Finding the Church

Finding the churchThe church has always been a part of my life and I truly love it.  Even before my church-planting great grandparents started hanging out in a basement with some friends to start a church called Community Fellowship in 1943, my “greats” to the nth degree went to church.  It’s what our family has done and continues to do.

Jesus lover?  Go to church.

Personally, church is something I have always enjoyed, something I felt gave me purpose, and has been a comforting routine–my touchstone.   For the past two years though, my family and I have been on the search for a church to call our own and we have yet to be successful.  When we first began to look the criteria went something like: an outward-focused congregation; thought-provoking message; seeker sensitive, yet plainly presents the gospel; David Crowder-esque worship music; within a 45-minute drive of our home. Coming from a church similar to this in California we didn’t think it would be that difficult and even though we have found a couple places that have come close to the goal list, something hasn’t felt right, not only for me but for my husband, Brian, and our kids too.  It seems that God is changing our list and it doesn’t include the aforementioned items or even a building, instead God is ironically bringing us back to the name of my great-grandfather’s church…Community Fellowship.

Months ago, Brian and I began working with a ministry that wanted to reach out to individuals being trafficked.  Living in a rural area, many don’t think that something as horrific as human trafficking could exist here, instead believing that it’s reserved for urban areas, but with major routes I-95 and Rte. 40 running through our corn fields and backyards it is more prevalent than we imagined. As we began to raise awareness of the issue I wanted to begin a hands-on ministry that would get us out on the streets to meet those involved and was given the go-ahead by ministry leadership.  After multiple interactions and ride-alongs with law enforcement, a group of men and women from different local churches who were interested in doing contact work at night in a town known for prostitution and drugs was formed.  We set out to meet the girls of the streets equipped with beautiful cosmetic bags filled with personal hygiene items, condoms and lubricant. In our naivety we imagined meeting the girls standing on the corner, we would talk, offer hope….blah, blah, blah.

First wake-up call, you can’t walk up to a stranger and ask if they are a prostitute.  Rude!   Secondly, what do you with all the people you encounter on the way to the girl on the corner? So our team of seven tucked our bags away and went out with popsicles instead and talked with everyone we met.  During these outings, which we are currently offering hot chocolate with whipped cream, we have kicked it with lots of different people on stoops and street corners; business owners, mamas, daddies, addicts, construction crews, homeless, and prostitutes.  The ministry we are working with is still focusing on helping abused and trafficked ladies, but my heart has changed and broadened to just meeting people.  All people.

Like, God created you?

Let’s be friends!

As we have been out there Brian and I have seen firsthand how relationship deprived people are; to include ourselves.  It seems that loneliness spans race, socioeconomic status, age, and issue.  Our eyes have been open to see that consistency and friendship are a kingdom serving ministry in itself and it’s a ministry that many churches are overlooking.  It’s not enough to just open your doors to everyone, your demographic and impact broadens when you go out and meet everyone. Twice a month we walk up and down the streets regardless of the weather and we are recognizing faces, able to follow up on stories, praying with folks Christian and non-alike.  It’s because of these relationships that are beginning to form that I hear a whisper in my heart saying, “you’ve found her, you’ve found church.”   There on the streets a bunch of Jesus-loving redeemed sinners (that’s my friends and me) are able to encourage other believers, pray for moms with cancer, talk business with a restaurant owner, share chocolate with a group of strung-out addicts, and plan sporting events with a homeless guy.  Take away the “what we do’s” and the “what we’ve done'” labels and there is just a Community of God’s creation in Fellowship with one another.

Yup, there it is, Community Fellowship.  We are leaving the building behind; we’ve found church.

 

DISCLAIMER:

My friend Michele encouraged me to write about the journey of “church” our family is embarking on, because if God is stirring our hearts he is probably stirring others too and right now we feel alone.  She thought it would help me sort through feelings, process thoughts, and find kindred spirits.  So here it is, laying it out there looking for our tribe, hoping for input, insight, and encouragement from friends.  In short a virtual Community Fellowship which will hopefully lead to a physical one.

We have no idea what this is going to look like or where it will take our family.  It’s a little bit scary.  I am afraid of failing, of backlash, of feeling foolish, of rejection, but I am more afraid of what I will miss out on if I’m not obedient to what He calls us to do.  The rest of our crew is more than a little uncomfortable too, but they are willing and ready.  (Seriously, is there anything that could make a mama’s heart happier than teens pushing through awkward people encounters for Jesus? I didn’t think so either.)

 

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Sheltered Lives

I probably should shelter my kids a bit more.  How many times do I have to watch My Little Pony?!?!

 

My latest article for Managing Your Blessings:   Living Sheltered Lives

Flying High

anniversaryWe recently flew back to Maryland for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.  When I say “we” I mean all eight of us on an airplane.  I would be lying if I said I was anything but fearful of Vance and Sadie on an airplane for 5 hours.  I could taste the bile in my throat when I imagined us flying through the air while the two youngest began a coup against Brian and I.  The thought of us being asked to never fly US Airways haunted my dreams in the weeks leading up to the trip.  The irony of such dread is that when we imagine horrendous things happening, they don’t.  The kids were champs.  All six flew like we do this sort of thing every weekend.

The visit as well was a huge blessing as we enjoyed family and were able to witness what true love looks like after 50 years.  It was amazing.  The enjoyable visit and memories of the flight out seven days prior didn’t have me worried a bit.  I had planned to keep the kids awake on the drive to the airport so that they would sleep on the plane.  It was obvious as the time was approaching to board that Vance and Sadie were tired and restless.  They were beginning to fuss and to fight with one another.  US Airways, for some ridiculous reason, thinks that families with young children shouldn’t get on the plane before their other passengers.  I guess they think that people enjoy being bumped with carseats and carry-ons dangling from parents too full arms.  As we boarded with the rest of the general public, I was leading the charge carrying a carseat and two carry-ons.  We had a duckling line going behind me with Vance and Sadie vying for the position directly behind me.  Jace and Brian were bringing up the rear with the other carseat and additional carry-ons.  Sadie and Vance’s argument escalated as we made our way down the aisle.  I am breaking a sweat not only from all the baggage but also because of the judgement written on everyone’s faces.  Sadie after repeatedly ramming my backside breaks through my legs and begins to scream, “I want you.”  I can’t pick her up and she refuses to walk putting the entire boarding process at a standstill.  Brian can’t rescue me because he’s stuck behind me and the sweat increases. A saintly young man, a true God-send, takes the carseat for me so I can get Sadie and risks not being able to make it back to his own seat against the flow of traffic to assist me.  We were given three rows of seats on the right side of the plane to accommodate our entourage.  Three, three, and two.  In my haste and exasperation I tell the young man the seat numbers I had reserved for the older kids so that no one would have to endure Vance or Sadie’s kicks on the backs of their seats.  As I’m trying to get everyone where they need to be Sadie is still melting down in her temporary seat.  The “charming” lady in front of me let me know that she could not have “that child” sit behind her the whole trip.  I assured her that I was trying to reposition seats and this was only momentarily, but she continued to express her unhappiness.  Finally we got everyone where they needed to be and I knew as soon as the plane moved the two youngest would be asleep, but there were some minor problems that needed to be taken care of leaving us on the tarmac for an hour.  Sadie was irritable and vocal, but not as much as the biddy seated in front of Jace and Brynna.  Any time Sadie would make a noise she shot around and gave us dirty looks with her large Betty-Davis-eyes and continuously called Sadie names.  It was a miserable flight.  All I had imagined in the weeks leading up to the trip came true on the return home.  Obscene amounts of bathroom trips.  Vance peeing on my foot.  Drinks spilled.  Inability to sleep. Seat neighbors with little to no patience.  There I was my people-pleasing personality, apologizing, smiling, and desiring so much to make it right for everyone, but unable to make anyone happy.

Sometimes I can make being a mother to six look easy and other days people get to see the chaos this life truly contains.  Lives overlap, especially in coach, and we need to determine how we will react to the exposure.  I really wish that nasty lady instead of turning around and saying in front of my older children what a brat their younger sister was, she had said, tell your mom thanks for sitting you older well-behaved kids behind me, but she didn’t.  Regardless of what was said and done, my children learned a lesson that day; continuing to smile and keeping your cool, allows those around you to see where the true problem lies. The way it pisses off the person wishing you and your family would drop from the sky is a huge bonus!

A Party Til the End

Today a fish died.  Ryleigh was responsible.  In an attempt to right her wrong, she decided to hold a funeral for it.  None of the other children wanted to attend, their calendars were full with sidewalk chalk dates, X-box Live, and soirees at the kiddie pool.  I was baking a cake and did not want to be present either.  I was entertaining the thought, however, I was still hesitating thinking of what still needed to be done.

“Please,” Ryleigh begged.  “No one is coming and we have to pay honor to the fish with prayers and nice words,” she said as she was holding out a black cape for me to wear.  She had already changed into a black gown and rigged a make-shift funeral outfit of black onto her baby doll as well.  “You’re going to miss out on the party favors if you don’t come,” she added.

Party favors?

“Funerals don’t have party favors,” I told her.

“That’s because those funerals didn’t have ‘Ryleigh-style’.”

“Here I come,” I said, needing to know what my ziploc bag of funeral fun might hold.

Draped in a cape as Ryleigh sang a song and said a prayer, my cake waited and I smiled.  I am now convinced that every funeral should pass out goodie bags of gum, lip gloss, and stickers.  I hope Ryleigh plans my funeral.  If she does, you will want to be there.

The Ghost of this Christmas Past

I sit here on my couch this last day of 2011 still listening to Christmas music and in front of a fully decorated tree. The truth is the tree will stay up for several more days, weeks, or even possibly months. I’m not ready to box everything up and call this holiday season over yet. I am ready for the toys I keep stepping on to be up off my floor and I’m ready for all the holiday snacks to disappear some place other than my mouth, but I’m not ready to say good-bye to the comfort twinkle lights and Bing Crosby bring me.

 

There is something about December that conjures feelings brought on by memories of Christmases past. One of my sweet aunts sent me a card today telling me about her holiday and how it was nice as she visited with her grandson she sees once a year. I know she was glad he came, but I could read the sadness in the lines she penned. These annual “obligatory” Christmas visits weren’t what she wanted for the holidays, and they paled in comparison to the memories brought by the visitor who mingles both great joy and heartache together. Her dearly loved husband passed away years ago and she wrote of how much she missed him. Moving away from the east coast at the age of 19 my memories of him are more like snippets from a child’s scrapbook. I see me shutting his hand in a car door, I see myself hiding in his closet playing a game of hide n’ seek, I see a black-and-white photo of of him and my aunt standing alongside my mom and dad on their wedding day, and most importantly I see them smiling at one another as they took turns telling me about their trip to Ireland. My aunt’s memories run much deeper and I imagine as the holidays approached the ghost of Christmases past presented himself with a bittersweet bow.

 

This year I was visited by a ghost as well. At first I didn’t realize what it was, just a heaviness. I think the fact that there really weren’t any deep-rooted memories with mine made it harder to identify. Then out of a sleep I awoke and realized this Christmas I should have been holding a sweet tiny newborn like the Mary from my nativity scene. How could this be? I was over this right? I dealt with my miscarriage months ago.  I grieved, I had moved on…hadn’t I? There was joy this Christmas, there was laughter, there were thankful hearts, but the tears over what was lost came once more and a grief sat on my heart over what could have been gained.

 

Unlike the classic story, A Christmas Carol, the ghosts that visited my aunt and I this Christmas past were welcome reminders.  Reminders of what God highly regards. For my aunt – a love that lasted years, bringing comfort, provision, friendship, acceptance, and being a married woman myself, I know…forgiveness. An outstanding demonstration of covenant love.  For me, an enduring love for a tiny baby that didn’t love me back, the promise of eventual wholeness, a grand desire to reunite.  Again, a demonstration of covenant love.  That’s what Christmas is, the start of the Covenant being fulfilled.  God coming to meet the law we couldn’t by sending his son, so one day we could be together, finally a family.  In the interim, or at least for a few more weeks, I will sip some hot chocolate to “Winter Wonderland” enjoying my tree and friend a little while longer.

Sent From My iPhone

I distinctly remember my mom ‘s inept ability at operating our VCR.  As a know-it-all teenager I felt completely superior technologically and if I kept any of that into my adulthood when trying to help my mother on her computer last year…well, God has completely humbled me.  My hi-tech nemesis? The cell phone.  I first recognized my technological insufficiency, when I was surrounded by teenagers and I pulled out my cranberry colored Samsung flip phone to send a text.  The mere sight of my phone raised some eyebrows and then when I began pushing the number “4” button three times to get to the letter “I,” everyone smirked.  My children outright laughed.  At that moment, I knew once again I was becoming my mother in yet another aspect of my life.

In an attempt to modernize, I updated my communicative device with an Apple iPhone.  How exciting it was to just hit a letter on my phone and it actually be the letter.  I think I’ve gotten quite savvy, at least by my standards, with my phone; reading with the kindle app, facebooking, taking notes, using the calculator, and of course texting.  And although I will not be classified as a techie anytime soon, I feel I’ve grown in the area of texting immensely. My biggest problem is my lack of being able to multi-task while using it.  For some reason my brain does not allow me to do anything else while typing on my phone.  If I input a contact, I have to stop walking and devote all of my attention to the recent name and number. If I need to reply to a text, I pause like a deer in headlights holding the phone about 12 inches from my face and “point” out letters with one finger.  Alas, multi-tasking may not be my strong suit.  My friend Cora, explained it best when she said, and I paraphrase, “Mothers can only multi-task mindless acts.  If it requires thought, it’s the only thing she can do.”

I have proven that this is not only fact in my life, but is also wise counsel.  First, I was texting while toasting waffles the other morning and completely shoved my fingers between the roof of the toaster oven and the burner–ouch!  And then the most convincing evidence came two days later…

Brian had been out of town all week and on the day of his arrival I was taking all six kids to a swimming party.  Getting out of the house is not an easy job, let alone add the need for sunscreen, bathing suits, towels and a picnic lunch.  The stress of the day was compounded when Brian texted me to tell me his ride fell through so he and his co-worker needed to be picked up in Los Angeles.  I told him I would figure it out and let him know via text who would be there, the time, etc.  I arranged for my 20-year-old nephew, also named Brian, to pick him up.  As I was restocking the diaper bag and shouting the needs of what still needed to be done, located, and loaded into the truck to the kids, I forgot the sage counsel of my friend and texted Brian. A quick note was all I sent him so he would know what was in store…not only for the ride home, but for later that evening if you get my drift.  I’m feeling a little smug at this point, things seem to be falling into place, lunch is packed, kids are dressed, and I’ve stoked the home fires.

As I’m walking into my kitchen, my nephew says, “you sent that text to me.”

I thought I was going to puke.  He was completely nonchalant, I could have moved on with the day, but no-that’s not how I roll.

“Really,” I asked.  Like he could have made this stuff up.

“Yes.”

My only retort at the time was, “well this is kinda awkward.”

“Yes,” he said.

Then to make matters worse, I launched into the “well-you-knew-we had-sex-anyway” speech.

Could I make this any worse?  Why yes, yes I can.

I then feel the need to send him another text.  And by him, I mean my nephew.  Have I learned nothing?!?!  The next one read, “reason #73 why you shouldn’t sext: you never know who might get it.”

Seriously?  Why do I do say these things?  Most people probably do know who they are sexting, it’s only idiot me who can’t talk to others while selecting a recipient for their risque dialogue.

As I hung my head in shame, I immediately thought of our VCR as my sister and I tried to explain to our mom how to set the program to record Days of Our Lives.  Duh!  Technological dunce, right?  Irony is the humor of God.

Potential

Potential: n., a latent (present but not visible) excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.

From the moment a mother’s pregnancy is confirmed, once the shock has worn off and acceptance has settled in, she allows herself to dream of the possibilities and that potential.  At least this is how it works for me. A few weeks ago when I found out that we were to expect baby number seven, I first of all freaked out a little, then became nervous of all the large family naysayers, and then I began the dreaming.  The list of names, began that Brian quickly rejected; the research began for the van we would soon have to purchase; the kids began to discuss how the sleeping arrangements would change; I began looking for maternity clothes at the thrift store.

Why?

Because, I know that there is potential at conception

I started to ponder the baby’s temperament.  Would he or she be kind and tenderhearted, would they be energetic and outspoken? I wondered if this next baby would have Jace’s thick tresses and share his sense of humor and compassion for the less fortunate.  Would it be quirky like Brynna and have her passion for God’s plan in it’s life?  If it’s a girl would they be obsessed like Ryleigh with clothes and shoes and want to be a nurse so they could help mom’s and babies?  Could it have Keely’s dimples and want to help those who can’t help themselves(or who could help themselves, but she won’t allow it)?  Would he or she be like my Vance?  (Lord, help me!) Fair-haired with an energy for life that frustrates and makes us laugh all at the same time.   Would it take after our petite Sadie and be content in pretty much any situation? I pictured the mass chaos of Christmas morning this coming year and for the next 20 years from now, and smiled.

Why?

Because, I know that there is potential in every life.

With six healthy pregnancies, I always focused on the excellence and never really worried about the second part of the definition, “may or may not be developed.”   Then I began spotting.  I prayed, knowing full well that it was in God’s hands.  I know my petition was heard, but the request was not answered.  I was surprised by the great loss I felt.  I thought the fact that I had six others would lessen the grief, but it didn’t.  I assumed the fact that I had never held the baby in my arms would make it easy, but it still hurt.  Ryleigh’s comment of, “In heaven we will be a family of nine,” meant to bring comfort, made my heart even more sad.  Sad, that I won’t experience life here on earth with that baby, because my children no matter how crazy they drive me or how angry I get with them, they bring me immense joy.  I hold tight to the belief that God is at work in this situation and to Him I give it so that He can use it for good.

Why?

Because, I know that there is potential in every situation and only with Him can it truly develop.