Monthly Archives: September 2013

pursuing peace in what feels like a religious mess by Charity Hestead

Charity is a beautiful young woman who with utter honesty and a raw heart opens up about the wreckage of  what feels like religion on her family and how she is pursuing Christ and His peace outside of His people and their wars. I absolutely adore her and when you read her words, you will too. – Willow

Whoever of you loves life, and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.Psalm 34:12-14

I’ve been at this blog for about a month now. It isn’t writer’s block holding back, though—the words come out easily, tumbling over each other in fiery emotion—they just weren’t the right words. They’re true, yes, in fact painfully honest. But they aren’t right. What I mean is, they aren’t loving or compassionate or altogether helpful. Simply put, they were not words of peace. I have been sitting in confusion as to what my intentions were
in writing this blog, and didn’t want to contribute until they were pure. After prayer and time, tears and quiet thoughts, I believe they now are and I hope they speak truth in love.  

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.Psalm 34:18

My family is in a time of healing right now. A time of healing that is messy, sorrowful, angering, confusing, and isolating, all at different times. My dad, a pastor, and my mother, a worship leader, have been at the church I grew up in for 27 years and my siblings and I have watched them be in turmoil in their ministry for the last four, for reasons far too long-winded to be useful here. Simply put, as of July this summer their time at the church was over and the aftermath has left us and others reeling in displacement, fury, relief, and a myriad of other confusing emotions. Some days
I feel an overwhelming sense of hope for my parents, but most days hot tears are not far from my eyes—even driving back into my hometown renders me furious. And the most frustrating part for me is how voiceless I feel.

For the last two months I have housed an almost uncontrollable urge to fire back with words; to make sure that every person who caused pain receives pain in return. To scream truth from rooftops, to make people understand the depth and width of the situation. These harsh words have
spun like a hurricane in my head and keeping them there made me feel mute, self-silenced. But even in the midst of crisis I knew that my anger at the church, at religion and its leaders, was not in the right form to be shared. As much as my silly, petty self wanted retribution, Christ in me yearned for peace instead. Every day I prayed for a spirit of forgiveness instead of vengeance and slowly, God began to grant it for me. As I ran from religion as I’d always known it, I collided squarely with the Prince of Peace and he is slowly filling in the dark cracks with light.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen

As a girl often weighed down with anxiety, I yearn for peace. One of the last sermons I heard my dad preach was about the difference between being a peacekeeper and a peacemaker. A peacekeeper will smooth things over, let things slide, swallow conviction to avoid conflict and keep the peace. A peacemaker will do whatever it takes to create peace; and often that means conflict or change as part of standing up for truth. In the Psalms we’re instructed to seek peace and pursue it—not just to pray for it or hope it comes. We have to make peace out of turmoil. Just as we have to choose joy and keep choosing it, we have to seek peace and keep pursuing it because if we resign to the way things are, we are simply giving up. Even now, as my anger at the church often invades my heart and soul, I have to trudge through that anger to make peace. Jesus has to collide with me every day, multiple times an afternoon and morning, to keep me a person who loves life and does, in fact, desire to see many good days.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8

When peace feels far from you, I urge you to chase it—run through the chaos, through the desert and through the wilderness, and pursue it until it overtakes your whole being and allows you to do good again. Believe in the refuge of Jesus, the goodness of people, and the beauty of this world even
when there’s no evidence in sight. Seek peace and find it.

The Middle East Hasn’t Declared Peace and Miley Cyrus Hasn’t Confessed That Foam Hands Are a Bad Idea But Our Family Has Good News!

The other morning I woke up and read the news on my CNN phone app. It struck me so I took a picture of what I was reading. The entire home page read about gunmen opening fire in foreign countries killing people in a mall, priests meeting up with teenagers for sex, teenagers killing teenagers and on and on and on.

It’s not so much that I think we should fluff things up and tell stories of unicorns and fairies and trips to Disneyland while countries are at odds, people are deranged and children are dying of cancer. Yet, it feels so heavy to read such horrid news that seems to scroll down the news page into forever. I took this picture and then moved on with my day. Rushing out the door, when normal people should be sleeping because we had a football game, I forgot about the news and the picture. When we got home, my husband got the mail and handed it to me on his way out to work. I opened an envelope that read “To the parents of Aidan Weston”.  It sounded official, but I assumed it was probably a school calendar or a note from the superintendent and like I would read that. I mean who reads those?  (No offense, Mr. Important Official who I should be more grateful for.) So I opened it up….

This past year, we as a family have been walking a struggle with our son and have quietly undergone a lot of tests and meetings at the school, received a lot of help academically and have had to work overtime at home to help our son push through some obstacles he faces and might always face. The teachers were commenting that they see in him a work ethic that they don’t see in a most kids as he was working his booty off to make up for the hardship, the lack of ease and the constant temptation to believe he wasn’t good enough to cut it in school. What came in the mail were the results of his test scores after all of this. He was excelling in math! His numbers fell in the advanced category! And he is right where he should be in writing and reading! This was GOOD NEWS! Yeah, o.k., so the Middle East didn’t declare peace and Miley Cyrus didn’t wake up and confess she should stay away from foam hands, but for our family and for our boy, you have no idea the tears, the extra hours, the worry and the prayers that felt calmed at this moment! Good news!

So I looked at Aidan and I said loudly, “We need to celebrate! This is a big deal! You have worked so hard and now you get to see the results of your hard work! I am so proud of you! This is good news! How do you want to celebrate?” He said: “I want a BigMac, (because we never get those…) a milkshake and a new football!” I said “Done!” He looked at me like he won the lottery and we headed out the door for a heart attack and some pigskin.

It struck me…I remembered that picture of bad news….and here we were experiencing good news!

In the midst of all that is bad news, we should be celebrating the good news!

I called a friend who has seen first hand the struggle to tell her the good news! Then I thought since we are on a good news celebration train I will put out on Facebook that if anyone else had good news to share we would bring them coffee or ice cream wherever they were and we would celebrate with them! Of course there was good news to be had in New York City, Texas and Spokane! I had to clarify that we would be delivering in our town as the idea of driving across the country to deliver a latte sounded like bad news! So people started sharing and it was beautiful! I had people share on the post as well as as private message me. So we went to homes and jobs and joyfully said “Congratulations!” People got a chance to share their good news. And then we got to share Aidan’s good news! We hugged and took pictures! There was something good for our souls to actually put words to the things that were going well and were giving us hope. And there was something good for our souls about celebrating for another person and they for us. It couldn’t have been a better way to spend a sunny Saturday than being the good news crew!

Suzanne who tirelessly works as a Sunday school director  has struggled with a debilitating chronic illness and shared that she is starting to feel better and that feels like a miracle! GOOD NEWS! And does not hearing that good news give hope to those who have been walking a long hard road of something that seems like it will never change?

photo (3)-2

Jonathan who had had a hard long week received great news at work and has been promoted. GOOD NEWS! And doesn’t his news inspire those of you who want to see movement from where you are to where you are going? I have to say that when this newly appointed manager got on his knees to celebrate with a ten year old in the middle of his store, I could have cried! No wonder he got promoted!

Clay’s shiner was healing! And this was GOOD NEWS because he had gotten it at our house the day before playing a scrap game of football. To celebrate with him, of course coffee wasn’t going to cut it, so Aidan brought him their favorite treat, Cheetos and candy!

There were stories of people who were clean and sober for a month and had given up their alcohol and weed addiction and that is GOOD NEWS! Stories of fitting into jeans and  getting into college! GOOD NEWS! Stories of forgiving someone who had deeply hurt them. GOOD NEWS! Stories of getting married and finding community where community seemed lacking before. GOOD NEWS! There was a story of a computer shutting off and not coming back on. And why was that good news? Because it was at work! When we start sharing good news with each other, the stories too keep scrolling down the page into forever!

It is interesting because we have a God of good news! When the angel came and described Jesus’ coming, he said “I bring you good news of great joy for all people!”

Good news.

Of great joy.

For all people.

And somewhere along the way, the good news has been turned into bad news! We have taken what brings peace and made war. We have taken Who rescues and turned Him into what destroys. We have taken Who is good and made Him out to be bad. Not only is Jesus described as good news, but his people are supposed to be those whose feet deliver good news! How have we forgotten that and turned into CNN’s spokespeople? How have we turned a God who brings life into a God who brings death? How have we turned a God who frees us from rules into a God who hands them out like crazy? How have we made good news for only some people? The good news is for all people! We aren’t a people of bad news. We are a people of good news! And it’s in the midst of bad news, we should more than ever declare the good. It is in the midst of war, that we should be bringing peace. It is in the midst of darkness, that we should shine light.

This morning I walked to school to drop my daughter off. As I left, another mom hollered at me to walk over to her car in the rain. She reached in to grab something and handed me a coffee. She had been listening to the stories of good news! She hugged me and it was in that moment that I knew God said “Good news is contagious!” Keep celebraing with one another your good news, however small or seemingly insignificant, and however big. It is more contagious than measles and it shines light and hope into the lives of those who might need just that story to fuel them to keep pushing through!

 

After the Collision by Seth Thomas

Seth and I had the privilege of working together for many years. I have walked up big hills with Seth, landed in some valleys and stood together on top of some big mountains and looked down at the view celebrating God’s work in the
lives of people. I have learned a lot from Seth over the years and 
probably tortured him with my sense of humor and office pranks, too. He now embarks on a new journey and speaks out of that on this idea of wounded collision. Read what Seth shares…- Willow

After the Collision by Seth Thomas

What happens after the collision? The car crashes. The storm hits. The words ring in our ears and our lip is bleeding. 

Where do we go after the collision?
After the blow or after the break.

I’m struck by the stories that find themselves featured on this blog, the stories of hope rising from the ashes of collision. These are stories of courage, stories of the redeemed. And I find, they have to be stories of people who have begun to, but not yet completed, answering this very question of what happens after…

Picking up my meaning of collision, I am describing the negative, the encounter which wounds and penetrates our sense of security with every  indication that it will destroy us. Over the last few years, I’ve found myself facing this kind of collision in too many places: collisions with cancer, collisions with friends, collisions in my job and vocational identity. These collisions cause have caused me to come into close contact with the deepest collision, my own woundedness, my brokenness, my sin. And the sin, brokenness, and woundedness of others. 

I wonder about those moments that follow the collision. The car crashes and we wake up, bloodied or confused, crawling out of the wreckage. We stumble out of a season of life in a stupor, not sure of what happened, but certain that whatever just happened was traumatizing and downright painful. In this wondering, I’m challenged to say ‘where will I go? To whom or what will I turn?’

In the moments, days, or even years after a collision, we can turn to many things. We turn to what soothes the pain, makes it numb for a while. We turn to what lets the pain out, exploding and causing collisions of our own design to dismantle those caught in our path. We turn to destruction. I turn to harm, to reaction, to cheap distractions, trying to quench this wounded thirst.

But what these stories illustrate is that there is some other, some redemptive force, some power greater than our  wound, greater than the collision, that is, in fact, possible to turn to as well. The Christ, the Loving One, the Holy Go who stands alongside us is truly there in the moments after the collision.

What if the answer to this question, what happens after the collision, is that we are faced with opportunity to collide again? What if I collide with sorrow or run into despair and as I do, the One who will make it right again is standing there, ready to hold my pain, hold my brokenness, and soothe my wounds?

Collision begets collision, but of a different kind. There is an invitation to collide with arms that actually can hold the pain, a presence that can stand the silences and listen to the screams. The collision of love, the collision of acceptance, the collision of renewal. We are invited into a further brokenness, a complete brokenness, as Christ was once broken, all that we might be refashioned and made whole again.

Where will I go after this collision? Will I run to myself? Will I run to other wounded, broken pilgrims? Or will I allow myself to collide with the One who calls me out of death and into life? – by Seth Thomas

 

A Kazoo and a Hullabaloo for You

A white chair with a kazoo on it. Many white chairs with many kazoos sitting, waiting, to be blown with zeal and celebration! To delight over what has taken place and over whom is present. A noise to shout in gladness. It is rather assumptive to hope and wait expecting people to breathe a noise for us. (Except in this case, as it was for a wedding.)  But it got me thinking about how much we all innately want to be celebrated. We set up these kind of chairs with kazoos all the time.

We hope someone notices that “good” thing we did. We hope people see the treasures among the junk.  We hope they find us peculiarly interesting in the midst of being dreadfully boring. We hope they see our kindness in the midst of being frustrated.  We hope they show up for our birthday parties…..even after all these years. We hope our bosses see our potential. We hope our spouses still find us capturing. We hope our kids call when they move out. We hope people want to blow their kazoo and celebrate who we are and what we’ve done.

What if we place these kazoos on these chairs and no one picks them up? What if no one blows them obnoxiously without abandon out of sheer celebration of us? What if when it’s time to celebrate in the small moments and the big, it’s piercingly silent?

I often hear people share stories. And in sharing those stories, people often self- deprecate. “I am just your average person.” Or “I hate who I’ve become.” Or “I feel like people will reject me.” Or “My insecurities make me second guess myself all the time.” Or “When I compare myself to others, I always come up short.”  I hear these kinds of statements and I make them. It is striking how much we go around as people not only expecting other people to leave the kazoo on the chair when it comes to celebrating who we are, but we also don’t celebrate ourselves. We are living out of a deep sense of unworthiness. These words we don’t deserve:

a hullabaloo

merrymaking

ceremony

observance

a party

honoring

applause

kudos

recognition

And yet, Scripture says the exact opposite.  Zephaniah 3:17  says:

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

The God of the Universe, who holds the solar system in its place, the Maker of Heaven and Earth and peaches and cream, the Creator who made you and Mother Teresa, Madonna and Martin Luther King, he picks up a kazoo and blows that thing across the sky in a hullabaloo over you! Then he busts out in utter gladness exulting over you in loud singing! And I wouldn’t even be surprised if He has a horrible voice and He sings with total abandonment over you almost as if to prove a point. I don’t celebrate you because you are perfect, I celebrate you simply because I see you and I can’t help but love you. Know today, that the same God who made the mountains you see in the distance, the waters you skip rocks into, the trees that shift in shades and whose leaves dance to the ground, He picks up a kazoo for you and blows it like a crazy 5 year old!

A Passion to Give to Those Who Need It Most: by Jocelyn Swanberg

I met Jocelyn years ago and when she shared with me this story of her passion to help others, I was touched…you should read it too.- Willow

jand mom2

Seven months ago I woke up to a text message from one of my best friends. It was 5:25 in the morning. What in the world couldn’t wait for the sun to at least rise? The answer happened to be in what she wrote.

My friend Justin’s brother, Landon had to get air lifted to Seattle Children’s Hospital because what they thought was appendicitis was actually intestinal malrotation that they never caught when he was a baby. He’s in a medically induced coma right now ): Prayers for his family would be neat-o.”

If I wasn’t awake when I slid my lock screen to view the message, I was surely awake when I finished reading. So many thoughts were racing through my mind. Prayer, someone needed prayer. A little boy, a little boy needed prayer. A family, a family needed prayer. Crista, Crista needed prayer. So I prayed. But where to start? Prayer for healing seemed important, so I prayed for that. Prayer for patience and peace, grace, a miracle… My thoughts were jumbled, but by God’s Almighty Omniscience, He knew just what I meant. I started looking up verses that could provide peace to Crista and Justin’s family, searching for words that could lift up their weary souls. I texted my close family and friends, asking them to join in prayer as well for this small little boy, fighting for his life. For the next few hours I struggled with what I could possibly do. Words didn’t seem enough. My friend kept me updated on Landon’s progress, which praise God, there was some! 

Landon was flown to the hospital with a 5-10% chance of surviving. He had surgery after surgery. But as the days progressed, so did his health. He spent the next two months living at Seattle Children’s as he recovered. A family who faced the prospect of losing their 5 year old little boy is now rejoicing with him at home! (To read more about the Jonson’s journey through this time of heartbreak, encouragement, and a miracle, visit their Facebook page): https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Jonson-Family-Journey/165207846970741

Walking alongside Landon’s journey of recovery allowed me a lot of time to think about what it means to be here. Life is so precious, who am I to take it for granted? I spent a lot of time searching my heart and God’s will, trying to find something I could do. I wanted desperately to do more than provide words of encouragement. For the last 3 months or so I have started putting the pieces together of what I feel God leading me to do.

There are some things I know about myself. I am a child of Godand as a child of God, I am called to serve. I have a heart for children. As an education major, I am excited to spend the rest of my life watching children grow as they learn and experience life. For what I know of myself, I know less about others. But one thing I do know is that people struggle. Life is filled with trials and tribulations. Like Landon and his family, when their life was filled with fear, questioning, and despair, I want to share with people God’s miraculous love, hope, joy, mercy and endless grace. I want to serve. I want to serve the God who gave me my life, who gave life back to a little boy I haven’t met, who breathes life into every baby born yesterday, today, and tomorrow. To serve the God who has blessed me with the opportunity to give back.

And here’s how! I’d like to provide hours I find in my days and weeks that aren’t taken up by school or my job, and I would like to volunteer childcare for those struggling with illness, be it cancer, terminal illness, or medical care.
Medical bills are expensive; they loom like black clouds over families. Finding a babysitter has also become an expensive commodity, as is finding the time. So I want to erase one of those burdens. I’d like to give parents the chance to take time, precious time, to relax, to breathe again, to not think, if just for a few hours, about the bills and stress of sickness. Jesus has pulled on my heartstrings for half a year now to do more, to serve more, to be more. And to follow Him, is to use the gifts He’s given me; a passion for spending time with kids, a passion to serve the God who
created me, and a passion to give time to those who need it most. If you or someone you know is experiencing the struggle with cancer or another terminal illness and you live near Bellingham, Washington, and you’d like to be a part of my journey to become more like Christ, please let me serve you.

(Jocelyn can be contacted by willow)

Baggage

In John 11, Jesus shows up on the scene right after Lazarus dies. Mary and Martha, Lazarus’ sisters, are extremely disappointed at Jesus being a no show. And then, as many of us know, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead! Now this story should end with a big fat exclamation point. God raised a dead man back to life like only God can! How amazing! But it doesn’t end there. 

Lazarus is sitting in his grave clothes and Jesus looks at him and says “take his grave clothes off and let him go!” It is as if Jesus says to Lazarus and those around him- ‘Why do you sit here as though you are dead? You are alive! Now live!

It is so easy for us to settle. It is so easy for us to think “it could be so much worse.” It is so easy for us to become ok with parts of us living as though we are dead. Yet we have a God who wants more for us than just a pulse! We have a God who wants us to fully live unencumbered. I have found that so many of us walk around carrying baggage. We have names we call ourselves, insecurities that affect our daily lives, and memories that haunt us. We have relational baggage, religious baggage and family baggage. We wake up each day with these things walking around with us like a heavy suitcase getting in the way of the journey set before us. And many of us have become so accustomed to this baggage that we carry that we barely notice we are carrying it. I think Jesus wants to collide with us and call us to take off what encumbers us so we can truly take off and live!

The First Day of School and Every Day Thereafter: Suckerpunches, F-words, and Shark Week

The first day of school… I remember the first day of school with great fondness. Every year I got my picture taken in the same place- in front of the old Roslyn bank. The background stayed the same, but the pictures told of evolution, change and puberty. I always loved wearing my new threads, catching up with friends, seeing my crush that I dreamed about all summer and finding out which teacher I got and who was in the class. The smell of bus exhaust and the sight of a red apple, the new peaches and the noise of giggly children all making their way to one place, school, brings back memories of fall every year.

Yesterday my kids had their first day of school and with those same sights and sounds I sent them off to experience the life of being 3rd and 5th graders. The night before the first day, we sat them down and handed them “back to school message” bags. I built it up like it was really something cool, but it was just a brown paper bag with candy in it. But I had wanted to send them to school on the first day with a special treat and as I wandered the grocery store a few days prior this is what I came up with.

So in these bags they opened other little bags and each one had a message written on it. The first bag was full of gummy frogs and it said “May you make great leaps this year!” The second one was full of gummy letters and the message said: “Remember it’s not about the grades, it’s about doing your best.” The third bag had rock candy in it with a message that said “May you always know that God is your Rock, immoveable.” And the last bag had candy in what looked like a baby bottle and it’s message said “And never forget we love you and you will always be our babies.”

I realized this was way too much candy to send them in their lunch so we gave it to them the night before to be portioned out over the week. I don’t tell you this story to pinterify (is that a word? It is now.) my life. I don’t think this was overly cute or significantly more special than someone else making waffles for breakfast…I tell you this to share my heart as a mother.

There is something that takes over your body when you become a mom. And whatever it is that makes me a mom is fierce and has a strong depth that cannot be held back. People call us mama bears. Here is how intense we love our kids…I will put it this way… ‘shark week’ seems to be a big deal. I am thinking they should have ‘mom week’.  Moms’ teeth are that big, their hunger is that great and their attack is that scary. And I know that any mom reading this knows exactly what I mean. I worry for my kids more than I have ever worried for myself. I pray for my kids more than I have ever prayed for myself. I feel for my kids more than I feel anything else. And in this depth of emotion, allowing our kids to feel pain, to be vulnerable, to trust and be disappointed, to hope in what might never be realized, to suffer, to lose innocence…all these challenge the very core of what a mom feels innately like she needs to fight against.

Sending your kid off to school isn’t easy, saying “Have a great day learning what a douchebag is. And when that kid sucker punches you in the guts because he is angry about his dad leaving, just take it like a man. And when those girls tell you they want to see your abs, just smile and say no thank you. And don’t forget daughter, when they tell you you’re ugly, just smile and show them the love of Jesus!” This is not what we want to say to our children, nor what we want them to experience. Yet these kinds of stories do come home with our kids (at least ours) and we usually find ourselves processing them at the dinner table in between classroom fart stories, vegetable swallowing, and “get your elbows off the table.”

I sat with a mentor recently to talk about some of my worries regarding my kids. They each face their own struggles, and I have been a bit sleepless over them. In my worry induced insomnia, I decided to turn to a woman who is beyond me in years, experience and wisdom. I shared with her my fears. She looked at me and said,

Their childhood is an education.”

Their childhood is an education is not a statement about making sure they learn their ABCs’, the difference between a verb and a noun and how to spell “M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i”. She was reminding me of something that I am often trying to avoid. Every time they fail, they learn something. Every time our kids are left out or looked over, they learn something. Every time they stumble upon a shortcoming they learn something. And if I take away that education, they will not learn. If I try to protect and safeguard, if I try to cover over and make everything better, then I am literally taking away their teacher, their text book and their ride to school. And even though I want to do all these things to protect their self esteem, to help them know they are loved, they have to know it to be true in the midst of pain, hardship and struggle.  

I can choose to literally take away the education that will shape my children’s character, values and even their faith or I can enter into this school of life and help be one of their teachers.

 

(side note: And might I remind us that we are all children and might I remind us all that this life is an education.)

When my son faces a personal battle within his mind, I can invite him into the suffering of Jesus, who deeply understands pain and hardship. And I can lay in bed with him at night and whisper in his hear “Jesus is your friend and He understands pain. Talk to Him and know He fully loves you as you fully are.”  When my daughter feels hurt by a friend, I can sit down right there and then on the sidewalk and I can remind her not to believe the lie that she is not enough. I can hold her hands and look her in the eyes and remind her to believe this truth: “God made you. Don’t forget who you are no matter what anyone else tells you. He made you special. You are a wonderful daughter and He is your perfect Father.”  I can only remind them of the things I know to be true whether that is in whispers or lessons or bags of candy with words that I hope they hold onto on an average Wednesday.  Then I can send them to school the next day to face the same education, and as vulnerable as it is, I can trust that same Friend and Father to take care of my kids and be their best Teacher.

Perhaps the greatest work of a parent is entering into the education of childhood and allowing pain and struggle to be our children’s teacher. And we can only do this by faith, handing over our ‘always babies’ to the One who gave them to us in the first place.

May God be with all the mama sharks out there. My prayers are with you as I pray for my own babies. And for those of you who are feeling the anguish of your own current education, know that you have a Father and a Friend. I continue to be schooled by my kids. – Willow