NOTE: I wrote this in August of 2017. It has been saved as a draft for over a year because I was too nervous to share it for fear of how it would affect my husband’s job and my family’s financial stability (which is very important when you have kids). Also, I was already receiving unkind words from people who made it a point to let me know that they noticed I was no longer attending church and that they did not support my decision and/or they thought I was being an un-supportive wife and/or improper mother to my son and I just really did not need to invite any more negativity into my life at that time. I am also crystal clear that I’m a great mom and don’t find it necessary to prove myself or explain my personal decisions to anyone aside from God and my husband.
Through the power of prayer, the intimacy of worship, the wisdom of pastors and speakers and Christian leaders around the world who share sermons and Bible studies online for free, as well as my own personal relationship & history with God, I’ve since found my courage, strength, and peace during my time away and am ready for the storm should it come my way.
I’ve updated time-frames and other specifics to reflect current year and current situation just so it’s easier to follow for anyone who knows what’s going on with our life now. Life update at the bottom.
I've been cleaning house lately. Literally and figuratively. If it's not serving my relationships with God, my husband, my son, or myself, it is either gone out of my life forever or reevaluated and re-prioritized. This could be physical objects, obligations or commitments, other relationships, or even feelings I've been carrying around for far too long. This is a season of massive letting go and letting God.
Many of you reading this know that our move to Lansing nearly six years ago ended up being the most challenging opportunity of my life so far. I would really like to not even write about it now, because I feel like I've been processing it, talking about it, crying about it, praying about it, worshiping through it and whining about it for forever, but it's a huge part my journey to this season and this specific blog post. So unless I want to be dishonest, I feel like I need to share (at least the parts of my story I am ready to share).
I've had 6 years of journeying uphill on my way toward healing and I truly believe that I am finally ready to begin my much easier journey downhill toward that beautiful, refreshing valley below. I've found peace in situations that were chaotic, I've spoken my truth when I used to be too afraid or too ashamed, and I've pursued forgiveness as best I can - forgiveness of those who have hurt me, forgiveness of myself for hurting others (whether they have reciprocated that forgiveness or not), and everything in between. I'm finally at a point where I not only feel okay with the idea of talking about my time in Lansing the last several years, but I feel like I need to. Ironically, this "less is more" post is going to be quite long, because I've got a lot to let go.
Why do I feel like I need to share? Because writing helps me release and if being vulnerable and sharing my journey can speak into even one person's life and help in some way, I feel called to do that. And if this reaches nobody other than me and God, that's fine, too. This is my safe, creative space where I feel God has asked me to be and so I'm going to go be here even if I'm all alone.
Before moving to Lansing, Anthony and I spent about five years serving in youth ministry at our local church in Ravenna, MI. We had both recently left the church where we met, a Pentecostal church with amazing worship and some great friendships we still have to this day, when Anthony took on the part-time position of youth director after theirs unexpectedly quit. His mom and much younger siblings were attending this church and, understandably, he wanted to go to church with his family and be there for his siblings as they made their way through the youth program. I, however, was hesitant. We were dating at the time, not quite engaged to be married, and I had other ideas on where I would like to worship. Aside from his family, I had zero connection to this church or that town and, from what I knew, the Reformed denomination was pretty different from my Nazarene roots and very different from our more recent Pentecostal experience where I felt like my soul was really beginning to awaken and thrive. My idea was to find another Pentecostal church (or at least a non-denominational church) with equally great worship and opportunity to dig deep into experiencing Holy Spirit and begin serving there. God, however, had this other option available to us and Anthony was more eager to go than I was. Begrudgingly, I went along with the idea and began attending and serving alongside my boyfriend and his family.
We made some great progress in the youth program... and, with that, a lot of mistakes (especially me because, as I've come to learn all these years later, youth group is not my calling). The church itself went through many changes, losses, and progressions (no need to share the hairy details because that story does not belong to just me) and nearly the entirety of our time there was met with one challenge after another. Despite all of that, I quickly and genuinely grew to love our ministry, our students, the local community and, to this day, am so grateful for our time there, the relationships we made, the lessons we learned, and the opportunity to get to know his family in a really special way. We got married during our time in that church and adopted our dogs. There were some really beautiful moments. But, it was not sustainable and the challenges definitely took their toll.
Anthony & I were both working multiple jobs just to stay afloat and it was running us ragged. At one point, we had 8-9 part-time jobs or side hustles between the two of us and we maybe saw each other outside of church a couple hours a week. I even ended up getting the shingles from the exhaustion and stress. On top of all that, my soul felt like it was dying. As I suspected, the Reformed church was very different and I was seriously spiritually lacking in the areas that fuel me as a Christian - expressive, prophetic worship; deep, explosive, communal prayer; invitations to vulnerability; laying on of hands; speaking in tongues; and just the overall experience of being welcome to worship God, seek Jesus, and be in relationship with Holy Spirit authentically - even if it might look different from the person next to you. Something had to give.
We prayed and prayed for God to lead us to the next leg of our journey - whatever and wherever that may be. I think after about a year of searching, Anthony was offered the job as full-time Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry here in Lansing. We visited on a Sunday morning, enjoyed our experience, and decided to accept. I still had some hesitancy about committing ourselves to another Reformed church that seemed to look pretty similar to my last Reformed experience which left me feeling dry, but we felt called and so, again, I went along with the plan. I even had a really successful best friend in the area who helped me get a part-time job as her assistant. It seemed to be working out pretty perfectly.
We had a very tearful farewell from our Ravenna friends, family and students and began our Lansing adventure. We commuted for a couple of months, stayed over at my friend's apartment once or twice a week on an air mattress, eventually closed on our house and made the move. We were eager to get to know our new church, the congregation, and the city so we dove-in head first as we began to immerse ourselves in this new community. We enjoyed learning our students and had fun with that first year of newness, but as the months went on, some things were beginning to become apparent to me. I was still desperately aching for a safe space to worship God in a way that was true to who He created me to be and for relationships, or at least one, that were already in that same space with me. In addition to all of that, I did not like my job. I felt under-qualified for many of the tasks I was given, under-trained, and it was a lot of schmoozing and networking with strangers at mixers and events (which I really do not enjoy). I could tell that working with my friend was becoming a struggle for her (probably because of the above-mentioned issues). I was grateful for the opportunity (and the paycheck), but I needed out. My goal was to get out of there before our seven year friendship completely derailed, but I guess I was too late. This was the start of my depression.
I found the quickest job I could that paid enough and sounded like the furthest thing from my years of working in an office - nannying. I got a really great gig working for a family with three little girls ranging from 5 years to 1 month and spent that next year or so grieving the loss of my friendship, processing some things that had happened with family before we moved, dealing with some non-serious physical issues that were really getting in the way of life (that's another story for another time), and coming to terms with the fact that all of my friends from home were doing just fine without me and I was hardcore hurting without them. I started going to counseling because I was pretty clearly struggling with all things life-related at this point. It was a year and a half of emotional and spiritual upset.
During that time, I felt led to start an evening worship service at our church hoping to find the people like me who, even if they didn't know it yet, were starving for a space to feel free to be vulnerable, bring all of their stuff, and worship God however it made sense to them. We had a committed worship team who quickly became our Lansing family and a core group of about 5-7 attendees. We spent great evenings together singing, crying, dancing, praying, and just existing with one another in the sacred space we created where we could just be human before God. We lasted almost three years before the time came to turn the page and say goodbye to that chapter. It was a blessing to all who participated and I'm so grateful to God for that season. I'm not sure I would have survived those years in Lansing without it. But during that time, I lost my nannying job. It was an unfortunate end to a job I really enjoyed and it hurt a lot. It just wasn't a good fit for either of us toward the end because of distance and hours, so they pulled the trigger unexpectedly one day and I was devastated. So almost four years ago, on top of all of the stuff I was still working through emotionally and spiritually, I found myself unemployed for the first time since I've been about fifteen years old (I have since spoken to this family and we are on great terms). I got a seasonal job at Sephora and every second of down-time I got, I was applying for jobs.
Thankfully, it was only about a three month period of stress when I landed a full-time job at Michigan State University. It was a HUGE Godsend in terms of income, health insurance, and job stability. Training was a six month beast, but once I was acclimated to MSU and my specific department, I really found a groove and I was pretty great at the work I was doing. But, I worked in a buggy basement with no view-able window, no airflow, at a desk in the middle of the office, and it was very clear very early on that working for my boss was going to be a struggle... and I was not the only one who felt that way. In fact, there wasn't a single person who didn't feel that way. I was, however, the only one who spoke up about it. That didn't help.
I became pregnant with Judah in November 2015, almost a year after I started, and knew very early on during pregnancy that my heart was not cut-out to be a full-time working mom living away from the help of family and friends. My goal was to somehow make my current position into a part-time position or, ideally, to find a completely new part-time position elsewhere (preferably still on campus). As most of my readers know, my pregnancy was not easy. I was so, so sick with hyperemesis gravidarum and it lasted all the way into my third trimester. This made going to a job where you are so unhappy even more difficult to bear. It also made searching for a new job almost impossible. I have never struggled with attitude more in my life than I did during this season. I was sick every day and miserable Monday through Friday. All I did was puke, cry, drag myself to work where I would puke and cry, then come home to sleep where I would wake up throughout the night to puke and cry. All day every day.
Because I was so sick during pregnancy, I missed almost an entire year of life. I'm not kidding. Anthony and I still talk about that time in somber tones. It took everything I had to go to work every day so I didn't lose my job and our insurance. As I mentioned above, I puked around the clock - at home, at work, wherever. Outside of work, I went almost nowhere because once I was home, I just laid on the couch or in bed as I made trips to the bathroom to throw up what little I ate or I took long showers where I let the water wash away my tears and vomit. I watched Anthony hangout with friends or family and heard all about our worship service, the thing that got me through life the previous two years, which I could neither plan nor attend and I missed out on nearly nine months of life that everyone around me was enjoying. It was the loneliest I've ever been.
Then I gave birth to our son and for twelve glorious weeks of maternity leave, I was in heaven. I was no longer sick, I could finally eat and actually enjoyed food again, I was able to see my husband often which was basically a brand new concept for us in our marriage, and I had this amazing little human with me that I am completely in love with and overwhelmed by at every moment and, even through the exhaustion and healing body, I was in an almost constant state of pure bliss... until I couldn't find a part-time job in time and had to return to work. That's when things got dark again.
Being with my son for almost every single moment of his life every single day then suddenly being torn apart for 40 hours a week felt like someone was slowly killing me. I have never known pain like that in my life. It was like I was grieving the loss of a loved one every single day. Most days, I would leave for work and Anthony and Judah would still be sleeping so I wouldn't get any time with him beforehand other than to nurse him quickly as he slept. At work, I'd pump three times and I would just cry through most of it even though I tried to distract myself with bible studies, YouTube sermons, books or podcasts. Then, when I'd get home after work, he'd be awake for about an hour before he was asleep for the night (though, not sleeping through the night). So, most weekdays I got one hour (maaaaybe two, if I was lucky) of quality time with my son... for six months straight while living on no sleep. It was the worst. I lost roughly 1,200 hours of bonding time with my son over the course of those 6 months (yes, I did the math) and I honestly still cry thinking about all of that time I missed. They change and learn so quickly at that stage and I missed so much of it. I was heartbroken.
Because Anthony also has a full-time job, there were days he just couldn't be a full-time dad and full-time employee from home, so we needed to hire a nanny. A grandmother to some of our youth groupers came 1-3 days a week to help out. She was amazing and we love her so, so much, but just knowing that she and Anthony got to see Judah so much during the week while I was stuck at a job I hated and I was the one who needed to be there the most - his mother, his source of life, the only home he knew for 9 months - was enough to send me over the edge. I have never dealt with so many feelings of jealousy, sorrow, or grief in my whole life. And because of the fact that Anth made his schedule work for Judah during the day while I was away, he needed to make-up lost work time in the evenings and weekends... which meant that I rarely got to see him during those six months either. On top of that, he was taking classes and writing papers for his commissioned pastor program. We were tag-teaming the parenting thing, never home at the same time, could never enjoy quality time together, our house was constantly a mess, we were eating junk and feeling like junk, there was zero time for me to do anything for myself or to hangout with the few friends I have out here, and I was completely overwhelmed with sadness. Maybe some moms out there are thinking, "Wow, Kimmi... you are being a little dramatic." But, for me, it honestly felt like hell. Every single thing about my life was pulling me away from my son and my husband, I missed my family and friends, I lost my outlet for worship and prayer and community, and all of it felt really, really hard.
After 6 months back at a full-time job I hated, I finally found a part-time job at a different college on campus last Spring with a boss I love which allowed me more time with my husband and son, but the lingering feeling of not belonging or feeling safe to worship authentically within my church-life is something that has remained since we first started in the reformed church over ten years ago. Now, please hear me when I say that I have so much love for the two congregations we have attended the past decade and the Reformed Church in America (RCA) denomination as a whole. Is it perfect? No. None are. Many of my struggles (but not all) lie within how I am hard-wired as a child of God to connect with my Creator and how completely different that is to how the two churches we have attended connect with Him.
It's like there is this huge well in the middle of my soul that I have been drawing from to pour out what little was left in there over others and, occasionally, myself, but there has been little to nothing going back in. There has been no opportunity for expressive, emotional, radical worship unless I have created it, there has been no opportunity for deep, passionate, prophetic prayer at the altar (there have been no altar calls at all), there have been no other people to pray or sing in The Spirit with, there has been no dancing in the aisles, no laying on of hands (other than for very specific purposes here and there), and there have been no consistent women's ministries or men's ministries where there is sincere room for vulnerability, growth, and accountability... all of which have left me feeling dried up, empty, and terribly alone.
I know there are some of you out there thinking, "ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church!" Listen, I'm totally, 100% on board with that. I have given. Lord knows I have given. I have helped out, served, prayed, sang, planned, cleaned, executed, painted, chaperoned, created, managed, designed, discussed, showed up, fixed, envisioned, met, and given so much over the past ten years that I've done little else. That's the truth. Before having Judah, every free moment I had was serving at church or helping Anthony with his job. And for years I thought that maybe that's just how it should be - just give until you have nothing left to give... if it doesn't feel painful, exhausting, depleting and really, really hard then you're not doing it right.
But, that's not truth. That's not how The Kingdom is. That's not who God is. Our lives should emulate The Creator. Everyone should clearly be able to see the fruit of The Spirit in our lives. Our hearts should reflect Jesus to a lost and broken world. We can't do any of that if we're the ones walking around feeling lost and broken. We just can't. Sure, there will always be an element of sacrifice and it's not always going to be or feel easy. There will be winters... but there should also be springs and summers and falls. The past ten years of my church life have been one long winter. I would sing His praises and show up, but I was dying on the inside. Just completely gutted.
I love the song "Like Incense (Sometimes by Step)" by Hillsong. Firstly, because Brooke Ligertwood has one of my favorite voices ever, but the lyrics are so, so beautiful. In particular, there's one line that applies to what I'm talking about here. It says, "Your road is narrow but Your burden light." Both parts of that line are derived from scripture (linked appropriately). This is how it should be - especially if you're privileged to live in a place like America where practicing Christianity is safe and mostly celebrated. It's narrow because it requires sacrifice and it takes work to be in relationship with Jesus... but it shouldn't feel like a heavy load to carry because His burden is light and His yoke is easy (I've written about this in a previous post).
Don't get me wrong. I'm totally glad that I followed His calling both times. Even now… in the midst of pain. But, instead of leaving space to realize I was severely lacking in a really crucial area, I just kept plowing ahead. Once I became pregnant and just physically could not keep the pace I had kept even in the slightest, I was kind of forced to take a step back and assess the situation and I've realized a few things...
First, it's always right and good to go when He says to go. I've learned SO much the past ten years from all of the experiences we've had, mistakes we've made, and people we've met. Feeling so low and so alone caused me to dig into my relationship with God in ways I never would have had I not been where He planted us. Always listen.
Second, when God calls you to a place or a project or a community, it doesn't mean that you can't go outside of it to get what you need. He's not asking you to deny the person He has created you to be in order to fit in with your surroundings. He WANTS us to be filled to overflowing and He needs us to rest and retreat when we are able. He's okay with us saying no and He asks us to take care of ourselves if we're going to be any earthly good - which leads me to my last point...
Sometimes taking care of ourselves means creating boundaries, making choices and saying no even if it disappoints or doesn't make sense to onlookers. And, despite all of the blogs and articles I've read, I believe that God is actually okay with walking away from your church sometimes if it is unhealthy or is not what you need to thrive. For me, this means walking away from our church despite my husband's position there. It's just not giving me what my heart and soul need right now to be the person He's asking me to be... Yes, me... not my husband... not us... ME. We are one, but we are also individuals and I, Kimmi... not just “the youth pastor’s wife”, have gifts, talents, callings, and needs of my own that do not fall under the umbrella he carries. I am a unique creation, my own person, and I need to find a place to worship that, not only allows, but encourages me to be the me He has created me to be and to be in relationship with Him in a way that makes sense to me, challenges me, teaches me, grows me, encourages me, holds me accountable, and restores my soul. I need to be somewhere that fills my well and not just empties it. I need to have the utmost confidence in my leadership. I need to know that my pastor actually cares about my heart and the hearts of my husband and kids and is going to actually minister to us. I need to know leadership is praying for my family outside of obligatory prayers during meetings. I need to feel safe. I need to feel loved. I need to know that I matter - not because of who I’m married to but because I’m a human being. I need to know my voice is going to be respectfully listened to with compassion and love, even if nobody agrees with me when I’m done speaking. I need to surround myself with people that say "YES! WE LOVE YOU AND WANT YOU TO BE YOU! Be who you are in Him even if it looks drastically different than the person next to you!"
Now, I certainly don't think it's healthy or beneficial to constantly church hop and I don't think it's ever fair to expect the church to meet all of our needs or coddle us - especially if we're not giving of ourselves at all. I also realize this might sound very selfish to some of you... and I'm 100% okay with that. What you think of me is none of my business. I simply do not believe that God requires us to stay somewhere that depletes us out of loyalty or obligation. Our loyalty lies with Him - not a church building or a congregation or a denomination or family connection or a spousal employment status... and I can't love or serve Him or His creation well if I am in a constant state depletion and depression... and I want, more than anything, to love and serve Him and His creation well.
It's important you know that I did not come to this decision lightly. Obviously it's not ideal to not be going to church together as a family, but this is not permanent and I have faith that the Lord will provide a way for us to be together again in worship soon and I'm open to however He makes that happen. But, for now, I need to retreat in order to heal, refresh, refuel and refocus and I can't currently do any of that if I stay put. It's like I've been been trying to run on a broken leg and the doctor keeps saying, "Stop. Rest. Slow down. Heal." But instead, I've just been pushing and straining and making it worse. This decision is about finally listening to The Doctor and allowing my spirit to to pursue healing.
The Lord gave me this scripture a few months before I became pregnant with Judah almost three years ago: "I will restore the years the locusts have eaten." Joel 2:25
When Holy Spirit speaks to me, I listen. And on this particular day, with this particular scripture, His words and His message to me were crystal clear: breakthrough is on its way. Every single time I prophesy this scripture over myself or my family, I have always been astounded by His faithfulness to His promise. I believe He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do. I believe I have almost made it to the top of this hellish mountain, I can nearly see the Promised Land, and I'm on my way to the much easier descent down to the beautiful valley below with flowing rivers, green pastures, and abundance... I'm almost there!
In order to get here, though, I've had to let go of a lot of things... mistakes, relationships, material things, ideals, hurts, dreams, betrayals, and so much more (so many things not even mentioned in this post because I don't yet feel ready or safe to share… but one day, I will). But, through it all, I'm here… I’m still standing… and where I'm going is so much better than where I've been and where I've been will have made all the difference in what He will do in and through me going forward. It's all part of the process. It’s all part of the journey that draws me closer to Him and that, my friends, is the goal. HIM.
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Romans 8:18
Life update: I will soon be leaving my current employment at MSU as I await the arrival of Baby #2 and embark on my highly anticipated new job of becoming a stay-at-home-wife-and-mom (PRAISE JESUS!). We just sold our home in Lansing a few weeks ago, my husband has also resigned from his current position at church, he is taking a break from “ministry” for however long is necessary, and we are in transition near family and friends as we heal from the past several years of exhausting difficulty & loneliness and pray about what God has next for us. I am looking forward to blogging more, recording podcasts, creating beautiful things, attending church as a family, worshipping outside of my solitude again, raising my boys full-time, seeing my husband on evenings and weekends and all year round for the first time in years, and just simply BEING with God and family. Life has been hard… but God is still good and I will praise Him all of my days.