Friday, June 29, 2012

Tattoo Story #2 church, love and brokenness

So there is a large piece on my back that had very humble beginnings.  My intentions were for this piece to honor my family and that other member of my family that raised me along with my parents, the church. It was meant to represent the story of my family and faith, my commitment to the people God has given me and called me to through brokenness and beauty. The tattoo itself and the process of getting it, taught this church nerd, a lot. As I work on the message I will be giving Sunday on the sixth anniversary of serving my current church family, my brain keeps taking me back to that tattoo and my experience of getting it.

It started as a cheesy little sacred heart with a green "Gumby" cross, ten years after getting it, it was faded and embarrassing. It didn't reflect the beauty of the commitment and love I have with Valentine, and with God, like it was supposed to.  I didn't want to cover it though, it was a part of me, I wanted to add to it.  I wanted to add my kids in some way, because they grew out of those original commitments. I also wanted to add the church, because in adding the church I was honoring my parents who raised me there, and the family of God I had been raised in and called to serve. One of my favorite things about churches has always been the stained glass.  The church is a beautiful thing, but it is also broken, because although it comes from Jesus, we messy people are carrying it forward. There is pain, there is quarrel, but there is also healing and comfort, and love.  All those jagged pieces fit together to make something amazing, like stained glass.  I wanted to see this little tattoo transformed, but I had no idea where to go.

One night while out on a family walk around the neighborhood, we passed by a tattoo shop and some of the artists and piercers were outside, and they welcomed us to the shop.  We were just passing by, and paused, surprised because we had never noticed it before, and they were really nice, introduced themselves and told us to come by sometime. They didn't hand us a coupon, or try to sign us up and sell us something, or make fun of the silly tattoos we already had, or treat us like we weren't as cool as they were, all of which I would have been nervous about had we walked in on our own.  It was casual and open, and just nice.  Do you see where I am going with this? It was a bit like I would hope people feel when they happen upon our church.  The welcome I want people to receive, that feeling that it's okay if you haven't been in a while, or you have never been, you are welcome.

Later I went in and handed the artist an idea, and I was given back a masterpiece. He showed me a sketch and it was nothing like I had pictured, but it was everything I wanted. Then we started the process of putting it on my skin.  It was supposed to take three hours, but the first sitting ended up taking six and a half.  Once he started working, it just took more time, as he poured more of his artistry into it.  It wasn't easy.  I equate tattooing with scraping a sunburn, and the parts on top of the bone, well those vibrate with pain, but somehow I sat through it.  I went through more than i thought I could handle, and when my body started shaking and could handle no more we stopped. Along the way, through the pain, we had fun.  A friendship was forged, and an amazing work of art was born.  He took my little idea and worked into something amazing for everyone to share in when they see it.

When we are part of the family of God, we contribute our idea, our talent, our knowledge; we hand it over to the master artist, and with the whole body (see my last post if this imagery is lost on you), we allow God to shape it into something amazing to share with the world.  We let God work through us, as broken as we are, and we change the world around us, we continue the work of bringing heaven to earth. Well, when we are at our best we do.  Sometimes we are in the process of breaking down and we need renewal, or sometimes we are fading and in need of a touch up.  We are always a work in progress and we will always be broken.  My favorite part of this tattoo, is the cracks in the brick border.

This tattoo led to many more of my tattoo ideas being turned into amazing realities at that same shop.  In the hours I have spent there, I have always seen the people that work there treat people with the utmost respect, and I have seen some crazy people come in there. Each one is treated as a valued customer, worthy of service, no matter what the service asked for.  They won't make fun of you until they really get to know you, until you are part of the extended family.  They will listen to your ideas, and they will help you make the changes you want to make, so that you feel better about who you are.  I have seen them refuse people's requests only when their safety was at risk.  I hope that when people come to my church, they have the same experience.  I hope that when people visit, they are inspired, to continue to allow God to change them, to help them be the amazing people God created them to be, and to work through them to change the world.  I hope that if they enter embarrassed, they leave knowing that they are beautiful creations of God and he is doing restoring works in them, and empowering them to do big things.  I hope those things are happening, and I am committed to work on making that a reality.

Stained glass addition work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) in Beaverton,OR
This tattoo reminds me of what church is and what it can be, and it inspires me to be it and bring it.  Be a follower of Jesus and an active part of the work he has started here and bring the kingdom of heaven down to earth, and that, not my tattoos, is what I will be talking about Sunday.

Monday, June 25, 2012


Sunday, I got to do something I rarely get to do.  I got to just go and be at church. By be, I mean, I had no responsibilities, I just went and worshiped.  I grew up as a pastor's kid, so even as a kid, when I was at church, I couldn't just be, I had to BE the pastor's daughter. There is a lot of responsibility in that.  I tried to escape it, I crawled under the pews and climbed the choir loft, but even those things turned into sermon illustrations and fodder for the women's' Bible study.  I couldn't just go and be, I was always working.

Now I am still nearly always working when I am there.  I have a million projects that need to completed or worked on.  There are at least 100 things i could be recruiting for.  Are the youth and kids having fun and connecting with God today, was everyone's experience a good one?  Were people cared for and also challenged? Then there is that thing where everything I do can be analyzed by others in reference to my job performance. Even the way I socialize at church comes under scrutiny. You might say, rightly so, since you are always on the clock at your job too.  True! It is my job, my calling, my privilege to serve the church, and so yes, I do have a responsibility to always give my best to those that I am serving.  There is also that verse about doing everything as unto the Lord, so I have to think of working for him too, right? It's hard to get my brain out of work mode, and I confess even during worship my gears often start turning on work and not on Jesus.

But to go to another church for just one Sunday, and just be there with no responsibility, that was an interesting thing.  I was able to just worship during the worship time. I didn't have any other responsibilities. I loved it for a bit, but as I walked out I realized, that even if a paycheck weren't tied to my responsibilities at church, that doesn't mean they don't exist.

Church isn't just for me, it's not a place for us to just relax in the presence of God.  Church is the body of Christ, and I am one part, it talks about this in Corinthians.The toe can't decide it wants to be just a toe for a while, and separate.  It will die, and the body will lose an important piece of balancing, moving forward through life equipment.  Could the body survive without it, yes, but it wouldn't be at it's best. The toe though, it's dead, so it wouldn't survive.  You could ice it for an hour or so, but there isn't much hope unless you reattach that thing soon.

Church should be a place of rest for us, but it's also a place of work for all of us, even those not on paid staff.  Church is a place where we can come to worship God, and come before him in that hour or so that we have set aside in our week, but it goes way beyond that, worship is just one part. We shouldn't fear judgment and we should be able to lean on one another and rely on one another.  Those things take work. There should be encouragement and people caring for one another. Those are also work.  Work of bringing the kingdom of heaven here to earth.  Work of caring, and work of reaching out. Work of challenging one another as we process through ourselves and our community in relation to this amazing God who gathers us.

 We all have a responsibility to make church what it is.  That is where it get's messy.  We are taking this amazing family of God and using people to move it forward.  We are people following God together, but we are just broken, messy people.  So church is messy work, but it is beautiful work. It's getting our hands covered in paint to make the mural, or clay to form the vase, messy kind of work. It is a dirty, messy, beautiful community. We can just be, but we have to be together. We have to be active, we have to get our hands dirty.

The truth is none of is can just be at church because we have to BE the church.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Tattoo Story #1: Cameron's Balloon

All work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) in Beaverton,OR

My tattoos aren't an act of rebellion or my way of trying to be cool. They are symbols of my faith, the people that I love, and things God has taught me. Each one is a testimony, and I used to share them when I spoke, but people got offended.  So, I will share the stories here, where you can choose to read them or not.  And if you are worried about your kids getting tattooed because of me, don't be. Chances are they are rolling their eyes at me, they can't get one until they are 18 anyway, and if they did want one, I have probably already talked them out of it. Today though, is all about Cameron, so I thought I would share the story of his tattoo.

A year ago today, we lost Cameron. It was quite possibly the worst day of my life, and the lives of many of the people I love. I got a phone call from my friend telling me he had died. Words can't describe the anquish and horror of that moment.  He wasn't my child, my brother or my nephew, I hadn't grown up with him, but he was one of mine. As a youth minister, every kid in your group becomes a part of your heart, your family. Wading through this awful new experience of lossing one of our own, was gut wrenching, as we gathered our students to tell them. The days that followed were so busy with mourning and comforting, I felt like I was crying out to God every five minutes for strength and direction.

This tattoo was to honor Cameron, and it was designed by two of my other students. I am priveledged to have this balloon, inspired by Cameron, planned and plotted by Graci and Shade, and drawn and given to me by our artist friend, Michael. It connects me to all of them, especially Cam, and I treasure it. Memorial tattoos have a beautiful way of allowing you to celebrate, mourn and reflect on someone everyday.  The act of getting the tattoo itself causes you to pause and live in the moment, and gives a physical manifestation of the otherwise ambigous pain.

The image came as I tried to grapple with someone so young dying so suddenly. As ridiculous as it may seem, all I could think of was balloons. Kids want them so badly, but you know they are only going to last an hour, a day maybe two at the most, if they even make it home.  Then there is sadness and anger when they float off or are popped. They are frustrating for me, but for my kids balloons are pure joy, while they last. I could refuse to let them have balloons and save us all the frustration, but I would rob them of that joy.

Cameron was our balloon. He brought a ton of joy and laughter to our group, to me.  His smile and his giggle lit up everything we did together. He cared so deeply for his friends. He would bring them to youth group, and rat them out, when he felt they were in danger.  He was awesome.

Just like a balloon though, he didn't last long.  He left us way too soon. It was painful, it still is. But if not having this pain, meant never knowing Cameron, I would take the pain everyday. However briefly we had Cameron, he was precious. 

So I have a balloon, to remind me of that precious boy, and to remind me to be grateful for the awesome moments. I am reminded to be grateful for the people in my life and the joy they bring me everyday, and for the joy from those I have lost. I see it everyday, and it brings me more happiness than pain.

God knew Cameron wouldn't last long, but he gave him to us anyway. God gives and he takes away (or allows it to be taken) and though I don't understand it or always like it, blessed be the name of the Lord.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Moments of Silence

I have observed many a moment of silence. Spending those few awkward moments, thinking about the person or persons departed, caused me to reflect, but did little more, until last night. Last night as I have done for many years as a youth worker, I attended graduation. As we celebrated the students in our youth group family and their friends,though, one student was missing.

Cameron died on the last day of school, last year, as a junior. We gathered as a group over the week that followed, and invited others to join us. Then over the last year, we all mourned him separately. Often when we were together we would celebrate him with stories and laughter, but we rarely talked about the sadness and the loss. I know for those that went to his school it was hard never to have the school recognize publicly his death. His own sister wondered if people knew.

We knew. We thought of him often and marked his birthday on Facebook and in our own thoughts. As graduation approached we all wondered what it would be like. Cam had planned on not attending his senior year, but who knew, what would have happened, and at least he might have been there in the stands with us cheering for the rest. None of us wanted to bring any of the other graduates down. It was their moment to celebrate, how could we project our grief into that? We went to graduation happy for our seniors, but also thinking about Cam. It was like he was there with us, filling our thoughts, and asking what could have been. We wondered to ourselves if others were thinking the same thing, or if they had forgotten the guy, that has filled our thoughts on more days than we care to admit.

We first heard that we weren’t alone, that his sweet, amazing and too short life, was remembered, in a speech. They had surveyed the students and one thing many of them said was they wanted Cameron to be remembered. They were thinking of him. Then after all our students had crossed the stage, and the last name had been read, the moment of silence came. A moment of silence to remember the student who should have been there with them.

It felt so good, to know that everyone was thinking about him, praying for him and remembering his family. He isn’t just in our hearts, he is in theirs too, as a community. The whole audience, the whole graduating class, the staff standing there in the Memorial Coliseum, remembered Cameron Andrew Metz. I don’t know exactly why, but it was comforting. To have the community remember, our amazing friend, to have those students who grew up with him, or who just had a class or two, acknowledge and remember, it was awesome. Thank you Wilson class of 2012 for being brave enough to be honest about how you were feeling and acknowledge the loss of your classmate and friend.

Next week is another challenge in this grieving process, in this life without Cameron. On our regular youth group night, it’s also the anniversary of his death. It’s uncharted territory for many of us, navigating a youth group family after losing one of our own. It’s hard to know when we should be silent in our grief and when we should share, when we should mourn and when we should celebrate, but after last night I know that whatever we do, it’s better to do it together. Being honest about our feelings and sharing them, honors Cameron and helps us know that we aren’t alone in the laughter or the grief. So we are going to do something a bit unorthodox, and have youth group at his grave, and maybe a moment of silence or two.

here we go...

I wear my heart on my sleeve quite literally. Somehow I am known, I fear less for my faith and more for my tattoos right now, which is quite backwards.  Each one of those tattoos was done for me, to honor my faith and my family, to remind me of what is most important in my life, to tell the stories of struggles and help me heal. Unfortunately they attract a lot of attention. They are important to me, I am not ashamed of them, they are beautiful, but they aren't who I am.  They are just a part of me.  I'm quite willing to share with people the stories of each of them, and maybe someday I'll write posts for all of them, but they are just part of the way I wear my heart on my sleeve, how I try to live out loud and in the light.

I'm willing to share my struggles with life, Jesus, faith, parenting, marriage, youth ministry, etc, just as I am willing to share the tattoos (I just hate the attention they bring), because I believe by sharing, we can grow. I have said I would create a blog forever, but never wanted too. Why does anyone want to read my stuff. I am an expert on nothing but have an overbearing opinion on everything, and should probably keep it to myself.  It seems though, that some things, are probably easier shared on a blog than a small facebook post. So because I want to post something to honor a friend, and some amazing students, I will start this blog. 

We can't hide from the bad, the doubts, the suffering, we have to be honest about all of it. Put it out in the open just like a tattoo, for all to see.  Maybe just as my tattoos inspire and encourage me, my words can in some small way, encourage the four of you that may read them. Or at least at times, maybe you will get a laugh from either the weird adventures I have or the pitiful way I attempt to blog. So here goes...