Wrangler Dani

Writer, editor, marketer and communication strategist. I'm also a wife, mama, hiker, cowgirl and experimental cook living in beautiful Central Oregon.

Archive for the ‘church’ Category

June 11th, 2017 by Dani

I want to be spilling over with a good story

I want to be the kind of mom who spills over with laughter when my toddler dumps out my eyeshadow on the carpet or I find teeth marks in my deodorant. (Both happened this morning before church.)

Today, instead of laughing, I felt my voice getting dangerously low. “Everyone out,” I said with the barest semblance of holding it together, as though just by controlling the volume of my voice I could also control the emotion behind it. “NOW.”

Then, I spilled over with something else: I cried. I cried on the way to church. I cried in church. I cried after church.

I want to be the mom who laughs, and today I was the mom who cried. I’m embarrassed by my anger, my frustration and my feelings. I don’t want to be angry with my toddler for being a toddler or my husband for being a man or my dog for being a dog (she dug up the yard today; I’m not ready to talk about it). I want to be the joyful mom who serves her family with a smile, not by force. I want good stories to spill out of me.

I am a force-of-will kind of girl, which is great when there’s a fight to win or a disaster to avert, but is less awesome when the fight is an hourly exercise in self-control. I’d like to scale walls, not count to 10 to keep from saying something I shouldn’t.

So today I prayed a sobby prayer: “Lord, give me grace. Give me joy. Let me spill over with goodness and not frustration. Let me serve without keeping score.”

Pastor Steve’s message today was about telling our stories, to remember what God has done for us and for past generations, which is why I am publicly telling you about my private failure. Because I am believing that it is possible for me to spill over with goodness and joy. I believe that I can laugh at the ingestion of hygiene products and the holes in my flower beds. I believe that motherhood is the greatest gift and that I can share my story of motherhood and marriage and adoption even when I feel so very unqualified to do so.

I’m writing this as a reminder to myself, a reminder to tell even the hard stories, because someday I will look back and say, “remember when I used to get so upset about our dug-up backyard/my lost earring/the dishes in the sink?” and laugh. Because the goodness of a faithful God reminds me that he granted us the backyard in the house that we prayed for, with a fence for our rowdy dog and kids, with beautiful green grass and flower beds which are not ruined because of one misplaced dog-bone. His story is one of faithfulness and redemption, as he gave us our beautiful Adelay Joy through adoption and is allowing us the privilege of adopting again. He brings joy because earrings, makeup and other items I lose are just things, after all, replaceable and not invaluable, unlike my relationships. He shows me that doing one sink-full of dishes while dancing is far better than three loads in silent frustration; that my kids, friends and husband will remember my joy and not how clean our home was.

I want to be the mom, wife and friend who laughs at silly things and holds fast to good things. I am believing that our faithful God will answer my prayer and give me strength when mine fails. He is good. My life is good. I want to spill over with that story – his good story.

Addy and I.

I also have to include this photo, taken by our friend Marco after church. Even when I am not at my best, Addy puts her arms around my neck and wants my comfort and safety. I want to be worthy of her trust, and show her how to encounter a challenging world with grace – that is another God-story in itself.

December 22nd, 2015 by Dani

Christmas Tension

This is one of the most sparkly Christmas seasons we’ve had in years. It’s been snowing off and on for weeks, our baby girl is amazed by Christmas lights and shiny bows, and we have every excuse to throw ourselves into merriment with abandon. Life is good, Christmastime is lovely.

But you know what’s really beautiful about Christmastime? That it is lovely even when we don’t feel lovely. Last year I wanted to run away to some distant sun-kissed beach and forget all about this season, but it came anyway, and its story redeemed me when I felt way too weary and failed for redemption. This year I want everything about Christmas – I want the cookie-baking and Santa-seeing and heartfelt hymns – and it’s still redeeming me, reminding me that our savior was born into a dirty, poetic and hurting world, that he is present whether I am in joy or pain, whether my Christmas feels full to bursting or quietly somber.

It’s pleasant to think about the Baby Jesus, particularly when I have a baby of my own to marvel at. But isn’t it wonderful that he is not actually the perennial infant we celebrate? He doesn’t actually need to “sleep in heavenly peace” or remain “tender and mild”, wrapped adorably in his mother’s arms, clean and sweet-smelling and cooing softly.

No, this is the Mighty God. Mighty to save, to redeem, to give hope and light. The miracle of his birth is breathtaking, but maybe it’s more amazing that we remain so comfortable with his smallness, with sweet lullabies and adorable manger scenes. We’ve seen him at work and yet we still want to remember him as a baby boy.

This Christmas, I am embracing sparkle and celebration. But I am also remembering that this baby Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. This is the God who was big enough for me when I thought my heart would break under the weight of its own longing and who is big enough now that my heart might burst with gratitude.

This is the beauty of Christmas, the tension of now and not yet. We are still becoming who God has made us to be, even as we walk hopefully into our purpose. We are redeemed fully now and more redeemed every day. We are celebrating a child and worshiping an almighty King of Kings. Merry Christmas to you, my friends. May the tension and divine mystery of this time be beautiful, heartbreaking and breathtaking to all of us this year.

April 28th, 2015 by Dani

The $2000 prayer

We drove five hours round-trip and packed a 16-foot trailer full of garage sale items from my parent’s house the day before the sale. We didn’t make signs or a Craigslist ad until the night before. We didn’t unload any of the stuff until the morning of the sale because of stormy weather, we wondered if anyone would even show up. It was cold, wet, stormy and significantly hailed at least once.

I had prayed and told a few friends that I wanted to raise $2000, all the while “knowing” that we’d raise $1000 at the most. I figured why not pray for success, even as I felt woefully inadequate and unprepared?

I guess God doesn’t mind when we are unprepared, since last count showed us at $2,070 (!!!!) with a few more donations rolling in.

Our friends made incredible cupcakes, cookies and brownies to sell, and cheerfully encouraged garage salers to buy baked goods when they checked out. They donated mountains of clothing, stuffed animals, furniture and oddities. They merchandised, made signs and Craigslist ads, told shoppers our story and even gave us their centrally-located house for the sale. Every little donation we got mattered – from the printer we hauled from a friend in Orange County to the desk that our friend found on the side of the road to the bags of Care Bears and Hot Wheels that our Storage Wars friend had laying around from another life, to the set of dressers that my mom parted with.

Garage salers, known for being a persnickety, cheap bunch, were generous and kind. One lady gave me $75 for her $40 purchase, saying with a knowing grin, “I’m an adoptive mom, too.” We quoted 50 cents for a book and got $5 instead. A couple of cute college students gave me double what I asked for, “because earlier we probably haggled too much, it’s a fundraiser after all”. We heard “I’m adopted” stories and “good for you” encouragements, even as we sold 25 cent t-shirts and offered people the incredible cupcakes of our awesome baker friends.

I’ve been hearing a lot of pessimism lately about the world, about how the foster care system is broken, how adoption is painful, how people are lame. We hear sighs about our jobs, our finances, our seemingly endless waits and it’s tempting to join in with sighs of our own. But then God answers a simple prayer and reminds me that he cares about the small stuff. He cares about our family and our community. He cares about our daily concerns and our disappointments. Sometimes, you have to have a cold weekend of selling junk on your friends’ lawn to be reminded – he is oh-so-good. Ask and you will receive, knock and the door will open, seek and you will find.

To everyone who donated items, who helped us load and unload, who prayed, who encouraged, who bought a lamp or a picture frame, who told us a happy story, who made us laugh at stormy weather, who baked incredible goodies, who wrote massive yard sale signs, who made us hot cocoa, who covered our goods in tarps to protect from hail… we are grateful, amazed, overwhelmed and joyful. Thank you.

“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:16

April 3rd, 2015 by Dani

Grateful for Good Friday

Yesterday I bought a glittery cross necklace at Target. It’s the ultimate American Christian thing to do, right, to feel moved by Passion Week and go buy a bauble to recognize it? We were talking with some friends the other night about how we wear and celebrate an instrument of torture – “how do I teach my three-year-old about that?” one friend wondered.

Crosses009We do not celebrate the pain of Good Friday, though; not really. Good Friday is only good because of the outrageous love it portrays. But it would simply be foolish, misguided love if we did not require Jesus’ sacrifice in order to be right with God. If we don’t need a Savior then Jesus was just a chump to took unnecessary punishment for a bunch of nice people who only deserved a hand-slap anyway.

Good Friday is good because Jesus was not a good teacher or a misguided fall-guy. He is God, he paid the price for our sin, and he rose from the grave.

I was thinking about the inherent ugliness of Passion Week, despite my glittery remembrance. We, as Christians, are asked to remember a week of drama and death and betrayal. What does this mean for us?

It means that God knows relationship is messy, in the truest sense of the word. It means that we can love one another deeply because God loved us first. It means that only when we walk through our own messy, dramatic seasons can we emerge on the other side with grace, understanding and patience for each other – acknowledging that we will fail but we will keep walking.

Today I’m grateful for Good Friday. I’m grateful that there is more to life than just work and play and hard times and good times – that life means something after all, that God believed enough in our stories to sacrifice himself for us.

Today I am wearing my glittery cross necklace, not because I’m a foolish American consumer (although that may be) but because there is something poetic about the bauble. How outrageous that Jesus gave his all that I might casually wear a $12 necklace to remember him by. How humbling that I would take his sacrifice so lightly, how incredible that he would let me do so and not zap me on the spot, like the fearsome gods of mythology. It’s amazing to think that it’s such a small thing to wear a cross here in the U.S., where religious freedom still exists, but in countries around the world, Christians are martyred for much less.

Good Friday is indeed good, and I am writing this to myself: do not forget. Do not get comfortable and ignore the story God has given you. Do not forget the great sacrifice made for you, do not complacently consume and ignore and flit through life until your time is passed. Good Friday is good; life is good, and it is only because of Jesus.

February 27th, 2015 by Dani

Why Hospitality Matters: the Church

I told you yesterday about why hospitality matters so deeply to me. Today, I’m going to tell you some stories about church and hospitality, so gird your loins.

After we got married, Adam and I attended a church in our city for about six months. We went with some friends who were also church-hunting, and we never met another soul. Oh, there were people on the patio after the service and there was donuts and coffee, but no one said hi to us, no events were planned where we could get to know anyone – the church was quite comfortable for those in the club, but the rest of us treated it like a movie theater rather than a family gathering – buy your ticket, sit in your seat, leave quietly as the credits roll and talk about whether or not you liked it on the way home.

Our friends invited us to attend a new campus of the church where we met, and after one service we decided to switch churches. This church was tiny, with a video screen presentation of the “big campus” sermon. It was in an old movie theater with a skeleton staff – but there was a feeling of hospitality there, and we all became fast friends. Adam and I started cleaning up after services and producing the service itself. We operated the lights, cleaned the storage rooms, led a small group. We quickly realized that “young couples” like ourselves had very little opportunity to get to know one another, and so we started a young couples group (married people without kids), which honestly was just us inviting people out to lunch. We remembered what it felt like to stand silently in corners and we were determined to not let anyone else feel ignored on our watch. This grew and morphed until it became a full-blown marriage ministry, but you know all of this and I don’t need to get into it. The important part of this story is that our church was our living room. We were on the prowl for couples around our age, and if we saw one walk in to the foyer, we introduced them to others we knew. We got people coffee and answered questions and we never let a couple stand alone on the edge of the foyer without walking up and introducing ourselves. The church was OUR church, and no one was going to sit alone if we could help it.

When we moved to Bend, the only people we knew here did something very similar. They invited us to their church, had us over for bar-be-ques and introduced us to other couples. Without their generous hospitality, our first year in Bend would have been lonely beyond words.

I am not shy by nature but the church is an intimidating place to enter.

However, hospitality is vital to the church (even though it’s not often treated that way), and I recently experienced a couple of instances when the church was treated more like a DMV waiting area than a living room. When someone walks into your home, do you expect them to find the kitchen and bathroom by themselves, and let them stand awkwardly in the entryway while you go about your business? What about an acquaintance – do you push past them as they stand on your front porch, or do you make eye contact and say hello? Of course, in our homes we would never be rude or dismissive to a guest, and we would explain what’s going on (we’re having dinner, come on in!). Church should be treated in the same way. There should not be an announcement from the stage that is not explained, nor a person who’s not introduced. Even if we each just focused on our own age group or life-stage as Adam and I used to do, walking up to young couples in the foyer and introducing ourselves, what a difference it would make! What if you took it upon yourself to welcome just one person to your church? What if you put aside your own insecurity and said hi to the person you kindof know, making a real connection?

Guys, the mission of the church is not to be a club of right answers. Some of us have been so indoctrinated that the church is a “soul-hospital” that the only people we notice are those obviously in need of care – the homeless man, the lady crying in the front row – and so ignore the people who are walking in with less obvious needs.

We used to call churches a “church family” – does anyone do that anymore? I remember in the little country church I grew up in, visitors received about 20 handshakes and a well-meaningĀ interrogation before the first hymn was sung. It was a tiny church, and is still a tiny church, doing low-tech services at 10:10 on Sunday mornings. (No one knows why it’s at 10:10, but don’t you dare mess with tradition!) But that church was and is a church family, and they taught me how to be hospitable, a lesson that I carried into a large, well-staffed megachurch in California and now here to Bend.

God is not limited by our failures, and he can work in and through our weaknesses, but he also calls us the Bride of Christ. Have you ever seen a bride dourly sitting in a corner at her own wedding reception? Can you imagine a beautiful girl in a white dress, in love with her husband and surrounded by family and friends, who will only talk to her maid of honor and no one else, who neglects to smile at her guests or hug her friends? Of course not – we would assume that such a wedding is not much of a wedding, we would consider how to help her, and wonder if she’s even in love with her new husband at all.

On our wedding day, our love for our spouse makes us friends with the world. We are bouyed by his love – normally shy girls find themselves tossing the bouquet with flair and hugging their guests with joy! I remember wearing my wedding dress, walking into the hotel bar on our wedding night and getting loud cheers from strangers – I didn’t feel awkward at all! I was deeply in love and the happiest girl on planet Earth in that moment.

Friends, let’s treat our churches like a groom in white, like a living room or a kitchen with the tea kettle on. Let’s hug freely and laugh easily. Let’s love each other like we have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Let’s be generous. Let’s be hospitable.

February 26th, 2015 by Dani

Why Hospitality Matters: Reach and Belong

When Adam was in leadership with FUEL (the church singles ministry where we met) he was one of the “Belong” leaders – basically, his job was to make people feel welcome and build teams that would continue to make people feel welcome. In a practical sense for a church-based weekly event, this meant he had greeters at the entrances and tablecloths on the tables – in a broader sense, he was always looking out for the loner, the awkward girl (me – that worked out well!) or the opportunity to make a table more than a table, but a place to become real-life friends. For my part, I was drawn to the “reach” side of ministry – the inviters and fearless welcomers who brought others into the place to belong.

But this is ministry stuff, not real-life stuff, right?

I will never forget, maybe a month or two after we got married, Adam and I met at the sink during a party, at our cracked and tiny countertop in our little beach house apartment. He was opening a beer for a friend (and one for himself, probably), I was putting an appetizer together. It was loud in there – we might have had 20 or 30 people crammed into 800 square feet, and every one of them had something to say. Standing at our sink, we looked at each other and laughed – we were thrilled that people were getting to know one another, that they felt comfortable in our home, that we had “reached” and that now we all “belonged”, right here, right now, as newlyweds and oldyweds and single people and serial daters. We realized that we are “belong” people, hospitality people, that the lessons we learned in ministry actually meant something, here, in the nitty-gritty of real life, when our counter is small and our budget is tiny and our house is nowhere near clean enough or big enough for all these people.

I guess I’m writing this because, even though we value hospitality (reach and belong) highly and we see it as a core value, it’s still hard to do sometimes. Sometimes I don’t want my guests to see me crying in the kitchen because my life is emotional and hard in all kinds of ways. Sometimes I think, is this hospitality a thing of generosity or foolishness?

Hospitality is foolishness, in the end. We all want to be hospitable in the bed and breakfast kind of way, but we seldom want the drop-in or the abrupt change in plans. Hospitality is vulnerability, a willingness to let someone else into your mess and your gloopy, teary-eyed mascara and your saggy couches. Hospitality is sharing everything you have and then some. Hospitality is generosity you don’t expect, with people who surprise you. Hospitality matters because we have a big God who opens his arms wide to screw-ups like us, who adopts us as his children and who gives us a place to belong.

I’ve seen a lot of think pieces lately about how watching Jimmy Fallon on the tonight show is a spiritual discipline/high art/the best thing ever. OK, I get it, everybody loves Jimmy. But do you know why? Hospitality. He makes everyone on his show and his audience, by default, feel included. We’re all in on the joke, and he’s happy to grab us a beer from the fridge while we laugh. It’s not a cool kids club, and he’s not stingy with his affection or regard. We all love Jimmy, but how many of us are willing to be Jimmy? It’s easy to watch and laugh anonymously from our couches, feeling connected to people who will never know or judge us. It’s even easy to write criticisms of those who aren’t in on the joke and lambast others for not acknowledging the greatness of our choice to watch Jimmy Fallon every night, because (oh the irony!) he’s so inclusive and nice.

We all want to be the included, but how many of us want to include? We all know what it feels like to be put down or locked out, and that is the antithesis of the God we serve. So, I’m going to keep having parties and planning dinners and offering hugs. We believe in a God who loved while we were yet screw-ups (my translation) and who tells us to give cheerfully, for much has been given to us.

Hospitality matters, and it matters deeply. We all needed to be reached at some point, we all want a place to belong.

January 26th, 2015 by Dani

Our 2015 Goal: Sabbath

Last year, Adam and I set a goal to hike 365 miles in 2014. It seemed very do-able when we were living in a two-bedroom apartment with free weekends to hike – it became a lot less do-able when we became home-owners in March, a title that was quickly followed by pet-owners, expectant adoptive parents and house-project-doers. Needless to say, we didn’t come close to hiking 365 miles last year.

So this year, being lovers of goals and ambition, Adam and I wondered what the next goal should be. Of course, we set ones for ourselves individually, for our family and our home, sensible goals like “adopt a baby” and “figure out what to do with our ugly fireplace”. But we wanted a goal that we could accomplish together and grow in together, and after a very exhilarating but exhausting 2014, we knew 2015 needed to be different – not completely, but in a few serious ways.

Thus was born our goal for 2015: Sabbath.

The idea is simple – take one day, out of each week, to truly rest. No home-ownery projects, no career work, no chores unless absolutely necessary. If possible, we want to spend Sabbath together (hiking, watching TV, making fajitas, you name it) and we want to go to church. That’s it.

Sounds simple – even easy, right?

Let me tell you, despite a world that constantly tells me to take what *I* deserve, to treat myself (what’s the line? “Because you’re worth it”) our culture actually hates the idea of Sabbath. An indulgent, expensive pampering day is one thing, but a simple time-out from the barrage of to-dos and expectations is very counter-cultural. Time spent at church, with my husband and taking my dog for a hike is one thing, but blocking off an entire day for such slowness is something else.

We don’t like to slow down and we don’t like the parameters of a Sabbath day. We’d like a Sabbath hour, maybe, or a Sabbath vacation once in a while, but a full day once a week is hard to stomach. I can only say all this because I know it to be true – if we talk about our goal with others we get questioning looks and even protestations – “that would never work for me” – people say. I can tell you that it is MUCH harder than we thought it would be – hard to be intentional with our time, hard to plan ahead and take that full day of rest, hard to silence the critical voices in our heads, telling us to get something done already.

But you know, I’m starting to realize that maybe that’s why God gave us a Sabbath, and why we felt so drawn to practice it this year: because we can’t do it all, and “getting something done” isn’t as important as we think it is.

Maybe God uses Sabbath as a way to remind us that only he makes all things new. Maybe our Sabbath time is an act of faith, that our relationships mean more than our accomplishments. Maybe Sabbath gives us a chance to stop striving and acknowledge that we aren’t actually in charge of our destinies, that one more day of work isn’t going to give us the control we long for.

Sabbath is a fitting word for 2015, and good goal. I don’t want to miss this year because I failed to look carefully enough, because I didn’t take time to notice the beauty around me. Work resumed on this Monday morning and we plunge in with vigor and hope, not because we have to keep running out of fear, but because our glimpse of rest makes us energized, grateful, humble people.

November 12th, 2014 by Dani

Gratitude Project: Friendship and the River

My dear friend Holli and I had been planning a girls’ weekend for a while, and last week I started to wonder if it was going to work out. My shoulder was killing me, I felt woefully behind at work, my husband was out of town and my to-do lists were having babies all over the house. My personal river was running dry, but I had too many concerns to worry about a drought just now, so it had better last, just a little longer.

No matter how parched I felt, our weekend was planned. Holli was flying in, and all I had to do was get to Portland. So I shoved all of my worries out of my mind, threw my bags in the car and drove over the mountain, knowing that this was important and that I had to treat it as such. When I pulled up to the Portland airport, I almost couldn’t believe it when Holli popped into my passenger side – wait, you mean we get a whole weekend together? To-do lists? What to-do lists? Is that rain I hear?

Bridal veil falls on a rainy Sunday

Bridal veil falls on a rainy Sunday, on our way to Multnomah Falls via an old back road

We admired fall color, explored the Portland Saturday Market, bought lattes frequently and stumbled upon a decadent gluten-free bakery at 9 p.m. We felt too old (and married) for a hipster bar but happily stayed out late at Deschutes brewery. We took a food tour, went hiking in search of waterfalls, explored thrift stores and home stores and Powell’s books. We spent a long time in debate about where to eat dinner, only to find the perfect place a block away. Most of all, we talked. It might seem hard to believe that women can talk for three days, but we can. When I lived close to Holli and saw her often, we had a sort of ongoing conversation – one that would peter out after a late-night board game match and start back up next Sunday at church, a flowing, constant river of trivial ponderings, deep thoughts and family news, drifting by in the current of a faithful friendship. Now the river is dammed by distance and time, as we get busier and time gets shorter, so every now and then we have to open the gates and let it pour out. When it does, every moment with a friend is a rush of creativity, refreshment and rejuvenation – the river after a rain.

Friendship is so important, and taking the time to nurture it, relish it and rely on it is never, ever wasted. I’m so glad that we had a weekend together, and I’m taking this lesson into the coming months with me. It’s never a bad idea to pick up the phone, shoot a text, send a card or plan a trip. The river ebbs and flows, but it shouldn’t ever dry up or be forgotten – it matters far too much to be ignored.

Gosh I’m grateful for friendship – for faithful friends who board planes and make calls and change schedules. I’m grateful for the privilege of knowing and being known by women who I admire, who make me laugh and feel at home no matter where we are. I’m grateful that rainy days, long detours and new challenges are made easier when you have people in your life to share with. I’m so thankful that a weekend with a friend feels like a river after a rain – I’m full to overflowing.

August 27th, 2013 by Dani

Church Campout

When I was a teenager, our church started doing an “All-Church Campout” every year during Labor Day weekend. It was a little country church, and that meant that literally the ENTIRE church went camping – young, old, trailers, tents – you name it, it was there. For the young’uns, it was a dream come true – an swath of lakeside real estate filled with friends, church services outside and dinners served on paper plates around a campfire. I remember our pastor scrambling eggs every morning on a his industrial-sized Coleman stove and my mom attempting (in vain) to get him to burn the bacon for her.

Our killer campsite. Photo by my hubs.

Our killer campsite. Photo by my hubs.

It must be an Oregonian thing to do, because our new church also has “Summer Camp” every year at a lake and it happened last weekend. It’s a bit bigger than the church of my youth, so we actually had a kitchen and a dining hall rather than an assortment of Colemans and a fire pit, but the idea is the same. The church gets together in the woods for some clean-air, dirty fingernails time, and fun ensues.

It’s neat to see “church” happen in a place that is its own cathedral – towering pines and the massive expanse of clear lake water remind us all that we are less important than we usually think. Amidst the rowdy kids’ games and good-natured teasing, there’s an undercurrent of grace and joy that you can’t find anywhere else, except in a community of believers. I admit I was nervous to go, since we don’t know that many people and I worried about awkwardly standing around the edges, clinging to a cup of coffee – but I made it through without being too awkward and I think we might have even made some friends. Social interaction for the WIN!

Adam and I took the kayaks and impressed a few people with the wonders of Hobie (yes, it’s our party trick) and when the wind kicked up in the afternoon, we took them out for a rowdy paddle in the waves. All in all, we had a great weekend. It was a good reminder, after all of my uncertainty, that we can see God at work in more than one community, and that our new story can hold just as much love as the old still does.

May 13th, 2013 by Dani

In the hunt. (The church-hunt, that is.)

Before we moved, I sat in the last few services we attended at Mariners MV and cried. I knew, deep down in my gut, that leaving that church would be the hardest part of moving. It had become home, family, friends, community. It was where we served, where we stayed late to chat, the jumping-off point for spontaneous adventures with dear friends. I felt like part owner, or at least manager of it – I took it upon myself to invite, welcome, clean up after and be a working, helping, loving part of the community there for so long.

So now we’re on the hunt again, and I admit that I’m having a bit of a struggle with it. The first church we attended felt so different – it was so small and so very unlike the well-trained fiesta of Mariners – that I was ashamed to find myself sniffling in the worship, not because my thoughts were inclining toward the holy, but because my eyes were well-focused on my own navel. For the first time, I realized a lonely, heart-wrenching fear that the family we’d found at Mariners was indeed the proverbial lightning in a bottle.

Since that first (rough) try at church-shopping, I’ve been wrestling with what corporate faith means for my internal beliefs. After all, I know that there are plenty of people who insist that the church is their hang-up, not their hope – that they’d believe in Jesus someday if he didn’t have so many lousy followers. For me, it’s the opposite: the strength of others’ faith, the level of their grace, the love I’ve experienced in the name of God has only driven me closer to him. But this poses a question for me, in my season of quiet, lonely following. Do I still believe without the faith of my church family to bolster me and remind me of God’s goodness? Am I reliant on the corporate, outward expressions of faith, and the ones I’m comfortable with (the loud worship, the well-spoken pastor, the seamlessly organized campus) or can I still live out my calling in Christ without those trappings? What is acceptable personal preference and what is me being snobby and ungracious about my needs, selfishly refusing to see the hurt around me as I wallow?

God is not limited by space and distance. He is the same faithful Father I felt so easily when his people prayed for us and selflessly helped us move for an entire weekend, the still, small voice telling me that we weren’t crazy to try a new life, that He was with us. He is the same God that is prayed to in these tiny country churches and services in the high school gym, where everything is smaller except for who He is.

So I’m asking Him for courage and faith, for grace and wisdom. I’m navigating a minefield of emotion, but I look to the future with excitement. What will He do with my lonely times, with my need, with my desires?