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

Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

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.

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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.

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.

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