When People Leave

On a regular basis people come to our church, and on a regular basis people leave our church. For all sorts of reasons, they leave. This is the painful part of being a pastor. I am so very grateful that more people are coming than going these days, but every person who leaves is a loss not just to the church in an abstract way but a loss to me personally, and to our staff. As a pastor I hold people in my heart in a deep way, and I carry their stories with me. It is not a matter of “if” people will leave our church; it is rather a matter of “when.” After all, weather by God’s calling elsewhere, or entropy, or death – we are all on a journey. Each goodbye is painful, sometimes heart-wrenching. I think that just as it is in friendship, we will have our “communities of faith” for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Some friendships are for a reason, others a season, and some for a lifetime. Our churches are like that too. To be in a church for a lifetime is a rare and beautiful gift, and if you are given this gift, cherish it. Evelena is 94 years old and has been walking through the doors of our church building since she was 14. That is a rare and precious gift. She is a rare and precious gift whom we cherish.

When we decided to adopt a child from China, we imagined a child who was all alone, perhaps in a crib, with little attention or love. After we were “matched” with Lyla, we came to discover quite a different story! Lyla was in a home with the most fabulous and loving foster family. Hulu, her foster mom, immediately began video chatting with me daily so that Lyla could get to know her new mom even months before we met. We would send videos back and forth each day and I would sing to Lyla and read her stories and Hulu would play those videos for Lyla when we were still millions of miles apart. So when we finally met Lyla face-to-face, she already had been prepared in countless ways to be family.

The journey of a foster family is one of loving deeply and fully, and then letting go. Letting go is the final act of love. It is a picture of sacrificial love that is vulnerable, beautiful, and impossible to fully honor.

Hulu and her family gave Lyla (and us) a gift – the gift of loving Lyla and then letting her go. They will always love Lyla in their hearts, but they held her loosely in their hands, knowing one day she would no longer be in their home, though she will always be in their hearts. This is the excruciating work of love.

So here is how I am coming to cope with the dynamic of loving & loosing that is inherent to ministry. Sometimes as a church we are an adoptive family, and other times we are a foster family. We don’t always know which one we will get to be when someone walks through our doors. But, either way our job is the same: love people. Love people like family. Love people deeply, fully, and without fear. If the possibility of someone leaving tomorrow keeps me from loving them fully today, then fear wins. And scripture says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” 1 Jo. 4:18

Maybe someone will leave because their time with us was only for a reason or a season. I want to be Hulu in these moments of departure. Like Hulu I will cry, I will grieve, I may even wish it were different. And at the exact same time I will remember: this is what we are made to do. We are made to love, and sometimes loving means letting go. And so the door of my heart remains open towards the person who leaves so that they can go where God leads them with my love and blessing. And if they ever need this family again – we are here. We are here. We are always here. We will love you when you come, and we will love you as you go. We will love you when you fall away and flake out, and if you choose to return, we will love you then as well. After all, our job is to love one another as we have been loved by God.

Our weekly benediction says, “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you, wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm, may He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you, may He bring you home rejoicing – once again into our doors.”

Hulu and I still regularly exchange photos, and she continues to send Lyla the most amazing gifts. As Lyla’s mom, I am forever grateful that Lyla has so many people all around the world who love her so deeply. So for those of you who have left our flock, and for those of you who may, please know that you will always have a special place in my heart. I’m honored to be one of the pastors in this world who has played a small part in your journey.

Someday, Lyla and I will go visit Hulu again in China….”once again into her doors.”

Susie

Having an “I used to think” List

Gary Aronhalt recently spoke in our worship service and made a passing comment that everyone ought to have an “I used to think” list.  I have ruminated on his idea ever since hearing it. We don’t usually like to admit that we used to think or believe one way but have since changed our opinion because that means admitting we may have been wrong. However, the alternative to changing perspectives is staying stuck and not progressing or growing as people.  Do I really want to be proud of thinking the same things today that I thought when I was a pre-teen, teen, or young adult?  Do I really imagine I have it all figured out today and will perceive myself, the world, and God the same when I am 70? Most likely, many of my present suppositions will change over time, which is a healthy mark of personal and spiritual development.

So I’ve been thinking… and here is my first draft of a list of Things I Used to Think:

I used to think that whenever people changed churches, they were flaky and just church hopping. Now I think that we have friends and faith communities for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. I used to think that because I’m an ENTJ and logically minded that I would not be a very sentimental mom. Now I think that parenting has opened up a part of my heart that I did not think existed. I used to think that if a woman made more money than her husband, they had a bad marriage and probably would not make it. Now I think that people of quality are not threatened by equality. I used to think that people could not be friends with their parents. Now I know that I can. I used to think that what a person believed was about all that mattered. Now I think who we are, what we think, and how we behave are interconnected. I used to think that God was stationary, like a rock. Now I think that God is on the move and active, like a world traveler. I used to think that if I was publically humiliated or rejected by others, I would not survive. Now I know I can.

Perhaps for me there is a theme of growing a bit in the grace and freedom of my life in Christ.  I’m curious, what would you put on your list? I would love to hear!

 

 

What I Used to Think….and why being a Target mom is not so bad

I used to look at moms with their children at the store and feel a little sorry for them.  I mean, wow! – the disheveled hair, the baggy clothing, the digging in their purse while cheerios, bottles, keys and wallets tumbled out… It looked like a lot of work and not a lot of fun. Who would want to do that? I used to say to people, “I want to have had kids in 20 years, but I just don’t want to have kids now.” And then came Russell.

Now that I’m living the reality of motherhood, I can testify that it certainly is a lot of work and not always a lot of fun, but I can also now recognize parenting as a precious investment.  When Tim, Russell, and I are picking up groceries, or going to Target, or traveling somewhere together, we are creating memories and forming Russell’s childhood. When he’s older, Russell will remember some of these events in detail, but even more importantly, he will have impressed on his heart that our little, crazy, and fun family is a context in which he will always be loved.

Building this childhood for Russell is a privilege and a responsibility, and it’s very often a ton of fun!  I might fall into bed exhausted at night, but at the same moment, I’ll laugh so hard I cry as I tell Tim some funny story about the time I spent with our little guy that day.  So much of our laughter is about Russell and his funny quirks. He has added infinite joy to our lives and expanded us from couple to family. I’m sure there are many days when I look just like the other disheveled moms at Target, but I’ve decided to embrace the part. Bring on the memories, let’s build a childhood!

I wonder how much of contentment in life is about embracing the part? Accepting the season in its fullness, with pros, cons, beauty, longing, and frustration.  Living through the season honestly, vulnerably, and gratefully.  So many pieces of life are completely outside of our control, but we do get to decide if we will fight reality or roll with it. We get to choose to embrace the single life, the married life, the life with no kids, the life with kids, the life retired, the life as growing older. Every season has its pros and cons. May God grant you the grace to find and relish the beauty in your season of life today.

Slow down, little train!

Giving great gifts is underrated. If you’ve ever given a really good gift and seen the recipient weep, then you know what I’m talking about. Last Sunday was Father’s Day, and I gave Tim a great gift, and he received it with great joy. Many of you know that we named our son after Tim’s grandfather, Russell Potter. So for Tim’s first Father’s Day as a dad, I created a framed collage of photographs of Tim as a baby with his grandfather (the first Russell Potter) and then some photos of Tim with our son, the second Russell Potter.  Tim was overwhelmed upon seeing the gift. He got all welled up, and then I got all welled up and he just kept looking at all the pictures with so much love in his eyes. I was so happy I could not stop smiling and crying. It feels wonderful to give a great gift, to catch someone off guard with surprise, to overwhelm them with a little thoughtfulness, to show in some small way that you love them. And even though it may be true that it is better to give than to receive, the reality is you need someone to receive the gift if it’s going to bring you or them any joy at all.

Gifts from God are all around me every day, and lately I have felt a particular desire to soak them in – to notice them as gifts – and to receive them. Author Shauna Niequist said on her blog recently, “One of the biggest challenges in modern life is sensing God’s presence in the midst of the crush and swirl of daily life.”Birds singing, swamp coolers cooling, ducks in the Platte river swimming, the city looking back at me from the view on my roof, family and friends laughing together – these are all some of the countless little things I usually cruise right by while driving my little efficiency train. But how sad God must feel to offer these gifts only to have them ignored. Receiving a gift is part of blessing the giver.

May you notice and receive God’s gifts today,

Susie

Real estate, White flags, and Jonah

In 2005, Tim and I bought a big ole tri-plex that in so many ways we really have no business owning. At the time, banks were giving mortgages to anyone who was breathing, with little to no money down and interest free, if you agreed to the “adjustable” terms of that loan.  We were arrogant and stupid enough to agree to these terms. I remember when we closed on the place, one of the guys at the table said, “Just wait, that place is going to be worth a million dollars in a couple years because this neighborhood is so hot.”  When we drove away from that closing, I wanted to roll down my window and start waving to everyone, blowing a few kisses, because I felt so smart, soon-to-be rich, and powerful for scoring such a great deal.  I’ve heard a phrase that says, “Experience humility today before you experience humiliation tomorrow,” and wow, did we get humbled!  A couple years later, the market changed, and we had a $700/month increase in the mortgage, and we could no longer re-finance it! I was scared and overwhelmed. Our options for help were limited. I turned to God.

I had prayed about our decision when we first bought the house.  But, I really prayed when the bottom started to fall out!  I prayed more fervently, more honestly, and more desperately than I had during the early decision-making process. 

I think my story is fairly common. We usually pray the most when things are the worst, or when we have nothing else to do, or when we have no where else to turn.  

This Sunday, we are continuing our new series called “White Flag: a study of the book of Jonah.” White flags are the universal symbol for surrender. This week we’ll look at Jonah’s prayer of surrender from inside the belly of the great fish – when he had no where else to turn and nothing else to do.  It’s a whale of a tale, and I hope to see you there.


Risk & Opportunity

A couple years ago, I co-opened a business called Sipping n’ Painting; my partners and I recently signed a lease to expand to a second location.  Several people in my life have warned me about “managing my risk” in opening the second studio.  I consider this wise counsel, and I also consider it only one side of a double- sided coin.  What about “managing the opportunity?”  or better yet, “stewarding the opportunity?”  Last year, Sipping n’ Painting received a small business grant, and I think it is just as important to steward the opportunity of that grant and the gift of current momentum in this business as it is to manage the risk involved in expanding.

The same is true for you. God has given you gifts.  You can lead, or teach, or pioneer new things, or host, or serve, or sing, or play, or innovate, or create, or come alongside.  Are you stewarding that gift? Are you stewarding the opportunities in your life today? Jesus told a story where he cautioned his followers not to “bury [their] talents” in the ground.  We can bury our talents (or bury the talents of others) when we become so risk-adverse, so consumed with “managing the risks,” that we lose sight of the opportunity we need to steward. 

Has the Spirit led you to venture into risky territory? What steps can you take today to wisely manage the associated risk AND courageously invest your talents?

 

How to Buy Happiness

If you think “money can’t buy you happiness,” maybe you are not spending your money on the right stuff.  The other day, I had the unique privilege of giving a check to a woman in great need.  The monies had been pooled partly from a little Thursday morning Bible study group I participate in and partly from the church benevolence fund, which is nurtured by Sunday offerings. Several weeks ago the book our group was studying challenged us to consider giving to someone we knew who had a financial need.  Several people in our group offered money and asked me to present the total gift. When I handed our friend the card and enclosed check, tears streamed down her cheeks. She said, “I had no idea how I was going to pay my bill.”

We often say, “Money can’t buy you happiness,” but I’m not sure that’s entirely true. I was filled with joy when I witnessed the woman’s heart be blessed and her financial burden eased. I felt so happy. I wanted everyone from the Bible study group and everyone who had given to last Sunday’s offering to be there to experience the gratitude and joy of a thankful recipient. Maybe money can buy us happiness, if we spend it on the right stuff. (For more on this idea, see Michael Norton TED talk on “How to Buy Happiness”)

Our God is exceedingly generous.  2 Corinthians 8:9 — “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Because God is generous towards us, we can extend similar generosity, free of fear and full of the hope of eternity, when God will wipe every tear and financial worries will be no more. Who can you go bless today?