Forever a Church “Visitor”

 

I’ve forgotten how to “do church.”

It wasn’t something I intentionally set out to do. On the contrary, I love church, I love fellowship, I love God and all He stands for. My family and I were part of a “church family” for 15 years. We stayed after on Sundays and helped clean up, we filled in where needed, we washed dishes at the annual church-wide Thanksgiving Dinner, we helped with the youth, we served time in the nursery (some of you will relate to my wording there), I sang in the choir, I sang on the worship team, I led a women’s Bible study, whatever we were asked…we did. Because that’s how a church body works.

And then we moved 2000 miles away from our church family, and had to start over. That was 5 years ago, and I still feel like a “visitor” in what we call our “home church.”

We have been to 5 churches, and it’s downright embarrassing when someone asks us “where we’re going to church now?” But we can’t find our “fit.”

I’m not looking for perfection, I’m not working on an emotional response. I’m not trying to replace my “first love” of our last church, because I know it had flaws too. But I’ve never before experienced a point where I just didn’t feel compelled to go to church. And my kids feel it too. Of course, they’re older now, being pre-teen and teen aged, and having to get up on the weekend and get ready for church doesn’t exactly elicit cheers from them. But it’s more than that.

There is no connection. No real, connection.

They don’t even know the names of most of the kids they go to Sunday school with, and they NEVER mention them…ever!

The churches where we live tend to be much bigger than we’re used to, bordering on mega-church status. And I have to admit that, though large churches have their advantages of a vast number of “activities,” I find that people get lost in all that “busyness.” It’s easy to fall through the cracks, even if you do try to get plugged in, it takes so much longer to make any real connections than in their smaller counterparts.

I’m really at a loss as to what to do. We can’t keep searching. My daughter caught me checking out a smaller church, closer to our home, and she flipped. Not because she has made so many good friends at our current church (she can’t even name one of them) and she would hate to leave them, but because she’s just tired of switching, as are my husband and me. It isn’t fair to them, or to us.

I’ll admit that the big churches are intimidating to me, and I’m a rather social person. But getting plugged in to the right connections seems nearly impossible.

I want to lean on one another, and experience each other’s lives. Not just the cleaned-up version that people present on Sunday, but the dirty version you are on Monday and Tuesday and the rest of the week.

I can’t figure out if it’s a symptom of the area we live in, or if it’s a symptom of the age were living in.

We’ve prayed about this, believe me we have. And we’ve had no clear answers.

So, I wonder what church we will “visit” tomorrow? Should we go to our “usual church” and blend into the background, smile politely and shake hands, knowing that those relationships will probably never go any further than that? Or should we let the kids sleep in, and just my husband and I go to the “new” church up the street?

If anyone has any useful suggestions as to how they changed churches successfully, I’d love to hear them. Because I’d like to get rid of my “visitor” name tag one of these days.

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The End of the World?

If you haven’t already heard, the world may come to an end this coming weekend. If it does, I guess this may be my last post.

I’m not one to buy into prophesies and panics. I mean, remember the scare of New Year’s Eve 1999? Yeah, well, we all saw how that turned out. No computers crashed, or nuclear sites went rogue. We just partied like it was 1999, thanks to Prince.

Now there are plenty of religious teachers proclaiming this to be “the End,” and who am I to contradict them? I am not a Bible scholar by any means. I just finished reading a very well thought out argument for the planets aligning, and the world ending by a well-read Bible teacher. And it was convincing. But I do know that these teachers are “men” and not God, and only God knows the time and place.

But here’s my main point: I wouldn’t blame Him one bit if He did decide that this weekend is going to be the time and place.

I mean, look at what we’ve done to His plan.

From the beginning, we’ve done nothing but deny Him over and over. He’s got to be getting awfully tired of it.

And I’ve never been witness to so much hate within the human race in all my 48 years on this earth. It’s downright embarrassing what we’ve become. Brother against brother, sister against sister, parent against child.

We’ve made ourselves judge and jury, usually over things we know nothing about. The loudest voices are the ones that get heard the most, whether they are speaking Truth or not.

If the trumpets don’t blare, and the sun doesn’t turn dark this weekend, then maybe we should look at it as a second, third, fourth, or billionth, chance to start over, and thank God for this life that we have.

Maybe we should take this weekend to be introspective. And for those who are believers, then it’s time to look Up. Find out what God wants us to be doing with this life.

Spread some love where there is hate. Share some mercy where there is judgement. Speak the Truth where there are lies. Show some kindness when it isn’t deserved.

God bless, and best wishes. That’s just my two cents.

Let It Go…Again

Let It Go.

It’s not just an overplayed Disney song (my apologies if you’re singing it now), it should be a way of life.

I am guilty of obsessing over trying to fix things that I may not be able to fix. I spent my morning doing just that.

Ever since my husband’s employment status changed last year, our income took a hit. We were living comfortably until then. Not richly, but comfortably. Taking a vacation was not out of the equation. Paying for the unexpected car repair wasn’t a choice between eating steak or ground round. Fortunately he found work within two months, but at a significant pay cut. And we feel it.

I can easily fall into the trap of juggling numbers and stressing over bills, and trying to pay for the dentist bill, the cable bill, and our children’s college all at once. By the way, my oldest won’t start college for 4 more years, but that won’t stop me from pretending that Rush Week starts on Monday.

I could get two more jobs, reinvent myself, put the kids to work (not really), or I could keep on trucking. I mean, we aren’t poor by any measure. We get by just fine, it’s just that the budget is tight and we have to account for every penny. Mostly that’s because of my own fear. I’m the penny pincher. My husband is much more relaxed about our provisions than I am. But I think that’s the difference in our personalities.

That’s where Elsa’s song comes to mind. But before Elsa knew to sing about letting your fears go, Jesus knew it. In fact, he instructs us to do it. He wants us to come to Him and lay our burdens at His feet. So why does it take me so long to figure it out? Why do I let it go only to pick it right back up again?

I think it happens most often when I’m not walking beside Him. When I’m not seeking Him daily. When I don’t hear His voice in my ear, then I tend to fill it in with my own voice. And if there’s one thing I know, it’s that my voice can NEVER replace God’s. But isn’t that exactly what I’m doing while I’m obsessing and stressing? I just need to trust, to listen, to let go and let God.

I need to work on that. What things in your life do you keep picking up that you really should let go?

I Should Be at Church

It’s a Sunday morning, and I should have gotten everyone up on time (and against their protests) and gone to church. But I didn’t. I chose sleep for the second week in a row, in a long string of sporadic attendance, over worship.

When we lived in California, we never missed a Sunday unless someone was sick. We went to a church of about 350 members. I ran a women’s group on Mondays, my husband helped with Youth Sunday school (both High School and Elementary) and at one point was an Elder. My kids were involved in AWANA and I published the church’s newsletter, not to mention the countless times we volunteered for church events. I don’t tell you all of this to brag, I tell you all of this to show the difference between then and now. To show you I’m not just complaining, that I know things should be better, and that I know they CAN be better.

Fast forward 4 years, and we’re living on the opposite coast, and we should be well established with a new church family. But we’re not, and I know I’m not alone. At least, I don’t think I am.

We’ve been to something like five churches trying to find our fit, our new church family. The churches have varied in size from nearly nonexistent to mega-church all in attempt to find the fit…not God, but the fit. God has been in every one of the churches we’ve been to. But the difference is the people, and not God.

I mean no disrespect to the Church. I love the Church. I believe in the Church. I’m just a little frustrated. The churches we’ve encountered are just different than what we are used to, or it could be a symptom of the times. They are much more corporate, especially the mega churches, which my area seems to have a lot of. I don’t think they mean to be, and I know it’s probably a symptom of trying to serve so many different people. But classes and groups meet generally in 6 week spurts or from September to May, so you never really get a chance to share in one another’s lives. I WANT MORE. I WANT the dirty, nitty-gritty that our lives hold. I WANT to stand shoulder to shoulder with my Christian brother or sister and go through their trials and celebrate their victories. And an hour on Sunday or a few hours during a class won’t get me the intimacy of those friendships that I miss.

The one thread I’ve found running through ALL of the churches, no matter what size, is the feeling of ISOLATION. It doesn’t matter how long we attend a church, we just never seem to connect. And we’ve tried. At the large churches, we never see the same people twice. From the time we walk in the doors and are greeted with a “hello” and a smile to the time we leave with a “goodbye, have a nice day,” sometimes those are the only words that will be spoken to us. Fortunately, my kids have managed to make friends in Sunday school, but those friendships seem to end as we leave the church doors. They seem to be reserved for “while in church only.” No one seems to linger after church is over. Most people race for the parking lot to get on with their Sunday.

As Christians we’re called to be part of the “Body of Christ” but that body has to RELY on one another and LEAN on one another to function. And it seems like a bunch of body parts not communicating, but rather working separately from one another.

I know there are other people within the church walls feeling the same as me. I know it’s up to us to get involved and reach out. But the times that I’ve tried, I’m either too late because a class has already started, or a group is already established. Not to mention that, for me, not being able to drive makes it really hard (if not impossible) to get there sometimes. And the church is just too big to make a friend that would be willing to give a girl a ride now and then.

So if you’re in a large church this Sunday or next, do me a favor and turn around and greet the person seated behind you. It may make the difference in them ever coming back again. And if you’re brave enough, go one step further and invite them to an upcoming church function, AND OFFER TO MEET THEM THERE so they won’t feel so alone. I promise you that you’re effort won’t be wasted. They may think you’re weird, but it’s a chance you should take. You may even make a friend for life.

Have you had similar experiences with church? How did you get past it?

New Year’s Resolution

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I’ve read a lot…and I mean A LOT… of depressing blogs about how awful 2016 was. The theme seems to overwhelm the blogging world.

And I get it: we had a political climate that divided us (and still continues to); we’ve had what seems to be a significant number of celebrity deaths, especially in the last few months; there have been tragedies, unfair accusations, and a whole lot of judging going on.

But I guess that’s what happens when you put your hope in these things. #falsehope

I got sucked in too, on occasion, but it didn’t leave me feeling an overall sense of dread about the year 2016. Trust me, my family and I had our own share of difficulties in 2016.

But enough is enough!

My resolution for 2017 is to stop listening to the whining and the noise that is so distracting…even consuming.

My resolution is to put my hope in something that makes sense…my faith in Jesus.

I know, I don’t get “preachy” on here too often, and that’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m sorry if it offends some of my followers, and I hope you don’t hold it against me.

My faith is the only thing that makes sense to me, that is never changing, that delivers over and over whether I deserve the blessings or not. #grace

My faith is not a magic trick that will make things appear out of nothing. My faith is a relationship, a genuine hope that everything is going to be okay, even if things don’t work out the way I want them to.

It’s the end of 2016 and I’m still not a published author, I’m not the perfect wife or mother, my house is still not clean, my kids still disobey me, I’m not debt free, I still have epilepsy, and world peace is still not achieved. But all that is okay, because I’m right where Jesus wants me to be.

Here’s wishing you a Happy and Safe New Year! I’ll see you in 2017!

Parenting is Hard

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Sometimes “acting like a parent” really sucks.

It began when they were toddlers and I had to deal with tantrums. Experts tell you to “choose your battles.” If only the toddler would listen to the experts.

Turning off the video games when my 8 year old has played way too long doesn’t make me very popular either.

As my kids are getting into their teen years, “Parental Guidance” gets to be a much more grey area.

Punishment and discipline, a lot of times, are based on principles. It’s not an easy fix because it’s not an easy explanation. Don’t touch the stove because it will burn you becomes don’t hang around with those kids because they’re a bad influence.

Navigating the murky waters of the teen years is messy and ugly, and I don’t make a lot of friends.

There’s a lot of “You don’t understand!” and “Why don’t you trust me?!” that I have to listen to.

I want to tell them I know because I’ve been there. But this falls on deaf ears, and sometimes they don’t need to know the gory details of my past anyways.

No matter how much I appeal to their senses, they will stick to their guns. They will go down fighting. In a sense, they’re fighting for their own principles.

As a parent, there is no winning…only loving.

They won’t understand, perhaps not for years that what I’m doing is truly for their own good. I can see around corners and through doors…they can’t, or choose not to.

All I can do is love them through it, and hope that I haven’t screwed up too badly.

It’s in these times that I pray for God’s wisdom and don’t rely on my own.

After all, God’s wisdom is the only Parenting Manual I have.

Living with Regrets

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If you really had your life to live over, what would you change?

We all have those moments when we think, “If only… (fill in the blank here)”

Would you make the same choices? Would you choose a different path? Would you say “yes” when you should have said “no”? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, you’ve probably grown and learned more about yourself and others had you not made those decisions.

Would you do that thing that set off a string of bad luck and bad choices? Would you take it back? What if you found out an even worse consequence would have happened had you not made that first unwise choice? Now would you take it back?

Think about the circumstances of your life. Maybe you’ve had a tough life, maybe you’re in the midst of it right now. But maybe you have to go through it to get to the other side.

I’m not a “Suzy Sunshine” by any means. I’ve had my own struggles, and made some bad choices along the way, some were my own doing, and some were circumstantial.

But I believe we are the sum of our parts…regrets and triumphs. For better or worse, our experiences shape who we are. They make us more compassionate to others going through similar circumstances. When we pay attention, the outcomes usually make us better people…stronger people…more forgiving people.

And if we really pay attention, we can be more loving people too.

I believe our road is meant to be bumpy, with detours and u-turns along the way. It’s not a straight path. That would be boring…mind numbing even. And lonely. It’s about the scenery along the way. And ultimately, it’s about a life well-lived.

But then again, I’m someone who believes smile lines are beautiful, and grey hairs are earned. And I believe that everything is Divinely orchestrated.

So maybe I am a “Suzy Sunshine” after all.