Why Aren’t We a Christian Organization?

Early on, in the planning stages, we decided to spend the entire month of May in Texas. Our goal was simple: Recruit kids in Texas to participate in a Be The Change Fundraising Initiative to help grant the wish of a child in their home state. Our stats show that our average participant will raise approximately $250. So, with the fundraising goal at $9,700 (the average cost of granting a wish for Make-A-Wish Texas Gulf Coast and Louisiana), we would need about 39 kids to participate. We knew this would be pretty easy, because recruiting kids to help other kids had NEVER been an issue. (But, God would soon humble us in our thinking… and blow us away with His generosity and favor, probably because He didn’t want us to get discouraged.)

Our first official stop was at a church in Austin, but not before having one of our “unofficial” stops to talk about Jesus, church and all things controversial. It just so happens that one of Sydney’s friends lives outside of Austin. They met on our family missions trip to the Bahamas a few years ago and have stayed in contact through the years. We didn’t know much about her family except that they voted for President Trump. And I was really excited to dig into some of our questions.

We happened to be staying at another Harvest Host that evening as well, an organic orchard outside of Austin. Jamie needed to have the RV there before it closed, so he and the dog headed in one direction while the kids and I headed in another. This meant I would be flying solo on this conversation.

We see so many divisions in the church… especially along political lines. We also see a lot people who are quick to make assumptions about others without taking into consideration someone’s perspective, or life experiences. We wanted to sit down and talk to people about their faith and how they choose to make choices in the political arena based on that faith. (Is it possible for a Republican AND a Democrat to profess a belief is Jesus Christ? It seems like a rhetorical question… but my Facebook feed would beg to differ.) Then based on those answers we want to know if it’s even possible to find, or fight for, unity in the church given our current political climate? It sounds like a weird thing to do, right? Yeah… we know. But the opportunities keep coming up so we keep pushing in. And I’m SO glad we have.

But, here’s the thing… we never even got to the conversation. Because a completely different conversation took center stage:

Why aren’t we a Christian organization?

Sydney’s friend had wanted her youth group to participate in our Fundraising Initiative to build a daycare in Haiti with Hands & Feet Project in 2017. She and her family even approached their pastor to see if their church could get involved. But there was one problem: Be The Change Youth Initiative didn’t have a statement of faith. Therefore, in their eyes, they couldn’t participate because we weren’t a Christian organization.

I tried to explain our position… we believe only people can be Christians, not organizations. I also explained how some of the families who participate in Be The Change Youth Initiative aren’t Christians and how many of them would have never considered participating if they thought it meant supporting, or promoting, religious beliefs they don’t adhere to.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about denying our faith. It doesn’t take long for anyone to know what we’re about. Whether you come to a show, read through a fundraising packet, or just spend time talking to Sydney… Jesus is there. Usually front and center. It’s in our DNA to talk about our faith. And maybe this is why her friend’s dad felt the need to push back and tell us that we needed to reconsider our position on having a statement of faith for our organization because, in his words, “We can’t be afraid of the gospel. You have to boldly proclaim it.”

And to be fair, I absolutely agree with the substance of his comments, but not the personal directive. Sharing the gospel isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” script. I can meet a complete stranger at the store and then 15 minutes later I’m buying them coffee and talking about Jesus. Sydney is COMPLETELY different and Be The Change is her organization. She’s walking it out in her time. In her way. Based on her convictions. Are there things we could do to garner mass appeal? OF COURSE! Suggestions have been made by so many professionals on how to “grow” this ministry. And 100% of the time, Sydney’s answer has been the same, “That doesn’t sound like something Jesus would do.”

At the beginning of this journey, she would then look at me or Jamie for approval, wanting to make sure it was okay to push back. But, she doesn’t do that anymore.

But, it was more than that.

We’ve been told on more than one occasion that churches won’t even consider partnering with us if we don’t have a statement of faith. Without even talking to us to hear our reasoning. The Lord was starting to show us something in this conversation. People have VERY strong opinions when it comes to stuff like this. Sometimes, based on their opinions, they will draw definitive lines in the sand… about who you are, what you believe, and, in some cases, if you’re a “true” Christian. (That’s not the case with this family at all! But, we have met some of those people on the road.)

Our convictions could be different for a multitude of reasons. It could be due to a lack of wisdom and discernment. It could be due to unrepented sin in our lives. Or, it could be because our calling is different… who we’re called to serve and share our testimony with is different. Everyone has a opinion. Just jump on social media and see all the posts about Kanye West… which is another great example. (And for the record, there are FAR TOO MANY other important things to spend our time on! FAR TOO MANY!)

About 15 minutes before we were about to leave, Jamie called to tell me that the kids and I needed to spend the night because a bad storm was headed our way… complete with tornado warnings. (A tornado actually landed about 15 minutes from us.) So, instead of leaving, we would be staying the night… with no clothes, no toothbrush, no Jamie…. with people we just met. (This was also a first for us… and would NOT be the last!) And I’m really thankful because we spent the next couple of hours eating Blue Bell ice cream and playing games. Any tension I felt in the earlier conversation disappeared. I was able to see past any perceived criticism. I’m not sure that would have happened had we not spent the night, had we not spent hours together enjoying one another’s company. Something I would tuck away for later. Unity is easier to achieve when there’s some degree of relationship, no matter how minuscule the degree.

Jamie and his new friend.

The next morning we met Jamie at the orchard to see how he weathered the storm… and he was just fine. He made a new friend. One that kills rattlesnakes with a shot gun… and has the pictures to prove it. They spent the evening sharing a beer and talking about the nomad life. This really is such a surreal existence. We’ve made the most unlikely friends in the most unlikely places.

Holy Spirit Generosity

God’s provision for our family has been humbling, to say the least. Especially when it comes to financial provision. Thanks to a fundraising event a few days before we began this adventure, we started the trip with $3,000. But, traveling in a gas-guzzling RV with four kids that seem to be constantly eating, we knew money was going to be an issue. But, we also didn’t feel comfortable asking people to financially support us. While we are a registered non-profit organization, we aren’t a 501(c)3. This is intentional. If people want to support us, it has to be from the goodness of their hearts, or a prompting from the Holy Spirit, not because they get a tax write-off. (Yes, we are aware of the benefits of being a 501(c)3. But, we strongly feel like this is the road we’re supposed to walk. And, we know that it doesn’t make sense from a “business perspective” but, this isn’t a business. It’s our lives… and the Lord has taught us SO MUCH through this one decision alone.) Yet, despite our reluctance to ask for help, the Lord still provided it. And I want to share this story with you. 

It all started the end of April, as I was sitting in a RV park in Louisiana. I received a FaceTime call from a young woman in Rhode Island who had been in my discipleship group years ago. She began telling me how the Lord put it on her heart, and her husband’s, to financially support, on a regular basis, what our family was being called to. So many questions were filling my head: How did they know we needed money? Why would they want to support us long-term? Do they even know what they’re supporting?!?! I mean, at this point WE had a hard time articulating a coherent mission statement or objectives. 

I will always remember her response to my awkward questions of “Why?” (I mean, seriously, just say thank you, Deirdre!)  She talked about watching our family walking out this crazy faith journey and how they wanted to support it, how they wanted to support us… because we had always been there for them. And just like that, God began sowing into this ministry. (And through this family’s generosity, they have single-handedly helped us create a suicide prevention PSA, purchase fundraising shirts for TWLOHA and shirts to help support our ministry.) Honestly, they have made it possible for us to continue helping others while on the road, which is the heart behind Be The Change Youth Initiative. 

Jamie and I were both floored by how the Lord was using this couple to speak to us. We had fought asking people for financial support, but He was bringing it to us anyway. And then, two weeks later, I received another call from young lady that was also in my discipleship group… telling me the Lord had put it on her heart to also financially support our family. I remember this call like it was yesterday. We were packing up the RV, heading out to Austin for a show. I had to walk out of the vehicle because I didn’t want the kids to see me cry. Why were people doing this? I was, yet again, humbled by the generosity of others, but also ashamed by my unwillingness to ask for help. God had put it on our hearts to ask for financial support, but we just couldn’t do it. Yes, there was definitely pride involved. But it was more than that. We didn’t have a business plan. We didn’t have ANY plan. (And the laughable thing is that we still don’t!) We were CONSTANTLY told that we needed these things to legitimize this ministry. And, on paper, we totally understood that argument… and our “old” selves would have probably added our voices to that worldly-thinking choir. But, here’s the truth: We didn’t see that example set in scripture, so we weren’t going to follow it. 

A few weeks after this, our family made the decision to stay on the road for the remainder of 2019, followed by the decision to return home to Maine to regroup… and fundraise. Jamie didn’t want to go back north. We were in Georgia by this point and were headed to the Midwest. Going back to Maine would cost us about $1000 and then another $1000 to get to the Midwest from New England. So, we made the goal of raising $3,000 during our time in Maine and came up with a plan. We would ask our church for 5 minutes to share about our ministry with the congregation, asking them to prayerfully consider supporting our family and then we would meet with five families (outside of our church) to see if they would consider supporting us for the remainder of the year. 

It was a good, reasonable plan and we walked it out pretty well… at first. I had the opportunity to share with our church family, specifically how the Lord had opened up this huge door for our kids to speak to their peers about the importance of mental health and suicide prevention. After church, our youth pastor gave us a check for almost $1,200, which was taken in from the offering that morning… and was WAY more than we were even hoping for. We were off to a great start, but as the week went on and we began meeting with families, something began to change. For one reason or another, every time we sat down for a one-on-one conversation with a family, either Jamie or I would be overcome with this feeling that we weren’t supposed to ask. When it came to the fifth and final meeting, it was actually quite comical. Jamie was the one to make the call that night and he pulled the plug only seconds before. I remember pulling him aside and saying, “You know this is our last meeting, right?” 

He acknowledged it and then said he was okay with not raising the $3,000. Achieving our arbitrary goal wasn’t worth the uneasiness he was feeling… and I was feeling it to. Several people have asked us to articulate the uneasiness and I’m not quite sure I can. But, I will say this: Standing before a group of people, testifying to the work the Lord is doing, and then asking them to prayerfully consider partnering with you is different from sitting across the table from someone and asking them the same question. With the former, there’s no pressure. If people choose to give, chances are they’re being obedient to the Holy Spirit. With the latter, the same could be true, but there’s more pressure, intentional or not, for people to respond to the personal appeal. And, PLEASE, hear me out… I’ve nothing against the personal ask. But, the Lord was teaching us to sit and wait on Him. 

And we weren’t expecting what came next. 

A few hours after that final meeting that didn’t really happen, Jamie and I went to the church to start packing up the RV for the second leg of our trip. While there, our youth pastor comes over and hands us another check. After hearing our story the following week, people brought in donations to help our family continue on in our journey. They gave us $1,700! All we could do is laugh. In our obedience of NOT asking, He provided. And to make this story all the better, that night we received a text from one of the families we met with… but didn’t ask for financial support. The text said the Lord had put it on their heart to give our family $150 a month for the rest of the year. A few weeks later, that last family we were supposed to ask… they emailed us to let us know they were giving us $500 a month until the end of the year! 

We’ve never asked for support the way people told us too. But, He was still faithful. His people have been faithful. These stories only scratch the surface. In the months to follow, I would get sick, and His people would step up to provide for our family. I need surgery in a couple of weeks, which means a prolonged stay in the great (and expensive) state of California… and His people are providing for our family. The future isn’t really clear for us right now. But it is for Him and we trust Him. Now more than ever… because He has shown His provision for us in ways that are inexplicable. 

Our family is forever changed because we learned how to wait on the Lord. There’s so much we can manufacture on our own and then give praise to the Lord for our success. I think back to a friend of mine who shared the story of missionaries visiting from China. They visited some of the biggest and “best” churches in New England. When asked what they thought about the churches here in the United States, they looked at each other and coyly snickered before one of them replied, “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish without the power of the Holy Spirit.” 

Whether we knew it or not, that was our life before this trip. 

That is no longer our life. 

Starting to Dig a Little Deeper

I talk about my Noonday Collection sisterhood a lot… and for good reason. These women pretty much funded half of Sydney’s Kickstarter campaign for her first EP two years ago and they’re quite literally the main reasons we’ve been able to stay on the road for this long. During our devotional time the other morning, Jamie said, “Your Noonday friends have truly been our church.” It’s a beautiful reflection of what this community has been for our family. Most of the homes and churches we’ve been invited to on the road have been through my connections with women I’ve either traveled with to Peru or Uganda, but some of these connections have been strictly through Facebook friendships. That’s the case with my friend Amy.

When I mentioned our family would be traveling through the great state of Mississippi, Amy reached out and offered us a place to stay. It really does go to show you how much the Lord was stretching us. The thought of spending the night at someone’s house we didn’t actually know was NOT something Jamie would have done before this trip. Never. But, the Lord was stripping away a lot of pretenses and pride. We were also longing for a real shower… one where you didn’t need flip-flops when you got in.

One of the things I love about the Stackler family is how genuine they are. From the moment we pulled in and their kids ran out to greet us, we knew they were “our people.” Our prayer from the very beginning was for the Lord to connect us with like-minded people and the Stackler’s have been one of the many families He would connect us with as He began weaving this beautiful tapestry.

And here’s something you should know when it comes to being “like-minded.” It doesn’t mean we agree on everything, or even anything. For our family, like-minded means we understand the need to push into our differences with respect and an honest desire to draw closer to Jesus as we seek out unity, wherever we can find it. We believe in civil discourse (and civil disobedience) and we love a spirited debate, as long as it’s based in truth. But, not everyone is interested in those things. Some people just want to fight and some people, no matter what facts you bring to the table, will always insist they are right. Humility isn’t really in their vocabulary. We wouldn’t consider those people to be like-minded.

But, we still try to love them… as difficult as that might be.

Our visit with the Stackler family happened to fall on a Sunday, which meant we joined them for church. It was our first Presbyterian church (Redeemer Church) and we loved it. The community they have at this church is amazing… and, honestly, I’m not sure too many others have compared over the past six months. After first service, we went to a class on cultivating intentional community. Jamie and I were jumping in at the tail end, but given where we were as a family and how the Lord was putting this idea of exploring genuine, Acts church community… maybe it was the Lord’s way of confirming we were on the right path, with the right people.

Notes from our class during the second service.

After church, the Stackler’s took us out to lunch. One of the other areas the Lord has REALLY stretched us: accepting generosity. I hate to admit this. Seriously. But, it’s true and it’s totally, 100% pride…. which makes it all the more GROSS. There was a season in our life where we could barely make ends meet. We had to choose between paying for groceries and for oil during the winter and people in our church community would step in to help. Their generosity forever changed us.

Years later, Jamie would get his “dream job” as a prosecutor with the Department of Justice. (It was really a nightmare, but that’s a different story for a different time.) And with that dream job came a paycheck that would allow us to give to others in a way we always longed for. But, now there was no job. There was no paycheck. There still isn’t… almost seven months in. We’re living off of our savings. (Dave Ramsey would most definitely not approve… and, for that reason alone, I’m okay with doing it.) But, we’re also receiving financial support from others. (This will be the topic for the next post… and it’s a good one!) Sometimes it’s still hard to accept the generosity of others… ESPECIALLY radical generosity, which we have been so humbled to receive… but gratitude wins out every single time.

After lunch, the Stackler’s invited us to their small group. This truly was a turning point for us. I’m not sure we knew it at the time though. Over the next six months, what was about to take place in this small group would be replicated in homes across the country…. literally. We’re at 38 states and counting. We would talk about real problems facing our country, facing the church in America. We talk about abortion, racial equality, gender equality, politics… that’s always a fun one… along with gun laws and immigration.

The premise is always the same: Can we create a place for healthy dialogue that allows us to push into scripture, and our relationships with one another, for the purpose of creating a witness to the world that underscores our unity, despite our differences.

But, don’t misunderstand me… there’s also a secondary (and tertiary) purpose. Can we look at these issue facing our country and filter our positions and opinions through the Word of God? Are we looking for our government to step in when the church should be stepping up? (I bet you can imagine how “spirited” these conversations can get when it comes to the topics of abortion, gay marriage, and gun reform!)

Thankfully, the Lord was so gracious with us our first time out. This small group was ready to dive in and so humble in their pursuit of grace-filled conversation. We talked about the very real possibility that many professed Christians in the American church might not actually be saved. Many have literally been told they should choose Jesus, even if they aren’t 100% sure, just to hedge their bets. (I’ve heard a pastor even call it fire insurance. I mean, if hell IS real, you don’t want to spend eternity there, right?!?)

The Stackler’s small group.

As one of the men in their small group noted, “We’ve made the promises of Christ so irresistible, without underscoring the cost of actually following Jesus.”

He went on to say, “Our belief in him is only enough if that belief produces fruit.” (I think James would agree with that assessment.)

These two statements would become the catalyst for so much over the next few months. Our family would be forced to weigh that cost of following Jesus twice: once with a complete change in direction for the ministry of Be The Change Youth Initiative and then again with an unexpected health scare.

Both have had a profound impact on our lives.

My First Breakdown… at a Visitor Center in Mississippi

Jamie’s pointing to the words on his shirt: Save Me (Accurate description of the moment.)

Some people think our family is on an extended vacation. We most definitely are not. If we were, we’d be in Europe or Hawaii, not in a RV. We wouldn’t be taking showers in state parks with spiders the size of golf balls, praying the water is warm enough to stand under it for more than five seconds at a time. We wouldn’t be buying Ramen Noodles by the caseloads to help us save money, or spending hours at a laundromat every week. We most definitely wouldn’t have brought our dog.

Sydney said it so well the other day in a text message to one of our ministry partners: It’s like the Lord is just stripping everything away and it’s a pretty painful process. But, I would take it a step farther. I think He’s stripping everything away until there’s nothing left but a choice: Do you want to follow me?

I’ve said it hundreds of times on the road and probably a few dozen times already in this blog. We had NO CLUE what it meant to follow Jesus until starting this adventure. And the more I push into scripture and where the Lord has our family right now, the more convinced I am in one thing: The consumer driver church model, no matter how well meaning, has contributed, if not caused, the precipitous decline of TRUE Christianity in America. And I’ll even take it a step past that: Because we have turned Christianity into a buffet, allowing consumers to pick and choose theology based on preference and convenience; we have also helped create a political culture that feeds into our narcissism and capitalizes on our complacency. We have created a false manifestation of faith that relies on politicians and policies to change our country through laws, instead of the hands and feet of humble servants being used by God to change the hearts of man.

I’m getting ahead of myself with all of this, but I think it’s important for you to have a bigger picture of where we are now to truly appreciate the journey that led us here. Because what we have seen and experienced the past six months has forever changed how we see everything in life now. So, what does that mean for us: There’s no going back to the life we had before. And that’s a scary thought.

Our next stop after Tennessee was Mississippi. It also marked the first time on our trip where we woke up having absolutely no clue where we’d be spending the night. (It was the first time, but not the last. Not by a long shot.) Before we started this adventure, Jamie agreed to be in charge of all things dealing with travel. He has driven the RV this entire trip, plans the route and makes the reservations. But, he didn’t have many options for this night and for some ridiculous reason he assumed I would.

Assumptions have been our Achilles Heel.

Needless to say, I had nothing to offer Campsites, RV parks and boon-docking weren’t even on my radar. I was still trying to process all the things the Lord was showing me… on top of processing a crazy week in Nashviile with Sydney, following up with churches and contacts for upcoming shows and meetings, trying to figure out how we were going to raise $10,000 for Make-A-Wish, and doing everything possible to keep my family from staging a mutiny. We had been living in a 33ft box for almost a month. Just the psychological journey was enough to make us question every decision we had made up to this point.

I remember pulling into the welcome center right as we crossed over the Mississippi state line. I remember jumping out of the car right as Jamie pulled out the map to discuss our sleeping options for the night. I remember shouts of, “Mom, Mom… Maaaaaaaaaaaam” coming from the back of the RV as I closed the door. And I remember speed walking as fast as I could away from my family. Far, far, away.

This was my first emotional breakdown. And, you better believe it wasn’t my last.

I kept it together as I walked into the building. Immediately, I hear, “Hello, welcome to Mississippi. Help yourself to some coffee and please sign our registry book.” She had me at coffee, which happened to be the worst coffee I have ever had in my entire life. But, in that moment, it was the best coffee in the world because it was keeping me from thinking about our current predicament: having nowhere to sleep for the night. I think about Matthew 8:18-22.

We think a lot about Matthew 8 these days.

By this point, my kids had made their way into the welcome center, and their voices triggered something in me. (Honestly, I just needed to escape the noise and chaos. I love my kids, but sometimes you need a break. And guess what, you don’t get those in a RV.

The welcome center attendant made her way over to talk to me and by the time she was close enough to touch, I completely lost it. Tears were streaming down my face and she made the mistake of asking if I was okay. What followed was a brief synopsis of the past four months and ended with, “now we’re in Mississippi and have no clue where we’re going or what we’re doing.”

My new friend in Mississippi.

And I remember what happened next like it was yesterday. This sweet lady walked around the counter, without saying a word, and gave me the biggest hug I’d had in a very long time. I have no idea how long the hug lasted, but it was long enough for me to stop crying and catch my breath. When the hug was over, she looked me in the eyes and said, “The Lord sees what you’re doing and He’s in it. So there’s no need to fear.”

And just like that, everything seemed okay again. Not great… because our current predicament of needing a place to sleep hadn’t changed, but there was peace. And over the next six months, this would be a reoccurring pattern. Someone in our family would hit a breaking point. (The only one who hasn’t is Holden, and that’s because he’s Holden. That kid just rolls with everything.) Yet, every single time, the Lord would bring someone into our lives that would give us the encouragement we needed to continue on. Sometimes it would be a text, or a donation when we needed it the most. Sometimes it was a teen telling us how important this ministry is.

The Lord has always used His people to encourage us on this journey. One of the greatest lessons learned on this trip: be a person of encouragement. There’s a real lack of genuine encouragement in our society. And, ironically, it’s one of the characteristics most associated with the Christian life. Yet, it seems like we’re known more for our condemnation than anything else. Something we would see and experience first hand in the weeks and months to come.

Condemnation is in direct opposition of encouragement. It’s in direct opposition of Christ.

A New Ministry We NEVER Planned On

Before we started this adventure, we did a lot of research on ways we could save money on the road. Remember, we knew NOTHING about RV life and had only been “camping” twice before. Both times consisted of pitching a tent in our front yard. Both times ended in almost all of us making our way back to the house before the sun came up. So, we decided to buy a membership to Thousand Trails (more on that later) and to Harvest Host… something that, as the months would go on, proved to be a good financial investment for our family and for the kingdom.

I’ve talked about Harvest Host in an earlier post, but for those who missed it, the concept is quite genius. Your membership, which costs around $75, grants you access to businesses all across the country that allow you to park your RV in their parking lot, if you agree to support their business. The downside: You’re boon-docking, which means no electrical, water, or sewer hookups. The upside: the OVERWHELMING majority of these businesses are breweries and wineries. This means Jamie and I can still have “date night” and not feel guilty about the money we’re spending on ourselves.

In our life before RVing, we had the luxury of “date night” every week, sometimes twice a week. We didn’t give a second thought when it came to going out to a nice restaurant. Portland, Maine is known for them… and spending $200 on drinks, a meal and a tip (which sometimes was more than the meal!) But, those days are LONG gone. Even when this trip is done and we’re back to the “real” world… those days are probably LONG gone.

Our second Harvest Host destination was Crown Winery. Pulling off the highway, it’s hard to believe a winery would be located in what seems like the middle of nowhere. But, soon we found ourselves in a place that reminds me of Tuscany: a large stucco house, the rolling hills, and the endless grapes. They even have a fountain in front of the building. We happened to be there on a night when the winery was hosting a sorority function, which also meant live music to make the experience complete.

Once we got the kids settled in, Jamie and I headed over to the main building for a wine tasting. For a small fee you could sample a selection of wines made on site. Essentially, you learn about the grapes and the processes they use to make the wine as you enjoy the finished product. By the end of the night, we spent about $60 (because we bought two bottles of wine for the road), which was actually less than our average nightly lodging expenses thus far on the trip. (Remember, we were novices. It took us a while to learn the tricks of the trade!) Yet, despite the thrill of spending less to stay the night at a winery AND having a few hours away from the kids, Harvest Host brought something better into our lives: People. We wanted this trip to have eternal purpose, and while I could argue that Be The Change Youth Initiative was providing that as well…. It’s been our conversations over a glass of wine, or a bottle of beer, that have shaped this journey and given us direction. They have given us new purpose. In these conversations, with complete strangers, we have talked about brokenness and heartache, as well as hope and restoration. We have met so many people who possess a belief in God, but want absolutely nothing to do with the church. Hypocrisy is a word we’ve heard a lot. I’ve also shared the gospel more in the last six months than I have in my entire life. And I’ve talked more about my love for the church and the importance (and purpose) of the church… the REAL church.

At this winery, we met Savannah. She’s a single mom of the MOST adorable little girl I have ever seen. Our conversation with Savannah was so good that she forgot to pick up her sweet girl from the sitter, which thankfully was a friend. Savannah talked openly about her association with church. She didn’t have anything against it. But she didn’t understand the judgment and condemnation that flowed so easily from people who called themselves Christians. She talked about how people would act one way in front of others, but behind closed doors they were pretty quick to tell you what they really thought. As she poured the next wine tasting in my glass, she said, “They know that’s gossip, right?”

When Savannah ran out to pick up her daughter, one of the owners, Dawn, came over to fill in for her. In what would become another “theme” of our trip, I made my first Noonday Collection Connection. Noonday Collection is a company I used to work for. It’s a fair trade business that quite literally changed my life. The women I met during my time with Noonday Collection have made the past two years possible. Dawn used to be an Ambassador. (I asked because she was wearing the Crescent Moon Earrings.) The Noonday Sisterhood is small, so when you find a fellow Ambassador, past or present, you immediately find a sister. I think it’s because you know they are a kindred spirit. Noonday Ambassadors are fierce advocates for other women. They fight for impoverished women (and men) to have a better life. Honestly, most of the women I know fight for everyone to have a better life and they have been our church over the past 6 months.

I quickly found out that Dawn was Catholic. She talked about her love for her church, specifically the liturgy. This was also a common theme we would hear on the road. Most people couldn’t tell you much about the hundreds of Catechisms, but they could go on and on about their love for the holiness of their rites and rituals. Dawn talked about raising her kids in the church and the importance of them having some understanding of faith because it creates purpose and meaning, a sense of right and wrong. Something I agree with, but at the same time, there was something missing in her assessment.

As the months went on, I’ve gone back to this a lot. Across the theological spectrum, there’s this belief, sometimes overtly stated, but more often, loosely implied, that Christianity, at the end of the day, is about teaching our kids morals (i.e., how to be a good person)… in the name of Jesus, of course. It seems harsh to say, but when I look at my own family, we’re also guilty of this. Comfort is hardly sacrificed. We give out of our abundance. We want our kids to be good people. But we also want them to have “good lives”… whatever that even means.

Recently, things started coming into focus. When I go into a Catholic Church, I’m reminded so much of the Old Testament. It could be the ornate buildings where everything seems to be adorned in gold leaf. Or maybe it’s the emphasis on ceremony and all the incense… I’m not a fan of incense. Or maybe it’s the works mentality… in order to receive the merits/deposits of God’s grace, you have do certain things. It makes me thing of the Tabernacle and the temple. It makes me think about all the laws and how the Israelites must have been consumed with either keeping themselves from becoming unclean or doing the work necessary to make themselves clean.

Christianity is about Holy Spirit transformation, not morality driven behavior modification. (But, the Catholic faith is by no means the only offender. My Southern Baptist roots were steeped in it!) I feel like God just opened up a 5000 piece puzzle and dumped all the pieces in front of me. Right now, we were just turning over the pieces.

Leaving Nashville and the Lessons We’ve Learned

Nashville is a weird place. I feel like most people either love it or hate it. But, our family doesn’t fall into either camp. There are things we love about it: our all-time favorite church is there, as well as Jeni’s Ice Cream and The Frothy Monkey (my favorite coffee shop), not to mention some of our dearest friends. But it’s also a big city. You can get lost in a big city… literally and figuratively.

Part of the reason we were in Nashville this week was for Sydney to meet with people in the Christian music world: writers, producers, and even people at record labels. This part of the story is her’s to tell, so I won’t share much. But, I will say this. Sydney has never aspired to be involved with CCM (Contemporary Christian Music). She can tell you stories about performing at shows and festivals where artists act one way on stage and the total opposite off stage. (Thankfully, all of the people the Lord has surrounded her with in Nashville are the real deal. It has been our fervent prayer and the Lord has provided that hedge of protection.) She can also tell you about the time she met with a music executive who listened to a song for Be The Change Collective. After listening to the song he told her, “That song will never get played on Christian radio.”

Her instantaneous reply: I don’t want it on Christian radio.

This is Sydney. She can come across as soft-spoken, or unsure of herself. But she really isn’t. Sydney listens before she speaks. She sizes up the room and can do it pretty fast… and she’s usually spot on. She is FIERCELY loyal and has no interest in wasting time, or energy, on disingenuous people. She will never tell you what you want to hear, just to get what she wants from a situation, or person. (And if you ever do it to her… yeah, good luck. She’ll forgive you, but winning back her trust will be pretty close to impossible. I’m pretty sure she gets that from Jamie.)

Just kidding… she DEFINITELY gets that from me.

Another thing about Sydney, she doesn’t really have a filter and she’s pretty direct. (It’s a good thing she has a genuinely good natured disposition.) Before we left on this adventure, she was interviewed by a radio station in London and the DJ asked: Why do you want to write music for the church?

Her response: Oh, I don’t want to write music for the church. I want to write music for people who’ve been hurt by the church.

Awkward silence followed. For a long time.

The DJ was waiting for her to say more. But Sydney didn’t. There was nothing more to say. Sydney LOVES the awkward silence and will sit in it FOREVER. It’s like a psychological game of Chicken. Eventually the DJ gave in saying, “Okay then, I guess we’ll go on to the next question.”

We left this visit to Nashville with a lot of questions. It’s a weird place to be as a parent when your child tells you they don’t feel called to go to college (knowing it’s not an excuse but a REAL burden placed on their heart) and then watching them NOT pursue opportunities that SEEM to make sense. But, I guess that’s the point… and it’s something the Lord has shown us over and over again on the road: What makes sense by the world’s standards isn’t necessarily the Lord’s plan. In fact, at this point, I think we would fiercely advocate for NOT doing something that makes sense to the world… as long as it doesn’t go against scripture.

Sydney is called to advocacy. Her heart beats for the least of these and she questions EVERYTHING antithetical to that position. Especially if the message is coming from inside the church. CCM isn’t necessarily known for that. (We found this article VERY interesting and a great conversation piece. We’ve DEFINITELY had some great conversations from it.) Sydney has been told on more than one occasion that speaking out on “controversial” subjects isn’t smart because it will cost her “followers.” I bet you can imagine her response to that one. But here’s the thing… we can’t really blame the Christian Music world for this. Like so many other things in our culture, in our Christian culture, CCM is consumer driven. If there’s a problem, then the first place we have to look is at ourselves.

And within the next few weeks we were going to take a very painful look in the mirror.

A Child-like Faith and my Resistance to the Catholic Church

Here’s my confession: I have some issues with the Catholic Church. It could be due to my sister-in-law’s long held insistence that the Catholic Church is the only “true” church and how she persistently prays our family will convert to Catholicism. It’s an ongoing joke at this point and I don’t hold it against her… anymore.

But, for the record, her prayers are in vain because we won’t be converting.  

I also take issue with how the Catholic Church holds their traditions and the Magisterium on the same level as Scripture. (I’m a sola scriptura girl.) Frankly, I just don’t see a lot of these additional rules and ordinances supported by scripture. In some cases, they are in direct opposition to scripture. (Catechism 841 is an example of that. Sorry… I’m not going to tell you what it is. But, you should look it up for yourself. It’s fascinating. Truly.) However, helping Sydney with her religion homework in second grade (she went to a private Catholic school for three years) was really what pushed me over the edge.

They were studying the 10 Commandments and the curriculum being used completely ignored 90% of the Second Commandment. There was no mention of idols, or graven images. When I brought this to her teacher’s attention the following day, the explanation I received centered around not wanting to confuse the students about praying to the statues of saints. My amused (and probably sarcastic) response: So, because you don’t want students to see those little statues as idols, you decide to change the Second Commandment?

Needless to say, Sydney’s days in Catholic school came to an end soon after that.

But, in that moment, the Lord also opened my eyes to a deeper truth. Sydney would have gone to school that day and raised her hand during religion class to ask why the 10 Commandments in her homework didn’t match her Bible. (That’s what she did to me the previous night.) The Lord was showing me the difference between childlike faith and childish faith. Children ask questions, endless questions. So, when Jesus tells the disciples to be like children (Matthew 18:2-4; Luke 18:16-17), maybe this is what he was underscoring. Childish faith, on the other hand, is immature, uninquisitive… dare I say gullible and easily swayed.

It was about this time that I started to push back against what I was seeing in the church, specifically the things that didn’t line up with scripture. Definitely not a coincidence.

But, despite my resistance to Catholic teachings, there has always been this nagging question? Was there a way to find some semblance of unity with those in the Catholic Church? It doesn’t seem like a difficult question, but, I promise…. people have some pretty strong feelings on it. On both sides of the aisle. However, it really wasn’t something I thought much about until a couple of years ago.

On our first trip to Haiti in 2017 (the one where Be The Change Youth Initiative was born), we met PJ Anderson, a Catholic worship artist from Nashville, TN. Over the last couple of years, PJ and his family have become dear friends. They’ve opened up their home to us when we’re working in Nashville. They’ve gotten Sydney where she needs to be when traveling on her own. But, most importantly, they have become like family.

Our travel schedule had us in Nashville for Easter. We were planning to spend the morning at our favorite church (Strong Tower Bible Church) and then spending the remainder of the day back at the RV. But, PJ invited us to spend the day with them and some of their friends, which led to one of the most comical moments on the trip thus far. 

PJ lives in a quiet, unassuming neighborhood, but you never know who you’ll run into at the local sandwich shop, or even at his house, because it’s a community filled with Christian artists. Our very first visit had us buying sandwiches at the neighborhood sandwich shop with Chris Llewellyn, the lead singer of Rend Collective. And the night before Sydney wrote her first song with professional songwriters in Nashville, we had dinner at PJ’s with Mike Donehey, lead singer of Tenth Avenue North, and his family. (Which was one of my favorite nights ever because he gave her the BEST dating advice we could have EVER asked for… and she has NEVER expressed any interest in dating since that night!)

On Easter, some of the friends PJ happened to be entertaining we’re Matt Mahar and his family. It was a complete shock to walk into the kitchen and see them sitting there. Well, it was a complete shock to everyone except Jamie… because he had no clue who Matt Mahar was! My kids were trying SO HARD to not freak out in that moment and they were doing a really great job until Jamie extended his hand to say, “I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”

For real. I’m pretty sure they DIED inside. But, it was so great. It’s one of the many reasons why I love Jamie so much. His cultural ignorance makes him unassuming… and keeps me entertained. For the record, Matt Mahar is the real deal. Super humble and really funny. He also spent some time helping Sydney do some research for an upcoming performance. When people of that caliber actually see your kids and take the time to help them, it leaves an indelible mark on both you and your children.

Shortly before the Mahars’ left, another young couple came over… Sarah and Dom. (And if you haven’t heard of Sarah Kroger, you should check her out!) This couple is so hilarious and full of life. You really can’t help but smile, and laugh, when you’re around them. We spent the rest of the evening talking about life, faith, and unity in the Church. All of these guys are a part of the Catholic Church.

We talked about the importance of the Holy Spirit: the power of the Spirit, how to walk in the Spirit, how to live in the Spirit. These weren’t topics of conversation in the Catholic circles I knew. Shortly after our time together, Dom reached out and asked if I would write a devotional for a project he was working on.

My response: You know I’m not Catholic, right?

His response: So?

That following week, PJ had his monthly worship night, The Summit. Every month, people come together to worship, hear a short message and then head over to the church across the street for mass. PJ asked Sydney to help with worship and then give the message for the April gathering. The experience was beautiful because she was surrounded by some of the most talented worship leaders in the Christian community, Catholic or otherwise.

This was another step. The Lord started a work in Haiti, almost two years to the date, and was continuing the work now. Looking back, it’s almost like this beautiful tapestry, with so many threads representing all the people He has brought into our lives. (Right now, as I write this, our family is in California…. six months removed from this story. The added threads to this tapestry are many. The colors vibrant. The work being created by the Lord is beautiful.)

I don’t agree with a lot of the doctrine coming out of the Catholic Church, but I also don’t agree with everything coming from ANY Protestant denomination. (I’m also completely ignorant when it comes to so many theological nuances.) Doctrine IS important because TRUTH is important. But, Jesus says there are two laws: Love God and love others as yourself.

What happens if we FOCUS on those things, not forsaking truth… but making sure those two laws remain the priority when seeking truth? What if we can humbly seek truth together, sharpening our theological swords in a healthy way, instead of dulling our swords in the echo chambers of our insular communities of faith? What if we stopped trying to prove we are always right and humbly concede the possibility we might be wrong? Because here’s the truth: We all have something wrong and our arrogance (and ignorance) is prohibiting our spiritual growth, as well as our witness to the world.

Pushed Over the Edge

Sydney and I started our trips to Nashville almost two years ago, traveling back and forth every two to three months for her to either record or write. During that time, one of the young women from my disciple group reached out to see if I could connect with a friend of hers who was moving to the area. What unfolded was a relationship I hold so dear to my heart for many reasons. To know Lindsey is to know unending vulnerability and complete openness to whatever circumstances the Lord allows her way. Good or bad. 

On our last trip to Nashville this past February, Lindsey took some photographs for us while Sydney was recording at the studio. (Lindsey’s also an extremely talented photographer.) I still needed to pay her for those photos and was hoping to do it in person. Lindsey suggested meeting up for coffee and told me she’d be bringing someone along with her. I knew she had been dating someone for a while and assumed he would be her plus one. But, I assumed wrong.

I was still recovering from the night before and had so many questions. I was tempted to ask Lindsey some of them because she had been attending The Belonging for some time. She asked how our meetings had gone so far, but the last thing I wanted to talk about was our conversations with music producers. I began sharing about the previous two nights, but kept getting distracted by Lindsey’s muffled giggles and the stares she and her friend kept giving one another. They either found my charismatic encounters far more humorous than I did, or there was some inside joke I wasn’t privy to. 

It was neither. I think they were trying to contain their amusement because they knew, given my encounters the previous two days, they were about to push me over the edge.

Or maybe the Lord was just preparing us for what He was about to do.

The story that unfolded over the next twenty minutes was impossible to digest. It began with a sermon Lindsey had heard at The Belonging that first weekend in April. It was about having faith the size of a mustard seed and not trusting God fully in your life. In that moment, Lindsey knew where she wasn’t trusting the Lord: in her relationships and her identity. She knew her pursuit of those things needed to be placed on the altar and she made the decision to do it. But, not too soon after that, as the worship music began to play, she felt the Lord speak into her ear. It was an audible voice. Her voice. In a quick aside she tells us that this has occurred ever since she received the baptism of the Holy Spirit about six months prior. 

TIME OUT: I’m not getting into the whole second baptism/baptism of the Holy Spirit controversy here. BUT, I will share my personal feelings on the matter. I don’t believe in a second baptism of the Holy Spirit. Well, not entirely. Here’s what I believe: We live in a Christian culture that is really great at manufacturing EVERYTHING…. Including the perfect setting for people to commit their lives to Jesus at the end of a service. We provide the mood music, the compelling promise of a better life and, in a lot of cases, an immense amount of guilt and/or pressure to not spend eternity in hell. And all we have to do is raise our hand, say a simple prayer and/or fill out a connect card so someone at the church can talk to you about baptism. I think a lot of us who grew up in church got baptized at a certain age because, well, that’s just what you did. I think a lot of us have also gone to church and wanted the things a pastor talks about and accept their invitation, even if the Holy Spirit never revealed himself to us. (This was my experience and, since being on the road, we’re learning that many others share in that experience.) My hypothesis: This second baptism of the Holy Spirit might actually be, for many of us, our first true revelation of God. That first baptism might have been more about the hope promised to us by a pastor with good intentions. I don’t claim to be right. But, this is how I reconcile what I see going on in the institution of church with what I see in scripture… and what so many of us experience.

Okay… back to the story. 

Lindsey said she heard the Lord say she was supposed to marry her friend, a thought that made her literally laugh out loud for two reasons. #1 She JUST put the whole relationship/identity debacle on the altar. #2 Her friend was gay. The idea was fantastical and she really didn’t give it much thought… at first. Another thing she didn’t give much thought to at first… where she was going for dinner. Her friend, who was with her at the service, suggested grabbing a bite to eat. Unable to make a decision, they decided to flip a coin: Heads meant going to a sports bar and Tails meant somewhere else. Secretly, Lindsey wanted the coin to land on Tails, so when it landed on Heads she suggested the best two out of three. When it landed on Heads a second time, she decided to suffer through the big screen TVs and endless surround sound yelling. (Yeah… this part of the story doesn’t make sense now, but it will.)

Now, this is where the story gets really weird. (Just kidding, it was already weird for me, but, to be fair, my threshold was practically non-existent at this point.) Lindsey’s friend jumped in to tell us about how he had been working in his garden a few days earlier when he was suddenly overcome with this feeling that he was supposed to get married to a woman. It was something he had been wrestling with and had even discussed with the one Christian he truly trusted — his grandmother. It didn’t make sense to him at all. He even pulled a Gideon and told God that if this thought was truly from Him, that he would find a ring in the flower garden. Well… there wasn’t a ring THAT day. But, there was when he picked back up with his gardening the following day. (As he continued telling the story, Lindsey pulled out this baby blue plastic ring that was most likely purchased for a quarter in a gumball machine. The band was wrapped in tape and you could still see the dirt wedged into the crevices.) He said that upon finding the ring he knew it was for Lindsey, but he didn’t know what to do with that information. 

This all happened before the church service. Before Lindsey’s revelation. 

As her friend was relaying this story to her at the sports bar, Lindsey wasn’t putting two and two together. That she was the woman he was suppose to marry. In that moment he asked God, “If you want me to ask Lindsey to marry me, make it clear at this very moment.” (And this is where the reluctant game of Heads and Tails comes into play.) Because at that exact moment, all of the TVs in the sports bar went black. 

Lindsey jumps back in and takes over the storytelling. 

She begins to tell us how Beyonce could be seen on the television screens singing Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It). On all of the screens. At the same time.  

At this point, I’m pretty sure my brain was incapable of retaining any more information. Nothing. I honestly don’t remember much after that. I do remember thinking how often I’ve heard stories like this: drastic conversions, callings. Lindsey, stirred by her emotions for Jesus, talked about a calling to live out biblical marriage. Not in a romantic, fairy tale, happily-ever-after way, but in a hard, sanctifying, God honoring way. She talked about living their lives in a way that glorifies the Lord’s redemption and underscores the hard work and selflessness required in marriage. I have heard stories, but I’ve never personally known anyone living it out. Honestly, I don’t even think I know anyone willing to CONSIDER living it out. And, honestly, there’s NO WAY in the world I could do what she was willing to do. I was dumbfounded. This was something I didn’t understand and I couldn’t explain. What, or more importantly Who, would compel someone to do something so insane? 

Sydney and I parted ways with Lindsey and her friend and started the one-and-a-half-hour drive back to the RV. Thankfully, Sydney slept the whole way back. She usually has a million questions, but there was absolutely no way I would be able to answer them. In fact, as soon as we got back to the RV, I went straight to bed. Jamie was still waiting to talk about that first night after the show. Lord, that seemed like months ago. He had no idea about our experience with the small group at The Belonging. He knew nothing about my meeting with Lindsey. 

I went to bed at 5:45pm. 

The next morning, I agreed to tell Jamie everything, but made him take me to Starbucks first. It wasn’t really in the budget, but I needed coffee. Lots of coffee. 

There’s more to this story, but I will share it as it occurs in the timeline. I was starting to see something. This life, it really isn’t about comfort. But, we have made it about comfort. As a Christian, it’s suppose to be about sacrifice. But, few of us are willing to live sacrificially. (And I’m not talking about sacrificing your church time to serve in children’s ministry. However, the truth is simple: We can’t even do that. Or, if we do, it’s usually joined with grumbling and a level of preparation similar to that of a kid cramming for a test the night before. ) God’s at work, in the most unlikely and unpredictable ways. And, no matter our circumstances, He never changes. He is the one constant. The only constant. What changes is us. In living sacrificially, we become more humble. More wise. More selfless. More like him. But, we have to walk away from the comfort… and for many of us, the institution of church has been our biggest obstacle in doing just that.

Pushing Into the Discomfort

Still reflecting on the previous night, our family was forced to put the group processing on hold. Jamie would be heading to Manchester, Tennessee with the youngest three, to stay at a RV park that wouldn’t completely bankrupt us. (Thanks to the generosity of those kind people the previous night, our family had enough money to get us through the next 10 days.) Sydney and I were headed to Nashville for the first of many meetings, including an invitation to a local small group at The Belonging. 

If you know anything about The Belonging, and anything about me, you might find the acceptance of that invitation a bit peculiar. For a lot of reasons, some of which I’ll get to down below. But, the invitation to this particular small group came from someone our family has come to adore, and trust, so we accepted the invitation. 

One of the reasons I have such a hard time with stuff like this is because it’s easy for me to make judgments of people based on the theology and adhered practices of their church. It’s been ingrained in me to believe that anything deviating from how I was raised is wrong. (I also want to be VERY clear: some theologies and practices ARE wrong and deviating from the truth will have HUGE consequences for both the false teachers and those placed under their care. But, in my opinion, not everything falls into that category… for instance, whether someone plays drums or an electric guitar. You might be willing to die on that hill, but I am not.) With this specific church, my wrestling went deeper than musical preference. Much deeper. But on salvific issues, we seemed to be on the same page.

Here’s what I can say about that night. The people were amazing. Period. They came from all walks of life. Some from affluence and some struggling to make ends meet. While many of the participants were probably in their mid-thirties, there were also college students and those entering into retirement. Different races, ages, economic demographics. It was beautiful. And they were welcoming. Many made an effort to make sure Sydney and I felt at home and included. A twinge of conviction was starting to creep in. Maybe I had been too harsh in my appraisal of the church. (Confession: I already discussed this with my friend. I told her my reservations, specifically, where I was struggling, theologically speaking, with her church. She GRACIOUSLY acknowledged my reservations and still wanted me to come.)

But, the visit also wasn’t void of tense moments, like when a woman talked about praying for her mother to receive the gift of tongues. I could feel Sydney’s body tense up.  Or when someone mentioned receiving a vision. (Things were going SO WELL. Why do you have to go and ruin it, Lord?) But, even in my discomfort, I witnessed some of the most beautiful examples of love. There were several times in the evening when someone would share a personal struggle or prayer request and someone else in the group would stop the conversation and pray over that person. No one was writing down a list of prayer requests to be prayed over at the end, or to be emailed out during the week… that may, or may not, be prayed over. In that moment, they immediately felt the need to pray and just did it. Right then and there. It was beautiful. Maybe chaotic at times, or disjointed, but beautiful. 

When it came time for Sydney and I to share about our story, I couldn’t. I’m not sure how to explain it. Maybe it was a need for confession, or just transparency. But, I felt this need for them to know how UNCOMFORTABLE I was. Not because it was about me. It was more about wanting to dig in deeper. Looking back on it, I really think that night was when the Lord planted the ie of church unity on my heart. What does it look like? With whom can we seek out unity? Are there limits on unity? If nothing else from this trip, I’ve learned that conversations are desperately needed when it comes to things like this.

I know what scripture says about tongues. I don’t deny its existence. Discernable languages with interpretations. I’ll even give you the private prayer language between you and God, but what I was witnessing didn’t fall into those categories and I literally told them that I had to fight against my desire to run out the door. Seriously. I told them that my theology obviously doesn’t align with theirs on certain issues and I was really wrestling through it. Later Sydney confessed that she couldn’t believe I did that. I mean, I guess it’s a little rude to be invited into someone’s home and tell them their expression of faith makes me want to run as fast as I can out of their house. But, it was the truth. And, more importantly, it was where God had me. Like I said, that night the Lord revealed a bigger piece of this adventure to me. 

What does unity within the body of believers look like? 

How they responded was almost as surprising as my confession. They told me they appreciated my honesty and my willingness to push in and to engage in a conversation many people refuse to have. (It’s a lot easier to distance yourself from the unknown than to push into the uncomfortable.) Before we left, my friend’s husband asked if their small group could pray for us and I said yes. But, he told me it was going to be “Belonging Style.” I told him that I didn’t expect anything different. And, I didn’t. But, that didn’t mean we were ready for what was coming next.  

Sydney and I sat on two chairs in the middle of the room and people circled around us, laying hands on us. It was similar to the previous evening, but more intimate and orderly, weirdly enough. Everyone took turns to pray. Some in tongues. I had to fight off the urge for my body to stiffen. I was taking deep breaths, but not too deep, because, honestly, I didn’t want to offend the people praying over us. There were prophetic words and visions. I actually have a video someone took, but haven’t watched it. It was too much for me to take in. Too much to process. (I’m convinced the Lord likes to laugh at the craziness of our lives and how we handle it, or don’t handle it.) 

After the small group ended, Sydney and I finally made our way to the car. She looked at me and said, “What was that?”

I don’t think I verbally answered. I remember widening my eyes and shaking my head, but nothing audible escaped my lips. She carried the conversation back to our friends’ house in Nashville. They happen to be Catholic. Talking to them about our experience made everything seem more surreal. Catholics and a Southern Baptist talking about prophetic visions and speaking in tongues.

This unity thing… it was going to be complicated.

“Lord, Where Have I Put You in a Box?”

Putting God in a box makes sense, from a human perspective. We place things within a framework created for the purpose of better understanding. We make judgments, set up criterion and categories, and then place things within our own prescribed construct in an effort to help us comprehend meaning and implication. But, we also do it, ridiculous as that may be, in a feeble attempt to control the things we don’t understand. When it comes to God, we see it all the time. People focus on the things they’re confident in, paying little to no attention to the things they consider “scripturally ambiguous.”

Maybe if we ignore them, they’ll go away. 

Maybe I can still follow Jesus without ever really addressing those supposed ambiguities. 

Maybe you can. But, I wanted to know the Lord as fully as I could. So,  I asked Him to show me where I had put Him in a box. Simply put: Where was I refusing to see the possibility of who God really is because it went against what I was taught on Sunday morning. **PLEASE NOTE: I did NOT say what went against what I was taught in scripture. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible… and I can also go off on bad translations!***  But, I will NEVER truly understand who God is this side of eternity. None of us will. To think we can is arrogant. And I guess that’s what I was asking God to show me. Where was my arrogance limiting my ability to know Him… and his people. 

I should have known as soon as those words escaped my lips, the Lord would turn my world upside down. Without getting into a lengthy explanation of my theological background, or positions, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: I grew up Southern Baptist. I went to Dallas Theological Seminary. I am not a cessationist. I’m not a dispensionalist. I am a FIERCE opponent of the Prosperity Gospel. (False teaching is serious.) I believe in the gifts of tongues and healing, but I have neither. (If you try to convince me that I can learn them, I’ll try my best to control my face from revealing my thoughts.) I believe in spiritual warfare. I am a HUGE proponent of social justice. HUGE. (If you don’t want to advocate for social justice, then following Jesus might not be for you. The gospel saves you, but the fruit of that salvation is seen in your deeds. See Isaiah 58 and Matthew 25) I love a good theological debate. Not because I’m eager to prove I’m right. Quite the opposite. I want you to show me where I’m wrong and I DESPERATELY want to learn how to better wrestle out our differences with humility and love. I don’t believe my theology is 100% accurate. In fact, I’m pretty sure when we get to heaven, we’ll be surprised how many things we got wrong on this journey. I think a lot of us are prepared to die on a hill at this particular moment (Cough, Cough…. 2020 Presidential election) in this particular culture… that’s probably far from where God is actually leading.

Some have labeled me a “theologically conservative progressive.”

I think labels are dumb.

Honestly, when I see the melding of political and theological, I get nauseous. And irate. Sometimes in reverse order. I just saw a Facebook post today advocating for Christians to “get out on the battle field” for the next Presidential election. Um… I’m sorry, were you not paying attention to the 2016 or 2018 elections? People have strong feelings about it. I have strong feelings about it. But, I’ve been trying to put my feelings aside and push into truth. So, that’s where I’ll start. (These next three posts aren’t “political” at all. But, as the weeks and months start to unfold, you will begin to see that our American Christian/Political culture is scripturally inconsistent at best. (That’s me being EXTREMELY generous. I can give you a very long list of Christian “public figures” who have built their platforms on vilifying the very people Jesus has called us to love… and who have sold books and merchandise to profit on all their hate-spewing diatribes. It’s all connected and Satan is pulling the strings.)

Our first “official” stop on this road trip was to a small church in eastern Tennessee. They graciously invited us in to share our story and support our family. It was the first show and the kids were incredibly nervous. So were the parents. Sydney and Brayden were worried about messing up on stage. We were worried that no one would show up. This is always a real possibility. But, we worried for nothing because the kids were amazing and the gracious and generous people of that community showed up. Their church took a love offering to support our family and then people bought merchandise to love on us even more.

Up to this point, the overwhelming majority of the presentation was focused on the history of Be The Change Youth Initiative and the music behind Be The Change Collective. Only 6 minutes, literally, was spent talking about depression and suicide. But, this is what the pastor spoke about when he closed out the night. He talked about his own struggles and how the topic of mental health needed to be addressed in the church. (We definitely agreed, but it wasn’t something we really focused on as a ministry. And, we didn’t feel called to focus on it. Laughable now.) 

The pastor asked our family to come up on stage so their church could pray for us. I could immediately see Jamie squirm out of the corner of my eye. He hates stuff like that. His Catholic upbringing was FAR more conservative and legalistic than my Southern Baptist roots. He had come a long way through the years, but was still the last member of our family to walk up… and actively tried to convince the pastor to not bring us up on the actual stage. But, the pastor wasn’t having any of it. He wanted his church to pray over our family, and we were about to be prayed over like NEVER before.

In the past, churches have prayed for us and it usually looked pretty much the same. The pastor would take the microphone. Sometimes a few others, most likely the elders, would surround us placing their hands on our shoulders, as the pastor began his prayer. And when he was done, some in the congregation would join in with the “Amen.” But, for the most part, the pastor was the main orator. 

Well… not at this church. 

I immediately knew things were going to be different when the pastor passed the microphone to this unassuming older woman sitting the in third row. He then started telling people to come up on stage, specifically directing people to stand next to certain members of our family. I remember feeling a rush of adrenaline, the faint metallic taste in my mouth. It wasn’t due to fear. I think it was more about expectation. Just as I was regaining my bearings, a chorus of voices filled my head. It was overwhelming. I remember doing two things immediately: squeezing Sydney’s shoulder because I was startled and wishing I could see Jamie’s face because I KNEW he was about to lose his mind.

I also remember listening to see if anyone was praying in tongues. I don’t know if it happened, but I didn’t hear anything indistinguishable. What I did hear was a beautiful sound. Prayers from both young and old filling the room. Each person praying specifically for the person they were touching. I heard teens pray for the Lord’s anointing to continue to fall upon Brayden. (This is a prayer so many have prayed since that night. So many.) I heard someone pray for a hedge of protection to form around Sydney. That God would provide for every need of our family… in ways that would humble us. 

It went on for what seemed like hours, but it was only a few minutes. I remember thinking that heaven must surely sound like this. A cacophony of voices, mostly indiscernible, but all giving praise to the Lord. While I’m sure it was restrained, compared to other expressions of prayer, it was audacious for us. But, not irreverent. It was exuberant without forsaking the holy. We felt the tension and decided to rest there. But, He didn’t let us rest there long because within 24 hours things were about to get REALLY uncomfortable.