Archive for ‘Home Church’

January 17, 2014

Remember when?

I used to actually blog?

The ironic part is that I’ve been editing a novel instead of writing a blog. Yes, the writer doesn’t have time for writing.

I would like to get better about it, especially now that I’m ramping up for the 2014 garden season. Soon, I’ll have to place my seed order and then it really won’t be long before I start my onions.

Suffice to say, this has been a pretty intense winter so far! The snow started back in November:

Guess I should have taken the laundry off of the clothesline. Anyway, it just kept going. At first, we liked it – we were excited to have a white Christmas for once! Usually, the snow doesn’t stick until the lake cools down – about mid-January.

Jason’s probably shoveled more snow in the past two months than he did all of last winter. Suffice to say, it gets old after awhile. Case in point:

This was after a very cold run that we took in Brown Deer Park on Christmas Eve. The moisture from his breath/sweat froze right on him. This just might be the cover of our Christmas card next year…

Along those lines, we had a lovely holiday.

Being a part of a home church is more like having another family to be around. It’s a beautiful mix of being very festive and also very wholesome. We did a Christmas Eve-Eve service at our house on the 23rd, with just a handful of people who could make it. Awkward bumbling through Christmas carols and discussions about the stark contrast of the over-commercialized, over-purified versions of celebrating that time of year vs. the reality of the Messiah being born to an unwed, pregnant teenager ensued.

 

For our December service project, we gathered together (in a snowstorm) to assemble sandwiches and make cookies for a local men’s shelter. This is what happens when you have graphic designers frosting cookies:

Overall, there was much baking and merry-making to be had.

However, we were both relieved when the holidays were finished. As much as we love our family and friends, as introverts it gets to be really exhausting to run around from house to house and have so much stimulation. If I was at your house at some point over the Christmas/New Year period, please don’t be offended – chances are that I had a wonderful time. But, I have to be real and admit that too much activity wears me out, especially when it’s almost three weeks of it.

Which mostly brings us up to date. We’re now enjoying a fairly quiet January, getting a kick out of the birds that hang out in our Forsythia bush all day and the cat who will stop at nothing to keep tabs on them:

Jason bought me a gallon of safflower seeds for the bird feeders as a Christmas gift because apparently, the squirrels don’t like it. So far, it’s worked! We’ve seen lots of birds at the feeders and no greedy squirrels:

Other than wildlife viewing and editing, I’m drawing silly pictures, working on applications for going back to school (what? Yes. More on that later) and making giant pots of soup. Jason is finally getting comfortable enough with his table saw to use it, and is planning on purchasing the wood for building a workbench this weekend. We have some weekend trips planned to various Wisconsin locales, and at some point we intend to paint the hallway.

And now that we’re all caught up, let’s hope that I blog on a more regular basis and don’t have to bombard you all with these types of posts…

In other words, happy winter from Milwaukee!

Christmas Card-3

 

October 26, 2013

Service – Home church style


The above image is a photo of a stained glass window in Glasgow Cathedral. There was a whole series of windows based off this passage in Matthew 25. It was the most beautiful part of the cathedral, in my opinion.

We keep things pretty informal in our House Church, but one of our three values is service. As such, we try to dedicate at least one night every couple of months to a service project. We’ve cleaned out an inner city ministry space, served a meal at a men’s homeless shelter, done a food sort at Hunger Task Force, assembled backpacks full of Christmas gifts for foster kids, and I even enlisted everyone to help do some maintenance on the community garden last spring.

Because our group has grown over the past year to almost 20 people, we have decided to break off into smaller groups twice a month for more intimate discussion times. The other two weeks, we all meet together for service, a potluck, or Communion/prayer/worship. We re-did our schedule a little bit earlier this fall and decided to try doing service once a month instead of bi-monthly.  I love this about our house church, but we do have a little bit of difficulty finding projects on a Monday night that can accommodate up to 17 or 18 people.

One of our members had an awesome idea that was perfect for our group. She recently had an uncle that went to prison, and she suggested that we all write letters to him for her to send out one at a time so he would have something to look forward to for awhile. This felt like a very tactile way to live out some of the principles of Matthew 25. We decided to do that, and then write additional letters to friends or family that we’d been thinking of recently.

So we invited everyone up to the North side of the city, put the kettle on for tea, and set up stations all over our house for letter writing. It was a blast. It was really cool to walk through my house and in almost every room find a group of people writing letters to someone in prison. Having this community means so much to Jason and I, and we often feel like some of our favorite times together are when we serve as a group.

October 24, 2013

I’m digging, I’m searching right through that luggage…

I for sure just referenced a rap song in my title.

Anyway, gosh, where have we been? In Milwaukee, mostly. Playing disk golf and enjoying piling our friends into our cozy house on the weekends. Watching a couple from our house church get married and then getting our groove on at the reception. Because the church that dances together stays together, right?

I’ve also been feeling pretty inspired to write. Obviously, not blog posts. But I’ve parked myself on the couch or at Colecterra* pretty much any chance that I have some free time because, well, I’m writing a novel. That feels weird to say. I don’t really have any intent of submitting it for publishing, but for me to even undertake such a huge project is kind of empowering. I’ve written 12 chapters. And honestly, I could write 12 more. It’s gotten to be that engaging for me.

We have another HUGE project that’s taking up all of our free daylight hours:

That’s right, the vegetable garden is growing! Boo mapped out the dimensions of it and helped me create a final design. I’ll scan it and post it here at some point, but to give you some idea of what it will look like, we’re going to create a large rectangle at the ground level. It will expand from the eastern edge of the existing raised bed to the compost bin and have a circular feature in the center. I’d like it to be a multi-level thing, with strawberries on the bottom tier, pollinator-attracting flowers in the middle, and some sort of trellis or spire on the top. Or maybe a blueberry bush. For right now, I’m just going to work on cultivating the strawberries along the border of the circular garden, leaving the middle open for future building up. The remaining garden will have pathways laid out diagonally. Essentially, I’ll have four large triangles for vegetables.

I’m still debating about it, but I may use the existing raised bed exclusively as an herb garden. Again, I’d like it to have a few different levels and look like more than just a big box. Also, some herbs can spread too easily and will need to be contained in their own separate boxes anyway. We’ll see!

Eventually, we’re going to fence the whole thing in to keep out the hungry bunnies. This will also allow us to build in some garden benches and trellises.

In the meantime, we are quite busy DIGGING! It’s hard work! Boo’s been doing most of the sod-breaking because he wants to dig down deeper and move the sod to some bare spots we have near the house. We joke that he’s working at Jason’s Sod Farm. Anyway, digging that deep requires lifting heavier shovelfuls and I’m just too scrawny!

So, I’ve been keeping busy by cleaning out the old plants and then going through the whole thing with my trusty rototiller. After everything is cleared out, I’m going to seed most of the garden in winter cover crops.

It’s  big chore, and we very well don’t get everything done before the ground freezes. We still have to rake/mulch leaves, clean the gutters, and wash the windows before it gets too cold, and we only have so many hours of daylight. But I’m already so amazed at how big the garden has become. I can’t wait to see the whole thing in action!

*Our local coffee chain, Alterra, recently changed their name to Colectivo. While I respect their reasons for doing it, I’m not personally a big fan of the new name. So, to rebel a little bit, I often refer to it as Colecterra or Altivo.

September 11, 2013

Westward Roving

Another fun thing we did last month was take a weekend camping trip out to Governor Dodge State Park. We went there last year for our anniversary, and really enjoyed the park and exploring the Driftless region. However, this time, we brought some company – almost everyone in our house church joined us! The adventure involved three campsites, seven or eight tents, and lots of amazing food.

Of course, the best part of camping, especially with groups of people, is the evening campfire shenanigans:

I’ll spare you the details.

And then this happened on the ride home:

Yes.

Being serious for a moment…I have to say how different my life is since decided to “do church” in this manner. Being more of an introverted person, it’s always been really really hard for me to feel comfortable in groups, even groups that were small. I mean, I’ve shared all of this before. What really struck me about spending a weekend crammed into tents and around campfires with these people was how comfortable I felt with them, and how walking on this journey together has actually helped me be more comfortable even with people I don’t know. I went home on Sunday feeling very thankful.

 

May 15, 2013

Leaving the Party Scene

This is (part) of my story as to how Jason and I came to be involved in a house church. It’s a bit more personal than I normally like to share on here. I previously wrote this post for a few other women that I share more personal stuff with. Some elements of it have been changed in an attempt to “lighten” it up a bit.

I have moderate social anxiety issues, especially when it comes to interacting with people in my own age group. I don’t know where this phobia of peer interaction stems from; don’t get me wrong, I do very well with both elders and juniors – my years of conversing with adults at the farmer’s market stand and working in children’s ministry were of some benefit. However, I didn’t interact much with people my own age, and as a result I find myself somewhat terrorized by the idea of being among “equals”. I never had regular dosages of it, and to this day I feel alienated from most other 20-30 somethings.

I can’t really go to large social gatherings anymore, not without a full day of being nice to myself to get me through. The past few times I’ve tried attending a party on a Friday night, after a full day (and week) of work, I’ve gone home and laid on the couch completely exhausted afterwards. My brain gets stuck in vicious cycle of comparison at such events – I spend most of my time frantically glancing around me and feeling inferior. She’s better. And so is she. Better hair. Better skin. Better dressed. More educated. Better job. Better marriage. B Happier. Friendlier. Everyone is looking at me. Everyone is judging my messy hair. My bad posture. My deer-in-the-headlights-why-isn’t-she-talking-to-anyone aura.

I don’t justify this anxiety. I am working on it. I’m getting better at knowing what I need to get through situations like that. I’m getting better at preparing myself for social interaction so that I don’t resort to shrinking behind my socially capable husband and guilting him into leaving early because I’m obviously on the verge of a meltdown.

The irony of my life found me attending one of those hip, post-evangelical churches for the first five years of Jason being my partner. You know, where mostly everyone who attends is either a 20-something well-educated career-focused individual who may or may not be married, or is a 30-something family unit with 2.5 adorable kids dressed in handmade clothes where the wife stays at home and bakes organic bread all day and the husband works as a graphic designer.

(For the record, I know a lot of amazing people who fit into these stereotypes and I don’t think they’re awful hipsters. I’m just using exaggerated characterizations).

It was Jason’s church before we started dating, and being that I didn’t really have a church that I was attending I started going along with him. For five years, I fought my instincts to run out the door as soon as the service was over. Oh God, please please please not socialization around the Fair Trade coffee table. Please no awkward conversations with some well-meaning mom trying to be nice to me as I cowered against the wall. Please no forced greetings from my husband’s guy pals while I stand next to him patiently (not so patiently) waiting to get out of here. And then the comparing starts it’s riot in my brain and I’m a complete wreck and any spiritual benefit I may have reaped from the actual church service is consumed in the inferno of social anxiety. I have literally run out the door in a panic. I have hid in the bathroom. I have intentionally arrived late in order to avoid small talk. I have opted out of taking communion because all of the people serving were men and I was kind of appalled by this. I’ve felt extremely disconnected because I knew my beliefs didn’t line up 100% with the person behind the podium, and I didn’t feel comfortable enough to say otherwise.

The worst part is that I knew I had things to share. I knew, deep down, that I am a creative, passionate person. I knew that if I could only figure out how to use my mouth and toughen up I could have a real conversation about social justice or some amazing artistic break through I’d made earlier that week. I knew that I could, in a sense, become OK with myself and not give heed to my inbred tendency to feel inferior to my peers. But the traditional church setting often felt very much like a party, and I could never get past the chaos and superficiality of it.

For a time, the church met in homes every other Sunday to try to facilitate deeper community within the body. I could handle this. It was still a challenge, but it was so much more of a healthy challenge. In a living room setting where everyone was free to share something and even encouraged to do so, I could say, “Yes, I’m an artist” or “Yes, I’ve given this topic a lot of thought”. I could feel encouraged by feedback, by prayers offered up for my struggles. I could sing along with the person on the guitar and feel the sweet balm that comes from simple melodies strung together in a small group. We were there for each other, for deeper interactions that just couldn’t happen with 60 other people milling around you in a converted warehouse space.

The church decided it was too confusing to continue meeting in this rhythm. Jason and I were adamant supporters of the house church setting, so we took it upon ourselves to continue small groups in a different time slot. We started a group in our own rented flat and pushed through the first few months to watch our gathering of four or five people forge deeply intimate relationships with one another. Midway through our first year, the church that we had been operating under changed their location, their mission, their doctrines, and their general direction so we stopped attending what we had come to refer to as “big church”.

We kept “small church” though. We were skeptical about the fact that people were now considering us their “pastors”, in a sense – we fully believe that churches should be run in as democratic a way as possible with every member (regardless of gender or life status) having some sort of say in how the church operates. But we wanted to keep going, and so did the other members. So we cleaned our house every Sunday afternoon and opened our doors and created snack schedules and kept the gears turning. We never wanted to be looked at as spiritual authorities, but we have come to accept our role as practical facilitators amongst the group.

At some point, another couple graciously agreed to host because we had outgrown our apartment. Over the last year, our group has grown from 5 to 16.  Most of us are “churchless” people – those who dance around the outer circles of skepticism and never quite feel comfortable in a traditional church setting.This made me doubtful for a little while about the validity of what we were doing – after all, isn’t evangelism a huge part of my faith? Isn’t it my job to bring people closer to God and not allow them to wade around in their doubts too long?

Jason and I were having a conversation about this one day, and he gave a metaphor based off of this photo:

This was taken on our trip to the southwest last fall. You can’t really tell from this photo, but we were actually hiking along the top of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. We were about 1/2 a mile from this:

Having doubts or difficulties with your faith is actually really similar. Sometimes, you don’t always appear to be close to something beautiful or awe-inspiring; sometimes, it just looks like a walk in the forest. But why would you judge someone for their particular stage in the journey? I’ve come to realize that it’s not my job to bring people closer to God – who am I to judge how close they are in the first place? Who am I to deny anyone the opportunity to ask questions and to be accepted into a community? Instead, it’s my job to provide a place where the Holy Spirit can interact with us in whatever way each individual needs.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others…Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2: 1-4, 12-13)

It’s likely that no two of us shares the exact same set of beliefs. Everyone has some area of discomfort in our faith. We are honest when we disagree. We are honest about our struggles.

But we’re also OK with that. It doesn’t divide us, it doesn’t give us the excuse to judge one another and not operate out of love. After all, if I truly believe that God is both all powerful and all loving, shouldn’t I also be able to believe that he is able to handle all of us working out our own salvation?

When someone says, “I feel this way about _____________” and someone else says, “but I feel this way about __________” we take it in stride. Jason and I still “facilitate” and this past year I’ve taken on the role of leading up social justice and service initiatives with another member. But everyone takes a turn leading or contributing, and that’s really important and beautiful to me. We meet on Thursdays, not Sundays. We have entire nights where nothing spiritual happens other than the beautiful act of sharing a meal together. We sing hymns and laugh about the range one would need to hit every note. We serve meals together at homeless shelters and clean up disorganized donation spaces at inner city ministries.

We went caroling together this past Christmas and people kept asking us, “Who are you? Where are you from? Are you a church? A group?” We never had a great answer. Sometimes, a few of us will meet up on a Sunday morning for what we jokingly refer to as “The Roving Church of God”, and we’ll visit a “big” church in the area – a Catholic church, a Messianic Jewish church, a Lutheran church. And some nights when I wonder where in the world this conversation is going, I jokingly  refer to our meeting as “Skeptics Anonymous”.

But mostly I just say that on Thursday nights, I go to a house church. Aside from sporadic visits to area churches, I haven’t been a part of any organized church for over a year. There may come a day when I seek that out, but for right now I’m content.

You might say, in a sense, that I’ve left the church party scene. When we meet, I am with family, and I feel far less inclined to compare myself to my family than with superficial acquaintances. I owe it to my family to have deeper conversations, to push past the constant hum of my social anxiety. I am better because of these people. I know God more because of them.

April 12, 2013

A sitting porch…sort of

As much as I enjoy spending time in my backyard garden, one thing that’s important to Boo and I is that we have a welcoming front yard that we also spend time in. We want to be able to talk to our neighbors as they pass by, and it’s kind of hard to do that if we’re hidden behind our house.

We would love to build a nice porch off of the front and south side one day, but we won’t have the funds or time to do that for a few years. In the meantime, we decided to uproot the ugly Weigelas on the south side of the front garden.

Honestly, I am not a huge fan of bushes in the front. I think that certain varieties look nice as a property border or a central theme in a garden, but I hate the traditional line of scrubby bushes along the front of the house. A nice perennial garden would be so much more attractive.

Anyway, in our case, we will be using the space to set up a more welcoming sitting area. We’ll move our porch swing out there, after we refinish it. Jason has plans to build a nice planter box. I will be constructing some trellises or teepees from the fallen branches in our backyard and planting a few varieties of trailing flowers.

This past weekend, Jason had to work for most of the day on Saturday. To keep myself entertained, I decided to try to dig up the bushes myself. I had to draw from the stalwart nature of my German ancestors and the stubbornness of  my Irish ancestors, but I managed to uproot all seven of them. Half the branches were dead and breaking off anyway. I’m so glad to see them gone! I spent the rest of the afternoon leveling out the soil.

On Sunday, my handsome farmhand had some time to help out :). He tamped down the soil and then we made two trips to the recycling center for mulch. I keep forgetting to take a photo of us hauling mulch in our tiny Honda Civic – it’s pretty funny. We lay out a bed sheet in the trunk and clip it to the frame with clothespins. Who needs a truck when you have a bed sheet and clothespins?

After laying down wet newspapers and putting the mulch on top, the area already looked a lot better:

Next, we moved on to the bench swing. Jason bought some nice cedar planks on Friday, and started cutting them to size and shape on Sunday.

I spent a few hours throughout the weekend scraping the loose paint off of the metal frame and sanding away the rust so it could be primed. I managed to prime about 1/2 of the frame pieces before I ran out of primer. You know, typical new homeowner move – not buying enough supplies and needing to make multiple hardware store runs…anyway, the end color will be a nice paprika red. The planks will be stained a darker color. I think it will look pretty nice!

 

December 31, 2012

The Marathon of Christmasness

Whew! It’s been a whirlwind of Christmas parties and get togethers for us the past two weeks. First, there was Bakefest 2012. Then, there was the ill-fated house church potluck. Then, I spent a day up in Fond du Lac picking out a tree with my dad and sister and ended up having an impromptu dinner with one of my dearest friends who happened to be in town. Christmas Eve was spent in Madison with Boo’s parents, and then we had our own sweet little Christmas back at our house on Christmas Day. Friday and Saturday we spent with my family (all 15 of us…) and now we’ll end the year with a group of friends from our house church.

Come to think of it, there were quite a few other events that happened on a weekly basis since Thanksgiving. All in all, December has been totally insane, in the best way possible.

I had fun. Some of my favorites were –

Stuffing backpacks for foster kids with our home church:

Taking a snowy walk with Jason through Havenwoods:

Having our own quiet, low-key Christmas together:

My family’s craziness:

And, not pictured: Serving tacos at a men’s homeless shelter with our home church and then meeting up with everyone afterwards for some delicious food in the Third Ward. And no, this time, a lamp post did not fall on our car!

I ate (and cooked!) so much amazing food.

And it’s always completely fulfilling to see my nieces and nephews enjoying their homemade gifts.

There was so much laughter and coziness and warm beverages.

And yet somehow in all of the chaos, Jason and I managed to find time to be a family in our own little house, in our own community. It felt like such a good balance.

Now I’m actually excited for the long, uneventful winter. I’m already making lists of things I’d love to get done around the house! I’m planning on spending New Years Day setting up my seed starting area. The weekend after I’ll be starting the prep work for painting the guest room. And there’s always those darn slipcovers for the couches…at least I finally bought some material!

Here’s hoping that you all have an amazing New Year.

And yes, despite his odd stance in this photo, my husband is actually very loving and affectionate, ha!