Monday, March 24, 2014

Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out aka - A Final Installment

In case you've missed out on the compelling and thrilling first and penultimate installements on the church leaving blogs I've written I give you Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Before I dive into the likely last post on church-leavership (you heard me) I want to make something clear, if it wasn't already abundantly obvious.  I don't have all this answers. Please.  Don't fall out of your chairs.

This post will not address everyone's situation. I'm speaking from a North American paradigm where in most places you will have many options for a house of worship.  Also, I'm in no way equipped to address what to do if your church falls into the "abusive/dogmatic/scandalous" category  except to say I'm so sorry that's what you're going through, God is better than that, and I recommend you find a good counselor.  Even that is probably missing the boat on some or perhaps many levels.  

The main question I want to address is this: How can we, as leavers and stayers in a church, do a better job so that the awkwardness and hurt that it seems is so often associated with leaving is at the very least minimized?

My answer is really a page out of a Relationships 101 class - but I think sometimes we forget that the church should primarily be a family - a great big group of diverse relationships -and an organization second.  Don't forget to remember that people always come before programs.

Onto the good stuff:

Stuff for Everyone: 

Could we agree that belonging to a specific church is not a lifetime contract, and that ebb and flow is a reasonable and natural part of growth and change in our churches?  Just a thought, really.

This of course needs to be balanced with the truth that there is no perfect church this side of heaven. Every church goes through seasons of abundance and seasons of difficulty.  Not everyone gets to stay through the blessing.  Not everyone is meant to stay through the hard times.  If we could believe this first, I think it would be easy to find a better balance between tribalism (you're either for us or against us) and undercommitment (wish I could think of a better word!)

Stuff For Leavers:

Realize that people might feel personally rejected when you leave.  Do your best to assure them of your friendship and continued care for them. I had not thought of this before, but it makes total sense. Remember - you're dealing with people, so however you have to address the truth of your leaving, do so in love.

If at all possible, work to resolution, or at least understanding before you leave.  Personally, I found that once I acheieved understanding my frustration over certain differences were gone.  We still left, but we didn't leave angry, and I'd like to think that's better. :)

If there hasn't been a true scandal, you have likely left over differences: differences in passion, mission, calling, style etc.  If this is you, do NOT bad mouth the church and try to create scandal in order to help you feel better about leaving.  Don't pretend we don't do it either.  Differences are not the same as abuse.  Speak the best possible about the church you have left, and own the differences as just that - differences. "We felt we could better serve in a church with a different focus on..." make it about YOU and not about the church.  Just remember, wherever you go - there you are, and if the churches you go to always seem to end in scandal every other year, the problem might be in the mirror and not the behind the pulpit.

Don't stop talking to people once you announce you're leaving.  Yes, it can be awkward, but be the better person and say something.

Stuff For Stayers:

Understand that for most people, the decision to leave is a very difficult one, made usually over the course of many weeks, months, even years.  You are usually only privileged to the final decision, not the process it took them to get there.  Be careful to be kind when asking questions about "Why?"

This isn't even something we've personally experienced, but could we please lose the "church shoppers" language?  It's couched in shame and it needs to end.  It bothers me because it can sound like false-piety, as though if those church shoppers were truly spiritually mature as you, they would stay as you have done, and like the way your church does church, and be passionate about what you're passionate about.  We're called to diversity and unity - not sameness and conformity. One church will not likely fit the bill for every Christian - and thank God for that! Admit that your church isn't perfect, because it isn't, and release them and pray for God's best as they look for a place to grow and serve.

Assume the best motives in those who leave - ie - don't create scandal over their leaving any more than you want them creating scandal about the church you're staying in.  You don't know their whole story.  It's possible people aren't making the best decision, but give them the benefit of the doubt.  Speak well of them and if you don't know or understand why they left - ASK THEM.

Don't stop talking to people once you hear they're leaving.  Yes, it can be awkward, but be the better person and say something.

Stuff for Leadership:

If it's possible try and find out why people, especially those who have been plugged in and involved, have left. Take the time to listen.  Hear their story- first hand.  The purpose in this isn't to try and change their minds, but to hear them, to gain understanding and to release them in love.  Many people expressed disappointment that nobody in leadership seemed to care that they left.  They didn't want the church to stop in it's tracks, I think they just wanted to be heard.   The other benefit to doing this is that it can help you see if their are unhealthy patterns and practices emerging within different areas of the church.  It might be that everyone is leaving your church just over differences, but it's also possible that something bigger and potentially more damaging is at play.  Care for you sheep, even when they're transitioning to another field.

Perhaps relationships, even church relationships are best summed up in a two step process:

1) Love first
2) Ask questions later

What do you think?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Silencing the Inner Critic - Homeschoolers Edition

*This article was originally intended to be shared specifically with those in the homeschooling community.  However we decided to post it here and share with everyone.  I think the main ideas are universal and I hope that it encourages and inspires you!  Happy Monday everyone!*

Let's take a peek inside the head of a homeschooler, shall we?


"Are they learning enough?  Should we switch from Classical to Charlotte Mason?  I'm not even sure what a Charlotte Mason is, I'm clearly not smart enough to educate my kids! My baby won't sleep through the night, I need 6 cups of a coffee and toothpicks to hold my eyes open while I drag myself through another Sit By Me book.  I'm sure Hannah Homeschooler down the road NEVER has that trouble.  Am I messing them up?  Does homeschooling really make kids weird? I read 13 blogs last night written by moms with 8 kids who are doing amazing hands-on learning units and they have charts and their house looks clean and their 8 year old speaks fluent Latin...I can't even get my laundry folded and two worksheets done with my 5 year old in a morning. Something is definitely wrong with me.  Am I messing them up?  I.  AM.  SO.  TIRED. but if I complain I just know, that my mother-in-law/neighbour/friend/husband will tell me I should never have pulled them from the classroom.  Why does everyone else have it all together? I don't think I'm cut out for this but I really want to make it work. And one more thing...am I messing them up?"

Ever had any of these thoughts or ones like them? Sometimes, the battle for our hearts and minds comes from people and circumstances around us,  but I have found that the critical voices that talk  loudest & longest come from within.  Learning to silence the Inner Critic can be an ongoing struggle for many of us, and homeschooling Moms are no different. We spend a lot of time trying to make our system, our lives and our curriculum perfect, hoping we can silence those nagging thoughts that keep us from enjoying the beauty and joy of the educational choice we've made.

I haven't mastered my Inner Critic, but it is a lot quieter than when I started this journey of homeschooling 7 years ago.  Here are some truths I've learned along the way - maybe one or two will ring true and help you realize that you are indeed, a wonderful Mom, who is capable of educating her children and finding joy in the journey along the way.

1) People don't think about you nearly as much as you think they do.

When I started homeschooling I was fairly convinced that people spent all their free time talking to everyone around them about what a mistake I was making by choosing to educate our kids at home. I have discovered that this is not true. The truth is some people won't agree with your decisions, but they are far too concerned with their own lives to obsess greatly over yours.

2) When people do criticize it's  usually because of a lack of confidence in their decision that is different from yours.

People that are confident in their choices don't spend a lot of time tearing down others over choices they make.  They recognize the abundance and freedom that life offers and find ways to support and encourage people.  As I have silenced my Inner Critic, I've found other negative external opinions don't carry the same weight they used to.

3)Even if you do find the perfect system, teach it perfectly, and your children respond perfectly to your perfect teaching, you will not be guaranteed to raise perfect children who will always make perfect choices that you perfectly agree with.

We need to understand that our influence only goes so far. Our kids were created with the same free will that we are.  We can do everything right and our kids can still make wrong choices -the way you educate them isn't going to change that. Once I came to terms with this it actually freed me from the shackles of perfectionism and control and helped me relax and enjoy teaching my kids and their unique personalities a lot more. It also has helped build much needed humility in regards to others - we're all doing the best we can-  let's cut each other some slack, and just be encouragers whenever possible.  It's a lot easier to extend grace if we loosen the chains of perfectionism on ourselves first.

4) It's important to find a group of people, or a person who you can be totally real with.

It might not be "safe" to vent every frustration that comes with homeschooling (because they DO exist!) to every person you meet, but it is important to find a place where you can be open and honest.  Being understood by someone else and knowing you are not alone in  your struggles goes a long way to keeping that Inner Critic quiet.

5) Social Media in all forms are poor yardsticks for comparing your life vs. others

Author Jon Acuff said "Stop comparing your behind-the-scenes footage to someone else's highlight reel."  Social media can be a lot of fun,  just remember that things aren't always as good or as bad as people make them out to be online.  That is the truth.  Don't let yourself believe anything different!

Secondary to that would be realizing that while there might be some amazing "do it all" homeschooling moms out there, they are an exception and not the rule.  I like to think of them like I do Supermodels - they represent about 2% of the population - it doesn't mean they aren't real, or should be shamed for being exceptional at something, but they aren't typical and no matter how I try, I can't be 6 feet tall and a size 4.  However, there might be some good ideas that I can modify and use for myself in my very real almost-5'6"-and-not-quite-the-size-I'd-like-to-be life.

6) Sometimes you need to let something go

Can we just admit that life doesn't always cooperate?  Sometimes you start a fantastic unit on Dinosaurs and the flu visits your house and it's two weeks before the barf buckets and tylenol can be put away and now your perfect schedule is "behind"- right?  A wise person once said "When things aren't adding up in your life, start subtracting."  There's wisdom there.   I found when I held all my plans for schooling a little more loosely and said yes to things because they actually worked best for our family, not because I was trying to prove I could do it all, or that homeschooling was "better" I wasn't nearly as frustrated with myself when I had to adjust those plans along the way.

This list isn't nearly exhaustive, but maybe it's a good place to start.  Moms of all walks of life love their kids so much and want what's best for them.  Don't make your job harder by believing the lies you tell yourself.  When it comes down to it, the only thing we have control over is ourselves and how we react and respond to life.  Speak truth, embrace grace, and set yourself free.  It changes everything.


What things have you done that have helped to silence your Inner Critic?  Share your story in the comments below!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Pack Your Denim Jumper in Your Old Kit Bag

And smile...smile...smile.

Life is never static.  We use a lot of lovely metaphors for this - journey, seasons, pathway, dessert buffet...ok maybe the last one is my own.  Wouldn't that be great if we treated life like a dessert buffet? Different flavours and finishes, but all delicious and divine. And hello - if everything is dessert, that means that in some way it's great, right?

In five days we will start a new season, take a new path, begin a new journey, put down the delightful chocolate mousse we've been eating for the past 7 years and go crazy for the cheescake that's been placed in front of us:  ALL of the kids will be in school.  I will let go of my responsibilities as teacher-mom and embrace all the good, bad and beautiful that sending kids to brick and mortar schools entails.

It's been a "slow leave" over the past month as it's taken time for the schools we have chosen to have room for each of the boys, but in a sense that has been nice. Morgan already started at highschool this September, so her transition was more typical than the boys has been.  This staggered entry has allowed me time to focus on transitioning to one school at time. Currently we are at four schools, on two different campuses - a leetle bit crazy, but it seems to be working - so far, and next year should be a bit better.

This staggering also allowed the one student who wasn't thrilled with the idea at first to experience what homeschooling was going to look like with just him and me, and let's just say when we got the last phone call this week, he was more than ready to give it a try. (Proof that I'm really not that interesting to hang out with all day, every day!)

To answer the What are you going to do with yourself? question: I personally plan to do nothing but sign notices, sit through homereading and make lunches for my youngest two for at least a month.  Then, as they say in Botswana, we'll make a plan. ;)

We've all had our moments of nervousness and big questions. Learning a new system, being the new kid and making friends is a slow and sometimes difficult process, but we are ready...I think. At any rate, we are going to go for it.

I've loved my years in the homeschooling community.  It's a beautiful way of learning and life.  For sure, it has it's plusses and minuses but I would highly, highly recommend it to anyone who wanted to give it a try. I'm going to miss a lot of things about it.

However, it's time to start something new, and I'm pretty sure this cheesecake is going to be awesome.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Follow-Up Question: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

A few days ago I posted a blog with some thoughts and feelings about what it's like to leave the church, and the response has been most interesting.  It's already moved up to the "favourites" category in terms of blog traffic, (way faster than normal) but most of the response has been through private emails and conversations. This is also unusual - I usually get comments in the comments section (funny enough) or not at all.

So, if you are in a church and someone has left - I want you to know this.  People are hurting. They are still hurting years later.  People are also afraid to talk about their pain, and their experience, which I am sure contributes to the pain, anger and hurt still haunting them years later. There has got to be a better way.  It's totally understandable that some people will only belong to a certain church body for a season.  But the fear and the pain surrounding leaving is just, I don't know, wrong. There has GOT to be a better way!

My questions to the leavers and stayers is this:  What can churches do differently? What can those who move on do differently?  How can we release people to pursue a new church home without them feeling judged? What would have made a difference to you in your story? Is there a better way? 

I'm not asking for things like "Well the church I was at should have kept following the Bible, or had more/less/louder/softer worship or programs"  My sense, at least from the responses I've received is that those differences are not what cause the pain. Or maybe I'm off my nut a mile and a half and just haven't heard from enough of you!

I'm not asking who do we assign blame to - but let's get these "leaving skeletons" out of the closet. Skeletons have a way of following us and affecting future healthy relationships negatively. I'm wondering how and if we can better navigate the problem of pain being associated with church leaving. So if you have experience or ideas around this idea - please sound off!

I promise no names of people and churches will be used in the follow up post, but maybe we can get a conversation going?  Be brave! Share the post, even if its shared via email and not through other public venues.  Write an anonymous comment.  Send me a private email: karinaloewen (at) gmail (dot) com.

You are not alone.  It doesn't have to hurt this much.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

There always have been, and always will be opinions on how, why, when and indeed, if, a person should ever choose to leave their church. In the last few weeks there have been some good articles floating around the internets; first there was Five Reasons Why You Should NOT leave your church, which was closely followed up by Five Reasons you SHOULD Leave Your Church.  Good times, and no lack of opinions on those interwebs, right?

What happens when you have already left your church and you are stuck in that awful middle place? It's likely if you've left a church, you are in some way hurting.  It's probable, if you were at all connected to the other people in your church, that your leaving might have caused pain. I wouldn't want to for a second pretend to speak for everyone who has ever left a church, but I just thought maybe, it would be helpful or at the very least, cathartic, to give insight into our story. We left our church a few months ago, and it still hurts.

Leaving a church is never as easy as it looks from the outside.  If I have learned anything so far from our experience it's  that over-simplifying and assigning motives to someone else's story, especially without talking to them personally, is a mistake. Life is rarely tidy enough to fit into a neat little box of obvious reasons. Rachel Held Evans said the other day :Leaving a church can be incredibly painful and difficult. How about we not rush to judgment about why some people make that decision?

To give a little context, we were not just "attending" our church.  We were involved, invested and trying in every way to be a positive part of the congregation there. We thought for much of the four and a half years we attended there that we were on the same page.  The other point that I want to make very clear is we were in no way abused by the leadership, or anyone else from the church.  There is a difference in being hurt BY the church and just hurting because you wish things were different and leaving is difficult.  We are in the latter category - so when people ask if we've been hurt by the church the answer is always an emphatic- no. Technically, we are hurting, but not because we've been intentionally hurt.

We left, oddly enough, because we loved our church and wanted to release it to fulfill God's purpose and calling for the people that call that church home. I believe that different churches have different callings and purposes in God's kingdom. They should not all look that same. However, it's a tricky thing to talk about all of that when you are leaving without it sounding like you are talking in terms of better or worse, so we've not talked about the details at all, really. In the end, we chose to leave, and my purpose with this post isn't to play the sympathy card, I'm hoping for understanding.  If anything else this experience will help me be more gracious to others when they leave, and that's the good thing about pain. It teaches us better than just about anything else.

Wouldn't it be great if I could come up with Five Things to Know About People Who Leave Churches, (maybe that will come later!) but this whole concept doesn't seem to fit neatly into talking points - it's all about all the feelings and so the best thing I've come up with so far is an analogy:

Leaving a church that you loved and were involved in feels a lot like breaking up with a serious boyfriend:  

*My Mom and I have been writing back and forth, she's my favourite counselor on call, and what follows is a mish mash of our conversations and my thoughts.

Getting involved in a church is like seeking to find the right partner. There's attraction, infatuation (this church is SO great!), seeming perfection (why aren't ALL churches like MY church!) , deepening of involvement and commitment (volunteering, becoming involved in leadership, praying for, caring about the people you are serving) ...which is where the hazards in the relationship start to expose themselves. (hey, wait a second, do you mean what I think you mean?)  Then if you can't get the reaction you want from your boyfriend, or he has no desire to meet your needs, or doesn't seem to care if you are unhappy (recognizing that you could be causing these same feelings in him as well)...you make a decision on whether the relationship is worth giving yourself too. (Praying things would change, praying you would change, praying that all of this doesn't mean what you think it means, cause man, you are NOT a church leaver...)

Leaving doesn't make you happy (actually it makes you sadder than you thought you could ever be). You wanted him to be the right guy. You invested yourself and you wanted a return on that investment... a marriage, children, a white picket fence (a place to serve, a purpose in building the kingdom, people to share the life with)...the works.

Now here you sit, alone and heartbroken over what you have lost and how all your dreams are shattered. You are going through buckets of ice cream and cases of Kleenex (yes, and yes) and he has already got a new girlfriend. It's not fun, but it's not new either. (But it sure stinks) 

The analogy also extends to the awkwardness that leaving a church inflicts on the relationships you have with people that are still at the church. It's like the siblings and family members that are left scratching their heads and what appears to be a sudden break-up, and they don't understand why you could have broken things off, when after all, you were such a cute couple and looked so good together.  

Anyone that's broken off a serious relationship will tell you that how things look, and how things are, aren't always the same.  Sometimes, two really great people break up and go their seperate ways when neither one has done anything sinful.  I'm hoping that's true - I'm hoping we're both really great people, and it's just sad for me, that it didn't work out like I hoped it could.  I think that's the hardest thing to explain to others.

I'm sure reasons for leaving a church are as varied as the people who make those decisions.  For us, leaving our church was done because of our great love for the church.  We recognized that to stay would leave one of us in the relationship always miserable.  We did what right now feels like the harder thing, for us. I'm hoping against hope that one day, it won't feel so fresh and raw, and we will find a place to connect, serve, and start over again.

Don't even get me started on how finding a new church is like going on a BLIND DATE.  I'm just not ready to go there yet.

Can you relate? Is this what leaving a church felt/feels like for you?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Waiting and Blogging


A sweet friend suggested that I try using the blogger app so that I might be able to get more little moments in life captured. 
So here I am waiting in the parking lot at church to pick up Morgan from youth. 

It's senior youth now- is that what  they call it? Wondering things like that makes me feel a little old. They probably have some cool name for it like Turbulence and I just haven't picked up on it yet. 

But no matter how old I feel, I keep pictures like this as the background on my phone to remember how great the next stage of life is going to be. 

My lovely children, Who long-ago figured out my password and know that I can't be bothered to change it, thought they would update my phone to iOS 7 and include a bunch of other photographs you know, in case I was ever lonely. Bless it.  

So now I try not to get motion sick from the new update on my phone because you know- old.  And then I smile, because there's nothing that says I love you like a goofy photographs stuck to the phone of a mom who doesn't really know how to, or want to get rid of it.

Life is changing. 

Life is good. 

Happy October everyone!



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Anthems for $500 Alex

This song.


Powerful words.  Incredible imagery and story telling, my favourite kind of song.  I love it, and it fits the bill for Anthem of This Season. You have anthems too, right? I can't remember not having one.  My anthems are usually songs that grow courage and conviction; songs that I could listen to, or play on the piano and belt them out endlessly because they so perfectly describe life, where I want to go, and how I want to get there.  

I'm pretty sure the idea for this song comes from Matthew 14:22-33- where Jesus and then Peter walk on the water.  Often the story is used as a call for greater faith - we focus on the part where Peter starts to sink. "Have more faith folks - don't be like Peter". 

I wonder if we miss the point, or at least a point there - Peter was, after all, the only one who got out of the boat.  

What is certain is that if you do jump out of the boat  the other people left behind might think you're nuts -because after all, they aren't even sure if you're following Jesus onto the water.  It might just be a ghost.  Or you might be crazy.

But won't we do more for the kingdom of God if we get out of our safe little boats and walk where Jesus calls us?

I think for any of us with faith in Christ there is a place we've been asked to go, something we've been asked to do that requires incredible faith, trust and courage. 

I'm really good at those things when I'm kind of able to see or know how things are moving or where things are going. 

I realized, however, (for the 500th time in my life) this past week, that faith - because I can understand, courage- because there is no risk that I can see, and trust- because I can see where I'm going to land, is control wearing a cute dress and that's about it.

Where have you been called out onto the water?

Faith begins when we're willing to say "Lord, if it's you, tell me to come out onto the water".

Trust builds when we recognize the voice that simply says:  "Come."

Courage grows when we leave everything that we understand to be keeping us safe and we step out of the boat; where we begin to do the things that can not be done in our own strength, but only in the name of Jesus.

It's almost certain that we will mess up.  But I think I would rather fail in the water than stay safe on the boat. Out on the water is closer to Jesus.  That's where I want to be. 

You call me out upon the water - the great unknown where feet me fail
And there I find you in the mystery, in oceans deep, my faith will stand.

No water wings.  No flippers.   No boat.

Just faith, trust, courage and Jesus in the middle of the ocean. 

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters where you would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could even wander
And my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my Savior.

Amen.