in the privacy of your own home wearing your sweats and a tiara (hey, I’m not judging!) then you can absolutely follow along on your own.

Either way, here’s what to do to JOIN THE ONLINE STUDY:

  1. Optional: Purchase a “Gray Faith” book (paperback or kindle version) here: Gray Faith Book (Note: you can still follow along with the study videos/questions without having a book.)
  2. “Like” my facebook author page, where I’ll be posting all my updates and videos!
  3. Check into facebook every Monday for a new video and FREE weekly Study Guide downloads on my blog!
  4. Comment on the weekly video to join the conversation, challenge others, and open up about your own process with God.  This is one of the most exciting parts for me- really getting to connect with YOU and hear your heart.
  5. Share with friends!  If you know someone who might be interested in joining, or if you find encouragement from the study, please pass the news along!

Thanks so much for checking in; I can’t wait to start this “Gray Faith” journey with you all.

Dead Sparrows= Don’t be Afraid?

The Bible often mystifies me.  Levitical law is too far beyond my culture and era to fathom; Paul is obnoxiously confusing at times (You seemed pretty confident that I’m saved by faith, so what’s this line about being saved through childbearing, Buddy? Get your story straight.); and the finer details of Revelation leave me scratching my head every time.

So there’s this perplexing passage where Jesus is talking to His disciples about how they shouldn’t fear people- the worst they can do is kill your body, but they have no power to touch your soul.  Rather, shouldn’t we be concerned about God and what He thinks of us because He has true authority over us?

But He follows up with what I’ve long considered to be one of the worst pep talks ever:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31: 29 )

I don’t know about you, but here’s what I’m reading: A sparrow isn’t worth much.  But God still knows when it dies.  I can barely keep track of when I’m supposed to wash my hair, but God, apparently, keeps a running tally of each follicle, clean or otherwise.  Moral: Don’t be afraid, because you’re worth more than many cheap sparrows.  The end.

Here’s my problem, in case any of you missed the apparently non-sequitur leap from message to moral: the sparrow is dead, people.  We aren’t supposed to be afraid because of a dead sparrow? (I’ve complained enough about this passage to one friend, that she sent me this picture because dead birds remind her of me now.  I know, it’s pretty bad.)

Image: Caitlin Leffingwell

Jesus doesn’t say that when a sparrow, who is worth almost nothing, starts to fall, God swoops in to resuscitate it.  Jesus doesn’t say, if the sparrow starts to plummet, I’ll give it wings like Eagles and send it on its merry way.  Nope.  He simply says that the sparrow doesn’t go down “0utside your Father’s care.”  Oh, and have no fear.

Ahem, “God, pardon my irreverent question here, but how does watching a bird die count as ‘care’?”  

OK, I’m going to let you just hold onto that awkward irreverent question while I pause to insert a brief side story:

I was talking to my friend Susan recently about the how I’m stressed from always being high- and when I say “high”, I mean my blood sugar numbers have been elevated because of my diabetes.  (Ah, I enjoy that joke too much.)

I told her I had struggled to feel like God cared for me in the midst of my suffering; that He didn’t seem to want to help.  But I also told her I felt like I was supposed to say “yes” to whatever He wanted to do through my problem- that I needed to let Him use the circumstance for His plan.

And she basically said, “You’re still looking at the circumstance.”  Pff…um…no I was trying to learn God’s lesson for me, right?  That’s what all this is about, right?  Being made mature and God using me to help others and bladabladah?  But maybe she was right?  Maybe I was putting way too much emphasis on the circumstance itself.

If I was upset at God for not healing me, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was waiting for Him to do something through my pain, I was defining Him by my circumstance.  If I was feeling that I had to somehow figure out how to use my problem for something better, I’d still be focusing on my circumstance.

So…can I define God completely outside of my circumstance?

Back to our dying bird and the deafening silence I left you in after my last question to God: What if the point of that story has a lot more to do with WHO GOD IS than with the condition of the bird?  Here I’ve been making sarcastic comments to God about how His little dead bird anecdote is hardly uplifting- when all the while that dead bird has been pointing me to a God whose character is outside my circumstances.  

In the middle of our worst moments we ask God where He is, whether He is big enough, whether He “cares”.  Why? Because our circumstances changed.

But did He?

What if God simply IS good?  (Whether our car gets totaled or we inherit a lamborghini?)

What if God simply DOES care? (Whether we’re enjoying a day at the beach or we just got diagnosed with an illness?)

What if God simply IS love? (Whether we feel Him powerfully in the moment or lie awake in the dark wishing we knew where He was?)

Maybe the story is really saying, “If I care to know this bird’s story, if I’m aware and concerned for it’s death, then I’m a God who cares that much more about you.  No matter what is happening to you.  I’ve numbered your hairs- because that’s how much I care to KNOW you…because that’s just who I am.  I can’t promise you no pain, I won’t promise you won’t die, but I promise you that as your circumstances change, I never will.  Who I am is gloriously unaffected by your circumstances.  So when your pain and heartache and loss tell you I’ve left you, can you remember that I’m not defined by those things?  Can you still trust Me because you know who I am?”

 

I’m on the upswing of a rough week, and the weather is finally bright and sunshiny…its possible that my rising belief in God’s goodness is related to that.  But now more than ever, I desperately want to KNOW God deeply, because I need Love and Care and Good that will not change no matter what I face. Because I’m pretty sure there will be worse days, and I’m going to need something solid to stand on.


What about you?  Have you ever felt like you were defining God by what was happening around you?  What have you found about God’s character in the middle of your trials?  What do you think it means that God cares for us even when our struggles remain?

 

 

 

(Hope in) Wearing my Disease

 

I don’t usually ask for jewelry.  My mother-in-law seems to know exactly what necklaces to buy me, and my mom lends me jewelry indefinitely forever, so I have a cute little collection going.  But it’s not something I want to spend a lot of money on.

But this Christmas, I asked my husband for a bracelet.  It’s beautiful- a perfect dose of classy with a hint of sparkle to pop.  (Fun fact: I do not shave my arms.)

But I don’t want this bracelet that I asked for.  Not really.  I should have bought a bracelet like this years ago- 7 years ago, to be exact.  But like I said…it’s not a bracelet I wanted.

The truth is, it’s really just a glorified medical ID tag.

And underneath all the pretty- the class and sparkle- is an inscription that labels me: “Carrye…type-1 diabetic”.  No, I never wanted the bracelet, because I never wanted the disease.  And if there are stages of acceptance, of grief over something, I’m not there yet.  I don’t like feeling

vulnerable.

medicine-dependent.

afraid of exercise.

isolated as a medical minority.

anxious.

like a financial liability.

left with no cure.

There are so many worse diseases, so many worse problems, and trust me I’m grateful for every last medical achievement that makes my life so that you wouldn’t know to look at me that my life is anything but normal.  In many ways, my life is thriving and so absolutely beautiful.

But I have this bracelet, see.  And without a miracle or a cure it’s one I’ll wear for life.

And yet…I can let this disease own me or maybe I can own my disease.  Maybe in wearing my disease out loud, I can choose to see the power in even this broken part of me.  This isn’t who I am, but it is shaping who I am…and as a good friend told me once, God is using this disease to strip me of even the fear that seems like a side-effect of diabetes.

Maybe there’s something being forged stronger in us through our trials than we’d ever know without them.

The storm demands my God be bigger.

I’m letting go of my pretend control.

I’m fighting to know His peace verses the world’s.

I’m weighing the fleetingness of my life.

I’m slowly feeling bolder, braver.  Baby steps.

I’m being pushed into a journey to test and know if Jesus really is enough.

So maybe this is Hope.

And wouldn’t you know.  That came with the bracelet too.  It’s not what I wanted to wear.  But maybe it’s producing in me what I wanted to be all along.

—————————————————————————————————————————————-

P.S. I’m thankful to my cousin for sharing this medical I.D. bracelet site with me.  If you have a chronic condition, check out the beautiful designs at  Lauren’s Hope. If you have to wear something every day, it may as well be something you like.  

 

 

Suffering: The Weight of Hope and Praise

Lately I’ve been wrestling with a body not yet thirty years old that may never work the way most people’s do.  My diabetic levels remain high, the numbers are all wrong, and I look back and has it really been this way for months on end? Why do I try so hard, pray so much…yet here I am with this invisible weight?

And then…I’ve been watching friends around me wrestle too.  Wrestle with worse.  Grapple with emotional and physical and family issues that I’m quite sure would warp and bend me till I broke.  And I’ve seen these same people pray, cry out to God, and sometimes…so it seems…their situations have only gotten worse.  And my soul aches for their ache.

bachelorette-and-fathers-day-001

And yet I’ve been sensing, over and over, that I’m meant to be “unshaken”.  That I’m meant to trust God, and trust Him, and trust Him.  I believe He keeps asking me when I get frustrated and weary, “Do you trust me? Do you trust me if you numbers never get better?  If it’s like this forever?  If it only gets worse?

And why would I?  Why would I trust a God who asks me that?  Why would I trust Him for my friends?  I can only trust because He’s a God who gave up everything for me…bled for me, was bent and broken for me, and in humility defeated death for me.  I’ve found that when everything else is moving, shaking, that God is the same yesterday. today. tomorrow.  And how incredibly thankful I am that He doesn’t change because that means He is always Love.  He is always Life.  He is always Hope…always a Good Father.

Is it possible that true trust in God must come only through suffering?  Is it possible that suffering actually produces in me a stronger hope than ease could produce?  I’m slowly…oh so slowly… coming to understand what Paul says in Romans 5:3-5

3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I desperately crave that Hope that suffering produces.

FURTHER, is it possible that suffering produces a different kind of praise?  God wants my praise at all times, yes, but there’s a praise that follows blessing and there’s a different kind of praise that follows pain.  Both are good, but maybe there’s a weight to our praise through pain that we simply can’t replicate at other times.

There’s a story (Mark 12:41-44) where Jesus points out a widow who gave a very small amount of money to God.  Yet Jesus marvels at her faith because she put in “everything…she had to live on”.  And though others gave more, they gave out of their abundance…out of their extra…though they gave more, it didn’t COST them as much.  Perhaps the same is true of the cost of our praise.

When we feel that we have nothing left to give- when our circumstances are screaming lies like “what if God isn’t really  good?  What if He doesn’t love you or isn’t strong enough to save you?  Why would you trust Him?”  Maybe then our praise costs a bit more… When we feel that the answer isn’t coming and we have no blessing to stand on, the weight of our praise is powerful.  The sound of that praise is deafening.

As my mom said today, the enemy simply can’t stand in praise like that.  If we can praise God in the MIDDLE of the worst, when it costs us everything to hope, the Kingdom of God is more alive than ever.  It’s advancing, growing deeper roots, spreading like beautiful vines that are taking over the death and destruction and the darkness of this world.

20160817_123706 20160829_173606

When God can produce praise from our suffering through His own love, through His own sacrifice and presence… the enemy. simply. can’t. stand.

His lies must stop.  His end has been sealed. The victory is ours.

Yet we wait for now in the storm.  To my friends and to those I may never meet… I pray you find strength for where you hurt right now.  I pray God gives you a place to stand in the storm.  I pray that when you’re hard pressed, you’re not crushed; when you’re perplexed, you’re not in despair; when you’re struck down, you’re not destroyed.  I pray you’d KNOW in the core of your being that though you are persecuted you’re NEVER abandoned.   (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

Don’t get me wrong: Praise is not faking happiness.  It isn’t hiding our pain or disappointment from God.  Praise is still looking at God when your world is falling apart.  Praise can be the whisper to “help me in my unbelief” when it would be easier to not talk to God at all.  Praise is hands lifted through tears when no words will come.  Praise is giving God even the tiniest piece of your broken heart, with faltering hands, because deep down you are learning to trust, allowing Him to grow something in you EVEN THOUGH it hurts.  That praise is costly, a sacrifice, yet I believe it’s one of the most beautiful and precious gifts you can give God.

I leave you with this from this song I LOVE by Casting Crowns: Praise You in the Storm

And with this Bible passage from the Message version: (2 Corinthians 4:13-18)

13-15 We’re not keeping this quiet, not on your life. Just like the psalmist who wrote, “I believed it, so I said it,” we say what we believe. And what we believe is that the One who raised up the Master Jesus will just as certainly raise us up with you, alive. Every detail works to your advantage and to God’s glory: more and more grace, more and more people, more and more praise!

16-18 So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

My “Awkward Christian Moment”

Every year our adoption agency hosts a summer picnic with an exotic-to-us playground, food treats galore, and the whimsical highlight for my kids: Derek the magician.  (AMAZING every year)

This year, just before the magical performance, one of the picnic-goers raffled off a couple of truly beautiful miniature fairy gardens.  And I, rare-winner-of-anything, got picked, and wasn’t even paying attention.  My daughter ran over to alert me and proudly skipped up to the table to collect our prize- a mossy, little bowl of life, topped off with a tiny Buddha.

The woman smiled at my daughter, pointing out a little scroll of paper, daintily rolled up near a walnut.  “You write your wish on that paper, and little Buddha here will take care of it for you.”

Conversation Starter
 Spiritual Conversation Starter

 

And I had a moment which I can only refer to as an “awkward Christian moment.”

See, I teach my kids about God.  I explain life to them as I understand it, and I’ve experienced it.  And to some extent, I think we all either raise our kids with the values and beliefs we grew up with, or we branch away from what we’ve grown up with and intentionally teach our kids differently.

But how do we allow our kids to experience other cultures- other religions- other ideas- in a healthy way?  How can we teach them what our heart for them is, without ignoring other beliefs, without breeding a sense of superiority, hatred, or suspicion towards other people and cultures?  Moreover, how to we give them freedom to test what they believe in the crucible of life.

That little Buddha bowl of life spawned a conversation with my daughter later on.  Probably not my most polished moment.  But I hope something positive.

And I talked to her again about God, and prayer- about bringing God all the things we need help with. And I said it out loud, but my heart felt fake just then.  See, at that moment I was struggling with my own encounters with God.  I was waiting on an answer that wasn’t coming and boy was it making me look hard at God and confront once again whether or not I’m holding onto something plastic.

Funny.  I had just spoken at my church about this.  I had just told everyone that often we don’t truly encounter genuine God until “our circumstances contradict our expectations of God.”  I said this because I’ve experienced that.  I’ve gotten mad at God or felt hopeless and He has proven to eclipse even my struggles.  He has shown who He REALLY is when I stop acting like everything is fine.

And, of course, I worked through all that like a champ, and now I can help other people and won’t ever have false expectations of God again.  I’ll never need to doubt the foundation of my belief because me and God have an understanding now…right God?  Wink, wink.  Nudge, nudge.

Or maybe not.  Maybe I’m not one of those people who gets to learn something once.  Maybe none of us gets to be one of those people.  And maybe part of peeling away the plastic beliefs, means I’m going to constantly have to reaffirm whether God is big enough for me- real enough for me- when my diabetes makes me want to kick and shake my fist at God- when depression stalks me and threatens to devour my courage and joy- when I can’t even see where to put my foot next on this climb.

No matter what you believe- the hardest situations in life are what call our deepest beliefs into question.  But I still believe- yes, even through my week of “why?”- that a Presence beyond and inexplicably intermingled with my own fleeting story, emerges from my dark places.

And so I pass that on to my kids, even when I don’t have all the answers.  And as friends have wisely suggested, I use even those “awkward Christian moments”- those places where people don’t see eye to eye with me spiritually- as conversation starters- something my kids ultimately need to work through personally when they’re finally confronted with their own places of pain and disappointment.

What about you?  What have your disappointments and struggles taught you about what you believe, and how do you pass that on to others around you?

 

The Heart of “Gray Faith”

So let me start by saying, YES, I’m posting a mock-up picture of the cover of my book at the end of this blog as promised.  (Thanks to so many of you who were awesome enough to give me some feedback about my book title!)  But don’t be like kids that open the present without reading the card first……….. Based on your awkward silence, I’m pretty sure most of you just cheated and peaked anyway.  I forgive you, mostly because I suspect that the picture might appear next to my blog link anyway. So much for the element of surprise.

Anyway…as we’re closing in on roughly a month till publishing, I just want to share a bit of my heart for the book with you.

Gray Faith started out as a journey to write my story, but I’m realizing it’s quickly becoming a quest to find out about YOURS.  The more people I encounter, the more I’ve found that everyone has a story of searching, asking, digging.  I’m constantly marveling at how the uniqueness of our stories always seems to intersect in the quest for genuine, for love.

I’ve found that people actually respond better to messy honesty than plastic perfection.  As my friend Kathy recently said about life in general; “We are tired of being advertised to.”

We want answers, but not platitudes.  We don’t want some quick bandage statement to make us feel better for today.  Right?  We want something solid that we can stand on, not just in the sunshine, not just in the rain, but when the flood is completely surrounding us and the downpour isn’t letting up.

My faith has given me hope, but I had to test that hope in the fire of questions, in an honest wrestling with God.  My journey has felt to me at times like a divine experiment.  Maybe your story is different from mine, but I believe that for all of us, our most genuine belief is often forged through times of uncertainty and struggle.

I recently came up with a possible back cover “blurb” for the book.  (Or whatever technical word authors use for blurb.)  People, I panicked over this because, Lord knows, I don’t have the gift of “succinct”.  But I’ll share this with you now because I’m hoping this idea resonates with you.  And even more, I’m hoping that soon I’ll get to read a whole bunch of your own stories of gray faith, wherever you are at:

Is your faith more like a script or an experiment?  Knowing all the right words and actions might make us feel good at first, but does it have any power to change real life?  Is it big enough for broken people, a deeper purpose, suffering and uncertainty?  

What if all of the answers we know so well are keeping us from really experiencing the God we claim to follow?  

Gray Faith is the story of the questions and struggles that taught one pastor’s daughter to trade in good Christianity for something messy but genuine.  It’s an invitation to bring your own questions and imperfect stories and find that you aren’t alone.  

It’s OK for faith to be a journey where we learn a little at a time and still make mistakes.  It’s OK to ditch the script and find God in the questions.”

Original Artwork by Jeffrey Burr

(I hope you enjoy my husband’s awesome design!  The man is amazing.  I simply ask that you don’t post the picture yet aside from re-posting the blog, until I’m able to finalize the picture and publish the book!  Thanks so much for your ongoing support and encouragement.)

  

 

 

Enough Questions to Fill a Book

Have you ever been annoyed with someone who seemed like they had all the answers?  The more confident someone is in their perpetual rightness, the less interested I am in what they have to say, even if they’re right about an awful lot.  But if someone is open to dialogue, I’m all ears.

I have my own answers, sure, but it turns out I’m a question girl.  I prefer to sit with people and discuss- dig up questions and variations and explore the whys and the exceptions.  I’d rather wrestle through an issue for myself than take anything at face value.  (Maybe that’s my fatal flaw…I’m open to discussing that with you.)

Questions shape my whole life, but especially my faith.  I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by Christianity, but it turns out God is not simply absorbed through going to church regularly or memorizing all the Bible facts.  I actually grew up thinking I was the one with all the answers- but all my head answers seemed to lack any power to fully change me.

But when I approach my faith with all my honest questions- when I wrestle through the hardest places of my life- I’m finding a God that is much bigger than the Sunday school answers, the head faith I’ve always tried to climb out of.

Maybe you’ve been there?  Maybe you grew up going to church…religiously, you might say.  Maybe you’ve believed in God for a long time in your head, but wondered where He was in your practical life.  Or maybe you’ve been searching- trying faith or avoiding faith- struggling with hypocrites you’ve seen inside Christianity (unfortunately, I’ve been one), or wondering if you’d ever belong in a faith gathering with all of the questions you have.  Is faith just there to make us feel better, or is there more to it?

I’ve actually spent the last couple of years writing a book about my faith story, in all it’s messiness.  I’m calling it “Gray Faith” because it truly is a book of the questions and struggles that somehow lead me to meet a Jesus bigger than the Christianity I was following.  For me, the most beautiful blossoms of my belief have flourished in honest uncertainty, in the circumstances of the winter season.

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And the exciting thing is, I’m hoping to publish it in mid-June! Of course this date is coming from a girl who can barely plan a functional trip to the library with friends for next week.  But I wanted to let you all know, especially as I’m awkwardly attempting to build an author page on Facebook to share updates and videos for the upcoming book.  And I desperately want the page to be a place where people can open up about the gray faith of their lives- whatever that looks like.

I so appreciate those of you who read my blog and have offered your own encouragement and stories. (Oh, and for being patient with me as I bumble through this technology stuff.)  If you want to keep in-the-loop about the book, subscribe to my blog or visit (and LIKE) my Facebook Author Page.  I plan to share a bit more detail in the coming weeks!

 

A Nightlight For the Dark

This past week I had a dark day.  Not just a day where you lose your car keys and burn the toast.  It was a day that brought me to my knees.  You know?  I felt defeated and depressed in every way; mentally I was off, a writing entry I’d submitted was rejected, my Mom and go-to person for venting was in the middle of her own emotional turmoil, my blood sugar levels were crazy elevated for no-good-reason (I’m a type-1 diabetic), and I found myself completely losing it and yelling at one of my kids (and not the borderline yelling that many of you think I’m not capable of going past).  I was in that zone somewhere between “I’m a massive failure” and “Why isn’t God doing something?”

At the end of the day I just wanted to go and ugly cry, and duke it out with God, but I had to leave the house to “be a leader” somewhere.  Really?  Who decided that I’d reached the emotional maturity to lead anything?  Who decided that I’m even mature enough to parent tender children when I’m prone to selfishness, losing perspective when the balls I’m juggling begin to drop all around me?

Dark days make me confront the absolute brokenness and weakness that I inhabit in this body.  I can’t seem to control my health any more than my anger and I long for something that is big enough to wrap up all that’s wrong with me, with the world, and fix it.

And let me say, I believe in a God who is the answer, but in those dark moments I have to ask…

“Why are we still waiting?  God are you really big enough, powerful enough, in the middle of my unraveling and ugliness, in the midst of disease that has not been fixed and may never be?  What’s the point of stars shining night after night, a world spinning redundantly, when death is at our doors, and hope seems to elude us?”

But there’s a strange gift in my darkest days.  What we believe when the sun is shining is nice- what we believe through our darkest moments is what really defines us.  Sometimes I think I have to confront the full force of my fears and failures in order to know that God is still there.  Maybe the dark forces my beliefs to bleed through a pinhole…and somehow the light is more evident when surrounded by night.

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Even when I’m so torn as to question and doubt, there is something of His love that I just can’t escape.

And as I grasp for a verse to make everything OK, maybe there isn’t always one.  But I’ll share this, perhaps more as a mantra for the dark days than as a quick-fix for the broken:

Psalm 73: 26*

My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Yes our bodies may not work as they should- yes our emotions, actions and hope may crumble- but God remains my constant and my gift.  No matter what?

(No matter what.)

 

*Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™