Introducting NoiseTrade Books

If you haven’t checked out Noisetrade (www.noisetrade.com) then you really should. So many amazingly gifted musicians are putting out some incredible music there. It’s a “Pay-what-you-want” system. You can tip with a tweet, or actual money. Pretty fantastic.

Well, they’ve just launched a book section. A place for authors to give their work away, in hopes for exposure. See, I’m not a big time author. At least not yet. So I thought, “cool, I’ll give some writing away.”

So right now, you can go download a short story that I’m particularly proud of, entitled “Ten Hamburgers.” All I ask is that you’d tweet about it, and tip if you feel so inclined.

http://tinyurl.com/n4zjll2

Grace,

Stephen

Preaching to the Choir

Your words matter.

You. Right now. Whatever you’re doing. Know that.

Your words matter. They are important. If you don’t write them, they will never be written. What you have to say will never be said. That story you have brewing inside of you needs to told. People need to hear it.

You will fail. You will write draft after draft that are awful. They will suck. You will hate them, and that’s okay. Anne Lamott has said that “very few writers really know what they’re doing until they’ve done it.” I’ve found this to be one of the truest statements about writers. We don’t know what we feel until we write it. We don’t know what we think until we write it.

There will be days you will write absolute garbage. But you must write it. There will be days you sit at a blank screen, thinking that what you’re attempting is harder than brain surgery. There is some truth to that.

Don’t give up. Please don’t give up. The world needs your words. We need to read beauty. We need honesty, emotion, and vulnerability. For the sake of beauty, keep writing. Write when you have something to say, and write when you have nothing to say. Write when you feel like it, and write when you’d rather do anything else on earth (including brain surgery.)

Because you need to. Because we need you to.

 

The Worst Day of my Life

The unique thing about Portland is, we hardly ever see snow. We live an hour from the mountains, and an hour from the beach, but the valley we live in means that our winters are typically pretty mild. If we do see snow, it’s typically an inch or two here or there, and they close schools and we stay home from work and drink coffee and watch movies.

This storm wasn’t like that. We went to bed one night to the news saying there was a “chance of some snow, possibly an inch or two.” We woke up in the morning to almost a foot. It didn’t stop snowing for nearly 2 weeks. Never a ton, but never enough for us to get out from under. We lived on a dead end cul-de-sac, so getting out to go anywhere was nearly impossible.

I decided to brave it and take the bus to the train station, hop the train to work, and save my PTO for a day when I actually needed it. I worked in downtown Portland at the time, and we lived about 15 miles away in the suburbs. Normally, I was looking at about a thirty minute commute, but this was closer to an hour or so. I put on my suit, my warmest coat, and went to stand at the bus stop.

Rachel had stayed home from work, uncomfortable driving that day. I don’t even remember what time it was, but I remember my cell phone ringing and picking it up. What I heard on the other end will be in my head for the rest of my life.

“Stephen, I’m scared. I’m bleeding a lot and I don’t know what to do.”

I told her to call her doctor. She did. Her OB/GYN wanted to see her as soon as she could get there, so she put on her coat, and walked to the train station. We didn’t live far from the train station, but in that weather, the two or so miles was a formidable walk.

She called me again about an hour or so later, and to this day, I’ve never felt anything like my reaction to that call.

“We lost the baby.”

It was like someone had crawled into my soul, beat it within an inch of it’s life, and left it to die. I was numb. I had no reaction, no words, honestly, no feelings. I was completely numb. As I write this, I can picture Rachel, having just received the worst news a mom can possibly hear, walking two miles in the snow, trying not to completely break down in public. It ruins me to this day.

I had always bought into the idea that “God is in control,” and “He’s working it all out,” and “Everything happens for a reason.” I remember walking through the snow, feet soaked, freezing cold, saying to God,

“If you’re in control, and you’re working this out, and this happened for a reason, I want nothing to do with you.”

I meant it. I hated him at that moment.

I wanted nothing to do with a God who would do that. I wanted to scream, curse, break things, and break down, all at once. I didn’t know weather to be sad, pissed off, scared, or some combination of all of the above.

I shake as I write these words, because I’m somebody who doesn’t like to think about past grief. I don’t like to bring it up. I don’t want to be writing these words, but I realized I couldn’t possibly set out to write a book about my journey as a dad, and not include my very first experience of fatherhood: loss.

The next month or so was easily, for me, the worst month of my life to this day. It was as if someone had completely deflated our once happy home. Every ounce of joy, life, and happiness had been taken from us in that moment. It’s all still a blur, and I’m okay with that. The fewer details I remember about that time, the better.

The worst part about suffering a miscarriage, at least for me, was the fact that all of these people that we had told our incredible news to, were now wanting updates on our pregnancy. How do you tell somebody who is genuinely excited for you that you lost your baby, without making them feel like a complete jerk?

“Stephen, how are you? How excited are you to be a dad!?”

“Well actually, this is kind of awkward, we lost the baby a couple of weeks ago.”

Silence.

I don’t blame people for not knowing what to say. I wouldn’t have known. To be honest, the less people said, the better. I had one friend who simply sat on the phone with me in silence for nearly a half hour. He didn’t say a word. I knew he was there, and I knew he was grieving for me. That did more than anything anybody could have said. I didn’t need answers. I didn’t need an explanation. I already knew why.

The world is evil, and bad things happen.

That’s it. Period.

People would say, “well the baby is in heaven now,” as if that was supposed to help ease the pain I was feeling. As if God had just decided to take this one home early. I’ve never felt like sobbing and hitting someone at the same time before. Until that.

I still struggle with it. Why? What possible good comes from that? How on earth do you bring healing and restoration out of something as awful as losing a child?

Maybe the answer lies in the fact that I’m writing these words.

Hear me out. I don’t believe God caused my baby to die. I don’t believe that God “had a better plan for her.” I don’t believe that this was all part of his master plan. I believe that the world is evil, and bad things happen to good people. I believe that if my writing these words helps someone through the loss of their child, then maybe there’s a silver lining. I don’t believe  anything will ever make it “worth going through that.” There’s no real positive.

I think the people who have to put a silver lining on everything, and spin it to good, aren’t living in reality. They’re fooling themselves into thinking that the world operates on some sort of cosmic karma, and that in the end, it all comes back around to be good. This may be true in a Christian sense (more on that later,) but as cynical as it sounds, sometimes life sucks, and then it sucks more, and it never stops being hard. Some people seem to have life easy, and some don’t seem to have that luxury.

I will say this, however: I believe that going through that together strengthened my marriage in a way that I believe nothing else would have. We had only each other. Nobody else understood what we were going through. At the end of the day, all we could do was collapse into each other’s arms and cry until we either fell asleep, or felt like we were going to throw up. Every day was a battle to get out of bed, but by the grace of God, we got up. We went about our day. We leaned on each other, and as much as is humanly possible, we tried to move on.

I’ve tried to find a “reason” for what happened. Tried to put a “well at least ____ came out of it,” and I can’t. It sucked. It was awful. The only blessing I’ve been able to come up with is that had we not been through that, we wouldn’t have our amazing Avery in our lives, and I cannot imagine life without her. Her infectious smile and contagious personality have made an awful period of life sting a little less. And for that, I am forever thankful.

Dear Mark Driscoll

There is no more polarizing figure in the church today than Mark Driscoll. Period. Because he is such a lightning rod for controversy, there have been probably millions of blog posts written about him. Some defending him. Some demonizing him. He’s either loved, or hated. 

This post is neither of those. 

I went through a period in my life where I was huge supporter of Driscoll and his ministry. I bought books, downloaded podcasts, and drove to Seattle on a couple of occasions to visit Mars Hill and hear him teach. 

I’ve come to the point, however, where I am no longer a supporter. Not that I don’t support Mars Hill, or what God is doing there. I can’t support Mark. For a number of different reasons, I find him to be sensationalist, sometimes childish, and needlessly abrasive, and often abusive. 

As I was going through my library a month or so ago, I came across several of his books. I debated selling them, or donating them to Goodwill. For a brief moment in time, I contemplated starting a fire with them (I didn’t.) As I was talking to my wife about what I should do with them, she had an idea that struck me. 

“Why don’t you send them back to him with a letter explaining why?” 

So that’s exactly what I’m doing. The following letter will be placed in a box and sent back to Mars Hill Church. I don’t expect a response. I don’t expect to ever hear from anyone there. I’m doing this because I feel like it’s the best way to get these books off my shelf. 

Please understand that my intention is not to demonize Mark. There’s a lot of his teaching I agree with. But there is more of it that enrages me. I’m simply trying to communicate. I have friends who are actively involved with Mars Hill. Our church has partnered with Mars Hill Portland and there are fantastic people there. God is moving and doing fantastic things. I’m simply clearing my chest. 

 

Dear Pastor Mark,

You don’t know me. We’ve never met. I’ve attended your church several times while in Seattle. I’ve bought and read a number of your books. I’ve downloaded more podcasts than I can count. We agree on a lot of things. I think God has done some incredible things through your ministry there at Mars Hill. There’s no telling how many people have come to Jesus since Mars Hill was founded. I believe you love Jesus, and I’m proud to call you a brother.

That being said, you will find enclosed copies of three of your books: Religion Saves, Death by Love, & Doctrine. 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve began to notice some things coming from various avenues (Twitter, YouTube, etc) that have caused me to decide to distance myself from your teachings. 

When you tell your congregation that God hates some of them, you’ve lost me. 

When you boil the gospel down to “Jesus died. Love him or end up in Hell,” you’ve lost me. 

When you demonize stay-at-home dads, saying that they would come under church discipline at Mars Hill, you’ve lost me. 

When the only way Jesus can look is like a UFC fighter, come to slaughter people, you’ve lost me. 

Again, I’m not wanting to discount what God is doing at Mars Hill. I believe he’s moving. I believe he uses imperfect people like you and I. God is bigger than you and I. I would simply pray that you would more carefully consider the way you choose your words, They carry great weight, and though they have spoken truth, I’ve also witnessed them bringing great destruction and immense hurt. 

Please take these books and do whatever you see fit with them. Put them back into circulation at Mars Hill. Recycle them. Whatever you would like to do with them. I simply cannot have them in my home any longer. To have them is an endorsement of you and your teachings and I simply cannot. 

I hope you understand. 

Sincerely,
Stephen Carter

When We Were On Fire: A Review

Moment of confession: I haven’t done a “book review” since college. This is not because I haven’t read anything worth reviewing since then, but simply because when I read a book with the intention of reviewing, I’m generally unable to fully engage with and enjoy what I’m reading.

This all changed when I read “When We Were On Fire.”

I first stumbled across Addie Zierman on twitter. To be honest, I’m not even really sure how we connected, but at some point, I began following her, she followed back, etc. etc. 

Addie’s blog is raw, honest, and transparent, so pre-ordering her book was a no-brainer.

To be honest, I’m not even sure how to review Addie’s book. My copy is highlighted, dog-eared, and the margins are filled with notes and my own utterings of, “Yes, So True, Amazing.” Those of us that grew up in the ‘90’s subculture all went through what we liked to call our “on fire” phase. What that looked like for each of us was different, but it was transformative, and for us, meaningful. It meant something different for everyone, and this is simply one person’s story, but I found so much of my own story present here.

So instead of trying to put into words what Addie’s book meant to me, I thought I’d highlight a few of my favorite passages.

“And here is my secret: I wanted this. I wanted to the empty courtyard, the chance to be a solitary figure at the pole. To be the only one bold enough, brave enough, passionate enough to stand in the rain for Jesus.” (Pg 5)

“You did not touch the missionary’s artifacts that day. Was it just about the unfamiliar snake scales that you feared? Or did you avoid touching the skin because you knew you would be marked for it – the  missionary life? That God would ask you to go, and you would have to listen, or you could end up punished, Jonah-style, in the belly of some whale?  Did you pray in those fearful folding-chair moments?  Beg God not to make you a missionary?” (Pg 17)

“ ‘Now that Christ is in my life, I have purpose and I have a friend who will never leave me. I know that I will never have to be lonely again.’ You don’t realize that you are lying to them, at least about the lonely part. You don’t realize that you’re lying to yourself.” (Pg 46)

“How could they know that it had taken only two girls to welcome me into the evangelical world all those years ago in junior high? That just easily, two girls could push me away from it.” (Pg 105)

“This is another thing about depression: it seems to exist somewhere outside of language, and I cannot wrangle it. I can’t seem to wrestle it into a manageable size using the thing I have always been able to use: words. I reach into the great cloud of unnamed feelings, but no matter how I try, I can’t find the one true thing.” (Pg 159)

“You find the small slivers of light, and you hunker down in them. You hole up in the still warmth of this kind of beauty and you wait, knowing that the beams will get wider and wider every day. Knowing that one day, you will wake into the full power of the sun, and you will finally be warm.” (Pg 181)

“Your life AFTER Christ is not static or an end result. You are not suspended in grace above the fray of life. You are looking at God through a kaleidoscope. Your life moves, and the beads shift, and something new emerges…you are in motion, in transit, in flux. You will be sad. You will be happy. You will love and doubt and cry and rage, and all of it matters. You are human, and you are beloved, and this is what it is to be Alive.” (Pg 229)

I could go on and on. I’m already looking forward to reading it again. Finishing it felt like getting up from coffee with an old friend, not wanting to part. I didn’t want to leave. It meant so much to me, how could I possibly explain it’s significance to anyone else?

After gushing on twitter endlessly, I connected with Addie, and she’s agreed to let me give away a copy.  

All you have to do to enter is leave a comment below with your email address. I’ll pick a winner on Friday 11/1.

All this to say, buy her book. Buy two copies and give one away. Buy ten copies and give them all away. 

Finally, make sure to follow Addie on twitter (@addiezierman) and read her blog at www.addiezierman.com

 

Grace,
Stephen

 

“ssshhh…I’m right here”

My 1 year old has started screaming when it’s time to sleep. 

I don’t mean crying, fussing, or whining. I mean screaming to the point of almost puking. 

She’s been a decent sleeper up to this point, and we’re hoping it’s just a phase, but we’ll put her down in her bed, and as long as we are still in the room, she’s fine. It’s when we open her door to leave that she loses it. And no amount of “crying it out” is working. 

So last night, at 11, after an hour of crying, an hour of sleeping, then another 30 minutes of crying, I did the only thing I could think of. 

I grabbed my blankets and pillows, and went to her room. 

I was frustrated. I was angry, tired, and worn out. I had just worked all day and wanted my sleep. But the strangest thing happened. As soon as I walked in the room, I felt a calm come over her. I put my hand on her back and felt her little body stop heaving, and felt it settle down. I softly whispered, “shh…I’m right here.”

I laid down on the floor of her bedroom, covered up with my blankets, hoping to go to sleep.

But all I could do was think, “Isn’t this the way it is with God?”

We go through life afraid. We come to these moments in our lives where the only thing we know how to do is cry and scream and succumb to the terror. In those moments, we (me) actually sometimes cease believing in God for a moment and believe in the fear. It has won.

Then God makes himself known. He puts his hand on our back. Our bodies cease their heaving, our countenance settles, and though nothing in our world has changed, the peace begins to return. Our chest begins to loosen, our breathing returns to normal, and it’s as if we can hear God standing over us, saying, “Shh…I’m right here.”

Excerpt #4

I still hear those preachers from time to time. They still say the same thing. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”[1]  I’m not here to debate theology, but that’s not what that verse is talking about. I know it. You know it. They know it. But still they are convinced that I’m sinning because my wife is employed outside the home. They would condemn my friend Mark who is a stay-at-home dad. They would condemn him without even knowing him. They’re wrong. Is our situation perfect? No. Is it ideal? Far from it. Are we doing the best we can with what we have? Absolutely. And I think God looks at that, sees our hearts, and smiles. I think anytime he sees loving parents, whether they’re employed or not, loving on their kids, he feels like his heart will explode out of his chest with pride. Because all we’re trying to do is love our kids the way he loves us. It’s all we can do. And it’s all he expects.

 

[1] 1 Timoth 5:8 (NASB)