Friday, April 11, 2014

My Heart Named Roger

So. Roger started school on March 13, two days after he turned 3 years old. He was in a fantastic program called CUBS but it's for ages birth to three, and unfortunately our insurance is quite unhelpful and we simply cannot afford private provision of the gamut of therapies needed for his autism. The local school district (Lake Washington) offers not only great preschool for kids whose special needs qualify them but also a really amazing program three days a week that's specifically for kids with autism. Our hope is still to transition to Classical Conversations* in a year or two (likely two at this point, though he could make astounding gains in the next year), but for now this is grace to our family to really help in areas that I simply cannot provide at home, such as speech and ABA therapy. Plus, the social aspect is really great for him.

*More on CC later in the post

Two days into three years old and off to school!

Roger's new schedule is a bit grueling for the whole family. Every day we wake up by 7 (note that my babes wake up on their own normally around 9) and then leave just after 8. We drop daddy off at the park and ride and then take Roger to school and drop him off at 8:30. The Podge takes the bus home; I didn't want him to initially but I realized a few things. First, his teachers strap him into a 5 point harness and then I'm the one who goes on the bus and gets him off. Secondly, it's only other preschoolers, so there are no older kids who can bug him at all. Since he can't talk this is crucial to me because if anything happens he has no ability to communicate it. But most importantly, he loves the bus and it's me who needs to entrust my boy to Jesus and relinquish some control. So, then, on Mondays he gets home just after noon but on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays he doesn't get home until 3:30. Sadness. That's a long time without mah boy! Praise Jesus for glorious no school Wednesdays!

His first day on the bus, about two weeks after we first started school. He's always
 the last stop so it's a little sad that he's all alone but he's always so happy!
And how sweet was his teacher to print this picture of mama for him?

I just need to record for posterity that honestly, school is going really well. The first few days were a little scary because Roger is seriously the happiest boy you ever met. Just ask our friends Josh and Becky. (Amirite, Becky?) But those first few days the Podge would come home from school and be almost catatonic, just staring into empty space and kind of listless for a good 2-3 hours. Eventually he would be more himself but it was awful. But after the first full week he was so much better, and actually the bus helped. I think it gives him an hour-ish to process all of the new things going on, to de-stimulate a bit.

What's best, though, is that Roger's teacher, Mrs. Elyse, is really great. Just another answer to prayer. I feel like at some point we should have an awful teacher or doctor or therapist that makes us feel all sorts of horrible but it just hasn't happened. Every person has surprised me with how easy it is to entrust them to help me best care for my son, because my prayer that people helping him would do it out of love and passion and not simply for a paycheck has been answered over and over. I told this to his teacher in our first talk. She asked me what concerns I had, and I was just honest: I am not worried about people doing their job. I don't fret that Roger will be taught the skills and the adaptations and the academics. Those things will happen because I am just certain that they will.

Academics just aren't my first priority. What matters to me is that this is my baby, the boy I prayed for long before he was in my womb, and I am taking my heart named Roger and allowing him to go into someone else's classroom for 2.5 to 6 hours a day. And my heart can't tell me what was good or bad, what makes him sad or happy or frustrated or hurt. Because of autism, I'm not even sure how well my heart named Roger can even know that's what he's feeling. So I am trusting someone to love him and care for him and have compassion for him in his weakness in a way that I have zero insight nor access to. With CUBS,  I was always watching behind two way glass, so I could see when he was having a great or hard day. With preschool, I simply watch him grab his green ring on the string of rings and toddle off to school. With CUBS, even though I was watching his teacher(s) would always do a 5 minute debrief at pick up. With preschool, I only hear if something particularly bad happened. It's a lot of trusting Jesus that this sweet boy, my heart named Roger, is being loved and cared for in a way that I never wanted, never would have chosen.

[ Big Ol' Caveat Time

Let me just say, I'm not here to argue public vs private vs homeschool. I distinctly remember driving over Stevens Pass, a good 3 years pre-Roger and 4 years pre-Juliet, and definitively telling Jason that I would never homeschool. Because I thought in stereotypes (weird, antisocial, too sheltered, probably not great academics) and Christian law (oxymoron but my college church didn't get that) about having to do everything all the time making the #1 priority being a missionary to tell lost people about Jesus. I thought I had to send my kids to Seattle Public Schools to be missionaries if I loved Jesus. That was stupid. I will argue this: Jesus doesn't make a definitive argument for what type of schooling to choose. He just doesn't.  He DOES clearly tell us to live by the Spirit and walk out our faith according to our conscience. So, for myriad reasons I would love to share later if people care, our conscience has landed on Classical Conversations being our chosen route for our children's schooling. Short story: CC is homeschool, but it's co-op based, with a heavy community element, and the academic material is based on the classical model. Basically the model used in the United States up until the 50s, when we topped the world in education. If you've read Anne of Green Gables or the Little House books, it's similar to how they learned. You can go to the CC website here. But I read The Core, and then Jason did, and we talked and thought and walked out life with Jesus as we normally do and it simply resonated with our conscience as the right choice for our family.

End Big Ol' Caveat]

I didn't plan public school for Roger. Certainly not at age three. But I also didn't plan for autism to hold the bondage it does over my sweet boy's brain. The best care for him, right now, is school and it has been a blessing. I still wouldn't choose it, any of this, but Jesus has been faithful and sweet to me through this journey. Just a little more trusting every day that my heart named Roger is not my own. He's thriving and talks a little more every day. He's starting to ever so slightly pronounce the "s" sound and it's amazing. Plus, I have been able to spend time with Juliet that she never had, coming so closely on her brother's heels, and that, too, has been sweet. It's not all easy and we're not fake about it, like it's just all the best thing and we'd change nothing.

What a crazy confluence of always-be-my-baby meets big-boy.
Roger in school means I get extra special bonding time with the world's cutest workout buddy.
Ok, maybe she's a tie for this cutie, 6 month old Roger :)
Truth: if Jesus told me I had to choose between Roger having autism and Roger not having autism, it's a no brainer. No thought. However, by the grace of God, he doesn't work that way. And through autism has come a sweet surrender to Jesus, an acknowledgment that I desperately need him and this world is not as it ought to be and my children will encounter pain and suffering and nothing I do will ever stop them from feeling what it is to be a weak and frail and desperate and needy human just like me. I didn't choose autism and wouldn't choose school, my boy being away from me nearly 26 hours a week with travel time. But I did choose and do choose Jesus, and he chose this path for me. So as I walk the path he laid before me, I ask him to be the lamp unto my feet.

You know the thing about lamps? You can't see very far ahead. Maybe a few steps at the most. You can't see behind, either, and maybe you don't remember it clearly. But the great thing about the lamp is that though what is behind is blurred and what is ahead is unknown, the lamp is just right there with you so you can see clearly for just that bit of space and time where you are. That's Jesus! No promise that you'll get easy peasy steps ahead, but man is he faithful right where you are.

Where we are is public special ed preschool. It's going better than expected. There is hope for CC in the future. But whatever is ahead, I know that Jesus will be right there with me and I can trust his faithfulness to me.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
  and a light unto my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
  to keep your righteous rules.
I am severely afflicted;
  give me life, O LORD, according to your word!
Psalm 119:105-07

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

And Now You Are Three



Oh, hello THREE. To think you were once our Minimoose.

Roger,

Every year I write a hearty post on what a joy it is to be your mother. In fact, here is each one, starting with your birth story:

Welcome to the World, Roger Nehemiah Hagglund!




I'll confess, I just re-read each one, in order. Bring on the waterworks!

I need to be vulnerable and honest and admit that, while on the one hand I fear seeming like autism is all that matters, on the other, admitting that our entire world is different since your last birthday is just the truth. There is pain in reading those posts and seeing some of the hopes and dreams that, quite simply put, died. But because you can always trust your mama to be honest, I have to say this: not a single thing I wrote about how precious you are to me, about how you changed my life, about how your birth was the best day of your daddy's and my life to that point (your sweet and spunky sister is now tied with you there!), about how I cannot get enough of your laugh and infectious joy, and especially how I still pray for you to know, love, and serve Jesus in a way that literally changes the world around you--Roger, none of those have changed. In fact, they are more true because to know you for another day is to have another day's worth of love and devotion to you stored up in my heart. 

Two days old
First birthday 

Second birthday

Third birthday

It's every little thing with you, the grains of sand that make a beach, that enrapture my heart. So, allow me to free stream a small myriad of the ways you bring me so much joy.

  • Your obsession with green. The way you say, "Roger's green jammies." "Roger's green diaper." "Roger's green spoon." And just, "Greeeeeeeeeen."
  • The fact that even though you have no comprehension of having caused her pain, the way you always hug and kiss sister any time you make her cry is always very focused, intentional, and beautiful.
  • The way you make an exaggerated, "Mmmm-WAUH!" sound every time you kiss your sister or another little kid. Never adults, just children.
  • How you loooooove to eat. Especially yogurt. And ketchup. And eggs. And asparagus. And bananas. And organic Cliff bars. And Pirate's Booty. And kiwis. Really, you just love to eat.
  • The way, when I sit in Daddy's chair during the day while he's at work, you drag over my blanket from the couch, grab your iPad, and sit in my lap. You arrange the blanket over both of us, get to "work" on one of your learning apps, and lean back every so slightly, expectantly, so I'll massage your back and head.
  • The way you sometimes push me away when you just want to go to sleep at night, but then other times the way you unexpectedly grab my sleeve and pull me in reeeeeeealllllll close because you want that smothered feeling that you sometimes just crave.
  • Your knack for picking out clothes. The most compliments we ever got on an outfit of Juliet's is one you picked out. I would never pair polka dots and flowers because I think it feels too busy, but you sure went there and made your sister a fashion icon for a day. No joke.
  • Eye contact is rare with you, but every once in awhile your eyes lock onto mine and I can't look away. I feel like I am seeing into your soul in a way that just doesn't happen with anyone else. Not your daddy, not your sister, not a single other human being. Thank you for those times, Roger.
  • How crazy obsessed you are with the letter 'o' and how you show it to me all the time on our license plate...
  • ...and how cute it is that you don't know the difference between the letter 'o' and the number '0.' For the record, the one on our license plate is the latter.
  • Your super brightness. You know shades of colors with astounding accuracy (especially green). You know every letter, and most of the states. You know shapes that I have certainly never taught you. If we read a book once, you can learn a new word, and then the next time we read it a week later you know the 'new' thing. It floors me.
  • In addition, you cannot read, and yet you sweep your finger across the word 'Montana' on my hoodie and say, "Montana." Same with my Washington Huskies--on that one you know both words and which word is which--hoodie and my Whitworth hoodie. [Fact: I wear a lot of hoodies. They're just sorta my thing.]
  • I can't even handle how much you love the Seahawks. By the grace of God we are training you up in the way of righteousness.
  • You DELIGHT in music. Sometimes a song you love will come on the TV (via Spotify) and you'll drop everything, run over, and just soak it in. It's incredible.
  • And for real, it's uncanny how often you clap on beat.
  • The sweet way you say, "Jeeee-sus" at night when you want me to sing "Jesus Loves Me."
  • And then you say, "Pay-phooone." And then "Canoush." Praise God I know that you're saying, "Can't Hold Us." And yes, I always sing at least little bits of each one :)
  • The odd affinity you have for having your teeth brushed.
  • It's started to fade as you have become more comfortable with the environment, but I'll never forget the way, when we started CUBS class, you were in this big new room with so much to take in and you were so fidgety. But then they put you in the big swing in the middle of the room, and your little body just melted into relax mode. Only when swinging could you calmly look around the room and take in every little bit--the artwork, the stations, the other people. It was beautiful to see your little mind find something that allowed you to connect with the world around you. Never again will swings just be a random recreational toy to me, Roger.
  • Your cuddles. Having your non-snugglesome sister, Juliet, in our lives makes me so grateful for the sweet joy of how rarely you resist cuddling right on into my arms. Best part? You initiate at least as much as I do.
  • Your laugh and smile. Whenever someone adds me on Facebook who hasn't met you, the next time I see them they tell me how every picture of you makes them feel like not only are you an incredible little boy (and, for the record, much of the time they have no idea about the autism, so I know it's not coming from a pity place) but like they really want to get to know you. They say your smile is the kind they could never get enough of. I absolutely agree.
  • You still have the deep gut laugh I spoke of in your (I think?) one year letter.
  • Quite simply, I love the fact that we're three years in and I still marvel that Jesus gave me this great gift of being your mama. I keep waiting to find you annoying or resent you, for the "suckage" of parenting to set in. But nope :) We have hard moments, to be sure, but they are grossly, miraculously outnumbered by the good, the easy, the wonderful moments. 

You and sister enjoying birthday donuts today. You hoovered her leftovers. 

Quite clearly you're a pretty special boy to me. I could go on forever, but I want to enjoy this lovely day with you in person! I'll end with this:

In the great sovereignty of God, who saw every moment ahead of us, he led me to post Psalm 139 on your first birthday letter. Little did I know at that time--nor did I remember sharing it until reading said letter tonight--that this verse would be a great comfort to me, engraved on my soul regarding you. I pray it becomes engraved on your soul, as well, and that the truth of the good, trustworthy, worship-eliciting, faithful, steadfast love-filled character of our God would be your anchor in life.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
               Wonderful are your works;
                  my soul knows it very well.
           Psalm 139:14 
 
 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Church is My Family--And Pie is Good

I read a really great blog post today that blessed me deeply. You see, I would say that lately my church--namely, our preaching pastor--has been embroiled in some controversy. But let's just be honest -- my church is embroiled controversy, usually related to Pastor Mark, more often than it isn't. 

So yes, some controversy is rumbling, and what's discouraging is seeing people openly bashing Mars Hill, on a personal mission to see Mark chased from the pulpit with torches and pitchforks, so finally it will be proven that God is a good god. Jason and I intentionally tend to keep mum on these topics publicly, but I decided that it's time to say something. Maybe I'll be opened up to to vile hate, like the people who said they hoped I would die of cancer when I once spoke up to defend a poor decision (that was being repented of) from some CG leaders when I was in Ballard. People legitimately wanted me to suffer and die--and the cancer was the tamest thing I can remember that I would even recall here. 

My husband asked me why I want to post this, for the motivation. He read it over and said it feels like a scolding tone, more of a, "Stop that!," than a, "Let us look at Jesus together on this." He is a wise one, that guy. Here is, as best I can see it, my heart in writing this. When I first became a Christian I thought everyone pretty much believed the same thing. Then, in college, I heard about arguments over whether we choose God or he chooses us, if we have free will, if a female elder can even be a Christian because she's so wrong--or if those who don't believe females can Biblically be elders are even Christians because they are so wrong. The list is endless, really. And not much has changed--the growth of the internet in the last 10 years of my life has made me realize the disagreements in Christianity are wide and honestly only Jesus himself knows the number though it grows every day. 

Just last night, reading this over, Jason corrected something I said, told me to quote the scripture itself and not state the inference I believe because not all Christians believe the same as me on that. I, very honestly, said, "People don't believe God turned his back on Jesus as he hung on the cross?" I really didn't know that not everyone takes Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 to mean that Jesus suffered the lack of God's approving presence as he paid the penalty for sin on the cross. That is fundamental to me and I had a hard time comprehending that others, including theologians far wiser than I, interpret that very, very differently. But these are siblings in Christ; maybe more practically like 4th cousins in the faith, but they love and follow Jesus. That's what really matters.

So how does that apply to this post? I want to make clear that I can tend to see the things I don't like, or even the parts of things I don't agree with in people with whom I generally agree, and the temptation is to take that little sliver of the pecan pie where the nuts are a little more finely chopped and wonder then if the whole pie is rotten. Do you see the fickleness of the human heart there? But I take that to Jesus, ask him what I can still learn from this person. And if it is a mincemeat pie (yuck!) then I just don't partake in that pie. It's still a pie, just not a flavor I prefer. 

Let's set up this analogy clearly; I didn't intend to but I just rolled with the pie and so we're going there. Every analogy breaks down at some point but this one serves its purpose. So, the Writer of the recipe is God, namely Jesus Christ. He has declared pie as the only true dessert--cakes and cookies and puddings seem to also be dessert, but Jesus says pie is the only dessert. Pie, then, is Christianity and the other seeming desserts are other religions and they aren't what God has declared the only true dessert. (For the record, if you don't agree with that, this post is absolutely not for you.) The recipe for pie is the Bible, and over time a whole lot of recipes for various pies have come out of those studying the recipe. So pies are various churches, denominations, theological stances. Bakers of the pies are the pastors, theologians, etc. And eaters are Christians in the church, relying on Jesus for which baker they should be serving. What makes a pie a pie is that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the Writer of the recipe, and he died for sin and only in him can we eat pie. There are false pies that look like pie, say tarts, but we aren't talking about those either. An example of this is the prosperity Gospel that says it's about Jesus but in actuality it's just about gorging on something sweet for the sake of the cravings of the tongue without knowing the Writer. 

So:

Writer of recipe = Jesus.
Recipe = Bible.
Pie = only real dessert.
Different flavors of pie = different denominations, churches, theological stances.
Bakers = leaders in those different sects, namely pastors but also theologians.
Eaters = Christians feeding off of those interpreting the recipe and feeding the pie. Eaters are responsible to seek Jesus for which pie they should be partaking of, the baker to love and serve.


You with me?

Let's do this! 

I have seen growing tendencies among Christians to take entire flavors of pie and question if they're even pie. And let's just admit right now that there are a lot. of. flavors. of. pie. in. the. world. The saddest part is Christians who looooooved pumpkin pie, but then they had a rotten piece. Jesus made the recipe, but the baker thought it would be to the glory of God to add some extra ingredient and it's yucky. Maybe in their sin they used a rotten pumpkin to make the puree. Or they ran out of sugar and thought salt would be a good substitute because they were too lazy to go to the store and buy more sugar. Hey, they look the same, right? Or they really intended to use sugar and mistakenly used salt, maybe due to chaos in the kitchen. But then in all scenarios they said, "No, it tastes great. I don't have to eat it, obvs [PRIDE], but you do, and you will like it. You will tell everyone else it's amazing and they have to like it, too, and if they don't the problem is YOU, eater and sharer, not the pie and certainly not my kitchen skills." Let's just be honest and admit that happens, because no matter how perfect the recipe and the Writer of the recipe when sinners are the bakers and distributors things get messy. Sometimes the pie tastes yucky and we forget what a blessing it is to be able to eat pie.

Even so, that doesn't mean that the problem is pumpkin pie. And we don't get to declare all pumpkin pies bad, or all bakers of pumpkin pies bad, because of one awful experience. Sometimes you're called to keep buying that baker's pie, and to love them and pray that they repent of laziness and go buy sugar, or repent of carelessness and make sure the sugar isn't salt. Most importantly is to pray for them to be humble, that when they blow it they admit that was a nasty pie, that it's their fault, but keep going back to the master recipe and making more pies. Sometimes the pie made you so sick, or the baker is so wrong in the recipe, that Jesus would give you the grace to go to a different baker. 

Most importantly, though, whatever baker God calls you to is someone you need to patiently love and serve, even if you would bake the pie differently. And maybe God would use your love and patience and service to help that baker become a better baker, maybe with a more well equipped kitchen or better ingredients or whatever. That's a lot more work than saying, "I don't like this pie. I will find better pie, a baker who is completely indiscernable from the recipe writer," over and over again. You know the issue with that heart? The pie that you LOVE with the first bite will eventually become problematic.  Over time you'll swear it used to be better (why, the pie changed! Not you!) and soon enough you'll want different pie from yet another better baker.

The other big issue is people who hate pumpkin pie. If you NEVER liked pumpkin pie and looooooove apple pie why would you concern yourself with going around being a pumpkin pie inspector? You don't plan to eat it, because ew, nasty, and yet you're very concerned that others might like it and how dare they! You spend very little effort or energy on helping your local baker, whom God has called you to, make a better apple pie. But by golly you are the expert in studying the reviews of pumpkin pies around the nation, pies you've never tasted and never intend to! Surely the Writer of the recipe has appointed you to declare everything wrong with them, often questioning if pumpkin pie is really even pie. Apple pie is the real pie and anyone with any hint of tastebuds knows that. How can those who have never had pie taste pumpkin and believe pie is good? You don't help the apple pie distributors, despite your deep conviction that apple is best; nope, you focus on how to be a part of shutting down the pumpkin industry. 

And oh, how you rejoice when the bakers of the pumpkin pies you really hate are found to have any issues. You scour the pumpkin pie association websites of copying recipes or buying fake pumpkin on the black market or getting caught sans aprons with their sous chef. You despise the most famous pumpkin pie bakers, denigrate those who have found a lot of joy and satiation and desire to share that particular baker's recipe. So you search for hints of sin, join into controversy where there actually is none. But if there eventually is sin that comes into the light? Oh, how you rejoice in the downfall of that baker and tsk, tsk the people foolish enough to have eaten that baker's pie. You don't care that said eaters are now hungry, hurting, or struggling with believing the Writer of the recipe is good since their baker went out of the kitchen in flames. Had they been wise enough to eat apple pie, or at least not that baker's pie, they'd be fine so it's all their fault, suckas. 

This is all wrong. I say this not just nit picking them out there, because I see it in my own heart. Full vulnerability here: there is a very, very respected baker of pumpkin pie beloved by many. But let's say he likes to add extra cinnamon to his pie while I really prefer extra nutmeg. I became embroiled in conflict that has endured for the better part of two years with an extra cinnamon lover who adores said baker. And even though the baker bakes truly great pumpkin pie, eaten by many to their joy and the glory of God, I was hurt by the cinnamon-y loving parts of this person in my community with whom I was in conflict. 

I found myself rolling my spiritual eyes and saying, "Oh, hey-ell no! I am not picking up my fork for that cinnamon nastyfest." This looked like reading articles from said baker with a spirit of criticism, looking for specks in his blog posts friends shared on Facebook, instead of being honest about the plank in my own eye. In the meantime, the person I was in conflict with was doing the exact same thing regarding nutmeg, specifically criticizing my posts and conversations about bakers who love nutmeg. I refused to see how cinnamon pointed her to Jesus while she didn't want to rejoice that nutmeg pointed me to Jesus. Yet we both love pumpkin pie. 

How sad is that? We both desperately need Jesus, and by the grace of God, he is the one who showed us that it's to God's glory that we both even get to eat pie, let alone that he's united us in loving pumpkin pie. It is sin on our part to elevate ingredients like cinnamon and nutmeg over the pie itself and to lose sight of the Writer of the recipe in the process. I am not looking down from my perch of pie-discerning-perfection to tell every other pie eater how to be just like me because I am the worst of pie critics.

Why am I writing this then? To pimp pumpkin pie, declare it as the Pie of Pies? To shame those who like apple pie? To scold and say, "Stop it," to the pie critics? No. I am writing this because I know from the depths of my soul that it grieves the Writer of the pie recipes that we spend so much time arguing about the pie, insisting which flavor is best, instead of enjoying pie, praising the Writer for his recipe, loving and serving the imperfect bakers he's called to sweat and burns in the kitchen, and sharing the pie with others who have never tasted it because they live on a steady diet of refuse and garbage and don't even know pie exists. My desire is not to deify nor demonify any baker but to, I hope by the grace of God, exhort all pie lovers to look at the Writer of the recipe. To ask him for wisdom regarding our opinions about various pies, and, more importantly, to cleave to him for wisdom in when it is appropriate to share those opinions, how to share them, and how to engage with others whose opinions are just as strong but different from ours.

Soooooo...that's my intro. Ha! 

I told you I read a blog post, so let's get to that now.

Here is the money quote from the blog post, a blog called Levi the Poet, that's making it's way around mah Facebook:

"Frankly, I'd just love to see people as devoted to their own pastors and churches as they are to dismantling mine. It's always easier to stand outside of something and criticize it than it is to put in the hard work of cultivating the changes you'd like to see."

If you walk through daily life with me you know that I love my church, that it has become my family. You also know there are parts I don't love, areas where I wrestle with bitterness and plank-speck syndrome, areas where I think I know best and am consistently called to humility, to love, to prayer, to submission to elders even on some decisions I just don't love. My church, my family, is Mars Hill Church, the Bellevue location. 

Yes, I go to Mars Hill. I am a deacon and have served faithfully and am user 626 on The City (which happens to also be my husband's place of work)--in other words, it's been awhile!

I say this because the amount of hatred and vitriol toward my church, constantly ebbing and flowing on the internet, both frustrates and saddens me. If you talked about my husband that way on Facebook--even if he was legit wrong--I would delete you as a friend, for what could we choose to unite on if the person Jesus has knit my life as one with is despised by you? If I spoke of your spouse in such ways I would expect the same of you--in fact, I'm not sure I would publicly say those things about your husband unless I wanted to get a rise out of you. 

If you had ugly things to say directly to me about my husband in real life, we'd have a talk. If you continued insisting you had the right to slander him because of how wrong he was, I would pull away from the friendship. He's simply higher on the priority list than you are, no matter who you are, unless your name is Jesus and you rose from the dead to save me from my sins. 

It's not so very different with my church family. When you denigrate Mars Hill you are talking about me, my husband, my children, and friends who are godly, sweet, genuine people with whom my soul is knitted eternally. Those of us in Mars Hill, my church family, are serving our God where he has called us to love and serve him. If you find a person in our family who says Mars Hill is perfect and Pastor Mark is short of being Jesus himself only because the Bible says only Jesus is Jesus, that person is an extreme aberration. And, for the record, obviously wrong.

If you are one of the people who despise Mars Hill, one on the outside looking in, I ask you this--have you ever considered that many people at Mars Hill have a much better idea than you what could be the areas of sin and struggle and lack of wisdom and carelessness and everything in between at our church? Far better than you and your blogs that claim to be about the Kingdom of God while tearing down anyone they don't think is right, to be certain. 

If you have been hurt by Mars Hill, have been on the receiving end of the sin of man that nailed Jesus to the cross, this deeply grieves me and truly, I am so, so, deeply sorry. I hate that it's my own family that did that to you. But are you one who has left bitterly? Do you watch and hope to see an implosion, be it of Mark himself and/or our entire church? Do you like the critical, ugly posts on Facebook, or even join into the comment fray? As you do so, have you considered that you are grieved over and ached for by Jesus followers who are still at Mars Hill, that we don't see you as an enemy though that's how you treat us? Do you believe Jesus that we're not all mindless cult members who believe a false Gospel? 

I am not saying all who have left are in this bucket; there are some, though, who say they just want Jesus to be glorified but their Facebook and conversations are more often about how much Mars Hill sucks and not about how great Jesus is. They deny bitterness, but from the overflow (ESV says abundance) of the heart the mouth speaks and the fingers type. I can say that there are people I deeply respect who either have left with good will and make following Jesus--not ripping on Mars Hill--their continued mission and still others who are hurt, are angry and bitter, but know it and are walking it out with Jesus without slandering Mark or Mars Hill publicly. That is a maturity I don't even know that I would have if we chose to leave bitterly during times of great desire to do so. 

Nonetheless, there are some who claim a spiritual superiority over Mars Hill after leaving, to know truth as we do not because we are so blind and foolish, but their efforts to share this truth comes in the form of pointing out why Mars Hill is wrong every chance they get. It's rooted in bitterness and does not glorify Jesus regardless of their claims. Maybe you land somewhere in these buckets, and it's best that you be honest about which one and let Jesus work.

The truth is, if I wanted to make a case for why I should leave Mars Hill I could. If the standard is a church must be basically perfect, then I will find every shortcoming, hunt down rumors or even first hand accounts of pain inflicted by leaders (beyond my own, and some exists even there), make a list, and then use it as a reason to go find a better church. But then, I'm pretty sure that would be true of *any* church. I know it's true of mine. And honestly, there probably are churches where I would find the things I wish Mars Hill had more of, less of the things I don't enjoy. But I'm not at one of those churches because Jesus hasn't called me there.

[Edit: Only Jesus knows why the next paragraph is formatted so weird. I tried to fix it, to no avail, so I have to let it be what it is.]

Let's be absolutely clear here: I am not saying that every single possible criticism is ever wrong. But there is a BIG difference between a Tim Challies seeking to write a balanced review of a Mark Driscoll book, or John Piper weighing in on the celebrity pastor culture (of which he is a part), or other lesser known names who are doing the same on their blogs. I'm not calling out every single post that isn't glowingly positive about Mars Hill. I'm talking about the blogs I won't name because they don't need more traffic, the ones who in name are dedicated to the Gospel but spend a lot of energy posting about every single possible negative thing so that when something that seems like more of a biggie comes up it's like throwing a propane tank into a bonfire and things explode. These are the blogs who have a Mark Driscoll category, while every Driscoll related post also gets filed under "people who don't actually represent Jesus." 

If you find yourself favoring those blogs, seeking out and salivating over the negative posts, have you considered that there are Mars Hill insiders, long time members, who know the ugly far better than you? Have maybe even been on the receiving end of the things you declare are straight from Satan? And yet they daily lay down their lives to love and serve and pray for the glory of Jesus' name even though it's through a broken vessel. Did you know they really do love and serve the same Jesus as you, even though you don't like them and even though you feel entitled to make decisions about their eternity because you don't like their leader?

Despite the sin of human leaders God still works and changes lives. He calls faithful people to remain even when it would be easier to say, "Ope, I see sin, I'm moving on,"? We don't all think we should just defend everything Mark does and be bullheaded and foolish, even if we do agree with his convictions. We don't always, or maybe even often, like how he can at times go about sharing those convictions. We remember, though, that Mark Driscoll is a man with his entire life blown up to be inspected and it's a hell of a lot easier to have a problem with him than it is to love him. This is true in my marriage--I know my husband's sin better than any other human being. Yet I see Jesus working in him, making him kinder and more humble and more repentant, and even when he makes decisions that I don't like, I am with him for the long haul because Jesus has called me to him. And for the record, you might think, "Well, ugh, I wouldn't have married that guy." Great news--you didn't, you don't have to, and you won't. I am glad I did mary Jason. You don't need to feel sorry for me, and your time is best spent focusing on who you are married to. 

You see, this marriage analogy very intentionally applies to my church. I'm not being sarcastic, either. I understand Mars Hill isn't for everyone and there's a lot about Pastor Mark that people don't like. The thing is, you don't have to be a Mars Hill member, you don't have to read Mark's books or blogs, watch his interviews, etc. If you go to that place of, "Yeah, well I'm fine because I'm smart enough not to believe the stuff he says, but those poor other people who might be influenced by him, become Christians and believe stuff he believes and not stuff I believe..." then remember, again, that many people have met Jesus through Pastor Mark. These people worship Jesus, believe the real Gospel that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. God is at work in and through those people. Even if you don't like everything, there's a big difference between Mark yelling at men in an angry tone and the Joel Osteens preaching of a false gospel in which God is your genie in a Bible. 

But even if what Mark says isn't exactly what you want said, Jesus himself did say that we need not try to stop those who do a great work in Jesus' name just because we don't perceive them to be on the same team. And Mark himself admits he doesn't like everything he's ever said and done--it just happens to be recorded and written about gobs of times over. You might think that's his fault, as he doesn't have to record his sermons or publish his books, et al, but then I remind you that God has changed lives through those things and you don't have to partake of them. By the way, though--those of us who have been at Mars Hill for awhile have seen Pastor Mark change and grow and be sanctified. And we're listening to every sermon, reading every book, watching the interviews. We have a lot more information to base our assessment of his growth on than the sound bytes picked up by people with an axe to grind. 

But--and if you've been skimming, focus in now--hear me on this. I have wrestled through these very conversations at times with my husband, how we feel about megachurches and having our preaching pastor be a guy who is a celebrity (and a divisive one at that) and who feels like an enigma more than a shepherd. We always land in the same place: Jesus has called us here. Jesus took two broken newlyweds six years ago who thought they were fine, thank you very much. Jesus then flooded us with the grace to see that we need him desperately. Jesus did this by placing us in the body of Christ that is Mars Hill Church. 

Since coming to Mars Hill, not only has he changed our hearts and lives and breathed his Spirit into our marriage, but Jesus has called us to lead here. We've been called to love others just as broken as we are as leaders of both community and Redemption Groups. We're sinners leading sinners, and we're leaders in this church that is often reviled. It's not always fun. Sometimes--truthfully, often--we wish our calling was to a small congregation no one has ever heard of except for its members and by those loved and served by said small church in the local community. That just feels more New Testament to us. Note that I said more New Testament, and not the only way to do NT church because the NT itself doesn't say that. 

Despite our regard for small churches, Mars Hill is our home, our family, and we're not quitters when things get hard. Jesus didn't say, "I liked this mission at first, but never mind, I don't like it anymore, I'm peacing out." Not when the nails went in, not when the crown was impaled into his scalp, and not when he cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Jesus knows the sin and folly of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church far better than you do. Even so, Jesus is building up the bride and not trying to crucify her on a cross from which he already came down. 

So long as we are called to this church we are here without yearning for the grass on the other side of fence. This is our family and our home. There are a lot of humble, hard working, sacrificial, and amazing people laying their lives down for the Gospel at Mars Hill Church, submitting themselves to Jesus by submitting to the sinful, imperfect elders of a church body made up of sinful, imperfect members.  

Telling you that, if you are a hater, won't change your mind. I get that. Haters gonna hate. I implore you--ask Jesus if he hates Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill the way you do. Does Jesus revile Mark with disgust? Does Jesus roll his eyes with disdain at what Mars Hill is up to now? Jesus knows the sin and folly of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church far better than you do. Even so, Jesus is building up the bride and not trying to crucify her on a cross from which he already came down. 

You would do well to funnel your Mars Hill frustrations into productivity for what Jesus has called you to as opposed to being against someone else working out their faith with fear and trembling in ways you don't think are fearful or trembly enough. And if you are one who questions if Mark is even a Christian, that is dangerous ground, my friend, because God makes clear time and time again in the Bible that there's a big difference between people we don't like and people who are actually following demons in pretense of Christ. Most importantly, though, God makes clear that the Holy Spirit is the fruit inspector, not you.

You may not like Mars Hill and you don't have to. You might say it's because people get hurt and there's doctrine you don't like and Mark is damaging Jesus' name as you know it to be! Yet Jesus is sovereign even over sin and suffering. If you claim to belong to Jesus, though, you do have to repent when you think you are a better God than Jesus. Jesus loves Pastor Mark and pours more grace on him, even when he does stuff that causes his own faithful congregants to cringe. Even when Mars Hill elders take the church in a direction that is later deemed to have been unwise and we change course. Even when some people do love Mark more than Jesus himself. Even when we do seem to care more about Mars Hill's name than Jesus' no matter what our tag line is. 

Even when we are faithless, Jesus is faithful. It actually is all about Jesus whether we're going about making that known "rightly" or not.

Would you do something? Whether you are an unabashed Mars Hill hater, or you are a wounded Mars Hill expat, or even if you're still at Mars Hill but constantly find yourself questioning ev. er. y. thing. taught and done here, or you are a Mars Hillian and you love your church and feel beat down by the sin within and negativity without, would you do this? 

Ask Jesus to help you to see every time you get critical of Mark and/or Mars Hill, for the Spirit to help you quickly recognize it. Ask the Spirit to help turn your heart to cry out to Jesus. Pray that he would love and minister to this church, that he would soften hearts to repent of sin--including your own--and shine light into darkness, guiding Mars Hill's elders in truth and grace. Pray that you would crave Jesus' glory over anything else, even if the things you don't like never change. Ask for a heart that would be quick to surrender if you are wrong. Pray for the humility to be patient and loving even if you're right. Ask Jesus that he might increase and you might decrease.

You know how I know to ask you to pray that? It's MY prayer. Jesus knows it well; the words are a well-trodden path to the feet of my savior because I have to return again and again and again. Yet with every return trip I only find more grace, and I see Jesus' face instead of my own desires. May you, too.

Finally, remember that Jesus is sovereign. He shuts down the churches he wants to shut down. Other bad churches get to stay on life-support and false teaching churches thrive all the time. Numbers do not prove faithfulness either way. Yet Jesus will do what he wants to do and he probably doesn't need your help. If the Old Testament prophets are any example, we would do well to assume that if we want to be called to shutting down the things and people we don't like then we probably aren't. 

More often than not Jesus uses those who humbly recognize that being used of such a heavy task--burying the church bodies he has determined need to be killed--is far, far beyond their station. So if--and that's a big if--Jesus' will is that he's in the process of shutting down a church then he's likely not called you to help him by reading angry discernment blogs and getting in comment wars. I am certain he hasn't given you the task of going out of your way to tell Mars Hillians how much you despise our church and our pastor, why you are right and we are wrong. His goal is that conversations lead to looking up and seeing him more clearly, not to looking at an an eye level thing and tearing it apart, especially when it's precious to the person you're in conversation with.  Jesus has called you to be humble, to pray, to rest in him, and let him be sovereign. 

Let's pursue that aim together.



[Note: I reserve the right to moderate comments at will.]