In many ways, Laurel is an anomaly within American religion and most certainly, within evangelicalism. Ordained and newly planted in a rural/bedroom community, Laurel rejected a comfortable church job (her husband had secured a pastoral position only 20 miles away), striking out in ministry completely on her own. What could have been the picture-perfect scenario - "clergy couple pastors neighboring parishes" - became "middle-aged woman hangs out with Target misfits."
It was more than just burnout and cultural analysis that propelled Laurel into her gutsy decision, however. It was a life-crisis of major proportions. The call came after midnight: Laurel's daughter and one of her granddaughters had been found murdered, the result of a domestic fight. Her son-in-law had killed them both. One granddaughter survived. Laurel entered a darkness she'd never known - a careening, agonizing descent into unimaginable pain. After six months, Laurel began to share portions of her grief journal with friends: a few e-mail snippets, tendril-like, stretching out to connect with life. Those e-mails were forwarded to friends of friends, then onward to a conflagration of unknown but hurting recipients. What started as Laurel's missives of private grief - her own brave step toward survival - became a lifeline for hundreds of people. She now writes an e-devotional sent across continents.
When the question is asked, "What is it to lead the church in the postmodern context?" and then, more specifically, "What is it for women to lead in the postmodern context?" it is hard to get around the refreshing, contrarian turns in Laurel's journey. At base, the way she influences, whether at Target or through her e-devotional, is unapologetically organic. There are no top-down systems here, no grandiose, lone-ranger dreams, no mega-church blueprints. Rather, here is a woman, showing up with her full self, her full story, and in full presence - on the people's turf and in the rhythm of their lives.
Her organic style of influencing is indeed radical. But it is Laurel's persistence in working the cracks of life - far from the reach and drone of the institution ? that is more radical still. If it is true that change comes from the fringe, then Laurel is living on the fringe of the fringe.