Unchurched Church

Unchurched Church

I worked at a church for 18 years … 18 years of Bible studies, services, ministry and leadership. It has now been over a year since I’ve attended a church service at the building I called home. Two decades ago when I went through a Celebrate Recovery Step Study, there was a woman who was in recovery from church. I thought that was an off-beat reason to enter into a recovery program, but it makes perfect sense to me now.

“Unchurched” was the Christian buzz word in the hallways of the church I worked at. We were trying to pull the “unchurched” into church, debated how to reach the “unchurched” , celebrated when an “unchurched” family showed up in church and prayed for those lost “unchurched” men, women and children.  I am now one of the “unchurched” and for now am perfectly OK with that status.

I stepped into the church after my mother’s death, which was profound on many levels. In those final moments when her heart was still beating and the lungs still drawing for breath it was physically obvious that her spirit, the entire essence of her being had already left her cancer battered body and that provoked questions … big questions.  Upon returning home I began seeking answers and the church seemed like the best place to get answers.

I don’t know that I got the answers I was looking for, what I did get was a head full of more questions.  So I asked, and I read, and I listened, and I practiced Christianity.  In the early years of my new and growing faith, my behavior resembled the behavior that used to scare me away from churches and the Bible.  I felt the need to slather everyone around me with my new enthusiasm for Jesus with expectations that they too would see the light and jump on board with me. How could my friends, family and strangers not see the truth?!  That brand of evangelism felt like an ill-fitting pair of shoes that you continue to wear even though they hurt your feet.

Eventually I took off those tight shoes and returned to the familiar and comfortable bare feet that allow me to feel everything I step on or into.  Jesus washed the bare feet of others and allowed others to wash and perfume his own bare feet, taking those sandals off was a radical act of humility and love.  The longer I spent inside the walls of the church, the more I felt like an impostor loudly proclaiming the truth while wearing shoes that were giving me blisters, when what I really longed for was the quiet barefoot Jesus.

Working in ministry for money is not for the faint of heart, it has the potential to really, really mess with your spiritual life.  The inner office wing was filled with regular people like me, some who tried to mask the pain of walking in shoes that no  longer fit. There were times it did not feel like a safe place to be unsure, to question or to disagree with what was being taught as concrete scriptural truth.  We all had real life problems going on and my impending separation and divorce after 20+ years of marriage was a big one for me.

My experience of going through a divorce as a very visible leader in a church was an eye opener.  I generally experienced one of two things, complete avoidance of the topic OR the need to quote every scripture related to marriage that could be found, meant to encourage me to stay in a place that was no longer working. Neither was very helpful.  I knew the biblical stance on marriage, I’d been wrestling with it for years. I actually had the pastor tell me my divorce was “awkward.”  Divorce isn’t awkward, it’s really quite tragic.  I did not take divorce lightly, and I now have great compassion for other families that are drowning in those deep waters.

I appreciate the lessons the mountaintops and valleys of leadership taught me.  And there are steadfast and inspiring individuals whose unwavering faith continue to be a lighthouse.  It is my time in the wilderness, barefoot in the sun. What an adventure it is to discover God, to practice love, kindness and tolerance outside the confines of organized religion.  I take deep breaths, choose my words carefully and think about God a lot.  I still believe in a higher power, I need something outside my finite body to cry out to and be grateful for in this lifetime.

I sometimes walk my dogs past the church on Sunday mornings as the congregation files through the newly landscaped entryway and I smile and say hello to familiar faces.  Some have asked if I am in “fellowship” anywhere and while I am in fellowship all the time I know the real question is, “Are you going to church?”  The answer is “No” and often the response is that they will pray for me, and I wonder what exactly their prayers will be. I don’t tell them that I can always use more grace, forgiveness, and gratitude.

To those that are happily embodied in the life of a church, I applaud you and will be slightly envious of the joy that it brings to your life.  Maybe there will be a day that organized religion brings that same solace to my life but today I am headed out into the world, barefoot on rocky ground.

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Keep Looking Upward,

Hillary D.

Tough Decisions

Tough Decisions

The decision to build a tiny house was a relatively easy one. It financially makes sense, it appeals to my creative nature and the gift of time maintaining less than 300 sq.ft. will afford is enticing. Putting the tiny house into motion is where the tough decisions began.  If you’ve ever made a major move in your life you become hyper aware of what you own. Having to touch every item in your home, down to the last pencil rolling around under the couch, is what makes moving such an exhausting experience.

My downsizing began with a divorce, don’t misread, the tiny house idea has surfaced years later and was not the driving force of my divorce! The emotional rollercoaster of dissolving a relationship that has spanned decades was the first line of business at hand, especially when it is not a shared goal with the parties involved.  The truth is that I was the driving force in my divorce, this was not something my ex wanted or anticipated.  We had a lot of years together spanning from our beginning at a Colorado ski resort, to the end raising three kids in a 3500 sq.ft. log home on 5 acres that we had built in Idaho.  Divorce is not for the faint of heart and I believe that many stay in unhappy marriages because the other option is overwhelming. This was not a decision to be taken lightly, divorce hits the family hard and has long reaching tentacles that touch extended family and friends.  The day I left with a moving truck and my three kids in tow was one of the hardest days ever.

I moved into a rental that a close friend of mine owned and they allowed me to bring my dogs and live with a month to month lease as I couldn’t think further out as to what my future looked like.  It was one day at a time and I left with only what we needed. Beds, a couch and a chair, a table to eat and do homework at, dishes, clothing and a few items that had sentimental value.  Everything else stayed at the log home.  We were adjusting from having a large house with lots of outdoor space in the country to living in under 1000 square feet with a small yard in town. The kids struggled and the dogs barked … everyone voicing their displeasure at being uprooted from the only home they ever knew.

This was my first small space and I loved that little house. As a family we were forced to deal with each other as there wasn’t room to disappear like there was in the big house.  Our lives were in chaos but that little house felt cozy and safe.  We spent a winter in the Forest Street house and in the spring moved into another slightly larger home where we currently still live.  Over the last few years we have settled into the Pine Street house, and the 1600 sq. ft. has worked well for us.  The house can be cleaned top to bottom in a couple of hours and the yard is a breeze to maintain as I have removed all the grass from the narrow yard.

The small backyard that requires no mowing!
The small backyard that requires no mowing!

We have definitely acquired more things than we originally began our “new normal” life with.  The emptying of the log home was a long and arduous process over the last several years. The house had closets that still contained the kids belongings, sports equipment, furniture, a library full of books, holiday decorations, photographs, artwork, an office filled with paperwork, and lots of curriculum and supplies from the years of home schooling. There is also a two story shop behind the house that was completely filled with tools, building supplies and anything else that couldn’t be stored in the house.

The log home that housed our lives for 15 years.
The log home that housed our lives for 15 years.

The house was slated to be sold and making decisions regarding the belongings that remained was tense.  I understood that my ex was struggling as he loved this house dearly, the construction was a labor of love.  The kids were not spending time out there for reasons of their own and so he was now alone in this big expanse with reminders everywhere of his family.  Wading through the sea of belongings was at times emotional and other times spawned bickering and high emotions.  Slowly…very slowly, decisions were made.  Several years after the divorce the house was finally sold and now a sense of urgency hit to clear out for good.

I couldn’t believe that my ex had actually managed to empty the shop, that was a major undertaking.  He sold household items at an auction house, gave items away, sold vehicles, and made many trips to the dump.  When he blazed out of town in a motor home pulling a trailer his job was done, but the house still had items left behind.  Beds, couches, lamps, outdoor furniture, a gas grill, bookcases, file cabinets, and lots of misc. items still remained and had to go. The trail of belongings seemed to never end.

We rented a 20 ft moving truck and filled every corner of it, and there was still items left behind.  Luckily the new owners were excited and anxious to take possession and offered to deal with the items I still had not moved and would clean the place as well.  That was a HUGE and generous blessing!  I let my oldest son take whatever items he needed in his house and the rest was sold off the back of the truck in my driveway.  A major hurdle had been overcome.

The winter months are closing in and I will be making tiny house decisions and continuing to downsize while the snow flies. I have an 18 month timeline to build and prepare for a minimalist lifestyle.  My tiny house model is giving me a sense of space and a bigger understanding of what I will actually be able to own!

Playing with space, finishes, and fixtures in my future tiny house.
Playing with space, finishes, and fixtures in my future tiny house.

Looking at my future life inside a little box, I realize that everything must have a purpose and/or meaning. Drastically reducing your footprint isn’t for everyone and there are days that “this is a crazy and stupid idea” thoughts take over and I have to remind myself of why this choice appeals to me, that the trade-off will be greater financial freedom and new experiences.

I would love to hear feedback on your own life inside a box and your feelings about the belongings contained within.

Until next time, keep on keeping on …

Hillary D.