i usually come up with my blog title after i write. when i sit down and write, i usually have somewhat of a subject that i feel God is laying on my heart (or one that has no spiritual meaning at all), but i don't usually know how it's going to come out and what the best 2-5 word description of the post will be.
but i'm pretty sure this will cover it...
messy and unfinished!
for two reasons, i am and this post will be. (brace yourselves, spelling and grammatical errors abound!)
christians too often think that their lives need to be polished, free from a past life's sin, etc. must be "put together" to follow Christ. i have just recently realized how absurd this is because i could never get to "that" level. because really, that level is not found here on this earth! there was a time, ok, like 200+ where i almost gave up on this "christian" walk, because i kept trying to "arrive." somehow i never got the grace lesson in my christian "school" of life.
what's the point because i'll never get to the level of so-and-so??
that person for me 6 years ago was my friend laura.
she met me in a pretty messy time. i gave up nyc, smoked a pack of cigarettes the night before i left, and moved out to california to see if ken and i could make a go of it. he was only going to be home 4 more months before deployment but after 10 months of nyc-la, i had to know. and if it had failed, i was sure i could fit my messy life into the la scene.
i showed up skinny and pixie-cut blonde as the girlfriend of this single guy. they probably some of them thought, who does she think she is? i can't remember exactly laura and i's first encounter, but i do remember warm smiles and acceptance. like right off the bat. and luckily for me, and for ken, pretty much all the ladies of his batallion accepted me bleached hair, potty-mouthed, margarita-drinkin' mess.
but laura, being the cool gal she is, started taking me to church while the guys were deployed. sometimes it was a 50/50 of whether i had had too many margaritas to join her but usually i tried to go, even if it was showing up with wet hair 15 minutes late.
and going back to church with laura changed the course of our lives.
ken came back, i told him we were going to church, and the powerpoint screen and band could have seriously done some damage to a boy who grew up singing hymns in lutheran church and reciting homilys (is that what they're even called) in catholic church. nothin' wrong with those churches. but i just felt pretty connected with the contemporary worship of this presbyterian church we were attending.
it took ken awhile to get over the powerpoint but he did and when we moved to austin, we went to a bigger church with powerpoint to the nth degree and a rock band. the austin music scene was right smack in the middle of austin christian fellowship church and i loved it.
still i only allowed a gentle, cautious stirring from God when we first arrived in austin in november 2006. after all, i had been seriously hurt by ministry because i had seriously screwed it up in 1999. and as a result i went on a drug, sex, drinking, rock-n-roll scene roller coaster for 3.5 years that would scare my mother if she knew all the details. but a redemption plan was in place and God intro'ed me to ken in 2002 through our friend matty shubzda.
while we didn't have it together, then, or even now, there was a change. i knew i wanted to marry this man pretty much from the beginning and i knew i wanted us to fall back in love with Jesus.
ken had been hurt by the death of his brother when phillip died of testicular cancer at 24, so he had some serious reservations about God's divine plan and purpose for our lives.
when we showed up to austin christian fellowship they were going to do dave ramsey's financial peace university and ken was sold. he was thinking, she bought a bmw (but actually he did because i wanted it) and we could be in trouble here. we need to get our finances straight.
on our first day, sometime in december 2006, just 2.3 years after we got married, the pastor, will davis, who obviously loves people where they are, came up to us. i thought, oh great. the pastor has singled us out as the 'new people' (which is pretty remarkable since we sat in the back and there were at least 400+ people there (i'm bad at number guestimates but there were a lot.) and in a pretty large church on our first day, i thought this was pretty impressive. we chatted, he immediately liked ken because he was military, and not because he was a longhorn. his baylor bears, green-and-gold-blood couldn't take all the barf orange. since my red and black red raider heart couldn't either, i knew i was going to like him.
we joined a small group of about 6-8 couples, who became a SOLID rock of FANTASTIC people for us to go through life with. eventually they would be the ones carrying us through matthew's funeral, along with gary sinclair, director of pastoral care, who is also amazing! and i'm pretty sure he's from the midwest, which means he probably doesn't care about the longhorns and this is like a default vote for the baylor bears and texas tech red raiders. :)
ken was sitting at church one day in february 2007, just 2 short months after we started attending acf, and decided that all the running and anger was over (about his brother phillip) and that he wanted to be in an intimate relationship with Jesus. we were where we needed to be. God was present with us at acf and we had "arrived." and because he had only been baptized as an infant, he asked will davis to do the honors. it was a big moment for me. like HUGE!
my prayers, through margarita hangover eyes in LA with laura, had somehow been answered. i know she prayed for me. for him. for us. i can't recall if we prayed together for ken or not.
the point is that i just KNEW this was it.
i had FINALLY reached "IT!" i had finally "arrived!"
i would be spiritual and righteous, and finally be a "good christian." after 17 years of up and down and i'm followin' ya, or i'm not....IT'S ABOUT DANG TIME!
2007, living in austin, was a fantastic year for us. fantastic. our walks with Jesus, our marriage, our church, our small group friends, my college friends who ended up there, and fantastic neighbors...it was amazing. ken was in graduate school (albeit the barf orange one), for a year-long "break" from traditional navy duty stations to get his required masters degree, and i was working as a recruiter from home for a large financial institution now owned by the government. i played hookie more times than i can remember and we'd just take the boat out in the middle of the week and wakeboard, just the two of us and the glassy water. it was purely magical.
i even remember when i turned 30 in austin that summer. several friends and my brother came down and we had a crazy celebration. and by crazy i mean, overserved. on sunday, the day after the party downtown, we were hosting a party at our neighborhood's lake dock and taking people out on the boat. because drinking and ministry had gotten me in trouble before in 1999, i was sure the acf small group friends would ban me. they didn't. in fact a couple of them had a beer or two on the water that day (i didn't because the smell of alcohol was too intense for me from my shaninigans the night prior), and i thought, hmmm...can you have a drink or two and still be a "good christian." wow. we might be onto something.
so i thought, we have ARRIVED! we're finally there. ken and i are now living a life where God is actually proud of us. after the 30th b-day bash, i decided moderation was the key to life, and away we went, into the light, not a trouble to be known.
i'll never forget our pastor's wife, susie, invited us newlywed ladies for a small summer weekly get-together to discuss life, marriage, eventual motherhood, and all that jazz. we came in the late afternoon and she also showed us a few simple recipes. one in particular was homemade bread, like not in the maker. it was pure genius, really. she made her family's dinner while she casually chatted with us. she was so great at just being present and having a friendship/relationship with us. i'll never forget one time, when she said these words...
"sometimes i just have a bottle of wine open and after a long day, will comes home and we share a glass of wine together and talk about the day."
SCREEEEECCCCCCCCCCHHHHHHHHH! WHAT??? you are a pastor's wife and he is a pastor...and..........UGHHHH....you drink?
certainly i hope you're not seeing a picture of will and susie dancing on 6th street chuggin' beers and margaritas (that was me at MY birthday!)
the drinking thing was like no big deal. like alcohol was NOT a sin, in of itself.
i also remember will saying in a sermon that he liked a, not 5, margarita and if you saw him out having mexican to not be surprised to see a margarita in front of his plate.
wow, if he can do it, i can. but in moderation of course. something started happening here. my legalistic mindframe of sin, was beginning to lift. i think here is where i started to discover, just a tiny bit, what grace actually was.
at the end of summer 2007 (after my b-day bash, of course), i felt God calling me to go upstairs and see if the youth group needed help.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
i told God...ummm...yeah...do you remember the train wreck in Lubbock 8 years ago, where i was asked to step down from TEAM LEADER because i was boozing it up, sleeping with my boyfriend, and in the utter fight of my life with bulumia and anorexia?? yeah, i'm pretty sure they'll call the lubbock young life office and find out.
the call for me to do this would not stop. literally, in my head all the time. ughhh.
so i thought, ok...joke's on you Jesus. i'll go up there and meet this steve guy, eventually they'll find out my secret, and then i'll laugh when they ask me to step away from the kids.
but i'll do it, God. you're crazy. i can't be used in ministry like this again...or can i?
when i approached steve shaver, the youth director at the time, we were only going to be around another 6 months and so i assumed he probably couldn't use me. not. at. all. plus i figured if they make a call or two, after i'm pretty sure i wrote down 'young life' as my ministry experience on the paperwork, then i'm donezzzzooo. finished. of course i filled out a background criminal check thingy, but i guess the fallacies of my time as a young life leader in lubbock didn't show up.
what i viewed as "criminal" or like the ultimate God-can't-use-me-again dealbreaker EXCUSE, really wasn't... i guess.
they never found out my past, to my knowledge, and i even went on a weekend youth retreat with them. i had the pastor's daughter in my cabin, yep, will and susie's, so i made sure i didn't say anything too incriminating. i served with the youth only 6 months but came to love high school kids again.
could my debacle in lubbock have been mistakes, sin, and irresponsibility that, to this day i have not apologized to the area director for? yes. (don't worry, i audibly hear the Jesus i serve saying, write the letter, now!)
but could God use me again in ministry? apparently...
in aug 2007 of that year, we got a call asking us to go to greece in 3 months on short-notice orders. i turned down what would have been my dream job and off and away we went.
the adventure was awesome. we still followed jesus, but we still hosted parties. for the most part, we stayed true to moderation, except for a few nights, one in particular that i remember when ken was promoted to lieutenant commander. and that party was a circus.
shortly after, and knowing we were "just too damn old" for that, i got pregnant with matthew. the life we had "arrived" at was taking on a new form, and we couldn't have been more excited.
there were literally days after days, that i patted myself on the back for FINALLY getting my messy and unfinished life in order.
i had ARRIVED, even more this time...yeah, me, finally, a put-together christian with a husband who loves Jesus, a dog who does too, and a chance to raise God-fearing put-together Jesus-lovin' kids.
and 28 weeks into the pregnancy, january 6, 2009, came and our lives were forever changed...
the messy got messier and the journey of chaos came back into my life.
after our beautiful matthew died 5 days after entering this world, the drama was back, but this time, i'm pretty sure it was going to finally do me in.
i said that OUTLOUD to God more times than i can remember...
have you ever audibly heard from God? i think i have, but i wouldn't have the journal entries to prove it. most people think because i'm a writer i journal all the time. not so much. most of the time, i'm too scared to see what my fingers might type or what my hand will write. but He's asking me to write now...i know this without a shadow of a doubt. like i knew he asked me to help with the youth again.
it's like He's sayin', I HAVEN'T GIVEN UP ON YOU...will you please do this for me?
i've spent 20 months since our matthew's death saying, WHY GOD??? Why to many, many things spanning my entire life.
now i'm just doing it, and living. finally, again. waiting for heaven to "arrive."
3 weeks ago, i had decided that with a 5, almost 6-month-old, women's bible study was going to be too much for me this semester. i would just stick to our small group. and the church bulletin said the ladies weren't going to do a beth moore, so i thought, what is the point? i sat in the service and could not tell you for the life of me what it was about. and i have a pretty good memory.
all i kept hearing was, sign up for the bible study. but i'm still breastfeeding a reflux-baby who screams during feeding and that would be a distraction, etc. etc. etc. the way the study is set up is there are several small groups of like 10-15 women each and we meet first for like an hour and a half and we discuss our homework and share prayer requests. then we all go into a room and watch a video or have the teacher lecture. probably like 200+ (again, bad with the guestimates) women do this study from churches all over.
i got tired of hearing the loud, obnoxious, audible God and went to the table to sign up. well only if i can be with the ladies from last semester. they were all young moms and on some levels i connected with them. well, as much, (or actually as little), as my broken heart wanted to connect. i put down the woman's name who led last semester under "preferences." then i asked the lady in charge.
"oh she's not teaching this semester." she told me that they like to break up the groups each semester, but she assured me i'd be with women going through the same stage of life as me.
i panicked. i don't want to know anymore new people. i was just getting to a point where i realized i might not be the "sad" friend and i want to go deeper with these ladies.
ken and i have been attending this church for 14 months, albeit kind of irregularly, especially since k was born, which is no longer an excuse, (another day, another post), and in an effort to NOT meet the pastor we high-tail it outta there as soon as it ends. we were perfectly content with not being involved.
until we went to austin this past january for matthew's first birthday remembrance celebration, and will asked how our church in annapolis was going.
"fine," i said.
"have you joined a small group?"
i can't remember if i lied or not, but i do know that he was right so immediately after we got back from austin, i asked a girl in my bible study that semester about hers. we showed up the last week in january, i think, and they were finishing up a study on ruth. i cried my eyes out at the realization i was naomi in the book of ruth. i was as depressed and hopeless as she was. we've been going ever since and absolutely love our small group friends.
after will "harassed" (haha!) us about our church and joining a small group in annapolis, he said, while looking at my obviously pregnant-with-kennedy belly, "a year ago we were here and life has changed quite a bit, huh?"
i thought for a second. it sure has. only a year ago we were standing on this porch talking to you just 2 days after burying our son. and now i'm 27 weeks pregnant with a child i might get to keep on earth this time...
back to our church here in annapolis...
wouldn't you know...the pastor's wife is in my group. great! and better yet, my first bible study leader, paula, is my leader again. paula is a baby-loss momma (her chad went to heaven when he was 7), and i deeply love her. we have a mix of young moms and 1 grandmother. it's gonna be awesome. oh, oh, and the BEST part. candice is from lubbock. they just moved here 6 weeks ago and she thought we weren't going to be friends because of my horns-jersey-wearing self, but when i intro'ed myself i clarified that i was a bet-loser, and she knew and i knew, we were just going to be BEST friends! this study is EXACTLY what i'm supposed to be doing right NOW.
why do i know this? well the above mentioned is pretty good reason right? but...
shelly chapin drake, who is on staff at our church, wrote the study - a heart-wide open. while sharing her testimony at the intro yesterday, she shared that she married the camp director, got a divorce and basically quit ministry. she was approached with ministry opportunity like 9 years later i think, and she said, "but you know i've been divorced, right?"
yeah, i kind of thought that part was cool too.
what wasn't cool was that i walked into the group, just as it was about to start (of course late b/c of kennedy's blowout in her 'horns jersey) and whispered, paula's group? oh, it's in the front there. looks like there is an empty seat.
front and center. front and center. God, you've got to be kidding me? i have to walk through the masses of tight tables and squeeze through the aisles wearing this burnt orange jersey? utter and pure humilation. until shelly shared her testimony and tears filled my eyes like 10x.
i was literally 2 feet from her while she spoke.
yes, God, you have my attention!
afterwards i told Shelly i was very excited about the study and i'm sorry that i was wearing the jersey. she said "i'm not" and i knew this texan would be a catalyst for how God is going to change me, again, this time...
but it would have been cooler if she were a red raider. i guess she can't be perfect, either!
i think it would have been nice if i had actually read this book several years ago. after returning from bible study yesterday, i had it in my mind (thanks Jesus!), that i needed to read 'messy spirituality' by mike yaconelli. i mean, i didn't even know if i had it and certainly didn't know who wrote it, but something told me i did.
one of my best friend's angie gave it to me several years ago. to be exact, she wrote in it, "cortney, i do love you so! thanks for being my friend! enjoy! love, angie." the date? nov '02. 2002. 1 month after we lost big matty. and right about the time that ken and i were striking up a friendship to help each other through the grief of losing our best friend. (ken and i were introduced at matt's wedding, 4 months prior to his death.)
i have read 18 pages (my baby has reflux and wakes 3-4x/night) of this wonderful book, but i'll finish. i promise! like i'll actually read the WHOLE thing - no more of this start-a-book-and-not-finish-it thing.
to be accountable, i'll even share my journey through this book on my blog. if you're looking for a good read, pick it up. i can already tell it's going to SERIOUSLY CHANGE MY LIFE.
it might change yours too!
well in true cortney fashion, i am already 24 mins late to breastfeeding support group (it's kind of a drop in during the 2-hours; definitely my kind of group!), and haven't showered. (and the 'horns jersey is in the wash b/c my daughter puked on it, so score, i don't have to wear it!). i have no time to make edits to this post, re-read it or make certain words nice different colors. ha. letting go of my ability to be perfect is swell.
have a messy and unfinished day! :)