A Celebration of the Women Who Made Me

IMG_1114.jpg

The tattooed garden on my arm is a celebration of the women who made me—a growing collection of flowers to honor the ones who have tended my heart’s soil in its many seasons.

The Queen Anne’s lace for the woman who gave me life and reminds me daily that it is worth living. Who taught me love in its purest form. She taught me the importance of having roots, about dependence and independence, and navigating the precarious balance between them. She taught me to notice need and work to meet it. To grow wings but also to have a place to land. To appreciate a quiet evening at home. I have her smile, her natural tendency to question and wonder, her loyalty, her elbows, and her love for knick knacks, dogs, and garage sales.

The ladybug nearby for the sister who I love more than anyone in this world. She teaches me about joy, about caring for others above yourself. She teaches me that the bond between sisters is likely among the most complicated and beautiful this world has ever known. She reminds me not to take myself too seriously, that not everyone wants hugs as long as I do, and of the power of a good sense of humor.

The violet for the matriarch that raised my strong and steady father. She taught me about consistency, about patience, about showing up. She taught me the importance of giving back and giving much—of yourself, your time, your treasure. She taught me to appreciate the gift of knowing where you come from, and of spending time with your people. To follow your heart. To appreciate tradition. To trust.

The gardenia for the grandmother I never got to meet, but who’s taught me that the love of a mother, of a grandmother, can transcend the line between life and death. That a legacy is made by kind and true words coupled with kind and true actions, and that loving others to the point of exhaustion is the most beautiful way to live.

The forget-me-nots for the aunts and grandmother who have worked to keep my family sane and safe. They taught me the power of a home-cooked meal and a well-wrapped present. They teach me that faith grows and changes, and that tradition can be deep and beautiful, not just routine.

The gerbera daisy for the mentor and leader turned friend, who took a confused and emotional crew of middle-school girls and formed a tribe that still feels like home. She taught me to apologize when I am wrong, but never for who I am. She taught me that a woman who loves Jesus does not have to be a church mouse— she can be a proud and fierce warrior for the Kingdom. She gave me permission to be myself before I knew who that was.

The wild prairie rose for the girls who grew up alongside me, who taught me about family. Not the kind you’re born into, but the kind you build. The kind that knows you when you’re a chunky middle schooler and loves you anyway. The kind that knows you when you’re in the middle of your seven-year crush and loves you anyway. The kind that holds your hand when you walk away from bad relationships and toxic friendships. The kind that will always be home.

The fireweed, often the first flower to bloom after a wildfire, for the most resilient woman I know. A mother of two who has held more sorrow than life should bring for any one person. She teaches me to turn to Jesus even when life makes no sense, and to use everything life brings to bring God glory. She teaches me that no length of distance or time can lessen a friendship formed at summer camp while singing Silent Night to our campers. That hospitality, when it’s done well, is welcoming the stranger into your home and convincing them they’re family. I am better for every hour spent with her.

And all of the ink flowers yet to bloom—for the awkward middle-schooler turned grown-up friend who inspires me to chase after my dreams and Jesus always. For the coworkers who became best friends and make Wednesday afternoons safe and sacred. For the friends who made Grand Rapids home before I was sure I even wanted it to be and who have consistently joined me in dark places until I was ready to reach for light.

To the women who made me—the permanent ink on my arm and a million thank yous will never be enough compared to the gifts you have given me. You teach me about Jesus even when you don’t mean to. You show me love when I cannot find the strength to love myself. You bring me truth when I feel surrounded by lies. You have built up this soul and this heart so that I can reap the joys of this life more fully than I could have imagined without you. I love you.

Written by Caroline Sterr

The Women Who Have Made Us

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re using this space to reflect on, remember, and celebrate the women who have come before us—church leaders, role models, mothers and mother-figures, and every other superwomen who have influenced and impacted us. Who are you celebrating this month?

Fear

ihor-malytskyi-1203247-unsplash.jpg


When I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark. I had a legitimate fear of what might be lurking in the vast darkness of my unlit bedroom or the woods behind my house.


There wasn’t any real reason for this fear. Nothing bad had happened to me in the darkness. The only reason I can think of being so terrified of what might exist in the darkness was the unknown. Without a light source to shine on what existed in the dark, it was unpredictable, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. Some might say being afraid of the dark is an irrational childhood fear (who am I kidding, I’m still afraid of the dark!). But the means for my fear of the dark are like the root of many of my (and others) fears.


Fear is often rooted in the idea that something or someone is dangerous or a threat. Like my fear of the dark, many fears exist because of the unknown or unfamiliar.


That, in fact, is the only, very small way I can begin to comprehend someone's bias against another person who might look, talk, or live differently than themselves. They have a fear of the unfamiliar. This is by no means a justification for racist actions and I am by no means perfect at being unbiased. This is only my way of trying to understand why these attitudes still exist in our country and our world.


Being a white woman I haven’t experienced bias for the color of my skin. And, to be honest, I grew up in a white bubble, so I wasn’t exposed to it either. The only kids I knew who looked different than me were the handful of adopted kids at my small, private high school. But not long after my husband and I started dating, I began to see into his world. Whether getting eyed by people of both light and dark pigments in downtown Holland or experiencing stares from a trucker at a fast food pitstop in the middle of Indiana, the reality of racism quickly flooded my life. I began to see a very small glimpse into what my husband has experienced his entire life.


As newlyweds, we lived in a second story apartment off of Wealthy and College in Grand Rapids. We loved that apartment. It was cheap, it was old, it was ours. One evening we decided to walk to the local bar for a drink. It was a great evening from what I can remember. We had a few drinks and a great conversation and walked home hand-in-hand. But as we approached our home, two men on bicycles rode past us in the street shouting racial slurs at my husband. I’m not going to repeat what they said. And not because I’m afraid to say it, but because the words are so disrespectful and hateful that they do not need repeating.

We quickly walked up the stairs of our porch and up to our second-floor apartment. I don’t remember much about what happened next. I may have asked my husband if he was okay once our apartment door clicked shut. I may have even said (or thought) a few comments about how unbelievable that was. But inside, my stomach had fallen to a new low. I remember he seemed to brush off the moment and move on. It was late, after all. But I knew it hit him deep, too. This was all too familiar. And this also hit close to home. Quite literally. That hurt my heart. I knew what happened that night was something he never wanted me to witness with him ever again, let alone in the first place.

As his wife, I wanted to protect him from ignorant people. From people who had an irrational fear of someone who was different than them. I wanted to stop those guys and ask them how many people they knew, truly knew, who were different than they were. Because if they took time to have coffee with someone, rub shoulders with someone, or even go for a bike ride with someone who was a little bit different than they were, they would realize there is nothing to be afraid of. And, in fact, I would like to believe they might even see how our differences make this world more vibrant and exciting. For we are all a beautiful expression of God.

I could keep talking about the experiences we’ve had or seen since then, but that’s not the reason for this blog. As we come off of Black History Month (celebrated in the shortest month of the year, mind you . . . but, that’s another rant), I want to encourage us to put into practice ways of welcoming our neighbors--regardless of how different they are, live, or look from us. Racism is, unfortunately, deeply rooted in this country. But I hope we are willing to work hard to fight against old tendencies. I hope we are willing to enter the hard conversations, not to hear our own voices or regurgitate the "right" words. But, instead, to listen to our brothers and sisters who add diversity to Grand Rapids and beyond. As Pastor Ron encouraged us to, I hope we will be intentional to listen to the experiences of individuals living with disabilities, to have a meal with someone of a different cultural background than our own, and to look fear in the face and call it out when we see it.

Facing our fears isn’t easy. In fact, it takes us out of our comfort zones. It requires stretching and challenging what we’ve known. But with that work comes growth and beauty and change. With that work, we as a body of believers, as the community of Grand Rapids, and as a country begin to look a little bit more like Jesus. So, let’s do the hard work. Let’s show up to these hard conversations not with another word to add, but with open hearts, open arms, and open ears--ready to be part of the solution.

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.”  

(2 Corinthians 1:8-14)

Written by Kelli Gilmore

City Groups Defined

rawpixel-792222-unsplash.jpg

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-25


Intentional community has always been one of the many things that’s personally drawn me to church. Especially as an adult. Sure, I’ve had close groups of intentional friendships outside of the church. Even really great, strong Christian friendships. So what was so different about gathering with a group, often a small group, of people who attended the same church as me? I’ve always felt like I belonged at these types of gatherings, and, through them, I’ve always been challenged and/or held accountable to think about God and His world more deeply. Whether it was our first small group experience doing marriage studies as a young couple  in Chicago, breaking bread weekly over discussions on this week’s sermon in our current neighborhood in Grand Rapids, or now the City Group being held in our home, the relationships we’ve built and the deep conversations we’ve had (and continue to have) not only help me think more deeply about my faith but help me form a regular rhythm of living it out.

For City Chapel, City Groups are all about everyday people working to discern our next faithful steps. They are designed to be flexible. City Chapel leadership recognizes that one type doesn’t fit all, so City Groups are designed to simply be a time to gather regularly throughout the week to wonder about God’s call in our lives today. What that looks like could be many different things. It might be gathering at a coffee shop together to discuss this week’s sermon. It might mean volunteering every month at one of our partner organizations in Grand Rapids. It might mean sharing your testimonies and discussing podcasts together. It might mean simply breaking bread and discussing the ways you saw God at work in your lives this week.

City Groups usually have a leader(s), but there is also flexibility in what that leadership looks like. For some groups, the leaders serve solely as a host and together the group decides what direction they will take. Other groups will have very defined leaders who will help guide discussions and have a set agenda for each meeting. There is no right or wrong way to do this. That’s the beauty of it. Each leader has the freedom to lead with whatever style fits best for their group.

Still not sure what this City Group stuff is all about? Check out these quotes from two current City Group leaders:

“My wife Rachel and I were motivated to form a City Group after being involved similarly at our former church (we moved from Nashville, TN in 2018). These opportunities are a great way to build community outside of the church walls and to be able to support each other to a different degree. Rachel and I are one of three couples getting together in our not-so-well-known neighborhood of South East End. Right now we meet every other week on Tuesday evenings at our house on Colorado Ave from 8pm-9:30ish. We currently are reading through a small (literally, really small) book called "Silence, Joy” which is a collection of works by the Trappist Monk and mystic Thomas Merton. We chose this book as a group because we were intrigued by the practice of pursuing God in silence and seeking joy in all things -- specifically coming off the busy holiday season and during the mid-winter. Although we are going through a book together right now, I don't believe this will always be the case. We also recently attended a concert together as a group, which more so reflects our current group's affinity for art rather than a connection with Merton. However, I believe Merton would have approved. If you are interested in joining us, please feel to reach out!” --Matt Clark, City Group Leader

"For us, our City Group exists as a place for open, honest, and raw conversations. On any given Sunday evening, we might laugh or cry or probably both. As a group, we love great food and drinks as well as being entertained by my wife, Kelli, and I's daughter Jade and our dog Zoey. Through the first few weeks, we've spent some time getting to know each other better by sharing our stories of how we've arrived at this point in our lives. Eventually, we may navigate together through podcasts or a book, but for now, we are enjoying each other's company and the safety our budding community has brought us." -- James Gilmore

In my experience, the things our group has learned about each other and about how God has worked through each of our stories to bring us where we all are today has been a really cool opportunity. I already have the feeling that anyone in our group would be there for me and my family if we ever needed them. The best part about being in an intentional community where everyone belongs is that there is space for trust and respect to grow and, in return, space for hard, challenging conversations to take place. City Groups are designed to be a place for you to experience growth, love, acceptance, and the overwhelming presence of God through fellow City Chapel folks, and even those who might not call City Chapel home, throughout the week.

Whether you’re ready to join a City Group, start a group of your own, or have a desire to learn more, know that City Groups can be whatever form of deep community you desire them to be. If you’re at all interested in being involved in a City Group, please fill out this form. Pastor Anna would love to connect you to an intentional community within City Chapel!


Written by Kelli Gilmore

Waiting, Watching, Wandering

I didn’t grow up in a church that followed the church calendar.

To me, when I heard the words Advent I thought of the countdown calendars with chocolate that seemed to have its own brand of taste — the Advent Calendar Chocolate Taste.

Then there was something about Ash Wednesday when kids would leave school and come back with a smudge on their forehead.

The word Lent just conjured up thoughts of a time where people would try to give up a habit that would ultimately make them cranky the entire 40 days until Easter when they could once again indulge themselves (see aforementioned chocolate).

I remember not liking the concept of Lent because it felt like people around me were waiting in anticipation to once again drink coffee or have ice cream as opposed to the risen Christ himself. I’m embarrassed to admit that I, at times, had an attitude of ironic and shameful superiority when looking at the people around me who observed these moments of the church calendar. I thought it was legalistic tradition for the sake of tradition.

This all changed when I went to a college that had deep roots in liturgical tradition. It was there that I was invited to see what wonder could be found in observing these spaces of time. In a season of waiting for what felt like forever, a season of seemingly never-ending longing, the season of Advent became a season of grace for me. Before all of the merriment and glitter of Christmas, there is not just space, but intentional and welcomed time to name that things are not as they should be. To claim that we are waiting for our promised Christ-child. And waiting is hard.

The hymns like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” that felt strangely dark and dreary for the Christmas season, suddenly felt like prayers from my very soul. Yes there is anticipation, yes there is joy, but there is also longing in that anticipation. There is longing for that joy. Rushing to the joy past the longing does no one any good.

When some of my friends suddenly died in an accident, the season of Lent made way more sense to me. Like Advent, there was space carved into the year to name that things are not as they should be. Where, along with the Church all through history, we are invited to wait and watch for the promises we have been given to be fulfilled in the middle of what feels like aimless wandering. Our brothers and sisters across time who are not strangers to loss and suffering know what it means to ache for the news of the empty tomb, and Lent invites us to find our place among them and keep watch alongside them.

I think there is a temptation and even tendency to skip past just how much waiting, watching,  and wandering there is across the narrative of scripture. All we have to do is flip the page from Malachi to Matthew to see where promises pick up. We forget the nearly 400 years of silence that was endured during that time. All throughout scripture we see our patriarchs and matriarchs waiting, watching, and wandering.

Advent and Lent invite us to posture ourselves alongside them doing the same. In some sense, we should feel at home in this discomfort. It invites us to not pretend we aren’t weary or suffering while we live in the tension of our certain history and promised future. These seasons aren’t about subpar chocolate countdowns or breaking a habit which they are often reduced to. These seasons are invitations to participate in faithful waiting and watching while we are in the midst of our wandering.

As we begin to move closer to the Lenten season, perhaps this is an invitation to think deeply about what exactly it will mean for us to find the tomb empty.

That we will not find the living among the dead.

That our King is alive.

That our exile will end.

That Emmanuel will ransom captive Israel.

And yet we are still waiting for this to be fully realized.

We are still watching for Christ to return in glory to put all creation to rights.

And in the waiting and watching, Christ goes before us.

And in our wandering, we do not wander alone, but along with the communion of saints who has gone before us. Let us find our place among them.

Let it be so.

Written by Lindsey Bandy Blodgett

Lessons from a Hard Season

benjamin-davies-736261-unsplash.jpg

“The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come. They lose the moment when the answers are revealed in dazzling clarity.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I’m coming out of a really hard life season. And, it’s still pretty fresh. The clouds are just beginning to let small rays of light peak through. In some ways, it feels like the hard part is over. The light of excitement and opportunity has shown just enough of its presence to know that there are good things ahead. And I’m extremely grateful for it. It feels fresh and new and reminds me that God is good through all things. But yet, at the same time, it’s so easy once the hard things are over to jump right back into “normal” life. The life where we can go a whole day (or more!) without thinking about talking to God or without picking up our Bible, because things are good. We are good.

So, as a way to call myself out of slipping back into a life where God takes the sidelines, I’m going to use this space to briefly share a few lessons I’ve learned (and am still learning!) during a hard season, in hopes that it will keep me grounded on God’s truths, but also in hopes that it might help anyone who might be going through a hard season.

  1. God is faithful. As someone who has experienced enough trials in my life to know this is true, it is so easy to forget when I’m in the midst of a dark place. It’s easy for me to let anxiety and worry and doubt cover up the promise that God is always there. God pulls through. He’s got you and He’s got me. Nothing is too big for Him. This is something I’m still learning and leaning into. While I know it is true, actually living like He is faithful is something I always need to work on. As this new season begins for me, I’m choosing to keep this at the forefront of my mind by remembering how He has molded and shaped me in the last five months. He’s shown up, even if I didn’t recognize Him at first; He’s been there. He’s been faithful.

  2. God shows up through people. There are things that have happened in the last few months that I think only God could have orchestrated. Phone calls were made. I was in the right place at the right time. Or having the confidence to trust my gut when nothing else seemed to make sense. But I also have learned just how much God shows up through people. Friends who sent texts of encouragement on my darkest days, City Chapel family members who would give glances from across the room that said, “I understand” or, “I’m here for you,” without actually saying anything at all, and people who I could cry with and celebrate with all within a matter of weeks.

    I believe that God reveals Himself through all of creation, and that includes His image bearers. I have learned so much about Him through the people He has put in my path this last year. People say you learn who some of your closest, truest friends are during trials and tribulations. I believe that is true. But, I also believe we can learn so much about God by the way He puts people in our path during some of the most difficult and most joyous times. I think I’m only beginning to understand all that He was up to during this last season, and I’m excited to continue to understand and uncover what more He wants me to learn as I process and grow with the people He’s placed in my life.

  3. New does not equal easy. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul talks about how when we choose to live in Christ the old is gone and the new is here.  But the newness doesn’t mean things will magically be simpler or easier. That’s probably quite far from what he was getting at. Instead, newness is hard. Newness means stretching, adjusting, learning . . . newness takes work. You can’t just slide into a new season without some growing pains. And that’s okay. It’s even healthy. Someone once told me that they saw me thrive whenever I was forced to stretch and grow. I became a glimpse of my best self when I was forced out of my comfort zone. Because if it was easy, I wouldn’t have to try. I wouldn’t have to lean on others or be reminded that the One who makes all things new is on my side through it all (coming back full circle to lesson number one =) ).

These three lessons are nothing new. Instead, these three lessons remind me of where I’ve been, how God has brought me through, and help me refocus on who God is through this new season. Whatever season you’re in, I pray that you will clearly see God’s faithfulness, see Him revealed through the people He’s placed in your life right now, and never be afraid to dive into the hardness of new things. Cheers to new seasons, wherever you are and whatever you are experiencing.


“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

Written by Kelli Gilmore