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.


I’ve Lost My Social Skills


It seems the older I get, the less social I am.

I think part of that is a natural progression of getting older. I’m in my late 40s and priorities are different than they were when I was younger. The days of “Mom Groups” are long gone, walking kids to school isn’t necessary, and moving across the country a few years ago definitely put a dent in my social calendar. By way of circumstance, I’m just not exposed to as many social situations as I used to be. The opportunities aren’t there.

We haven’t fully established ourselves at a church, which is entirely our fault. But I have to admit, I feel a bit like the weird girl in the corner when I go to a social event these days.

Other than “Did you finish your homework,” or “please put your laundry away,” and “get off the computer,” my vocabulary has become somewhat limited. Can anyone else relate?

My husband and I made an intentional effort to reach out to new people this weekend, which is always awkward because I’m the extrovert and he’s the introvert. It makes for an unusual social combination. We went to a class at church instead of attending the main church service. There were about 24 men and women in the class, and everyone was friendly and welcoming…and WORE NAME TAGS! I’m terrible with names. You can tell me your name, I’ll repeat it, say “nice to meet you” and your name is erased from my memory. But seeing it written on a nametag, that’s my saving grace!

So, we enjoyed the class which had a “Parenting” theme, and there was time for fellowship and small talk. But for my husband and I, there always comes a time when we just run out of things to say. We aren’t good at “inventing” conversation. In fact, we’re TERRIBLE at it! After class, we said our quick “goodbye’s” and headed out to pick up the kids from their Sunday school classes.

We completely missed our opportunity for further fellowship! We panicked at the thought of inventing conversation and got out of there as soon as it was over. We noticed after we were down the hall, that everyone else lingered behind and visited some more. We blew it.

But we aren’t giving up. We won’t be back next week, since the class isn’t meeting because of Easter, but we will be back after that. Fortunately, it is a year-round class, leaving us plenty of opportunity to sit tongue-tied lots more times.

We are determined to make new friends…at least I am. My husband is perfectly happy with a book, but I cannot live by book alone.

Oh, the best part of the class? Not a single person had their phone out! No one was texting!

Do you struggle making friends as you get older?

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?

Flawed Church

bible-873315_1920I like my churches flawed, where the people are flawed and not intimidating:

A greeter has forgotten to wipe the donut crumbs from his tie before handing out the morning bulletin.

The Pastor tells lame icebreaker jokes, and laughs at his own expense.

Those times when the worship team sings the wrong line, or displays the verses out of order, or the guitarist is in a different key than the pianist.

When the person doing announcements forgets his notes and decides to “wing-it.”

There’s that one person who sings with all the joy and praises their heart can muster, but is slightly off key, and is the only one who doesn’t know it.

The pen in the pew for taking notes is out of ink…again.

The cover on the hymnal is taped together with duct tape, because it’s been used so often.

The edge of the fabric on the pew is thread bare from all the people that have slid in and out of the pew over the years.

The communion crackers are stale because the last person to help out forgot to close the bag tightly.

Some may find these flaws irritating and unprofessional. But I like to think of my church as a family; a family that makes mistakes, and makes bad jokes, and a family that, above all else, loves one another, with all of their quirks and idiosyncrasies.

It reminds me that we are flawed, each and every one of us, and that we don’t have it all together all the time.

And whether you find your church family at a mega church or at the tiniest planter church in town, we all share these same stories.

Jesus is the perfect one, not the church.

The Welcome Note

NoteCassie reluctantly opened the front door, almost afraid of what she would see. “Dear God…” she muttered bitterly as she opened it just enough to stick her head in. A dank smell filled her nose as she took a breath. She steadied herself on the doorframe and looked around the small, 60-year old bungalow. No 3-piece leather sectional, no 60” HDTV, no family portrait above the fireplace…there wasn’t even a fireplace. No great room. No chandelier above the dining room table…it wasn’t even a real dining room. No spiral staircase leading to a second floor, this was all one level. No built-in shelves adorned with books and sculptures. No over-sized windows letting in the view of the lush backyard.

She stepped inside. She could see the entire floor plan from the front door. All 900 square feet lay before her, carpeted in cheap apartment grade beige, gold linoleum in the kitchen. At least it was clean…mostly. Except for that smell. Must have been left over from the landlord that had unclogged the shower the day before.

It was small, it was boring, and it was empty…but it was hers. Well, hers and her daughter’s. It was hard to explain to Shana why they had to leave, but Cassie knew they’d be better off away from Jack. And it was easier to walk away with nothing, than to stay and continue to fight for anything. Her daughter still didn’t understand completely, and Cassie knew that Shana would be mad at her for a long time. But she also knew, in her heart she had done the right thing. Living together had run its course. There would be no wedding, no happily ever after, at least not with Jack.

She set the box that read “KITCHEN” on the counter, and set her purse beside it. Shana wouldn’t be home from school for a few hours which would give her a chance to lay some shelf paper and clean up a bit, to try to make the place homier. But she struggled to find any resemblance of a home in the shell of a house that she held no connection to.

Anger welled inside her, and she was repulsed by the teal green countertop with the stained grout. “This is Jack’s fault,” she said aloud. She had given the best years of her life to that man, and for what? She had nothing to show for their years together except for the wounds of a warring relationship. He’d given her nothing but grief and insanity. It was by shear will that she mustered the courage to take her daughter and get out of his life. She knew it was the right decision, she knew it was the only decision. But it wasn’t fair. She would have to start over from scratch. An unfamiliar town, few friends left, even fewer family members still spoke to her, while Jack got to stay in the beautiful house near their old friends. His life would hardly change at all. In fact, without her around, he only had more freedom to do whatever it was he did all those late nights. It just wasn’t fair. Seemed that was the way life went for Cassie. She promised herself that she wouldn’t let that happen to her daughter, and yet, here they were, repeating history once again.

Cassie opened the box, and pulled out the scissors, and the utility knife, and a roll of shelf paper. The baby blue and white checkered paper clashed with the teal of the kitchen, but it would have to do. It was on sale and all she could afford for now.

She sat on the floor and started in the lower cupboards, first wiping down the shelves and then measuring and cutting the shelf paper to fit. It was tedious, but almost therapeutic…covering up the old with the new. She decided to do the drawers last, starting with the smallest one. She pushed her measuring tape to the back of the drawer and something was jammed in the back.

“Great…a dead mouse? Dear, God…don’t let it be a dead mouse,” she prayed.

She slowly pulled the drawer out, afraid of what she would find. To her relief, it was an old church bulletin, folded up. She scoffed, “Figures…church people lived here.”

She started to crumble it up when she saw some writing on it. Nosy as she was, she read it: To the new owners. Welcome to our home. Or should I say your new home! I wanted you to know what this house meant for me and my family. I grew up here. Between these walls, lives were grown, love was cultivated, and a family thrived. There were good times and bad, sorrow and joy, but God always seemed to bless us no matter what the season brought. I hope the same will be true for you and your family. This house is small, and some days can feel like the walls are closing in around you. But it was always in that closeness that I felt security. I wish I could play a soundtrack of the joy that was experienced in this house that made it my home. The birthdays, the holidays, the laughter, the practical jokes played on each other, even the meals gone awry (my mother wasn’t the best cook), would be on that soundtrack. I hope you make your own soundtrack, and I hope that it is just as memorable. I hope this house becomes your home. And I hope you will find the same blessings and love that I found. God bless!

Cassie rolled her eyes in disgust. “God bless…soundtrack of joy…please,” Cassie said out loud. “What a sappy bunch of…” She wadded it up and tossed it towards the trashcan, and it landed on the floor beside it. Too busy and annoyed to get up and throw it in the trash, she continued to measure out the paper, and finish the drawers.

By the time her daughter got to the new house, Cassie was nearly finished with the shelf paper.

“Hi, Mom,” Shana called.

“Hi, I’m over here…on the floor.”

“What are you doing?” Shana asked.

“Just lining these horribly colored cabinets,” and she wrinkled her nose.

“I kinda like the color,” Shana said. Aware of her mom’s irritation, she was careful not to encourage it. “Do you need help?”

“No, I’m nearly done. But you can help with the trash,” and she motioned to the scraps piled over by the trash can.

Quietly and dutifully Shana began stuffing the scraps into the trash can. She noticed the church bulletin and picked it up. “What’s this?”

“That? That’s definitely garbage!” Cassie said.

“Well, what is it?” Shana pursued, turning it over in her hand.

Slightly irritated, Cassie answered, “Oh, it’s some sappy note from the past owner. A real cry-fest.”

Intrigued, Shana slipped it in her pocket. Her mom didn’t notice.

“I’m going to go start my homework. I’ll be in my room if you need me.”

“Okay, I’ll start dinner in a little while.”

Shana sat down on her bed, opened the bulletin, and saw the handwritten note on the back. By the time she was finished reading it, she was in tears. It was the kind of family she wished she’d grown up with. It sounded wonderful. It was a letter she would like to be able to honestly write one day. She flipped the note over and saw what church it was from, Calvary Community Church. She and her mom had been there before, but left because her mom couldn’t stand the other women. Shana was beginning to wonder if all of the turmoil that seemed to follow her and her mom was really just following her mom. What if she was merely an innocent bystander? She felt sad for her mom, but needed to do some things for herself.

At dinner, Shana ate silently. She could still feel her mother’s irritation, and uneasiness in the air.

“So, did you read the note? Pretty funny, eh?” Cassie said.

Carefully, Shana mustered her courage, “I liked it,” she said without looking up from her plate.

Cassie nearly choked on her food, “What?! You liked that garbled crap? Seriously?”

Shana felt like she was mocking her, but she held her own, “Yes, I did. Did you see what church it was from?”

Cassie shook her head ‘no’ while she took a bite of food.

“Calvary. We’ve been there. Remember?”

“No, I don’t. They’re all the same anyways. Why? You wanna go?” again she mocked her.

“Yes…I do. And I don’t need your permission. But I’d like you to go with me,” Shana said, and held her breath, sure that she would be ridiculed.

Cassie was shocked. Shana had never spoken to her like that before. It was decisive, but gentle.

“Me? At church? I don’t think they’d let me in,” Cassie scoffed.

Still Shana pursued. “You’re exactly who should be at church. And so am I.”

Cassie resisted the urge to debate her. She didn’t want dinner to turn into a fight. There was enough going on in her life to argue about, she certainly didn’t need it under her own roof. Her daughter was her only ally.

“I’m not so sure about that, but it isn’t Sunday yet. What did you do with the note anyways?” Cassie said.

“I have it. Why?”

“Just asking,” Cassie said.

“You want to read it? Or throw it away?”

“Does it mean something to you?” Cassie asked.

“Yes. It does.”

“Then I won’t throw it away. You can keep it,” Cassie smiled. But behind the smile, she hoped that Shana didn’t buy into the perfect family. She knew it would only lead to disappointment.

The next few nights, Cassie hardly slept at all, and when she did sleep, she had horrible dreams. In the morning she could never remember what the dreams were about, but her mind wouldn’t let go of that letter…that awful, sappy letter. Who had a life like that anyways? Love between the walls, blessings, joy…those were just concepts, pipe dreams that made for Friday night chick-flicks. Nobody actually lived like that.

On Sunday morning, she was surprised to see Shana up and dressed before 9:00.

“You got plans?” Cassie asked.

“Yes…and so do you. Go get dressed, or you’ll be late to church,” Shana insisted.

“You were serious?”

“Very…now come on. Let’s go. We can still make it on time,” Shana said, and stood her ground.

At first, Cassie was angry that her daughter would speak to her like that. She started to argue, but Shana quickly ran to her mother and gave her a huge hug. Without letting go, she begged, “Please?”

Cassie’s anger melted. She couldn’t resist her daughter’s urgency. She kissed her on the head, and without a word went to her closet to find something appropriate to wear. She couldn’t explain what had come over her. She really didn’t want to go, didn’t want to face the shame and rejection. Church always turned out the same; judgmental, fake people with pasted-on smiles. What was the point? Still, Shana really seemed to want to go. Maybe just this once, Cassie should paste on one of those fake smiles too. She could sit in the back and avoid people and even leave during the closing song. Maybe she could get past her own issues for the sake of her daughter. After all, her daughter deserved better than what she had been given. She doubted she would find anything life changing in one day at church. How much harm could it do? It’s what a mom was supposed to do, right? Maybe it was time she got on board, for Shana’s sake.

Cassie stood in front of her closet and stared at her clothes. Nothing in her wardrobe seemed appropriate. She knew people would judge her no matter what she wore. Why did she agree to go? Why did Shana even want to go?

She slid her clothes on the rod; piece by piece…nothing…nothing seemed right to wear. Shana walked up behind her. She was dressed in a short skater skirt, flats, and a tank top with a sweater covering her shoulders. Her brown hair fell at her shoulders, and was clipped back on one side with a barrette.

“Need help?” Shana asked.

“I guess I do, thanks,” Cassie said softly. Shana stepped in front of her, and proceeded to pull just the right outfit for her…not too dressy, and not too edgy. Cassie watched as Shana’s confidence shown through. In her bitterness and anger over Jack, Cassie had missed the blessing standing right in front of her. Shana was becoming quite the woman, in spite of Cassie’s mistakes. Maybe Shana knew what was best for them…better than Cassie did.

“So, church, huh?” Cassie asked.

“Yes. Now get dressed, or we’ll be late,” Shana smiled and closed the bedroom door behind her.

“Church,” Cassie said as she held her dress in front of her and looked at herself in the mirror. She took a deep breath, “How bad could it be? It can’t get much worse than the way things have been going.”

And then she remembered that annoying welcome note. “Maybe it is time to make a new soundtrack.”

Filling My Head…

Phil. 4:8 (NIV) Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

The words are so simple, but hold so much wisdom. As a writer, I try to absorb everything I can about technique and style. The do’s and don’ts of the writing and publishing world can be mind-boggling, and often full of contradiction. I find myself beating my head against the wall trying to please some unknown force…not the best things to fill my head.

Sometimes, I have to take a step back. Sometimes I forget what brought me to writing in the first place.

When I was ten years old, I entered my school’s poetry contest, and won first place. It wasn’t much, just a blue ribbon, but it was the little push I needed to believe in myself. The poem was called “God’s Creation.” (Believe it or not, you could write poems about God in public school. Yeah… times have changed.)

Seems most everyone who has ever been published has advice, and a lot of it is contradictory. So who do you believe? The guy who writes sci-fi and fantasy who says the first page should throw the reader into the story, or the one who writes mystery who likes the slow burn that leads to an edge-of-your-seat climax.

Even within my own family there is differing opinion. My husband would never read women’s Christian fiction, my children wouldn’t read anything that isn’t fast-paced sci-fi, and I wouldn’t read either of their choices.

My point is this: we all have to remember who we’re writing for. Do you journal? I think that’s great. Do you write fantasy? More power to you. Do you write comedy or farce? That’s hysterical. But who do you write FOR? Who is your audience? Is it an audience of thousands or just an audience of One?

I think once we figure that part out, than the rest will fall into place. As I’ve written before in I Might Never Get Published, the odds of getting published are statistically not in my favor. But I’m okay with that, even if it means I have to occasionally remind myself of that fact.

Not every story is meant for every reader. But I’m grateful for the readers I have.

So I will fix my eyes on whatever is lovely, and right, and noble, and I will fill my head with those things. Life seems to fall into place much better when I do.

Finding A Church

Confession time…I should be at church. Okay, not at this very moment, but every Sunday, I should be at church. And lately, I haven’t, at least not consistently. I’ve spent the better part of my adult married life as an active member of a church, worshipping, serving, and being part of a church community. So what changed?

We moved. It was a good move, and I believe God had His hand in orchestrating our move. Too many pieces fell into place and too many prayers were answered for God not to have been involved in the decision to move.

When we moved from west coast to east, we left our church family of over 13 years. My husband and I dated, married and then started a family while being members of that church. So I understand my expectations may be a little high, maybe even a little romanticized about finding the right fit for us, but I never expected it to take years (three, and counting) to find the comfort level we desire.

One of the biggest differences is in finding a church that we all can agree on. Since my husband and I raised our children from birth at the west coast church, they never got a choice as to where went. It wasn’t that their opinion didn’t matter, but they didn’t know any different.

Now when we go to a church, it’s sort of like shopping with the 3 Bears. This one’s too small, this one’s too big…but we haven’t found “just right.” One kid likes the church, the other hates it. And though we are the parents and make the decisions, we want the best for our kids, which means that besides good solid Biblical teaching, we also want them to be excited to go to church, otherwise they won’t take it with them into their lives outside of church.

We seem to have run into so many different teaching methods too. There are two that stand out most, at least in our neck of the woods.

The first is the “Seeker Church.” These churches tend to be quite large and the message is a bit watered down, and geared towards growing the masses. The messages tend to be “topical” in nature. This is where a topic is chosen, (Friendship, or Marriage, for example) and then the Pastor finds scripture to back up his message, which is fine for a seeker church. You want people to find Christ and to feel welcome. I get that.

The other kind is what I’ll call a “Teaching Church”. This is where the Pastor teaches straight from the Bible, usually about a person or situation, and we apply what we learn to our own lives. It’s more like a Bible study format. It almost always applies, but it’s not always “user friendly,” and that’s okay. But it seems more Divinely directed than the alternative.

It also seems that just when we resolve ourselves to sticking to one church, something will happen that sets off our spiritual warning light, sending us back into caution mode, and wondering if it’s time to start the church search again.

The biggest lesson in all of this? Our paths are not always straight, usually for a reason, but God is always on the path with us…at least this I know is true. This is just a season, and I know God has a plan for us. Maybe the search is not about the church at all, maybe the search is about growing our faith.