Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stop and Breathe

So, I'll admit that I've taken a breather this month.  I was sick for a good long while, my hubby had to leave for some Army stuff, and I was just ... Tired.  But I'm trying to catch up on writing, even if my church attendance has been sadly lacking.  This week begins a new month, and hopefully a renewing of energy for me.

In the meantime, though, I had looked at some of my links for streaming church services, and came across Ed Young Fellowship live. Someone had recommended it, and I clicked on it for a little while.

And, well, I didn't even watch the service. The ad at the beginning (for a women's conference, it looked like) had me baffled and feeling lost.

Is it me, or does it seem that there are a lot of churches out there that seem to think God wants a performance?  I don't mean a heartfelt worship song or a fervently prayed messaged, I mean a show.  Bright lights, fancy outfits, perfect hair.  The music is thrilling, the lighting just right, and the anticipation builds.  The ad I saw even had a woman walking down what appeared to be a red carpet.  All that was needed was paparazzi.

I didn't watch the service.  In fact, I didn't watch any streaming service that day.  The lights and "action" of even that felt too much for me.

And today, writing these words and realizing that I don't want Hollywood and I don't want "the show" most days (especially not when finally getting over the creeping crud I thought would never leave) --

I find these words, instead: "Do What You Do." In this mother's blog, she speaks of how she is "supposed" to be writing, but "goes rogue" and does something else instead. Something fun. Something equally necessary but, reading between the lines, something that probably could wait. She speaks of reading a book, Bittersweet, which reassured her that sometimes she has to accept her limits.

"Accepting our true lives, defining what we are actually called to do and acknowledging our limitations and our strengths can be the castle drawbridge to freedom."

Oh. Well, ok then. That line spoke to me so strongly that I stopped reading completely for a moment.

And then I read this: "There’s freedom here, in acceptance, in allowing myself to breathe, in knowing what I can do and not expecting from myself the ability to do the things I can’t."

I'm not sure what happened this month so that I wasn't attending church for several Sundays in a row. Some of it was physical, and my health certainly needed renewing. But the rest of it was purely mental, even spiritual in nature. I just needed days of rest. Not just one. But several in a row. And then I'd feel bad about it, and that got me exactly nowhere. And then I'd need another day of rest.

So I'll get back to writing. And I'll get back to church. I'll especially need it next week, for Mother's Day. My Little G and I have plans that day, so I'll be attending the earlier service.  

But in the meantime, I won't beat myself up for the things that I didn't do.  I will simply embrace that which I did do, and did accomplish, and did experience.

More doing, less fretting.  

Matthew 6:34

New International Version (NIV)
34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

No. No, NO. (And nothing about a church.)

A few years ago, I wrote a poem when a friend was reminding herself that "A no is a no and that was ok."  It sounded poetic (Ok it sounded like Dr. Seuss, but hey, I like Dr. Seuss.) I jotted down one of my fastest poems ever.  I found the poem again, just recently, and felt like I needed to put it down where someone else might read it.

A No Is A No--

A no is a no,
And a no, is Ok.
He will show me His yes
In His time and His way.

For although I don't see it
And although I can't know
His timing is perfect
And the way I should go.

When my life is a desert
And my dreams, dry as dust,
His plans are made present
And His mercies are just.

So instead of down-gazing,
In my grief, fury or fear,
I will focus on His love,
His grace drawing me near.

So a no is a no,
Or a "Maybe," or "Wait"...
His love is always a "Yes," though
And his mercies are great.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Apostolic, Pentecostal, and Yay, God

On my way to a friend's house, I saw a church I hadn't noticed before. Modern traditional in style, or so I am beginning to categorize this type of building, it looked interesting.  With trees surrounding the parking lot, it looked welcoming as well.  Church times were clearly posted and a website invited me to look closer before my visit.

First Church Harker Heights, or Harker Heights Apostolic UPC (as written on the back of the bulletin, has a terrific website.  It outlines their ministries, their beliefs, church times, location, and welcomes folks to "get connected" within the church congregation.  It isn't an overly large church, and appears to have plenty of space to grow, but the morning Sunday School was full and there were several ushers waiting to greet newcomers.

Three separate people asked me to be sure to fill out the visitor form. The third and last, was a tall older gentleman who welcomed me by clasping my hands in his weathered and warm palms, saying how glad he was that I was there. I couldn't stop myself from hugging him. When the worship team had finished their songs, this same gentleman took my visitor form to the basket at the front, and pointed me out to the associate pastor.  This church calls out all visitors by name, but they don't ask us to stand or otherwise call attention to ourselves. They just want to be sure we know they're glad we're there.

I saw a friend from work, and gave her a hug. "I didn't know you came here!" and "This is my first time." amid smiles. Each church I've visited, it's as thought God has sent people there so I don't feel so alone. Whether they are people I know, or a welcoming committee of one, there has been some sign of God's welcome in every single church.

The message from the pastor was a good one for me, as I'd been wrestling with whether or not I had a "testimony" or even anything to share with people.  So what did he say?

"Be a voice -- we have a story, we have a testimony.  If He's done ONE GOOD THING, we have a story.  We're wasting our voice, taking it for granted.  Don't be an echo, be a voice."

Isaiah 43:9-11 --
9 All the nations gather together
and the peoples assemble.
Which of their gods foretold this
     and proclaimed to us the former things?
Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right,
     so that others may hear and say, "It is true."
"You are my witnesses," declares the Lord
     "and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
     and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
     nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am the Lord,
     and apart from me there is no savior.   

I did enjoy my visit to this church, and there is no doubt whatsoever that they welcome new people.  However, I said at the beginning of this journey that I would say if I'd return to a church or not, and this is a church I won't be choosing at the end.

So why not?

First Church is an Apostolic Church, and a member of the United Pentecostal Church.  I knew nothing of this at the beginning, but there were certain things in the church itself that makes it not quite a good fit for me.  Within the Apostolic community, as I've learned, it is traditional for women to dress very chastely.  What this means is that their skirts are generally below the knee (mine was knee-length, though no one looked at me twice) and they tend not to cut their hair.  There were many women with hair down to their knees or in elaborate twists upon their heads. I have no issue with any of this, but it is not something that feels comfortable or necessary for me. In fact. it feels distinctly uncomfortable to me. 

There was a lot of bouncing, and shouting, and raising of hands. Lots of "Amens!" and even quite a few "Yay, God!" exultations. The pastor jumped up and down, hands clasped or raised high, during each of the songs. There was a lot of spirit in the church, but I am not a particularly "rowdy" churchgoer so it felt like I stood out by not shouting or bouncing.  Apparently, even though I love a passionate worship time, there is a limit to my comfort zone. This church crossed that limit, just a little. I couldn't tell you why other churches with the same sort of energy did not make me feel equally uncomfortable.  

Faith and worship are deeply personal.

In the meantime, as I looked for the song (I think) we sang, I found a song I hope to someday sing at one of these churches, and I thought I'd share it here.  The chorus makes me teary. 

What a Friend We Have

She's been in my thoughts a lot lately, she and the Sunday School classroom where she taught.  Wiggly, giggly, 7-year-olds in patent-leather Mary Janes must have taxed her patience, but she had love to share.  Her name was Ella Mae Dasse (Daw-sey) and she talked that day about friendship, and God, and how we could have a friend with us always.

There was more to her, of course. When I had chicken pox and was feeling better but still too contagious to go to school, she and her sweet, quiet husband watched me for a couple of days so Mom could work. They made treats for me, and had me take some to my brother. They took me shopping when they had errands to run on the last day of that week, and bought me a lollipop. I think we played games, and they let me read to my heart's desire. They were good and sweet people, and so very patient with the 7-year-old precociousness that was me.

But the day I remember the most, and the feelings that are clearest, are from that Sunday School class.  I remember she was talking about how, if we asked Him to, Jesus could enter our hearts and stay with us forever.  He would always be our friend, He would always be there for us, because God loved us and could live in our hearts.  This was pure magic to me.

You see, when I was 7, the rift between my parents was beginning to grow.  My brother had some problems, and the family was trying to get help.  My grandfather had stopped living with us, and I missed him deeply. There was so much going on I was beginning to feel adrift and alone.  I was also a little different from the girls my age at the church.  I dressed differently, I liked books more than TV shows, and I felt things more deeply than most of my peers.  I had friends at school, but already some friends had moved away or shifted groups and were less close than before.  I was a little girl who desperately needed a friend.  I especially needed a friend who would never change, would never leave me, and who loved me.

I asked Mrs. Dasse how I could do that, how I could ask Him into my heart.  She stood with me behind a portable chalkboard, and we prayed together that very morning.  I remember her hands in mine, I remember the softness of her hug, and I remember the feeling that yes, Someone was now in my heart and would always be with me.

I know that the common church lingo is that I was saved that day, that Mrs. Dasse brought a soul to God that morning.  The reason that I am writing about it, though, is because I know there are many people who may not believe all that the Bible has to say, and may not believe all that churches like to preach.  But I can just about guarantee that these are some of the same people who need that friend like I did that day, and have so many days since.

I'm no evangelical, I have lots of doubts, but this one thing I know to be totally true.  He lives in me. There have been times I have forgotten to draw close to Him, have forgotten to rest my cares on Him, and have needed to change things in my life to feel closer to Him.  But He has never left me.  He has always been with me.  And that, regardless of what I understand or don't understand about how God works, has saved me.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

You'll Be Glad You Did

I’ve learned a lot about churches since beginning this project, and I’ve also learned or re-learned some things about myself and what is important to me.  

I’ve discovered that having a connection at church can make the whole week go easier. 

I’ve seen that music and message can go hand in hand, and sometimes one strikes home much more than the other.

I’ve seen incredible warmth and depth of spirit.

I have also learned, however, that sometimes I am not a social person.  Sometimes the thought of being in a room full of people, no matter who they are, is more than I can or want to handle.  I may not be sad or tired or anything other than just wanting quiet and a little bit of solitude.

But I still want church.  I still want God. 

St. Patrick’s Day was one of those days this year.   I had been dithering and stalling, trying to decide which church to attend, and finally realized I just didn’t want to be around people other than my family.   I’ve been working on this project long enough to have a pretty good list of places I’d like to visit, and online services that have been recommended.   This Sunday, a friend just happened to post a link on Facebook to one of those recommended churches, and a series they were doing called, “You’ll Be Glad You Did.”  With a title like that, and my friend’s comment that it was worth the watch for couples, I was intrigued.

And, perhaps, a little relieved. 

Northpoint Community Church, with its main campus in Alpharetta, Georgia, would be considered a mega-church.  I read one link that said it was founded in 1995 as a church the un-churched love to attend.  The message in "You'll Be Glad You Did Part II"?

Husbands and wives submit to each other.

Obviously this is a hot-button topic.  One that isn't that popular in today's modern society, and I'm not sure anyone except men enjoyed it when all we'd hear was, "Wives submit to your husbands..." and the rest of the verses went away.

Here is the whole thing, Ephesians 5:22-30:  22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.  25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body.

The part that struck me the most, watching the video, was a diagram like the one above.  He spoke about wives submitting to their husbands, of course.  Few churchgoers will be unfamiliar with that particular part of the Bible.  However, he also talks about husbands submitting to their wives.  He said that submission is the act of putting the other person, their needs and wants and goals, ahead of one’s own.  He talked about how marriage is to be mutually submissive, with both partners submitting first to God.   It is a marriage of three beings, with submission to God being primary.  The push-pull of the marital submission is one that will remain with me long after I am done with this blog.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Easter Sunday

(Note:  I have three posts to catch up on...the last few weeks have been very busy.  I don't know why, but I got this one written first, so I'll post it first and catch up on the others as I go.)

Since I went to a Catholic church in Tucson for Christmas, I thought I should try one for Easter.  As important as Christmas is, it's Easter that truly tells the tale of Christianity. 

First rule when attending Catholic Mass on one of the High Holy days – Go early. 

VERY early. 

I wasn’t early enough, so my view was over the shoulders of those seated in the foyer, just able to glimpse the sanctuary and tabernacle through huge wooden doors.  My feet were aching in shoes not designed for long standing, my ears straining for any understandable word.  I could only hear the muted voices of the speakers and the choir, with an occasional song floating my way.  It became a very visual service, because I could hear so little.

Things I could see: 

Knights of Columbus dignified in full regalia (I had to ask someone who they were). 

The parish priest, all in white, sprinkling the congregants with Holy water. 

A frail older woman, oxygen tank resting on her walker, determinedly rising to her feet in unison with others more able. 

A gentleman, seated close to that woman, gently assisting her as she left after service.

A newborn, face red from teary effort, finally resting comfortably in his mother’s arms.

A teeny tot, feathery ponytails bouncing, quietly kicking her feet as she rode her father’s shoulders.

Three boys, sorely vexing their mother.

Two young couples, holding hands and smiling.

Two friends from work.

The solemn deacon, lips moving through his blessing, offering Communion.

Candlelight flickering, the prayers of the faithful rising with smoke.

I’ve never experienced such a service.  In near-silence, anything extra was stripped away and I could clearly see so many aspects of God that my list grew long.  Austere and lovely, formal and fine, this was one Easter I will not soon forget.

Happy Spring. He is Risen!