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Stained by Our Experiences

By June 1, 2015 No Comments
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This morning we welcome April Fiet as a guest blogger. April is a mom of two, school-age kids, and a co-pastor of Dumont Reformed Church in Dumont, IA alongside her husband Jeff.

About a year ago, my husband, two kids, and I were heading from Iowa to Colorado in our Dodge Neon. It’s a small car, and we had the trunk packed about as full as it would go. The heat of summer was cranking up, and as we drove through central Nebraska the digital thermometer on the dashboard read 103 degrees. Now if you have ever traveled through Nebraska, you know that at some point along the interstate, you will probably encounter road construction. On this particular trip, bright orange signs warned us that we would have a bumpy ride as we drove along a “crushed rock surface.” Our little car bounced and jostled along the rough surface, but at some point the bouncing changed. The car started shaking violently. I was panicking. “Pull over!” I pleaded with my husband. And he did. We walked around the car and checked everything we could think of. No flat tires. No visible damage. Just before we left for our road trip, we had taken the car to be serviced, and we had replaced the rear tires. Everything looked fine on the outside, but I wondered if we would ever make it to where we were headed. We got back in the car and started driving. As soon as we reached 75 mph, the violent shaking resumed. And then it happened. The front passenger-side tire gave out. The tread peeled off, and the front of the car bobbed up and down on the wheel that no longer had the treads to support the weight of the car. We managed to get the car stopped and pulled over. I couldn’t breathe. The kids were terrified. We were stuck on the side of the road an hour away from the nearest tire repair shop. We had been so fortunate that no other cars had been near us when the tire broke apart. We were shaken up, but safe. After taking everything out of the trunk so we could reach the spare, we were able to put the spare tire on the car. We drove 30 mph on the spare, while the car pulled and shook, until we got to a place to stop for the night.

This year, over Memorial Day weekend, we drove the same stretch of road again. It wasn’t hot. The crushed rock surface had since been paved over. The car was handling fine. But, I was surprised at how my entire body tensed up as we passed the area where the accident had happened. I couldn’t breathe. My hands got shaky. It was almost like it was happening all over again.During the years I’ve served as a pastor, I have heard many stories from heartbroken people who desperately want to go back to church, but are afraid. The last time they sat in a pew, it was for their loved one’s funeral, and they worry they won’t be able to face the grief if they go back. Or, maybe the last church was dysfunctional with damaging messages preached from the pulpit. Even though there is deep longing to return to church, there is also deep fear of facing the same pain in another place.

I wish there was something magical we could do in the church to take away the fear and the grief and the pain. But, I don’t think this is something that can be solved in one of those “5 ways to fix your church” blog posts. Our experiences stick with us, and they change us. They form our expectations and can resurface in unexpected ways at unexpected times. As Lemony Snicket once wrote: “What happens in a certain place can stain your feelings for that location, just as ink can stain a white sheet. You can wash it, and wash it, and still never forget what has transpired.” Even though going back may bring those memories and thoughts flooding back, sometimes it is the best thing for us. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but usually each time gets a little easier. We can’t always go back. We shouldn’t always go back. We should never return to an abusive or unsafe environment. But, sometimes the fear we face is just that – fear. Fear because we’ve been hurt once before. Fear because we don’t want to face the pain. Fear that entraps rather than gives life.

After driving that stretch of road and realizing how scary it was for me, I’ve been wondering if there might be other things in my life that I’ve been avoiding because of fear. I’ve been asking myself if, in my desire for control, I’ve actually kept myself away from the things that would bring me greater life and joy. Unfortunately, life doesn’t usually provide us with bright orange construction signs to warn us. May the Spirit open our eyes to see and lead us in the path that leads to life.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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