Category Archives: Commentary

The F-word and church

It started as a practical offer.

One of the guys who usually helps pass the plate with Jack and two other guys at church wasn’t there on Sunday. There are four aisles. There need to be four people.

“I’ll do it,” I said casually, hoping I wouldn’t hear what I was about to from the men I was standing with, but knowing I probably would.

“Wait,” our friend said, “is that allowed?”

It’s a question I have been afraid to ask about a lot of things inside my church’s four walls. I grew up in traditional baptist churches, where men lead, men teach, men deacon, and men decide.

What am I allowed to do here?

I have been on a journey over the last few years, one that has lead me to really study the Bible and what it says about issues that bothered me. To challenge the ideas that I grew up with and always accepted as truth because I had been told how certain scripture should be interpreted.

I have been learning what it means to be an adult Christian. One who decides to love Jesus because of who He is and not because my parents told me we do.

It started when I didn’t marry Ben Sisney.

Ben was the best-friend-boy I grew up with that my parents imagined me marrying. At least, they imagined me marrying a Ben Sisney. Someone who had also spent his childhood running around in a baptist church like I did. As I became a teenager, that’s exactly what I imagined too. He would know the Bible backwards and forwards, would probably be able to quote scripture, and would be able to make intelligent, witty jokes that referenced obscure Bible stories at (alcohol-free) dinner parties.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We'll never have Bible-verse memorizing babies together.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We’ll never have Bible-memorizing babies together.

The problem is, I didn’t fall in love with a Ben Sisney. I am confident that I was never meant to.

Instead, I fell in love with a boy who grew up in a Catholic church instead of a Baptist one. He hadn’t memorized scripture and his knowledge of basic Bible stories was fuzzy. He couldn’t open his Bible to just the right verse because they just didn’t have to do that in his church. His upbringing was different but the result was the same: he loved the same God I love.

So who cares? Well, I did at first. I spent a while trying to reconcile the fact that the person I had pictured being THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD would have to catch up to me in the “look how fast I can look up a Bible verse” department. And OMG(osh, obviously) did that mean that he couldn’t be THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD after all?

Turns out, Jack has led in a way I could have never planned or expected. He has shown me that serving and loving our God means more than being able to pray pretty or quote the entire Romans Road sequence on cue. He has shown me what kindness and humility mean. He has supported me and pushed me in ways that have grown me. And he has challenged me to lead when it time for me to lead.

If that isn’t a spiritual head of a household, I don’t know what is.

I think if I had kept my caps-lock version of that principle in my head, if I had married a Ben Sisney, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That husband might have allowed me to only follow instead of pushing me to become a leader in the right areas.*

*Dear THE Ben Sisney, I apologize for the bad rap you’re getting as my metaphorical good Christian husband. I’m confident that you’re a lovely, non-misogynistic husband to Marci.

And so, fast-forwarding through these years of becoming an adult Christian, of deciding what I would keep or reject from my accept-everything-I’m-told churchy upbringing, I have found myself in the often-confusing role of Christian feminist.

There are those reading this who will find that word dirty. I actually have a hard time stating this publicly because I am acutely aware of all the ways feminism gets misinterpreted. Also, I feel it’s more impactful to live out what you believe than to place a label on it.

I have had other Christians (men) warn me against making Christian feminists my role models, against accepting any of their ideas. I have had friends (and probably my mother) worry about my spiritual security when I mention that I’m not comfortable with ways certain scripture (especially scripture about women) has been interpreted. I have been surprised by blatant sexism in my career. I have noticed the disparity in women who lead vs. men who lead in this world.

I have been not allowed to do things in this life for the sole reason that I’m female. Things I would have been great at. And I can’t stop wondering whether my church will stop me from doing things for that reason too.

I have perpetually not fit into the typical church lady mold that seems to exist, even though some of my friends do fit into that mold and seem to be comfortable with it (and use that mold to be amazing servants of Christ).

I love the way Sarah Bessey puts it:

Women have more to offer the church than mad decorating skills or craft nights. I look around: I see women who can offer strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel, and teaching. Their whole lives are an offering, and sometimes, the best way to properly celebrate that offering is with a dozen cupcakes and a fashion show, and that’s okay, too.

Recently Jack and I have talked a lot about this. I can’t stop wondering if women aren’t leaders in our own church because it’s not allowed, or because we aren’t stepping up. Maybe the women are doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because that’s what they want to do. But what if women are only doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because we think we aren’t allowed to do anything else? If I’m being honest, that’s why I’m doing all of those things (except craft night because I can definitely rock a hot glue gun).

What if we are allowed to lead and just aren’t doing it?

I told him I feel like it’s important for me to be a part of changing that. To be that woman who volunteers for things that only men do when there’s a need for it. To see what they say when I do. And God bless him, he cheered me on.

(He always cheers me on.)

Honestly, I’m terrified about the follow-through here. What if I find out that this church I love, full of people I adore, this place where we finally feel at home, comes back and says I can’t, only because I’m a woman?

(This is how I know when God is telling me to do something, by the way. I never, ever want to do it.)

So I have been studying and praying about this for a while. I feel like this is both a “if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” thing and a “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” thing.

I don’t want to challenge the status quo for the sake of causing trouble, but I don’t want to not challenge the status quo because it’s scary.

So I offered to pass the plate at church. And yeah, it annoyed me that it was even a debate, that anybody even questioned it. It reminded me of how far I feel the church needs to go. Because to be quite frank, unless these men are passing the offering plate with a part that God gave only men, there is no reason I or any other women can’t stand in the aisle and wait for an offering plate to get to the end of a row.

It was time to step up. It was time to know the good I ought to do and do it.

And you know what? It was allowed after all.

Some words from my brain

I keep opening new blog posts. Because the last one is super depressing and I don’t really want it on top anymore. But then I abandon said new blog posts and that depressing one just stays on top.

Life is overwhelming right now, so writing about life, trying to summarize it, to tell just one story, that’s overwhelming too. Maybe I won’t tell a story or worry about making sense at all tonight. Because no matter what I write, at least it will bump the depressing post down one.

Today’s devotional told me that rest can be a form of worship. To stop being so busy. To stop running. To stop being overwhelmed.

But until I can figure out exactly how to add in all that rest-worship, I’ll be here trying to hold all the pieces together. The marriage pieces and the business(es!) pieces and the grief pieces and the joy pieces and the health pieces and the change pieces and the pieces of the messy, messy house.

They’re kind of everywhere, the pieces. And people keep trying to hand me new pieces.

And it’s not all bad, and it’s not all good. But it is all demanding. And unsummarizeable. The little red squiggly line has decided that “unsummarizable” isn’t a word. I have decided to agree to disagree with the little red squiggly line.

There was a speaker at church a few weeks ago that talked about how much better things were for Christians 40 years ago (Hello, racism? Sexism? Drug use and sexually transmitted diseases? War?). He was 8 years old then.

I don’t know if that is true, because I wasn’t alive then. So it’s hard for me to connect or agree with somebody who is basically saying “things were so much better before you got here!” Plus, the things I remember from when I was 8 are kind of inaccurate. Like how awesome those wafery chocolate covered peanut butter Little Debbie things were. I loved them when I was a kid, but really they taste like wax. We remember things better than they really were, probably in part because our parents shielded us from reality and probably in part because kids are dumb.

And precious and gifts from God and all that too. But c’mon. Also dumb.

The speaker went on to say how Christians are so persecuted now, that we don’t have the rights we once had (you know, how he remembers when he was 8). I guess that’s kind of a hot button issue for me, because I have been to countries where there is actual danger in being a Christian or something else and I have seen groups of people who really are persecuted, and I have never been in that category. And being a white, upper-middle class American Christian? I’m just not terribly worried about my group. Maybe you are. I guess that’s okay too. But I won’t be convinced that my Christianity is in ALL THE DANGER, is all.

I added Meghan Trainor Radio to my (long) list of Pandora stations. You know Meghan, right? She’s all about that bass?

I feel it’s a public service to tell you that. Because it’s a very happy mix. If you like that sort of thing. Or if you’re also all about that bass.

I have been taking pictures lately. People keep asking me to do it for them, which is kind of perfect since I really love doing it. I believe that’s what they call a symbiotic relationship.

And it’s one of the many aforementioned pieces that definitely falls in the “not all bad” category. In fact, if there was a “hardly bad at all” category, it would belong in that one (missing the “not bad even a little bit” category by a narrow margin due to the unfortunate need for business bookkeeping. Bookkeeping and I are not buddies. Nothing personal, Bookkeeping, it’s just that I’m seeing other people and I only hang out with you because it’s part of my custody agreement with Photography Business.)

Also. Fall is creeping in, a few degrees at a time and a few pretend-pumpkin-syrup coffee drinks at a time.

And because Fall requires no bookkeeping (aside, technically, from the extra family photo sessions I book during this season) it belongs into the “not bad even a little bit” category.

That’s a category I can rest-worship in for a minute, at least.

Still good

We went to a church service this morning that featured a guest band, The Moment, and the lead singer, Dave Bell, told his story about getting a rare eye cancer at 16 and living through it. He told the congregation all the ways his family had faith and all the ways God had been good to him, because He had performed miracles in their lives.

(His story starts at 6:50 on this video if you’d like to see it)

And it’s a lovely story, it really is. Encouraging, even. He tells it very nicely and it’s good to hear the way things work out for some people who have faith.

Some people who have faith, though, it just doesn’t work out for.

I know the intent behind this kind of storytelling is good. You don’t have to tell me that; I get it.

But the thing is, God didn’t choose to heal Shane that way. God didn’t choose to reveal his cancer to us in a low-numbered stage, and God didn’t choose to stop the cancer from spreading quickly. God didn’t choose to clean up the infection and God didn’t choose to make his liver start functioning again.

For whatever reason, God chose to take him Home.

And if you’re hearing these “yay miracles!” stories after hearing God’s unthinkable “no” to your prayers of healing, it can get a little frustrating.

Because God is still good.

God is still good even though he didn’t choose to heal Shane on Earth. God is still good even though a big part of life is terribly empty now. God is still good even though my nephew has only pictures to point to to identify his dad. God is still good even though my sister-in-law is suddenly raising a toddler without her husband. God is still good even though I can’t talk to my buddy every day anymore. God is still good even though nobody is using the golf simulator in the garage.

I’m sure it’s tempting to think that people who get “yeses” have more faith, or that God favors some prayers over others because He is unfair and unloving.

I don’t believe it for a second. My God is a God of healing, regardless of how He does it. My God is a good God. My God is a loving and just God.

So tell the world how God healed your cancer. Tell the world how God delivered you from your bad situation. Tell the world how God showed his love for you in many different ways.

But please don’t forget that the same faith that moved your mountain didn’t move somebody else’s.

And God is still good.

The ugly thoughts in my head

For almost a decade, I have thrown myself into fundraising for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society on behalf of my mom. I’ve written blog posts and ridden countless miles in bike shorts, guilted friends into donating and done outrageous things co-workers dared me to in exchange for MS money. I’ve always cared about it very much. And I’ve always been pretty annoyed about this time of year, when the NFL players wear those heineous-shade-of-pink accessories because BREAST CANCER AWARENESS! BE AWARE! CANCER! BREASTS! AWARRREEENESSSSS!

I always thought cancer got too much attention.

(And honestly, I have never really understood how awareness helps all that much past a certain point, especially when it comes to the NFL wearing pink. I know. I’m probably going to get a comment about how it saves people’s lives and how DARE I say such a thing!)

And I get that. Getting checked for stuff saves peoples’ lives. They catch things in Stage 1 instead of Stage 4 and you get to watch your kids grow up after a few rounds of chemo and maybe a surgery or two.

But my brother didn’t get diagnosed in Stage 1. And my brother never missed a colonoscopy (his last one was only a year and a half before and it was totally clean). My brother didn’t have symptoms until two months before he died (and they even misdiagnosed those at first). My brother took good care of himself, cared about his family and friends, showed up for work on time, and paid his taxes.

There were no “he should haves” in his scenario. He did everything right. And that’s a relief.

Except when it’s not.

I figured that when he was diagnosed, cancer would be the next thing we threw ourselves into. And sure, there are certain events I would go to and I donated to the Cancer society on his behalf. Okay.

But to be honest? I don’t really feel like starting a Relay for Life team. Or going to cheer somebody on who is raising money for cancer with a marathon. Or even telling people our story so they will get their regular colonoscopies.

They can cure all the cancer they want right now, and it won’t bring Shane back.

I get all the good it would do for the world if I put a blue ribbon magnet on the back of my car for colon cancer awareness (AWARENESS!!!) and raised a ton of money to help them finally find a cure.

But I have no interest in doing good for the world right now. I probably will someday, but today I don’t want to.

It’s not going to change anything.

Good Grief

I’m home now.

Home, and also homesick. Homesick for Devin and Cassandra, and very homesick for Shane.

I think that was the way God designed this feeling of grief.


Because this isn’t home.

Home is with Him, and now with him too.

People keep asking how I am. How Cassandra is. How my parents are.

It’s kind of a dumb question, if I’m being honest. A nice one, definitely, but dumb. Our brother/husband/son died. How would you be?

The best answer is that we are functioning. We have lives and responsibilities and reasons to get up in the morning. As far as I am aware, none of us are slitting our wrists.

So, fine I guess. Functioning.

It’s just going to have to suck for a while.

Cassandra sent me an article about grief that had a lot of eye-opening things to say, especially this one:

Don’t judge your feelings: In grief, above anything else, it is very important to allow whatever feelings emerge, the space to breathe. They don’t necessarily need to be expressed or felt for long periods of time, but allowing them to be valid in your own mind will go a long way toward relieving tension and helping you stay on track toward healing.

The thing is, I am not a crier. Sure, I cried about this (all the way through the damn eulogy, to be exact), but it is not in my nature to break down constantly. I need to function.

And sometimes I get the feeling that isn’t considered a proper way to grieve.

People want to see you torn up while at the same time assuring them you’re okay. People are afraid to ask the wrong thing but have a need to hear details about what went down from you. People ask you to make sure you let them know if you need anything but few actually show up at your door to walk your dogs or tend to your garden. People say you should take as much time as you need, but only if you’re crying a lot during that time.

It’s not malicious, but people definitely have expectations for proper grieving. Just like, it seems, people have expectations for everything else other people do.

But the thing is, supporting my grieving process has a lot less to do with holding me while I cry than it does letting introverted-me disappear and read. It has less to do with discussing my feelings and more to do with understanding when I’m not up to visit with anybody. It has less to do with tearily looking at pictures of him together and more to do with watching Project Runway or listening to me tell boring-to-you stories about how much my nephew loves tractors right now.

I thought maybe I was doing it wrong, and that’s why people seemed to be trying to help in many of the opposite ways than I needed.

But I have decided that I don’t need to “judge the feelings that emerge.” And I don’t need to care whether other people are either.

I just need to keep functioning.


I heard an individual say something today that I have been hearing for a while. He was talking about the church, and how the “new generation of Christians” were more interested in entertainment than worship, that contemporary music in church is simply a show, that sermons were less deep, theological expository teaching and more simplistic psychological “life lessons.”

In my industry (full-time ministry), it’s hard not to end up getting a little beat up for being young (kids these days! Rarr!), and a little jaded from making the Christian magic yourself. For a long time (and even still, sometimes), I just didn’t feel like going to church. I did “church” all week! I CREATED “church” all week! I am not interested in MORE CHURCH!

And so, I get the whole “UGH. Churches who do a big show! The nerve!” thing. I get it. We moved to a smaller church last year because of that very reason. We couldn’t handle the glitter anymore. We wanted solid Biblical teaching and terrible, terrible music. No gimmicks. It works for us.

But the thing is, we used to go to that church. The one with the show. While I was in college and Jack was on his own, he found this place where he understood the message, where he felt welcome, where he could learn and grow and worship just as he was. Yes, the teaching was shallow at times, and oh yeah, there were videos and electric guitars and drum-sets and dramatic lighting. From the outside looking in, you might think it was all about entertainment.

But Jack flourished there. It was where he was meant to be during that time. He found friends who helped him grow and learn, and he formed a foundation for himself with, yeah, that “shallow” teaching.

I feel like we need to be less concerned with the way other churches are doing their thing, the way other Christians are doing their thing, and understand that what looks like a rock concert to you might be a worshipful experience for someone else. What looks like shallow teaching for you might be providing someone who didn’t grow up in the church a basic understanding of Biblical principles. What seems like a gimmick to coerce an emotional response out of an audience to you might actually be the tool God uses to make a connection with someone.

Are you checking to see whether their teaching is Biblical? Fantastic. That’s definitely something we should be accountable for. Outside of that, what hymns they sing, or if they sing hymns at all; the videos they put on the screen; the trinkets they hand out; how many colors and graphics are on their bulletins – as long as it’s Christ-centered, really shouldn’t be a problem for you.

I’m in the “if you don’t like a blogger, simply stop reading their writing – you don’t need to make a fuss about it” camp, and I think the same principle applies to churches.

We are not all the same. Why should our churches be?

Eric’s Question

“What do you think you’re really, really good at? Like, probably better than anybody you know at?”

My friend Eric asked me this question on Monday.

I didn’t quite know what to say.

I mean, obviously the first word that popped into my head was “RIVER-DANCING!” but after the river-dancing, it was a difficult question to answer.*

Because the thing is, I don’t do most things long enough to become better than anybody else at them. I go in cycles where I need to do something until I burn myself out on it (See also: couponing). I do come back to it eventually, but I haven’t quite perfected any one thing because of this, I think.

I ended up sitting there silently stumped for a few moments, and then (heaven help me) I quoted my dad to him, who always says “life is a collection of experiences.” And I have been collecting.

I’m learning to sew. I have gotten good enough to sew fancy little camera strap covers and make curtains and pillows and alter dresses and hem pants and things. Most people my age can’t do that.

I am loving learning to cook. Thank you, Pioneer Woman. And thank you, pretty kitchen that I want to be in all the time. I’ve made some dishes I can be proud of now, and I’m always getting better.

I’m getting better at photography. Partially because it’s a part of my job, but mostly because I love documenting memories. That’s the point of all of this blogging, tweeting, and scrapbooking, really. I love documenting memories.

I’m a good editor. I make things they put on the radio, so I must be good enough. I know many technical things and can talk super-nerdy about storage solutions and RSS feeds and the proper way to coil an XLR cable and which DSLRs are on the market right now and the ridiculousness of Final Cut Pro X. I’m really good at figuring out how to automate things using technology. I am willing to work hard, and I know my way around a studio just as much as the boys do. I kind of like that about myself.

I know musicals inside and out and so, so appreciate live theater. And even though I can’t sing, I can quote and reference most any Broadway Musical you throw at me. That’s probably not really all that important of a trait in the scheme of things, but it does fall under the “things Mandy is good at” category, so I’m counting it.

I feel like I finally “get” fashion. Not that I can afford the things I want, or that I’m always dressed right, but you know, I’m at the age where I at least understand what looks good and what doesn’t and I just don’t give a crap what people think about me anymore as long as I feel good in what I’m wearing. I like this age.

I’m good at managing money. I’m good at staying within budgets and saving, but I also know how to spend the money I need to to enjoy life. I think that’s important.

I can make pretty things out of not much of anything, really. I’ve always enjoyed scrapbooking, cardmaking… creating anything really. It makes me feel relaxed and loved and centered.

I don’t care what people think most of the time. I have a self-deprecating sense of humor and I think that’s probably healthy. I am a ridiculously bad dancer, but I do it anyway. I am awkward and silly and nerdy and I think that’s just fine.

In some ways, I’m a really good wife. I get excited about making dinner for my husband, and I make sure we have the things we need in the house, like batteries and light bulbs and toothpaste. I think ahead and always remember to bring his phone charger on trips when he forgets it. I make him laugh, and I try to tell him often that I’m proud of him and how much I truly adore him. Our relationship is far from perfect, but I do some things right.

I can communicate clearly through writing, which I think is an incredibly important asset to have, especially for a person of my generation. I love to tell stories in writing, and hopefully, people think I’m as funny as I think I am.

I try to make other people feel good as much as possible. I don’t hold back compliments and I hardly ever forget birthdays of friends or anniversaries of close friends’ loved ones’ deaths. I do my best to let others know they are important.

I’m good at getting things done behind the scenes for our business. I’m efficient and useful at Whatever-My-Title-Is at our karate school, and I like to think I improve it with my web design and bookkeeping and office work and marketing. Or, at least, I improve Jack’s quality of life by relieving some of the pressure for him at work (see point above about sometimes being a good wife).

I am really good at raising money for the MS Society. I lead my BikeMS team as best I can, and I am absolutely shameless when it comes to asking for money to cure my mom’s disease. (You can donate here. See? Shameless!)

I don’t know if I can answer Eric’s question, really. At least, I can’t answer the part about what I’m doing that’s better than anyone else. But I can answer the first part at least. Those are some of the things I’m good at.

And really, it was a nice question for him to ask. Because it’s probably a good exercise for everyone, especially women, to think about sometimes. We spend a lot of time thinking about what is wrong with us, and God made us into pretty fantastic people in so many different ways. It’s nice not to focus on our faults sometimes.

So, now it’s your turn.

What are you really, really good at?

*No, I’ve never river-danced. Let me just remind you what happened the last time I was near a river, okay? There will be no dancing in this place.