Tuesday, November 15, 2016
As far back as I can remember, I have been in church. My parents were never Sunday morning pew-fillers. They were the people who jumped in, helped however they could, used their gifts to serve others, were greatly involved in fellowship, and who left our home open to anyone, anytime. Church was not a place to hang out, that was just a bonus. We were the family that was there every time the doors were open. Mama taught Sunday School, helped with VBS, visited shut-ins, cooked for every event and need. My Daddy was in the choir, was Jesus in the outdoor Easter drama, was a deacon, was on committee upon committee, made hospital visits and sang at homecoming, weddings, and funerals. My siblings and I were the kids who knew every nook and cranny of the church, could find the best hiding spots, often were allowed to ring the bell in the steeple, were in: Sunday School, Children's Church, Children's Choir, the children's musicals, clown ministry, GAs, Acteens, RAs. We were the ones who would be climbing in the trees out front in between choir practice and service. We were the ones sitting in the back row during a funeral. We were the ones trying to trash the getaway car at weddings. We were the kiddos reciting Bible verses and singing hymns to those in the hospital or unable to leave their home. Some of the sweetest memories of my childhood circle around church. Some of my dearest friendships started in the Missions Friends class when I was 5 years old; and I am so blessed to still be in touch with several of those amazing friends (thank you, Facebook). I can think of saint after saint who prayed for our family. I can remember our church being the ones to rally around my family when my youngest brother was sick. Our church was home. This was the church where I met Jesus, where I was baptized, and where I felt the Lord call me to be a missionary to children.
We were apart of that wonderful church until I was 15, almost 16 years old. There were some issues that arose, and our family left the church. Being a crazy teenager, I didn't respond well to the change. I struggled deeply with God's plan, His will, His sovereignty. Truth be told, I shut my heart off to the church and began a series of actions that were flat-out rebellious. I made poor choice after poor choice. I blamed my hurt. I blamed people. The cynicism that had always been a small part of my personality took over my disposition. NONE of this was anyone's fault but my own. Being released from a church family, I took it upon myself to taste life without that accountability and positive peer pressure. I knew what sin was...I was a daily sinner. However, I decided to up the anty and stop caring about faith, grace, hope and mercy. The worst part of it all was that I was such a good actress. I could turn on the charm and perk-factor for anyone. Very few people knew the decisions I was making. Most people still saw that bubbly young lady.
My parents began to attend another church. I would go between that church and one of the many churches my boyfriend's family visited. I would stand and sing. I would sit and smile. But my heart was hardened. I was not engaged in personal quiet time. I did not read my Bible. I did not pray, except for the mealtime blessing. I avoided fellowship with believers...I really avoided fellowship with anyone other than my boyfriend or my siblings. I trusted no one. I didn't want to hurt again.
Thankfully, there were people who God graciously brought into my path who cared about me. I remember one evening when the pastor and youth pastor from the church my parents were visiting came to our house...to visit with me! They came to reach out to me. They asked me questions, they answered my questions, and they listened to me. For a teenager, that meant the world. Eventually, I became more involved. During my time in that youth group, I felt called to share my testimony with other teens. My heart's desire was to keep other young ladies from making the mistakes I had. I wanted to go back to being a positive role model for my younger sister and brothers. I wanted to try and regain my place in the church. Here is what is so beautiful--God never moved. While I avoided His wonderful gifts, He never removed them from me. His forgiveness, grace and mercy were there for the asking. All I had to do was just that--ASK! Then, I had to take some action steps. I asked God to light me back up. I asked Him to wash me clean from the hurt I had caused myself and others. I confessed my mistakes to others--my parents, my siblings, my youth pastor and his wife, the youth group...I didn't give them graphic details, but I told them enough to let them know I knew I was not perfect, that I had messed up, and that I had been a false leader in their lives. I lost some friends from telling the truth, and that's ok. I had to work very hard to regain the trust of my parents and siblings. I started reading my Bible again. I started praying daily. I began to worship with my heart open. I started serving. When I went down the road to college, I would come back home every weekend. On Sunday afternoons, I would lead the children's choir and teach Team Kid. I felt the call to work with children so strongly then. I was 18 years old.
Now, I find myself in another time of transition away from a church that was home. For almost 5 years for my kiddos and me (and for 13 years for Brian), we attended, worked, served, and loved at a church that was like our family. God spoke very clearly to Brian, me and our children that it was our time to leave this church. Sometimes, it is really hard to be obedient. Sometimes, it seems easier to keep up appearances and routines. Justifying staying somewhere out of want is not hard to do. I really believe God had to use "louder" methods to get our family's attention to make us realize and fully understand He had another plan for us. Leaving that church has been a challenge, but it also has been an incredible blessing. With my past, I wanted to act vigilantly and proactively for our children. I knew we would need time away from any church to heal and process. I also knew how easy it is to walk away from church altogether. Brian, our kiddos and myself have had many intentional and age-appropriate conversations about why we left. We all feel God moving us to something new. In our time away from a church building, we have been having church at home. On Sunday mornings, we would watch a worship service online then follow-up with a discussion. Every night, we come together for a time of family devotion. Each night, a different family member is responsible for leading the Bible study and prayer time. Last week, we had a conversation where we all talked about feeling that we were individually being prompted to try an actual church. We visited one, and we were very encouraged. It matters so much to me to not only protect my heart from hardening, but to work as hard as I can to show our children the way to fight against the temptation to give in to cynicism, doubt and distrust. I am so happy with how God is working in our family. He is preparing each one of us for something as individuals and as a whole family.
In this time of rest and healing, we are being intentional about holding each other accountable about time in the Bible--both alone and together. This week, we spent some time in Psalm 18. One of the things I love about God is that He is never surprised. He is the One holding the master plan. He has given us affirmation and confirmation as we have needed it. He has joined our family closer together. He has revealed His beauty to us and is continuing to encourage us. Psalm 18 was written by David. It was most likely written towards the end of His life. Very similar words can be found in 2 Samuel 22. Anytime I teach, I like to say that if God put something in the Bible more than once, it's His way of yelling--PAY ATTENTION!!! READ THIS!!! APPLY IT!!! That's my interpretation, at least. Both passages sing praise to God for deliverance and strength. I loved reading this passage because it reminded me of God's faithfulness. He was faithful in my childhood filled with lovely memories. He was faithful in my teen years when I was not. He was faithful in bringing this family together. He is being faithful in guiding us on our current journey. In Psalm 18, there are so many great "one-liners" to point readers to His faithfulness and strength. If you need some refreshment and to be fired up at the same time, take some time to read this Psalm! How can you go wrong with a passage that starts with: "I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer..."?
P.S. Don't you just love my "models". Thank you to Titus, Cecely and Hannah P. for working so hard, for putting Jesus first, and for making my job as a Mama look pretty easy. I love you!