A Different Kind of King

— An advent reading by Corrie Gustafson

Emmanuel means God with us. The Bible tells us that, “this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.”

Do you believe this story we’re sharing? This true story about a loving God who sent his son to earth?

Jesus entered our world humbly,
as a baby,
but grew to be king.

Jesus never sat on a gilded throne in a lavish throne room.
His first throne room was a stable;
His first throne, a manger full of hay.
Now heaven is his throne,
and earth his footstool.

Jesus never sought a palace or storehouses filled with gold.
He walked the dusty roads of his country
meeting the poor in spirit,
eating with outcasts,
touching the diseased,
healing the sick.

Jesus never ruled by intimidation, or control, or arrogance.
His power was in his love.
His authority was to forgive sin.
His desire was to rule over human hearts.

Jesus never led an army of charioteers to crush kingdoms and build an earthly empire.
He called fishermen to follow him.
He proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God;
A heavenly kingdom that set slaves free.
His great victory was over sin and death.

Jesus is Emmanuel — God with us.

He is the Prince of Peace —
a conqueror who came to die
so that we might live.

He is the Great King —
who was,
and is,
and is to come.

The Joy of Clutter

The Joy of Clutter

51H8x07Fd7LEverywhere I go women are talking about “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Apparently Kondo’s advice is to pick up items one by one and ask, “Does this spark joy?” If there is no joy, it’s cluttering up your life, and away it goes.

I haven’t read the book, and won’t, because I was born with a freakish inner compass for organization. Neatness is my true north. If I had a motto it would be – less stuff, more peace. Minimalism is my preferred aesthetic. Therefore, I need no expert help purging, shelving, tidying, or storing.

When I was young, my mother would drop off freshly folded laundry and expected me to put it away. I did so obediently, after refolding most items so they would best fit the confines of each drawer’s particular width and depth. 20+ years later and Mom still shares that anecdote, always with the same bemusement. She’s sure she was handed someone else’s baby at birth. How could a child of hers be so concerned with drawer efficiency that she would refold socks, even underwear!?

If I wasn’t my mother’s spitting image, I’m sure I’d have the same question. The woman is notorious for having stacks of paper laying around. She claims she has “a system” and that though – to the untrained eye – the piles seem like they belong in the recycle bin, in reality they are full of essential household documents. Any rifling through or dusting near her stacks brings wild exclamations and dire warnings. Trespassers have been known to wonder if IRS agents are about to plunge through the front door. Years ago, to legitimize her “system” and to save herself some grief, mom camouflaged the teetering stacks by placing them in decorative baskets.

I’m exaggerating a bit on both our parts, you understand. (Except, not about the underwear refolding. Or the decorative baskets; they’re all Longaberger.) My organizational freakishness and mom’s basketed stacks are running jokes between us. We love each other even when we look at the other like she’s a rare bird on display at the zoo. Mom concedes that she benefits from my wizardry when I reorganize her pantry every winter. It’s an odd and wonderful Christmas gift. I have the deep satisfaction of bringing order to a jungle of canned goods, dad is saved from being poisoned by expired olives, and mom has the joy of knowing she had five cans of tomato paste after all. It’s a win-win-win.

As amusing as all this is, I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m sharing with such vulnerability. Well, this week I went through a box that I haven’t opened in five years. If a stranger opened this particular box, she might think she’s stumbled on an odd cache of…junk.

Ok…fine – it’s clutter. The contents are random and ajumble – but none of it is junk. Inside this box are mementos of my life, most of no monetary value. Many items are discolored, rumpled, or cracked, but all are cherished for some reason. After five years, lifting the lid and combing through the contents was like stepping into a biopic of my life. Here’s what I discovered:

  • My kindergarten tote-bag. My name is written in the lining with permanent marker.9724
  • A clutch purse my mother made with my name stitched on the front
  • My first book, “Snow White and the Seven Giants” written and hand-illustrated by yours truly, circa 1990. I should hurry to copyright. It’s a gem of a story complete with giants, a 20 story house with 5,000 sets of stairs, and the first giant-human hybrid child.
  • A small, paisley dog purchased in 1992 in London, England – a souvenir from my first overseas trip.
  • Several scripts from my years on stage.ATT_1448159471997_9737
  • A card from my father when he had to miss opening night of one of those plays. The message – “I may not see the opening, but I will close down the place next week. Break both legs you actor you. Love, Dad.”
  • My junior and senior prom photos. Those make me thank God for puberty, my orthodontist, and my seamstress mother who could make any dress I dreamed up.
  • A polaroid of me wearing a giant sombrero. (My friends knew that I hate being sung to in public, so out of their deep affection for me, they told our waiter that it was my birthday. I got the full mariachi tribute in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Ole!)9733
  • A letter from one of my college roommates. We were good friends, but horribly matched roommates. We had an epic falling out and she wrote me two years later asking for forgiveness. It’s the most healing piece of paper I own.
  • A birthday card from my parents. Mom said, “What a joy you are to me.” Dad said, “So, you are the best daughter a man could want.”
  • A set of napkins, given to me by my senior year college roommates. I threw them both bridal showers and these napkins are a symbolic promise to return the favor. Plus, they would be very humorous as shower napkins for a pastor, right?9725
  • A card from my dear friend Emily. We both attended a little Baptist church when the “women in ministry” debate was raging through the congregation. She wrote, “I don’t want you to feel that your gifts in leadership and preaching go unrecognized. God is in control – he hears the cry of the marginalized, he will bring about something wonderful to those who listen for his voice…Your worth is not by man’s standards but our Great God.” This is why I call Em my Canadian Treasure. I got to officiate her wedding a few years later.
  • A bunch of handmade cards littered with inside jokes and picture collages from my college student staff.
  • A letter from another former student. She struggled with depression for years. One night her senior year she called me when she was sitting with a large bottle of Aspirin, ready to take her life. Her letter contains the words, “You literally saved my life.” This item is a powerful reminder that simple things like listening and being available can save lives. Every human being is capable of these things, but we many need to unplug more.

There’s a bunch more we could comb through, but you’ve got the gist. This box is the sum total of clutter in my home (honestly, you can check my closets) but what joyful clutter!

I’m hanging on to stuff others might discard because this “stuff” can make me laugh, or cry, or transport me to another time and place. These items are markers of my development from child to adult, actress to pastor and writer. They tell of a life overflowing with rich friendship and the unconditional support of family. They are stones of remembrance of  loss and forgiveness, and the healing God can bring when you think the statute of limitations has long since past.

I’ve realized that this box of clutter tells my story. You’d need me to sit beside you to fill in the gaps, but my story is here in every keychain and photo, script and stuffed animal. All of the words stuffed into these letters and cards – and all the people who held those pens – shaped me into the confident, people-centered woman that I am today.

Days after sifting through this box, I discovered some sadness mixed in with my gratitude. I hate that the letter is no longer a valued and common method of communication. So I marched to my local Hallmark store, bought some stationary, came home and started writing. Three hours and 28 letters later, I felt refreshingly human. And absurdly thankful for an untidy box of stuff.

There may have even been some sparks of joy.

 

 

 

All Things New

I’m 10 months into my new job at a new church in a new state. Most days it feels like I’ve been here a few years. I feel at home both in northern California (it reminds me of my favorite home – Vancouver, BC) and at my church. I can tell these are my kind of people and that life will be good here.

But there are also days when it’s hard to get more than 4 good hours of work from my brain. I feel tired despite regular exercise and sleep, and that’s when I remember that I’m new! I’m still adjusting to a new culture and a new city. When my brain and body are tired, I coach myself to breathe deeply, to give thanks for my job and for God’s presence, and to be gentle with self-expectations. Thriving in a new place doesn’t happen quickly. And I have plenty of time.

Lantana splashes color all over my neighborhood

Lantana splashes color all over my neighborhood

I’m discovering new things to love. A friend introduced me to the delights of Korean and Burmese cuisines. Yum. Seriously, YUM. Taking evening walks in my neighborhood is one of my favorite things. Our temperate climate keeps flowers and shrubs in bloom. I’m partial to Lantana because it’s so cheerful. My neighbors are predominately Indian and Middle Eastern. During my 2-mile loop, I usually hear 4 languages spoken. Women exercise in vibrantly colored sarees and running shoes. One evening I passed a man walking a slow rhythm as he chanted from a beautifully calligraphed text. My neighborhood is alive with activity and color and diversity. It revives my energy on the draggy days.

Settling into a new place brings some loneliness. That’s a natural side effect when you go where you don’t have established relationships. Even though my job is very social, all of the people-time is building time, not resting time. I burn a lot of emotional and physical energy listening, asking questions, and filing stories in my brain as I get to know people. Many days I catch myself daydreaming about friends that are far away. Friends who know me – my history, my hangups, what makes me laugh, and what encourages me.

Earlier this month I flew to Pennsylvania and spent a few days with some of those friends. With Holly, Lauren, and Stephanie, I don’t have to share my story. I could snort or make an off-handed comment and not worry that I might be misinterpreted. I could be silent without the awkwardness. Lauren and I laughed loudly in a restaurant and drew some stares and raised eyebrows, but I didn’t care. It was so good, so freeing and playful, to be with people who know me.

Spending several days with my best friend Stephanie and her daughters was heavenly. I love kids and there were three red heads crawling all over me every waking hour. I got to read dozens of picture books and bring characters to life with accents and intonation. (The baby particularly enjoyed that.) I got to color with fat crayons. I got to wait for the school bus and take walks during breaks in the autumn rain. I sat at the kitchen table and chatted with Stephanie while she cooked us Midwestern fare. (We are native Ohioans and share a love for cheese and Crock-Pot meals.)

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Stephanie and I, circa 2009

During time outs, and nap time, and after bedtime, we talked. We talked for hours, catching each other up about our families and our daily lives. We reminisced about meeting 9 years ago during a grueling interview day at a college; about the four years we worked together at that college; and about the notoriously horrible backpacking trip we took in the PA woods. We talked out some in-the-trenches, serious things and tried to discern the tracks they are making in our souls. We cried together. We laughed. Sometimes we just sat quietly on the same couch. There was peace. I felt loved and known even when we were doing nothing.

Stephanie and I are Anne Shirley and Diana Barry incarnate. She’s a kindred spirit, the sister of my heart. Her life is full and very different from mine, but that made my time with her so refreshing. There’s even science to prove how life-giving her friendship is to me. Check out the contrast between my typical sleep cycle and my sleep cycle the night I got home from vacation!

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Fall is charging ahead. Three blinks from now I’ll be celebrating my first anniversary in Silicon Valley. I’m building a life here. It’s good even when it’s draining. There’s potential for rich relationships and ministry. I’m grateful to be here, witnessing new things blooming in and around me.

Brimming with Power: A Look Inside Women’s Ministry

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Let’s start with an exercise. Open a second tab on your browser, go to google, and type the words women’s ministry. Then click the ‘image’ tab. Welcome to the great Pink Sea, only to be rivaled by Julia Robert’s blush-and-bashful wedding in Pretty Woman.

Take a few minutes to sail down your screen. Notice the monochromatic backgrounds, headlines, and lettering. Did you catch all those hearts? What about the abundance of gerbera daisies? And the butterflies you’d find in a Disney sticker book? Oh, and the rose-shaded cross!

Dotting this sea are a few pictures of actual women. They’re usually huddled together holding mugs, holding hands along a sunset backdrop, or holding the Bible and laughing. I’m surprised to see a fair amount of racial and ethnic diversity in these pictures, but that’s where the diversity ends. All the women in these photos are clean, well-groomed, and they match in an eerie way. They’re all smiling big, happy smiles.

As a pastor, and particularly in my role as a pastor to women in a large congregation, I look at these “women’s ministry” images and scratch my head. How do these monochromatic designs represent the curious and sincere, struggling yet resolved, broken-but-being-restored disciples that I see around me each day?

I wonder too, how these images shape perceptions about ministry to women. Will a visitor to our websites see these banners, logos, and photos in all their pink smiling glory, and think — there’s the place for me!? Or will she feel (again) the need to be a certain type of woman, or to have it all together?

More importantly, how do these images shape perceptions about the ministry of women. Might these hearts and flowers water-down the vibrant gift that women are to the church? Might the Pink Sea limit our vision for the powerful impact that women have in the churches and communities across the globe?

Be honest. When you think of “women’s ministry,” do you imagine pastel fluff, or do you see something more dynamic?

As a pastor to women, these are the questions and concerns that constantly rattle around inside me. This keeps me up at night praying for wisdom. It keeps me thinking strategically and planning creatively. I take my job very seriously because women’s ministry is not fluff. In my world, women’s ministry is something substantive and strong. It’s something that brims with the power to transform.

Fundamentally, women’s ministry it’s about people who need God. Yes, the people I minister to happen to be female, but they may or may not like pink, or chocolate, or flowers. The women in our churches have lives of significance. They have demanding careers, complex relationships, and varied hobbies. They suffer loss and experience pain. They wrestle with big questions. They doubt. They accomplish great things. They fall down and crawl toward hope.

I know that God that can lift up the weary. God has the power to heal the broken. His Word is life and light to the doubting and confused. God is what women need. And my job as a pastor is to hang a neon sign above his inn and welcome every traveler.

And yes, we women might gather around a table with mugs of coffee and a pretty centerpiece, but we’re there to talk about real life — the sting of a friend’s betrayal, the excitement of love, the pain of miscarriage or divorce, the fear of failure, and the challenges and joy of leadership in its many forms. So for every picture you see on the internet of women smiling or laughing, you should also imagine them focused and serious, mopping up the tears and coffee they spilled when they shared about a new loss.

Ministry to women should unleash the power of God’s good news in a disheartening world. It should be about truth telling, authenticity, hospitality, and healing. Whether the venue is decorated or bare, women should able to come as they are, to tell their stories, to encounter God and learn from his Word.

The women I see in the church are far more complex and varied than the images and shades stereotypically assigned to them. The women I know are smart, capable, inquisitive, and intelligent. They are leaders and entrepreneurs, inventors and teachers, artists and engineers, managers and students. Some are rich and others poor. Some dress to impress, others wear only what is comfortable, and a few come to us in musty, tattered clothes because that’s what they have. All of these women come to the church looking for a place to belong. They stay because they discover that God is the source and sustainer of life.

I want women’s ministry to be so dynamic that it welcomes a CEO and a recovering addict, a stay-at-home mom and a pediatrician, an ivy-league professor and a woman with a GED. I want a ministry that makes room for mess. A place that’s a refuge from the grind of comparison that we women put ourselves through. A place where a woman wearing pink heels and red lipstick sits beside a woman with black combat boots and a bad dye-job, and sees a friend.

Bottom line? I just want women’s ministry to bring women together and point them to God. And then we get to stand back and watch God do BIG things, like forgive sin — and free women from addiction or perfectionism — and teach them to live as beloved and fully empowered disciples. Pink daisies are not the centerpiece of this ministry. God’s power is.

Some women are like cheerful, pastel blooms. Others are the rustic sequoias along the coast, beacons of strength and longevity. Women can be as regal as orchids, but also hearty and self-protective like thistles. Through struggle, women learn to be resourceful like saguaros, filling themselves with life and storing it for a coming drought. Some women are like ivy, holding up a crumbling house. Women simply cannot be confined to one color, or one landscape, or one design. Thank God for that — it makes ministry much more fun.
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Celebrating My Parents

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To borrow a 90’s phrase, my parents are totally rad. I don’t write about them much, mostly because they loom so large in my life that it’s hard to do them justice on paper. Tonight I’m thinking about them because this is the big week when they celebrate their anniversary and their birthdays. I already did the good daughter thing and sent them a little something in the mail, but I think a blog post might be a better gift. (And I bet mom will cry when she reads this.)

You may not know them, but here are some of the reasons why my parents are so great…

  1. Mom is playful and funny. This woman’s got wit and a well-developed sense of humor — and a great cackle to go along with them. She kept us laughing when we were kids with what I can only call antics. My mom is a dignified woman but she’s not afraid to be goofy. More than anyone else, she can make me laugh so hard that I cry and gasp for breath. As I was growing up, she was a favorite with my friends. “Momma G” was often requested as a chaperone for school trips and I didn’t mind when she came along. That says a lot.
  2. My parents are generous. They probably won’t like me telling you this, but when our family had more money than we needed, they gave away the extra. They have always supported great charities and non-profits, not only with money but with their time. They’ve served on more boards and committees, and volunteered at more events, than anyone I know. Every Christmas Eve they hosted our pastors and their families for a bountiful dinner. Whenever there was a spare bedroom in our home, it was filled with missionaries on furlough, poor college students, or people in transition.
  3. Dad is a great confidante. He has always been someone I could tell anything to without fearing quick judgment or dismissal. Even when Dad and I disagree on a point or a decision, we can share our opinions and have a safe and helpful conversation. The way my father listens makes me feel valuable.
  4. Kim and Pam define encouragement. I don’t have childhood issues to work through due to unrealistic parental expectations. When I got a low grade on a test or assignment, they’d ask if I was prepared, if I gave it my best effort, and then they’d tell me that they believed in me and move on. They never made me feel guilty or indicated that I’d disappointed them. In fact, my parents often gently urged me to loosen my perfectionist tendencies and have more fun. The only time they ever gave me an ultimatum was when I was giving all of my time to extracurriculars and was neglecting my spiritual life. They told me that changes had to be made because nothing was more important than my relationship with God. Their own lives have proved that point.
  5. Mom models faithfulness to commitments. Pam has taught pre-school Sunday school classes almost my entire life. Of course there were challenging kids, flaky helpers, and days when she just wanted to skip church and sleep in, but my mother never backed out of a commitment just because her feelings changed. She knew people were counting on her — both the kids, other teachers, and the pastor — so she showed up. Every time. How many people do you know like that anymore?
  6. My parents gave me an awesome musical education. Music was always playing in our home and in our cars. My parents’ musical taste is so eclectic that I can sing along to Cat Stevens; The Beach Boys; Luciano Pavarotti; Joni Mitchell; Simon and Garfunkel; Etta James; James Taylor; any of the Jackson clan; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Frank Sinatra; The Four Tops and many more. I know Broadway musicals and can tell the difference between Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven. Like many parents, Kim and Pam forced me to learn piano. That torture is one of the greatest gifts they ever gave me. The ability to read music is a dying art, but since I learned how to read music, I’ve had some of the most exhilarating moments of my life making music with other singers.
  7. My dad is a storyteller. The grandkids always ask for Papa to tuck them in so he can tell them a story. He’s been weaving intricate stories about Chief Red Cloud for decades. (It’s probably the Ojibwe blood in him.) Dad’s gift lives on in my brother Brandon who spins great stories and makes up these spontaneous, rhyming songs for his daughters. I think dad’s love for story is probably why I love reading, acting, and public speaking of all kinds. There are few simple pleasures like telling a good story well.
  8. They’re still together. My parents don’t have a dazzling love story. (In fact, they way mom tells it, dad proposed in the middle of a casual conversation with something like, “So, do you think we should get married?”) But they do have stable love story, which might just be the best kind. If their marriage were a book, these would be some of the chapters:
    • Loyalty to one’s spouse is like being a Buckeyes fan
    • Parenting is cheerleading without the uniforms
    • The life-long friendship of doubles tennis and euchre table-talk
    • Adventure: sell insurance, travel far, drink wine, and find your husband conducting a band
    • Forgiveness: a kiss after another home project gone sour
    • Embrace your in-laws — Don’t bring up politics
    • Faith is obeying the call of God even when it leads to a desert and loss
    • Aging Well: Let her read. Let him play golf. Hold hands during the movie.

My parents are not perfect people, nor were they perfect parents, but they are easy to compliment. They know how much I love them and now you might too.

Happy anniversary and happy birthday Mom and Dad! May you have many more years together.

Resisting Rest

In May I had these plans for a quiet summer. I was going to enjoy the sunny patio at work, make tons of coffee appointments to get to know people better, and spend the rest of my time studying and writing at a leisurely pace. Um…reality check. The summers around here are certainly different, but no less full than the other seasons. My ministries might be on hiatus, but someone forgot to tell that to my calendar.

It’s downright miraculous how fast life can fill up. On Sunday afternoons when I sit down to coordinate my week, it takes about two nanoseconds to cement every hour. My days are filled with mentoring meetings, staff meetings, intern classes, guest teaching at various groups, pastoral search team meetings, interviews, and meetings to plan future meetings. There were two wonderful trips in June — a work trip to Canada and a personal trip to my brother’s wedding — both of which were refreshing, but when I got back I realized that June was gone. It was just gone and my stomach got that petrified feeling. I hadn’t accomplished nearly half of what I’d hoped.

I’ve got serious work to do. I’m writing a curriculum for a 5 month Bible study on the Holy Spirit and I’m really excited about where it might lead our groups. I’m preaching two Sundays in August and preaching is a Joy, but there’s a lot of spiritual percolation that needs to happen to shape a good sermon. All these meetings are important too, but as I sit through them, under the din of conversation, I hear this whisper like the voice of Voldemort speaking Parseltongue. The creeper is saying — You have so much to do — and while others talk and make decisions around me, I respond (internally) with the drone of the hypnotized — Yes. Yes Master, I do!

Friday and Saturday are my days off. I like to use one for necessary tedium like errands and home pedicures, and one for Sabbath. I’m usually equal parts gleeful and languid by Thursday night, but this summer has tossed in a liberal squeeze of anxiety. The anxiety comes from knowing that there is much left to do and feeling like my time is out of my control.

My head is full of the enemy’s whispers that I don’t really have time to rest. That work is more important than me. He reminds me that people will be watching me and won’t my sermon be that much better if I put in a few hours on Saturday? That certainly 12 hours of daylight are enough to hit the ATM, meal plan and buy groceries, read a mystery, work out, grab coffee with a friend, do 3 loads of laundry, clean the bathroom, watch a movie, and find my missing sandal.

Summer has become a battlefield for not just my time, but my heart. It’s being versus doing, and most days doing has the bigger arsenal. Victory hangs on this question — will I surrender to my call to pastor and prioritize God and others, or will I enslave myself to work?

How I use my time is really a litmus test for idolatry. Every day my calendar forces me to ask, do I bow to God alone, or to God and ____?

Thursday night is almost here and I’m again tempted to resist the rest that I so desperately need. I need it because I am human. I have limits. I’m also worth more than my work could ever measure. Good rest will help me rediscover the joy of simply being a child of God, and the knowledge that that is enough. In fact, it’s everything.

Photo by Jake Givens

Photo by Jake Givens

35 Things for my 35th Year

Maybe it’s a severe case of Youngest Child Syndrome, but I’ve always seen 35 as a significant coming-of-age. I feel like I’ve been leaning toward 35 the way children giddily peer into a pillowcase full of trick-or-treat loot. My birthday came and went this year with moderate fanfare – just the way I like it. My birthday week daydreams were full of wishes, hopes, and prayers (and a few silly wants) for myself and for others. So many things were zooming through my brain that I decided to write them down. Now there’s a record of them and I get to wait and see what happens. Hopefully some really good things.

Here they are in no particular order — 35 things for my 35th year:

1. I want at least 3 memorable cups of coffee — one by the beach, one on a mountain, and one at a cafe while making a new friend.
2. I pray for physical healing for my friend Joni so she can return to the mission field.
3. I want to be surprised by something new God has for me.
4. I wish my feet weren’t two different sizes, or, I hope to find dress shoes that won’t cause apocalyptic blisters.
5. I hope my niece Kennedy stays her spunky, uninhibited self as she grows up. That girl can dance!
6. I pray for my brother Brock’s first year of marriage. For honesty, fun, and affection to be the foundation for their next 50 years.
7. I want to take 5 spontaneous road trips. One of them must be to Yosemite.
8. I hope I get to go to the Olympics in Rio. Who cares if it’s as a volunteer? Pick me, IOC!
9. I pray that this curriculum on the Holy Spirit would take us to deep places in our Bible studies this year.
10. I want to befriend some of my neighbors.
11. I hope that at trip to India is in my future.
12. I wish for rain for California and all the places in the world affected by drought.
13. I want to see C encounter and choose Jesus.
14. I pray I remember to close the garage door when I leave for work.
15. I pray for my brother Brandon’s family as they adjust to their new life in Massachusetts.
16. I want to take an art class, something that uses lots of color.
17. I hope for job security, good health, and a flourishing marriage for my parents.
18. I anticipate many more healthy years for my aunt Caye. That’s one premium kidney my dad gave her!
19. I pray for children in foster care — for the protection of their bodies, hearts and minds — and for the social workers who are searching for their forever families. I pray for generosity in state budgets so the children and social workers have the resources they need.
20. I want to discover four new authors for some good reads.
21. I hope my teaching and preaching will be full of wisdom, helpful illustrations, and a dash of wit. No dull sermons around here!
22. I pray for the single men and women who secretly wonder what is “wrong” with them. By God’s grace, and through caring friendships, I hope they grow in confidence and self-love.
23. I wish I looked my age instead of looking 23. When I’m 50, I better appreciate looking 35, as everyone predicts I will.
24. I want to discover a love for cooking. But since that isn’t likely to happen, I at least hope to hate it less.
25. I pray for all my friends who are new parents — may God bless you with sleep, moments of wonder with your child, a hastily snatched date night, and some good alone time.
26. I want to hold lots of babies this year (and every year), so anyone who wants that alone time, call me!
27. I pray that the church will be a change agent in the injustices of our age, especially in regard to racism, human trafficking, and the exploitation of women and children.
28. I wish that ‘evangelical’ wasn’t such a dirty word in our culture.
29. I hope for dirt cheap airline tickets to Harrisburg, PA. Or better yet, that my besties would move closer to me!
30. I want to be flooded with energy and ideas for writing so this blog will be a meaningful and fruitful place.
31. I pray for the renewed health of the SLW family. May these years of difficulty become an incredible redemption story.
31. I pray I will have a strong sense of family as I develop relationships in my new home.
32. I can’t wait to see what my nieces and nephews do with their lives. I pray that they will know, love, and serve God with joy.
33. I want to laugh a lot. At least once a day. But I would settle for a deep belly laugh once a week.
34. I hope for stable, long-term housing so I can use it as a place of hospitality for the lonely.
35. I pray God would make a way for me to adopt when the time and circumstances are right. That I will be a healthy, wise, and compassionate parent.

A Heart the Size of 12,000 Miles

For the first 18 years of my life I lived in Columbus, Ohio. For 17 of those years I lived in the same house. I attended two churches and three schools in all that time, surrounded by the same people. My parents had a solid and affectionate marriage (unless they attempted a home improvement project together), and I knew very few families affected by divorce or death. My childhood was a picture of stability. 29c4a78abd3f1b0c3e24c1d8b84e94d4 Ohio is a great place. The people are friendly. The housing and groceries are affordable. The weather isn’t unduly harsh in any season; and if you’re a college sports fan, Columbus is Mecca. Ohio is generally so well liked by its inhabitants, that people who grow up there tend to stick around for college. Then they start careers and nurture families there. As a middle schooler, I noticed that no one ever left. Well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – some went to Carolina beaches for summer vacation, and in extreme cases a Ohioan might go to Indiana or Illinois for college – but everyone seemed destined to boomerang back.

I loved my childhood in the heart-shaped state, but when I pictured my future, I hoped for a bit more variety than the Midwestern suburbs I called home. Even if just for a while, I wanted to fly far away to something new. To experience new smells and flavors, and people with stories different from my own. I wanted my life to be big and vibrant, or at least for a little while, broader and more colorful than the corn and soybean fields that are Ohio’s backyard. So at 18, I chose an adventure.

In a graduating class of 500, I was one of two to choose California for college. I attended a small, private school in a quaint, coastal city. There I met people who used words like stoked and dude in everyday sentences the way I used the words happy and Ben. Girls went to class with bikinis under brand name cutoffs and tank tops; guys wore board shorts, t-shirts, and flip-flops stained with salt and sweat. Everyone looked beach-ready, but in a glossy magazine photo way. I’d never owned a pair of overalls in my life, but next to all the tanned, sleek bodies with their casual sophistication, it was as if every outfit I owned screamed farm girl!

Those four years at the beach were difficult but good for me. Despite my Midwestern-girl-next-door vibe, people were generally friendly and accepting. In California I discovered a love for learning and for the avocado. I learned that seafood is edible and delicious when fresh, that cyn is the abbreviation for canyon (that’s an embarrassing story), and that God wanted me to be a pastor. Even though I felt constantly oafish, that feeling got me to a moment every young woman needs – the moment when you look in the mirror and see yourself for exactly who you are, with all your strange beauty and glorious awkwardness, and you lift your chin and say, “This is who I am. And this is good.” And then you step into the sunshine and live.

Those early years in California helped me realize that life is too short and too important to let comparison or insecurity bridle me. I will probably never be thin. I will probably always laugh a little too loudly. I will continue to be more interested in maintaining my friendships than I am my appearance. I’ll bore people at parties with stories about my nieces and nephews. I’ll occasionally cry at work. I won’t stop myself from being goofy near babies. These are just a few of the things that make me, me. Sticking out in California helped me see myself. Because I felt the love of God shining on me even when I felt awkward, I was able to love myself in all my oafish glory.

That profound movement from insecurity to acceptance made me confident and courageous. It turned me into an adventurer who chooses newness and change, and who embraces discomfort and awkwardness, because those things are markers on a treasure map for the soul.

Though I think of it fondly, I never moved back to Ohio. Since my leap to the left coast, I’ve moved a total of 12,377 miles. I’ve lived at 11 different addresses across 5 states and Canada. I’ve lived in neighborhoods where being white and speaking English made me a minority. I’ve joined churches where standard potluck fare was spam and sushi rather than the chicken casseroles and apple pie of my childhood. I’ve also been able to travel to 18 countries on three continents.

This adventure has enriched me, but not without cost. I now have the eyes to see things like white privilege, poverty, racism, and systemic injustices – domestically and around the world. These are things you can’t unsee. They come with some nasty emotions like anger due to a sense of powerlessness, and a grief so thick it stains like mud. As painful as this descaling of my eyes has been, the good news is that these 12,000+ miles have enlarged my heart. My ability to listen well and be compassionate has expanded along with my worldview. Now I don’t want to only meet and hang out with people like me; that’s comfortable but boring. I’d rather seek out people who are different from me. I want to hear their stories, to laugh with them, to discover what makes them tick, and to have their friendship increase my vision for God’s handiwork.

Each new place, people and culture, has marked me in some way, but none have changed me fundamentally. I’m still Corrie – a friendly, somewhat clumsy, unsophisticated, indoorsy, Midwestern girl – but now I’m layered with other landscapes, stories, and experiences. When I look in a mirror now, I see the same person I was at 18, but there’s a shimmer. Like the moment when colors burst and blend as you slowly turn the barrel of a kaleidoscope, there’s a richness to me that wasn’t there at 18. If you look and listen carefully, you can see it in my gaze and hear it in my laugh.

The best way to learn a new neighborhood is to go out and get lost. Leave the GPS at home and go wander. Walk down a quiet side street or get in the car and take five random turns, just to see where they lead. It’s a little scary to do this, especially in a foreign country, but when you do the feelings of being lost and out-of-place fade quickly. Habitual wandering makes unknown landscapes familiar. And one day you will realize that those unassuming side streets are your best route home.

Sustaining Women Clergy: A Call to Action

Moving to a new state and starting a new job usually drains most of my creative energy. I’ve been butting up against some writer’s block the past few months, but thankfully I was able to get some coherent thoughts on paper last week.

Every once and a while I guest blog elsewhere. Follow this link to my latest contribution to the Biblical Gender Equality blog sponsored my denomination, The Evangelical Covenant Church.