My Own Search for Sunday

The last day at our old church, not one month ago, I left the group of volunteers I led with these words from Rachel Held Evans’ blog:

“When writing about her troubled marriage, author Glennon Melton wisely avoids telling other women what to do, and instead puts the choice this way:

‘Does a Love Warrior Go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Does a Love Warrior Stay? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Both roads are hard. And both roads can lead to redemption.’

The same is true for church. There is no single road to redemption.  And there is certainly not a straight one. As novelist Marilynne Robinson has said, ‘grace is not so poor a thing that it cannot present itself in any number of ways.’”

As excited as I was to find our new church, this volunteer position - these volunteers - were the reason I stayed for so long. I spoke these words with a slight catch in my voice as I told everyone I was leaving, that we had found a new church. These words helped reassure me, helped give me the strength to leave.

Just five days later, I learned that Rachel Held Evans was admitted to the hospital and had been put in a medically-induced coma.

This past Saturday, my social media feeds became plastered with her image after she passed away.


At our “old” (read: just two months ago) church, I was in charge of the 30 or so volunteers in the birth-Kindergarten children’s ministry area. I filled snack cups, checked nametags, paged parents, sent out reminder emails, and led huddle for our group, filling them in on announcements and coming up with some sort of inspiration for the hour.

The night before my last day, I sat with my laptop and a notebook, searching for the words to tell my group I was leaving. How did I tell them we’d found a different church? How did I tell them I just couldn’t stay here anymore? It didn’t take long for me to search Rachel Held Evans’ blog, to scroll through the archives and find the one titled “Life After Evangelicalism”. It was there I found her (and Glennon’s, and Marilynne’s) words to sum up my decision.

It was Rachel’s words I so often turned to when I couldn’t find words of my own. When my own brain was in tumult, she projected clarity. She was a writers’ writer and a thinker’s thinker; someone who could harness into words what felt trapped in my own head.

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I’d read Searching for Sunday a couple years ago, about her own journey through and with and out of the evangelical church. Of course she had the words to sum up my decision to leave.


Maybe I should back up to the whole “we left our church and found a new one” part. It’s a decision that may seem sudden to those on the outside. To me, it’s a long-overdue change. It’s a decision I’ve been wrestling with for at least two years, if not longer. To say it has consumed my thoughts is an understatement.

It was a whole host of factors; far more than I can go into detail with here. It was the lack of acceptance of the LGBTQ community. It was not seeing women in the highest positions of leadership, or even quoted from the stage. Along those lines, it was the realization that the faith leaders I turned to (Glennon Doyle, Anne Lamott, Rob Bell, Jen Hatmaker, Richard Rohr) were never mentioned; it was always men (James Dobson, Henry Cloud, John Piper). It was never discussing social justice, or really anything out in the great, wide world outside the church walls. (Refugees? Immigrants? Hurricane victims? Anything? Nothing.) It was the fact that the messages had gotten so repetitive - literally the same exact stories repeated two, three, four times, so often I knew the punchlines and could repeat them myself - that I got virtually nothing out of going to church. And by the way, do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior? (Yes. Next. Can we talk about something else, please?)

Then there was the 2016 election. To learn that over 80% of white, evangelical Christians in this country had deemed Donald Trump worthy of the presidency felt like the ultimate betrayal. To go to church and feel like a stranger. To feel like the church had completely abandoned everything I thought it stood for. To wonder where all the people were who felt the way I did - surely they were out there, weren’t they?

I talked it over with Tyson for more hours than either he or I can count. Bless him for listening to my constant dialogue of “do we stay or do we go”. I’d thought about and written out pros and cons lists over and over and over again.

I became hostile to church. Volunteering was the only thing I enjoyed anymore. More often we sat towards the back, me with my arms crossed, eyes narrowed, ready to pounce and critique anything and everything the pastor said.

I knew enough to realize this was an extremely unhealthy posture towards a church I tithed to, a church where I led other volunteers, a place I had called my own.

In March of this year, finally, I decided it was time.

“We have nothing going on this weekend. Let’s check out this other church,” I told Tyson. He was game, along for my existential faith-crisis journey. He was probably relieved.

So we did.


To walk into a new church (a UCC denomination) that first Sunday was a little like stepping into my past. It was much smaller, sure, but the pews, the hymnals, the altar were all familiar from my Catholic upbringing. I was hopeful but guarded, running through the checklist of requirements in my head.

The pastor kicked off with an announcement about helping the flood victims in Nebraska and Iowa. (Acknowledging the world outside this church: check.) He talked about caring for refugees and our broken immigration system in his sermon. (Social justice: check.) The Lord’s Prayer, printed in the bulletin, allowed us to call God a name of our own choosing, whether Father, Mother, or God. (LGBTQ/allowing for other genders: check.) The choir sang “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen. (Broadway music: BONUS!)

Tyson turned to me with a smile on his face when the service was over, “They couldn’t have put together a church service that would have resonated with you more.”

And just like that, we’d found our new church home.


This church change is now tangled up with Rachel Held Evans’ death in my head. Her death lends a sadness to this time, a time where I’ve been feeling alive again, energized (maybe like never before) by the church. I needed her words to transition me out of the evangelical church world. I needed her encouragement - her own “searching for Sunday” journey to help me along in my own.

(Of note: the pastor at my new church acknowledged her death this past weekend. I’m certain our old church did not.)

Rachel Held Evans ended her post, “Life After Evangelicalism”, with these words:

“You are not alone.

There is life after this. There is faith after this.

Hold on.”

That seems as good a way as any to close out my tangled emotions on her death and our own church change.

There is life after this. There is faith after this. Amen.

Slow Decorating

Recently, I bought stools for our kitchen island. I started with two but quickly added another, since one kid always felt left out. (You’d think I’d have learned by now.) During our Month of Two Stools there were too many fights to count and I cursed even buying them in the first place. (Sometimes I still regret buying stools because my two-year old thinks he has full access to everything on the island at any given time, but that’s another story.)

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We’ve lived in our house for almost three years. I didn’t care much about stools at first during the chaos of moving and adding another baby and having twin two-year old climbers who didn’t need any more temptations. But after awhile the island looked kind of lonely and empty to me. It was time. I searched and I researched and compared prices. I found some. Now I love having our simple kitchen stools. The kids have easy access to help me bake, I often sit there for breakfast or to work on a project, cold brew or craft brew by my side. The three little Williamses often sit three across for breakfast or lunch or an afternoon snack.

But I had to find the right stools first.


It was the same in our bedroom. All this open space, what to do with it? A (very first world) problem I had never had before. Our previous apartment barely had room for a bed, two nightstands, a dresser, and space to walk around them all without bumping into something.

I thought I hated the tan walls (It's grey that's in, not tan!) but despised all that painting would entail. Then I saw an image, burned into my brain now, of a bedroom full of tans and whites and creams and walnut and it looked so beautiful, so serene. That picture became my inspiration. A cream-textured bed with nailheads, white and walnut dresser, cozy chair in the corner. I’m not done yet. But it took me at least a year of living there to realize I even liked the space I had to work with. To realize I could mold and transform and even love it.

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I’m wary of buying any pieces I don’t love. Afraid that if I just buy something to fill the space, it will become normal, I’ll get used to it, I’ll never update. Until recently, our ottoman was a $79.99 faux leather (Does "vegan leather" sound fancier? Let's go with that.) dark brown piece with storage from Target that desperately needed replacing. The hinges didn’t quite work after four years of kids using it for everything from a boat to a hiding spot. There were a couple of rips in the “vegan leather” on the corner. But it worked. It held my feet up. It was easy to set it and forget it and not worry about upgrading.


I’m a big fan of slow decorating. I think you have to live in a space before you know how you want it to feel, how you want it to look, how it will function best for you and your family. I know many people buy houses and immediately go about their renovations and binge on furniture purchases. I’m a bit more tortoise-like, quieter. I often don’t have an idea about a space until — suddenly — I do. It often comes to me, in a flash, and then I can’t tackle a project fast enough.

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I guess we’ve never really had the budget for major renovations or a plethora of furniture purchases to begin with. The lean days of our early married years made even a $79.99 ottoman purchase an investment for us. It amazed me that after putting a down payment on a house anyone had any money left to buy furniture to fill it with. In a way, we’ve been forced into slow.

But I do love the slow accumulation, over time, of pieces that speak to me, of pieces that are just right, of a corner I had no idea how to use until suddenly the exact right, perfect idea pops into my head - ah ha! So that’s what to do with you.


That ottoman has been replaced now. A bigger piece, one more suited to the size of our space. Without hinges because now I know those will just get broken again. With a cream fabric that will probably get stained but since it was a steal at $169.99 it’s a risk I can take for something that’s more my style, something I like, something that feels like me. (It's still from Target, though. Some things never change.)

I’ve been eyeing some nightstands for our bedroom, a couple of chairs for our living room, still have no idea what to do with the long wall in our entryway. Maybe I won't for another three years, five years, eight. This house will probably never be "done", not finished in the way I see on Pinterest or in the pages of Dwell. And that's alright.

I'm okay with taking it slow.

We're Here!

Remember when the back of an SUV used to be more than enough room to transport yourself plus everything you owned for a move?  Say back-and-forth to college, or as newlyweds, for instance? 

Five years, two (and a half) kids, and a couple of apartments later, and it takes the back of an SUV, a 15-foot truck (packed to the brim), the back of a Prius, and the back of another SUV to haul all your stuff.

(I blame the kids.)

But we're here!

And we've got us some exploring to do.


In case you were wondering about the neighborhood playground:

It checks out.

 As does our own, personal, playground in the back yard.

(Their little minds = blown.)


And possibly my favorite part?  THE PLAYROOM.  We have a playroom.  It needs to be fun-ed up a bit, but for now I'm happy that the toys are (relatively) CONTAINED.  It's a new home miracle!

(Also, I would like to point out that from the first picture to the second picture above, a bookshelf has been moved in with things on it that have started to be ORGANIZED.  That's called PROGRESS, people!)

House tour to come!  Though don't hold your breath.  When you move from an apartment that's almost exactly half the size, and then put some money down on a house, well, I haven't taken a math class for a solid decade here but add a few rooms, subtract the changes you want to make, realize how much furniture it will take to fill said rooms, multiply by the number of boxes that still need to be unpacked, remember that you're an interior designer so you have IDEAS, DAMMIT, carry the one're going to need to save up some money for quite some time before things are "done".

But we're here (well, Tyson is gone again to work, BUT for all intents and purposes WE ARE HERE) and we love it.


Because there might be boxes to unpack, but it's still fall.

A Week of Lasts

When you know you're not going to stay someplace forever, you view the place differently. Madison has always been a fun sort of adventure, and yet we (or at least I) never truly allowed myself to settle in here.  And yet, it still feels like home.  Five years-half a decade!-in a place and of course it is going to become familiar, you get settled into routines.  I have my grocery store and my doctor and the kids have their school, we know our way around, have favorite places and don't even get me started on our favorite restaurants.  Things have happened while we've been here.  I moved here one week and one day after we got married, I've had three jobs here, Tyson earned his PhD, we've lost two grandparents, one cousin, one of our dads had cancer, the other had open-heart surgery, and we've had two babies.

And even though this has all been temporary-we knew that Madison would be temporary-it's weird and strangely emotional when the "last" week is here.

The last time at the playground.


The last time at this restaurant.  

The last time at this coffee shop.

The last time at the library.

The last time shopping at this store.

The last time going to this school, to this church, seeing these people.  Yikes. 

It's a different move than graduating high school, than leaving college.  Everyone else is dispersing at the same time.  So many of the things and people we know are staying and making their lives right here.  We're what's different, what's changing.

And as excited as we are for this new stage, new adventure, new home, and soon-to-be new baby, what I'm trying to say is...we're really going to miss you, Madison.

So We Bought a House

Oh yes we did.

Since we knew we wanted to move back to Minnesota, I'd been looking, looking, looking at homes in the Twin Cities.  Not always the easiest thing to do when your only option is searching online-but hey, it beats whatever people did pre-internet (I...don't even know. The horror!).

It's amazing how the more bedrooms you add to a house, the more the price increases.  Oh, so you want a fourth bedroom, huh?  Add thirty grand to the price, suckers!  The pickings were fairly dismal for our budget and the size house we needed, with our growing family. And for me being a somewhat picky interior designer.  Then of course there's all the beautifully staged photos that show perfectly online, but in person? You're not even sure it's the same house.  There were beautiful new houses in crappy locations, crappy houses in beautiful locations, houses missing fairly essential things like doors (?!?), strange smells, chewed-up and scratched wood work...

There was one I kept coming back to.  It was at the high end of our budget, nice.  My mom went on some preliminary showings with our real estate agent, and after several disappointments, she called to say that I was going to really like this one.  I already knew that.  I went to check it and a few other properties out the following weekend. The other showings were just a cover, though.

It was the one.  I could picture living there, raising a family there.  The neighborhood was new, beautiful, friendly.  There's a playground right down the street.  I'm pretty decisive-I knew what I wanted to major in since I was in eighth grade, what college I wanted to go to since I was a sophomore in high school, and that Tyson and I were going to get married after a month or two of knowing each other.  This house was just the latest in Major Life Decisions That Shannon Decided On After Approximately 3.908 Seconds.

Not only did this house have everything we were looking for (right number of bedrooms, bathrooms, decent yard, etc.), it had things I never would have dreamed it would have been at this price point.  Cherry cabinetry, cherry trim throughout, quartz-not just quartz but Cambria quartz countertops.  Really, the biggest thing I need (want) to do to the place is paint the bedrooms.  Wallpaper a couple of walls.  That's it.  Like I said, it's at the high end of our budget, but not having to do any work to it?  A basically move-in ready home, only a few years old?  As opposed to having to take all the money we would have "saved" and putting it into necessary updates (like doors?)?  Sold.

It was a close call.  Tyson was waiting on a job offer, so we couldn't put an offer of our own on the house until he officially had the job.  The day he was supposed to get the job offer, our realtor called to let me know that they had received another offer on the house, but they would be willing to wait until that night for us to get our offer in.  Tyson accepted a job that evening, we put together our offer (e-signing papers at 10:00 that night), they reviewed both offers the next morning, and...chose us.  I wrote a letter to the current owners (also drafted at about 10:00 that night), and our realtor said that was a big reason they chose us.

That...was a busy weekend.  And a really strange one.

Tyson still hasn't seen the house in person yet.  And won't, until we close in just over five weeks.   Luckily he cares more about who will be our internet service provider than what the house actually looks like, so I think we'll be just fine.