The farmhouse we live in doesn’t have air conditioning. In Western Washington there are only a few weeks a year we need it anyway. During the hot weeks we keep the lights off and open windows and doors because the breeze keeps us sane. We pull out fans. I allow popsicles all day. We are productive in the early hours so in the hot afternoon hours we can race to the river to cool down and play.
This year as the summer brings warm weather, the temperature in our world (figuratively) gets cranked up with it. I think of the strategies we intentionally implement to keep things cooler and bearable in our home when summer heat presses in. We can’t ignore the heat but we can be proactive about how we handle it.
You can’t get on social media, can’t go to Costco, can’t have a conversation with your neighbor across the fence without picking up on the fear, the anger, the defensiveness, the instability. It’s loud and it’s getting hot.
My instinct is to over-talk, read and research, find my position and then take to it heartily and vocally. We aren’t lacking things to have an opinion about. It takes about 5 minutes for the heat out there to seep into my mind and heart. Soon my heart is racing and anxiety creates a tight ball somewhere between by throat and my gut. My mind moves quickly over various topics to be worried or mad about. “You think it’s hot out there!? Watch me crank up the heat in here!”
It takes about 5 more minutes for it to catch in my home. My discouragement spreads like wildfire to my children. My angry tone reverberates from our dinner table to our living room and into the bedrooms. The fear of the future grabs even the youngest because I can model fear expertly and she can follow suit easily. Just like that we’re all sweating, suffocating, isolated.
I can’t ignore the heat. But I can choose the way I handle it in my home.
It was a chilly February afternoon when I pulled up to my house on one of my trips back and forth into town bringing kids to various activities. It was just me in the van gathering snacks, bags, my purse. When I opened the door I realized a gentleman was patiently standing in the driveway waiting for me. Curiously, I introduced myself while juggling the contents of my van. He quickly tried to help me make the connection of who he is, probably because of the questioning way I was looking at him.
“I think you know my kids. And my grandkids go to school with your kids…” He gave me their names.
“Yes! My son Everett is good friends with your grandson. Nice to meet you.”
“Yes. Now why I’m here… this involves other connections. Your grandfather used to pastor the church that my father attended.”
“Ah! Yes, in Everson in the 1950s. We go way back, then!”
“Yes. My father passed away…”
“I’m sorry to hear that-"
“And as we’ve been going through his things, I discovered this stack of letters.” Holding them out he explained, “These letters were written by your grandfather when your grandparents were missionaries in Nigeria. They sent these letters to my father. Some of them were read to the congregation.”
I accepted the faded envelopes, unable to adequately express how much this meant to me. “My Beppe–grandmother–has hospice care right now. I just heard from my dad this week that it won’t be much longer. This is amazing timing.”
Our side hustle game is strong. By “strong” I mean “slightly out of control”.
Sean’s first side hustle developed over a decade ago. It’s a non-profit called Big Oak. Big Oak partners with local churches. It has involved putting on camps for teens, concerts/worship nights, resources for pastors and youth pastors, trainings, and a large truck called The Stagecoach (which was literally a truck with a stage built on the back end).
The next side adventure was Beat Farm, Sean’s d.j. business. He has used it to d.j. and emcee countless events. Occasionally, there’s fun crossover when doing sound and music for Big Oak events. Our side hustles occasionally converge…Sean thinks it's magic and I'm sure it's crazy.
The latest business is The Tin Can Cigar Co., which may be the most unconventional thus far. Sean gutted and renovated an air stream trailer, turning it into the most unique (and mobile) cigar lounge that ever was.
I used to think we get swept up in these random, strange ventures that are somewhat unrelated. Now I realize these all carry a thread of who Sean is. Sean is an extroverted entrepreneur. He loves creating and he loves partnering with one thousand people to do it. His vision is big and he is brave to do things other people would be afraid to fail at. The side hustles have a theme of partnering with people and giving people a space to be together. This is one way Sean reflects who God is. God loves creating and partnering with people to get the job done. His vision is big. He creates us to be in community.
My side hustles are less intentional. I stumble into them more than I intentionally build them. Take for example, the time my sister and I jokingly dressed up as Elsa and Anna and were promptly hired by the NWWA Fair as entertainment.
Long before pastor and author John MacArthur spoke out publicly and disrespectfully to speaker and author, Beth Moore, we have been having conversations around our table about various beliefs within the Christian faith; how should we handle it when other people have different perspectives or even (gasp) different theology? Can we coexist? Can we appreciate what the other brings to the table or do we throw it all out because we don’t agree on everything? Can someone who believes differently be welcome at my table? Should I trade out the table for a wrestling mat?
For three years Sean has been a National Presenter for Logos Bible Software; traveling all over to conferences where he presents, trains, and sells the software. He has participated in expressive, loud, Pentacostal services with worship that lasts hours and the next day landed in a new city at a quiet seminary to participate in theological discussion with doctors. He’s seen every end of the spectrum and come away with a deeper love for the Body of Christ on a global scale, not merely a “people who sit next to me Sunday who look and think like me” scale.
On the coast of Washington State there is a spot where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. The beach is fine but if you move too far into the water, the area is unpredictable with currents, storms, and shipwrecks. This was where Sean decided to hang out with a group of high schoolers when we were in youth ministry. What could go wrong? A few kids were on the beach and a few were lounging on surfboards as they talked and enjoyed the summer sun.
“Watch it you guys. If you don’t pay attention, you’ll get caught up in the current and we won’t be able to reach you.” Sean warned.
“Yeah, yeah, we know.”
“No. I’m really serious. You can’t let your guard down or you’ll be all the way out into the ocean.”
They agreed to pay attention and resumed their chatter.
Some time later, Sean glanced up and saw the current had caught the students. They were realizing their error but their paddling was to no avail. They hollered back and forth but Sean knew it was too late to get them back without intervention.
That was the day the Coast Guard came to the rescue and some high school kids (along with their youth pastor) learned some valuable lessons.
Drifting is consequential; it’s not intentional. It sneaks up on you when you let your guard down.
At the end of the summer while we had people over, everyone crammed on benches around our kitchen table for what had been close to two hours and a couple pots of coffee, I looked at Sean. “Our table just isn’t big enough!” By coffee pot number three I hatched an idea that was practical, cheap, and would heap more work on my husband, which is generally how my ideas work. “You could build a bigger table for us!”
“Hmm…I’m not sure how I’ll do it, I’m not sure I have the time to do it…challenge accepted,” which is generally how he responds.
We brought my brand new table into the kitchen the day before Thanksgiving (and no one got high from the fresh stain–a Thanksgiving miracle).
The table celebration was especially sweet for me. There was a time I would have liked to shrink my table to prevent more people from joining. I was fatigued, tired of opening myself up, wanting my life to be my own. God was gracious in bringing me away from that mentality and exhaustion. He first gave me the rest and restoration I needed. He also brought the conviction I needed, and truly bent my heart toward others in a way that I was completely unable to muster on my own. He spoke to me about who he created me to be and how to allow my home and kitchen table to reflect it.
The noise of social media, the self promotion and platform building, the strategy behind getting people to hear my voice has shut me down. I’ve interrogated my desire to be heard, to add my voice as one more gonging cymbal, to build myself up to impress or give me credibility, and I hate the layers I see.
The noise of self promotion, media, and opinions paralyze me. My grief over the turns in society have made me want to curl up and hide…with my ears plugged…with my brain turned off. I don’t want to impress anyone as much as I want to put on sackcloth and mourn. I don’t want to blog. I don’t want to stir up anything controversial. I don’t want to speak. I don’t want any platform where people’s eyes are on me. The entire thing is exhausting.
As I war with my motives and the noise, something else rises in me, bringing opposition to my hesitation. I am compelled to share Hope. I’m compelled to share that we can live for something bigger than loving ourselves. I want you to know we are designed for purpose grander than our circumstantial happiness. I’m compelled to share God’s faithfulness. I have witnessed it with my own eyes. I’m compelled to encourage others as they wrestle with Truth, as they implement it in their lives. God has given me this medium of writing and an ability to speak. I can’t seem to have peace when I’m running from it.
Simultaneously, it makes me cringe.
“Lord, don’t you know that writing, speaking and leadership are terrible for my weaknesses!? Can I even call them strengths when they lead straight to pride; to pedestals that I need to be knocked down from? It takes every ounce of focus and dependance on you to keep the main thing the main thing. I get distracted. I have my own agenda. I’m ugly inside while people praise the outside. Why would I knowingly walk into that?! You should be compelling me to a vow of silence.”
Right there in the middle of my have-it-out, coming-to-Jesus prayer I heard myself say it, “It takes every ounce of focus and dependance on you…”
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Aw, blast. That was it, wasn’t it? I heard myself say it. I was complaining that writing and speaking would cause me to depend on Jesus. It would require of me to fix my eyes on God and not divert to the noise, the approval or disapproval, the masses. The very thing I pray in more rehearsed moments, “Lord, help me to depend on you," was causing me to whine, “But, Lord! I’ll have to depend on you!”
I know my own sin. I’m acquainted with my weakness, which makes me believe that I should soak up truth and study, but keep my mouth shut. I’ve failed and quite certainly I’ll fail again. But when I bring my excuses to the Lord, He reminds me who HE is. He doesn’t remind me who I am…like I said, we’re acquainted with my failures. He reminds me that He is faithful and good. “Who said anything about sharing how faithful and good you are, Shilo? Your aim is to share how faithful and good the Lord is. Quit making it about you.”
"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5. When my focus and dependance is in Him, He asks me to share...with my voice...regardless of noise, opposition, and temptations swirling outside.
My exhale is one of relief and freedom. If I’m on stage, if I’m writing, if I’m proclaiming, it’s not because of who I am. It’s because of who He is. The pressure is off and the message is clear.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
I was at a campground north of Spokane, WA outside the dining hall, freshly covered in bug spray. Various aunts, uncles, cousins, and their small children were playing all over. A group of them played music in the chapel, a competitive basketball game was underway, and a few of my cousins were chasing their toddlers up and down the hill, with coffee in hand. Our annual family reunion trips are a big part of kicking off our summer Memorial Day weekend.
I was headed to the chapel and crossed paths with my Aunt Billie. We squeezed each other tight–a quick hello in passing turned into meaningful conversation instantly, as is inevitable with us. I asked how she was holding up as she’s been doing a lot of care taking for her parents; my grandparents. My grandparents live in their own cozy house on shared property with Billie and her family. The daily care my aunt and uncle, cousins, and extended family offer make it possible for them to live at home much longer than they would’ve been able to otherwise. We talked a moment about the deteriorating health and memory, the struggle and fatigue of care taking, and also the grief involved.
Then came a pause and the intense look Billie gives that means, “Hear this. This is important. Track with me.” She tilted her head to indicate a story was coming. “Sometimes I don’t know why they’re still holding on. I asked my mom if God has told her why she’s still here. I was wondering what He still has for her."
One of our barn cats gets himself in some crazy places. He was high up in a tree while I was raking leaves below. My kids were concerned and wondered if we should get the ladder and get him down.
“Nah. He’s a cat. He’ll come down when he’s ready.”
As I spoke, I had a sudden, vivid memory of being not much older than my oldest daughter is now, hearing a cat in a tree in the front yard of my childhood home.
“Mom? There’s a cat up there and it’s meowing. Do you think it’s stuck?”
“Nah. He’s a cat. He’ll come down when he’s ready.”
My mom was a farm kid, raised on a ranch in Montana, so I believed everything she said animal related. Who am I kidding? I believed everything she said, period.
The next day getting off the bus I thought I heard a meow again. “I think there still might be a cat stuck in the tree out front.”
“Maybe. When it gets hungry enough, it’ll come down.”
One other time I thought I could hear it. I peered up, but the branches were too thick to catch a glimpse of anything.
Fresh out of college, my husband was hired at a new church to get a youth ministry off the ground. The church was a year old, our marriage was a year old, and we all had more momentum than experience. We ran like it was a sprint and panted through burn out and fatigue when we realized it was looking more like a marathon. We made some adjustments and kept going.
We spent a solid 15 years doing some form of vocational ministry. Nearly two years ago we decided to step away from paid ministry so we could focus on other goals.
I’ve realized many of my take aways haven’t been exclusive to ministry–they apply across the board. They’ve also been learned the hard way. I'm writing a few of them here, not because I've mastered them (a work in progress), but because it's important to slow down long enough to acknowledge morsels of wisdom gained along the way.
1. If I’m going to lead people, I better know darn well what I’m leading them to.
"We need to attract the next generation." "We need unity." "Let’s build community.” "Start a movement," For what? What does that even mean?! Anyone can string together a bunch of buzz words. What am I leading people to? WHO am I leading people to? My primary goal is not to be relevant, cool, deep, or charismatic. My primary goal is to reflect Christ so people will trust Him, not me. My goal is to love people; not to impress them. Our ministry found focus when we stopped fancy sounding mission statements and sought God's heart for loving people.
2. The most vital ministry happens under my roof.
I wish this one wasn’t true. The people at church and in my community see me with makeup and smile on. They validate me. They send me cute thank you notes when I serve. The people in my home see me when I’m depleted, confused, without makeup. They aren’t always as validating. Ah….where the real work happens. I had an hour a week with my small group. I had 24 hours a day (for years) with my kids. Where is the biggest potential investment and the biggest potential for return on investment? If I’m slacking on my biggest ministry at home because my “put together” work in the community feels nicer…yikes. The people in my home–my kids, husband, whoever is living with us at the time, friends over for dinner, see the mess but they also see Jesus’ grace to us and God’s provision. Real life relationships grow us more effectively than any sermon or workbook.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...