What about Easter?

I don’t know about you, but this isn’t the first Lenten Season that my family has asked the question- What about Easter?

April 2014 my husband was taking steps towards his life long dream of being a pastor. There was a small church in need of a pastor looking to partner with our mega church by becoming a “Satellite Campus” or “Regional Campus” or whatever they are calling it now. If you are unfamiliar with this Mega Church phenomenon, basically this little church would become a “Campus church” and in so doing, watch the sermon from the main campus on a big screen every Sunday. Paul, my husband, would be the “Campus Pastor” mostly in charge of logistics and caring for the needs of the people. However in the midst of the “negotiations” with said little church, tragedy struck. Or should I say, tragedy was revealed. The lead pastor of our mega church was caught in an abusive relationship in which he took advantage of his position, power, and God given opportunity, to prey on women and use them for his sexual gratification. He had been our pastor for over two decades. We were devastated both personally and occupationally. What would happen to our church? How would this affect the proposed church merger? What church would want to partner with a church mired in scandal? And with Easter only a few weeks away, how would we fill the sports stadium we used annually for our Easter service without our celebrity pastor to draw the crowd? What about Easter??

Well, lucky for our church, we had connections. So Franklin Graham flew in to do our service. An opportune celebrity substitution. Crisis averted. The predatory celebrity pastor has already been removed, and the mega machine moved forward. Amazingly, the small pastor-less church still wanted to continue becoming a campus church. So our family wholeheartedly stepped into that role and my husband became a pastor.

Until March 2018, four years later, when our little church was sadly closed down. To this day, I still can’t really tell you why. On the surface, I guess the basic answer is money. The tithes didn’t support the costs of keeping it open. But this question and it’s complicated answer would require more than I will ever know. Maybe more than anyone knows. Nevertheless, our hearts were being torn in two. I had never in my life felt such pain. The repercussions, the lives crushed, the unanswered questions, the guilt, it felt unbearable. We had to tell the church. We had the plan for how this would unfold. We had talking points. But one question remained. What about Easter?

The decision was made to have our last service a couple weeks before Easter so that our congregants could spend their first Easter at the affliated Megachurch or whichever campus church they might switch to. Like all of the other decisions, I didn’t feel good about it. But I understood it. The fact that we wouldn’t even get one last Easter together felt unfair. Yet life moved on, my husband went on staff at the mega church, and we adjusted. However after tasting the sweetness of an intimate church family, we felt a great loss.

February 2019, a year later, we made the excruciating decision to leave our mega church for good. The details of why are for another day, but it was very clear that we did not belong there. What followed was a Lenten season like none I had ever experienced. Having been a part of that church since we were teens, and having served on every square inch of that property, it felt like we had been cut off from our very body. Everything we knew had changed. For the first time since birth, I had no church to go to and no desire to go to one. When scripture is manipulated into a weapon used to break your spirit, it is a monumental task not to lose your faith entirely. The thought of walking into a church building conjured up pain instead of peace, and we were faced with the same question: What about Easter?

That Easter we appeased our families and attended their small church full of kind people. But it wasn’t the same. After months of grieving what was lost, once again, our family adjusted and this time joined with our best friends, fellow church refugees, to meet weekly breaking bread, studying the apostles doctrine, and singing hymns and psalms together.

March 2020. Here we were again, asking that question: What about Easter? But this time, the whole Christian world is asking it. It is a question everyone who observes this holy day is forced to contemplate to a depth never before explored. Like every other experience I mentioned previously, we are sitting in a place of shock. Mourning loss. Wondering what happened. What went wrong? What was true? What did we miss? How could we have prepared for this and what will life look like moving forward?

It’s very likely that followers of Jesus had very similar questions when Jesus was crucified, and even after the resurrection.

There is so much uncertainty in front of us. So much grief at hand. I know that most are making it through the best way they know how. There are many that are working harder than ever, filling needs in their new role, finally acknowledged as an Essential Worker, yet with no time to process all that has been lost. There are others with too much time on their hands, but no energy or focus to do anything “productive” with that time. There are so many ways to make it through this pandemic to the other side, whatever awaits us there. There is so much we don’t know. But my prayer for you is that through all of this pain, there would be new healing in your life and in your heart. That the God of all comfort would comfort you and strengthen you. I pray that you would feel the hope of the resurrection in your hearts and that He would give you peace. As we wait for what is to come, and the uncertainty may feel like too much to bear, I would like to encourage you with a verse that has encouraged me.

Acts 1:7 “You don’t need to know the time of those events that only the Father controls. But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.


The Beginning of Our Story

It’s a strange thing to celebrate the 18th year of our marriage under quarantine. But here we are. So with lots more time on my hands than ever, I thought I would tell you a story I have told a hundred times before. It’s a good one.

Twenty-ish years ago, I was standing in the hallway of my 10,000 plus member church with my friend, when this cute guy walked by. “Who’s that?” I asked, because she really did know everyone. “Oh, that’s Mike Pechonis’s son,” she answered. My husband’s step-dad was/is a local surf legend that everyone knew. A few minutes later the same cute guy walked by again, but this time holding a girls hand, prompting me to say what many single girls have said before me, “Of course, all the cute ones are taken.”

Fast forward a couple months, and my friend and I were having a dinner party for some coworkers. We didn’t know them well, but knew they didn’t have any family locally. When we answered the door that evening, who should be at the front step with them, but the one and only cute guy from the church hallway, none other than Paul Chastain. My friend and I looked at each other in total shock. It’s not every day that God delivers “that guy” to your front door.

As the night progressed I would learn two very important facts. One: Paul was newly single. Two: He was very funny and engaging. It was a night of good food, laughter, and hope.

After that night, we would get together as a group pretty regularly. I seemed to be the contact person, so Paul would call me to set up our weekly get togethers. One day he called to set something up, but everyone else was busy, so we went out, just the two of us. It felt very date-like, though neither of us called it that.

A few months later in March, I was painting my parents bathroom with some help from my new friend Paul. There were clearly feelings between us, but we hadn’t had “the talk.” As we peeled wallpaper, he asked me, “So, what are we doing tonight?” to which I replied hesitantly, “Well…….I am going out with my friend from college. He’s in town visiting his family.” After a brief stunned pause, Paul made some excuse about having something to do and quickly made his escape. Feeling a little guilty, I walked over to the kitchen where my my mom was cooking dinner. “Where’s Paul?” she asked. When I told her what happened, she completely took his side and strongly suggested (in her most convincing Sicilian way) that I go apologize. Conveniently, he was renting a house just around the corner. So I got in my car and drove over there – but not to apologize. Instead I planned to tell him why I didn’t *have* to apologize, of course.

It went something like this.

Me: So, I understand that you are upset, but really, we aren’t officially anything, and you can’t just assume that we are going out if you haven’t asked me.

Paul: You’re right.

Me: (Confused Silence….. that was easy….too easy)

Paul: Here’s the thing. Right before we met, I had just gotten out of a really long relationship and a friend of mine recommended that I take a year and get my relationship right with God before dating anyone else. So I made a commitment to God to do that.

That’s really all I remember from that conversation. Doing the math I realized that there was 8 months left of this commitment. In my heart, however, it didn’t feel like a pause, but rather an end.

Ironically, I was planning to tell my “friend” from college that our friendship was too close and too confusing for me. I thought things were going somewhere with Paul and I didn’t want to constantly be comparing the two of them in my mind.

That night during my conversation with said friend, it was made clear to me that any feelings in this relationship were completely one-sided. So after our dinner and long awkward conversation ended, I sat in my car and cried. The choice between these two great guys was all in my head. And now I had no one.

The next nine months were a rollercoaster of trying to figure out how to “not” date Paul but keep him as my friend. I loved our time together. Our friendship grew, and there was some flirtation, but we really never spoke of our feelings which left me constantly wondering if I was waiting till November for nothing. One minute I felt sure in my heart we would end up together and the next I was just as sure some other girl would swoop in and steal him away.

The last week in October, with the deadline of November 1st only days away, I stopped by the Skate Park he was managing at the time. He told me he was going away for the weekend effectively crushing all my imaginations that at 12am November 1st he would be outside my window, boom box blaring over his head declaring his love for me. I went home confused and dejected. November 1st came and went. I stared at my phone, legitimately surprised at its silence as my sadness grew.

A week into November, I went to church with a friend and saw Paul. It was like nothing had happened. Just another day. But it wasn’t just another day. We were in November- unrestrained by any commitment to God. Clearly any feelings between the two of us were imagined. Obviously any hints of new beginnings in November were just silly flirtations. I went home that night frustrated and alone.

When I got home, I filled in my sister and mom on the nothingness of the night, and they decided I needed to make a phone call to figure out once and for all what was going on. It went like this:

Paul: Hey what’s up?

Me: Yeah, what’s up? That’s what I would like to know….. (I know, I know… but if you think I’m intense now….)

Paul then went on to explain that as November 1st approached, he didn’t know what to do. So his friends told him to just pray about it, and not talk to me at all.

And…..He realized that I was the one that he wanted to pursue a relationship with.

And the rest, as they say, is history….

But here comes the crazy part:

We signed up for premarital classes the *next* week…

We were engaged *one* MONTH later…

And we were married three months after our engagement….March 22, 2002.

We had no idea what we were getting into, as most people don’t. We have had our fair share of hard times and obstacles. But we have also had more than our fair share of blessings and love.

We both put up with a lot, forgive a lot, and love a lot.

Our marriage is 18 years old today. An adult. And it really feels like that. So much has happened that has forced us to grow up in ways we would have never chosen. We have learned and are still learning how to love each other and support each other in the most important ways. On the other hand, we are unlearning harmful teachings that would put us at odds with each other instead of on each others side.

I don’t have 10 steps to a great marriage for you. But I do have a story to share. And this is only the beginning.

In the Spirit of Full Disclosure

“Your story is yours and no one else’s. Each sunset is different depending on where you stand.” Al Andrews, from Andrew Peterson’s Adorning the Dark

Over the last ten years, writing has become a therapeutic way for me to make sense of my world and my faith. I started a blog 6 years ago (to the day) as a systematic way of studying scripture and sharing opinions. In so doing,  I also found a camaraderie with others that were interested in the scriptures or topics about which I wrote. Shortly after I started that blog, varying parts of my seemingly formulaic world started falling apart. However, with a few choice quotes, and familiar Bible verses, I could still explain it all away and make everything fit into a nice logical space. 

Until I couldn’t.

For over two decades of my life,  I sat under a teacher that drew crowds and adulation ad nauseam, and I was a good student. Through his Bible studies, I learned a lot about the Bible, but mostly I learned how to center each story around me, or in other words, I learned how to “apply it to my life.”

Horrifically, that “pastor” was caught being a sexual predator, and even though I would never defend him, I was such a faithful loyalist to the church, I wholeheartedly defended his moralistic teachings and the enormous kingdom he had amassed. I became so good at explaining the Bible as it relates to us, complete with “to do lists” and bullet points, that I began writing for other online publications in addition to my own. About the same time my husband became a pastor, and consequently I became a pastor’s wife which was a whole new world to try to understand. Predictably, the further down the rabbit hole we went, the less things made sense. I watched as scripture was used to control the benign behavior of some and then excuse the malicious conduct of others. Little by little we seemed to step fully through the looking glass at which point writing became impossible.

Along with the confusion, came devastation. So much loss. Most of the losses were too complicated to understand myself, never mind share about on a blog. I hardly knew what was true. The answers we fought to find seemed just out of reach. Trust was broken. And we had to walk away- not from God, but from those we really believed were our “family.”

During this time I had developed an unexpected community on Twitter. People who are willing to help me hash through difficult concepts without giving me trite answers. People who simply say. “I’m sorry for your pain,” without a silver lining tagline. People who encourage me in ways I didn’t know I needed encouraging. People who think differently than me, but are willing to stick around and discuss. People who make me laugh all day long. And my favorite, people who have shown me how to disagree with kindness and even humbly concede to being wrong. 

What I found in 280 characters or less, (or more with the occasional thread) is that my situation is not unique. Realizing I wasn’t alone has helped me heal in ways I desperately needed. All throughout this year I kept feeling the urge to write, but felt paralyzed by the pain of losing the only faith community we have known for 25 years. Instead of writing blogs, I was writing down difficult conversations I needed to have. I was writing down topics to discuss with my therapist. I was writing down timelines to try to make sense of what happened. And despite feeling like I would never have any thoughts worth writing again, deep down I wanted to believe that someday soon I would be writing for truth, beauty and goodness again. 

So here we are. Ready or not. I am writing.

I am writing to share my stories, because so many of your stories have helped me. I am writing to grow my understanding, because I have so much to learn. And I am writing to heal my wounds, because “communicating fully is the opposite of being traumatized.” (The Body Keeps the Score, Kolk MD, Bessel Van Der)

Most of the reasons that were holding me back from writing were about image. What if my writing friends think my writing is awful? What happens when I am wrong, again? What can I say without saying too much?  What do I really have to gain? In the end, everyone has to weigh their own risk vs. gain. Personally, I have always erred towards being too vulnerable, and have learned the hard way that many will not care for your story. Some will hear it and dismiss it, argue with it, or forget it.   But I have also experienced many joys through the connection that only telling your story can bring. And while these reasons are quite enough, the moment that tipped the scales for me is when I realized how many women and men are legally being kept from telling their stories. This made me realize the true gift I have to be able to tell my story to anyone I choose, and that is a gift I cannot waste. So for all of those that have been silenced, I am taking this risk for you, in the spirit of full disclosure. 

“Finding words where words were absent before and as a result being able to share your deepest pain and deepest feelings with another human being-This is one of the most profound experiences.” ( Kolk MD, Bessel Van Der)