This Is Not Okay

Generally, I think there is 100% more nuance about most circumstances than most of us are willing to come to terms with. We can live in a fantasy social media world where a beautifully crafted or humorous meme tells you how to think or feel or react and in many cases, influence you to feel guilty (or justified) for what you did or didn’t do.

This reality for me is all the more complicated because I have a mental illness (OCD) where I perpetually struggle with guilt and perfectionism and if I responded to something the right way or wrong way or offended someone, and it goes on and on in my head. I have irrational fears and thoughts that come to my mind that I may say or believe something that I don’t really believe. So there can be a lot of confusion in my brain. Sometimes, I can feel it so deeply I have difficulty functioning productively for a day or so after a major current event.

For this and other reasons, I have often watched current events and not said my opinion on social media and even avoid social media during these times for the sake of my mental health. I didn’t say who I did or didn’t vote for or comment on many current events in the past year. I chose, rather, to have conversations privately and in-person with people. I have not been privately silent and have had many conversations to see where people are coming from. In most of my relationships and situations, I have found that to be the most fruitful approach.

While it may be true there are many people in the world who need to stop more often, be silent, and examine the nuance, there is another side of the coin. Some of us over-analyze everything, and consequently, say and do nothing. One of the biggest things I learned in my thousands of dollars of therapy to overcome compulsive over-responsibility is that, assuming you are a reasonable person, if/when you should personally respond to something, you WILL know it. It won’t be a question. It won’t be confusing. If you are listening, your body will tell you if you should respond.

I watched the VICE news video (Charlottesville: Race and Terror) late last night and felt so sick to my stomach, absolutely disgusted at this evil and naïve enough to be somewhat shocked there could be so many people mobilized with hate. It made me realize now more than ever before, a person can even begin to make nuance an idol, which in turn can mislabel things as complicated and can lead one to minimize or begin to justify complacency.

But like I said, if you are listening, your body will tell you when things really aren’t that complicated. I’ve been listening to my moral meter for the past couple of days, and it’s quite clear. In fact, it’s the opposite of complicated. And everything inside of me keeps screaming…Say it out loud today, Mindy: This is NOT okay. Period. No nuance. WHITE SEPREMACIST NATIONALISM IS NOT OKAY.

Church Planting: A year in review

Today marks the one year anniversary of First City being planted. As is typical with most anniversaries I’ve spent some time reflecting on where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and where I need to continue to grow.

Church planting isn’t the life I would have chosen for myself. Sometimes I still question whether this whole church-planting thing is just a fad, and I wonder if all the struggle it takes for me to be a part of a church plant my husband leads is really worth it. And yet, in the midst of that wrestle, I have come to believe with every fiber of my being: the church exists for mission and not comfort. It isn’t an abstract thing for us, we could give it up. We’ve done it before, and God took care of us. But for our family, at least right now, we know that God has called us into church planting.

We had so many blessings this first year. Our church is growing, people are being discipled, and by God’s grace, we are financially sustainable and were able to bring on more staff as well as give away money to other churches in our first year. These are tremendous blessings that are humbling. It was a very hard-fought journey to get us where we are, and sometimes we look back and then look at the present blessing and are like “what just happened?” But, in the midst of all this blessing, this church planting journey remains a battle.

Prior to planting a church, I thought my biggest fear in it all of this would be that we would potentially screw someone up or unintentionally hurt someone through our church. I would often daydream that we wouldn’t do something right and would end up on some church watchdog blog. Prior to debilitating OCD, my general motto was: if you can’t be assured you can do something perfectly, don’t do it. If watchdog blogs were the god of my life, I can assure you, I would not be church planting. By God’s grace, through OCD essentially destroying my life, I faced these fears and now struggle way less with fear of man and have a genuine confidence that Jesus, not me, makes the best Savior, and that God is sovereign and working restoration in people’s lives even through painful stories.

After all of that healing, I definitely wasn’t prepared for how my fear would surface this past year. Week after week there was something that pushed me way out of my comfort zone. I’m the first to admit, my struggles aren’t always “normal”. Most of our church planting friends are wondering if they will get paid next year or if more people will come. I worry obsessively if we are doing things “right” from a legal perspective (which unfortunately, due to my many work and educational experiences and my inquisitive nature, I know a bunch of random information that exasperates my extreme hyper-vigilance). I worry about what kind of sanitizer we use in kid’s ministry or if a someone is going to have an allergic reaction to the communion bread or go into anaphylactic shock because someone brought peanut butter to the church picnic. By the way, the communion bread thing actually happened on our very first Sunday, so I’ve been facing this fear head on since day one.

For me, struggling with OCD means struggling with hyper-vigilance, continually assessing the environment for danger, and constant mental problem solving. I’m experiencing all of this in a much deeper and exasperated way than ever before because my husband is ultimately responsible for all decisions. This has been extremely healthy for our marriage since I’m always asking a million questions about all of my husband’s or other people’s decisions to make sure people have thought through the details (read: sarcasm). The thoughts and questions that come to my mind are constant. I’m talking the exact definition of constant: never-ceasing, never stopping. It’s often triggered by a piece of information someone tells me about the church. This generally isn’t info I’m trying to seek out. I frequently tell myself, “stay out of it, this is not your responsibility.” But there is some strange way it always seems to find me. And so it is, almost every moment of every day, I have to make choices about these thoughts: is there real danger or is there wisdom in this question or is this OCD? It has been a battle all year long. And it’s rarely let up. It’s been extremely tiring. This combined with moving (which also triggered some aspects of my OCD) as well as some other personal things, I’m exhausted and sometimes I have difficulty seeing the joy and blessing in it all.

And so there I am at the end of year one. Blessings and struggles, tired and fighting for joy. I’ve thought a lot about this the past few weeks, and I’ve realized I have a few options at this point. First, I could avoid this struggle. For us, that would mean quitting. But if I learned anything in counseling, it would be that avoidance is a compulsion. Sure, you can live your life avoiding pain, but it rarely, if ever solves your problems. And if avoidance is solving your problems, you may not be truly living.

The second option is that I could ignore what I’m struggling with because it’s superficial or unimportant and continue to push through. I think this is largely what I have been doing. I can keep telling myself: Other people and church planters have way more difficult problems than fears of communion bread. My struggle isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, so it’s not urgent, and these fears and triggers I have are petty and not real. Sometimes I ignore them because my fears are typical of what all pastor’s wives and church planters deal with. But, I’m also learning that ignoring your feelings with the “I shouldn’t feel this way” lines we often throw at our sin is also a way to avoid the pain. Let’s face it, American Christians typically aren’t good with any kind of discomfort. We don’t like pain or anxiety, so we either avoid or we flippantly slap the “don’t be anxious” and “give it to God” lines on everything and then feel guilty all the time because we don’t even really know what that means.

My last option is to try to get more help again and to recognize that maybe my fears are superficial, but the intensity of this may not be normal. I often say that getting help for my OCD was the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s interesting to me that even though I believe that, I still want to do everything I can to stay out of counseling for OCD. Maybe it’s the stigma or the fact that I want to pretend I’m stronger than I am: that I now know enough to do it on my own. Maybe it’s the money: how I cringe when I think of how much we have already spent in therapy for me. Maybe it’s how uncomfortable I know counseling will be: how I’m at the point in overcoming OCD that I will probably have to do disgusting things like touch public toilet seats and not wash my hands or potentially “dangerous” things like doing some type of exposure therapy around our friends’ kids with extreme allergies and how extremely anxious and uncomfortable I will feel the entire time until my body finally acclimates. Maybe it’s that my new church will see how weak I really am: how I still remember how people looked at me before when I was really sick and how I felt like I had leprosy or something. Maybe it’s how humbling and shameful it felt when I was trying to do exposure therapy in kid’s ministry a couple of weeks ago with the new sanitizer and people walked in on me doing it and I was crying because it was so hard for me. Or that I will have to explain it to people, and they will look at me like I am crazy and they won’t understand. Maybe it’s that the help I have available to me now probably isn’t as good as the help I used to have available to me, and so I wonder if it will even be worth it.

There comes a point where you have to come to terms with the reality that your present pain isn’t sustainable or that it impacts others more than you want to admit and that even though healing will be very hard (and expensive or seemingly shameful or may not work) and probably even harder than the pain you feel right now, that walking by faith and freedom is worth it. There isn’t any shame in getting help. That’s a lie from the pit of hell to keep people scared, and therefore, immobilized. If you aren’t living your life in a way that beckons you to seek wise counsel every now and again, I wonder if you are really seeking to walk by faith.

And so reflecting on a year hard fought, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to continue on this journey, I need more help. And I’ve made some peace with all the “maybes” of that, and I’m going to get it. God works in mysterious ways. He brings people and circumstances together to accomplish his purposes. This process is hard, and it’s not going to end in this life. Some day, my faith will be made sight and I won’t live in a broken world. There won’t be hyper-vigilance or “if you see something, say something” signs in heaven except those directed toward Jesus. But now, between the already and not yet, walking by faith for me means acknowledging that I feel the way I do and that is both okay and not okay at the same time. Walking by faith means the paradoxical coexistence of reality and hope. It’s trusting that God meets me with grace exactly where I’m at, yet beckons me to turn my eyes from being distracted by my works to the glorious rest he offers in Jesus. He takes the “shoulds” and “should nots” of all of my feelings upon himself and offers me a greater peace- Himself. And in all of this struggle, I am learning to say: I count it all joy because I know more of Jesus. I would walk the scary road of these past years all over again because He’s truly worthy of a life lived by faith.

theBIGpicture

thebigpicture5

You know the expression “don’t lose the forest for the trees.” I deeply get its meaning. I’m a person that easily gets lost in the forest taking notice of the trees. It’s not difficult for me to observe details, both good and bad. It takes much more discipline for me to step back and notice the big picture and not get lost in it all. The details, good and bad, all fit together to make one big beautiful whole.

In the midst of living this ordinary life, with all it’s struggles and joys, I find the thing that gives me the most hope and peace is intentionally reminding myself of the big picture of it all. As we live in the tension of the already and not yet, we live ordinary lives full thousands of daily details that are moving in the direction of God uniting all things in Him (Eph 1:10). Remembering this gives me peace because it helps me to trust that God is working in my struggles, that they matter to him and that I matter to Him. But remembering it also helps me to understand it’s not just about the details of my life. Although details matter, it’s all so much bigger than me. God is building his Kingdom on earth, just as it is in heaven. And as Jesus taught, we pray (and live) toward that end (Matthew 6:10).

It’s with this in mind that I’m going to start posting reflections along these lines on this blog and on Instagram (@thebigpictureblog). I so often need the reminder of the beauty of the big picture, and I hope it’s a source of encouragement for others.

Reading Shelf: March

Made a little more progress in reading last month. This month, here are the books on my shelf I’ll pull from:

Off the shelf from Jan-Feb:

Repost: Winter and the Hope of Spring

It was Groundhog Day this week. Which for me means two things: I watched the movie Groundhog Day and we can mark our calendars for six more weeks of winter. (2016 update: apparently no shadow this year!! Unpack the paddle boards, folks!)

winter benchMy husband and I just moved back to the midwest where six more weeks of winter could be pretty intense. In an interesting plot twist though, it was actually 60 degrees and fairly sunny the day we pulled into Nebraska in the middle of January. But prior to that unexpected blessing and as we were getting ready to move, I found myself thinking about how crazy we were to move to a place much colder right in the middle of the winter. I started to have fear about not being able to safely drive across the country because of snow storms as well as a low-grade dread about the remainder of a treacherous winter I would most likely experience once in Nebraska. As I found my heart becoming fearful, I was gently reminded by the Lord of the winter past and how God carried me through. And so, I began to ponder the ways of enduring winter and what good it can mean for my soul. Here are a few of those thoughts.

It seems like a general observation from life that most suffering/struggle comes in season, as Ecclesiastes 3:1 (ESV) says “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Experiencing the natural order of the seasons on this earth (Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer) is actually an amazing way we can spiritually reflect on the restoration that God is bringing to earth and in our lives.  In this we find that after the bitterness of winter there is the hope of spring- the promise of new life, restoration, resurrection. Thinking of spring helps me because perseverance through hard times seems a lot more doable when there is a promise of hope, and so I want hold on to the fact that winter is not the final say. It will end, and there will be spring.

spring blossoms

This is a truth we find in salvation, too. If there is no resurrection there would be no gospel. There must be victory over darkness. So, we can endure the winter (literally and metaphorically) with joy because we know it is not the end, and because it will end. As Hebrews 12:2 (ESV) says about Christ, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Romans 5 says, “hope does not put us to shame….” As we live in the tension between the already and the not yet of this life, we have experienced the joy of the resurrection of Christ but we still anticipate the final return of Christ. Even if we don’t have immediate relief from suffering in our life, we know and can trust we will have ultimate relief when Christ returns. If we do not hold on to the hope of heaven we will constantly be disappointed. We must view earth in light of heaven, and we know this world offers nothing that compares to that hope. And so we hold on to hope, believing he is restoring all things in Christ. The winter of life builds hope like nothing else (Romans 5). When we get through it, we look back and see He carried us all the way. We see His amazing steadfast, covenantal love in new ways. We then see the beauty of the spring and we appreciate it all the more, giving glory to God for the new life he created.

For me, the spring and summer is all the more amazing when I have walked through a hard winter. So right now as I endure this winter, I have the blossoms of spring to look forward to. And when they come, I will look at them with fresh eyes and they will beckon me to give God glory for the work He did in the depths of winter to bring about the new life of spring. I’m reminded it’s right now that God is making things new. Even now, when I look outside and see snow and look at the weather and see it may get to -12 tonight, He’s doing something.

Reading Shelf: February

This reading shelf thing actually worked pretty well for me last month. I’ve read more than I have in two years. Part of that is because I can finally concentrate (on certain days) and part of that was because I had some reading deadlines. I had to stray from my plan a little because a couple of months ago I put holds on some Brené Brown books at the library. They each had hundreds of holds on them. Well, all three came up this month and what that means is that I have to had them read in three weeks because they won’t be able to be renewed. I’m not sure if that will happen, but I’m going to try.

So, when I pick a book to read this month, here are the books on my shelf (no more to be added):

Off the shelf from January:

The Worry Transfer…

This is an interesting point about how our fears and worries can transfer to others. It’s in reference to church planting, but I think it’s true beyond that:

Worse, my fear transfers easily to my husband. Expressing my worries, I pull his attention away from God’s promises to us and cause him to grow discouraged.

From pg. 115 out of The Church Planting Wife by Christine Hoover

January: Preparing to Plant

I found that in December I wrote more on my blog because I had unintentionally picked a theme for the month, and then as a result, I had a writing prompt for each week. That theme was Advent. My overall blog theme isn’t super cohesive at this point. I am still hoping that will evolve. I look back and I’m mostly writing about fear, I think.

Well, this month I am going to pick another theme/writing prompt. That theme is church planting. For most of my readers, I’m guessing this theme isn’t that interesting, but it’s where I find myself these days. I feel this need to continue to prepare in all ways possible in this last month, whether it be reading, writing out my feelings or story, building my faith, or dealing with my fears.

So that’s what to expect for the rest of the month on this space: all things connecting church planting and my soul.