Lonely In a (Church) Crowd

If the world can be a lonely place, it can be at its loneliest in a church. Through the years I have had conversations more than once with those who, like me, have  experienced this first hand. With the advent of the evangelical ultra, super, gigachurch (that’s actually a term), the loneliness experienced only gets more pronounced. When church feels like an airport terminal, and everyone but you has somewhere to go, the feeling of being alone is intensified.

But big churches don’t have a corner on that. It can be that way in any church. Humans tend to flock to groups or cliques according to their pecking order in the social hierarchy. All sorts of unspoken social rubrics come into play, and for an outsider, for someone who doesn’t understand the rules, there isn’t much you can do to find a place to fit in. After a while, you become truly invisible, like the pews or the table with promotional brochures in the lobby.

I’ve written before about how the shiny people, as I call them, the “high capacity”, attractive and talented ones set the rules. As newcomers, they are actively pursued. Pastors love seeing this type come in the door. After giving up hope long ago about ever fitting in, I have watched these dynamics at work for years. At one church Tom and I visited several years ago, the Corvette-driving flashy man who was the pastor greeted us warmly at the door. I call these the “all teeth and hair types” who have enormous, attractive smiles and great hair (I laughed  out loud typing that, because there isn’t always the hair), but their eyes are roving around at the door after church, even as they shake your hand, looking for more exciting prospects to pursue. If you’re looking for exciting, Tom and I don’t cut it!

But it isn’t always the pastor’s fault. (Nothing wrong with Corvettes if your ministerial salary runs to that, I guess), because church is far more than the man in the pulpit. That’s what I wanted to write about today.

I found myself in a new church recently. It was a very small congregation, very small, as in about 30 people all told. After the service, I was about to leave when an older lady who had caught my eye during the handshake portion came up to me and invited me to come back to the fellowship hall for coffee. I was surprised. I’ll be honest, I was pleased at the invite.

I sat down at a table with about 7 others, all of them a good 20 years older than me. Quite frankly, I felt very much at home with them. I explained that I had hearing loss and might have to have something repeated (room noise makes it a lot worse), and they all laughed and said they did also. We sat and chatted for a while, the lady who invited me kindly included me in the conversation.

When I finally got up to leave, she asked me for my name and phone number which I gave her. It was something that is certainly a normal thing to do for any visitor, a formality  that usually happens when you fill out your name on a card. But it meant a great deal that she asked–that a human being asked.

“I hope we’ll see you again,” she said.

Why is this so difficult in churches? I have spent a lifetime in evangelical circles through the years, including my childhood, in churches of nearly every brand and description. The ones where the people themselves made an honest effort to be inclusive and interested in the stranger at their door can be counted on one hand. Everyone stays where it’s comfortable. Yes, they do.

We have no idea who is around us. Sometimes there is someone we cross paths with who is living in deep depression. They make a last trip to the surface, to use that analogy, before going under the final time.  (I could write a great deal on that topic having lost a friend to suicide.) That darkness can be so all encompassing that only a sudden encounter with the bright light of kindness can break in. Why would we not want that kindness to be extended in the house of God? Why should anyone leave a church feeling lonely?

I don’t care about how many theological symposiums, conferences, work-shops, missionary banquets, women’s retreats, men’s prayer breakfasts,  etc. etc. you want to hold in a given year. Who is lonely? Who cares that you came in the door? Who is actually coming to your church and why? If the pastor is too busy doing pastor things, surely someone in your church could be on the lookout. Right? It can sometimes be just one person who makes the difference.

That small church followed through with a phone call. The pastor wanted to know if he could do anything to help and just wanted to make contact. They have the treatment of a visitor right there. Whatever else the church might lack, it has that right.

I have a growing intolerance for churches, regardless of their doctrinal rectitude, who do not get this. I remember posting the sermon clip from Richard Owen Roberts a while back. “No man cares for my soul.” He tells of the loveless churches we have today, and how in Wheaton, Illinois, a simple invitation from his wife to an international student there at Wheaton College saved him from a planned suicide. A simple invitation to lunch and conversation.

If you don’t care for the humans you encounter in your church, why would you care about anybody outside of your church? And if you don’t care about them physically, why would you care about their souls? Answer: Most Christians don’t care about either. I know, because I have experienced it myself.

Nothing I’ve said here is unique or original, but it’s what’s on my heart and mind today. Don’t talk about the love of God in your church if you have no intention of showing it.

House with the Yellow Door

20161117_100215Tom has a tradition of planting trees at our homes (we have lived in six in 21 years.) He also has had a tradition of painting our doors a warm red color. The red was inviting, I think.  At our house in South Carolina, he also painted the shutters to match. The shutters had been a dull gray color, and it was a perfect color change for curb appeal.

At our snug ranch house where we moved last year, Tom is getting around to various projects, including putting up shutters a few weeks ago (a good improvement) and painting the bland, white front door. We were going to use red again, but Tom unexpectedly showed me a yellow color on a paint card. Against the white-ish brick on the front of the house, it looked cheerful and bright. So we now have a yellow door.

Every time I pull up to the house, it makes me smile. Along with the field stone borders he put around the little pines he planted and the same border under the Magnolia tree, it makes for a neat front yard.

We have such nice neighbors here. Emily is dear friends with our nearest neighbors whose little granddaughter comes over to play, in addition to the family on the other block who are friendly and helpful. Then there is the lady across the street who comes over with her little dachshund she adopted. Each day she comes by after school for Emily (as she did in the summer), and they take the little dog for a walk. I think Emily is good company for the lady and the dog, once very shy,  is warming up.

By contrast, the political scene has never been uglier in our country. Social media is filled with the carnage. I read the news and try to digest what is going on and end up depressed and discouraged. Whichever way the election would have gone, this was a guaranteed scenario with great anger on one side or the other. In spite of victory laps from political conservatives, I remain convinced this nation is in terrible peril. There are no political answers in this divided country, ultimately. I believe that more than ever. The answer is spiritual, but nobody is interested in that subject at present.  They await miracles from the new political messiah. We will see.

My news about our cheery yellow door isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but I thought of it as a metaphor in these dark times. As I have said before, life is really lived in the micro sphere of every day things and people. If Hillary Clinton had won and not Donald Trump, we would still get up every morning and do the little things that make up our lives. The little dachshund would still live across the street with her humans, Emily would still be found talking to the neighbors and making new friends all the time, and I would still spend my days making a home for my family as best I can.

I have learned that to be happy, we have to make a choice to be that way. There is a great deal of evil in the world, more now than ever.  We have all had wounds and hurt from that evil in our lives, some more than others. The losses evil people can cause are undeniable. Among so-called Christians, I am sorry to say that indifference, coldness and brutality are no less prevalent. Those perpetrating it and those who watch silently as enablers seem to go from strength to strength while their victims long for things to be made right. But, having said that, happiness and cheerfulness is still a choice. This is the only life we have, the one God gave us. I believe God does see the injustice and the evil, and in His time, He will vindicate, He will deal with those who have so disregarded His commands to love. Meanwhile, we are called to live in the light.

So don’t hesitate to “paint your door yellow.” Or to put it another way, smile just because, be thankful for what you have, and do a little happy dance, if nothing else, in defiance of the joy killers who seem to so populate the earth these days. I do that. I am home alone a great deal. I put on music sometimes when I am down. My kitchen has a big slippery, laminate  floor, and Em and I do our own dances in our socks until we laugh ourselves silly. Last night, we listened to Sleigh Ride and several other Christmas songs (I know, I know, it isn’t Thanksgiving yet.)  Whatever you do, don’t give in to the darkness. God is the author of joy, not despair. God is in His heaven still. By looking up and not around us, we can remember that best.

The 2016 Election – A Few Thoughts

A Hope Blog reader sent me the following message today: “May we get a Hope Blog post with your thoughts about the upcoming election? I’m really curious where you stand.”

I hesitated to address this topic on a blog that has been primarily about hope.  But having already seen about everything there is to see on social media about this 2016 election season, I thought I would share a few, brief thoughts. It won’t take long, I promise.

As to where I stand,  I know many others share my view that never before in history in this country have we had a sadder set of choices before us.  My husband and I were talking about the truly terrible example all of it is setting for our children in terms of the character of both candidates and the layers of filth, dishonesty and corruption the campaign has revealed on both sides.

Worse still is the fact that relationships have ended among Christians over whether voting for Trump is acceptable as believers. Never have I seen the anger on the conservative side, and my involvement in Christian radio goes back 25 years. There’s nothing with which the level of rancor and rage can be compared.

My position on Facebook with my many friends from different perspectives on this has been to say, “Vote your conscience before God. That is what matters.” I said some terse things about Mr. Trump early on, and I stand by those statements. Nothing has changed, and the explosion of recent “revelations” have added nothing.

My vote is private, and it will stay that way. I will say this. Those conservatives who hold out hope that Mr. Trump will save America are destined for disappointment. My view is that God is not going to save America. Why? Because America, including grossly compromised Evangelicals, have shut him out long, long ago. Why would He, in his righteousness and holiness, perpetuate the gross evil in America? This country is neck deep in the blood of innocent children, pornography and every manner of sexual debauchery, with evangelical churches long ago having left the preaching of the true Gospel. I documented this for a quarter of a century on the radio program I hosted and news blog I published.  I believe God is merciful, but He is also just and bound by His Word. The sign wave of history and the rise and fall of nations confirms all He has said. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.

So what is my position? I believe that the two choices we have are already a sign of God’s judgment.  Seeing conservative Christians clawing desperately at a man of such low character, clinging to the hope that he will somehow save us from apocalypse on the Supreme Court, etc. etc., is sad to me. I understand the arguments from a human standpoint. Try to block the worst of the worst goes the rationale.  But it is my own view that it is a vain hope.  You can’t fight darkness with darkness.

God will use whomever He chooses to do all His holy will. I do believe that with all my heart. But seeing the smoking ruins of this country and a church that long ago ceased being salt, the preserving influence, in it, I don’t see America as having a future., regardless of who this bankrupt country ultimately elects.

So where is the hope? The hope is the same place it has always been, although it is so often obscured in times of prosperity and ease. The hope is found in returning to the God of our Fathers. It’s found in finding our strength and comfort in the One who will never leave us nor forsake us, no matter how much we lose as Christians. His call and what may be his last call is being issued to all of us. Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

Also, I would urge friends who read this not to fight over it. The enemy of souls wins huge victories when we  let relationships blow up because of disagreements of this magnitude. The election will be over soon, and we will be left with what we have done with other people in our lives. No matter who is elected, we still are called to love each other.  We’ve all been wrong. We’re more prone to see that when we don’t have someone else in our face calling us this and that in anger.

Vote your conscience. That is your business alone. God is very firmly in control of this. He raises up leaders and brings them down. I am also assured of this.:  There has never been an evil leader in history (or any person)  who has not faced a day of accountability, either in this life or the next.  We can rest in the character of God to do what is right and just. It may not be on our preferred schedule, but ultimately, those in rebellion to the Almighty will give an answer at the final Court of No Appeal.

Jesus, lead Thou on
Till our rest is won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow calm and fearless.
Guide us by Thy hand
To our fatherland.

If the way be drear,
If the foe be near,
Let not faithless fears o’ertake us;
Let not faith and hope forsake us;
For through many a woe
To our home we go.

Jesus, lead Thou on
Till our rest is won.
Heavenly Leader, still direct us,
Still support, control, protect us,
Till we safely stand
In our fatherland.

~ Christian Gregor, 1778

Based on Luke 5:11

United States presidential election, 2016

United States presidential election, 2016

Quote of the Day

“You see, beloved, the Christian life is not one lived for self, but is lived in Christ and for others, most especially within the family. For many this seems too ordinary and mundane, not exciting or fun. But in truth it is the good life, the abundant life, the life that is received from Christ and shared in our vocations with those closest to us. And even though it is invisible to the world, even though it seems as though you could be, or should be something more extraordinary, even though it is difficult and time consuming and seemingly makes little difference, such a life is a great life! Amen!” — Rev. Tony Sikora

(My mother, Freda, and Emmy yesterday.)


Grow Your OWN Garden!

Ideally, Tom and I needed a small yard without the need for much maintenance when we moved this last time. Instead, due to our desire to be near our daughter’s school,  we ended up buying a house last year with a large yard. Additionally, the home had been owned by a woman with a love for gardening. The fenced-in area had layers of flowers and plants that, when they were tended and cared for, must have been very beautiful.

Needless to say, we have not had the time or ability to maintain that. When we first moved here, I did not anticipate some health issues that prevented me this spring from getting out there and at the very least, pulling weeds. With a chronic pain condition, some days you feel capable, and other days, you simply can’t do what you would like.

So I grieved over the raggedy state of the back garden area, not to mention the front mound and highly visible side of the house that needed tending.  Tom had a busy schedule earlier this year and could not get to it as he would have liked.

But through this summer, gradually and belatedly, things began to come together, thanks to Tom’s patience and labor. He planted six trees (I originally wrote four, but remembered two lovely little pine trees he put in earlier on the side of the house), went on weed wars during the long summer evenings, pulled out some things that needed removing, and now, he planted the last tree and put field stones around it for a border. He is doing the same with our trimmed up Magnolia  – truly a beautiful and healthy tree that provides shade to the front of our home and the little porch where I like to sit with him evenings.

I had felt sad to the point of shedding a tear earlier this summer that the pretty back yard with all the lovely flowers had not been kept up like the previous owner. I don’t know why I thought we ever could. But today it struck me. The lady who lived here, Dolores was her name,  left her beautiful fingerprints behind in her yard. Tom will leave his. They definitely won’t look the same, and that’s OK. He takes care of things in his way, and he has his own thoughts. Already, when I drive into the subdivision, the yard and mound out front has a whole different character to it.

There’s despair when we compare ourselves to other people. We can admire the way they are and the work that they do, but we have our own ideas, our own gifts and style. We bring different things to the lives of others, and we “grow our own gardens” so to speak. What matters is that we are authentically us, and that the gifts God gives us are used to bless others, never to harm.

The tendency to compare ourselves with others is human nature. It’s taken me until this age (50 as of last Saturday) to really believe I had anything authentically mine to contribute—that I have my own voice and that God can use that, free and clear of anyone or anything else. That’s not egotism, it’s an awakening to the fact that God gives each of us gifts and value, no matter what others say to diminish or question that.

So grow your own garden, let your own light shine, whatever metaphor works for you. Nobody else can bring to life the distillation of experiences, compassion and love that you have. Never believe otherwise.  You can leave beautiful fingerprints on the lives of others. Uniquely YOUR fingerprints.

Here’s the neat backyard Tom has worked on. The front is close to being finished, just in time for autumn!


Stop Enabling Bad Churches

Over the years, I’ve noted that not enough has been written on the topic of Bad Church Enablers. Much is available on enablers of dysfunctional and abusive people in family relationships, but not so much has been written about those who enable and support churches that have an established pattern of injuring church members–not the shiny people, but the little people who always end up getting hurt. There is a time to pray and stay. There’s also a time to head for the parking lot one last time and hit the gas without looking back.

If your church’s inner workings have more in common with an organized crime family, with circles of secrecy, political maneuvering as a matter of practice, free speech crackdowns driven by paranoia and so on, it just may be time to find the exit sign. If the ongoing climate at your church is a foretaste of hell with defrauding, injustice,  lying,  backstabbing, betrayal and eternal conflict, what in the world is the point? Do you seriously think God is going to allow any of that into heaven? Seek peace, and if you can’t find that in a Christian church, of all places, than head for the door.

Those who stay and keep these temples of doom afloat are part of the problem. You pave the way for others to be injured by staying and supporting a  church that refuses to address sin in a biblical manner. They never get away with it, and the conflict always follows the corruption. Always. Sin’s cancer grows and metastasizes in these places. It gets in the spiritual lymph system and ultimately kills whatever good there is.

Corrupt churches are the hallmark of our bleak times, and leadership policy and practice not based in the Scriptures quickly creates a spiritual destruction machine that takes in Christ’s sheep at one end and spits out their bleeding remains from the other. That is not too extreme a picture. Bullies, frauds, the entitled, the power hungry and their self-serving followers would soon find themselves with a much reduced ability to harm others if the good people, God’s true people, removed themselves from the seats and drove away once and for all.



Personal Boundaries and the Limits of Compassion

I came across an article today on personal boundaries. You may not think it is relevant to you.  With the benefit of age, my suggestion is that the subject of boundaries is relevant to all. If you don’t need this article now, at some point in your life, you will.


The article I am referencing is from a secular website. As a Christian, I want to add something to what the writer has said. Having been born into and raised in a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian (pan-denominational) environment, there was precious little teaching on things like personal boundaries and the limits to compassion. (Those subjects were routinely dismissed as “psychobabble.”) Christianity teaches that, like Christ, we are to pour ourselves out for others. I am not here to contradict that. What I will say is that this teaching, unbalanced with the need for limits in giving, can turn into tragedy and ruin for all involved. It’s that simple.

Some reading this article would say, “How self-centered.  If someone is hurting and causing us misery, well, we’re supposed to suffer for others,” or something like that. Having seen the utter destruction of co-dependency and what it looks like long-term when compassion becomes  enabling ,  I can tell you, with authority, that this is not of God. Why? Because if the results of your compassion efforts are  personal destruction and an inability to live the life God gave you, something is seriously wrong.

Being an empathetic person,  this author’s  words resonated strongly with me. There are some in our lives who do not care in the least that their rotting sin problem is a permanent stench in the lives of those who are trying to show love and compassion. They simply don’t care. We offer ourselves up like some kind of gruesome self-sacrifice when we are not in the least called to do so. But without boundaries, we let it happen and then complain that we have too much stress in our lives. Yes.

We need compassion in our hearts and to be willing to help where we can. I believe that with all my heart.  I have been helped by truly kind people over the years, and for their good sense and sound advice, I am grateful.  That is not the same thing as this good article discusses.

“Imagine you have this house — your dream house. The house and everything in it fills you with joy, and you work diligently to keep it clean and organized. You are comfortable there. One day, your mom/partner/friend is coming for a visit. You see them coming down the road, straining under the weight of a ginormous sack, quadruple their size. You walk out on the porch to meet them. “Come help me with this thing, it’s heavy!” they shout. You suggest they just put it down. They refuse. As they get closer you catch a whiff of what approaches. It smells awful. Putrid. Nauseating. You start to panic. Are they bringing that to your house? They reach the porch with their giant bag of trash and again ask for your assistance in bringing it inside. “Why don’t you leave that outside? It doesn’t need to come in,” you plead. They balk at your insistence. “No, it comes in. I want it with me. I feel better when it’s with me.” You nervously insist. “But I just cleaned, and it seems like it will make a really big mess.” They aren’t having it. “It comes in with me. I need it. It will be fine.” With a sigh of defeat, you open the door and they haul their trash inside…”

Read the article by Shannon Ghallagher.

I’ve learned that drawing  boundaries when there were none is costly.  But the spiritual and emotional cost of not drawing boundaries is far higher.


All the Precious Little Things

Thunder woke Emily and me up in the wee hours. Knowing how scared Emily gets of storms, I went in to lie by her for a little while. It was one of those sweet Mama and daughter times, when you remember how quickly time flies and how dear these passing moments are.  One of those times when you can just be in silence together and understand. I felt her small arm creep around me when there was another crash of thunder, and I remembered how very comforting it is to have someone you love nearby in a storm.

With Mother’s Day recently passed, I wanted to elaborate on a comment I made today on Facebook about mothers. There is a terrible assumption in Western culture that you must, necessarily, pass through a phase where you despise your mother as a teen daughter. If you don’t have screaming matches, constant battles and open warfare, you probably aren’t normal.

Our culture plays up generational differences in entertainment and advertising, repeating the lie that our mothers always have to embarrass us, always have to be viewed as stupid,  that mothers are the enemy of fun and coolness, and that teen girls must revolt against the oppression and over-protection. What a tragic and false line of thinking.

As a teenager, I remember being in a restroom with other girls in front of the mirror, applying their make-up and chatting. One of the girls called her mother a “bitch.” It stunned me, and the reason it stunned me was that I loved my mom. It wasn’t that there were never any misunderstandings. It wasn’t that I was some perfect daughter. (I regret not getting my head out of the clouds and helping her more with housework and things I could have done to lift her load. As a mother of grown children, I think of Mom’s labors and sacrifices more every day.)   But the thought of hating her as a teenager? Not within the realm of possibility. It made me sick hearing it.

I realize girls and moms can have opposite personalities, situations differ, and our culture has changed. But it is a moral sickness to assume that daughters have to hate their moms in the teen years to be normal.  Instilling respect, compassion, empathy in our daughters is something we have to work at. It will not come passively, because the culture disciples and indoctrinates in a very systematic way.

One way that I work to achieve empathy and compassion is to remind our youngest, the only one still at home, that I do need help. Children who are waited on and not asked to do their part within the home become the entitled brats we see who fail to launch. I want her to see people with lenses that show the burdens others carry in this life, and to adjust her own demands in light of those things.  That is a check to selfishness, and a call to usefulness and kindness. Our children need this desperately in our age of entitlement.

There are no guarantees that our children will not go through a stage of selfishness and dislike for mothers (or fathers.) But don’t assume it’is necessary, and working on a strong relationship of trust and love will help mitigate the toxic assumptions this world promotes.

As a P.S., one of my favorite memories is of my mom french braiding my long hair in high school. I never did manage to do it myself. She would get up early sometimes, even when tired, to do it for me.  Bless you, Mom, for all those precious, little things.  ❤









I’d Rather Be Small…

I would rather be broken and tender than to hurt other people.

I would rather be a small nobody, in a small house, in a small town with a small voice, than to be big and leave people shattered behind me, and worse,  do it in Jesus’ name.

I would rather have a few small tasks and do them well, than be rated a “high capacity” person (that popular term cracks me up) in some gleaming church building and make the fatal error of building a ministry on the bones of others.

I’d rather be humbled by God than have tens of millions to build big stuff and be a complete creep and a spiritual fraud.

To be really useful to the Lord, the same one who was homeless and who didn’t even have a pillow for his head, you have  to accept “small” and embrace it fully. There is real peace there.

I was driving home from dropping my little girl at school this morning, and I was grateful once again for the  simplicity in my life, for a short list of tasks to do today, and a few modest writing goals to accomplish. I’m at a season where this increasing quietude is welcomed. If I can bring a smile or encourage someone here at the Hope Blog or on Facebook, I’ve had a good day. If my husband and child are cared for, I’ve done my job for Jesus.

There are moments when I forget and kick myself for not accomplishing this or that. Then I think, but that isn’t what God has for me. He had something so very much better, because my Creator understands me better than I do. What a wonderful thing.

All I can hear as I type is the click of my keys and when I stop, I can hear the tick of our cuckoo clock in the dining room. It’s peaceful here. I wish the same for all of you who are in pain or grief today. I wish the peace of God for you. The God who uses broken people just like me and like you. But you have to give the pieces to him.

“…And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.” ~  Colossians 3:15


Stop or Hit the Gas

The beauty of memes on social media is their  brevity. A world of truth can be shared in a few words. These  three below sum up the enduring lessons I and my family have learned in the last few years.  The brutality of our times is mirrored in what passes for Christianity. The real thing is mostly found away from nice real estate with the label “church” on the sign and various and sundry parachurch ministries.

The bigger something gets, the less humanity and kindness shows up and the less of Jesus you will find. Corruption sets in to the machine.  People get ground to bits in the gears and nobody cares.  The cowards hunker down and look away. Naked opportunism replaces sacrificial service and love is never the motivation, unless we’re talking about love of self.

It’s a choice to join the ambitious and the shiny people, or to show up in someone’s life who can’t do anything for you. It’s a choice to value people and remember those who are in pain or to hit the gas and pass them by  on the superhighway of Christian “ministry.”  But just remember that if you do hit the gas, you can’t know the Jesus who stopped when a suffering person called out. You are serving someone and something else.