Archive for April 2016

"You're Pretty. I like you."

No Comments »


 "You're pretty. I like you." It was spoken to me so innocently by a middle school girl a couple weeks ago.
      I was taken aback. This was a day I had rushed out the door exhausted, with a quick ponytail and no makeup. My first response was "wait, me?" Which of course I didn't say out loud, opting for a much more socially acceptable "thank you."
    Then, as I am prone to do, I thought about what she had said. It sat weird to me, not because I didn't feel pretty, or that I had rushed out the door without a second thought about my appearance. It sat weirdly, because she equated her liking me to my physical appearance.
    This has happened before. I've walked past my elementary classes in the hallways to whispers of how pretty I am, or "she looks so nice", or the more direct "you just look nice Ms. C".
    While I am happy to receive compliments, and I definitely appreciate that I appear kind, I'm starting to wonder how much we as a culture equate being beautiful or pretty with being good.
     It's no secret that in order to be a movie star one must not only be talented (though even this might be up for debate), but one must also be beautiful. Not only beautiful, but a very specific well defined beautiful: thin, thick hair, light skin, flawless complexion, and big lips and hips don't hurt. (There are exceptions to this, but they are just that, exceptions). 
     Not only is there an expectation of beauty placed upon those in the realm of television and movies, but if you take a glance at "successful" women, they all tend to have one thing in common, they are attractive. There was even a study done that said that people who are more attractive tend to be more successful. 
    This idea of pretty as good is not relegated to the culture either, but has seeped into the church as well. I took note at our last big denominational event, of the women who were placed up front, and I've thought back over the Christian women's events that I have been to, and while these women might disagree, they are all beautiful. I remember as a young woman sitting in the audience at a particular women's conference and thinking about how perfect their hair looked, how flawless their makeup was, how on point their outfits were, and looking at myself feeling so very inadequate. Obviously having stylists on hand before you go on stage makes a difference, but I wonder if we are often silently communicating that in order to be successful, in order to be good, in order to be used in big ways by God, you must also be pretty.
     This is a message I think we unintentionally perpetuate to girls all the time. Think back to the last time a little girl walked into church on a Sunday morning. More than likely the first thing spoken to her was "You look so pretty today!" (There was a great blog post written on this here.) While it isn't a bad thing, we are communicating in many ways that the way to be good, to be successful, is to be lovely. 
     The problem with the message of pretty equaling good, is that within these narrow cultural constructs of what it means to be attractive, a lot of people are left out, and sadly, most often the women and girls left out are women of color, women with natural hair, women outside of a size 6, women without perfect skin (um... isn't that like, most of us?!), or who cannot afford to be fashionable. We are robbing ourselves of ethnic and economic diversity, if we continue on in the patterns that attractive equals good/successful/great/smart/etc. We are communicating to these girls and women that they can't be successful.
    Maybe the most heartbreaking area I've seen this illustrated is at school, where I will overhear a dark skinned black girl being told by her light skinned peers that she isn't as pretty as they are. That she isn't good enough is perpetuated by the media who tends to favor light skinned actors over darker skinned actors (If this is a new concept to you, here is a post on colorism in the media). This is also illustrated when I hear on a nearly daily basis that when I have children they will be beautiful because "mixed children are the most beautiful" as though being beautiful is the most important value (though, I question if it is a value... it's not) to have. 
      As I reflected on this idea of pretty as good, I was reminded of the story in 1 Samuel, where Samuel is called upon to choose the next king of Israel. He goes to the sons of Jesse, and he keeps picking the most attractive sons, assuming that if one is to be the king, he must be the strongest and most handsome. After all of the strongest and most handsome being rejected God says to Samuel in chapter 16, verse 7  Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
     God looks at the heart.
      One of the best pieces of advice my mom ever gave me was "beauty is as beauty does." She said it so often, that it almost became white noise to me, but the words are true. Beauty on the inside, that is what matters to God. Hearts that are honest, loving, filled with grace and mercy, that's what God looks at. We would do well to do the same. We would do good by our daughters, grandchildren, and neighborhood girls to do the same. To stop equating pretty with niceness, or goodness, or kindness, or talent, but to look at people's hearts and love them just the same. We would do good by our churches and our denominations, to illustrate by example, that it is not beauty that makes us worthy, or successful, or called, but the grace of God pouring into and out of our lives. 

   I get why we don't have people up in front of large crowds speaking in pajama pants, but I wonder how often we perpetuate in our silent ways (and sometimes our more direct ways), that being pretty is the same as being good. I wonder how many women and girls feel disqualified from being the world changers they are, because when they look on stage and then look in the mirror, they see 2 very different things. I wonder if we are sabotaging girls from living into their potential when the first thing we say is "you are so pretty" instead of repeating to them "beauty is as beauty does, be beautiful on the inside." 
   Then I wonder if the world, or at least the church, can be different, can be a place that elevates compassion over cosmetics, and forgiveness over fashion. I wonder how many amazing workers for the kingdom of God would be empowered and embraced if we began to promote hospitality and humility over hotness, and attentiveness over attractiveness. I wonder the level of intelligence and the vastness of diversity we would gain if we broke through the narrow cultural confines of beauty, and truly looked at people's hearts, the way God does. 
   I'm not saying don't comb your hair (though if you have small children and/or a crazy busy schedule, we understand if you don't), or don't wear makeup, or don't care about fashion, but what I am saying is, do you spend as much time grooming your heart as you do your appearance? Do we care as much about love, grace, mercy, justice, and compassion, as we do about the latest Urban Decay smokey eye pallet? Are we communicating to the girls around us, that God is looking at their hearts?  Are we looking at people's hearts, at their God given talents and abilities, or are we only looking at the surface?
      Maybe most importantly, when we look in the mirror, are we telling ourselves that our beauty on the inside is the most important thing about us? Because ultimately the loudest voice in our head is ours. 

What Flight Attendants Know (That Pastors Struggle to Learn)

1 Comment »

This is my annual pastor's report, originally submitted and presented at the 2016 Northwest Indiana District Assembly. This year we were asked to speak of our personal discipleship journey. It wasn't hard to speak of mine; the holiest thing I did this year was get healthy. It is my hope and prayer that my story and journey of health encourages others, pastors and laity alike, to take control of their health, and find the freedom, joy, and holiness that comes from making healthier decisions.

Flight attendants learned something about holiness years ago, that many of us pastors are still struggling to grasp; you have to put your oxygen mask on yourself, before you can put it on those around you.
I for one, had it backwards. I’d tell you it was because that’s our responsibility as Christians to put others first, whatever the expense or cost, or that my time was so consumed by the pastoral responsibilities to care for myself that I just didn’t. Those would be lies, and lies I most often told myself. The real reason was pride, and a self-inflicted martyrdom. A way to tell everyone how I was struggling in the trenches, fighting the good fight, to pat myself on the back as a good busy pastor with my priorities straight. 
When I went to my annual checkup last May and stepped on the scale in the doctor’s office to see a number higher than I had ever seen before, my heart was met with a deep conviction. After a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome, that conviction deepened. 
left: February 2015 Right: February 2016

 PCOS is called by doctors as “diabetes of the ovaries”. An insulin disorder that results in an excess release of estrogen, which results in the creation of cysts in your ovaries. Among other issues, PCOS comes with a 50% chance of getting diabetes and a drastically heightened risk for ovarian cancer. Despite it being a chronic illness, the symptoms can be almost eradicated if controlled through diet and exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. 
 A decision had to be made. Continue on in the destructive patterns of eating and exercise (or lack of) that I was on, plunging deeper into obesity, most likely get diabetes some day and potentially have bigger problems. I chose to put my oxygen mask on first.
I radically changed my diet with the help of a registered dietitian, and started running. I went from being unable to run a city block those first few weeks last May, to running a 5k in September. I began to have more energy. My PCOS symptoms lessened. In 11 months, I have lost over 30 pounds, and have more energy at 31 years old than I did at 25. I went from running a city block, to a 5k, to a 10k, to being able to run 8 miles, in less than a year. 
left: first 5k september 2015 right: first 10k April 2016

The moment I decided to put my oxygen mask on first, and care for myself, I became a better pastor and Christian. The energy I have to devote to the people around me, continues to astound me. I find myself able to say yes more often without reluctance. I’m a better wife. I’m a better person. I care for people better, because I take care of myself. 
We often think of holiness as prayer and scripture, and we forget that part of it is “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” I can say with confidence that what I eat and drink, and what I do is giving the glory to God in ways it never has before, because I began to view my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit instead of a trash can. I started to treat it as the beloved creation of the creator, and started to think of myself as a steward of this great gift.
Putting the oxygen mask on first, has now truly enabled me to put that mask on others around me. To illustrate holiness in my heart, but also in my life. To glorify God with all that I am, including the precious gift of the only body I have been given. I couldn’t be more grateful for the person I am now. A person who loves others enough, to want to stay around and healthy for a very long time to care for them. I truly believe the best days of health, wholeness, and holiness for myself, my family, our church, and our community, are yet to come, and I now have the energy to be there for all of it.

In health, wholeness, and holiness,
Pastor Robbie Cansler
The Mission Church of the Nazarene

Letting Go of Pastor Guilt

No Comments »

   I ugly cried at work the other day. It would have been great if it was in my church office, behind a closed door, where I am the only one present. Where the few people that walk by would assume I was especially moved by the Spirit, and was deep in prayer over some member of my precious congregation.
      But I wasn't in my church office, I was at my other work as a substitute teacher. Sitting in a high school science class, behind a big desk piled up with various papers and projects, with the very possibility that a high school student could walk in at any moment, which I am sure only made me cry more.
      The reason for my tears, pastor guilt.
      Someone had made a passing post in an online forum about how they arrived at a church that was locked, and the disappointment they felt at a church being locked in the afternoon.
     My church was locked in the afternoon, just like nearly 5-6 out of 7 afternoons because, as I said, I was currently at my other job, sitting in a high school classroom.
      I began to think of the people disappointed as they arrive at our church doors, only to find them locked. I began to get angry that this person didn't understand my story, the sacrifices that we've made to start a church here, to renovate an old church building, and to make ends meet. But it wasn't that anger that made me cry, it was the overwhelming sense of guilt that I wasn't being a good enough pastor.
   Guilt is a horrible feeling, especially when it's connected to your self worth and call. It does crazy things to your mind and heart, and makes you do crazy things like ugly cry in a high school science class. It also diminishes all the good that is happening, all the amazing ways that God is working, and if left to take root, leads to hopelessness.
    Being a bi-vocational pastor adds another element to this feeling of pastor guilt. Am I spending too much time at my other work? Am I devoting the same passion to my pastoring as I am to my other job, or visa-versa? Am I spending enough time with my family? Is my house clean enough? Am I managing my time in the best ways possible? Sometimes the answer is no to those questions, because the reality is, being a pastor is really really hard. It's hard whether you work another job or not.
     It's really hard to work with people who say "you aren't at the church enough", while other people tell you "you're at the church too much, you need to be out in the world more." It's really hard when once a year you have to write down the numbers of people who go to your church in a report, and feel like people are looking down on you because of your number. It's hard when you think "nobody knows what that number 12 represents. The tears I've cried, the letters I've written, the sermons I've preached, the difference I'm making." because they don't know, and many won't take the time to know. It's hard when your house is messy, with piles of laundry on the floor, as you change your clothes from one job to head out to the next, and do a sniff test to make sure that if nothing else, at least you don't smell like you haven't done laundry in 3 weeks. It's hard when people don't like you, when you do too much, or not enough. It's just really hard.
       It's easy to feel guilt. It's easy to get overwhelmed by that guilt, and if we let that guilt take root, it's easy to have it turn into hopelessness.
      Being a human is hard as it is. It isn't just pastors that fall into this trap, it's all of us, feeling as though we don't exercise enough, or work hard enough, or look put together enough.
      Enough with the guilt trips already!
     I know this is the part where I'm supposed to say "you're great!" "you're doing an awesome job!" Along with some great uplifting bible verse, with some quotes of how awesome you are, but I'm not going to do that. Because the truth is, sometimes you aren't great, sometimes you don't do an awesome job; I know I certainly don't.

    The ball drops at times. We say yes to too many things, and then all those things end up becoming a source of anxiety instead of joy. We ugly cry at our job because we allowed some passing comment that was in no way meant to wound us, wound us, and make us feel guilty.
     There are times we are on point, and things are flowing, but there are just times they aren't. Where the sermon doesn't come together, where we said or did the wrong thing, and I won't sit here and pretend like sometimes those failures aren't big and messy.
     BUT, I will say that we serve a God that redeems. A God who looks at our mess, our too many yes's, our ugly cries at inappropriate times, and still chooses to use us, in spite of it all. That is why we don't need to carry around guilt. Guilt leads to hopelessness, but we are not a hopeless people, we are a redeemed people. A people who know that if laid at the feet of Jesus, what looks like our greatest failure (and maybe it is our greatest failure) can be redeemed and transformed into something amazing for the Kingdom of God.
    Be encouraged in the midst of your mess, in the midst of your guilt, not by trite comments of how great you are, but by the hope that you don't have to be great, you just have to be faithful to the one who has called you in the best ways you can today. Even if your best are 3 day old t-shirts, and tears in science labs, know that God can redeem even these moments, and just let go of the guilt.

Hearing Myself Preach

1 Comment »

     I was the first woman I ever heard preach.
     I was 16 years old, and I called it "sharing". The urge to do so, started like a fire in my belly, a small spark at first that was easy to ignore, only to continue to be flamed until I felt as though I would burst. The desire became so hard to ignore, that I e-mailed the church board and asked if I could share on a Sunday. Surprisingly, they let me.
      It's weird to look back on now. I'm sure my words were shaky, and my exegesis left something to be desired, but it was the beginning of a journey that continues today. I stepped behind a pulpit, not even knowing if that was a place I was allowed to be in, which says something to the strong call of the Holy Spirit and the tenacity of 16 year old girls.
       There have been many stories lately in my church tradition about male clergy advocating for women in ministry, and urging us forward. They tend to have big names, or the title of District Superintendent tagged to their name. I'm grateful for all of those people, and I do not downplay their great work, but it isn't for them that I was encouraged on in my ministry call.
      I didn't attend a big church in a big city, I attended a little Nazarene Church in a little town that most people have never heard of. My pastor is probably never going to be invited on stage at a General Assembly, or applauded in a best selling book, but if it weren't for that little local congregation and his confidence in God's call on my life (a call I pushed against, and he pushed back... every time) I wouldn't be here. It was this pastor who put me on the preaching schedule nearly once a month on Sunday nights, as a Senior in high school, and a freshman in college, a bold step for anyone.
   The only reason I even called what I was doing preaching, was because my pastor told me "stop calling it speaking and sharing, and call it preaching, because that's what it is." If it wasn't for that moment, I don't know if I ever could have envisioned myself as preacher.  You can't call yourself a pastor or preacher, if you are never told you can preach; you just become a teacher or motivational speaker.

     I began calling myself a preacher, while still being the only woman I had ever heard preach. I had no idea what it looked like or what it would be like, but I had these people in my corner telling me it was possible. Who, beyond all odds, kept putting me behind the pulpit and listening to what I had to say.
      I never heard a woman preach (outside of myself) until I was well into my time at college. Something I look back on a little bit with sadness, and loneliness. I walked so very much alone in those early years, but the rebel in me also walked a little defiantly that no one would take away what I felt God had placed within me. If it weren't for the defiant small congregation, and small church pastor telling me "you can do this", I don't know if I would have pushed ahead as much as I did.
     However, what I hear when I hear myself preach, and what I heard then, was that God uses ordinary people. Ordinary, weird, broken people to do great things for the Kingdom of God. I was a nobody, from a little town, from a little church, a girl, who loved books more than movies, and running barefoot through the woods, and God still used me. God still called me, where I was, in spite of everything that was seemingly stacked against me.
     It's no secret that sometimes it takes knowing people to get ahead (sadly, even in the church world). It takes a certain last name, or connections, I had none of those, all I had was this fire in my belly that would only subside if I preached, only to be fanned into even bigger flames.
       If God can call and use a girl preacher who had never heard a girl preacher before, a nobody from a nothing town, what can God do in the lives of those girls who never have to be told to call it preaching, because they just know that girls can preach, because they've seen it? I can only imagine great things.
      So thanks Pastor Tim, for pushing me into my call, at times pushing and screaming. It was one of my greatest honors 3 years ago, to have you pray over me at ordination knowing that if not for you, that day may never have come. I know you didn't do it for the thanks, for accolades, or with the knowledge that I would one day be a church planter... you did it out of faithfulness, which is the greatest thing I've learned from you.
      Thanks church for listening to a girl preacher who didn't know what she was doing, and giving me all sorts of compliments I certainly didn't deserve. My life is forever changed for your faithfulness, and only God knows the ways that that is rippling on into the Kingdom.
This is a pic of me (middle back row) in that little church with some awesome girls who heard those early sermons. Thanks for enduring those early sermons, I can't imagine they were easy to listen to!

      To all the women and girls who are still calling what they do behind a pulpit "sharing" or "speaking", take this bit of advice, call it preaching, cause that's what it is.
       To all the girls with that spark in their belly who come behind me, I pray that you hear many women preachers, who speak truth, and weave truth into your life, but even if you don't, do not give up hope, do not give up on your call, hold firm in this truth that God calls girls and women to preach and to pastor, to do great things for the Kingdom of God. Don't squelch that spark, fan it into flames. The journey won't be easy, but it will be great.
       When I hear myself preach, the words aren't always eloquent, the exegesis not always good, the congregation isn't always getting it, but what I hear is a woman preaching truth, a woman preaching love, a woman being faithful to the amazing call of God, and it is with that faithfulness that I step behind the pulpit each Sunday and preach "The Word of our LORD. Thanks be to God!" An echo of the faithfulness that has gone before.

Turtle Tales

No Comments »

      "Look at its little tail!" A student shouted. "It's moving!" Said another. They crowded closer to the glass aquarium of the box turtle.
       In that moment I realized how different my life as high school student was to these high school students here in Hammond.
      Box turtles were a common sight at my wooded Michigan home. My sisters and I would often find them in our yard. I remember one time in particular when a box turtle made the unfortunate mistake of wandering too closely to our black lab's home. Our lab had a great time barking, and trying to play with this small creature, who cowered in its shell.
     The tail of a box turtle is no extraordinary thing to me. I don't look at them with wonder or curiosity, because to me, they are common.
     However, to these high school students box turtles are something to marvel over, and to examine. Where my child hood was filled with barefeet, box turtles, and forest walks, their child hood has been filled with sidewalks, sirens, and hip hop.
      We are different.
      I watched them as they examined this classroom pet, that I'm sure they had marveled at before. They were smiling, and laughing. Daring each other to touch his rocky shell. At one point a student took his headphones off his ears, and lowered them down to the turtle saying "Hey turtle, these are Beats by Dre." He played the turtle a popular rap song, as the turtle just looked back with its blank, uninterested stare.
     At first I was startled by their curiosity, then I began to smile too. I began to smile at their wonder, as I saw the turtle through their eyes Then, I began to smile at how very similar we are.
    Upon my entry into the classroom that morning, seeing the classroom pets, I immediately went over and began talking to them. I love animals, and at one point I cared for various reptiles at a children's museum I worked at in graduate school. It felt a little bit like coming home.
    Lowering headphones into an aquarium to share a song with a turtle, doesn't seem that strange to me, in fact, I would probably do something not so dissimilar.
    If you lined us up next to each other, these urban students and me, it would be so easy to point out our differences. The ways we experience the world differently. The differences in our upbringing and culture... it would be much harder to see our similarities. Our joy over a small box turtle highlighted that for me. Our common humanity finding wonder in a small creature in a classroom.
     I love our differences. I never would have marveled at the tail of a box turtle, but these students gave me that gift today, to take time to notice small details in things I take for granted. I love that while I talk to animals, they play rap music for them. There's a beauty in our differences.
    Yet, there is something so similar in us. We are human, above all, despite all of our differences.
    It's probably only a pastor who can see the theology in this moment with a box turtle,the beauty of the kingdom of God, but nonetheless I saw it. This profound moment of smiles and laughter that contagiously spread through the classroom and to me. The wonder they shared in that moment. The ways that I learned from them a little bit about life. We don't have to be the same to share beautiful moments. We don't have to look at the world the same way, or notice the same things.
     In noticing, and in celebrating different things, we are made better. I am made better, because for the first time, I really noticed the small wiggling tail of a box turtle.