One time, a church asked me to take my post down.
The specifics of the post don't really matter. What matters is that in my post, I was telling a story. My story. It included a few people in leadership and even though I didn't mention names, I was told that in writing the post I was trying to tear down ministries and that I was doing damage and essentially gossiping from a megaphone.
I ended up talking with someone from the church later that week. In all of my communication, this person was the only one who offered a listening ear without any accusation.
We met at a local coffee shop and I shared my story and he shared his and I left with a better understanding of the Gospel.
In that moment, I felt safe. Heard.
A few years before, Russ and I had a similar situation. He wrote a post about food and community and mentioned briefly that we'd been let go of our position at a church and how devastating that was for us. But, God was molding us. Moving us. Showing us a bit of Himself in the breaking of bread with other people who actually sit and listen and share—something we weren't familiar with until that moment.
Within a few hours, we were contacted by the pastor who told us we were participating in slander. We never even mentioned the church or the pastor by name, but what resulted was confusion and hurt and bruised egos and a reminder that we all read into words what we will.
What makes this situation different?
We still met a coffee shop. We still shared our stories. But this time, I left with a broken heart. This time, I left with even more confusion and hurt because this pastor stared at my husband after he mentioned he was trying to keep his anger in check, let a slow grin cross his face, and said, "get angry man! Cuss at me if you have to - yell even - but say something! Just don't sit there."
And I wondered what is the Church if all we ever do is manipulate people into action?
These two situations have left me with this: stories, however broken or fleeting, always trump force. Don't tell me if you're right. Don't tell me I'm wrong. Do sit with me and wrestle through our stories together because then I see a taste of the Church as it's meant to be: broken but living out something beautiful in our strengths. Because even if we disagree, if you're willing to hold my story in your hand with care it covers all the petty nuances of faith.
A few years ago Russ and I found a community who approach human care—and every issue within—with the purpose of listening and sharing. What's resulted is more than a community, it's a family. And even though we may not agree on everything, we know we'll hold the stories shared with care. Because of that, we grow. We learn. We shift. We change.
The first time we showed up to IdeaCamp, people welcomed us with open arms (even though we were online). We were considered charter members. Part of the tribe. Equals. And the the ideas started to spread. One meeting turned into many - in DC, Las Vegas, Portland. We were finally able to attend the gathering in Arkansas, and that weekend completely changed the trajectory of our story in two ways.
- I was there as a blogger. During a workshop on the orphan crisis in Ethiopia, I suddenly felt overwhelmed with the amount of people there who turned their skills into something tangible for aid on the ground. Dentists started organizations for dental care. Doctors created built in health care for the people in the surrounding villages where they adopted from years earlier. Finally I couldn't stay silent anymore. I spoke up - as a writer, I struggle. I can go overseas, but I don't have this burning desire or talent to engage in the community while I'm there. Only when I'm home, spitting the stories out on my computer, does my help seem anything remotely like those of the healthcare or education fronts. And then a doctor looked at me and smiled.
"Don't you see?" he said, "you are the luckiest of us all. YOU have the ability to share the greatest story - the only story - that matters. We share it with our tools. You share it with your words."
And it was such a simple response but in that moment something within me shifted. My purpose crystallized. I was a writer. I was a writer. I was born to tell stories. I was born to tell HIS stories. Yes. This. This I knew in the deepest parts of my soul. I fit here. I belonged.
- I was also there as an adoptive mom. At the time, Russ and I planned to adopt from Ethiopia. However, every time I chose to hold a story with the question of ethics or of the importance of churches engaging in local care or the corruption within the foster care system, I broke a little more. It wasn't enough for us to do what everyone else was doing. Our story didn't match up with the glamorous picture painted of international adoptions and the rescue of orphans involved - the picture I latched onto before I traveled and met orphans with names. Orphans with homes. Orphans with no plans or need for adoption. And just like something earlier shifted within my purpose, another latch fell into place after participating in discourse and pushing and wrestling through the grittiness of the adoption care issue. Our story? Our story was meant for domestic adoption.
Our story was meant to be engaging in the messiness and awkwardness and brokenness of holding the story of a birth mother's pain in our hand.
Looking her in the eye. Not knowing what to say except thank you times a million. Not knowing how to hold or handle her smiles and you're welcomes times a million. And when the tears come, when her relief spills over in tears, I was meant to grab her hand. I saw it so vividly then, and I had no idea how accurate the picture was for our future situation. Now, two years later, we're in the midst of this very thing. Holding the story of our son's birth mother gently within our own hearts. Knowing the sacrifice she made. Knowing the difficulty involved. Knowing the breaking happening on all sides and realizing the messiness of it all doesn't allow for clean anything.
And I saw this first with Idea Camp.
In September, Idea Camp comes to Austin. I've been wanting one here since the beginning. Those who've been with me can prove it. Wouldn't it be awesome to hold one here? I'd say. We could focus on story. How to tell one well. How to engage the Church in storytelling that holds the whole of it and not just the clean parts.
And really, even though the focus is IC: Human Care, isn't that what storytelling is? Caring for the human involved? Truly listening to their side - however messy or different - and seeing where it may intersect with your own?
I've seen mountains of assumption moved within this tribe. People who would never be seen together sitting across from each other and working through what it means to participate in civil discourse. Answering questions with humility and openness. And everyone leaves with a deeper picture of what it means to live out the Gospel.
I'll be there, taking notes and soaking in the conversation. I hope to see you there, too.