As the mother of four, a wife to one, a daughter to two, and a friend to whomever will talk to me, it’s definitely fair to say I’ve required the good Lord’s forgiveness a time or two…a day. Whether I’m ignoring my kids, nagging my husband, blaming my parents or projecting my hurts onto a friend, I can be sure that I can’t even begin to fathom the impact of all of the negative things I’ve done in my life.
While the positive things remain in place, and there always will be good things to be remembered for, I wonder why it is so much easier to recall the bad things people do than the good things. I’m not saying everyone does this, and I also acknowledge that I am guilty of the same thing.
When I was a teenager, I was friends with a group of girls, and we carpooled to school. Parking always was an issue, especially in the sophomore parking lot, probably because everyone had their driver’s licenses and hadn’t quite grasped the concept of gas consumption. I always wondered why so many seniors walked to school then.
One day, my friend had one option for parking except for four blocks away, which would have made me late for anthropology (where I slept anyway). It was a tight spot, and one other friend got out to help guide her into her spot because my friend driving wasn’t yet experienced enough to recognize the distance from the car behind her. To get to the point, my friend driving pinned my friend guiding in between two cars and broke her leg.
What you think happened isn’t what happened. My friend who got pinned was the one who got the reputation. She stood right behind the car and didn’t try to move until it was too late. She was branded as a bit of an airhead. And every time I see her, I’m reminded of this.
This even happens with people I don’t know.
I’ve been introduced to someone and when the new acquaintance leaves, I might say, “Isn’t she the one who accidentally poisoned everyone by using a can of tomato sauce that was open a bit too long?” Yep. I’m sure this is how people have reputations that precede themselves. What people don’t see is that after the vomiting and fear of eating at pot lucks has passed, poor Mary, whose misjudgment of how long that tomato sauce has been in the fridge, is afraid to show her face to the very people she was serving.
Her intentions were honorable, and her carrying out of those intentions was most definitely admirable. However, one misstep and she’s branded for life. Not only will she probably never be asked to cook for anyone again, but she also will probably not attend an event that reminds her of her mistake.
On a more serious note, and not that I’m negating the seriousness of food poisoning, people hurt each other every day when their intentions are honorable and their implementations are admirable. Somewhere in the process, their humanity shows and a flaw appears, sometimes a flaw so huge that it is capable of mass destruction.
My flaw is all in my head. And it is capable of destruction. Years ago, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and I have struggled my whole life to make sure that people don’t know this about me. For about 20 years, I’ve (almost) successfully hidden this problem from everyone, with the exception of my parents, my husband, a couple of doctors and maybe a friend. And even those people could only have guessed because I denied it to myself even.
What happens, though, in my attempt to hide this flaw is that my symptoms show up without an explanation and with no one to point them out to me because I’ve chosen myself for an accountability partner. I’m sure that somewhere, in hindsight, I could find where a left turn was made where there should have been a right turn, but to do so would be futile because I already made the wrong turn and I’m on a fast track to never turning around.
The nature of my flaw is such that hiding it only makes it worse because I have gotten into the habit of blaming a circumstance for my down times. And when there is no circumstance to blame, I will look until I find one. The obvious complication with this approach is that I may begin to see a circumstance that does not actually exist, but my defenses overpower my reason and it becomes as real as anything can be to me.
Therefore, what I’m left doing is either explaining myself or acting like nothing ever happened. And it seems like there always comes a time when no amount of explaining or ignorance will suffice because my reaction to my perceived circumstance was so impactful that I’ve created a reputation for myself. And the people who I affected are left with an impression of me that is justified but inaccurate because they’ve seen my head and not my heart.
Misunderstanding, misconception, misperception, and just plain stupidity have all taken place, sometimes all at once, and wreaked havoc in my life and the lives of those around me. I’m reminded of the cliché example of a pebble dropped into a pool of still water and how no matter where you drop the pebble, none of the water is left unchanged. Similarly, when someone else drops a pebble across the pond from me, my water changes.
When everyone starts having a rock skipping contest, you can be sure that the water in the pond will be more than slightly disturbed. But sometimes, when the pebble is dropped in a certain place, the change that is made is permanent and even more beautiful than the calm peace that was there before.
Finally sharing a piece of truth with the right people has not only made me accountable, but also eliminated the need for me to hide anymore. Something very freeing occurs when you become vulnerable to people and to God Himself. It’s a kind of freedom that doesn’t deny the presence of a tribulation or even try to avoid its occurrence, but that stands strong inside of the fight, knowing that the victory is coming. And for those who struggle with my kind of fight, we stand strong in the knowledge that the victory is coming, again.
One excerpt of Jeremiah has been particularly comforting to me recently while coming through my most recent bout of depression. Jeremiah 31:3-6 says,
The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying:
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
I will build you up again,
and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt.
Again you will take up your timbrels
and go out to dance with the joyful.
Again you will plant vineyards
on the hills of Samaria;
the farmers will plant them
and enjoy their fruit.
There will be a day when watchmen cry out
on the hills of Ephraim,
‘Come, let us go up to Zion,
to the Lord our God.’”
When my husband and I go on walks, he almost always comments on my tendency to stay on the sidewalk. Occasionally, we come across a block without a sidewalk, and he usually will throw out an “Uh-oh. What are you going to do now?”
My kids’ bedtime is 8 p.m. They are required to read for leisure at least 20 minutes a day. Now I don’t care when they do this, but it typically happens at 8 p.m. because there is simply too much fighting and playing and snacking to experience between 4 and 7:59. That said, at 7:59, I am usually issuing threats. “If you aren’t lying down in one minute, you are not snacking tomorrow!” Or, “I’m waking you up 15 minutes early tomorrow if you’re not in bed at 8 p.m. sharp! I mean it!”
Needless to say, I’m a rules person. I follow rules with consistency and am irritated when others break the rules. This sometimes creates some intensity in our home. I’m outnumbered 4 to 1 with people who are happy to break the rules.
No food in the room? Whatever. That’s stupid. In fact, we think it should be smeared on the walls.
I need to be in bed in five minutes? No problem. I’ve got plenty of time to brush my teeth, get a glass of water, put on pajamas, play with the puppy, eat one last snack, clear off my bed, and ask my daddy the most complicated, urgent question I can think of.
To say this is frustrating to me is an understatement.
My poor husband, every so often, tries to weaken my “by the book” personality by passively comparing me to a Pharisee. He doesn’t do this outwardly, probably because he doesn’t want to fight (because I have a list of rules for fighting that I asked my former pastor to give to me, and I have no hesitation when calling “foul” on him for breaking them).
Let me say, however, that I have not always been a rules person. I never wore my seatbelt, 90 mph wasn’t really that fast, throwing things at people was the quickest way to solve a problem, and swearing at customers on the phone was the best way to reduce your call time and increase your monthly bonuses. This is not even close to part of it.
I admit that my rules sometimes affect what my husband calls “the environment of the house,” specifically at bedtime and meals (table manners are a serious concern of mine). But finding a balance between actual freedom and lawlessness is tricky when you come from a lawless background.
When I chose to meet Jesus instead of using my own manipulation tactics to get my way, I truly met him on my terms. I still swore at people, I was an expert at making the person behind me get the speeding ticket, seatbelts were an uncomfortable inconvenience, and I still struggle with throwing things when I’m angry.
I don’t have any intention of dropping all of my rules (bedtime, specifically), but I walked in the street last time my husband and I went for an evening stroll. I need my rules, and I can justify my position using the book I go by.
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” says Paul in 2 Timothy 2:5. Just so it’s clear that I’m not using this verse conveniently to justify my position, I’ll explain briefly.
By nature, I am a disobedient creature. So are my children. So is everyone, I think.
Let’s just say I dropped the bedtime rules and let the kids decide what was best for them. I’m positive that everyone in the house would be exhausted and I would be getting requests to meet with teachers weekly. Eventually, my children would be the oldest ones in their classes because it’s impossible to stay awake during the day when you stay up all night snacking and watching television.
And say we carried on without bedtime rules for a long period of time. Until high school, most children are motivated by impulse rather than reason. Being too tired to go to junior high possibly could prevent a high school education at all, not to mention most districts don’t allow 22-year-old high school students in a traditional setting.
Bam. Life sucks for my kids. Long term.
The word “freedom” is, in my opinion, one of the most misused words in the Christian language. Freedom is not an absence of rules. Nor is it making up the rules as we go along. Nor is it behaving badly with a thought in the back (or front) of our minds that says, “I’m OK to do this because God has forgiven me.”
There are plenty of rules listed in the Bible, both in the Old and the New Testaments. If we don’t follow these rules, and we run amok with our “freedom” in Christ, we are going to be in disobedience. To be preachy, freedom, biblically, refers to the absence of corruption or addiction to corruption. We are granted freedom by Christ through deliverance. To be delivered means to overcome and obstacle or be saved from harm. Therefore, making our own rules is the opposite of freedom.
My point is, that rules are necessary. As a mother, I am charged to teach my children discipline and obedience because they will need it later when they try to follow God’s rules in a world that doesn’t like those rules. They will be called to do much more difficult things than go to bed on time. They will be called to serve someone who doesn’t appreciate it; to love someone who despises them; to admit when they are wrong; to swallow their pride. The list is never ending.
We claim our freedom through Christ, but as believers, we are called to serve and to love and to be lights in the world. This is much harder than it sounds just rolling off the tongue, and the structure we provide our children early in life can help them to look toward that structure when we have no say at all.
Who has said this?
I have always been the careful one in my family. Someone falls off a bike or trips over poorly tied shoelaces or gets stung by a bee, and who fixes the owie? That’s correct. Me.
As a result of this consistent first aid administrator position I hold, and also of the queasiness that results from the presence of blood or pain or both, I am well known for being what some refer to as “Safety Mom.” My kids have difficulties having fun on top-rated playground equipment with 6-inch foam underlay below it because I’m nervous seeing them at the top of a slide and everyone at the park or school or McDonald’s knows it.
For the record, I don’t remember any of my children being significantly injured while playing on playground equipment. They have been injured, however, usually doing things like walking or snagging drinks of my sodas (nope, I didn’t injure them for stealing soda, but I am pretty quick to point out if they had been doing the right thing they wouldn’t have been hurt). Regardless of how they were injured, I am the first aid lady.
So when there is a cut that needs to be cleaned and the crying gets worse than when the original injury occurred, I am naturally irritated. Now I don’t tell them to stop crying or I’ll give them something to cry about, but I’m thinking it all the same. Cleaning and putting antibiotic cream and Band-aids on is an excruciating process for anyone within of even just out of earshot. Which leads me to the lesson I learned today.
I distinctly remember my dad told me once that I should consider not doing yard work in sandals. I don’t remember ever taking that suggestion and applying it to my life. Part of being Safety Mom is somehow being the exception. Just because I don’t allow my kids to walk closer than three feet to the river bank doesn’t mean I can’t walk one foot from it. I rarely injure myself. They’re the ones who get hurt. Not me.
So today I was shoveling a layer of dirt into a five-gallon bucket, hauling the bucket to another area and dumping the dirt. I was trying to hurry because I wanted to impress my poor husband with how much work I could do while he ran a 10-minute errand. So I didn’t change my shoes. Actually I probably wouldn’t have anyway.
On the fifth bucket, which was actually full of mud, not dirt, I was thinking that this would be much more fun if I wasn’t doing it. I think fantasy gave way to reality for a moment because I just dropped the bucket. On my foot. Which was in a beautiful, open-toed platform sandal. I am pretty tough, so I dumped the bucket and came inside to discover that I had completely ripped the cuticle off of my toe.
Just after I got a wet paper towel wrapped around it and sat down to collect myself, my husband, who is actually certified in first aid care, came in.
“What did you do?”
“I dropped the bucket on my toe and the kids hid the Band-aids.”
Calmly, he walked to the garage to get his first aid kit. When he came back he sat near my feet and started getting the contents out.
“You can’t do this. I can do it myself,” I said, or rather pleaded.
“Donna. Which one of us is first aid certified?”
I immediately began to cry. It’s not that I was hurt badly or that he did anything to cause pain (likely because I hadn’t let him touch me yet). I was in a curiously unfamiliar situation. No one, since my own mother, has ever performed minor first aid on me. I always did it myself.
My poor husband looked over the top of his glasses at me as I cried and begged him to just let me put the Band-aid on myself and said, “Stop your crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Of course he wouldn’t ladies.
I realized at that moment how hard it is for my kids to sit still and let me clean their owie’s and trust me to do it in a way that doesn’t increase their discomfort.
And I also realized that I’ve possibly been a fool to not heed the advice of those who are wiser than I am. My dad told me not to do yard work in sandals (I am pretty positive he would have never thought I would even attempt the work in heels).
In the second Sunday of our church shopping spree, we were one member down, as my poor husband had to work. We spent the week praying and being mindful of the Lord’s leading for which church to try next, or maybe to return to the third church from last week, where we felt a refreshed and renewed sense of the spirit. But I’d be lying if I said I was merely looking at the Lord’s guidance in my decision.
I am human.
I first visited this past Sunday’s church about three months ago, on a Monday. It was fairly early, and the building, which was large, was quiet. I met first the church secretary, whose name I’m almost embarrassed to admit I didn’t remember, but since I don’t use people’s real names, I could have left that out and who would have known, right? I chatted with her and the youth pastor fairly briefly, and the secretary grabbed a hold of me and began praying. This moved me to tears at that time, something that is easier than ever nowadays because my heart is softer today than it was yesterday. A tour was given, and the similarities to our home church in both personalities and the circumstances were glaring. As I was leaving, I noticed that on the door was notice of the Sunday service time.
Honestly. That’s why I didn’t go back immediately. Anyone who has ever tried to wake up my youngest daughter just said, “I completely understand where you’re coming from, ” in support of this knee-jerk reaction. It’s not like it’s 6 a.m., but it was a half hour earlier than we were accustomed. I followed my rules from the first week of church shopping. I arrived late. I sat near the exit. I prayed. I had an escape plan. And so on.
When worship began, a crowd of children stormed the pulpit and began dancing and creating their own choreographic routines impromptu. Adorable. But more than adorable, it’s a sign of health. My husband and I believe strongly that children are a blessing (overall), and that a church blessed with many children, almost to the point of overflow, is a blessed church. Without children, revival can’t continue.
Then the most amazing thing happened. To some people this would be nowhere near amazing, but it is to me only because of the way I was attached so quickly to our church back home. The church secretary came up and said, “Hi, Donna! I’m so glad you could make it!” Three. Months. Later. She remembered my name. I don’t know about everyone else, but I can’t remember a name or a face unless I meet someone 25 times, but I admire that ability in others. My favorite pastor’s wife did the same thing. I always thought she was really good with names because when I met her the first time, they were at a different church and I was seriously sporadic about attendance. I didn’t like the people and I hated the music, but I thought going to church would help me blend in with normal people a little better. Every time I walked in the door, it was like she had a tracking collar on me. She would find me and say, “Hi, Donna. I’m so glad you could make it today.”
She really was the only one who talked to me in that place. Because my attendance was sporadic and my attention wasn’t where it should have been, my favorite pastor and his wife left without me realizing it. My attendance gradually waned to apathy fulfilled. It wasn’t until years later when I found them again, and I found my home church. And, yes, she knew my name (but that’s another story for another day that involves my poor husband, and another reason I call him poor).
Back in Casper, worship continued. And continued. And I thought, “Hmm. How is the pastor going to finish by 11 if they keep singing. Don’t get me wrong. I love the music. I didn’t want it to end. I just wondered how the pastor was going to wrap it up in time for lunch.
In a strange turn of events, I realized the pastor didn’t at all care what time it was. We would leave when he was done. I know how many Sunday school teachers and football fans out there are thinking, “Wow. That’s just awful.” However, this is a beautiful thing when put into action. This body of Christ-loving people has made the decision to let the Holy Spirit move, in all His greatness, in order to effectively soften and break the congregation to receive a message as it was intended to be delivered.
During one service, the pastor told everyone that there was no way anyone could walk out the door of the church that day the same as they walked in. He was right. I walked out that day, and every other, strengthened and renewed. This is how it should be.
It turns out that the secretary had a very good reason to remember my name. She has a scar to remember me by. Maybe she’s like one of my best friends who names everything (she names sides of beef, and I’m not kidding), in which case her scar would be named Donna because that’s who she was with when she got it. When she was giving me a tour of the church, she showed me the to-be sanctuary, which was under construction at the time, and she fell through a hole in the sound booth looking for a light. She said it took weeks to heal and that she would probably have a permanent scar from the injury. But even those little things that can’t possibly be spiritualized when they happen really do have a purpose. Who knows? Maybe she really is good with names. But I think the Lord knew I needed her to remember my name, so He gave our meeting an event.
In any case, we found our “new home” church. We love and will always cherish our original church, where we first took the hand of the Lord and walked with Him on the lighted path that serves as our guidance still today. But we’re confident we will grow and serve and love in the new place we’ve found.
Don’t worry. I’m not getting political. Or sorry. I’m not getting political. I am getting serious, though.
I’m actually going to talk about change on a more intimate level. When I worked, I used to wonder at my colleagues who had such difficulties with progression. By progression, I mean change, or how things have to be continually moving in order to maintain relevance. I was good with it. And I always have been. I wrote what has to be my most bitter blog entry ever targeting (anonymously of course) the former coworkers who detested the change I thrived on. This is progressive change.
I also like the kind of change that involves moving furniture around my living room to make a fresh appearance or changing the kitchen cupboards around to make it so I don’t have to move an extra three steps to grab a dish towel. These changes are impersonal and remote. Their effects are superficial.
Then there’s the change I’m not good with. That’s extreme change. I didn’t know I sucked at it because I’d never actually made a committed change in the magnitude I did until this year. I’ve said before that it took me six weeks to stop crying. It took another six weeks to stop thinking of ways to get out of the change, and then I started to settle in. We started to find a groove, and I truly started to feel like I was at home. Right about when I started feeling at home, I went home.
I love the people at home so much that it literally hurts me to leave them. So much that it almost hurts me to see them because I know a) they still carry on as if I wasn’t gone, which is completely appropriate since they didn’t go anywhere so their lives didn’t change much; b) I can’t take any of them with me, and I’ve tried; and c) I can’t find them where I am. By this, I mean that my people are unique, and I know how I took them for granted now that I don’t have them anymore.
Moreover, my people are not replaceable. My church is not replaceable, and my routine is not replaceable. And somehow, I’ve fallen into a mindset that my loyalties are irreplaceable as well. For someone like me, who has shown a great propensity toward changes and shake ups, I have become rather immovable. I couldn’t write because I had nothing funny to say. I thought that meant I couldn’t write. I couldn’t have friends because the people here are nothing like the people at home. I still feel like moving on is a betrayal of some kind. I never want my people to feel like I took them for granted, even when I did.
Deep down, I know that the betrayal is not to my people. It’s to myself, and it’s to my God. And the effect of my betrayal has rippled farther than I could ever imagine it would have reached. I know that my poor husband, because it’s my heart that shines from our home, has struggled to adjust because he is as loyal as I am. If one of us admits to happiness or joy in these trying circumstances, then we might be leaving the other one in the dust. The result is frustration and anger, and with me, broken coffee mugs and Blackberry phones.
Change is something human. Our circumstances change. Our feelings change, and sometimes our personalities change. But God doesn’t change, and He doesn’t make mistakes.
James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
We started out on the right track. We saw God’s hand in this change in our lives. But if anyone has ever gone on vacation and experienced a feeling of liberation because “no one is watching” then you can somewhat relate to what I am saying when I say I thought God was different where He put me than where I left. I didn’t say it out loud, but my view of Him changed, slowly. With each defeat came a tinge of doubt. Doubt about what I formerly knew He showed me and doubt about where He was taking me. It didn’t take long before I was in what some seasoned Christians would call a crisis of faith.
But God doesn’t change. We do. What I’d seen as a gift from one perspective turned to a burden from another perspective. That was me. Not God.
Out loud, just yesterday, I said, “I choose joy. Change me, God.”
I don’t like it here. It’s the ugliest city in the country, I’m sure of it. But I will keep my eyes on the Lord’s glory, which is beautiful no matter what perspective you’re looking from, and I will receive His good and perfect gift because it is just that. No matter where he gives it.
OK. This might just be a vain attempt to get my dad to read my blog, but whatever.
As I was serving pancakes to my family one morning, I thought of my dad. I don’t like pancakes a whole lot, but if I do eat a pancake, a glass of milk must accompany it. I remember clearly, my dad telling me that milk tasted the best after eating pancakes, and he was right. My dad always knew what foods should be paired with what beverages (ice cream and water was a another crucial pairing). My dad always told me I didn’t drink enough water, which he thought was to blame for my surliness as a teenager (I’m not completely sold on that one, but it doesn’t keep me from recommending my teenager have a drink of water and calm down).
My dad taught exactly how long to dunk a cookie in my milk to ensure that drinking the milk after the cookies were gone actually became the most enjoyable part of the experience. He taught me how to put my thumb on the end of a hose to guarantee a win in a water fight even if the other person has a spray nozzle on their hose. He taught me how to get a teenager out of the shower, even if it involved ice-cold water and brief rage. He taught me how to sit on someone’s shoulders, how to pass the time in a doctor’s office by counting the ceiling tiles and how to sing a song when I don’t actually know any of the words.
More seriously, my dad taught me how to deal with someone who was making fun of my teeth, how to try until I got it right and how to consider the consequences of my actions. He wouldn’t have known it when I was a teenager, but his lessons stuck. I never followed anyone as a child or a teenager, and while I used the leadership quality to my detriment, it has served me well when directed appropriately.
As a teen, I remember my best friend, who was a “by-the-book” kind of girl, spending the night. I almost had her convinced to sneak out the basement window after my parents went to sleep, and then there were complications. My parents went out, and I didn’t know when they’d be back. However, I’d already committed to meeting some other friends down the street, and because of my integrity (probably another dadism, so maybe none of this was my fault after all?), I felt I couldn’t flake out. My friend, however, was not OK with the new situation and decided to stay behind. I told her to just pretend we both were sleeping if my parents came to check on me when they got home. I had no way of knowing whether that would happen.
I realize that this wasn’t my first mistake, but it was a mistake nonetheless. I sneaked out the window. Don’t ask me why I didn’t just walk out the front door. It’s not like anyone was there to stop me or hear me. But instead I sneaked out the window and left it open. Naturally, my dad, who already had an idea that I was up to no good at least half of the time, noticed the tampered-with window as he was walking into the house. According to my friend, he just came in and turned the light on to confirm his suspicions. I still don’t know if he thought he would find my friend gone as well, but I suspect not because both of my parents really encouraged the friendship, probably because she was a “good girl.”
At this point, I’d never done anything profound when sneaking out at night. Privileged, I wore black, threw myself on the ground when I saw headlights and marveled at the bravery of the kids who didn’t bother hiding when they saw headlights. Later, I learned to just go sit on the nearest porch and act like I lived there. Regardless, it was a worrisome activity for my parents, I know. When I came home, adrenaline rushed through my system because I knew my parents were home, but I didn’t know if my ruse worked. As I slipped my leg into the basement window, the light flicked on. I panicked and tried to pull myself back outside. Nope. A firm grip on my ankle prevented movement in any direction but the one toward the grip.
I wish I could say I learned my lesson that night and walked the straight and narrow for the rest of my teenage years, but in truth, my methods only became more creative. Disobedient, disrespectful and uncontrollable, I careened down a path that led to a separation of my heart from my dad’s heart. I didn’t know it then, but that distance would last for more than a decade. In the 15 or so years that followed, I knew more than I let on. I still talked to my dad, but never like I was a child again, and many times with a tone that drove a wedge further between us. I never voluntarily talked about my dad because the pain from what I saw as the greatest relationship failure of my life assaulted me with a force that still knocks me to my knees when I think of my own misconceptions.
But deep down, I knew better. My dad never stopped being my champion. He hasn’t stopped yet. He pulled my boyfriends “aside” and quietly, subtly threatened them if anything should happen to me at their hands. He told people when I made the slightest accomplishment even in the midst of my worst failures. My dad made sacrifices for me that I never asked him to make, and he never knew that I knew he made. He knew my choices were wrong, but I believe that he had a stronger conviction that I had to come back around. His conscience was clear, and he knew what he taught me, and he never lost his grip.
My dad is still my hero, and his opinion still matters to me. I sometimes look back and wonder what would have become of me if I had listened to everything (or at least something) he said when I was in those volatile teenage years, but volatile doesn’t begin to describe what kind of teenager I was. What I’m not doing is looking back like Lot’s wife looked back. I’m simply taking in the magnitude of God’s divine plan for my life and how that plan played out, despite my disobedience, over the course of my life to now. That plan still unfolds in front of me, and never far from my thoughts is how my choices have detoured to reach the exact place I stand, and also how “for me” my dad really has been.
I cried the day my eldest daughter graduated from high school, and my dad cried with me. It wasn’t just tears of joy. It was tears mourning the years that I’d lost while I disobeyed. And I know he shared those same breed of tears with me that day.
I love you, Dad. And you are closer to my heart now than ever. Thanks for everything. All that was worth it. I’m sure.
Recently, our family decided to embark on a great adventure: church shopping. And to make it something worth writing about, and I refuse to apologize if it offends, we decided to make it more like a spree. After several discussions where we laid ground rules about what we consider non negotiable qualities we want to find, as well as the traits we want to avoid, we set out at 9:30 am Sunday morning. As a result of our first adventure, I was able to come up with a quick tip list just in case my readers find themselves in a similar situation.
1. If you are new to a city, print a map to the churches you’d like to try attending, and make sure you have the service times listed on the stars or stickers or whatever you use to mark the spots. I don’t actually know yet how helpful this is, but I do know that it’s extremely unhelpful to discover the first church you are going to is not a church at all but a meeting for what could be recovering alcoholics who do not wish to be associated with agnostics. I honestly don’t know because we didn’t stick around long enough to enhance our knowledge.
2. Don’t go early. This may seem a little hinkie to some people, but I promise I can back this up (not so much with Scripture, but for sure with experience).
I’ve always been an early-to-church kind of person. I really, really like coffee and people. If I didn’t go early to church back home, I’m afraid I wouldn’t get enough words out prior to the sermon and I might ask a few questions during our poor pastor’s message (I call the pastor at our home church poor, and if you wonder why, just read any of my blogs, I’m a handful).
However, applying the same logic when church shopping is unwise. I can tell you for sure that what happens, at least to someone like me, is that I’m almost tempted to sit through a meeting about addiction recovery because I just ate one of these people’s cinnamon rolls (and so did all of my kids) and was properly introduced to several people attending the meeting by a man who had a seemingly kind heart.
When you arrive about 10 minutes late, the music is playing already, and the feeling of obligation is lessened because you have no personal ties to anyone in the sanctuary. The last thing I want to do is ruin some poor soul’s Sunday by leaving in the middle of service. I imagine that person wondering all day whether they said or did something that drove me and my family out the door.
3. Come up with a secret signal. I mean it. This is especially important if there are more than three of you shopping. We learned this the hard way. We basically take up a row, so when one person feels led to get up and leave, which is something we all agreed (don’t worry, we told the young ones boredom is not a reason to leave), we have to play a game of Telephone before we get up and go. And inevitably, two of us are perplexed. “Why is everyone getting up? I thought you said ‘Let it snow.’” But really when we start praying for a microphone to break to calm the tropical bird sound coming from the worship leader, it’s way past secret signal time anyway.
4. Research your options. I drove by churches, looked at their websites, read their bylaws, listened to podcast sermons. I still found myself in the middle of something I can only compare a color guard/mime event where I was truly concerned about the fragility of the hips of the ribbon flag flingers and dancers as well as their seemingly dangerous proximity to each other. I’m not sure why this was something I didn’t hear about, and I can only wonder what on earth the person who referred me to that church thought about me to think I would find such a spectacle inspiring, enjoyable or biblical. This person was either as funny as me or thought I was some kind of weird bird. I can’t lie, though. It was interesting, and I will never forget anything about it.
I have looked in the Bible, and I can’t find miming or color guard listed as spiritual gifts or charisma, but if you can find it, let me know.
5. Sit near an exit. Obviously, you make less of an impact on the congregation when you leave from your emergency exit seat than when you have to walk in front of the congregation in what looks like a parade to leave a potentially spiritually damaging situation.
6. When you’re about to give up, pray. I know it seems silly and obvious, but after two churches in 25 minutes with children in tow, I kind of wanted to go home and mow the lawn. I kind of thought about pancakes. As we were driving to Church #1, we passed a church that I drive by every day. We noticed the sign for service time, an odd time, 30 minutes after everyone else. I remember saying, “Well if all else fails, we can go here.”
So there we went. We were about 14 minutes (at least) late, and worship was in progress. We’d had all the goofy experiences we could stand for the day, and I’m sure the Lord was aware that one more straw could have broken us on this beautiful Sunday. We sat, defensive and ready to leave. The only other option that Sunday would have been the Catholics, and while I love Catholic service and Catholics (and I’m not just saying that because I’m related to about 500 of them), I am concerned for what would happen at Communion and hymnal time. My children are more accustomed to the free-for-all, handful-of-crackers, take-the-fullest-grape-juice-cup-they-can-find Communion, where they are, of course, taught repentance and about what Jesus did for them.
The service we landed at last was refreshing, sound and beautiful. We will likely continue looking, but this church made a strong impact on our day, and really, our entire time we’ve been here in Casper.
7. I put a #7 here because some people think 7 is holy. But really, #7 can be to know what you’re looking for. We are looking for the Lord. And we are looking for love. Not as in the song lyric, but as in the hearts we seek to fellowship with, serve with and worship God with. For if we have not love…