Life Lately: Book Travel Updates, Podcasts, and More

I just got back from Southern California yesterday afternoon, headed to KINDERGARTEN picnic for Jacob that evening, and this morning had two cavities filled at 6:50 a.m., so needless to say it's been an eventful time.

Thankfully, I've spent most of the rest of the day hanging out in the nice, cool basement with my sons Jacob (5) and Joshua (2) in one of our last weeks of summer together. After being gone for four days, it just feels so good just to be together - even if we aren't doing anything special.

Sometimes as a mom I feel like I have to pull out my magician's hat after I've been absent for work or writing, and do some extravagant adventure to make my time with my boys special. And we've had a ton of fun in the past at zoos, museums, parks, etc. But today I was reminded that what's most important is just being together - the comfort that comes from knowing we have each other - the security that is a family who loves each other deeply.

I wanted to use this blog space today to share a couple of updates:

1) Orange County Trip

I was in Orange County for book research last Saturday - Tuesday. This was a special trip for a few reasons. First, because Red State Christians for me was born in Orange County, while I served as Pastor of Community Life and Discipleship at a large, contemporary Lutheran church in conservative north Orange County, during the 2016 Presidential Election. Josh was also born in Orange County, and it was a huge time of personal and spiritual growth for me and for our family.

Going back to the OC was also special because I knew I'd have a chance to revisit my former congregation and so many beloved friends there - in addition to visiting some of the church's most influential Evangelical megachurches.

This was an emotional few days for me. Being a Pastor of a church is a lot like being in a relationship, and leaving a church is like a break-up. It's not easy. I was so grateful and overjoyed to find that the love we had at our church in California still filled me up, and I know I take those relationships with me wherever I go, especially in writing this book.

I shared some thoughts about my time in California on Facebook during my last night there, and I wanted to share them here as well, including some pictures from our old home - and beautiful Laguna Beach.

When I was in high school, a group of us used to get together and watch Laguna Beach on MTV. More than the “drama,” I was intoxicated by the raw natural beauty of Southern California.

Someday, I thought, I will live there.

300 miles south, in Kansas City, Ben Denker was watching the Lakers and listening to West Coast rap. Someday, he thought, I will live there.

Well life happened, and the two of us Midwest dreamers met at Mizzou, followed our passions to Florida, Vegas and Chicago, followed our hearts back together to Minnesota, and then quickly began our marital adventures: to Vegas, the Bay Area and Chicago.

We weren’t looking to move again when I first started corresponding with Bob Mooney and Messiah Lutheran in north Orange County, CA ... but we also hadn’t stopped dreaming. And it all did seem like a dream, from our first trip to Yorba Linda, we were met with an outpouring of love, generosity, and open hearts.

So we moved, a family of 3, with the fourth growing inside my uterus.

Once we moved we realized much of what we’d been told about Californians was misleading. Yes, they were “cool” and laid back, but they weren’t beach bums. The people and families we knew were incredibly hard-working: devoted to their families and in most cases, to their churches.

Josh was born three months into my call, and any latent hesitancy to really grow up went out the window. I was thrust into full-on adulthood. Jake was older, too, in “real” preschool, and Ben was working harder and more hours than he ever had before.

Our Orange County church family held us up, and I felt my Midwestern walls coming down.

See I tell people now that in Orange County I became a hugger, and it’s true. I’m naturally shy, somewhat reserved, but I slowly started letting my love pour out - and it felt good.

Some days it was only the Holy Spirit holding our little family together: day by day we were growing and learning and being knit together in love. So many moms at church guided me on my way, loved me, and gave me grace.

The book I’m in the process of writing, #RedStateChristians, was born in Orange County. It began as a project to tell the rest of the country about this conservative, deeply Christian enclave of liberal California. It began as a way to lift up the love of the church, even as the greater American church was rife with political division.

Political division after the 2016 Presidential Election hit Orange County, too, and hit me. I watched the Gospel battle against an onslaught on all sides. I found myself struggling to hold fast to Jesus, to know where to apply the Bible in my public life and ideas about my country.

Out of this small kernel of an idea about a memoir set in an Orange County church in post-2016 America, the team at Fortress Press and particularly my editor, Tony, created the nationwide study of people living in conservative counties, and their Christian faith, that is today Red State Christians.

This past weekend I traveled back to the OC for the first time since I preached my last sermon in May 2017. I had interviews lined up at local Evangelical churches, some fantastic pastors and leaders to speak with - but I knew this trip was also about revisiting my personal experiences in Orange County: the place I grew so much and the place that melded my family together.

For the past three days here in CA, I’ve been overwhelmed by God’s goodness. For paddle boarding the sand dunes. For walking up the sidewalk to Messiah’s worship center, apprehensive, only to be met with the same love and kindness that buoyed me while I was a Pastor there. For time with so many special friends: for chances to again say Thank You and to be reminded of the unbreakable bonds of friendship. For chance meetings at one of the churches where I did interviews, and shared stories of God’s call for us to write.

For a brown-skinned youth pastor who is shaking up the world at the nation’s 17th-largest congregation. For a woman who after many years being a Pastor’s wife is claiming her own vital and essential ministry. For being reminded of the ministry of music and those who lead it at Messiah. For grace. For love.

For the Holy Spirit.

I drove past my old house today. I saw our lawn gnome that I won in a church staff white elephant game. I saw the park where Josh used to nurse and Jake rode his push bike.

I was reminded of the fleeting nature of life itself. That you have to grab the love when it’s there. That each faltering step is precursor to another step of God’s path of transforming death into life.

See I thought I was coming to Orange County to learn how to be a senior pastor of a large church. And I did learn about that. But God also taught me that God had a different plan for my life, to be a writer and use my prophetic voice in ways that harnessed all my gifts: as a reporter, writer and Pastor - and gave my family a new life balance. None of that would have been made clear without Orange County, and I know for sure I wouldn’t have been able to write this book.

So, OC, thank you. A piece of what you gave me goes everywhere I go - and a big piece of you is in this book.

2) Podcast in the UK!

I recorded a podcast awhile back with Tony Campolo and Shane Claiborne (whhhaaaaattttt!?) to talk about my upcoming book, and about the sexual abuse scandals that are plaguing American Evangelicalism. The podcast, Across the Pond, is aired live in the UK - and it aired there last weekend.

You can listen to it here. Thank you so much for Tony and Shane for having me on! Look forward to future conversation, and praying for your own work in this critical time for the American church.


Popular Posts