The "Dear God" Project

God. Few topics are as loaded, or come with as much baggage. Whether you love God, hate God, or couldn't care less, we all have a God story.

I'm running a series here on the blog. I want your letters to God. Your unfiltered thoughts. Your highs, your lows, and everything in between. I'll be featuring 2-3 at a time per blog post.

If this sounds like something you'd be interested in, go ahead and jump on over to the contact page and drop me a line. Guidelines:

-Please limit post to around 1000 words. I know the topic of God is a big one, but I want enough space for everyone.

That's it. Those are the only rules. I want your honesty. I believe that God values honesty, and if we can't be honest with him, what's the point?

Thanks for letting me help you tell you story. Stephen

Happy Mother's Day?

Warning: This post contains language that some may find offensive. If you prefer to skip reading it, I completely understand. I hope, however, that you will not. Today is Mother’s Day. Instagram & Facebook are awash with photos of moms. Grainy pictures from decades past, as well as ones strategically shot with iPhones, and put through a myriad of filters. Both are beautiful.

I think we should be celebrating moms everyday. They give, sacrifice, love, and nurture in ways I’m not capable of. But on this one day, I love seeing folks publicly appreciate the mothers in their lives.

Rachel usually makes the grocery list for the week, and normally take turns shopping every Sunday afternoon. But today, I made the list and headed to the store, while she took a much needed break.

I was nearly done with my trip. As I awkwardly navigated my shopping cart into the chip/cookie aisle, I came to a stop in front of the cheetos (as I do every week. They’re just so good!) As I was standing there, having an internal debate over crunchy vs. puffy, a mom and her teenage daughter wandered down the aisle, and came to a stop next to me. I was not privy to the rest of their conversation, but what I did hear was,

“Damnit, I’m just getting really tired of you being such a fuck-up all the time.”

As I went to leave the aisle, I saw the look on the face of that girl, who could not have been older than thirteen.

She was defeated. She had been broken. The words that her mother had spoken to her had destroyed her. She looked almost empty, and I could tell that this was not the first time she had been told what a disappointment she was.

As a dad to daughters, I understand being frustrated with your kids. Kids are frustrating at times. I've talked harshly to my kids before, and though I’m not proud of it, I've scolded them in public (and later asked their forgiveness.) So believe me, I get being frustrated with your kids. But there’s a difference between disciplining your kid (which I’m all for) and belittling your kids, and beating them down with your words. What I witnessed wasn't discipline, it was abuse. I saw the face of a girl who is constantly told she isn't good enough. That she’s nothing. That she’s a disappointment.

I've said this before, but I believe it to be true. Kids will believe about themselves what you say about them. They will draw their identity from it. Sadly, that girl is going to go through her adolescence believing that she’s worthless. That she’s a mistake. That she’s a “fuck-up.” And the truly sad part is, she will live like it.

My heart broke. I contemplated following them and saying something, but what would I have accomplished? What would I have changed?

As I thought more about it, I realized that I wouldn't have even said a word to the mom, but I would've approached the girl, looked her in the eye, and said something like this:

You are beautiful.

You are not a disappointment. You are not a mistake, or an accident.

You are worth more than you will ever know.

You are so much more valuable than it appears your mother thinks you are.

You have dreams of growing up, marrying a man, and having daughters or sons of your own, and I believe that you would NEVER talk to them that way.

You know the hurt of not being appreciated, and for that, I am so sorry.

You may or may not know who Jesus is, but I promise you, he marvels at you.

He delights in you.

You are the most beautiful thing he made.

He rejoices over you.

He sings over you.

He can’t stop loving you.

No matter what your mom may think of you or say to you, you are amazing, wonderful, beautiful, important, and you matter.

You are loved so much more than you will ever realize, by the creator of the universe.

As I fall asleep tonight, thinking about my girls, I will say a prayer for the girl at Winco. I dont’ know her name, or anything about her, but I know that she needs to know how fiercely she is loved.

The Lord your God in your midst,

The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness,

He will quiet you with His love,

He will rejoice over you with singing.

-Zeph 3:17

On Why I'm Leaving Social Media (for now)

Let’s face it. The internet is great. Endless knowledge, unprecedented news coverage, and more cat videos than you can ever see in your lifetime.

It’s awesome.

But if we’re not careful, the internet (in particular Twitter & Facebook) have an immense power to dominate. They consume. They take over.

At least they have with me.

The great thing about sites like those, particularly Twitter, is that they give you a wide sea of voices. You can interact with folks from all over. Every country, tribe, religion, ethnic group, etc.

In my case, I have let too many voices that have no place of authority in my life, claim a spot atop the throne. I have found myself not saying what i think, or even worse, changing what I think (or at least what I say I think) in order to win the approval of some of those voices.

That is wrong.

Because of my desire for the approval of others, which is fueled by my self-doubt, I have lost sight of what is important. I have made my wife, my kids, my community, my work, and worst of all, my Jesus, second-rate. I have placed more importance on muscling my way into a circle of influence that I thought I needed. I have sacrificed family, relationships, and some of my theology, on the altar of Twitter.

And it has to stop, because it’s not just my time, but my theology that is suffering.

It came to a head during a conversation with my wife recently. We were talking about something, and I made a statement (that if I’m honest, I didn't really believe to be true, but for some reason still felt the need to project) and she just said to me, very lovingly,

“It just seems to me that if someone is really trying to follow Jesus, they would want to live as much like him as possible.”

And for the rest of the day, it just cut me every time I thought about it.

So for my sake, for my family’s sake, and for my creator’s sake (or at least my love for him) I’m disengaging from social media for the immediate future.

This means several things:

1) I will not be active on Twitter. The app has been removed from my phone, and I won’t be checking it at work / home.

2) I will not be active on Facebook. The app has been removed from my phone, and I won’t be checking it at work / home.

3) I will still be blogging as regularly as I can, and will still be posting on Twitter/Facebook via Buffer. If you want, you can subscribe via email at my website (stephenecarter.com.)

4) I will be reading the scriptures more regularly, and other stuff less regularly. If I want to know my savior better, the best way to do that is read about him, and read the things he said and did.

5) I will be spending time finishing my ebook (which you can still contribute by clicking here to donate.)

So when will I be back? I’m not sure. I’m not putting a timeline on it, because I don’t think pressure is what I need right now. I will come back when I feel like my family has been cared for, and my soul is in a place that it is healthy enough to handle it again.

For those of you who have read this whole thing, thank you. I appreciate every single one of you. I will lose some readers, and some twitter followers over it, but I will hopefully gain a deeper love for my family, and more importantly, a deeper love for my creator.

You can still get in touch with me via email at stephenecarter@icloud.com. I will answer any and every email that you send.

Thanks to each of you.

See you on the other side.

Stephen

 

Prayer Beads, Bloody Knees, and Learning About Jesus

SantoDomingoChurchOaxaca_118.jpg

I was seventeen. She was at least seventy-five.

I was a Nazarene pastor’s kid. She was a devout catholic.

I had an easy life. Her scars sang of a life of toil and pain.

She knew Jesus. I had never really met him.

Growing up in the Nazarene church (much like other churches, I assume) spring break mission trips were the norm. Raise some money, take a week, fly somewhere impoverished, and make people’s live better by building something, painting something, or putting on some sort of church program.

These things are all fine and good. I think exposing teenagers to other cultures and a life of simplicity, rather than their life of excess and opulence, is a healthy thing. It does a lot of good for a lot of people.

I went because it was spring break, it was Mexico, a few friends were going, and I was the pastor’s kid. Seemed like a no brainer.

We built church classrooms, hung out with kids, poured concrete, you name it. It was great, hard, sweaty work. We felt accomplished though, like we had done something incredible for the Kingdom. And honestly, I still believe that we did, we just didn’t understand it at the time.

As cliche as it sounds, that trip changed my life. Just not in the way I had expected.

Towards the end of the trip, we had an off day. Some of the local pastors had decided to take us to see one of the more “touristy” attractions in Oaxaca, La Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Guzman, known to the locals as “the church of gold.”

This former monastery and catholic church had been fully restored, and the interior consists of over sixty-thousand sheets of gold.

Breathtaking.

I remember when we were there, the sun was pouring in through the oversized windows, causing the interior of the church to glow, literally.

We walked around, snapped a couple photos, bought a postcard, and were ready to go, congregating in the courtyard of the church

Then I saw her.

At first, I didn’t know what she was doing. Begging maybe? Asking for money, maybe food?

She was draped in a thin, almost see-through, dress, if you could even call it that. Rags, really. She was on her hands and knees, clutching something, and her knees were bloody, leaving little stains on the cobblestone courtyard.

Then it hit me.

She was crawling towards the church, clutching her rosary beads in her frail fists, mumbling to herself. Little prayers, audible only to her, offered up in reverence.

I asked one of the pastors with us about her, and what he said will be with me for the rest of my life.

“She lives on the outskirts of town, and once a week she comes. She crawls here on her hands and knees, clutching those beads, to pray, and to confess.”

I have never to this day, known or seen devotion to anything, like that little frail old lady showed me.

I complain if I have to park too far away from church. I complain if the coffee isn’t brewed the right way. I complain when the music isn’t right, or a visiting pastor is teaching on something I don’t like or don’t agree with.

She crawled on her hands and knees across filthy streets, across God-knows-what, and up the cobblestone courtyard, to offer her prayers to her creator. She was frail, old, weathered, and absolutely beat up. Her knees were bloody scabs, probably just healing by the time she left the following week for the church.

I learned more about Jesus in that moment than I ever had before, or ever have since. I learned what devotion looks like. I learned what sacrifice looks like. I learned just how fickle and feeble my faith is.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know anything about her. But I know she loved her God.

Maybe some day I’ll love my God like that.