from an article originally posted August 22, 2014…
Oh, my soul, this place, this place has been so heavy, so hard, so riddled with bad news. I NEED to tell you something funny. Please humor me. As you can surmise, my kids are pastor’s kids. Let the stereotypes begin. I once lived in the rigid pew lifestyle where my kids were made to perform great acts of silence for the duration of the service. I felt it was a reflection on me, my parenting, my togetherness. Yuck. There were good moments, love moments, but I lived in the stereotype of my idea of how one should “behave” in church. Especially a pastor’s kid. Yuck.
Then I moved here. I still was stifled by my ideas of parenting in the pews. Mostly too full of myself to notice no one really noticed if my kids’ clothes matched or if they sang or took notes. So over time and after having more and more children, the knots of parenting in the pews have loosened. When we finally moved into our own worship service, I committed to not seeing my children’s behavior in church as my sole reflection of my worth as a parent. I came with one rule: we sit together. You may invite anyone to join our crowded pew, but we sit together. You may build paper airplanes, but they fly after the benediction. (Wait, that’s two rules. It’s late.)
I have said before I sit in the front row, because I’m too weak to sit in the back. Too full of my own desire for our church to succeed, that if I were in the back I would be looking for new guests, looking to somehow measure success in the faces that show up. Each person matters, amazingly matters, but in a different realm, not in my notion of success. But in the place of their story being met by Jesus and grace. The faces matter in the places where we are all hurting and needing safety and reminding of goodness in God. The place where we can come and be reminded to not carry our own burdens. Not, simply not, in the place where I can measure some false sense of success in our growing crowd of broken stories seeking grace. No, I need the front row because I’m too weak and so longing to meet new people. I sit in the front row because I need what is being said. I need the encouragement for Kara—not the pastor’s wife. Though that is not a title I dislike. I love being the wife to my particular pastor.
So now, now I reside in the front row with my white rock star-ish hair. I bring a basket of coloring and by the end of church service we have a garage sale of mess sprawled out before the front row. We regularly have spilled some tea—mostly hot water and copious amount of sugar. During Communion, I’m begging back shoes so people can come forward for the bread without tripping. And best of all, Sunday after Sunday the two littlest fight for nearness to me. Ella and Harper meet me in affection in different places these days. If littles must be quiet during the sermon, then they will do it on top of, beside of, next to, or at the feet of me. I have come to accept Lake is incapable of a whisper. And each week, my Blythe and my Hoopers are sitting behind us. They are delighting in the mass chaos that is our family. Utterly free of judgment or expectations of the pastor’s kids. One week, my stress was so high every paper crinkle was setting me on edge. My dear Blythe sent me a text that said, They are doing great, mama. I see your stress, they are okay. Because there are days in this battle, you can’t see truly how they are doing. You think they are misbehaving, but you can’t put two brain cells together to decide if they really are or if you are just too full of stress. Those are delicate moments. Blythe loved me well that day when every sound set me on a new edge.
So to the funny story. The story I simply need to write down so it isn’t forgotten. The story I turn over in my head to remember when I need a smile. Last Sunday my littlest two were battling for my affections during church. The night before we had been to a delightful wedding. We had to take turns for my lap. They simply couldn’t pet me, love me, be near enough to me. A sweet problem, but I was feeling smothered. Then all at once my daughter put her lips on my arm and thought it would be funny to suck on it. I couldn’t stop giggling. I told her she would leave a mark. And that mark was called a hickey and I didn’t want one. Then I got so tickled about talking in church about a hickey I could hardly contain myself.
Then all at once she sat up on my lap and said, Mama let’s kiss like they did at the wedding last night. My sweet-faced baby girl was coming at me with mouth wide open. Oh, my stars; I knew if I looked back at Blythe in that moment we would both be done for and poor Jason would be left on stage wondering what the hysterical laughing was about coming from the front row. The week before a dog had come in before the baptism—he has learned to roll with a high degree of chaos. In this moment, I saw all the ties of living under expectation of a pastor’s kid unravel. My daughter was trying to make out with me in the middle of service! Oh, my stars. I love her. I love that she hasn’t a clue how the French do it, she simply thinks a wedding kiss has an opened mouth and all other kisses are closed. She saw a wedding, she loves her mama, and she wanted to try out a new kiss. If I could bottle up that moment and keep it forever, it would be the moment I take out when I think on the freedom I have in Jesus. Freedom to love big. Freedom to pull my children up on my lap when they are long past lap sitting years and smother them with kisses in service.
I could continue to live in the light of how everyone presumes I should live. Or I can live in the big open love I have come to enjoy in walking near to Jesus and extending His big love. I only regret I didn’t look back at Blythe, because this week just needs the memory of us giving sideways glances and laughing big, giant belly laughs together at the perfect time—when big laughing shouldn’t be happening. Aren’t those the best laughs? The ones you know you should quiet but simply cannot contain? I should have braved the look to enjoy the memory.
So what would you do if your daughter came at you with a big open mouthed kiss in church? Well, I simply found a way to kiss that sweet face. I’m just now remembering a young man coming in to his mama and saying, Someone just told me people kiss with tongues. My dear mentor Shaunda was really quick and said, Well, of course, let me show you. Stick out your tongue. He obeyed. And she simply gave it a smooch. As if his tongue had a boo boo! He walked away satisfied and Shaunda and I fell onto her couch in a fit of giggles. Oh, what a sweet memory. Laughter is simply the best. We needed a little of it here this week. Thank you for letting me share my inappropriate story of life on the front row.
So please, come to our church, come be broken with us. Come and meet Jesus. Just don’t come thinking I have it all together, or my kids should look or act a certain way. We are all too broken to meet your expectation. But if you want to come and live messy beside us, come on. And if you happen to see me in a fit of giggles, I’m probably trying to explain why I don’t want a hickey. Oh, my lands, explaining what a hickey even is. Is that even what it’s called anymore?