The Problem with Church People

Lemme tell you about some church people. You guys, seriously: they are some of the most hyper-critical, selfish, greedy, gossipy gossipers that ever gossiped.

For real: Rude. Conceited. Prideful. Vengeful. Big-mouthed. Bossy. Immovable. Unbendable. Cold. Calloused. They are all about themselves. They are always angry over something. They are super-sensitive. I cannot even with church people most days.

They have their own culture and their own songs and their own language, dress codes, and secret signals. They say they are the hands and feet of Jesus–and that’d be believable, if Jesus was a backstabbing hypocritical gluttonous know-it-all who never helped anyone but himself.

They are jumpy and judgmental. They are grudge-holding and unforgiving.

And I? Am one of them.

The trouble with church people is that–wait for it–they’re people. People are so incredibly flawed and there is not one person–NOT EVEN ONE–who is even remotely righteous in his own power.

But church people, like non-church people, are trying.

We are trying.

Truth is, following Jesus is much, much harder in practice than it is in theory. We want to love and serve and give and be and do–and then, life. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Sickness. Not every believer has the strength at every time.

We strive towards living out Jesus’s teachings, but we still seek validation and acceptance and approval out of our human nature. It’s a tough habit to break.

We worry. We know what the Bible says about it, but we still fight the very physical symptoms of anxiety and depression.

We criticize. We feel so unsure sometimes in our own knowledge of biblical concepts that we pick apart another believer’s words and actions–we hold each other to impossibly high standards. Deviations from script, or sometimes even questions in general, are intolerable.

But we are trying.

The early church loved Jesus. They devoted their entire lives–their families, careers, assets, everything–to serving Him and serving others in His name. Here’s a verse I have grown to love because it shows how Jesus works through the Church:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to fellowship, the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Everyday they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

It sounds like a bunch of hippy dippy brouhaha to the modern ear, but can you imagine how amazing it would’ve been to be a part of something so simple, but so powerful? All because the apostles whole-heartedly believed in and loved Jesus.

Worthy of notation: Jesus freakin’ LOVED the church. Loved. It. Died for it, actually. It was part of the deal from the get-go. Jesus planned to be with us as a church through the work of the Holy Spirit.

To hate church people is to hate the church, and to hate the church is to hate what Jesus died for.

So lemme tell you about some church people:

A few key mechanically-inclined members have kept me in a semi-safe, and running, vehicle over the course of the last seven years. 

Three friends prayed me out of (or physically restrained me from) what would have been some nasty alcoholic relapses.

A group of no less than ten stone-coldest of believers loved me and my husband straight through the darkest, ugliest parts of our marriage.

Half our church is at least partially responsible for the thriving health of our currently-baking baby (and my husband’s sanity).

A small army of Godly men and women continue to disciple me through all my faults and mistakes with a genuine desire to simply heal my heart and help me grow closer to God.

These church people have welcomed me, loved me, fed me, clothed me, nursed me, educated me, forgiven me, cheered me, supported me, trained me, apologized for me, moved me, comforted me, and they did so faithfully and willingly.

I mess up–half the time I mess up accidentally on purpose. I second-guess myself constantly. I’m far from perfect and I assume this is how it’s gonna be til I die.

We don’t have all the answers, but our faith is strong because our God can move mountains. Our love is deep because we have experienced unconditional love. Our hope is high because our God keeps His promises.

And He promised to build His church with ordinary people, to do extraordinary things.

especially this day

Valentine’s Day 2017: this is the 15th Valentine’s Day I have spent with Caleb as my main squeeze. He is not much for empty romantic gestures, or really even just romantic gestures in general; but he does always remember to bring home chocolate and that’s pretty much the thing I want most in the whole wide world always. We work well together in this way.

I’m probably like most people I know in that I don’t expect or desire expensive things. I don’t want stupid cards on commercial holidays. Roses actually make me sick to my stomach any time of the year.

But dang it: comparison is a freakin’ thief of joy, and while I don’t specifically require anything from my husband on Valentine’s day, I get bummed as I watch the Facebook Floral Extravaganza unfold from sun-up to sun-down, topped off with Instagram photos of smiling faces over candlelit dinners at fancy restaurants. (Insert obligatory sentence about jealousy and greener grass, etc. HERE.)

I crave attention from my husband unlike any other living thing craves anything at all. And it has to come naturally or else it doesn’t count. Valentine’s Day Attention is acceptable, but contrived nonetheless. And–hey–chocolate is perfect, but it is no substitute for what I really want: kindness, thoughtfulness, laughter and loyalty throughout the year.

And he delivers. Question is: do I?

I read something recently that was particularly convicting. We vow to love, honor, and cherish our spouse–now, I can care for my husband in sickness and in health like a total boss. I will never cheat on him. I will love him until the day I die; but do I make him feel special? Does he know how much I like him? Does he know that I think he is funny, and smart, and pretty much the best guy ever, not just from what I say but also from how I treat him? Do I actively verb-cherish my husband?

And y’all.

I’m not sure that I do things on a regular basis that would indicate to him the certain level of respect or admiration he deserves simply for being the one God put into my life. I feel like I fail at this at least 70% of the time–especially lately.

I love this guy. I love our children, our home, the life God has allowed us to build. May I never lead him to think otherwise.

Life, in a shell.

Can’t sleep and can’t breathe. I am free and clear to do whatever activity I so deem worthy and appropriate, and that activity is mostly eating. I am starving, but also really tormented digestionally.

Also, I am having a girl.

And you guys.

I’m insanely happy about this (as long as Caleb doesn’t express a desire to try one more time for another son.)

Merrick was bummed for about five minutes about not getting a Phinneas to his Ferb, and then we all sort of zeroed in on the fact that Arbor will grow up with a sister close in age, and that got us excited.

Honestly. I can’t wait to paint them girls’ little piggies, and watch Frozen on repeat, and make unicorn pancakes. They can share a room, it’ll be so dope. And? Matching outfits. Matching outfits on ALL the days.

Names: it’s important we all understand my all-or-nothing approach to everything. The artist-standard obscure hippy side of my brain wants to go with Valor, or Cedar, or Ember; but then sensible Toni chimes in with Lucy and Annabelle and Johanna. (And in defense of Lucy, I have loved it since I was 12, as documented throughout other naming adventures over the past decade, and Caleb is pitching it extra hard.) (Side note: Pretty sure we would have found ourselves with a Duncan or a  Slade had “she” been a “he”.)

I am experiencing a slight urge to nest (cleaning and rearranging and decorating and organizing…okay, a strong urge.) and have been able to rally the children to my cause–they’ve been moving furniture and hauling boxes and basically being very helpful and obedient children when it comes to Mom’s random bouts of feng shui.

Basketball is dominating our schedule right now, soon to be replaced by baseball and softball; I’m thinking of steering Arbor into  a more low key activity like, I dunno, kite flying; cause organized sports are going to be the death of me, I can already tell. (This is a terrible plan since Arbor’s energy and strong willed-ness will not be contained in anything less than probably super-extreme competitive parkour-ninjutsu.

Speaking of strong willed-ness, Arbor is potty training. We’ve had a fairly successful week but I’ve also witnessed some of Arbor’s most epic tantrums. It’s like wearing big girl panties (or as she likes to call them, “pammies”; I DIE) has kicked up her sense of independence (and sass).

Overnight she grew six inches taller and started speaking in complete sentences and counting to ten in three different languages. I’m not sure how this preschooler replaced my toddler who replaced my teensy bald-headed baby.

Kids grow up. Did you guys know that?

Maternity fashion 101

If I had a dime for every healthy recipe pinned or fitness article posted on social media today, I could hire a personal chef and a trainer and I wouldn’t even need to look at said healthy recipes and fitness articles.

But nobody pays me for my observations unfortunately, so here I lazily sit, eating string cheese and Greek olives for second breakfast, and hunting for maternity clothes online because I am fast approaching the point of no return where the next time I wear regular pants could very well be my last, and y’all better watch out, cause buttons will inevitably be popping.

Maternity clothes are horrific to shop for, because Exhibit A:

I can’t wait to wear this piece of material, which won’t cover my backside, or heck, even my frontside!” Said no pregnant woman ever.

My good people, I have done this multiple–and I do mean multiple–times: This lady isn’t real. She was created in a lab by Russian scientists. This sweater was designed for a toddler. Even the most adorable pregnant woman is never “all belly”, which is a vicious myth that well-meaning people perpetuate to make the gestating population feel better about their weight gain.

Maternity Fashion Advice from an Unfashionably Pregnant Person:

Tip 1: Everything gets bigger and that’s okay. Wear things that you make you feel happy and that you aren’t constantly tugging at or adjusting.

Tip 2: Comb your hair and brush your teeth. OOPS.

That’s it. Unless you’re worried about Melissa Rivers ripping your outfit to shreds on national television, this could apply to everyday fashion outside of being pregnant.

The fact that I’m holed up in bed without any current obligations to attend events requiring clothes is helpful. I have no intention of dropping a few hundred bucks on a wardrobe that doesn’t leave the house, or at this point, the bedroom.

Sometimes I do dream about the day when Caleb and I can go out on a date and he will look over and smile at his cute pregnant wife in her sweater-dress, Walmart-manicure, and muppet extensions; but then I’m all like “These ten-year-old sweatpants are mad comfortable” and I make him play the extreme version of “M.A.S.H.” with me while I steal half his nachos. WINNING.

Still in the game

Aaaaaaand I’m powerless on my back in bed again. (Gettin’ real tired of your crap, uterus.) It’s December 31st, the last day of 2016. I have a crazy random cold and all my systems are spazzing out. I feel like I’ve been run over by a tank; and then someone came back, cut my head off, and made me eat my own head. Also I may be having some mild hallucinations due to a severe fast food deficiency, which wasn’t a problem during my nauseous early months of pregnancy but now that I’m in my second trimester, it is a serious issue that can no longer be overlooked.

I honestly don’t know what to prepare for in the next day or two much less for the next several months. Last week I was on cloud nine awaiting what I was sure would be the “all-clear” doctor’s appointment. I may have been slightly over-eager and done *a little* more cooking/cleaning/standing than I should have. And now here I am. Snotty and stuffy and crampy and exhausted–but you guys:

My heart is light. I’m good. I don’t know what is going to happen and I don’t know what to do about it, but God is with me, and every little thing is gonna be alright. It’s been a gloriously mild winter so far. I am surrounded by family and friends. And I still have my surprise baby #5, who is a blessing to my heart in every sense of the word.

Plus, there is so much joy to be found in the seemingly mundane world of bed rest. This morning I had an enlightening thirty-minute conversation with Arbor about freckles. I’ve now seen all of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. I don’t have to feed the chickens or wear pants. As for this evening’s New Year celebrations, I don’t picture it going any different than it has in previous years:

Pretty much the standard Toni-issue NYE. Nachos and jammies. So dope.

Hey girl hey

All my sweet young college girls who I have such a heart for because everytime I look at any of you I see my own daughter, take heed: Let’s say that a guy you’re seeing continually tells you he’s not looking for anything serious/he just wants to have fun/he’s not ready to commit. These words spoken in English, translated literally, mean: “Hey girl. You are at least mildly hot and I’m bored and/or lonely. I am ok with selfishly using your body and taking up your time only while it is convenient for me, and, on the days when it is not convenient, please refer to the times that I warned you how un-special you were.” He DOES NOT MEAN: “Hey girl. I’d be ready to settle down if you can prove to me you’re worth it.”

I could go delve so much deeper and offer up more spiritually-inspired advice, but for the sake of time let’s just stick with worldly common sense for now.

I am so serious. This guy? He thinks he’s clever because he has stated his intentions up front and he can’t be blamed for any cruelty he commits towards you either intentionally or unintentionally. (Even though everyone knows you don’t take the time to tame a fox and then just leave it alone on a planet all by itself.) He told you, right? He’s covered. Your heartbreak is your own fault. And it kind of is.

Let’s say you stick with him and he manages to pull his crap together long enough to think he’s ready for a wife. Know what that marriage is going to be built on? Not honor and respect. Actually, more like lust and convenience. And eventually, both lust and convenience fade. Hard.

I’m not saying it’d be hopeless, but if you don’t take the time (preferably in the beginning) to learn to understand and respect your spouse, your marriage will be dominated by anger and frustration, disappointment and bitterness. You will throw so much of your heart into trying to prove your worth to him, even subconsciously, only to find that nothing you say or do changes the way he sees you.

It could be 11 years, a few drywall repairs, and several thousand dollars of marriage counseling to even begin to correct course.

But THIS GUY. He has wonderful qualities. You see them–you believe he is special.

Pull yourselves together ladies! Do not forget that YOU are something special. You are a treasure, a compassionate human being with a heart as big as a lion, and you are worthy of so much more than last minute after-dinner plans or a random midnight text.

Are you helping him in anyway by enabling him to be the laziest version of himself? We are not responsible for anyone else’s irresponsibility–but what would happen if girls stopped being booty calls and started calling men up? (Not out, but up. Huge difference.) What if you respected yourself in such a way that anyone who had an inclination to date you would have to seriously consider stepping up his game? What if we rejected not the person, but the giant pile of bull crap they’re trying to pass off as a twisted form of nobility?

I can’t speak for the people who are okay with casual relationships, but I do offer a word of caution: at some point, it will stop being casual for at least one of the involved parties.

But to that bright-eyed hopeful girl who is dating someone who is way less into her than she is into him? To her I would say: he is his own problem; your goals and your feelings matter so much more than his temporary mild disappointment. You can’t change him or control him with your words, your looks, or your actions. You should not be faulted  for wanting kindness and respect from the person you’re with.

The proper response to a funboy: “Oh, you’re not looking for anything serious? Well then I’m not someone you need to hang around then, since it will be extremely hard for you not to fall in love with me. And since my standards dictate I only spend time with men who are honorable, respectable, dependable, and unselfish, I am afraid that your falling in love with me would be tragic, because truly you don’t even have a chance at this point.”

And then go forth and treat yourself right by not allowing anyone else to treat you wrong.

Naming Souls

I’ve been birthing kids a solid ten years longer than most people my age so I think I can say with earned authority that ain’t nobody got time for stupid baby names. Go with me, if you will, on this crunchy granola crazy Christian journey:
I believe the names we give our kids can be eerily prophetic to their individual personalities or life paths. Take Cheyenne, for example. I was 15 when I had her so an expert in the land of choosing monikers for human beings I was not. It wasn’t until I tried to buy her a customized name-meaning plaque at a kiosk in the mall that I learned “Cheyenne”, literally translated, meant “unintelligible speaker.” Funny story: I HAVE NEVER UNDERSTOOD THAT GIRL NOR WILL I FOR A MILLION YEARS. (Not to mention she was one Cheyenne out of 50,000 others in her kindergarten class. Fail.)

I vowed to be more thoughtful with my next child’s name. 8 years later, my Mia Alaina was born. Simple, Italian; not off the wall but not technically popular either, at least not at the time. She truly is “My dear one.”

We all know the story of Merrick, and how I only liked the name because of Gerard Butler, who played a character named Marek in a movie that I saw at a theater that I may or may not have snuck into without paying. We decided to spell it “Merrick,” which means in Irish, a fork in the river. His birth marked a major turning point in our lives, one where we abruptly turned from one path and went a completely new direction.

The name Arbor seemed to have it all: it was unusual; short; beautiful; it invoked images of climbing roses and summer gardens; it had an “I am the vine and you are the branches” Jesus vibe which honored our faith, in a way.I loved the connotation of strength the name Arbor implied. And then God bestowed upon me the most strong-willed, heel-diggingest child the universe has ever known.

(Side note: I think we can all agree on the accuracy of my name, Antoinette, which means “priceless”.)

You guys, it is serious business, naming souls. I’m reminded of that movie “Where the Heart Is”, and that girl who admitted to an old black man she was thinking of naming her baby “Wendi with an i.” “Girl, don’t you dare! Give that baby a good strong name!” He does not hesitate two seconds to tell her. It is the best advice any fictional character ever gave to any other fictional character.

My kids gotta have that strong name, and I don’t care how impossible it might make them as toddlers. They got to have that sweet name, that God-honoring name, that “I-know, my-mom’s-an-artist” name. So far about 0% of our choices have been well-received and that’s ok.

Go for the name. Go for the bizarre name. Go for the grandpa name. Go for the popular name that been at #1 on the charts for 8 years in a row. Go for the name that is meaningful to you. Go for the name that embodies every dream you have for your precious child. Never mind when people say “Oh, that’s definitely unique” or “That’s boring as hell.” Don’t worry about the haters that openly gag at the thought of a baby named Bernadette (meaning: brave as a mother-freakin’ bear.) 

You just go on with your bad self and name that baby, who God entrusted to you, with every ounce of love in your whole heart.

And when you’re done, be supportive of other parents who are trying to do the same.

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