Sunday, November 30, 2014

Regretfully Unregretful: Reflections on my Time at Mars Hill Church

It has been months since our abrupt departure from Mars Hill Church. We had attended since the very inception of the church; we were 18 year members. I was a deacon, leader, writer, teacher, wife of an elder and staff member, deeply committed to what I thought was a “big idea” for Christ. As I have learned, the bigger the idea and the more fervent the buy-in from people, the harder and more painful the fall.

The reason we left is because my husband, Phil Smidt, was terminated from his staff position and his eldership revoked. That is his story to tell so I will go into no further detail.

Suffice it to say, it impacted my life, my family and my story significantly. We spent the first month in physical and emotional shock, unable to form clear thoughts and make the simplest of decisions. Combined with our deep grief was the overwhelming grace and generosity of God through his people in the form of financial, emotional, nutritional and prayer support. It was the most extreme “both/and” experience I have ever lived.

We were both traumatized and thankful.
Grieved and grateful.
Wrecked and relieved.

Regretful, but not.

I attended the final women’s training day at MHBellevue this past weekend to say goodbye; it felt like a funeral. I wanted to celebrate her life and to grieve her death. The fancy building felt hollow and shallow as I looked around at the expensive equipment, major upgrades and "stuff" that was poured into making that building shine.

Most precious and invaluable from that day were the eyes of women shining. Our hearts connected in tears, hugs and remembrance of all that was sweet and good. Our memories had everything to do with people and not productions, relationships and not real estate. WE were Mars Hill Church.

As Elyse and Jessica taught on grace in relationships, I was both convicted and encouraged. The resounding take-away for me was this prayer:

“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner".

One cannot pray this necessary, daily prayer of repentance for regrets standing on moral high ground.

Lord, forgive me for all the time I spent perched on the towering ledge of moral high ground, confusing those around me and convoluting the gospel of Grace. Simply put, I am so thankful Jesus accomplished for me what I absolutely could not.

I keep asking God to give me clarity on this situation and it partially came this morning as I was listening to the radio. Regret was defined by Pete Williams not just as an “oh well” but as an acknowledgement that things could have turned out differently. I had at least some power to act and I made some poor decisions.

Regret, for me, isn’t simply a fleeting “I wish I had done differently”. I feel very deeply, both the good and bad of the “both/and” experiences that life consists of. Since leaving MH and trying to make sense of the past 2 decades of my life, regret has been a deep, agonizing taunt in my soul.

My regrets, for which I have spent much time repenting to God and others, are many. They are painful and shame-inducing. But God has offered forgiveness through Christ and through many gracious brothers and sisters to whom I have repented.

The beautiful reality is that coupled with each regret is a truth about God’s character, a part of me, a piece of this painful puzzle, that I do not regret knowing. There is always beauty from ashes, both joy and heartbreak in every experience. Shame covered by dignity. Fear lessened by faith.

I did not make all foolish, sinful decisions in my years at MH - no one did. But, for me, owning the poor decisions under the feeling of regret leads me to repentance.

It is the only true place of rest. Trust in the forgiveness purchased us on the cross of Christ and trust in the loving, sovereign hand of God to be Judge and make all things right in the end.

Jesus was both God and Man.
Both Gentle and Just.
Loving Servant and Righteous Lord.

The “both/and” of my time at MH and truly, my existence on this earth, is both regret and no regret. 

I am made in the image and likeness of God. 
There is goodness about me. 
There is redemption for me. 
There is Christ in me. 
I have been given some measure of talent and strength that is wonderful and I cannot lose sight of my design in the midst of the destruction that I both contributed to and received.

My deepest regret is not loving well at times. Not loving well came in the form of harsh rebuke, not serving cheerfully, not speaking when I should have and speaking out when I should not have. It looked like distancing myself when I should have come close to others in their pain and pulling back from others when I was in pain.
I do not regret having people into our home for counsel, dinner, dessert, laughter, tears, parties, praying - all forms of love for sure. We loved people from single through pre-marital, marriage, babies, marriage struggles, divorce and redemption. I do not regret one moment of opening up my heart and seeing into the hearts of people I came to love deeply.

I regret not being a godly, persistent sister in Christ to some of my brothers. I should have trusted myself and asked more questions about things that sat wrong in my gut. I regret making myself small by ingesting the hierarchy of men in their roles and women in theirs with very little room for grace, individuality, calling and circumstance. I am grieved I did not turn my fear into courage but instead, chose silence. Please forgive me, brothers, for not loving you well by speaking the truth in love.
I do not regret the growth and freedom I enjoyed in my friendships with some men that will be forever friends. These are brothers I cried with, repented to, received bear hugs from and who spoke healing words of life and challenging words of love to me.

I regret caving in to my convictions about who women are and how God sees us. Please forgive me, sisters, for placing any extra-biblical expectations upon you. It was burdensome and wrong. I am deeply grieved by that. If you ever looked to me as the cookie-cutter for biblical womanhood, my hope is that you saw at least a glimpse of Jesus shining through my arrogance and desire to be well-respected.
I do not regret being myself and speaking words of boldness and challenge to women, including myself, who were in great need of hearing truth. We are not an after-thought; we are delightful, gifted, talented, courageous females that God declared were very good. I continue to urge you to believe just that.

I regret letting the red flags pile up with each departure of a beloved friend, member, staff. The unhealthy culture around us was a killer; silence and shame became the carbon monoxide of the church.
I do not regret persevering for the people in the midst of red flags, staying as long as we did to fight for change and love those God had placed around us.

I regret shaming my husband for being a “Priest” - the reserved, steady, leads-with-quiet-strength-and-integrity sort of man. I was contemptuous and angry that he was not the typical MH man - driven, macho and outspoken. I regret withholding forgiveness from him when he came to me broken over the ways his passivity had hurt me.
I do not regret repenting to him for my contempt and anger, growing to deeply appreciate those very things that I had shamed him for being. I do not regret partnering for life with this man and participating in the redemption God has granted us in our marriage. I am grateful for the time we got to spend teaching/shepherding/mentoring other young couples on their journey. I appreciate our marriage that complements each other. We attempted to model and teach that to other couples as we shed the stereotypical caricature of marriage and embraced each others’ personality, weaknesses, gifting and vulnerabilities.

I regret enjoying and engaging in elitist behavior - buying into the hierarchy of Elders being special or set apart in a way that showed partiality and discouraged transparency with members.
I do not regret learning to receive the generous gifts of people who lavished us with tangible love - including the elders and wives with a yearly retreat. Accepting those gifts taught me about accepting the free gift of salvation which is neither earned nor deserved.
(Note: I was not a recipient of nor aware of any elders wives "perks" that have been blogged about outside of the several elder retreats Phil and I attended which we were told were gifts from a donor)

I regret putting up walls in relationships with those that may not have been in the "inner circle". I regret my lack of transparency at times.
I do not regret that I am, by nature, a transparent person and I often laid way more "out there" than many and really wanted to be known by and know those around me.

I regret embracing phrases like "on mission", "It's all about Jesus", and even "I love you" without doing my own thinking and studying on how they were being defined. I absorbed tainted definitions that were ungodly and biblically inaccurate.
I do not regret the unlearning and relearning process I am in. I am seeing again the truth of those statements as defined by God and his Scripture are fresh and new and exciting.

I regret idolizing Mars Hill and letting my identity get wrapped up in it.
I do not regret having that idolatry stripped from my heart a couple years ago when I was told, because of my sin, that I would not be allowed to teach, lead or represent MH in any way for almost a full year. The desert God led me into for that year was his grace. His plan was to discipline me in LOVE - to show me that my identity, influence and involvement in his family were purely because of Jesus and not in what I could contribute or accomplish. I fell much more deeply in love with Jesus, receiving rich gifts of grace amidst the silence from men.

I regret numbing my conscience at times with rationalizations, turning a blind eye, alcohol, more blogging, more writing, more teaching, more "doing" - all to assuage my conflicted conscience about my involvement in and the direction of MH.
I do not regret coming alive to the deep convictions God laid on my heart and standing with my husband as we attempted to address what we'd remained silent about, fight against what we had helped create, lose our church, church family and employment because we could no longer live in the hypocrisy.

I regret the feelings of self-aggrandizement and heady power that came from being on a stage, teaching and writing to many.
I do not regret discovering and getting to enjoy the way God created me. I loved the opportunity to use my gifts. He has, and will again, use me to proclaim His glory and to make much of his name - despite my proclivity towards wanting glory for myself. His glory is magnified through the bold and humble living out of my passions.

I regret acting as a strong woman and using my position of authority harshly at times. Whether in Grace Group, Redemption Group, teaching Pre-Marital, counseling, or friendships, there were times when strong was used as a cover for fear, inadequacy and control.
I do not regret growing into a woman of strength - one that could stand beside her husband in his darkest day and help him. One that could speak words of life and grace when they came from a submitted place of strength with God as the source of wisdom and power, not from within me.

I do not regret vulnerability.

I do not regret participating in this body. We did what we knew to do when God showed us. We gladly participated in the many joys that came from being in this church from conception to death. Thus, we must gladly participate in the suffering that has come from watching something we helped build - for good and for bad - come to an end.

I do not regret asking those that I've sinned against for forgiveness.

I do not regret opening myself up to hearing from others that may still feel unreconciled or unloved by me. I welcome the opportunity to repent to you:

I do not regret living and walking through this devastation to be freed to love and live without regret for the rest of my days as I depend more deeply each day on my Savior, Redeemer, Friend and Lord.

Emptying Myself for Advent

I am resurrecting my personal blog because there is much percolating in my heart and this seems the best place to lay it out. I entitled this blog Recognizing Jesus years ago and at this time of my life with advent approaching, it is more fitting than ever.

Six months ago today, our world changed forever. We lost our church family, many relationships and our families income.

Today, the advent season of 2014 begins. As I sat in church this morning, God spoke to my clenched fists and closed heart.

They were not words of questioning and condemnation but whispers of warmth and welcome.
Not, "Where have you been?" but "I'm glad you are back, friend".
My heart has been far from him but his heart has continued to be in me and for me all the while.

To pick up the gifts of wonder and anticipation this Advent, I've got to lay down the crushing armload of burdens.

To open joy, I've got to lay down bitterness.
To receive healing, I got to open wounds.
To embrace loving others, I've got to let Jesus hold me.
To receive humility, I've got to release pride.
To flourish in relationships, I've got to risk vulnerability.
To accept my new family at Seed Church, I've got to share my thoughts with my former church family of Mars Hill Church.

I wrote the following words a couple weeks ago. They came flowing out of my heart in a short amount of time. For me, that's always a sign that God is moving. I have sat on them, prayed about them and received counsel on whether they should be shared publicly. I felt a wait from God despite the weight on my heart.

Today, I am free to share these words. Undoubtedly, they will be displeasing to many. They will be too late for some, too much for others, not detailed enough for some and too honest for others.

I purposely chose to use the word regret in my story rather than repent. While the theological neat-nicks may dissect my motives for and the meaning behind that, let me explain for myself.

I believe repentance to be relational. Repentance is a gift from God granted to me, a sinner. It is received by me, a sinner, and offered first to the Perfect God I ultimately sinned against and then to my offended brother or sister. It is lived out over time and not complete after 1 letter is written or one phrase uttered.

Regret is a declaration. An owning and acknowledgement of sin committed, or righteousness omitted. It can be shared generally and publicly as a means to facilitate conversation and open doors for the intimate work of repentance to be done one on one, face to face, in relationship over time. While not always possible, I believe that to be most powerful.

My hope in sharing these words is that this advent season will be marked by an emptying of myself - my sin, my hurt, my selfishness, my agenda - so a filling of peace, joy, love and true reconciliation can happen.

The miracle of Jesus is that it already has.
I'm ready to live my life in the true light and freedom of the Gospel.

And so, I offer these words as a gift to Jesus for what he has done for me, as a gift to myself as I live in grace and a gift to my brothers and sisters in Christ who have lingering hurt. May we all experience redemption and restoration as we walk in the light.