Living Out Loud

Part of sharing space with a very vocal two and a half year old is experience the entire spectrum of emotions on a daily basis. Like most toddlers, Bea goes from singing and dancing to quiet play to a temper tantrum to snuggles without missing a beat. Some days this can be exhausting. Fortunately, these feelings happen over the course of our day, not in the matter of minutes. (Usually.)

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While I can easily get overwhelmed by a screaming fit for taking off her shoes, I also appreciate this phase in which Bea doesn’t hide her emotions. It makes me wonder when we learn those social skills of masking how we feel. I’m glad we learn those – I can’t imagine how awkward grocery shopping would be if every adult who was hungry was huddled by their shopping carts, crying out for a snack.

But, I think we can also learn from toddlers. Which emotions am I hiding because it’s more socially acceptable to smile and keep peace? Which emotions are worth sharing, worth stirring up, and worth making people uncomfortable with? When I reach a place of vulnerability with others, it usually involves sharing emotions that I’ve learned to mask.

While I don’t anticipate sharing how happy I am through song or stomping my feet in frustration any time soon, I do hope that I can model how to keep my emotions open and share my feelings honestly so that Bea doesn’t feel the need to hide her feelings as long as possible.

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

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Front Porch Living

The first time I heard the phrase “front porch living” was in grad school. I was getting a degree with an emphasis in urban education, so many of my courses looked at ways people in the inner city lived that would be different from a suburban point of view. (This was just as Denver was beginning to gentrify its urban neighborhoods, so I’m sure many of these cultural phenomena have changed in the recent years.)

A neighborhood with strong front porch living often doesn’t have an attached garage or they may have small backyards. Neighbors congregate out front – they see each other’s comings and goings and often stop to chat. Because much of life takes place out front, there are not may secrets (for good or bad) and there is much more opportunity to know the community.

I loved the idea of knowing my neighbors, of doing life together, and of living out front so we can interact in a more relaxed, natural way.

At our old house, we were located on a frontage road, so we had no across the street neighbors. And while our road was quiet, it was right next to a busy thoroughfare, which meant I couldn’t let Daisy or Bea roam out front without being with them. Our neighbors were all friendly, but we only knew a handful.

Hanging out front

Hanging out front

Now, we have a quaint, fenced-in front yard. At first, I wondered if the fence would be seen as a barrier to our neighbors but the opposite has proven true. I’ll open the front door while making dinner and Bea and Daisy will roam outside, saying (or barking) hello to all who pass. We have a glider out front, so I’ll often sit and watch them play. This has led to many conversations with our neighbors and even to an across-the-street five year old inviting himself into our playroom while I chatted with his dad. It’s been amazing! Already, we have chatted with most neighbors and we’re just entering lovely hangout outside weather.

I’m looking forward to this summer of building community in a way that involves spontaneity, casual conversations, and building relationships that lead to deeper connections. We’ve already talked about putting our vegetable garden out front instead of in the back, of building a Little Free Library, and of hosting a block party. Our fenced yard seems to be full of potential for bringing our neighbors together and we want to be an intentional part of creating this community.

Part of living generously, of living intentionally in our community, and of growing our hospitality is to create moments in which we can easily open our front door and let people in. I’d love to create relationships with our friends and neighbors where doorbells are unnecessary and our homes are always open. I have a good feeling about our neighborhood in particular and am thinking about ways in which I can further cultivate that level of ease and welcome with friends who may have to drive to our house. As I open myself to others, I hope they feel welcome and comfortable to sit on the porch – or come inside – and experience life together.

Where do you do most of your congregating – out front or in back? How do you meet your neighbors?

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Hope in Tomorrow

We were at Costco a couple days ago and Bea insisted on steering the cart. In other grocery stores this is an awkward but doable request. (As long as the store is fairly empty…) Costco’s carts, like their products, are larger than the average so Bea has to strain to reach the handle. It took us about 8 minutes to walk half an aisle with this method… Whenever I would suggest help, she would insist that she was Big Enough!! And we had to explain that, while she is growing up, she just needs to be a bit taller. Perhaps one of the hardest truths of childhood.

"Helping" at Costco

“Helping” at Costco

This had me thinking about my own desire to be at the next phase in life. Sometimes I just want to get to the next opportunity, without messing around in the lessons I’m learning right now. I’m trying to find that balance between active anticipation of the promise of a restored earth and the reality of living in the grittiness and frustration of the not-quite-yet.

I can feel bogged down in all the injustice and the fact that I feel helpless to do anything about it. I guess I just want to be bigger – to have more degrees or more authority or more ideas to actually help a situation. Instead, I’m looking at the small moments and tiny ways in which I can help now. Whether through giving financial support to those who already do amazing work to educating myself to simply praying for those in need.

Every night before bed I read this Compline prayer and I’m slowly letting it sink into my daily outlook:

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, ad to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity of the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

How do you balance living in the moment and looking toward the hope of tomorrow?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

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Poets Anonymous: Franciscan Blessing

Welcome to our monthly Poets Anonymous!

On the 15th of each month, I’ll post part of a poem. If you have a blog, post a poem on yours and share your link in the comments. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to share part of a poem in the comments. Or, I encourage you to simply read a poem today.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships so that you amy live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may wish for justice, freedom, and peace.

May god bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

Attributed to St. Francis

Share a favorite poem (or segment of one) in the comments!

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Review: Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans + Giveaway

My faith journey is very typical of my millennial generation: I grew up in the church; was hurt by it; found healing in a liturgical environment; stopped going for a while; have found my way back. Obviously details and order may be different, but over and over I hear people with a similar storyline. At my most critical, church seems antiquated and unwilling to consider that change is an important part of growth. At my most generous, I recognize the community that church provides and that most believers really are trying to emulate the message of love Jesus gave his followers.

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I’ve connected with Rachel Held Evans‘ blog for many years, as she is an eloquent voice for my generation. I’ve read her other books, but Searching for Sunday is by far her best. It’s a good balance of memoir, theology, church history, and practical observation. Written in an easily accessible style, Searching for Sunday examines Evans’ journey of leaving the church, but not being able to let it go. Evans describes her process of being too immersed in evangelical culture and being unable to ask questions or accept doubt.

What I appreciate most about the book is that Evans doesn’t attempt to speak for an entire generation – she tells her story. But, in doing so, she captures many of the feelings and experiences of the millennial generation. This is not a theology text, but a story of journey and discovery. Anyone who is critical of or curious as to why millennials are leaving the church would benefit from the insights and questions this book brings up.

Evans’ undertone of grace and reconciliation is what makes this book stand out. Rather than simply complaining about how the church has hurt her, she seeks to find restoration in her experience. She never gave up on the idea of church, but just needed to take time to find a space that works for her at the moment. She doesn’t hold one denomination higher than another, but finds hope and love in many different settings. I feel that if the church remembered this – that we are all looking toward the same end, but with a different approach – perhaps so much of the infighting in the Christian church would cease.

As Evans says,

Our differences matter, but ultimately, the boundaries we build between one another are but accidental fences in the endless continuum of God’s grace. (185)

This is a book of hope for the future and one in which I think many Christians will identify.

Tell me about your faith community. What makes it work for you?

GIVEAWAY! I am giving away my copy of Searching for Sunday. To enter, leave a comment about an experience of searching for the “perfect” community. I’ll randomly select a winner on Friday, April 17, 2015. (United States addresses only.)

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I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Grace in Relief

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
– John Newton

Relief. Breathing a sigh of relief. Letting go. Those are the words that first come to mind, yet as I think of the relief I’ve gained from my faith and my community, I wonder if the idea of giving something to those in need is a better description.

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When I needed an authentic community of women, going through the same questions and struggles as moms, I found relief in my MOPS group. When I needed a community of questioners and thinkers and doubters and grapplers, I found relief in my weekly book club as we sort through thoughts on faith. When I needed to be reminded of hope and caring during tough times, I found relief in those who brought meals, sent texts, and cared for us as a family. Even after seeing a healthy heartbeat on the monitor, the relief of actually feeling this baby move was a much needed relief.

As I think about relief given to me – in big ways and small – I think about how I can offer relief. Perhaps it’s through a kind word, or a meal. Perhaps it’s through a playdate or babysitting. Perhaps it’s through a note dropped in the mail, just because. I often underestimate the power relief can hold and how precious the grace of relieving fears can be.

How have you found grace in relief?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

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Choosing to Stay

About a year ago, Rachel Held Evans posed a question about church stories on her blog as she was writing her new book, Searching for Sunday. I wrote this essay and left it. A few days ago, a conversation occurred that reminded me of it. As I reread, I realized nothing much has changed. I’m still so grateful for our community and the journey that brought us here.

Frank and I met on a snowshoe hike through the evangelical church we were both attending at the time. Over the course of the hike, we learned that I attended the evening service near my apartment and Frank attended the morning service at the more neighborhoody location. The next Sunday, as people were filing back to their seats after communion, I spotted Frank and gave a small, communion-appropriate wave.

Meeting on a hike

The day we met

Over our months of dating, our church made some changes to its leadership and soon hiking and camping took the place of showing up on Sundays.

After our wedding, we decided we needed to put down roots with a church community. Frank grew up Catholic and I attended an Anglican church during college and had tried an Episcopal church for about a year after I moved to Denver. Liturgical services had given me a refreshment from the seeker-friendly view I grew up with. We had gone through premarital counseling at a nearby Catholic church known for its showtune-esque liturgy, so decided to start attending.

In the meantime, Mark, the pastor who married us through the church we met in, had started a new location in a trendy neighborhood. We loved Mark and his philosophy, so we decided to attend the monthly meeting at an old movie theater. We tried attending both churches, sometimes on the same day, other times alternating.

I became exhausted, running around. I felt stretched, unable to truly get involved, yet unsure where I wanted to settle and in what kind of community I wanted to start a family. We started talking more and more about the pros and cons of each church.

About two or three months in, Mark made a big announcement to his congregation: After much thought and prayer, he and the leadership had decided to make the church all inclusive. LGBTQ attendees had always been welcome, but with the restrictions of not getting involved in leadership. Mark talked about how that didn’t fit in with his view of scripture and Jesus’ radical claim to redeem this world through love.

On our drive home, we were faced with where we stood on the “gay issue.” Was this a clear sign we should switch to the Catholic church full time? What did we think about a truly radical, everyone-is-welcome theology? I had never really examined my feelings on this particular subject.

Then, we began talking about our future children. What if one of them was gay? What message did we want to instill in our children’s worldview? Did we believe being gay is a sin? The phrase, “love the sinner but hate the sin” had never settled well with me, and I didn’t want to teach that attitude to my children.

After lots of processing and praying and more processing, we decided to commit to Highlands Church. Highlands is rooted in the evangelical framework. From time to time, we enjoy liturgical aspects, but there are times when I miss the common prayers, focus on images, and other elements I had grown to love in the Anglican and Catholic traditions. I had to process the return to my childhood denomination, especially with its decline in popularity.

Our first small group found us as the only straight couple. It was eye-opening being in the minority and doing life and community with amazingly committed, involved Christians. Their strong faith reminded me of the conservative church I grew up in, but somehow without the labels of who we can love and accept.

Now, five years later, we laugh that it was even an issue. Really? We thought we had to pray about whether or not someone could serve at church? I cringe a bit at my journey but am so grateful we are in community that utilizes, embraces, and celebrates every congregant’s gifts. I am grateful that Bea loves going to church and is so loved by a community just for being her – without any other expectations or definitions. I am grateful for our friendships and all we have learned from our community.

Even though it seems so uncool to say I go to an evangelical church, I look at the pioneering work Mark and our other pastor, Jenny are doing. I see how they are laying a foundation for future churches to change, to embrace, to accept with grace.

What type of church did you grow up in? Do you still attend a similar denomination? What are some changes you’ve discovered along your faith journey?

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