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Anne Dahlhauser Christian Blog and Commentary

Anne Dahlhauser

Anne blogs at Front Porch, Inspired about surrendering everyday living for sacred purposes. She and her husband, Jay, are founders of a ministry called The Bridge, focusing on missional living and advocacy for youth in vulnerable places of life. She holds an MA in Teaching Languages (TESOL and Spanish) and is a lover of words and the Word, culture and communication. Jay and Anne have five kids, a front door that can’t stay closed, and an abundance of messy, holy chaos at their neighborhood center/home in Iowa – of all places.


“When you take the leap, we will be there to catch you,” he said, his palms faced up and arms opened wide. I stood in the silence, no words came to mind. The leap was terrifying, even foolish. And these smiling people said they’d be there for us, that they’d catch us.

I knew full well that they had no clue what they were promising. They knew nothing of the shunning. They could only wince with compassion at the emotional pain we had and would continue to feel as we turned to walk away from everything we had ever known. The threats, the letters promising our eternal condemnation, the phone calls, the loss of family, friends, home, job, identity, future - these people knew nothing of the cost.

And how could they? They were elders in a nearby church, but they had little experience with loving a young, vulnerable family whose ground beneath them had just given way - the ground they thought was solid and truth and right, maybe even the only right in the world.

But I believed them. I remember longing for someone to tell us it would all be OK, and that the longing was filled, even just for a second, with his words. Someone would stand in it with us. Someone was going to catch us.

Of course, I knew enough of God and His Word to trust that it was ultimately He who would sustain us and care for us. Yet, in that basement meeting, where we offered up our story, I needed humans with audible words and warm hugs to meet us where we were. Desperately.

I don’t tell our story often. It doesn’t go down well over coffee. It’s too much to drop into casual conversation. So, it’s reduced to lines like, “Jay and I were raised in a religious group, kind of like the Amish, and then we left.” Those who’ve been raised in such groups, get it without me saying another word - while those who haven’t, never will, despite a world full of words. And, for years, I’ve left it as that.

Lately, however, I’m seeing the full circle, squinting hard and making out the form of what was and how Divine hands used it to lay a foundation of what is and what will be. Our stories provide the shape of our todays and our tomorrows. And so, our story, our foundation, includes bricks of toxic religion and pain. Yet, it's on that structure that Redemption shows up best and brings our purpose to life:

Because we needed be excommunicated in order to understand outsiders.

We needed to be rejected by family and friends in order to understand God’s ideal for family.

We needed to be steeped in our own religious subculture and then try to enter mainstream society in order to understand what it means to cross cultures.

We needed to leave our spiritual homeland and start over with nothing in order to understand the narrative of refugees and immigrants.

We needed to be desperate and alone in order to experience love, real and incarnational love that reached into our world and built a bridge out of it.

We needed to be the recipients of someone’s ministry and prayers in order to know how it feels to be the outreach focus.

We needed to be cut off in order to be grafted in.

We needed to be the damned, the lost cause in order to ever understand why the Gospel is good news.

We needed to need a bridge in order to be the ones who’d eventually start the ministry of The Bridge.

This series is on being a bridge-builder. In short, it’s about how to be like those individuals eleven years ago who let God show up in their words and deeds and forever changed our little family. But, it's not a series about our story; it's a series about how Redemption made our story useful, even valuable, in a greater story. If Jay and I know anything about being a bridge-builder, it's because we were the ones stuck on an island. If we understand anything about the power of meeting people where they are and standing in the gap, it's because that's how we were rescued - by God, through average people.

It’s a series about how to rethink everyday relationships and their divine purpose.

And, it's about knowing with such certainty that the Gospel is good news for outsiders, that the way in which we relate and interact is forever changed.

I hope you'll join me for the next 31 days of Being a Bridge-Builder.

kite-flyingMy husband, Jay, says it’s like a mid-life crisis. He’s usually right, so I’ll believe him. This is the point in which a geared, passionate young woman, well-marinated in busyness and purpose raises her head and wonders, “Why? Why am I doing this again?”

This is about writing. It’s long been my companion, both feared and loved. Feared, because I don’t know what to make of it, what it will become, or what it will require of me. Loved, because it’s my way, my safe place, an undeniable and otherworldly process that guides me, grows me.

And yet, why exactly am I doing this writing thing? The question is like a fly in my eyes and ears, as I tap out late-night words to satisfy a deadline.

Fellow creative souls, risk-takers, and air-breathers can likely relate. After all, no one knocks on your door and passes you a note with your life's purpose and detailed plans of which steps to take on the road toward becoming.

Do you ever lift up your head, adjust your glasses, squint at your surroundings, and say, "Wait a sec. Am I seeing any of this clearly? I am in the right place... right?"

Writing guides say I should write to share information, that I should determine which is my area of expertise and establish my platform based on credentials and experiences. And, I should meet a need for my audience, helping or informing or inspiring you all of something. And, that’s precisely why I let this blog sit for a couple months. I got stuck on the bit about having something profound to share and meeting a reader’s need.

Who does that? I muttered for weeks. I guess I'm now at the official, legal age of drinking cocktails of reality, humility, and past experiences. And, this I know: what I've learned in life has been force-fed to me, for my own good, often because I’ve sickened myself on too much of my own medicine. That hardly comprises expertise. At this point in life, parenting, and ministry, I wonder how anyone builds a platform, scrambles up top, and poses as an expert. 

And, I’ve stumbled over the question of why share what I write? Because most days I don’t have the need to share with anyone. Unless it’s sharing silence at the same multi-roomed mansion, in which I would take this floor, and you take that one. Or vice versa. I could be flexible.

This has been my crisis. These have been the doubts. Maybe you can relate. Maybe you, too, feel like the one who doesn't belong in a room full of talkative experts and talent, teetering on high platforms.

But while I was coaching myself to put away the notebooks and take down this blog, my why showed up - rather, I recognized it for what it is:  

I write and will keep writing because every single day without fail, I work out a story or a post in my head, as I drive, as I cook, as I run, as  I live. Simply, I can’t not write because if I could quit it, I would. It’s a bothersome voice of narration that runs through my days and keeps me alert for meaning, words, illustrations, phrases to weave into paragraphs and then blend into articles. I want to turn it off most days because writing is work. Writing requires me to elbow-out room in my schedule and to sit in precious silence and chase words. They must be the right words, colored with meaning, the right depth. 

Like a cook mumbling over spices or a painter blending and shading, I labor over words and pray for ones that come out living. 

As much as I'd like to, it's a labor I can't avoid - just as a pregnant woman can't reschedule her contractions for a more suitable evening or ask a friend to take over for few hours.

Or, it's like that rice I threw into the cooking pot the other night - which eventually overtook the entire stew, making it one large glob of mushy carbohydrates. Writing overtakes everything, touches every part of my life, expands and fills, can’t be compartmentalized, and can’t be sorted out anymore. 

I suppose that’s why I write. That is all.

Reader, what is that thing you can't not do? What's that thing you do that really isn't a thing to do at all? It's you, your way. It fills you and overtakes everything and comes from a Source beyond your understanding. It may not make sense. It may not seem worth the effort much of the time.

But if - when you lay it down like a kite on a windy day - if it raises back up and waves for you to come back and keep holding on, then do just that. Stay with it. Hold on. Ride the wind and let it move you as it will, as He wills.

So, why? Why are you doing this again? And why am I writing?

Because, it's what we do without doing. It's who we are. It's how we've been crafted by Divine hands, fitted to catch these certain wind currents in this place and time. We can't lay motionless on that grassy hill, not with His purpose blowing around us as it is. And so, here we are, in our little expanse of the sky, dipping and soaring according to a bigger plan. Our design won't allow anything else.

I suppose that's why. That is enough.

causes and Christ

Months ago, we sat around a board table, alongside faithful souls who have been in these trenches with us for over six years, and we faced a challenging reality. And, for the first time in years, I wasn’t anxious at the propositions. Truth is, I have come to care less and less about the actual work of this ministry.  But, not in a cynical, unhappy way. I’m just coming to a certain realization lately:

The less I love the work, the more I love Jesus.

The work of this ministry has broken us, inflicted us emotionally, inspired us, moved us, and fueled us. It’s been fulfilling as well as frustrating. It’s been beautiful and enough of a blankedty-blank mess that I've been mercifully forced to allow God to reframe my thinking.

Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you, too, have zeroed in on the serving while the Who went out of focus in the background - and have then felt the enormous, exhausting burden of it, so much so that you too have embraced an aha moment: there has to be a better way.

Yes, there is a better way, and it's always choosing devotion to Jesus over doing for Jesus.

But working for Jesus can be a sanitized distraction, can't it? It can be a lovely cover that embellishes a soul too tired or scared or unworthy or proud to dare approach the Who. I've been all of those, and probably simultaneously, at some point of this journey. After all, succeeding at good causes can be a beautiful trap, with supporters and titles as its disguise.

So, after a couple bouts of debilitating stress, this occurred to me: often we smash the concepts of Jesus and service together into one large bite to swallow. And, this causes two problems:

First, sometimes the Jesus factor is used to sweeten the service, effectively covering the toxins of too much. It causes us to take on more, do more, bend more, go too far, and take on risks - because, after all, it's all about Jesus, right? (No, actually Jesus doesn't call us to self-abuse in His name, and self-abuse and sacrifice are not the same. That's for another post.)

Second, sometimes the service factor becomes no longer identifiable as separate from Jesus. The two start to look the same, and we start to believe that doing for Jesus is actually the same as being devoted to Jesus - that talking about Jesus is the same as talking to Jesus, and that loving people like Jesus is the same as loving Jesus. (And, it's just not. One will burn you out, and the other will light you up.)

"Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:4-5

See, ministry or any spiritual service or any good and decent cause runs a risk of competing with our love for Jesus. It looks so similar, feels right, and can easily slip right into that divine hole in our hearts which should be filled by God alone.

Instead of taking that bite of mixed parts Jesus and service, I propose a new approach: it's just Jesus. He's the fuel, the one who empowers us. Love Him. Let the work and the service be a side dish - one that knows its place and never tries to trump the main thing and isn't even expected without the main thing.

And so, today may we consider this: Do I love the work more than I love Jesus?

Would I rather be spending time working, serving, teaching, sharing for Him – or being before Him directly?

Friends, let's focus on the One who equips and empowers, who loves us and covers us.

Stay. Remain close to the Source of hope, love, and joy. And never let your heart be moved by causes more than by Christ.