"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

God’s Got My Playlist

I’m not one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I love starting a new year.  The first few weeks of the year are filled with anticipation for getting a fresh start in life.  It’s like a brand-new notebook with blank pages to fill.  I love getting a new calendar and getting all my colored gel pens out and planning out my dreams for the year.  Things left unaccomplished the year before can be revisited; a new year always holds such promise for good things to come. 

Last summer, I had made plans to run a half marathon in the fall.  The MO Cowbell Race is the first half marathon I ever ran, and it’s held close to home.  For me training in the summer is a challenge because Missouri summers are hot and humid.  I started training in June, a few weeks before our summer vacation, and disappointingly, did not continue once we got back.  I was filled with good intentions and equally reasonable excuses—it was hot, I was too busy, I was lonely running by myself on long runs—crowned by my favorite, this year was just not my year for running.  My long runs on Sundays had been replaced with attending worship service with Mom in the nursing home with my dad.  I could not rise to the challenge of training because I convinced myself the timing was all wrong.

Fall came and went, and I put running aside.  A friend of mine texted me in early November asking if I had planned to do any spring half marathons.  She had just signed up to do the full marathon and hoped we could encourage and hold one another accountable.  I wanted to say yes, but I couldn’t bring myself to commit to it.  The holidays were on the horizon and I didn’t want to agree to something I couldn’t keep up with again. The fear of failure stymied me.  What if the timing wasn’t right in 2019 either?

Fast forward to the fresh page of January on the 2019 calendar.  After eating (and drinking) way too many calories over Christmas and New Year’s, the notes and pages of dreams and promises I was making for myself glared at me almost as harshly as the bathroom scale.  I missed my Saturday morning run that I’d planned because the bed felt much better than lacing up my shoes and hitting the pavement.  It turned out to be a beautiful day, a rare 60-degree January day, and I spent it lazing around the house curled up with my thoughts and my notebook.  But instead of finding joy in my journaling and planning, the realization hit me that life happens whether you plan for it or not.  I can doodle my ideas in one hundred different colors, but that is all they are, ideas.  I was full of ideas, but unless I took action, they remained there on the pages on a notebook.  If I stumbled on this notebook in two years, would I be proud of what I did with those dreams?  Or would they serve as a reminder of when I thought the time was just not right?  What if there was no perfect time, and I just needed to suck it up and start doing instead of dreaming?  If I waited until I was ready I would never get started.

Determination brewed out of disappointment in myself, and Saturday night I laid out my running clothes, set my alarm and selected my “Getting Started Again” one-off workout on my running app.  My plan was to keep it simple—take my tried and true running route I always run when I’m trying to just get in the miles and not think too much.  But I couldn’t let it be too routine.  I didn’t want to fall too much into a routine I abandoned before.  My answer was a brand-new running playlist.

There are songs I always put on my running playlists, but I wanted to have some new ones to freshen it up a little.  In addition to my tried and true song additions, I added a few just because I liked the title, and hey, if Spotify thought it was a song I’d like, they were probably right.  This was a new season of training and I wanted to shake it up a bit.  My taste in music tends to run the gamut, so I never know if I’m going to hear cheesy pop, inspirational, classic rock or alt metal next during my run.  I went to sleep pleased with my plan and my newly-found motivation.

When I got up Sunday morning, I followed through with my plan and got myself out the door.  It was another gorgeous day for a run, and I started my slow trek up the street thinking that this would be the start to many weekend runs over the next few months.  My workout plan guidance barked out the walk/run intervals I’d set up the night before.  They weren’t overly ambitious, but I needed to feel like I could start at this place near the bottom and feel encouraged when I improved.  The first running interval, my lungs burned, and my knee wanted to protest, but I kept it up until the walk interval kicked in and saved me.     

My playlist was spot-on, too.  I was rounding the corner, starting on the third running interval, when one of the songs came on that I picked based on the title without ever hearing it before.  If I hadn’t been trying to keep up my pace, I probably would have stopped dead in my tracks, but I plodded on, listening in awe to the lyrics.  On a playlist with songs one would be more likely to find on Hair Nation or Ozzy’s Boneyard than Joy FM Christian radio, one of a handful of inspirational songs came on. It was called “Get Your Hopes Up” by Josh Baldwin.  I’d never heard the song or the artist before, and had added it on a whim.  The song lyrics began:

 Get Your Hopes Up*

I see the sun waking up in the morning

Reviving dreams

I feel the wind on my back with promise

Reminding me

There’s a garment of praise for heaviness

There’s a new song burning inside my chest

I’m living in the goodness that He brings.

Those words were exactly what I needed to hear.  I wanted to know that I wasn’t in it alone and that it was okay to aspire to things within times of uncertainty in my abilities and circumstances.  I wasn’t too old for new beginnings, and I wasn’t out of line to dream outside the box. I wanted validation, and a simple, randomly shuffled song on my playlist during a run was where I found it that day.  It went deeper than just the running, it was a rare moment that filled me with peace about where I was in my life in that very moment.  It’s only when doodles and thoughts on notebook pages become action that life happens, in spite of loved ones on Hospice, kids leaving home and getting older.

I have twelve weeks to get ready for this half marathon. This time I signed up to train with a running group on Saturday mornings so I can’t talk myself out of those long runs on the weekend.  Because I’m terrified of getting left behind somewhere unfamiliar on a group run, I know I’ll be working on keeping my pace up, too.  Nothing like a little peer pressure for motivation to not slack off. 

Oh, and a good playlist.  I have an awesome, eclectic playlist to keep me going that seems to have been divinely shuffled.  Everyone needs one of those.

*written by Josh Baldwin, Bobby Strand, Nate Moore, Tony Brown

© 2016 Bethel Music Publishing (ASCAP) / Bethel Worship Publishing (BMI) / Mouth of the River Music (BMI) (admin by Bethel Worship Publishing) / Tony Brown Music Designee (BMI) (admin by Bethel Worship Publishing). 

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Tweaked Traditions

 

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A meal out with my grandparents.  We were at Howard Johnson’s or Sambo’s (I think Howard Johnson’s bought out the Sambo’s chain at some point, but the decor was the same for a while).  We used to go to those two places a lot.  When you would clean your plate,  you would reveal a little picture on the plate, because at that time I needed that kind of incentive to eat everything.  

My family has had certain routines and traditions that go as far back as I can remember, many that began well before I was born and continued long after I became an adult out on my own.  One was my mom getting her hair done every Saturday at the hairdresser (washed, put in rollers and heatset under the dryer for 45 minutes), followed by lunch out with my dad.  As a kid, I was surprised when I learned that other moms actually only went to the salon to get a haircut once in a while and did their own hair every day.  I’d seen my grandma get her hair done this way (pinning it up with little clips and tissues and not sleeping with a pillow during the week to keep it nice) and so I assumed that’s how grown-up ladies managed their hair.  I was greatly relieved to find out as I grew older that the practice was a little old-fashioned and unusual, and I didn’t have to keep up that tradition.  I don’t think I could sit still 45 minutes under a dryer every week, and I know I couldn’t give up my pillow so my hair would look pretty.

Still, there have been other little routines that I grew up with that I cherish, and as an adult, even miss from when I was a kid. Sunday morning was spent going to church, a practice normally preceded by my brother and I trying to find ways to dawdle long enough to be too late for service so we could get out of going.  But after church, well, that was another story.  The reward for going to church was getting to go out to lunch, which was certainly a treat.  We were allowed to drink soda and could order what we wanted to eat, as long as it wasn’t too expensive.

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Often, my grandparents would go out to lunch with us.  I can tell this is a post-church picture, because my dad is wearing a suit…a leisure suit, but a suit nonetheless.  Gotta love those.

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As I became an adult with my own family, we continued this habit of lunch out after church, oftentimes eating with Dad and Mom.  It was a time to connect with them, catch up on what was going on with everyone, and just be a family.  As it always does, over time this became less and less frequent as life got busier with kids’ activities and commitments.  After we started attending a different church, and my aging parents didn’t get out to church as often, those Sunday afternoons with my parents became a thing of the past.

It was such a gradual thing I think I hardly noticed until I realized the little family tradition had ended.  That season of life, for all of us, and a humble routine that I took for granted, had come to a close.

A few days before Halloween last year, my mom suffered another round of strokes that left her very weak and unable to swallow.  She stayed in the hospital until the beginning of December, when they discharged her into a skilled nursing center.  I felt very comfortable with the place we picked for Mom, as my daughter, Erin, and I have volunteered for the last few years helping with our church’s service held there once a month.  It was always clean, the staff friendly and caring towards the residents, and not too far from our house.  But, still, it was placing her in the care of strangers, away from the familiarity of home, family and her beloved dog.

The first few weeks at the nursing home were a new experience for all of us, having never navigated that particular system before.  Admitted under her health insurance plan, she was given daily physical and speech therapy (that worked on her swallowing ability) for about three weeks.  Unfortunately, the health insurance company decided that there was unlikely to be any more progress to be had, and said she was ready to go home, even though her sole nutrition was through a feeding tube, she was unable to dress herself, walk or get out of bed unassisted (thus, use the restroom by herself without major help).  My father’s health is less than ideal—he has mobility issues and cannot get around by himself, either, so sending her home was not an option for us.  We made the decision to keep her there at the home, as a resident versus in a rehabilitation setting.  Anyone who has ever had a loved one in a nursing home understands the range of emotions it brings to the family, as well as the patient.  No matter how much I realized that the level of care needed for Mom was beyond my family’s and my abilities, it felt like we had given up on her.

As she continued to improve slowly, and was able to sit up for longer periods of time, we started bringing her down to the church service held in the main dining room on Sunday mornings.  The first time we took her was the morning of Christmas Eve.  Snow was falling like a scene straight from a movie, and as I listened to the message and watched the snowflakes fall gracefully through the large front windows of the facility, I took in the sight of all the residents in their wheelchairs.  Some were listening intently, others sleeping; my mom was sitting with my husband, Darrell, hunched over a songbook. I quietly sucked in my breath, and realized it was the first time that holiday season that it actually felt like Christmas.  It wasn’t the Christmases of my childhood, and my dad wasn’t there with us, but it felt like it would all be okay.  I felt peace.

Since then, we’ve started to take her to the service every Sunday that we can.  When I visit her during the week, she continues to tell me how much she got out of the service from the previous Sunday.  She’s been getting to know the people that help with the service, as well as the other residents.  She’s known around the facility as the Dog Lady.  I bought her a stuffed dog that looks like her dog at home, and even though she knows it’s not real, it keeps her company.  She says it makes her think of me, and she brings it with her wherever she goes.  During the week, several visitors bring their dogs with them, and they all know to take their canines to go visit Mom.  She will shower them with all the love and praises a little doggy could hope for.

More recently, my dad has been joining us on Sunday mornings.  He loves that we sing the old hymns he enjoys so much and he gets to take communion.  Dad and Mom hold hands during church, and share the songbook together.  There are times I see the two of them like that and my eyes fill with tears I can’t hide.  It is so precious to see a love that has endured.  I will put my arm around my mom and squeeze her thin, bony shoulder during the verses in the songs where I know where she gets emotional.  In that moment, we are a family.

Mom has been slowly weaned from the feeding tube, and we now have lunch in the dining room of the nursing home after church.  Darrell makes a point of going out to get us something from a local restaurant that we will all enjoy and brings it back for us to share a meal together.  Last week we had a video call with our son, Tyler, who is away at college, so he can say hello to his Grandpa and Grandma.  We laugh and catch up on all the things going on and just enjoy being together.

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After the church service before lunch.  Interesting to see we’re back to brightly-colored chairs and carpet.  All things old really are new again, I guess.

I wish I could tell you that we turned a corner and since we re-vitalized this family tradition all is happy and well, but of course, that isn’t true.  The reality of navigating the health issues of the elderly has many twists and concerns, and there are still good days and bad days.  These Sunday mornings often serve as a reminder of where all of us are in this journey of life.  Yet, somehow this comforting routine of church and lunch connects us in a way that no other gathering of our family does.  The familiarity of this simple custom, even under different circumstances with limitations, brings us immeasurable joy.

Some traditions go by the way of hair rollers and overly-long hair-drying sessions.  That’s not such a bad thing!  And sometimes a tradition just needs a tweak to make an old thing new all over again.  A family tradition that focuses on the family part, not all the details of the where and when, or practiced merely for the sake of tradition, is the one that will be remembered, cherished, and celebrated.  Even in the most unexpected places.

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The meals are simple, the ambiance is a little different, but the company can’t be beat.

My Story Isn’t Finished Yet

This past Sunday, when I walked into church, I thought to myself, this is my church. To most people, that probably sounds weird, but it’s a bit of a significant step for me. Even more significant was, that after the service, I felt that way even more. I wrote a post a while back about how our family started going to a new church after a lifetime of attending at what I believe I’ll always feel is my “home” church. It’s hard to go from attending church where you know practically everyone in your church family, even if not necessarily by name, to going to where you only know just a handful of people. But I’m trying to learn names and reach out to other people there. And I want to get involved in some of the groups they have. I’m finding it’s not as easy as when we had small children to get us involved.

In any event, Sunrise, the new church we’ve been going to, is more contemporary than the church I grew up in. While that’s been an adjustment, it’s also been good to experience new ways of doing things. (Don’t laugh, but since the words are projected on a screen in front, and I’m so used to holding a hymnal book, I don’t know what to do with my hands when we sing!   I end up tapping the chair ahead of me. I know, I know—it’s the little things.) At Sunrise, messages are organized into themed-series. We just started a series at the beginning of the year called, I Am Second. Each week during the message there are testimonials from people—some more famous than others—that tell how they came to the decision to make God first in their lives. You can see several of them online at www.IAmSecond.com.

I love hearing people tell their faith stories. Mostly because I never thought I had one. Last week, there was a video of a Christian radio personality named Brant Hansen. I had not heard of him before, but he talked about how the challenges in his life have always been a way for God to work through his weaknesses. The pastor tied this into how we view ourselves and how this self-perception is a reflection of how we think the world sees us. He then related it to Psalm 139. This is the Psalm where David acknowledges God’s intimate knowledge of him and how he was a creation—a perfect creation—of God. We were encouraged to take a look at our lives and see what it is that we haven’t done based on our own self-perceived (human) limitations. Very thought provoking.

My faith journey has never been a straight path. It has a lot of backtracking and zig zags. I try to live a life that God would approve of, but I don’t necessarily wear my faith on my sleeve. I am far from perfect. In short, I still have a long way to go!

I grew up going to church almost every Sunday. I can’t remember not having God in my life. I do remember when I was about eight years old I went to something at a church with my friend where they had an altar call. I went down because I thought it was cool. I already know Jesus, I remember thinking. I didn’t go to church there, and I figured since they didn’t know me, if I didn’t go down there they’d think I was a heathen. I said a prayer they told me to say and felt that I was golden with a guaranteed ticket to heaven. Looking back, I can definitely relate to something Brant Hansen said in his video. He said that he decided (as a kid) to believe in Jesus because he didn’t want to go to Hell, but didn’t really have a relationship with Him. Uh, yeah.

I’m used to hearing people tell tremendous faith stories of transformation, usually after adversity. They tend to have one defining moment where they reached out to Jesus and at that point never looked back. I think I never had “a” faith story because I compared my life to others. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that instead I have chapters, because my story isn’t finished yet. Along the way, I’ve lived out several faith stories. I have to recommit to Christ daily—to remind myself to whom I belong. And while I’ve not had a single, “lightbulb moment” in my faith, this daily watering of a single seed has grown some seriously deep roots.

I want to share with you one tiny faith story from my personal faith version of “Canterbury Tales”: I procrastinated writing this post because I kept tossing around the idea of a person’s faith story. I wanted to tie in self-doubt and identity struggles, because they are a featured player in so many of my life’s chapters. I’d start and not finish. I’d delete and go in a different direction.   The post almost ended up in the “yeah, it was a great idea, but now what do I do with it?” pile. I know God is up there laughing because the longer I cast it aside, the more He got in my face about writing it. Songs on the radio. Conversations with co-workers. Even Facebook posts from friends. Every whispered, “Write it!” gathered together into a loud, collective shout. Today, it was song lyrics from Casting Crowns’ song, “The Voice of Truth” that became the catalyst for putting thoughts on paper:

But the waves are calling out my name
And they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times
I’ve tried before and failed
The waves they keep on telling me
Time and time again. “Boy, you’ll never win!”
“You’ll never win!”

Chorus:
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid!”
The voice of truth says, “This is for My glory”
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth

If I didn’t at least try to write this post, I was letting those waves win. And ignoring the voice of truth—which definitely doesn’t make for a good faith story. So I looked up those lyrics, and I even saw a You Tube video where I learned the story behind this song. I closed my eyes and opened up my heart, and the words came.

Profound? Maybe a little. Life-changing? Not exactly, but one more brick in the wall of my faith. And another chapter to My Story, unfinished as it is.

Life Car Re-Set

My life rarely keeps to a calendar for following any of the seasons. On January 1, it still feels a lot like December 31st. And the day I turned forty played out much like many of those when I was thirty-nine (except for the surprise party Darrell had for me). Of course, there are those beginnings, like the school year or a new routine, that creep into a sort of normalcy on the calendar. But an individual’s personal season of growth—that indistinct period when you can look back in hindsight and say without a doubt that it was during that time when a slow, gradual change took hold of you—seems to come in no set timeframe. Often when I view those instances they seem like a time when God picked my car off the Life game board and re-set it into a new path.

The reason I believe it’s a new direction from God is because I realize (normally well after the fact) that the occasions when I’ve grown the most personally are times when I was not burdened with self-doubt. It’s when I decide to roll the dice to see what happens and just trust that things are going to be okay. It is always okay, you know. Sometimes it’s a “new normal” or there are rough patches, but somehow I always muddle through. Please note that I’m not advocating not thinking through the consequences of your choices and pulling out all your savings to buy lottery tickets! What I am advocating is that sometimes to move forward you have to take a step out of your comfort zone. And sometimes you have to rely on your gut feelings.

How I once got a job is a great example. I quit my previous job before I’d actually gotten a new one—a huge deal for me. After all, I’m a stability freak and what if no one hired me right away? But I knew it was what I had to do, because if I’d stayed where I was, I was going to be stuck there like the story about putting a frog in hot water. If someone puts a frog into a pot of very hot water, the frog will jump out of the pot.  But, if one puts the frog into a pot of cool water, and then heats it up very, very slowly, the frog will not jump out – it will allow itself to be boiled. Because the temperature is increasing so slowly, there is no ‘trigger’ to signal the danger in the frog, so the frog takes no action to avoid it. I was gradually allowing my dissatisfaction to become an acceptable way of living. So I took a step out in faith, and finally turned in my resignation letter that I’d been carrying around in my purse for almost two months. Believe it or not, I received a phone call with a job offer as I was pulling out of the parking lot on my last day of work at my old job.

In my experience, it’s usually a convergence of events that trigger a period of growth, so I have a hard time pinpointing which domino fell first. And somehow I just know that a change is right around the corner. Life goes on in a similar way day after day, and all of a sudden it feels different somehow—I start expectantly waiting for something to happen. The other reason why I know it comes from God is because I’m not anxious about what’s in store, I’m excited and I draw closer to Him with a mindset of peace. The future looks a little brighter and it feels like I’m turning in the right direction. The Life car re-set.

And I do have a lot of exciting things going on in my life right now—finding a new church, taking a financial class with my husband, making more concrete writing plans, supporting Tyler in his college decisions, finishing training for the two fall half-marathons—all these things are in the forefront of my daily life at the moment. I’m choosing to savor this time; it’s not a time of unrestful upheaval, but one of contemplated contentedness. Yet, when it starts getting a little too warm for me, I’m ready to jump. Time to get out of the hot water and into my little Life car.

Growing Up with My Dad

Our family circa 1973. Love the plaid!

As a kid, I don’t remember having the hectic evening schedule that our family does now. My mom was a stay-at-home Mom, and Dad got home from work around four o’clock in the afternoon. I remember he always had a recliner in the family room (we liked to call it his Archie Bunker chair—though my kind-hearted Dad and Archie don’t have much in common!) He worked outside all year around—our family business was a sand plant—so in the summer, stretching out in the recliner in the AC was a wonderful reprieve from the heat. He’d kick off his shoes, to which we kids were obliged to moan and groan about the stench—whether they actually were odiferous or not—and usually cat nap for about half an hour before he watched the news. The 5 o’clock news was always on at our home. Followed by the 5:30 national news and then back to the local 6 o’clock news. I remember I always hated when I had to turn off the channel I was watching so we could watch grown up shows like the news.

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This photo was taken after we’d had new carpet installed and Dad’s recliner hadn’t been put back in the family room yet. He took his nap right on the floor next to the dog. He’d worked hard, out in the heat all day. The same cannot be said for the dog.

When my brother and I were young teens, we got an Atari game system one year for Christmas, so sometimes when he came home he’d play Asteroids with us. To this day, I can remember us taking turns in front of the old console TV on these 70s-style hassocks my mom had. My dad, this big six foot three guy, would lean into his moves on that joystick with a lot of gusto, firing shots from that little triangle at those monstrous space rocks. I’m surprised the legs of those hassocks didn’t snap!

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That was the old set-up. The hassocks we sat on to play Atari or watch TV up too close were stacked there on the left. Oh, and Scamp, our family dog was front and center, too.

 Though he had to stop in later years for health reasons, when I was a kid Dad smoked a pipe. His favorite tobacco was this horrible smelling Captain Black. It came in a white pouch with black lettering and a picture of what looked like a pirate on it. For Christmas we’d buy him fancy tobacco from a cigar shop at the mall—Honey Cavendish or Cherry blend, which he always would smoke, but now I wonder if he did it just so it wouldn’t hurt our feelings. I think he really did like that Captain Black. He was a fairly polite smoker, before it became politically correct to be one. I have many memories of him doing a little hot pocket dance when he’d try to stow his pipe away in his pocket before it was cooled off. Note that this politeness in smoking did not extend to his family in the car. Nothing worse than being in the car in the middle of winter with the windows rolled up! Of course, this was well before all the public service announcements about second hand smoke. My brother and I just learned to hold our breath for a really long time.

As Daddy’s little girl, I got by with a lot of stuff my brother didn’t. A lot of things Kevin got yelled at for, I’d get maybe a stern look. Maybe. My husband says the only time he ever saw my dad reprimand me was once when we were at Steak ‘N Shake and I blew the straw wrapper off the straw at him and it landed on his head. Keep in mind I would have been about twenty years old at the time. But he’s probably right—Dad didn’t do more than mildly scold me, though I’m sure I deserved much more growing up. Especially when I was a bratty teenager. I remember saying awful, dramatic, teenage girl things to both my parents at one time or another, but they managed to love me anyway.

It’s not the best picture of either one of us, but this is my dad and I at my college graduation. I couldn’t have gone to college without my parents supporting me.

Next week, my Dad will celebrate his his 74th birthday. Long retired, he spends his days enjoying the History Channel and going out to lunch with my mom…(I should mention he ate cold salami sandwiches with mustard EVERYDAY for at least 25 years while running the sand plant). I am so glad that he’s my dad, and I smile when I think of all we have in common with our personalities. My dad raised me to have a strong faith, honor tradition (but don’t be bogged down by it) and to cherish family. Happy Birthday a little early, Dad! I love you.

A snapshot of Dad at his birthday dinner last year. He hates when I take pictures of him like this!

Endings and New Beginnings

As a young Sunday Schooler, we used to sing a little song:

I am the church, you are the church,

We are the church together.

All who follow Jesus, all around the world.

Yes, we’re the church together.

The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple,

The church is not a resting place, the church is the people.

 

Over the past few years, big changes have come down the pike for the church I’ve gone to my entire life—a church blessed with long-standing tradition. I was christened at Immanuel as a baby, confirmed there in eighth grade and took my marriage vows in that beautiful sanctuary. My three children were christened there and two of them have gone through confirmation there. I love the people at my church. A lot of them are relatives, and those who aren’t blood kin certainly feel like they are to me. They have seen me grow up, they know my parents; they’ve celebrated with us in joyous times and mourned with us when we’ve suffered loss. We pray for each other and serve together.

Immanuel started over 126 years ago as a German community church. In fact, services were in German until the War, when pointing out your German heritage was not a good thing to be doing. We still have an annual Wurstmarkt (sausage supper) the first weekend in November. My great-grandparents were a part of the founding members, and my entire family—grandparents, great aunts and great uncles, aunts and uncles and cousins of all “once-removed” status attended church there when I was growing up. At the time, our family was an anomaly because we commuted over 45 minutes to go to church, as we lived in St. Charles and the church is in Ferguson, Missouri. But since my childhood, many of the families that attend church there have also spread out across St. Louis and St. Charles counties and commute to attend services and activities. To have a “commuter church” to this degree is a rather unique situation.

I feel compelled to tell you this brief history because to many people who have either grown up attending various churches or never went to church at all, loyalty to one particular church can be hard to understand. Most people who moved that far away from their church would have found a new one closer to home-especially forty years ago. My parents tried several nearby churches, but none of them had the people that made Immanuel what it meant to them. But what a long commute to church meant for our family then was less involvement with the activities in church outside Sunday morning service. As a youth, I didn’t participate in the Youth Group activities, except for Confirmation, because we just didn’t live very close. So when my own kids were getting to an age to be more involved in Youth programming at church, I didn’t really notice when they weren’t interested in participating.

All these years later, we were still commuting to Immanuel. Until recently. The slow, steady emotionally pulling away from our church began a few years back when the man who was our pastor for over thirty years suddenly retired. We all missed him, especially his wonderful sermons, but I always felt like it was a storm we as a church family could weather. I don’t feel a blog is the appropriate place to go into detail all that’s happened since then, or air any dirty laundry. But the end result is that while Immanuel is still that beautiful church building with a history rich in tradition full of people I love, I feel like all of the unrest has become a huge distraction to the faith development of its members.  My kids are missing out on being a part of an active, thriving youth program.  Despite how that may sound, I am not angry about any of it; just terribly, terribly sad.

Because I miss trying to avoid the delicious donuts while visiting with my friends and family on Sunday mornings in the church basement. I miss our beautiful hymnals that have been so well-loved some have the backs taped together to keep the covers on them. I miss saying “debts and debtors” in our Lord ’s Prayer and reciting the Apostle’s Creed. I miss hearing the choir’s descant and my uncle’s beautiful voice singing “To God Be the Glory”. I miss when we pray for our hospitalized church members together in worship. I miss the kids playing basketball in the gym after church. Those things, like my love for my church family, will never change—they are now a part of my physical and emotional make up—a fiber in my being that will never be unbound. I could go there next week and breathe in that entire experience and feel God’s love for me deep within my heart.

Experiencing other worship services has made me feel disloyal to those people who nurtured my faith all these years, and loyalty is something I cherish. I feel guilty because it’s easy when I attend services elsewhere to focus on the message. I feel uplifted because there’s no emotional baggage with these other worship services because there’s not the history. I see how attending a church within my own community is giving back to my neighbors and it brings me joy. I see ways to become involved at church in more than Sunday morning worship and it scares me. I see my daughter asking to go to Youth meetings with her friend at a nearby church and I feel like I’m doing the right thing. All of these things—they’re about me. And I’m trying to see how to make them all about God.

Still, I’m not ready to say that this is a definite ending or beginning just yet. My heart will always be with my “home” church. My prayer as a woman of faith is to have discernment in knowing which way to move forward.  Standing at this crossroad in my life, I am reminded of yet another song—a hymn from my youth:

Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Thou art the potter, I am the clay!

Mold me and make me after Thy will,

While I am waiting, yielded and still.

If Only I Had the Words

As a parent, I’ve found myself having to explain things in discussions with my kids that I’m not always comfortable with because they’re topics I’m not sure I grasp myself. On the past two Mondays, our family has learned of deaths of people my kids know who have unexpectedly passed at a young age. And while my kids are old enough to have past experience with deaths of pets and even great grandparents, it is tough to process the death of someone who they saw in their everyday lives that they never thought twice about not seeing again.

Last Monday we learned that a boy Erin goes to school with died over the weekend in an ATV accident. She went all through grade school with him and he was her “locker neighbor”. I wanted to have words of wisdom to share with her, but I found that I struggled with trying to make sense of it. He was only thirteen years old. He should be pestering his parents about picking out new school clothes, school supplies and those new “kicks” he wanted. Instead his mother has to pick out what he will be buried in while his father struggles to survive his own life threatening injuries suffered in the accident. Damned if I can explain to my daughter how to understand that.

Tonight we found out about the death of my daughter Emily’s volleyball coach. She died suddenly in her sleep over the weekend. Not only was she was the mother of six children at home, she was a coach and mentor to many involved in the sport. A very devoted Christian, she was the Director of the Patriette Lights Volleyball League and taught the girls so much more than volleyball—she taught them about playing with graciousness and as a representative of Christ. While I know in my heart that she’s gone home to be in His Kingdom, the selfish part of me just wants Patty to be here on Earth with her family and the volleyball girls, modeling her faith for them like she always did.

The way we individually deal with grief and loss are handled differently for everyone, and I see my children learning as they grow how that all plays out. I’m not afraid to tell them that I don’t know what to say because sometimes there aren’t any words. Sometimes there are only hugs or tears or sighs that we have to get through before we can start to remember the things about that person that made him or her special to us. And I have to remember that it’s okay to just leave it at that.

It is in times like these that I am grateful that I have faith, even though I think I’m a lousy witness to it. As Christians we believe that people who have died who knew Christ really are “in a better place”. But I cannot say those words to people who are hurting and are devastated at losing someone. I cannot quote scripture and point out places where Christ tells his followers that He’s prepared a room in Heaven for those who believe. When someone dies, especially when it’s unexpected or the person was young, I think it’s natural for those left behind just to want their loved one back. I believe most people, even those who have faith in Heaven, want to hear that person laugh again and say “I love you” and for life to be the way it was before he or she died. I don’t think that makes me any less of a Christian to respect those feelings. Sympathizing with their pain just makes me human. And God can handle much more than our mere humanity and emotions.

I don’t think I will ever fully comprehend why there are people who have to leave us too soon, nor do I feel like I’ll ever become an expert in the field of grief counseling. I will always wish I had the right words. Instead, I only know what comforts me personally: my belief that God loves us more than we can even imagine, as cliché as that may sound.

Our former pastor, a man whose faith I admire greatly, once told us something that I try to keep in mind about death, whether in regards to my own or others. When questioned what Heaven would be like, he said that he didn’t know what Heaven amounted to—what it would look like, or what form our souls would take. “But I have no fear about that because God loves us so much and I don’t have to worry. It is better than anything we can ever imagine.” It may not be the perfect words, but it’s a start.

Rest in Peace Chance and Patty. You will be missed.

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