Monday, June 30, 2014

When Hospitality Hurts: Perfection and Frozen Pot Pies


In my guest blogger series, I've asked some of my favorite bloggers to discuss one of the questions found at the end of my book, When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up. Today's question is about Sarah Dunn Clarke. Thank you to these fellow writers for participating! Enjoy this essay from my colleague, friend, writer and fellow antiques enthusiast, Kelli Worrall. 

Sarah Dunn Clarke was struck by God speaking to her, asking, “What are you doing to decorate your heavenly home?” In our culture, it is not uncommon for women to become obsessed with home d├ęcor and cooking. We exchange recipes and crafting ideas on Pinterest and other social media sites. How might our domestic obsessions limit our impact for God? Or can we use them for Him?

I made my foray into the world of interior design when I was about four. My mom opened wide the wallpaper book, and I picked a pattern for my room. Pink and blue Holly Hobby dolls for three walls. A coordinating stripe for the fourth. I chose a blue carpet remnant to cover the floor and complete the effect. I was hooked.
          My taste, of course, has evolved over the years.
          In junior high, I persuaded my mom to buy gold plaid furniture for the family room. It was the 80s. Then I discovered a kerosene lamp and some framed photos of our ancestors in the attic. I placed the lamp on a secretary desk. Hung the pictures above it on the wall. And fell in love with all things antique.
          In my 20s, I lived in a tiny, quirky upstairs apartment in a dilapidated house. It had “character.” Especially after I rag finished the walls. Painted a checkerboard on the floor. Hung baskets and plants and flea market finds everywhere. And splurged on a vintage armoire.
          When my husband Peter and I married, we bought a spacious Victorian condo with high ceilings and large windows and wood floors. We furnished her with an elegant pair of sofas, facing each other in front of the fireplace. And a dining room set acquired from (none other than) fellow antique enthusiast, Jamie Janosz.
          Now we live in a 1920s Craftsman home. Slowly we have replaced our more Victorian things with simple, clean-lined pieces befitting our Arts and Crafts abode. And now I also have a never-ending list of plans and projects and potential purchases—in my head and on paper—taped to the inside of a cupboard door—that will bring her up to a Pinterest-worthy place. (Actually, we did put her on the market last year, so there are already some pictures of her here.)
          You could say that decorating is in my DNA.  That’s the positive way to look at it.
          But I admit. It can also be a problem.
          When my delight in beauty morphs into an obsession with perfection.
          When I hold my husband to my same impossible standard. And nag him about what is not necessary. 
          When a day at home with my kids becomes more about controlling their clutter than cultivating in them creativity and compassion and a Christ-centered life.
          When I spend a frantic Friday preparing to host a church small group. When I feel put out and pressured. Rather than utterly blessed. When I let it become more about what they think of me. Rather than what God thinks of them.
          When I forget that hospitality is much more about our hearts than our home. And I forget that it should hurt. It should require sacrifice and humility. Of course it should.  
          A few months ago Peter proposed a new approach. He invited another family from church to join us on Sunday evenings for a Bible study and a meal. But he would do all of the work. I reluctantly agreed.
          Then I bit my tongue. As we welcomed them into a house that had been tidied, but not scoured. As Peter just popped frozen pot pies into the oven and didn’t even bother to wrap them with foil. As my blood pressure rose and I sensed that familiar feeling of shame. But then. As we opened God’s Word with them—week after week—and let it do its good work.
          Peter has since let me take back the hospitality reins. But his experiment was not without good effect. His point was made.
          True hospitality does not put on a show. Rather it welcomes—with open arms—other weary and wounded souls to commune with us.
          In our home. That is really His.
          Not as we wish we were. But as we are.
          Sometimes polished. But more often dusty. And usually a bit burnt around the edges.

Kelli Worrall is a professor of communications, writer, and speaker. She lives in  McHenry, Illinois, with her professor husband and two wonderful children. Read more from Kelli at www.thisoddhouse.org or connect with her on Twitter @KelliWorrall.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why Worship Makes Me Sad


I should clarify my title. Worship itself, honoring the almighty God, has never made me sad. But, today's church service, congregational singing often does. In an age where we are putting more effort than ever into staging, multimedia, and expertly-coordinated worship bands, I fear we may have missed the point and lost something crucial: the beauty and joy of singing corporately in worship to our Savior.

A series of events brought me to this conclusion.

First, I attended the memorial service for a dear member of my childhood church, the parent of one of my best friends. Mr. Charles "Chuck" Aarup was a father and a working man - he repaired trucks, so you know he was big and strong. But despite his manly exterior, he was not a gruff man. He had a ready smile and friendly eyes that always gave me a wink. He led congregational singing at First Baptist Church in South Holland, not because he was the best singer, but because he knew how to stir up the crowd.

We had evening services at First Baptist. At 6 pm, we would crowd into the paneled, drop-ceiling sanctuary with its red padded pews. I would sit on the left with my mom, as my dad was playing piano. Once a month it would be "request your favorite hymn" night. Even at age 10, I was always prepared with my personal favorite, a hymn, "Pentecostal Power." Now we were not Pentecostal, but I loved the fiery words of that hymn. And Mr. Aarup always called on me, with a wink and a smile. Always.

As our songs were selected, we would sing out with enthusiasm - drowning the piano and organ. We sang hymn after hymn after hymn - sometimes for the entire service. And, when the night drew to a close, we would circle the auditorium and hold hands, singing "God Be With You Till We Meet Again." Mr. Aarup was not chosen to lead worship because he was a great singer - he was selected because he put the focus on Jesus and on pulling the congregation into the experience - no matter how out of tune we sang or how we may have sounded.

Those times of worship were beautiful to me.

Second, I watched a video that my colleagues brought back from their recent trip to Ghana. There are only a handful of people in the video, as the church service had just started. The Africans are wearing colorful clothing and dancing. Their faces are lit up with smiles. There is energy and excitement filling the room.

In one corner there is a circle of people dancing and singing. They are waving strips of cloth in time to the music. They are filled with infectious joy - and I'm sure the singing went on for longer than scheduled. It was lively, people were engaged, they were spilling over with love for God.

If you'd like to hear them for just a moment, enjoy this beautiful brief video clip of their service courtesy of John Walton.

Even through the tiny video screen on my Facebook page,
that time of worship was beautiful to me.


In the church my family attends, great care is put into planning the morning service. The stage is designed to reflect the theme of the current series. PowerPoint and video is used to supplement the message. But the singing, though beautiful and accompanied by a full band of 8 to 10 volunteers, leaves me feeling sad.

Why?

No one is singing. Well, not exactly no one. I look around and a few people are singing. But the majority are often staring straight ahead, muted, apparently waiting for the signal to sit down. They are listening to the stage show with little emotion. They are hearing the leaders sing passionately and the guitarists play. They are appreciating the music, certainly, but they are not joining in.

Why is worship falling flat in some of our churches? I think we have put the emphasis on what is happening on stage, and lost the emphasis on the experience of community. In our church, the lights are focused on the stage and the worship band. The microphones are turned up high. But instead of the high volume and low lighting encouraging audience participation, I think it kills it. It does prevent me from hearing how bad I might sound, but I also cannot hear anyone else singing (except the leader).

The congregational singing in our church is rarely infectious. It is never extended because the audience can't stop singing. It never calls out for audience participation, unless we are motioned to clap along. It is pre-planned, pre-packaged and extremely professional. In our efforts to impress, I think we have reduced the opportunity for ordinary singers like myself to join in fully, with our whole hearts.

Oh for joyful worship, how much I miss it. 

To offer up my voice, as tone-deaf as it may be, in praise for the Savior - drowned out by the child on my left and the working man to my right. To want to sing hymn after hymn, without stopping. To hold a heavy hymn book or the hand of my neighbor. To forget the leader and the band and focus solely on Jesus.

That is beautiful to me.

Friday, June 20, 2014

One confession, two conversations, one story of God’s grace


In my guest blogger series, I've asked some of my favorite bloggers to discuss one of the questions found at the end of my book, When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up. Today's question is about Amanda Berry Smith. Thank you to these fellow writers for participating! Enjoy this essay from my beautiful and talented friend, writer and blogger, Amanda Cleary Eastep. 

Amanda Smith felt completely alone following the death of her baby, Will. At that very moment, God sent a friend to give her needed money. Why are women’s friendships so crucial? How have friends ministered to you in times of need?

There seems to be something noble about dealing with loss when something is taken from you that you have no control over, like your health or a loved one. All hearts mourn with you. Friends surround and uphold you; they offer comfort, home-cooked meals, and fundraisers. And that is as it should be.

But when loss is the consequence of our failure, of divorce, which tends to expose your most private life as if it were a 15-year-old mattress dragged to the curb, the reactions of friends can vary from pity to rejection. Yet your truest friends are the ones who listen while you spill your guts and who pull tissues out of nowhere; who pick up your kids with one hand and deliver a casserole with the other; and who see your beauty at your most ugly and remind you who you are beneath the tarnish.

Amanda Smith’s story of the tragic loss of her child didn’t inspire me because I identified with this noble woman, who, granted, may have had her faults and failures. Rather, it humbled me, because I was reminded that even at my most un-noble, God provided me with the help of friends. And, more important, God considers me as much a daughter of a King as he did Amanda Smith.

From amidst the memories of my long divorce and its arguments, custody hearings, and counseling sessions, two encounters with my dearest friends stick in my mind, because these women reminded me who I still was in God’s eyes and in theirs.

Conversation #1

Carrie was my next-door neighbor and quickly became a best friend. She is outspoken, animated, and fierce. If she were an animal, she’d be a lioness. I’m something of a border collie, friendly, energetic, herder of children and dirty clothes.

I once believed that if she had still lived next door during the final years of my marital decline, she would have read the pain between the lines on my brow, would have smelled the spoiling relationship. But she moved away, and my parents bought her house for my grandmother, who died within days of the closing. And so the little house sat empty, reminding me of the absence of two of the people I loved most.

A few years later, Carrie and I would find ourselves sitting together as she listened to my Jerry Springer-scripted marriage experience--minus any mullets or on-stage fist fights. She patiently waited until I stopped crying and was sure I wouldn’t vomit then stated in her usual because-I-said-so voice, “This doesn’t define you.”

In my current state of mind, this came as a revelation. The previous months, especially, had seemed to alter all things...my dreams, my relationships--especially with God--and my self-worth. But she was right. My mistakes and those of my husband did not define who I was at the core. God defines who I am. He tells me, “You are my daughter. You are forgiven. You are clean. You are loved.”

Carrie gifted me this reminder of grace. And a hug and tissues.

Conversation #2

I was visiting my former roommate, Carla, who first met me at our Nazarene college wearing a calico vest and skirt her mother had sewn for the freshmen welcome orientation. She was now a former missionary to Taiwan with five children; the sixth child I would eventually help the midwife weigh late one summer night.

During our visit, there was a rare moment of peace as she worked in the kitchen, and I sat beside the children’s craft table, gazing over the complex but uncomplicated drawings pinned to the wall and strewn about like too many happy thoughts to count.

I imagined at that point in my life--the divorce final, “settled” at my parents’ home, having shared my experience with a trusted and devastated few--that I was beyond crying. But the words seemed to carry their own sorrow with them, and I paused to collect my emotions.

Carla hadn’t asked me to explain what had happened, but I felt the need to confess my failures. I swallowed hard and began again, but Carla interrupted. “Mandy, you don’t have to tell me.”

This wasn’t a “hey, I should probably extend some grace here or at least offer to.” This was true grace as she added these simple and liberating words: “It doesn’t matter.”

Another gift given; this one wrapped in Proverbs 19:11b: “It is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

Others in my life had also offered up tears and hugs, support and encouragement, but these two friends represented all of that love and the way the hand of God moves in those moments of greatest need. These friends were bookends of grace on my sad story.

Grace and me and grace.

Amanda Cleary Eastep is  a writer, Christian, mother and wife here for a purpose--which alternates between that purpose being perfectly obvious and being perfectly oblivious to it. The business marketing side of Amanda posts at Word Ninja, and the slightly more interesting side shares her heart at Namasteawhile.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Female Friendships: Salve to the Wounded Soul


In my first-ever guest blogger series, I've asked writers to discuss one of the questions found at the end of my book, When Others Shuddered: Eight Women Who Refused to Give Up. Today's question is about Amanda Berry Smith.  Thank you to these fellow friends and writers for participating! Enjoy this first response from talented fiction writer and editor, Teryn O'Brien.

Amanda Smith felt completely alone following the death of her baby, Will. At that very moment, God sent a friend to give her needed money. Why are women’s friendships so crucial? How have friends ministered to you in times of need?

Maybe I’m weird, but I have always seen female friendships as just as essential as a male love interest. In junior high, I remember how so many girls would easily throw away their friendships or betrayed girl friends just to be with the guy they wanted. I’ve wondered many times if they regretted it later or just stabbed other girls in the back during their climb to marital bliss.

Call me crazy, or just call me loyal, but when I was in junior high I remember making a vow that I would never let a guy get between me and a girl friend. To this day, I’ve never compromised my deep friendships for a man, even when it’s been a struggle to do so. I don’t have regrets in this area of my life (although I have plenty of regrets, I can assure you!). A friend is a friend.

Women’s friendships are important. They are vital to this mess we call life. When I don’t  talk to my friends, I immediately start feeling an ache in my heart for that deep, abiding fellowship only women can offer. Women can understand me in ways men never will (no matter how great men are!). Women offer relational connection I could never quite receive if I was only focused on a man.

So far, I’ve been having a rather rough year. I can be honest when I say I’m not sure how I’ve made it through this year with my faith intact except for the loyal women I know who’ve prayed for me and supported me in ways only women can do. I don’t know what I would do without my deep friendships, for friendships offer a salve to the wounded soul. Friendships—true, deep, loyal friendships—help us get through this life when we feel as if, alone, we might not be able to take any more steps forward.

"Still, when you find a truly loyal, loving friend
who will walk by your side throughout life,
you know you’ve got a blessing."

Just recently, I hit rock bottom, and I had several women friends call me, give me advice, offer encouragement, and help fight my spiritual battles through prayer and love. These women told me, “You cannot give up. You are going to get through this. You are a wonderful woman of God, and He’s going to use these pains in your heart in ways you can’t imagine.” They offered me a fresh perspective when I had completely lost it over the last few months.

True friendship calls for honesty and vulnerability. For both people to feel like they can share the wounded parts of their souls and still be loved. For both to feel as if they can share joys and triumphs with each other without jealousy and comparison. For both to make a commitment to each other that they will be truth-tellers of love in each other’s life.

False friendships cease after you’ve revealed brokenness or honesty or pain. False friendships cease when you have happiness and the other is jealous. Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of relational hurt in this area, and I’ve learned that a friendship that isn’t based on unconditional loyalty and love on both ends just isn’t a friendship worth investing my time and effort into.

Still, when you find a truly loyal, loving friend who will walk by your side throughout life (or at least a part of it, for some friendships fade naturally over time), you know you’ve got a blessing. I’ve had conflict with some of my best friends, where we both had to tell each other some hard things or didn’t agree with each other. A true friendship grows during conflict. A true friendship helps us see the world in ways we wouldn’t have before.

I thank God every day that I have women in my life who are friends for life. We will be calling each other up, visiting each other, and living life together across the world, until we all pass from it. This is something I will never take for granted, because to find friendship like that is a rare thing, worth more than anything in this life.

Teryn O’Brien works in marketing with various religious imprints of Penguin Random House. She spends her free time roaming the mountains and writing a series of novels. She's of Irish descent, which is probably where she gets her warrior spirit of fighting for the broken, the hurting, the underdog. Read her blog about Identity at www.terynobrien.com, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I'm Becoming Obsolete


Do you remember when you used to have to get up off of the couch to change the channel on your television? If you do, you’re old like me.
I was in my colleagues office - and saw an old Macintosh computer sitting on his bookshelf, a relic of my past. It was the first tiny desktop model - with a microscopic screen about the size of a postcard. I remember purchasing it for my public relations job in 1990 - and this "new-fangled" computer was met with skepticism by my boss. Seeing it again was both nostalgic and humorous. How did I ever design a newsletter on that tiny screen?
How quickly life has changed for us. Every media skill I learned in college is obsolete. But I think that these changes have other effects on our culture and our lives.
In Communications class, I was telling my college students the other day about how the new formats of media are actually changing the way we act and think. Consider the things that young people now have never experienced. Can you add to my list?
  • Physically turning the knob on a television to get a new station. In addition, we often had to adjust the metal, rabbit ear antennas on the top of the set and, even then, still dealt with a scrolling picture.
  • Waiting for a movie to be released on television. I remember watching The Wizard of Oz once a year. Once a movie was shown in the theater, we often did not see it for years…if ever. Videocassette recorders changed our ability to see old movies.
  • Watching home movies on reel-to-reel projectors or, better yet, slides. I have a slide that shows my family watching slides. This was a big family event, to set up a screen and gather around a slide projector.
  • Buying a record, 8-track or cassette tape. Our neighbor’s teenage boys had a stereo system that covered an entire wall of their basement. We would wait to see the artwork on each new album when it was delivered to the local record store. But formats have changed.  My daughter used to call our records “big CDs.”
  • The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. Our English teacher used to make us look up subjects for research in this multi-volume index. Then we had to hope the library had our particular magazine. Now? We “Google.”
Communications theorist Marshall McLuhan suggested that with each new technology, we gain and lose. He called them extensions and amputations. With the telephone, we gained an ability to speak and listen across great distances.
E-mail has that same capacity. No more handwriting letters, finding an envelope and a stamp, walking to the post office box. Even mailing letters might one day be obsolete — no stacks of love letters tied with a satin bow, no faint feathery signatures on parchment, just deleted emails in the recycle bin.
Books were once luxuries, but then the printing press made them accessible to the masses. Now, e-books are changing the way we produce. We can print more books, at less cost, then ever before. We can carry multiple books on just one slim device. But we are losing libraries and bookstores and the smell of print on paper.
We are changing, adaptable creatures. We like to look forward.  We move ahead eagerly.  So, why do I mourn when it seems like life is changing far too quickly?

Taken from an article originally published in Catapult magazine.

Monday, June 2, 2014

My Love-Hate Affair with Change



When I was about 8 years old, I remember trying to rearrange my bedroom by myself. My room was the back corner bedroom in our 60s suburban ranch home in Thornton, Illinois. The floor featured 1970s era orange, green, and gold shag carpeting that I had selected. The walls were adorned with matching orange floral wallpaper. Very Brady, all the way.

On that particular day, I used all of my skinny might to maneuver my twin bed into a rakish angle. The head of the bed would now be in the corner, with the foot projecting out into the center of the room. Behind the bed was a hidden little triangle where I planned to sit and retreat from the world, absorbing the latest Nancy Drew or Cherry Ames. But moving my bed wasn't just about needing a hiding place,

I liked the change.

By shifting the furniture in my 10 X 10 foot corner of suburbia, suddenly my room became brand new. This angular perspective created a fresh start. This simple change was thrilling.

I've always craved little bits of change in my life. Perhaps it is because, for the most part, the staples of my life have been overwhelmingly stable and consistent.
  • I've lived in the south suburbs of Chicago since I was born.
  • I grew up in one house on Mohawk Drive for the first 18 years of my life.
  • I took a job at Moody Bible Institute where I have worked for 24 years.
  • Then I married my husband - we will celebrate 22 years this September!
That is why, these past few months, I've had a pit at the bottom of my stomach. Life is about to change. Really change. Not just move my bedroom into a new configuration, but move my family and job and home across country type of change.

This is scary.

I am excited to shake things up, to try something new. And, I am petrified. What am I doing? Why would I leave what I know for what is unknown? Why would I rock the boat when it is sailing along at a nice pace? I want this change, and yet I fear it.

In December, I resigned from my faculty position, and last month we put our house on the market. We are planning to move to Florida as soon as our home is sold. We are excited to live closer to family and enjoy warmer winters. I am doubly blessed to still work for Moody from a distance, but in a new position as a writer of fundraising materials.

While all of this is wonderful, this change is also prompting an onslaught of questions:
  • Where will we live exactly? Not sure
  • When will we move? Not sure
  • What will my new schedule be like? Not sure
  • Where and when will my daughter start school? Not sure
While I am excited, the "not sures" are making me crazy. Although I like change, I want to be the one in control. I am like that skinny 8-year-old pushing my bed. I want to maneuver it all by myself and then, maybe, hide in the corner of my new room.

The parts that are out of my control are terrifying.

As a Christian, I've always believed God is in control of my life, even the smallest parts. I also realize that whether I stay or go, there are no guarantees my life will not change. I am not in control. I know it.

Now is the time to put my faith to the test. I need to walk in faith and loosen my grip on my future. If I truly believe in God, then I have to fully accept that I am not in control. This change is not up to me. I need to calm down and rest in Him.

My pastor has a tradition at the end of our church service. As he reads the blessing and sends the congregation out, he has us hold our hands open, palms up, and listen. We are in receptive mode, letting God bless us and shine upon us.

So that is me, now.

Hands open.

Palms up.

Waiting and accepting whatever change may come my way.