We Did NOT See That Coming (Part 1)

In some ways, I feel like the last post was the close of one chapter, and this, the beginning of another. But, it’s more than that. A shift in our story begins here. I often talk about how this journey compares to putting together a puzzle. As if the Lord dumped all the pieces on the table, leaving us to put it together without a picture to go by. But on the day I’m about to share with you, it’s almost like He changed the puzzle right under our noses. He didn’t, of course. I really don’t know how to describe it, except to say that up until this point, the puzzle was only two-dimensional.

He was about to completely rock out world by throwing in another dimension to all of this…. one we weren’t prepared for.

The day started like any other. The kids were speaking at a local youth group in Louisiana. When they have an event on a Sunday evening, we try to attend the church service that morning. On this particular Sunday, that meant visiting a Methodist church. It wasn’t our first visit to this particular denomination, so we were very much aware of our theological differences. But, even so, there was something different about our experience at this church.

What I’m about to share with you is obviously from our perspective and it’s incredibly important for you to know that our reception from the people of this church was warm, welcoming, and encouraging. This church community blessed our family in SO MANY ways. This is about the Lord’s revelation to us, through our two interactions with their community, and the PROFOUND effect it had on our family. Some of the potential dangers we had only read about in scripture became very real to us. I’m not sure I can clearly articulate the burden this day placed on our family… on our kids.

Our first interaction: By the time we pulled into the parking lot, I knew some level of discomfort was waiting for me behind the doors of the church. Their tag line is “No Judgement, Just Grace” (For the record, that wasn’t a typo… that’s how they spelled the word judgment.) The repressed Southern Baptist in me was having a hard time. I understand the concept of “no judgment,” but accountability is a real thing. Yes, Jesus tells people to take the log out of their own eyes before approaching their brother about the speck in his, but that passage doesn’t end there. Jesus was a proponent of accountability. His harshest words reserved for the Pharisees. I’ve seen many people bypass accountability by calling it judgment, causing them to avoid sanctification (at best) and/or continue on in unrepentant sin.

There’s a tension there we can’t ignore, or escape.

But, the real tension was felt during the sermon. It started with the pastor’s constant reference to the Holy Spirit as a “She.” This was followed by the FIRST, and VERY visible, swish of my children’s heads… in unison. I tried to assure them, with a casual lifting of my hand, that their heads would not explode, as Jamie and I tried REALLY hard to not die of laughter. Right or wrong, their reaction was hilarious.

Side note: I had an entire class in Seminary dedicated to this issue, so to unpack this subject in a short blog post won’t do it justice. However, I will say this: Throughout the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is referred to in the masculine, although the word for “spirit” (pneuma) is actually gender-neutral. I’m, personally, uncomfortable with referring to the Holy Spirit as a “He” because of this… but, also shy away from the reference of “it.” However, scriptural support for “She” just doesn’t stack up. My opinion. My studying of God’s Word. My wrestling. This is where I land.

This was followed up with the pastor’s interpretation of Numbers 20. To be frank, I’ve never heard a pastor tell the story of Moses’s disobedience the way this pastor did. The short version of the ACTUAL Bible story: The Lord specifically tells Moses to take his staff, instructing him to SPEAK to the rock, telling it to pour forth water. But, instead of doing as the Lord requested, Moses STRUCK the rock with his staff. The consequences of his disobedience led to his inability to enter the Promised Land.

This is a story my kids know well. I mean, I feel like this is a story most people in the church know well. If, for nothing else, the idea that TELLING a rock to pour out water is absolutely ridiculous. But, this pastor COMPLETELY botched it. First, he said that Moses was supposed tap the rock with his staff. Again, in unison, my children rapidly turn their heads in my direction. And then the pastor goes on to explain WHY Moses chose to strike the rock… and his explanation wasn’t biblical. Literally… it’s NOT mentioned in the Bible.

He went on to explain how Moses was rightfully angry with the Israelites, specifically because of their disobedience. He rationalized his anger as being completely understandable given the constant sinfulness of those people. But, there’s a HUGE problem with this… it’s NOT what scripture says. In fact, the blame for Moses’s disobedience actually fell squarely on the shoulders of Moses himself because he didn’t trust the Lord. That’s what the Bible actually says. (And for the third time, the four heads belonging to the children sitting next to me violently turned my direction.) I’m pretty sure Sydney’s was just spinning non-stop by this point though.

But that wasn’t the last of it. (Oh… how I wish it was.)

There is No Explanation Except… God

There are many facets to Be The Change Youth Initiative (BTCYI), but one of the most far reaching (and personal) is Be The Change Collective, the music arm of the ministry. BTCYI was built on the idea that every child has a gift or talent they can use to help others and, for Sydney, her’s has always been song writing and sharing her music with others.

Over the past couple of years, the Lord has connected her with some amazingly talented artists who have given their time to help her make the Collective a reality. (The larger goal is too create a space where teens, like herself, can work with industry professionals to make music that champions others… and they are in the final stages of production for the first song that includes two other teens!)

In 2019, Sydney released four songs under the Collective. Her goal was to reach 100,000 streams by the end of the year, which was a HUGE goal. But, with one month still remaining, the song count is already over 200,000 streams. We don’t really know how to explain it… and neither does anyone else… except to say that it’s the Lord. But, there’s one conversation in particular I want to share with you, that might help shed some light on our inexplicable faith walk.

That last week in May, I had a phone call with the booking agent from the management team. She’s also the person in charge of playlist pitching for Spotify. During the phone call, she made a confession to me about Sydney’s latest release, The Journey. The team had another song releasing on the same day. One that was more upbeat with a contemporary pop sound. (The Journey, written and performed with Ryan Delange, is a song about the journey parents go on when their children are facing potentially life threatening diseases. It was specifically written for the parents of children involved with Make-A-Wish America.)

The team member went on to explain that everyone in the office was convinced the other song was going to out perform Sydney’s song. It was more in line with what people want in music and it was getting placed on twice as many playlists as The Journey. But, here’s the thing: The Journey had THREE TIMES as many streams as that other song and no one could explain it. But, we could.

It was Jesus.

There was an anointing on that song, from the moment Sydney and Ryan wrote it, that was inexplicable. I went on to explain to her that we knew our approach to the music world was different than most everyone else’s. To those on the inside, it might look like we don’t take it seriously, or that we’re not really invested, but that’s not the case. Not by a long shot. We’re just not interested in MAKING something happen. If the Lord wants to open doors, He will open them. And He has. There were a lot of things we were absolutely clueless on, but of this we were MOST certain: The Lord was calling us on a different path when it came to “business” practices. We knew it didn’t make sense to the world, but, I guess that was the point. No one could look at us and say that we’ve manufactured this.

The following day, this young woman sent me a text. In her daily bible reading, she came across Proverbs 16:20, “One skilled in business discovers prosperity, but the one who trusts in God is blessed beyond belief.” Almost like a sweet reminder from the Lord that we were, indeed, on the right path. Something we questioned ALL THE TIME back then. But, we haven’t questioned at all recently.

In fact, now if we get an idea that resembles the ways of the world in any way, we’re more likely to put it aside. It’s not the path He’s calling us to. Sometimes I feel like He’s calling us to make our own trail and, honestly, we hate it. It’s so much easier to follow a path that’s already there. Creating a path takes work and you’re always second guessing yourself. We expend so much energy carving out the path…. and maybe that’s the point.

Following the Lord can be a lot easier when you have no expendable energy left to do your own thing! And if that’s actually true, then I guess we’re doing it right because that’s exactly where we are.

Saying Good-bye to Texas

The month of May was a LONG month. We were only two months into the journey and already exhausted… physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually drained. But, we ended the month on a high note: one more overnight with strangers that would welcome us like family, and a meeting that both challenged us and encouraged us to continue on in the work the Lord was preparing.

I mentioned in the previous post how Jamie and I were wrestling through all the connections the Lord was making for us. The only commonality seemed to be the pendulum swing. We were connecting with people who were both ultra conservative and ultra progressive in their theology. I found both incredibly fascinating, probably those with the progressive bent a little more because it’s not my natural inclination. But more than that, the fascination they had with one another was even more intriguing.

When we went back to the Dallas, we stayed with a sweet family we had met during our previous trip. (Their son-in-law was the youth pastor of the church where Sydney and Brayden spoke.) The wife is one of the more knowledgeable women I personally know when it comes to the Bible. You can tell that she has studied the Word for most of her life and she has a naturally inquisitive mind, which showed itself when I told her that we had breakfast with the pastor of Austin New Church and his wife.

When I think about division in the church, specifically the American church, the issue of homosexuality, and gay marriage in particular, is front and center. There are other issues, like gender equality, racial equality and reconciliation, and a myriad of other “social justice” issues. But, gay marriage is a definitive line-in-the-sand issue and that line is causing a deep fissure which is fracturing denominations, and the church as a whole, as we speak.

This woman had so many questions about our meeting, about their theology, about their (mis)understanding of the Bible, about why we would WANT to meet with them. All fair questions. And, questions we have heard before. When you have a ministry/business that depends on the generosity of others, who you choose to “side with on theological issues” becomes important. And, honestly, it’s why most people don’t, unless, of course, you can actually increase your revenue from theological divides. (But that’s a COMPLETELY different conversation.) Regardless, I can say with 100% certainty, ESPECIALLY after this trip, it most definitely doesn’t apply to us.

But. I’ll confess, in that moment, there was this sense of uneasiness. It was becoming more clear that the Lord was calling us, not only to deep waters, but ROUGH waters. I hear people say that social media brings out the worst in people and they will say things on Facebook that they’d NEVER say in person. Well, that might be true for some people, but take my word for it. There are people out there who will say it to your face. It’s become a crazy world over the past few years. People will say things they wouldn’t have considered saying 10 years ago. (They were probably thinking it, but they NEVER would have thought about saying it out loud.) Those days are long gone I fear. Some people get easily offended and they will tell you so in an equally offensive way. (And trying to raise financial support from people is REALLY hard when you’ve offended them… even when the offense was unintentional.)

There was also another issue, we pretty much give away all of the money we bring in. That was by design. (Like I said, we don’t have a business model many would want to adopt.) Again, EVERYONE has advised us to stop giving money away and we get it. But, the Lord has made it clear this is what we’re suppose to do. While we could be out there fundraising for Be The Change, our kids feel strongly about advocating for others… and we support them. The Lord has continued to provide for our needs so why do we need more.

Isn’t that the model we see in Acts?

So essentially the two most important rules in running a business (don’t offend people and don’t give away your money) were becoming foundational components of the work the Lord was calling us to. (And just to be clear, we’re not intentionally offending people but we are asking them to take their views on certain issues and filter them through the gospel. That makes some people uncomfortable, especially when their views are shaped more by the world than by the work of Jesus.)

I won’t lie, we have questioned our methods more than once. They most assuredly don’t make sense from a worldly perspective. And here’s the CRAZY thing: Our biggest critics come from within the church… and some of the people most excited about our work aren’t even Christians.

Not yet anyway.

At the end of the day, all our second guessing was, for the most part, laid to rest after meeting with Dr. Ramesh Richard, founder of RREACH, a global proclamation ministry. The first thing we noticed off the bat was Dr. Richard’s attentiveness to our story. With pen and paper in hand, he continued to write notes as Sydney and I took turns sharing our story up to that point. But, more than that, it was his ability to understand Sydney’s vision that encouraged me more that anything.

Through the process of asking questions, Dr. Richard was helping Sydney pull together constant themes the Lord was underscoring in her life. And with the answers to these questions he was helping her articulate a vision for what the Lord might be calling her to. You can never see the forest through the trees if you’re constantly in the thick of it. Allowing her the space to pull back and see an aerial view of God’s work through her gave us both a deeper appreciation for where we were on the journey.

But he also said something that would forever solidify what we already felt confident in… our finances. When it specifically came to the idea of fundraising for others, Dr. Richard said, “In God’s economy, the well NEVER runs dry.” Essentially, if God is calling us to it, then He will provide for it.

We are literally six months out from this meeting and we can testify EVEN THIS PAST WEEK to this truth. Honestly, this whole trip is a testimony to it. And Dave Ramsey would cringe at how we manage our money. But, from our perspective, saving up for a future “rainy day” doesn’t really make sense when someone else is in the thick of their rainy day right now. And if we’re suppose to be trusting the Lord for our “daily bread” why are we building up our storehouses anyway?

It’s always there. The principles of the world, no matter how “sound” or “practical” they may be, often (if not always) find themselves in direct opposition to the way followers of Jesus are called to live their lives. I think a lot of us, my family included, have tried to play it both ways for a long time.

But what if we didn’t? What if we said no to the storehouses and rainy day funds? What if we just lived a simple life, taking only what we need and giving everything else to those in need? Is it even possible in today’s Christian culture?

It is. And while not completely impossible in today’s entertainment driven church culture, it is incredibly (and increasingly) more difficult. But, not impossible.

The MOST Unlikely of Friendships

Brayden, Mark, and Sydney

Our last week in Texas was jammed pack full of stuff. As we approached the end of the month, our fundraising efforts were pretty remarkable given our actual number of participants. The goal was to have approximately $3,250 raised by the end of the May, which equated to one-third of the total amount needed to grant the wish. And, by the end of the month, we had close to $3,500… thanks to that $2,000 key chain! (At least something was going as planned… sort of.)

We were leaving Houston for the last time, making a quick stop in Austin and then finishing up our month long tour of Texas in the Dallas area.

We were heading back for two purposes: #1) Mark, one of the worship leaders at Austin New Church, invited our family to spend the night at his house while he and the kids wrote a song; #2) Jamie and I were having breakfast with the pastor (and his wife) of Austin New Church to talk to them about their immigration ministry. Needless to say, we were SUPER excited for a number of reasons.

First, let me talk to you about Mark. True story: When you ask my kids for their top five favorite people they’ve met on this trip, there are TWO people who make the list for all four of my children. Mark is one of them… and for good reason. I’m pretty sure I’ve NEVER met a nicer human being in my entire life. He’s one of the few people we regularly keep in contact with as we continue our travels. (That’s probably because he gave my kids an EPIC list of all the MUST SEE places across the country and I’m sure they send him pictures at every single one of them. He also taught them how to make “proper” English tea and our lives have never been the same since.)

Sydney, Brayden, and Piper enjoying their tea. Note Piper’s pinky finger!

And here’s another interesting fact: We hit a pivotal turning point during this visit with Mark. Within minutes of arriving at his place, we decided to head into town with him to visit some local hot spots. The boys hopped into Mark’s car and the girls stayed with us. As Jamie pulled off to get gas, I made a stunning realization. We LITERALLY let our boys get into a car with someone we didn’t know. (I mean, TECHNICALLY, we knew him… but not well!) I remember looking back at the girls and a momentary look of panic came across their faces, but then we all busted out laughing. Whether we liked it or not… we were officially missionaries. (A shout out to all our missionary friends who know what that means!)

But, here’s the thing about Mark: We NEED more people in the world like him. Period. He loved on our family. He baked with our kids and played games with us. After the little ones went to bed, it was probably midnight at that point, he stayed up and talked to us about church stuff. I shared with him my issues about Austin New Church and we wrestled through some of the theological tensions. We didn’t know each other well and we didn’t agree on some theological points, but our unity in Jesus was real. He was my brother in Christ. Period. The Lord was grafting another branch into our tree; He was growing our spiritual family in ways we desperately needed.

Mark baking with Holden and Piper.

The following morning, Mark spent some time writing music with Sydney and Brayden while Jamie and I went to have breakfast with the pastor of Austin New Church and his wife. For the first time on this trip, I think Jamie was more excited about meeting with someone than I was. Of course, given his professional background, Jamie was incredibly interested in learning more about their immigration ministry and what was actually going on at the border. I was still wrestling through all my “liberal, progressive” theological issues with ANC, so I didn’t plan on talking too much.

But, that didn’t last long.

I feel like I could write so much about our breakfast meeting. But, for the sake of story progression, I’ll hold off on a few points for now. But, I will say this. Jamie and I consider ourselves pretty informed, especially given the fact that Jamie served as a federal DRUG prosecutor for the Department of Justice. When the constant pro-wall diatribe began taking over the media, specifically the misinformation about the way drugs come into the US from Mexico, Jamie’s level of irritation escalated to a place I had never seen before. (But, it’s a frustration I’ve become accustomed as the political climate has become increasingly toxic these past few months.)

Sitting there, listening to Jason and Ashley explain what was actually going on, it was hard not to become overwhelmed by the magnitude of work that needs to be done… and become downright irate with the lack of humanity in the systems we use to protect our country. (And just so we’re clear, this has nothing to do with the wall. Whether you’re for it or against it, our sense of decency should never be questioned. A Christian “pro-life” stance isn’t dependent of the color of your skin, your nationality, or you ethnicity. Pro-life is ALL life. Period. But, again… I’m getting ahead of myself.)

What I loved about Jason and Ashley were their hearts for their neighbors. They, and many others at their church, were fully invested in helping those seeking refuge. It challenged me. A lot. (But, I like to be challenged. I’m an 8 on the Enneagram.) They offered to connect us with some people actively engaged in ministry at the border and we hope to visit there in the New Year.

While 90% of our conversation focused on the issue of immigration and the Christian response to what was going on at the border, things took a decisive turn towards the close of our time together. I don’t really remember the context of the comment, but Jason made some reference to institutions, like Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and Dallas Bible Church, and people associated with those institutions writing him off as a heretic because of his stances on certain theological issues. The reason I remember the comment was because I’m a graduate of DTS and we had visited Dallas Bible Church a few weeks before. (We were actually spending the night at the house of some of the founding members of Dallas Bible Church THAT night!)

I was quick to inform Jason that his assessment wasn’t entirely correct because I was sitting at the table with him. I wish I had a picture of his face at that moment. The temptation to jump head first into a potentially theologically divisive conversation/debate was more tempting than I care to confess. But, if I’m honest, so was the temptation to run as fast as I could away from the table. We had spent almost 90 minutes with two people who professed to believe in the same Jesus as me, but who were, quite literally, on the opposite end of almost every theological spectrum. In fact, the only common ground we really shared was our annoyance of Franklin Graham, but, in part, for different reasons. But, hey… I guess you have to start somewhere, right?

Jamie and I with Ashley and Jason Morriss.

Jamie and I left breakfast and just sat in our car for a few minutes, trying desperately to process what was going on. How was it possible that we were having breakfast with, arguably, one of the most progressive pastors in the state of Texas… and then spending the night at the home of the some of the founding members of one of the most conservative churches in the state? What in the world was God trying to show us, or teach us?

We wouldn’t know the answer to that question for a few months, but there was a reason. A couple of days later, I sent Jason a text asking him to prayerfully consider being someone I reach out to when I want to wrestle through my questions about unity. I knew they likelihood of him agreeing was practically 0%, but the worst thing people can say is no. And we’ve heard that word so many times that it has no power over us. We’ve heard it so many times that we forgot what it sounded like to hear the word yes.

Which was Jason’s answer to my question.

In a World of Uncertainty a Few Things Were Becoming Clear

Jamie and Holden with Sissy’s youngest son, Cash.

The next couple days were about the Lord underscoring a few things in our life. At this point, we were pretty confident about staying on the road past our 4 to 6 month window. But, given the change in direction in the mission/ministry of Be The Change Youth Initiative, we had absolutely no idea what any of it would look like. (And, honestly, that’s no different than anything else in this journey. But, when you’re constantly praying for God to make things clear and things just become more uncertain… it’s pretty frustrating.) Yet, despite all the unknowns, the Lord was still faithful in shining His light at our feet. In this case, He was reminding us of the three things we needed to focus on: meaningful connections, encouraging youth, and not conforming to the patterns of the world.

Before leaving San Antonio, we visited my friend Sissy and her family. Sydney and I spent the night with Sissy on our previous trip to Texas. She is, you guessed it, a Noonday friend. We traveled to Peru together a couple of years ago. Her boys fall within the age span of my middle two children and we ADORE them. When we pulled into the driveway, her youngest son met us wearing his LIVE COURAGEOUSLY shirt. (Friends who greet you wearing your merchandise are the REAL DEAL! That level of encouragement is rock star status in our book.)

From left to right: Sissy, Sydney, Cash, Parker, Piper, Holden, Me, and Brayden

What I LOVE about Sissy… and, frankly, all my Noonday Sisters… is how we can just pick up right where we left off. Jamie says I’m that way with everyone, and maybe that’s true. But, there IS something special about my relationship with THESE women. God knew I would NEED them for this time and He prepared this foundation YEARS before. It’s crazy to think about. But, this connection was starting to trickle down to Sydney. She genuinely connected with Cash and Parker, Sissy’s boys. She had previously talked to them about the struggles they were facing. Those early teen years are, arguably, the most difficult ones we’ll ever go through. Especially for their generation.

When Sydney looked at them, she couldn’t help but see her brother. Sydney’s heart is HUGE. She feels things deeply which makes her the perfect person for a ministry like this. But, there’s a cost associated with that and she pays it. However, during our time with Sissy’s family, there was laughter and joy… a reinforcement of community. Family. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to visit San Antonio without stopping by to say hello to these boys. For Sydney, a meaningful connection was made. A relationship formed. If nothing else, whatever the Lord was calling her to, it HAD to be relational. It HAD to be based on meaningful connections.

Sydney with the Studio G Dance Group.

We made our way back to Houston after our weekend getaway to San Antonio with two things on the agenda. The first involved a completely new experience. Sydney was invited to speak at a local dance studio about her work with Be The Change Youth Initiative and the students were going to perform a dance routine for her… TO ONE OF HER SONGS. For so many reasons, this was a gift.

Dancing to Mighty Little Warrior

Knowing the heartache Sydney has faced in the past and listening to her pour out words of encouragement and exhortation, my heart felt like it was going to burst as I watched Romans 8:28 come full-circle in her life. But, then watching these girls use their gifts to put together a routine to Sydney’s music… I won’t lie. I had a HARD time holding back the tears. This team was also using their gifts to help make this wish come true. We were still fundraising and SLOWLY it was coming together… in His time.

Finally, we went to visit someone my kids have come to consider a friend, which means a lot to us. Ryan DeLange is the worship leader at Bayou City Church in Cypress Hill, Texas. He’s also the person who helped Sydney write and perform The Journey for Make-A-Wish. Sydney was about to release her next song, but there was still some work that needed to be done before they could get back to Nashville. So, she reached out to Ryan to see if he could help.

Brayden, Ryan, and Sydney

She and Brayden spent a couple of hours hammering out some instrumental parts at the church studio and then we spent some time just talking to Ryan… and this is what meant the most to me. Ryan shared with the kids a few things he was wrestling through. Despite the age difference, he didn’t engage in small talk, but spoke to them with a genuine kindness and invested interest in the work they were doing. Ryan was setting the BEST example for them to follow. It seems to simple. And I guess it is. But, it’s also incredibly rare: encourage the generation following behind you. But, encouragement is so much more than the words you speak. It’s the time you spend with others, helping them find their voice and cultivate their gifts. The Lord has BLESSED my kids abundantly in that area and Ryan is definitely at the top of that list.

Sydney and Jamie on our weekly conference call with the management team.

During this time, we also had a big decision to make. Sydney had been working with a management team for a few months. We were actually half way through our six month contract with them. They were helping us book shows as we traveled across the country, as well as connecting us with others in the music/ministry “business.” Sydney was really wrestling through some of the tensions found in the ministry-business model. (For example, for months they were, understandably, advocating for her to increase her social media following. One way of doing that was a common practice called fishing. Essentially, you “follow” someone on Instagram in hopes that they will do the same. And then a few days later, you “unfollow” them… hoping they don’t do the same. Well, Sydney refused to do this. I think her exact words were, “Jesus wouldn’t do something like that so neither are we.”) Thankfully, the people we were working with understood this, allowing Sydney to push into that tension.

But, the wrestling would increase over the next few months, ultimately forcing us to make a HUGE decision.

A Very Honest Confession(s)

Family outing to the Japanese Tea Gardens in San Antonio, Texas.

Here it is: For YEARS, my selfishness (and pride) has kept me from being the parent (and wife) I wanted to be.

I stumbled into parenthood AND marriage… in that order! Actually, I fell flat on my face and spent way too long wrestling myself (and the Lord) through every single step of the journey. When I finally got my act together, I had no idea how to be the wife and mother I so desperately wanted to be. I knew I didn’t want my kids to be raised in the kind of home I was raised in, but sometimes that motivation isn’t enough.

Why do I say this? Because after traveling across the country and hearing other women (and men) share their own stories, I know I’m not alone in what I’m feeling. Maybe it’s because some of us weren’t raised in the most nurturing homes. Maybe our experiences in church led to unrealistic, or legalistic, expectations. Maybe societal mores carried more weight than we care to admit. Sometimes, despite rational thought, we just want to believe Jerry Maguire and convince ourselves that somewhere exists a person that will complete us. (*cough, cough* Jesus)

Sometimes we try everything in our power to “fix” the problem, but we just make it worse. Here are a few more confessions for you, just so you can see how bad things REALLY were before we left on this little adventure:

*For years, I resented my husband and his ability to chase his professional dreams. (And when I say years… I mean, like, 18 of them.)

*About 10 years ago, Jamie left his job so I could pursue my professional dreams. But, then I got pregnant with Holden and those dreams were no longer obtainable.

*I FINALLY got to a place in motherhood where I could take on Seminary. I wanted to teach at a collegiate level and began that journey… until it became clear the Lord was calling our family to invest in Be The Change Youth Initiative. I changed my degree and let go of that dream too.

* I NEVER wanted my kids to pursue music. That one issue alone has brought out the worst in me. (Two summers ago, I sat in the recording studio and told David I hated him, not once, but TWICE. And then it took me weeks to apologize to him.) Simply put, I don’t want the “music life” for my kids.

*Every once in a while someone will ask Sydney if she’s really the one behind Be The Change, or if it’s me pushing her to do it. And every single time I have to resist the urge to full-on cuss them out. (I mean… I do it in my head, but Jesus doesn’t like that either. So… I still have some work to do, I guess.) The answer to that question is a resounding NO! We laugh about it now, but it took a while to get to that place.

Why share all this with you? Because I’m the first one to admit that I’m a mess, that our family is a mess. We’re not on this adventure because we have something to offer. (But, I know God will use us in the mess.) We’re on this adventure because we have SO MUCH to learn. There’s nothing worse than having the Lord reveal sin in your life and then have absolutely no idea what to do with the revelations outside of confession and repentance. But, man, other people have opinions about it and love to offer up their thoughts on what God is teaching us. (Insert an eye roll right there.)

Some people hope my “big” revelation is that women can’t do everything and that they need to focus on the “most” important thing: being a wife and mom. (For real. I’ve had people actually say that… to my face.)

Sorry… but, you’re not getting that from me.

Don’t get me wrong, those things are important. But, they aren’t the most important. Taking on the roles of wife and mother don’t negate the call of the Great Commission on my life… but, maybe more importantly, they don’t LIMIT the Great Commission to the insular grouping of my family. I’m also not competing with my husband, or children. For so long it seemed like our lives were a balancing act and everyone needed to have “their time” in order to feel like things were “fair.” But, in the construct of our lives, it was never “fair” for me. And this was the problem. Sort of.

For the past few years, the word ‘balance’ has been one of the “it” words in ministry. But, I’ve always taught the young women in my discipleship groups that BALANCE isn’t a word, or concept, you really see in the Bible. It IS a word you see and hear a lot in the world. And, for me, the balance that the church kept talking about wasn’t something I saw in scripture. I still couldn’t articulate it, but something was off. And it had been that way for far too long.

We’ve spent so much of our lives living the American Church Dream. We’ve listened to Sunday morning sermons that NEVER mention Jesus. Not once. How about the church building campaigns that bring in more money for playscapes and laser lights than non-profits committed to ending global sex trafficking? We give out of our abundance, but never sacrificially. Not really. A lot of us don’t actually share the gospel with anyone… we just invited people to church. And THAT might be part of the problem. We were inviting people into a relationship with the church, not with Jesus.

Our family didn’t just need a change. We needed a paradigm shift.

My last confession: About two months into this trip, our family took a “time-out” in San Antonio and the Lord, for the briefest of moments, showed me something new. After years of wrestling God and resenting my family, He showed me a glimpse of something better. (And let me be clear, that resentment had NOTHING to do with my children or my husband. It was the result of people in the church constantly limiting my contribution to the body of Christ to the confines of my roles of mother and wife.)

Another example is the incessant guilt heaped on my kids for not wanting to use their musical gifts in the church. They don’t feel called to be worship leaders and no matter how many people argue differently, it won’t change their minds. Or, when my husband would volunteer to hold babies in the nursery while I would teach young women… and men in the church would say that I was keeping my husband from using his gifts. (Thankfully, my husband was quick to tell people that his gift is serving others and just because his profession dealt with speaking in front of people, that doesn’t mean his gifts for the edification of the body are the same. SERIOUSLY, I love him more than words.)

We refused to believe that “church” (as we knew it) was the reflection of its true purpose. I refused to believe that I was defined, or limited, by the roles I take on. I refused to accept the box that many in the church tried incessantly to put me in, to put my family in. Not because it limited us… but because it perpetuated harmful stereotypes and limited the power of the Holy Spirit.

Over the course of that weekend, the Lord began showing me how much healing had already taken place. Our relationships with one another were mending and becoming stronger. Our heart for the church was starting to unload the weights of resentment and bitterness. Our relationship with Jesus began to change course. And it’s because our faith was starting to change. I daresay, it was becoming real for the first time, which is a scary thing to confess. (I mean, if that’s a true statement, then what the heck have we been doing up until that point?!?!)

And that’s a great question.

The Lord was changing my heart. But, not just mine. My kids were starting to genuinely talk about their faith with others and not because they had to. They wanted to. For this season, we were free from the compartmentalization of our lives and the roles (and expectations) others were placing on us. There was no balancing act for all the hats we wear. No fight to maintain fairness. We were given a season to simply exist and rest in Him… and our true identities will never reside outside of those two components.

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Houston… We Have a Problem!

Throughout the month of May, Houston was our home base for a couple of reasons. Being new to the RV world, investing a ton of money in long-term memberships wouldn’t be wise. So we opted for a basic membership to Thousand Trails, a network of RV parks located throughout the country. That basic membership was an investment of roughly $600, but it gives us “free” stays at their campgrounds for the year. (The key here is availability, because most members reserve their sites months in advance and often times we have no clue where we’re doing until that day, which means limited, or no, availability.)

In the state of Texas, hands down, the best Thousand Trails was Lake Conroe, just north of Houston. They have mini-golf, tennis and basketball courts, a pool and the lake. Yeah… this was a great place for home base. But, also it was close to Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast & Louisiana. (Our goal for this summer adventure was to raise $9,700 for this organization, which is the average cost of granting a wish for a child in this area.)

Our plan was pretty simple: Recruit kids to participate while we traveled the state of Texas during the month of May, help them fundraise for the remainder of the summer, and have all the money raised by the beginning of August AT THE LATEST. We were so confident of this plan that we had a goal of raising one-third of the money (roughly $3,250) by the time we left Texas at the end of the month. But there was one HUGE problem: We only had one teenager signed up to help!

This was a first for us. Honestly, we’ve NEVER had a problem recruiting kids or raising money. Our last Fundraising Initiative only had four participants and those kids raised almost $1,300 in less than 10 days, surpassing our goal by $300. With a whole new group of kids, located in an entirely different part of the country, we expected to enlist participants in record time… but we weren’t.

We were really starting to wonder if the Lord was trying to tell us something.

Sydney was scheduled to speak and preform at the Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast & Louisiana Quarterly Meeting. She and Jamie arrived early to set up merchandise at the office. (At this point, all proceeds from merchandise sales were going towards the wish!) When they arrived at the office, they met a young man named Eric. Eric was from the Make-A-Wish American National Office and happened to be there for a meeting prior to the nights events. (Eric has nothing to do with THIS story, but he will enter back into our family’s story in the months ahead. I only bring it up now because it shows how much the LORD has been in EVERY detail, lining up things we could NEVER have done on our own. Not in a million years.

Sydney shared our story to a group of Board Members and volunteers that evening. She also sang two of the songs written for Make-A-Wish. After the show, she quietly moved to the merchandise table with no real expectation of selling much merchandise that evening. Before she and Jamie left for the event, Sydney was pretty discouraged… and rightfully so. We were three weeks into the month of May and we had only raised $200. But, we told her that, no matter what, she has to always show up and do her best. At the end of the day, that’s all ANY of us can do. The Lord has shown us time and time again that this is all He asks of us. When we do this, often times, He shows up and totally shows off.

And He was about to show off BIG TIME.

Merchandise we had for sale at the Quarterly Meeting.

Shortly after the meeting was over, a man came over to talk to Sydney. He asked her for the least expensive item on the table and she handed him one of our leather keychains from Haiti. Sydney told him it was $5.00 and he responded, “Great, I’ll take one, but I’m paying $2,000 for it.”

The moment Sydney found out they raised over $2,500.

I don’t have to tell you the response he received from Sydney… and everyone else within ear shot. And just like that… one person showing an inexplicable amount of generosity… we were almost one-fourth of the way to granting this wish. But, more than that, Sydney saw how quickly things can change. She saw how much of this actually wasn’t dependent on her.

For our girl, that night was a HUGE turning point.

I Said I’d NEVER Go to Jen Hatmaker’s Church… and I Lied.

Me and Katie

The following weekend, our family headed back to Austin. The church Sydney and Brayden spoke at that first weekend in Texas had invited them back to attend a worship night while the rest of us had dinner at my friend Katie’s house. (Surprise! Another Noonday friend.) Katie and I went to Uganda together a few years ago.

If there’s anything to know about our family it’s this: the way to our hearts is through food and conversation. And we most definitely got our fill of both at Katie’s. Also, not immune to church hurt, we talked to Katie and her husband about past pain, but unlike a lot of the other conversations on the road, this one moved past the pain. Maybe it’s because they hadn’t closed the door on church. They fought to stay in it. Sometimes people have a hard time moving past the pain, which is understandable. It took our family a while. It took me even longer. And sometimes people never move past the pain, allowing resentment and bitterness to gain a foothold. But, Katie and her husband were still fighting for unity. It’s a common thread in their life story, so it doesn’t surprise me.

Our weekend in Austin would be capped off with a Sunday morning service before heading back to Houston. Our family has really tried to be intentional when it comes to visiting churches on the road. We’ve tried to visit places all across the theological spectrum, and interestingly enough, the one city where people felt the incessant need to make an unsolicited suggestion on our Sunday Service (Sorry, Kanye. But your trademark request hasn’t been approved yet) was Austin.

Everyone wanted us to go to Jen Hatmaker’s church, Austin New Church.

Here’s the thing. I didn’t want to go. I have nothing against Jen Hatmaker personally. Her book, Interrupted, profoundly impacted my life. But, I don’t agree with her on a lot of theological points. And I most definitely don’t like the celebrity culture of some churches, so I didn’t want to “waste” my Sunday morning going to her church when there were so many others I actually wanted to visit. Here’s my confession: The above sentences are filled with arrogance and ignorance, which I’ve had to repent of on several occasions. To several people. (None of those people are Jen Hatmaker, but if I ever see her, I’ll probably apologize to her as well.)

At some point over the weekend, the conviction, or maybe the curiosity, got the best of me and our family decided to attend a worship service at Austin New Church. Here’s another confession: I went in ready to tear it apart. Very Christ-like, right? (Seriously, the Lord has done a CRAZY work on me over the past seven months.) At the first sign of bad theology or false teaching, I was ready to bolt. Honestly, I was just waiting for it to happen. Counting the minutes. All 60 of them. Because we sat through the ENTIRE service. The whole sinking thing.

Their pastor, Jason Morriss, was starting a summer sermon series focused on “hot button” issues in the church. His first sermon was about legalism. I was prepared for him to go after the conservative evangelical fundamentalists, specifically those who often times confuse their national identity with their kingdom identity… or marry their religion and their politics. And, to a certain point he did. And rightfully so. But, he also gave a grave warning to his congregation. Acknowledging that several members found a home at ANC after being ostracized in those conservative congregations, he warned them of the temptation of building up their own walls after being kicked out of those.

I remember the moment he said it. Sydney and I immediately whipped our heads around to each other. Jamie pathetically tried to hide a snicker. Jason’s wife, Ashley, also got up and talked about the church’s immigration ministry, both at the border and in Austin. As she talked, I saw my whole family intently listening to every word. We didn’t know anyone who had actually been to the boarder to see firsthand what was going on there. (But we knew a TON of people who had an opinion about it.)

And then there was Mark.

Mark was one of the worship leaders that Sunday. It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, we’ll visit a church and almost immediately, Sydney knows she wants to work with someone. After the service she approached Mark, shared about Be The Change Collective and asked if he would be interested in writing with her. So far, she’s batting 100% with these requests and that didn’t change with Mark. (And, if I’m really honest, Jamie and I are never 100% sure about the process.) It seems so random, but by now, we know it’s the Holy Spirit! Come to find out, Mark and his wife lived in a RV for two years and just so happened to have a place for us to park our RV at their house because their RV was in the shop.

Just so happened.

So, I guess Sydney’s going to write a song with someone from Jen Hatmaker’s church. I see what You’re doing God. (Actually, I had NO CLUE what He was about to do. And I wasn’t prepared for it either.)

But you’ll have to wait for the conclusion of this story because a lot happened in between our trips to Austin.

The Confirmation

Family photo after the show at Dallas Bible Church.

The following weekend, the kids had another show at Dallas Bible Church. This contact came from one of our Board Members, Taylor, who also happened to be a former classmate of mine at Dallas Theological Seminary. (He was the one who asked that fateful question: Do you guys ever come to Texas? This was when we were praying about whether to continue on with Be The Change. We ended up going to Texas and Be The Change Collective was created because of that one question!)

Given the feedback from the show in Austin, Sydney wanted to change the program for the Dallas show. She decided to continue sharing about doubting God, focusing on how the disciples even doubted Jesus (Matthew 28:17). Brayden also shared his testimony and his song, Conscience. Again, the response was the same. Even with a smaller crowd, the message resonated. I was able to capture a few photos of Sydney praying with some of the girls there. Our Board Member came to the show and brought his girlfriend (now fiancé) with him. I remember her saying that she felt like we were turning a corner, a new chapter was beginning. She was right.

Sydney praying with a group of teens after the show at Dallas Bible Church.

Sydney was also scheduled to speak at The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas. If you know anything about our family, you know our love for Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, and David Platt. Our kids were raised on their sermons, bible studies, and books. Sydney also wrote and performed Empty Hands with Grant McCurdy, one of worship pastors at The Village Church.

Unfortunately, Grant wasn’t in town that weekend, but he made a few phone calls and connections for us. One of those connections was spending time with Lauren Chandler and sitting in on a worship practice. Lauren spent about 30 minutes with our family, listening to our story and then praying over us. Sydney and Brayden then spent the next couple of hours with the worship team, while one of my friends (you guessed it… Noonday!) took me out for gelato.

Sydney with Lauren Chandler

Leah is another one of those Facebook friends that I’d never met in person. (This trip has made me increasingly more appreciative of people who are game for forging unconventional friendships. And for meeting with complete strangers, in some cases inviting them into their homes, when we could, quite honestly, be insane.) Leah picked me up at The Village Church, which happens to be her church, and took me to a local gelato shop for a short, but needed processing session.

Me and Leah

One of the things I’ve really needed on this trip is a safe place to process. It seems like many in the church are quick to point out where your theology is lacking…. or out-right false… without taking a few minutes to hear you out, let alone engage in a healthy debate. I’m thankful for the few friends back home who have volunteered for the job. It’s not for the faint of heart! Especially when you move away from the echo chamber of your own community, or inner-circle. But, I also need people on the road. That’s part of the process. Leah was definitely a safe place to unpack all the craziness of my life, but my time with her, I truly feel, was about something else.

Leah shared her own spiritual journey and giftings with me. It was something that challenged me. I was learning more and more about the various ways the Holy Spirit reveals itself to people. God was constantly showing me where I was putting Him in a box. I’ve already acknowledged that I’m not charismatic… at all. We’ve been to a few churches that have been heavy on emotionalism and light on biblical truth. But, Leah was also different from a lot of the other people I had met on the trip. Maybe it was because our theology was similar. Maybe it was because her experiences were so specific and not based on emotional responses. I honestly don’t know. But, listening to her share her story of faith challenged me to push into that box I created for God a little more.

I asked God to show me where I put Him in a box, but I couldn’t just stop there. I needed to be willing to tear the walls of the box down. But how?

Sydney performing at The Village Church.

It would take me a little while to figure that out. But, in the meantime, Sydney was asked to speak to a group of creative art students at The Village Church. THIS was her element. Surrounded by students who want to use their creative gifts to edify the church and glorify the Lord. For a couple of hours, she was in a place that oddly felt like home, surrounded by teens who spoke her language. In all the ups and downs and constant inconsistencies of our life, there was a moment of peace… and Chick-fil-A nuggets.

Students and leaders at The Village Church praying over our family.

This group of students and leaders prayed over our family. Something I will never forget. The moments of encouragement on this journey have been few and far between, but this weekend was a gift. Yet, at the same time, something weirdly unexpected was happening: We had only been able to recruit one teen to help us with fundraising.

The Day Everything Changed

Teens coming up to talk to Sydney and Brayden after their show.

To date, seven months into the cross-country adventure, there have been two moments that have forever changed our lives. Today, I’m going to share the first one with you. The month of May was dedicated to our fundraising partnership with Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana. Our first event was on May 5th at a church in Austin. Sydney and Brayden would perform their regular show and then try to recruit some of the students to participate in the Fundraising Initiative.

In preparation for these events, we always jump on a call with the Youth Pastor or Event Coordinator prior to a performance. (This is the best way to know a church’s expectations and how we can best pray over the day in preparation for the event.) On this occasion, the church was wanting the performance to run about 30 minutes longer than a typical show. Sydney was more than happy to oblige and gave the youth pastor a few topics she felt comfortable discussing in front of a group of teens: doubting the existence of God despite being raised in the church, the pressures of social media, the dangers of placing your identity in your relationships, anxiety and depression, as well as the importance of using your gifts and talents to help others.

Without taking any time to think about it, he said that doubting God and depression were the topics his youth group needed. He then went on to explain that one of their students had attempted suicide a few weeks earlier and that many other students were going through some difficult stuff. He really didn’t have to say anything else.

Sydney knows what it’s like to grow up in the church, to be known as the “good Christian kid.” She hated it, for a lot of reasons. There was this unspoken pressure to not make a mistake, and sometimes it was spoken… or self-imposed. But a few years ago, a young lady who helped me with the kids while I was in seminary, articulated her own uneasiness so perfectly and it resonated with Sydney. She talked about a pivotal point in her own life where she had to decide between working with teens inside the church (professed believers from Christian homes) and those on the outside with little to no knowledge of the Christian faith.

This young lady talked about the earnest desire for those teens outside the church to pursue truth by asking hard questions. In comparison, almost all of those inside the church had all the “right” answers when asked a question, but those answers just seemed to be surface level. Sydney would repeatedly say that knowing how to say the right answers with your lips doesn’t mean your heart believes them.

Sometimes you’re told to “fake it ‘till you make it.” But what happens when you fake it for so long that you begin questioning your reality?

Sydney’s heart is for her generation to see that following Jesus is so much more than seeing how fast you can chug a Happy Meal that’s been pulverized in a blender. That knowing the right answers means little, if anything, if you’re not willing to live out those answers.

Sydney shared her heart with those kids and her desire for them to know that God IS real and that they need to push into their doubt because He will meet them there. Then, for the first time, Brayden shared his testimony to a group of his peers. He shared his struggles with depression and not being able to control the thoughts of suicide that flooded his mind. (This was during the time that a Netflix show centered around the issue of teen suicide seemed to be everywhere. Our kids didn’t see it, but they still couldn’t escape it. Even at youth group. Once the thought was planted, Brayden, who struggles with OCD, couldn’t stop thinking about it.)

Afterwards he shared a song he wrote about his struggles. The video below explains some of that story:

The show ended with this song and Sydney’s invitation for the students to come talk to them afterwards. It was during that time that the young teen the youth pastor had told us about came up to Sydney and shared her story. She shared how she almost committed suicide… and that moment changed everything.

Everything.

But we didn’t know it at the time. Hindsight makes things so much clearer, which is one of the reasons there’s a six month lapse in the blog. (If I wrote this stuff down as it happened… I don’t think it would make sense. Maybe it still doesn’t six months removed!)

Jamie and I sat back and watched two lines form, one for Brayden and one for Sydney. We watched our kids listen to these students, pray for them. We looked around and saw the youth pastor and volunteers watching their students connect with our kids. None of us had any idea how impactful this night would be.

The following morning, I woke up to a message from the youth pastor. He knew what happened the previous night was outside the norm. But, his words still echo in our lives… especially when we want to give up: Whatever this is, keep doing it.

He told us how parents had been texting and calling asking who the church brought in to speak to the kids. These kids were talking to their parents, some for the first time, about their struggles. And this wasn’t an anomaly. Everywhere we’ve been, the stories are the same. And every youth pastor, or parent, we’ve spoken to has ALWAYS said the same thing:

Our message is no different than anything these adults have said countless times before. The difference… it’s coming from their peers. More importantly, it’s coming from kids their age who are still in the thick of it. Sydney and Brayden don’t pretend to have the answers. They don’t have polished “church” answers. You see their pain and they give Jesus glory in the midst of it.

Their message isn’t “Just sit tight because tomorrow’s a new day.” Their’s is something different:

Today might suck, but push into it. Fight for it. Fight for one another because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.

Six months removed… that statement rings true now more than ever. Why are we STILL living in our RV, quite LITERALLY on the opposite side of the country? (We’re in San Diego today.) Because we’re not taking today for granted… or any other day. We have one life to live and we’re no longer living it for ourselves.

This was the first day in a hard and painful lesson the Lord would begin teaching us. (He’s still teaching it to us!) Up until this point, we really knew nothing about following Jesus. We just knew how to “do church” really well.

That was about to change.