Strength, Dignity, and Laughter

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I’m surrounded by amazing women. I’ve been raised by them. I’ve been raised with them. I’ve become friends with them. And I’m continually inspired by the strength of the women, not only in our culture, our country, and our city but also by the strength of those in my immediate circle.


The women who are building their careers from the ground up, when the systems in place are against equal pay and equal representation.


The women who are leading churches and slaying it. Or who hold positions of authority and are knocking it out of the park.


The women athletes who are pushing past gender bias to prove we are just as strong.


The friend who is a solo foster parent because her heart breaks at the brokenness of our system and she sees no other option than to follow her call to love God’s children.


The many mothers and grandmothers and aunts who raise children day in and day out. And also the many mothers and motherly figures who have experienced extreme loss through the death of children of all ages.


I see you. Our City Chapel community sees you. But, most importantly, God sees you.


So as we celebrate the last week of Women’s History Month, reflect on these amazing verses about who we, as women, are in God’s eyes. May we remember the women who went before us, and be an example for those following in our footsteps.

Written by Kelli Gilmore

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The Women Who Kept Watch

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The night before my first day as a freshman in high school, my older sister wrote a quote on my bedroom mirror.

“Don’t be afraid ... for the heroes of all time have gone before us.”


This quote was from a book by Joseph Campbell that both of us had read as part of our summer reading requirement prior to our freshman year Honors English class. That dry-erase quote stayed on my mirror for a large majority of high school. In fact, I would literally clean around the quote when I would wipe down my mirror because having it there meant so much to me.


This memory has been so wildly meaningful for me. I even referenced it when I asked her to be my Maid of Honor last year. In so many ways I have loved being a younger sister to Megan. I have looked to her example and watched her in order to imitate her. I often joke that I am the ultimate little sister. I have waited for her approval on an idea and an outfit and her opinion carries nearly the greatest of weights in my life. I was far less scared about high school because I knew she had gone ahead of me.


Like Megan, there are countless women in my life who have gone ahead of me. They have shaped me and prayed for me. They have corrected me and raised me. They are the heroes who have gone ahead of me. And they have taught me, whether they realize it or not, who to look for when I look for Jesus.


They have taught me how to keep watch.


I think about the heroines in my story and my mind can’t help but wander to the heroines throughout scripture — the women who have gone before all of us. The women who are often glossed over in a list. The women whose entire lives can be reduced to a brief summation of facts and genealogies we are tempted to skip over.


I think about Rahab, Esther and Naomi, Mary and Martha, the bleeding woman and countless others.


These women who went before us. These women knew who to look for. They teach us who to look for. These women kept watch for the coming Promise.

Rahab, whose name is often tied to her profession (more than likely a profession due to circumstance and survival rather than by her choosing), was the absolute bottom of the social hierarchy in her city. She wasn’t anyone worth noting. For those in Jericho, she was nothing more than the body that she had to offer for a time.


Something that has always puzzled me about her story in Joshua chapter 2, was how quickly and certainly she knew who the Israelite spies were when they arrived. Not only that, she knew who they were coming in the name of.


“I know that the LORD has given you the land…,” she said to them.


She goes on to explain how she heard about how the Lord delivered them out of Egypt and continued to deliver them throughout the land. I wonder, did she sit in her house, the house built into the side of the city wall, waiting for evidence of this delivering God? Perhaps this God who delivers would deliver her, too?


She knew who she was looking for. She knew who this God was. She kept watch for her Deliverer.


Like her, the woman who suffered from chronic bleeding, whose story was documented throughout the Gospels, would have also been seen as a social and religious outcast — deemed unclean and unworthy. Her condition causing her to be jailed to a state of isolation.


And yet, when Jesus passed by in a crowd, she grabbed the hem of his robe. I can imagine the sheer franticness of this unfolding in her as she saw him. Reaching, perhaps even pushing through the crowd just to touch him. Knowing that he had healing in his wings, she just needed to touch the hem of his robe.


She knew who she was looking for. She knew who this man was. She kept watch for her Healer.


These women have kept watch for the One they have waited for. They knew who to look for and could recognize him when he was with them, even in the most unlikely of places.


They have taught me who it is I should look for. And because they have gone ahead of me, I know who to wait for. I recognize him when I see him, even in the most unlikely of places, like dry erase mirror quotes and genealogies we are tempted to skip over.

Written by Lindsey Bandy Blodgett

A Celebration of the Women Who Made Me

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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

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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

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“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