2,800.5 Minutes…

This morning I sat in our sanctuary and watched the last pre-recorded worship video I will make before we return to in-person worship next Sunday.

The sanctuary is nearly ready, with pews roped off and the communion table set for a meal celebrated without our traditional communion trays. Our building gleams with the fruit of so much volunteer labor, spread out over the year. We have our registration system in place so that 50 can attend while others watch the livestream that will replace those pre-recorded videos on our social media pages.

But am I ready?

My mind keeps returning to those pre-recorded worship services:
-57 worship videos representing 55 weeks and two special mid-week services;
-A full year of Sunday mornings, plus another month;
-2800.5 minutes of prayers, preaching, and music;
-46.68 hours of sorrow and hope crafted for and by beloved community.

Creating those videos has been a huge part of my life these last 13 months, and though I am excited to start being with our people in person, I’m also sad to see them go. They served a purpose, holding us together in faith and love when we were scared. And God used them to find people — folks in our wider community who desired a faith community but didn’t know where to start, folks who were staying home due to illness or age long before the pandemic began, people who moved away from Smithville and missed their church.

Were they perfect? Lord, no. Did they meet the needs of every single person in our community of faith? Again, no. But were they faithful? I believe they were. They were a tether, a lifeline, an encouragement reminding us again and again that we are the Church no matter where we are, and that the Table of Grace extends all the way to our kitchen tables, dining room tables, even our bedside tables.

I never wanted to be a televangelist, but I’m so very grateful that technology made it possible to worship with our people for every one of those 2,800.5 minutes.

So, am I ready for what comes next?

No. Not yet.

But I will be. Sunday’s coming.

Concrete Cairns

There is a man who daily inhabits a corner beneath an overpass near the local amusement park. His sign changes frequently (I don’t imagine cardboard is that durable during the rainy season), but day after day he’s always there. At least, he WAS always there.

Yesterday morning on my way to church I pulled up to the stop sign and glanced to the left with a quick nod to recognize his presence. But he wasn’t there. His belongings weren’t there. The corner appeared to be completely empty, as though no one had ever been there at all.

For a moment I wondered if I was confused. I take different routes to work. Perhaps I was mixing up a person and a location. Maybe he inhabited a different shady spot beneath an entirely different overpass somewhere in the metro.

But then something caught my eye. Two somethings, really. Standing like sentinels beside the stop sign were two rock stacks, each a couple of feet tall. Unlike the trendy stacks you see on social media made from smooth stones found along river beds and beaches, these were rough edged. Jagged even. Another glance revealed that they weren’t rocks at all, but chunks of road surface broken loose from a pothole near the curb.

Those simple concrete cairns declared the same three words stone stacks have proclaimed throughout history: I was here.

He really had been there. I hadn’t gotten confused. More importantly, HE had been there. A human being, real and alive and full of worth despite what society says.

I wish I’d paid more attention when he was there. I wish I’d read his signs with care, gotten to know his name, taken the time to give him a drink of water or learn his story. I wish I’d taken more time to focus on the human being than I spent on the rock stacks marking his absence. And whoever he is, I’m thankful for his declaration of existence there on the corner of a world that would rather pretend he does not exist.

May God, lover of the marginalized and forgotten, remember this stacker of stones and enfold him with an endless supply of the loving care we deny him. And may that same God shake us, move us, mobilize us to actively love him (and everyone cast to the side) too.

5 Years

Five years.

Five years ago this morning, Dad took his last breath.

He should be here. He should know the weight of his granddaughter, the feel of her squirmy toddler body in his arms as he twirls her around the living room. He should occupy the other side of the dual recliner in the home we now call “Grandma’s House.” He should be here to celebrate new jobs, new homes, new adventures as his daughters and sons-in-law grow (and grow into) our careers and adult lives.

Damnit, he should be here.

Much of the time the pace of life, parenthood, and vocation keep me busy enough that I can set aside the hurt of it, the lingering rage of it…the way his miraculous recovery and life were stolen from us by systems that focus more on efficiency and cost-saving measures than the health and wholeness of the people in the beds. Much of the time I can compartmentalize, outrun, avoid, outmaneuver the grief.

But not on October 16th. Especially not when the last three October 16ths have been filled with funerals of their own — services of remembrance for three powerhouse women in the community that is Smithville First Christian Church. Without fail, after presiding over the memorials and burials of these church saints — after making space for their loved ones’ tears — I retreat to my office and it all falls apart.

The flimsy compartment walls fail. My shoelaces break and my heart becomes sluggish. No more outrunning it. All the grief and pain and rage of another year demands acknowledgement, and all I can do is feel it — this weight of three, then four, and now five years.

Five years without Dad.

Five years.

Searching for Rachel

On Saturday morning, while boarding a cruise ship with my mother, the world received word that Rachel Held Evans died.

I never had the pleasure of knowing her in real life but, as a friend said, she was one of our friends. It’s a paradox that is sometimes created in the written world(s) of publishing, church, and social media — that a public figure, though technically a stranger, feels like a friend. We tweeted in the same circles. Our writer relationships overlapped. And, perhaps most significantly, we fought for each other — her fighting for inclusion and acceptance of women in religious leadership (as well as a much wider inclusion that made room for all sorts of people pushed out of church by evangelicalism), and us fighting to amplify her voice by sharing her work with our congregations when her books didn’t make it to the shelves of christian bookstores.

Friends fight for each other. So stranger or not, we were friends. And since the first texts hit my phone to share the terrible news, I’ve felt bereft. Surrounded by the nonstop uproarious faux joy of this cruise, I find myself retreating to quiet corners of the ship where there is enough stillness to grieve her.

This morning I reported to the onboard spa for a salt scrub that had been scheduled months ago. In the midst of that frivolous experience, I caught a glimpse of the tomb. With a strip of gauzy fabric pulled snug across my eyes, the kind technician tended to my body, anointing it for life in much the same way I imagine the women anointed Jesus’ body for burial. Scents, salves, a simple white sheet — with the application of each my mind wandered further into the tomb, searching for her.

Somewhere in the midst of that anointing, I heard her — or at least a whisper of what sounded like her writing voice. With the same encouragement she lavished on others in life, she exhorted us writers and preachers to step into the breach caused by untimely, unfair death, and to simply WRITE. Write for the sisters who continue to come after us as well as those who went before us. Write for our daughters and our sons. Write for the Kin-dom of God. Write because life depends upon the courage of everyday women and men of valor who partner with God both imperfectly and bravely.

I can’t presume to translate this paradoxical friendship into showing up for the real and primary grief of her husband, children, and in-person friends. But I can honor her work, her passion, her voice, her fierce faithfulness by using my own tiny platform to keep on writing and preaching and welcoming — and so can you. Let that be the gift we give in thanks to God for her life and work.

Rest in power and rise in glory, dear Rachel. In life, in death, and in new life with Christ, you are and ever will be a woman of valor.

Lenten Pastoral Prayer (4/2/17)

(based on Psalm 84)


Holy One,

Our spirits long for You,

long to see and rest in Your dwelling place.

Our hearts and bodies cry out

in joyous song as we consider the wonder of who You are.


Your graciousness and loving care

extend to even the smallest of creatures and creations:

the sparrows of the air

the flowers of the field…

And we marvel that Your love

also extends to each of us –

knowing us so intimately

that You know every hair on our head,

counting them beloved.


The Psalmist proclaims that

a single day in Your courts, in Your dwelling place,

is better than a thousand days elsewhere –

that he would rather be a doorkeeper in Your house

than live and thrive in worldly wickedness.


We read these words, and sing these words,

proclaiming our desire to serve You,

yet fancy ourselves masters of our own destiny,

responding to Your hand of guidance with

the three-year-old’s refrain:

“No! I do it.”


Help us, O God.

Help humility sprout up

in the cracks of our lives

like dandelions in the sidewalk.

Help us to trust in You

to the point of full reliance,

that we might lean on You

look to You

serve You

long for You


As that humility grows in us,

help us to hear Your call

and shape our service within the mold

of the prophets and the Gospels –

that we might care for the sick

the poor

the widow

the orphan

the stranger

the prisoner

and the oppressed

with such fierce compassion and tender justice

that those who witness our work

cannot help but wonder:

“Who is this marvelous God that they serve?”


This we pray in the name of Your son Jesus,

who shows us the Way

today, tomorrow, and forevermore.



Nicaragua Friendship Mission, Day 7 and Traveling Home (Day 8)

Yesterday we said goodbye to Chacraseca. It was exciting to head out on our day of sightseeing and cultural experiences, but also a little sad. The Casa de Paz was a good home for us this week, and the people of Chacraseca are wonderful. We’re grateful to say that some have become our friends.

From Chacraseca, we travelled south past Managua to Vulcán Masaya (the Masaya Volcano). The visitor center was informative, but nothing could prepare us for the drive to the top where we could look into the volcano’s crater. Visitors are only allowed at the top for 5 minutes because the gas that escapes the volcano will make you sick if you stay longer. Even with only 5 minutes to look around, we were blown away. When the wind hit the smoky gasses just right, we could even see the glow of lava at the bottom of the crater!

From Vulcán Masaya, we drove to the town of Masaya. This is an area filled with all sorts of artists and craftspeople, and is particularly known for indigenous culture and gorgeous pottery. We went to visit the Lopez Family, who have been making pottery in the traditional way for generations. Just Hope partnered with the family to help them build their own kiln — prior to that, they had to rent space in others’ kilns, and made very little profit to help their family. Now, they are expanding and doing well.

At the Lopez home, we ate a delicious lunch. Then we watched a demonstration of how their pottery is made, and got to try our hand at working the wheel and etching designs into glazed pieces. When the demonstration ended, we went to their shop and browsed their gorgeous work. Each family member designs pieces differently, so the selection was as wide as it was beautiful. 

From the Lopez shop, we went up to the top of the hill where we could view the huge lagoon that separates Masaya from Granada. It was windy and cool, and we enjoyed beverages and ice cream from our perch before heading back down towards Managua. At the end of the day, we settled into the Best Western across the road from the airport, ate a lovely poolside dinner, and enjoyed air conditioning for the first time in a week. Bedtime came early because we had to start waking up around 3 am to be ready for the airport.

Today we’ve made it to San Salvador, El Salvador, which means 1/3 of our trip home is complete. The flight to Houston doesn’t leave until 1:20, so we’re here for a while. Plenty of time is available to eat breakfast/lunch, walk a bit before a longer flight, and reflect on the experience we’ve had.

Before we left, one of our hopes was that we would be changed by our experience in Nicaragua. If that was our goal, then we haven’t been disappointed. It’s hard to be among these people without being changed by their stories, their situations, their hopes, and their radical hospitality. In the weeks and months to come, we’ll work to bring these experiences into our wider church and our daily lives. We hope you’ll join us in worship on Sunday, February 19th when we share stories, photos, and tastes from our trip!

Nicaragua is in our hearts, and to our new friends we say “hasta luego”!

Nicaragua Friendship Mission, Day 6

Today was our last full day in Chacraseca. The first half of the day was very full. After breakfast, we first visited Ileana. She shared her story with us — that several years ago she lost her young son, who had been born with a variety of health issues. After his death, she experienced extreme depression. With the encouragement of a friend, she began making jewelry to sell to groups that come through Chacraseca. This creative work helped to pull her out of depression and begin living again.

Ileana’s dream was to have a house of her own. As she earned money with her jewelry, she began saving and purchasing supplies as she could. Over the course of the years, she has built and decorated one of the loveliest homes in Chacraseca. Her hard work, creativity, and strength are truly inspiring.

When we finished visiting with Ileana, we began the long trek to Miramar — the farthest sector of Chacraseca. It takes an hour on very rough roads to reach Miramar from our home base of Casa de Paz. When we arrived, we met Doña Fatima, who is the head of the women’s microcredit bank in her sector. She introduced us to two women who have received micro loans from this program. They have used the money to purchase cattle, and either make money by selling the milk to a distributor from Lèon, or use the milk to make a variety of foods for their families.

The women who have benefitted from micro credit are deeply grateful for the opportunity. These small loans of $200-$300 dollars help them to begin achieving  more for their families, while also building self-confidence. It was a joy to share in their hopes, joys, and dreams, and also humbling to share in their struggles and sorrows (one woman’s son died only 10 days ago, so her grief was very fresh). 

This afternoon we had down time to clean up (Miramar isVERY dusty), rest, and begin packing. Then, before dinner, we met with Juan for some final debriefing and discussion about our time here. This included brainstorming ways to share this experience with people at home. After dinner, Juan Pablo (our fearless and faithful driver) shared some songs with us, including a song he has written for visiting groups from Just Hope. We gifted Juan and Juan Pablo (as well as our other translators) with FCC Smithville Christmas ornaments as a way of saying thank you for everything they have done for us this week. 

It is hard to say goodbye to people you’ve come to think of as friends. Thankfully, we aren’t saying goodbye — we’re saying see you later to partners and friends in the struggle for justice and hope.

Nicaragua Friendship Mission, Day 5

How is this week flying by so quickly?!

Today, we began with breakfast and then a lesson in making tortillas on a wood-burning eco stove. It’s a good thing we did an ok job, as the tortillas we made were part of our lunch later in the day!

After tortilla-making, we met the women of Cosiendo Esperanza (Stitching Hope). These talented and business-savvy women dye their own fabrics and then use them to create beautiful clothing, bags, stoles, and more. They also sew high quality school uniforms and sell them at reduced prices throughout the sectors of Chacraseca so that parents are better able to afford their kids’ school expenses. 

This week, the women of Cosiendo Esperanza are under a deadline on the uniforms because school begins on Monday. In order to help them, our job was to dye t-shirts in bright colors so that they can use them for screen printing and then sell them. They taught us the dyeing technique and then let us at it — this saved them half a day of work, and we had a great time. We also purchased some of their gorgeous inventory, and some of our own quilters spent time discussing techniques and equipment with them via the excellent translation of our friends Francis and Juan.

After lunch, we went into Leon to meet with Kara, who is Program Director for Just Hope. She taught us about the history, purpose, and projects of Just Hope, and she helped us to process some of what we’ve learned this week. She also helped us to begin thinking of ways we can continue to build this partnership after we return home to Missouri. When it was time for her to go to a meeting, we got in the van and headed to the ocean for some time at the beach.

It was wonderful to walk along the beach and wade in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. We wandered, collected shells, and took lots of pictures. Then we ate a magnificent (and VERY reasonably priced) dinner of fish, shrimp, and lobster at the seaside restaurant. On the way back to Chacraseca, Juan Pablo stopped the van so we could look at the stars — without the light pollution of the city, it was quite a sight!

Now we’re winding down and getting ready for bed. It’s been a great day, and we’re excited to see what tomorrow will bring. ¡Hasta mañana!

Nicaragua Friendship Mission, Day 4

It was another full day here in Chacraseca. We began by walking over to the local Catholic Church in Chacraseca for a quick look prior to our appointment with the head doctor at the health clinic. Then, when she was done with staff meeting, we had our tour. It is mind-blowing how much the medical staff is able to accomplish with greatly limited space and resources. Each day the line of patients starts forming as early as 4:30 am, and each day the team does everything they can to improve the health of the community. They are amazing. 

After our clinic visit, we travelled out into the sectors for a very important appointment. We arrived at the home of one of the Nicaraguan half of our 20 Women of Hope group (the group of Smithville and Chacraseca women who provide a scholarship and other support to a college student. First, we met with our original student. Then we met with our new student, and learned all about her hopes and dreams to become a nurse.

After these meetings, we spent time doing a cooking exchange with the other 20. Women of hope. The Nica women watched as we cooked, and the uS women awkwardly made our way through the wood stove kitchen…

After meeting with our 20 women of hope group, we went back to our home base and met with the president of Chacraseca. He was very passionate about his community, especially regarding education.

After our time closed, we went to Leon. While there, we visited the cathedral, an ice cream shop, and more. It’s been a full and wonderful day, and we’re headed to bed feeling grateful.

Nicaragua Friendship Mission, Day 3

Today was all about getting our feet wet in the communities of Chacraseca, which is a rural county outside the city of Leon that is marked by a lack of resources. Our morning was filled with home visits, where residents (mostly women) were ready to share stories about different aspects of their lives.

One woman told us about her life as a high school teacher. She teaches civics, social sciences, and artistic expression in a school of 120 students. Resources are thin, but her passion for teaching is strong, and graduation rates keep going up year after year.

Another woman has had her life changed by being chosen to receive an ecological stove. Rather than inhaling the smoke of an open fire, risking frequent burns and declining health (a plight common among women here), she now uses significantly less wood in a stove that stays cool everywhere except the cook surface and that sends all the woodsmoke out of her kitchen through a metal chimney. She has become a strong leader in her community, and uses her influence to encourage others to try these stoves in their own homes.

Yet another woman currently lives in a shack constructed of wooden beams and black plastic sheeting. She raises her son in that small space, but is on the waiting list for a new house and continues to hope for the day when it is her turn to have a new home built on her land.

Both a man who spends his days farming the land through increasingly dry years and a woman who is too sick to work spoke about la lucha (the struggle). In this part of Nicaragua, life is struggle. But the struggle is not something they do alone. Instead, leaders in the community volunteer their time to work for the good of their people, and generally strive to do so in an equitable and fair manner.

After lunch, we visited the local hardware store — a small business created by women to meet the community’s need for a place to purchase building supplies locally. This business, which as expanded to include a cafe, was initially the recipient of a microcredit loan. These loans, offered to women by women, enable individuals to get start up money for small business ventures without providing collateral. The microcredit banks are initially funded by donations that come via Just Hope.

After the hardware store visit, we attended a special performance at the brand new Chacraseca Cultural Center. Students from their music and folkloric dance groups wowed us with traditional dances and songs about Nicaragua. The performance was wonderful! There are very talented kids here in Chacraseca.

At the end of the day, we spent time reflecting, listening to Juan Pablo singing/playing guitar, eating dinner, and hanging out. We’re all deeply moved by the things we’ve seen and people we’ve met today. Now we’re headed to bed so we can be refreshed for another very full day tomorrow!