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?

Because I said so…

person-828632_1920Because I said so…

Oh, how I hated when my mother said those words to me. I wanted an explanation. Why? Why did I have to do whatever it was she wanted me to do?

How many times have I used those same words with my own kids?

Because I said so…

Sometimes there is no explanation. Sometimes it’s just a matter of following the rules, of doing it because I asked you to, and I want you to show me that you can follow my directions…no questions asked.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that life says those words to us sometimes. Sometimes God just wants us to follow directions and wait, and do what He’s asked because He said so.

My husband and I are at that sort of point right now. Sometimes the rug gets pulled out from under you and you don’t know why. “Because I said so” still isn’t enough, especially as an adult. But sometimes it has to be. We aren’t always privy to an explanation, especially when it comes to the timing.

So we wait. And do as we’re told. And follow the directions. Because, like most parents, God has a plan. There’s a reason we don’t always have a crystal door. Sometimes it’s for protection, sometimes it’s just to rest in Him.

Sometimes it’s just because He said so.

Looking for “Me Time”

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I can’t complete a thought…wait…hold on…my son is asking me something…

As I was saying, I can’t complete a thought. Since I last was able to sit down and write, the day my husband got laid off, I have not been able to sit down and write again. Even this moment is a struggle.

My days have been spent working at my own job, supporting his job search, helping him polish his resume, filling out all the necessary paperwork after you lose a job, and getting things done before school starts.

Things have been a little hectic. After I get off work, I help him search online job boards and postings (which takes more time than looking through pinterest but isn’t nearly as fun), until it’s time to make dinner. Then after dinner and dishes, when I finally get a chance to sit down, my kids need me. They’ve been really good during the day…of course I have electronics to thank for that. And I hate to turn them away in the evenings after I’ve barely spoken to them all day.

Needless to say, there has been no “me time” to speak of.

Now, where was I going with this? Oh, yeah…completing a thought.

I’ve never experienced this sort of craziness before. Even when they were babies, I still managed to squeeze in a cup of coffee with a friend now and then. But the mental stress that we’re experiencing this past week is taxing.

I know this is a season in life. We’ll get through it.

The kids will be back at school in a few weeks, and we’ll start a routine again, which will actually be sort of comforting. I’m a routine sort of gal. I like things planned and predictable, and when they aren’t, I feel as though I have to be doing something to fix whatever feels broken. I forget to just breathe.

I’ve pulled away from a few people this past week, mostly because I don’t want “people” to get in my head. I know God has a plan, and I want to hear His plan and not the plans of others, though support is always welcome.

The end of this season can’t come soon enough. I just keep saying, “Don’t give up, give it up to God.”

Praying Out Loud

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Some people have the gift of prayer. Their prayers are eloquent, and focused, and roll off their tongues as if their reading straight from the book of Psalms.

I am not one of those people.

When I’m in a group of people and am asked, or worse…expected, to pray out loud, I get very nervous. Suddenly my tongue gets tied up in knots and my prayer comes out sounding like that of a first grader, no offense to any first graders.

I remember being part of a women’s Bible study where we sat in a circle, joined hands, and took turns praying out loud for one another at the close of each meeting.

It terrified me. It was the worst part of the meeting. They must have picked up on my “first grade” quality prayers, because they changed policy and said that if you weren’t comfortable praying out loud, you could squeeze the hand of the woman next to you, and she would skip to her turn. God bless whoever sat next to me.

There’s nothing better than being the recipient of a prayer from someone who can actually put their words together like that of the poetry of David. It’s beautiful.

I always feel like I’ve short-changed the recipient of my prayer: “Dear God, please help so-and-so with their situation, Amen.” Short and to the point…not so eloquent. If only the words rolled off my tongue as easily as they do my pen.

Fortunately, God doesn’t care how my prayer sounds.

All He cares about is whether or not I pray. Whether it’s one word or a 50-stanza verse; He just wants me to pray. Even better that I’m praying for someone else.

 

So, let your words be short,

Let your words be true

So long as they’re from the heart

It’s amazing what God will do.

Beyond Our Control

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It’s a hard fact for some of us to admit, but some things really are “beyond our control.”

That’s especially true when referring to people. Whether it’s the neighbor who plays their music loud at 12am in the morning (got one of those myself), or the co-worker that spends most of their time on social media when they should be working, or a friend or family member who is clearly running their life off in a ditch and everyone seems to know it but them, some things are just out of our control.

If you’re like me, it drives you crazy.

As I lay awake last night, listening to the pounding on my wall from the music next door, I was on the edge. Maybe it was the lack of sleep from the time change of daylight savings the day before, or the fact that I had just found that comfy position and was finally falling asleep when I was jolted awake, but I could see a nervous breakdown in my very near future.

In desperation, I began to pray. At first, it was for the destruction of my neighbor’s sound system, but alas, God doesn’t really honor those kinds of prayers. Probably for good reason.

Instead, I fired up the computer, in a feeble attempt to distract myself, and also to search for answers. I’m not sure what I was looking for, but google knows everything, right? So, why not start there.

I came across a message board on how to deal with noisy neighbors, and though there were a lot of suggestions, some more unsavory than others but that made for a good read, I didn’t find what I was looking for. Except maybe some ideas for my next novel. Maybe google doesn’t know everything.

I tried praying again. This time my prayer changed. “God, change my heart. Make me a better person, a more tolerant person.”

The truth is, we can’t change others and their actions. We can’t even control our own actions half the time, what makes us think we can control others. What makes us think we have the right to?

It’s fitting that this prayer is in sync with my word for the year: “Surrender.”

And I’ll keep surrendering, over and over until I finally get it right. It isn’t about the goal as much as it’s about the journey. I think it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

How do you get through when things are beyond your control?

The Value of a Village

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 

P1000038I love my village.

By that, I mean, the friends, family and acquaintances that touch my life in all different aspects, and in all different ways.

When we moved across country, my village changed. I lost the everyday interaction with most of the friends and family that I had come to rely on. I had to learn to establish a new village, and it’s been a struggle. My old village sort of happened organically. We grew up together, or met through our spouses, or raised our children together. But now, I had to figure out how to establish a new village.

I think connection is essential to our survival. There’s something about feeling responsible to one another, to being accountable to someone besides ourselves that makes us inherently human.

Your village may be different, but I think a village takes time, it takes commitment. It takes loving one another, not just texting one another. It means picking up the phone when it would be much more convenient to send a text or email. It means filling an empty chair and spending some of your own precious time on someone else.

I will never be able to repay many of the people in my village for what they’ve done for me and my family, for the support they’ve given, the prayers they’ve offered, and the times they’ve been there when I didn’t know where else to turn.

All I can do is love them back, and offer my support when they need it, and encourage them when I think they need it most. Being part of a village is not about owing. It’s about being willing to give…and then giving some more…happily.

Think about who makes up your village. And if you don’t have one, perhaps you need to find one. You will always have more to offer than you ever realize.

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.