The table

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I listen to audiobooks when I’m driving. Most of 2022 didn’t give me much opportunity to do that until I moved to Lubbock (the drive here definitely allowed for listening!) because I lived a block away from the church where I worked. Early January of last year when I was still commuting from Fort Worth, I selected books on leadership and youth ministry. I gathered lots of ideas that I was never able to put into practice, unfortunately.

During the transition time, one of my books was Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday. If you haven’t heard of her, Evans was a brilliant writer who struggled with growing up in evangelical Christian culture and finding her place in faith communities as an adult. This particular book was built around a list of seven sacraments (for clarification, in mainline denominations that utilize sacraments, anywhere from two to seven are recognized). In the chapter dealing with the Lord’s Supper, I found myself pondering her words a great deal.

She described one faith community where this meal was more than a portion of a worship service, one which included the preparation of simple food and then gathering around a table for conversation, fellowship, and prayer. I love the idea of this!

For the theologians who may be reading this, I’m not saying that this is the same as what we celebrate in Holy Communion. I know there are many who spend far more time than I do studying these things who could explain exactly why. Honestly, I don’t want to split hairs on this. I’ve taught from the Lutheran catechism for more than twenty years now, besides my own learning prior to that through grade school and college, and I firmly believe what we teach. But the tickling in my brain from that section of her book continues to happen, and it’s what inspired my thoughts on food and faith in the first place.

How can we invite others to the table? What does that look like? Are there places we need to proceed with caution? Are there places we need to be more welcoming? These are the kinds of questions I’m wrestling with. I know I don’t have all of the answers and probably never will this side of heaven, but I am grateful that the feast in eternity has a table big enough to welcome me.

Coffee and Bread

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“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21

This is today’s verse of the day on BibleGateway, a website I often use for looking up Scripture. While I don’t love their app, I like the regular desktop interface for it and use it whenever I’m needing Bible references while on a computer. Anyway, as I read through this verse, it reminded me of another passage earlier in the book of Matthew (specifically, 4:1-4):

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Jesus is demonstrating what it means to lay up treasures in heaven by also focusing on the necessary food for all of us – the Word of God. I will never be someone who uses fasting as a regular practice (health wise, it is actually problematic for me). But there’s still a priority order to things. First God, then food.

I don’t have a hard time with that order, except for coffee. Oh, my beloved coffee. When I wake in the morning, it’s the first thing I reach for. Not the Bible (whether online, an app, or a physical book). Nope, it’s the coffee. I’m starting to recognize the way that I’ve given it first place in my life. Perhaps the quote from Jesus should be re-written for me: “Stephanie shall not live by coffee alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” I know it’s something I need to work on.

What I love is that Jesus doesn’t discount the value of bread. He doesn’t say to stop eating it. But it’s about where the bread falls in importance. If we are relying only on bread (or coffee) for sustenance, we’re missing something really important. That’s what it means to lay up treasures in heaven.

January is one of those benchmark times where we all attempt to make personal improvements. I’m working on incorporating exercise and healthy eating into my habits, and creating routines for keeping up with my house. But maybe the first thing needs to be my walk with God, spending time each morning in the Word.

Feeding people

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“Then the King will say to those at His right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink…’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw You hungry and gave You food, or thirsty and gave You something to drink?…’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of My family, you did it to Me.'” Matthew 25, select verses.

I regularly review priorities in my life and examine my goals, even when it’s not in service to New Year’s resolutions. It’s just a habit I have that helps me reflect and plan. Lately, the piece that I’ve been contemplating is feeding people. It probably helps that I currently work at a food bank, but honestly it’s nothing new for me. I love cooking for people. I love to invite folks over for dinner, although it’s been a while since I was able to do so. When we bought our house in Fort Worth, I had dreams of having people join us for dinner on a regular basis. I had one dinner party and one Superbowl party, and then Covid happened. We never got to have the ongoing meals for people I had envisioned.

Then we moved into an apartment, with no room for a table. We ate our meals sitting on the couch in front of the television (to be honest, we tend to do that anyway). I can’t remember inviting anyone over during the 10 months we lived in Plano, except for one instance of a neighbor coming by briefly to hang out and the random times family came to visit.

Now we’re in a rental house, with an actual dining room. Christmas with my family was amazing, being able to use our table to seat 12 of us and enjoy a meal together. I really want to plan a weekly dinner where we invite various folks in our lives – coworkers, folks from church, maybe some college students we know who go to school here. I’m not 100% sure how to begin but the plan is starting to happen.

Meanwhile, I get to feed people through my work, something that excites me. I get to teach people how to cook and how to make healthy choices in their food. Ironically, I’m not great at the healthy choices thing, although we rarely eat at restaurants anymore which helps. At home I don’t struggle as much to eat healthy food, especially when I’m careful to avoid purchasing snacks at the grocery store.

Anyway, if you live in Lubbock and want a dinner invite, let me know! I should have the Christmas decorations put away this weekend and the house back in order, so I will be ready to host meals like I’ve wanted.

How we got here

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It’s been a long time.

I knew I hadn’t written in a while – I fell out of the habit, and then a whole lot of life happened. More on that in a minute. But when I logged in and saw I hadn’t written a post since November 2020… What? How is that possible?

Writing used to be my lifeline, the way I got through the hardest experiences along the way. The trouble is, when the hard stuff you’re going through isn’t for public sharing, blogging isn’t the way to do it. But I also forget to journal about things when I’m not blogging, so I just internalize it all. No wonder I’ve been struggling off and on for the past few years. That, and y’know, it’s been the past few years with everything that came along with them.

Where do I even begin? First of all, if you’re not someone I stay in touch with regularly, you might not know that we moved twice in 2022. Two. Times. Not one but two ministry failures under our belts. In fact, neither of us is currently employed in church work, and I have no idea if we ever will be again (barring the occasional preaching gigs for him).

I miss living in Fort Worth. It’s a great city, and I have some great friends there. But even before we moved, the city had changed thanks to Covid. It used to be a place with a fun downtown, complete with free valet parking and an open square used for things like a giant Christmas tree and a crazy New Year’s Eve party. We would go to comedy shows and movies, grab dinner, and even splurge for a Broadway production at the beautiful Bass Hall. During Covid, the square was shut down, the valet parking went away, and when it returned they were charging for it. I get that the economy affected everything like that, and I don’t blame them. But I miss what it was. And they took an extraordinarily long time to reopen the square. Truthfully, I’m not certain that they did yet since we haven’t lived there in over a year (though I’d be surprised if they didn’t).

Meanwhile, ministry changed drastically for us during the pandemic. Suddenly we were doing everything online, and losing touch with members. On top of that, politics became a THING that would not be ignored, and we found ourselves at odds with members and further losing connections. By the summer of 2021, Travis needed a break due to the stress, but it didn’t go away when he came back to work. During the fall, we made a lot of difficult decisions, including walking away from our church. It still breaks my heart, and there was a lot of fault on our part for how things happened.

In October, I was connected to a congregation in Plano, a northern suburb of Dallas. They were looking for a DCE, and I needed a job. Sounds like a perfect fit, doesn’t it? In hindsight, mutual need doesn’t make for an ideal match. It took a while, but in May of last year I was officially commissioned and installed in my first call as a DCE. By September, I found myself resigning.

I might get into the details of why eventually, but it’s currently far too raw and painful for me to begin processing. I feel like I failed, and like others failed me. Despite serving at the biggest church I have ever been part of, I was lonelier than I’ve been since my freshman year of college. I will forever be grateful for the coaching that our district provides for church workers, because walking through it with someone outside of the situation enabled me to make the decision to walk away.

Here’s the beauty of how God works – I was in a zoom meeting with my coach, making the decision to resign my call. I logged off, and my husband came in to tell me he had been offered a job in Lubbock, one with better pay and and signing bonus and moving expenses. After him spending most of 2022 underemployed, working for three different jobs along the way, this was a lifeline for both of us. I started to scroll through Indeed job listings and stumbled on a part-time position at the local food bank, teaching nutrition classes. I applied and was hired, and I’ve been here since November.

Y’all, I love the work I’m doing. I’m definitely going to be writing more about that in the future, because I’ve started to notice just how much food and faith intersect in this world. When I re-worked my resume for this job application, I found I didn’t have to change much. Every single ministry I’ve been involved in through the years had plenty of food-related pieces to it. Sometimes it was giving food away. Sometimes it was potlucks. Even my last church, which DOESN’T HAVE A KITCHEN, involved a whole lot of feeding people. Youth ministry: if you know, you know.

While I wish my work wasn’t just part time, it’s been good and restful for me to have extra time each week. It’s helping me heal. I could complain about lower pay, but that’s the world of non-profits. I need my work to be meaningful more than I need a huge paycheck. What I do matters, and the organization I am working for is so amazing, and those two things matter more than any salary.

I’m reluctant to make declarations about how often I will be writing here, but I’m going to try. I’ve got a lot of thoughts percolating on this idea of food and faith, and I’m starting to notice Bible verses that bring both together. So here’s hoping I can stick to it! I want to use this season where I have extra time and energy to put more into writing, whether on this blog or working on a book about our journey. Thanks for sticking with me along the way!

What I believe.

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I believe that abortion is murder.

I also believe that we will never make it go away until we change our society. All pregnancy needs to be celebrated, whether or not the circumstances of it are “good.” We have to stop shaming single mothers, teenage mothers, working mothers, ANY mothers. We have to recognize that pregnancy comes from two people, not just one. We also need to make major changes to how employment and parenthood are viewed. If having a baby stops women from reaching her career goals, or keeps her from being hired in the first place, then we back them into a corner of fear. If having a baby means that a woman is ostracized by the church, do we really value the life of that child? That’s what keeps abortion happening. We also need to work on our responses to domestic violence, sexual assault, and a whole host of other intertwined issues. That’s what will change the course of this devastating practice. Making it illegal or less available will not help the core problem.

I believe that all lives matter.

But that means that I believe they all matter equally, and for centuries we have proclaimed by our actions and our words that some lives matter more. So when I say that Black Lives Matter, it’s because I’m trying to emphasize this point. To borrow from Brene Brown, “All lives matter, but not all lives need to be pulled back into moral inclusion. Not all people were subjected to the psychological process of demonizing and being made less than human so we could justify the inhumane practice of slavery” (Braving the Wilderness).

I believe that the Bible is the true, inspired Word of God and it shapes my world view.

As I read scripture, I see a LOT of stuff that reminds me to love others, to not be afraid, to rejoice, and to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. What I don’t see is a command to lord my religious behavior over others, to control or shame them into compliance, or to attack someone who is different from me. I know that it is not my job to condemn or exclude someone for ANY reason. We pull individual verses from scripture to justify our hate, judgment, and, quite frankly, sinful attitudes towards others. But here’s the thing: Jesus came for EVERYONE. Yes, sometimes sin needs to be called out. But every time Jesus did it, He did it in love. He didn’t look at the woman at the well and tell her she was a mess. He offered her living water before she ever confessed her sins. in fact, the only moment I notice Him confront her on is her lie of omission. She said, “I have no husband.” And He says, “you’re right. But you’ve had 5 husbands and you’re currently living with someone who isn’t.” He SEES her and invites her to be honest about her reality. He makes it clear that He knows her sin but still did not reject her. How many of our churches can do that?

I believe that we don’t know enough information about everyone trying to enter our country.

Yes, there are obviously going to be some folks coming with nefarious purposes – terrorism, child trafficking, drugs, etc. We also make huge assumptions about this only happening on our southern border. Why? I believe it’s because Canadians look a lot like white Americans, but the folks coming from South and Central America don’t. This world is a mess, and there are many people fleeing from countries and situations where their lives are at stake. But we have ignored the plight of the refugee and refused to do anything to help. I know it’s complicated. But I firmly believe that calling people “illegals” dehumanizes them. And as soon as we stop seeing humanity in someone, we can treat them differently. Will immigration reform require massive resources? Yes, yes it will. There’s no easy solutions here. My first position is to recognize the humanity in every person. I think that’s a good place to start.

I trust that God is in control no matter who is running our country.

I won’t talk about who I voted for except with a few trusted friends. My process of deciding how to vote involves prayer, study of the issues, and a deep frustration in our two-party system. I have had some elections where I did not tell anyone, even my husband, who I voted for (mostly because I was being stubborn and didn’t want to tell him). I have voted for candidates from at least four different parties in my lifetime, including the two main ones. I have never been a single-issue voter. I also don’t know if I’ve always made the best choice, but I tried to make the best one I could at the time with the information I had. One of the abiding values of voting I have is that local candidates are much more important to pay attention to for how it will affect my life. I also get enraged when I think about the money that gets spent on election advertising, money that could be used for so many other things.

I believe that we don’t have all of the answers.

Personally, I think that when we start proclaiming that we are right and the other side is wrong, we’ve lost. I’m still trying to learn and understand the perspective of others. I’m working to root out the stubborn places in my soul that give knee-jerk reactions to people and things and places and circumstances that I don’t understand – and I’m discovering that those reactions are usually based in fear of the unknown. I grew up in a small (tiny) town in the middle of the country. 99% of the people I encountered looked just like me. I was aware that some folks had money and some didn’t. I knew a tiny handful of folks who were divorced. The biggest “diversity” shock for me came when I went to a catholic mass with a friend! I don’t assume I know how others have experienced life. What I do know is that, as a Christian, I am to love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love my neighbor as myself. Who is my neighbor? That’s everybody else. The hard part for me is remembering to include those I don’t like or understand.