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Faith

IF: Gathering


It’s been a few years since I first sat face-to-face with Jennie Allen, listening to her pour out her heart for ministry. Our Mexican food got cold while we were caught up in processing important things like our calling, the meaning of grace, the nearness of a God who makes Himself small on our behalf, and where in the world she got that fabulous necklace.

I’m going to be incredibly (and very vulnerably) honest with you. For those of you who have read here for awhile it won’t be any great surprise to know that I have always struggled with the feeling of “fitting in.”

As an elementary school student, I blamed it on a combination of anxiety and the lack of a velour Jordache shirt (I got one eventually. It was maroon, and every bit as fabulous as you would imagine it was. It did nothing for my social status but it was as soft as…well, fake velvet. So there was that.).

In high school, I finally made the cheerleading squad. Fully expecting this to be a social pinnacle, I was disappointed the first day I wore my uniform to school and everyone still treated me like I was still a mere mortal. Did NOT see that coming.

I also didn’t anticipate the middle of the night prank calls, when they called me names and told me how much I was hated.

What stung the most was hearing my dad’s labored breathing, having picked up the phone at the same moment I had, pulling him out of sleep and into my shadowed world. I won’t forget that sound. Not ever. Because I knew he was more hurt than I was, and long after the dial tone stopped I was still crying and he was still listening.

The truth is, I have always played the part very well.

But inside, I’m restless and doubtful. I tend to feel like I don’t actually have much to offer and I’m just painting enough of the image to make it look like it might one day be a masterpiece. Just show enough, but not too much.

I spend a lot of my time doing exactly that, and it’s no coincidence that the word “sketch” has shown up here many times. It feels like an appropriate metaphor for me, and maybe for you as well.

When I show the basic outline, there’s room for it to become something beautiful and profound. But the moment I reach for the bold red for the flames that night or the deep blue of my childhood swimming pond, I’m giving away the truth that might paint me instead.

Before the beginning of time, God stretched out life like a canvas, rounding the edges of our days and setting us on display for Himself. But even here, in the room where I’m supposed to feel comforted and connected and understood, I don’t.

It’s not just one room. It’s a long turquoise-colored carpet in a Baptist church where I watched my feet go one in front of the other, praying they wouldn’t follow me out. I pretended to be on my phone because I knew I was going to cry if I heard their voices together. My third week there in Bible class and they never invited me to lunch. It’s a small thing, I know. But the small things add up.

Some of it is laughable now; all the times as a new believer (at the ripe age of 24) when I mistakenly believed that the land of the Christians was somehow different than all the other places. Should it be? Yes. But you and I know that’s not always the case.

Why ruin a beautiful work of art with details like my personal theology or doubts about faith? Because if I can just manage the outlines, I won’t have to bleed truth at the risk of being shut out.

There have been many conversations over the past several years where food has grown cold while words lingered and stirred my heart. And they have, in their entirety, convinced me of one very simple fact.

I am often much more consumed with the brushstrokes I’m making than the image He is  displaying of Himself through me.

He is the artist, not I.

My job is to tremble at the thought of being a part of it, pointing there and not here.

While it’s good and necessary to have convictions, we’re missing the point when we allow them to completely alienate us from those we could learn from. And when we avoid the conversation because we’re concerned with how it affects our presentation, we have put God behind a lens that makes Him blurry to a watching world.

When Jennie asked me to be part of a leadership team several months ago, I was surprised. I saw the list of other names and I couldn’t figure out why mine was there. It isn’t false humility; it’s truly how I respond. I don’t have a degree. I don’t feel capable. I had to google post-millennialism once on my pink-striped IPhone during a conversation so I would know why I was nodding my head.

I am one sweater away, people. One sweater.

And I wonder if you would say the same.

You can’t find your niche, your tribe, your cause, or your voice. Or maybe you have given up on finding those things because right now you just need to find silence in a house where kids scream and make art with your mascara (ON THE MIRROR, ON HER FACE, AND ALL OVER THE TOILET SEAT. Hypothetically speaking, of course.) and the word “purpose” feels loaded.

So instead of figuring out where we fit, we decide to draw boundaries instead. We use language and terms and issues to define ourselves by what we aren’t.

And quite frankly, this little crew that’s come together doesn’t tend to be in agreement about a lot of it. Don’t get me wrong; when it comes down to a Jesus-loving, gospel-saturated, God-seeking bunch, we’re there together.

Some of the words I’ve avoided for years have come up in conversation. As I feel myself bristle at that thought of being associated with that particular theology, I realize how outrageously egotistical it is to presume I honor God with that line of thinking. No, I likely wouldn’t have chosen these conversations, but that’s the wonder of it all. On paper it looks a little like a chaotic mess of belief systems and convictions.

But in person it feels like home.

Over and over what I feel like He’s saying to me (and to a lot of us) is this:

Have the conversations. Listen to the wisdom that’s been given to you. Realize that your time is short and the kingdom is close. What are you doing with your hours and your breath?

There is a tension that exists in our day, and I have done a magnificent job of teetering between pretending it isn’t there and feeling strangled by it.

But what if we didn’t?

That’s what she asked me over tacos and diet coke. And it’s been years, but the question still burns in my soul.

What if we had some conversations and let God be God, directing and equipping women to live in ways that magnify Him? What if we set aside our preconceived notions and just gathered to listen and obey Him?

What if?

And so, we are.

I want you to be with us if you can, because we want your voice, your opinion, and your heart. This is the beginning of something that will prayerfully honor the Lord and speak forward into generations to come, and we’re excited to be a part of it. I hope you will be as well:)

There are no pre-qualifications, no hoops to jump through, and no google prohibitions should the need for clarification arise. You’re welcome here, regardless of your views on   pressing issues or your inability to commit to velour this season.

Jennie explains the vision behind the gathering a bit HERE and also talks about how you can be involved on a local level or come to Austin and join us. Feel free to come to the IF: website as well if you just want to look around and make yourself at home.

If you choose to come to Austin on Feb. 7th-8th (and I so hope you do!), grab your tickets fast, because they are limited in quantity (not many) and price (whatever you feel led to give).  We will gather together and link our arms and talk about God’s work in and among us, and will gratefully accept the gift of togetherness for the sake of the gospel. And also we will laugh and eat a lot.

Tickets go up for grabs at 11:00 am TODAY for those on the email list. So exciting!!!!

Please pray that He would be glorified despite our meager offerings, and that we would continue to seek His face, His will, and His kingdom above all else.

With love,                          

Angie

Everyday life, Faith, Family, Uncategorized

Portion

The Lord has such a beautiful way of reminding us of simple truth, and after a week of questioning some hard places in my life, He did that for me.

She doesn’t know she was a part of it, but I’ll tell her one day when I think she’s old enough to really understand how much it meant to me.

The kitchen was full of noise and kids, and as a few neighbors trickled in I realized we weren’t going to have enough food to go around. Todd and the girls had stopped for sub sandwiches on the way home and that was what looked the most appealing to our guests.

“I’ll share half of mine with you.” Kate said. She started tearing her sandwich in half and handed it to her friend, a huge grin across her face.

I mouthed the words, “I’m proud of you” to her, because Kate giving away food is right up there with resurrection as far as miracles.

She smiled.

Apparently the sweet little guy who works at the sandwich shop had informed the kids that if they would allow him to put a jalepeno in their sandwiches, they would get free cookies. That made me laugh because my girls love spicy food, and a teensy little pepper wasn’t going to get in the way of their sugar fix.

So now we had four cookies and five kids.

Again, Kate assured her friend that she would share hers, and I watched her fingers, dirty from a day’s adventures, carefully separate her cookie into two parts.

I could tell that one was smaller than the other, and I watched her glance from one half to the other, obviously having a mental debate about what she should do. I was subtly watching, curious about how she would handle it.

After about 20 seconds of looking back and forth, she began to pull the smaller one to herself and then thrust it out to Sienna instead. I was proud she shared at all, but secretly I was hoping she would act sacrificially and give the bigger one to her friend.

I acted like I wasn’t watching her, but as they scooted out of the kitchen I heard Kate say to Sienna, “That one has more chocolate chips.”

Immediately I realized what I had misunderstood, and a smile spread across my face as I watched her leave the room.

She wasn’t trying to decide which one was better because of it’s size, but rather which one was better because of it’s quality.

And I wonder how many times I shake my head in disappointment because I’m frustrated that the Lord has given me the smaller portion, not realizing He has chosen the best based on a characteristic that I don’t use to assess the options.

She was counting, not debating.

And she gave away what was best in her eyes.

I know He does the same, and today I am thanking Him for that. I may not understand the scale or the process behind the decision, but I am grateful that He is trustworthy and faithful in His care.

It’s a quick story, but I hope it will challenge you today as it has me. Don’t assume He has withheld the best from you because it doesn’t look the way you thought it would. He knows what we need and how we should receive it, and I for one am going to make a point of enjoying my portion more with that in mind.

He doesn’t give us second-best, but He sure might teach us to second-guess what we’re given, daily learning to accept and rejoice that which comes from His hand.

Praying that today is a day where you do the same, and that you are reminded of the way He lovingly enters into our lives and specifically feeds us what is best.

Thank you, sweet Kate, for reminding me that we don’t see our lives through His lens. If we did, we would surely thank Him, following Him like children into the sunshine with full mouths and content hearts.

He is always good, isn’t He?

Everyday life, Faith, Family

You’re Not A Prop {subtext series}

I’ll just start this post out by saying I’m going to step on your toes. And if you’re someone who gets the whole way through and doesn’t feel like I did that, please don’t email me to let me know that’s the case because I prefer to believe we are all equally guilty.

There are a million different ways we do this to our kids; some obvious and others really subtle. I think social media is one of the most blatant areas, and let’s face it; it has changed the face of parenting. If we call it anything other than a game-changer, we’re lying to ourselves.

For example.

When I was eight, a birthday party meant a paper crown and some friends with knee-high socks skating at the local rink.

And nobody expected any different. The only people who knew what it looked like were actually there, and trust me, they were too stuffed with store bought cake to care what my mom had hot-glued as part of the decor.

Moms weren’t uploading or applying filters. They were watching us skate. And I know that because remember them pointing and laughing as we rounded the corner for the millionth time.

There are parts of the existing photos that I wish I could change. For example, the fact that my mother was sporting a perm that made Richard Simmons look like a hair underachiever.

But I wouldn’t change the memory.

And it doesn’t get better because other people “like” it.

To be fair, she wasn’t under the same pressure we tend to be under now.

Kids, do you know we couldn’t even see those pictures that day? No. Seriously. We had to push the button and just hope they turned out when we picked them up from the drugstore a few days later.

So we had to rely on (wait for it…) the experience itself to satisfy us.

There’s a lot about social media that’s fantastic, and I for one am super glad I can check my phone to see if I captured an image the way I wanted to, but there’s a real danger that’s underneath it.

I’m not the first to talk about this, I know, but I want to say it in a way that maybe you haven’t fully considered.

Are your children convinced that the following statement is true?

The value of this moment is in experiencing it with you, not in what others will make me feel about it.

We aren’t fooling them. They see us click, click, click, and stare at our cameras.

It used to be that we were staring at them.

Social media doesn’t have to be bad, and it’s an amazing way of sharing glimpses of life. I’m not saying we shut the machine down.

I’m just challenging you to ask yourself this: Am I documenting or directing?

Please don’t fool yourself into thinking your kid doesn’t know the difference in a party thrown for her and a party thrown for Pinterest. Because you can spend all those hours holed up in the garage constructing what you believe will be the pinnacle of party success without stopping to evaluate whether a 2 year old is actually capable of appreciating a full scale recreation of a Parisian cafe.

The cafe is not for her, it’s for you.

Please close the cafe and find a roller skating rink.

I know I’m sounding harsh here, but I’ve had it up the top of my mother’s perm with people acting like this is all for our kids. It’s so ridiculous.

You can actually give your kids a good childhood even if you never put cake-pops in a mason jar or hang homemade bunting from one tree to another. I promise.

I’m not saying you should stop being creative if this is what you love and your passion comes from creating it and then letting your child revel in it. What I’m saying is that if you’re spending more time with your macro lens than you are hugging the birthday kid, you’ve missed the point. And they know it too.

I’ve been to a bunch of kids parties in the last few years that were done up to the NINES, but I watched the mamas laugh and play and enjoy it all. The kids loved it, and everyone was happy. I know it can be done-I just don’t think it’s the norm.

It’s not just birthday parties, we all know that. It’s life in general when you feel like people you don’t know are evaluating your skills as a mother based on a snapshot. And guess what? You now get to twist, crop, edit, and filter that sucker until it looks the way you wish it really had.

It’s a lot of pressure, that’s all I’m saying.

They aren’t props to make our stage look better, and you know when you’re acting like they are.

For those of you who don’t have any “online presence” because you’re “way above that” and would “never subject your kids to that” or “give in to the pressure,” I have bad news. You’re not exempt.

You can make your kid a prop in every area of life. How about your faith? Do you feel like you make them act certain ways in situations because it reflects how good of a Christian you are?

I don’t, but I feel like it might be a possibility for some of you less-holy folk.

Right.

Like the time Kate came running home from playing with a neighbor and I listened to enough of the conversation to decide that the other mom probably thought I was a bad person and decided to march her across the street to apologize.

“Hi Valerie. Kate told me a little about what happened and she really wants to say she’s sorry to Abby.” We both look at Kate anticipating her response. It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

“I didn’t say that and I’m not sorry.”

Luckily, Valerie and I got a great laugh out of it, and I got a lesson I will never forget.

When you’re making your kids a prop, your play is going to get rotten reviews.

She wasn’t sorry, and she shouldn’t have been. In fact, she wasn’t wrong. But I wasn’t as concerned about that as I was about looking right. Now that’s an attractive quality, isn’t it?

I’m not proud of it, but I’m owning it because I want you to as well. I don’t do it perfectly, not by a long shot. But I’ve learned areas where I really needed to grow and for the sake of my kids, I’ve been diligent about working on them. For us, that means that as far as social media, I don’t post anything without their permission. Obviously Charlotte is too young for that, but the others have to tell me it’s okay for me to put it online.

I also keep kind of a “running tab” in my head of what I’m presenting. I try to make sure I’m being honest about the mess as well as the beauty of life, and it’s not for completely unselfish reasons. I love when people “like” a picture of my kids holding hands and singing a praise chorus, but it means the world to me when they see the underbelly a little and say “I get that. Because I’m in it too.”

And here’s something really important to understand as far as being props. What makes them work is the feeling that they’re essential and they’re valued outside of what they offer your little production.

I thought about this analogy with regard to the way the Lord loves and sees us, and it fell short of being a perfect reflection. The truth is, we are props in His play. Not useless, unmoving trees or teeth (you would think that a random choice here unless you know that my breakthrough theater performance was as a bicuspid molar in my third grade play. I don’t want to sound egotistical here, but I basically redefined the role of molars in school productions for years to come. It was that good, and you can ask my dad if you don’t believe me.), but it’s His stage.

We dance around and breathe life in and out because we want to make the Director known. And it’s spectacular.

He delights in us.

Wouldn’t it be awesome if I made up a new filter name like “washed by the blood” and tried to make a profound statement about the way He sees us? Yeah, I didn’t think so either, so I won’t.

But it’s true.

He loves us in a way that should inspire us to love our kids-not because of what they offer our image or our status, but just because we like watching them skate.

I’m tempted to go back through this and soften the edges, check the grammar, and make sure I said what I wanted to, but I’m not going to.

So if I missed a comma, please accept my apologies.

And know that they’re missing for a good reason.

Four good reasons, to be exact.

Go love well, and don’t wait for anyone else to tell you you did.

You never know for sure how many times you have left to see them skate around the bend, and I wouldn’t want you to miss it.

🙂

Love,

A

 

 

Everyday life, Faith, Family

Rushing & Pausing {Subtext Series}

Well I hope your evaluation period has been as eventful as mine was. Or maybe I don’t. I don’t know what the win is on that one:)

I’m not necessarily going to post these in any particular order, but I’m going to start with something that I saw a lot in the comments because it was one of my first realizations as well.

So, category one: Life is not a crisis.

And when I say that’s the category, what I mean is that it’s supposed to be what I’m teaching, but upon further investigation I realized there was a serious disconnect between that idea and what I was conveying.

Let me break down some of my popular phrases.

Hurry up!

Right now!

Come on!

Let’s go!

Now. NOW!!!!!

Like, all the time. All. The. Time.

And my tone is typically closer to, “We are being chased by an escaped convict” than “We are running 5 minutes late to a play date at Chic-fil-a.”

Researchers refer to this as “chronic overreaction mode,” and identify unhealthy patterns we are beginning to see in children who are growing up in a constant “fight or flight” mode. Everything is treated as an emergency.

Not too long ago I walked into my bathroom and saw Charlotte playing with my high heels, holding a purse. She was fumbling with getting the second shoe on and kept saying things like, “Okay, go. Alright. Let’s hurry. Almost done…” while acting like her entire person was on fire.

Apparently panic is the new tea party.

And here’s the part I found the most ironic. A good percentage of the time (at least half, I  would guess), there was actually no time constraint that would lead to comments like this. It’s like I have an internal clock that tells me I need to speed things up even when there’s no external reality demanding it.

The bottom line is that oftentimes I create an atmosphere of stress and perceived need when there is none. I’m really feeling like there’s not a positive outcome by insisting that every moment in life serves to make you feel like you’re late for the next one.

It has gotten to the point where I genuinely have trouble just enjoying the calm because I feel like there must be something pressing that I’m missing somewhere.

And they feel it, no question. They feel shuffled and controlled and, well, like they need to get on board mommy’s crazy train or else they might just get left behind.

All aboard, kids. Don’t mind me driving with the trunk open-we HAVE TO GET TO PUBLIX BEFORE THEY SELL OUT OF APPLES AND CEREAL AS THEY OFTEN DO.

I was curious how many times Jesus told people to hurry; want to take a guess?

Technically, there was one time. He was talking to Zacchaeus and told him to hurry and come down from the tree so He could go have dinner with him, but the original Greek word implies something more than just “speed it up.” Namely, that Jesus wanted him to listen right away and be convicted…not so much that He was worried the grits were burning. It was an urging to move, make haste in pursuing goodness. Not exactly what I mean when I say it.

I don’t want my children to grow up feeling like they were always hurried. Yes, there will be times when we need to, umm, make haste, but that doesn’t need to be the standard protocol.

On the other hand, I’m pretty good about doing the opposite when they are on the asking end. Here are my other frequent “time-related” comments. See if any of them sound familiar.

Not right now, honey.

Maybe in a minute.

Just a sec.

Hang on.

Give me a minute.

Later.

Again, why? Because I really can’t do it right that second? No. Not usually. More likely it’s because it’s my knee-jerk response. I’m not kidding when I say I caught myself using those words in completely illogical situations, simply because they so frequently fall out of my mouth. Telling my children to wait is like breath to me. And it’s a proud moment, let me tell you.

Now, of course there are times when these are appropriate, but “Could you pass the broccoli” is not one of them. Oh, you want to color with me? Maybe later. (2 minutes pass) “Hurry and come here girls! I need to run out real quick…

It’s a tug of war, and nobody wins. And the fact of the matter is, the heart response is the same for them: “I am the priority, and my schedule is boss. Work around me.”

Ouch.

I’m painting a rough picture here, and I don’t want it to feel like we’re signing up our kids for therapy just because we’ve done this, but I do think we need to assess it.

What’s the reason I do that? I guess because at the ugliest level, I want to be in charge of the hours. I get frustrated when it’s not done the way I want it to be. And have I conveyed to them that they are to squeeze themselves into the gaps according to my preferences?

I hope I haven’t, but I could feel the Lord showing me my own sin in this area right away. Don’t misunderstand me-I am in charge of them, and they are to respect me. The issue is that I have put too much emphasis on a non-issue, and have often missed the big picture of teaching them to love and serve one another.

Jesus doesn’t tell them they need to work their way into His demanding schedule. He doesn’t tell them they’re in the way of His more important stuff. He doesn’t keep typing when they wander in, telling them He’ll be out in a minute.

He doesn’t hold up a “shushing finger” while talking on the phone, explaining that He’ll be right there.

I know. We can’t be Jesus.

But the goal is to be as much like Him as we can be.

Parenting has the potential to teach us to die to self more than almost any other relationship, and assessing our failures has beautiful fruit-for us and our children.

So, the challenge for this week is to watch the rushing and the pausing. If they’re legitimate and necessary, sure. But you might be surprised at how often they aren’t.

Or at least it would be nice if you could tell me that was the case.

Assuming that you recognize any of these tendencies in yourself, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to try and combat it.

I sent them to boarding school.

Sorry. Kidding. It’s been a long day.

No, actually what I’ve found is that every time I use an uneccessary “NOW!” phrase, I apologize. I tell them I shouldn’t have acted like it was so dramatic. And we laugh about it.

So much of good parenting is about making life a safe place for grace.

I’ll tell you this too: when I do tell them it’s time to go, they are a whole lot more likely to come running than they were a few months ago. It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve seen a difference. And in retrospect, “running” wasn’t the right word. I meant “meandering in a semi-dressed and quasi-obedient manner.”

On the other end of the continuum, and because it was really something I felt the Lord impressed upon me, I have drastically reduced my usage of the “hang on” type comments. If I’m asked a question, I try my best to respond in a gracious, honest way. If it’s something I can’t physically do, I explain that. But I’ll just go ahead and tell you it’s pretty rare that I’m duct-taped to my chair, incapable of coming to look at the newest member of Kate’s earthworm collection.

I don’t really need a minute.

They, on the other hand? Do.

I’m praying for all of you mommies out there as you evaluate yourself in light of this stuff-and as always, I sure would love to hear any thoughts you want to share.

 

Remember, friends-life is not a crisis 🙂