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.

Love Without Walls Is No Love at All

A protester this week held up a sign that said, “No walls for the Land of the Free.”  No walls. No barriers. Nothing. The false thinking expressed on that sign applies to far more than the current political scene.

Imagine a random person of unknown origin passes our home some night. There are no locks on the doors, no barriers, because my husband and I have decided we will just live in “love” to all those who are in need. No walls, no boundaries. No checking as to who these strangers are.

The individual, and then another, and another comes right in, and they help themselves to the food Tom has bought for our family. One assaults our daughter and me, the others take off with the things we own to be sold for cash.  Tom watches it all passively,  eyes filled with compassion and tears  for the strangers who have harmed us.  Life without walls, only love. Right? The whole scene should provoke moral outrage, not admiration. Because that’s not love.

Love that does not protect is not love at all. Love bounds in what is valuable and precious and ensures its safety. The locks on our doors are there to protect us. Tom protects us and keeps a watchful eye out for our well-being, because he  loves us, and he hates what is a threat to us.

Real love hates, yes, hates, what threatens the object of that love. It is prepared to erect walls around it to preserve and protect. People care about their valuables and entrust them to banks with vaults for a reason. They lock out what threatens the things they care about.

This is why nations and leaders that don’t protect the freedoms and safety they enjoy  by erecting strong boundaries are fools.  Any help they provide to those in genuine need should take place only when what is most important is protected.

Likewise, men and women who don’t protect their marriages and their children don’t show true love at all. Love erects a barrier so that harm does not come to what is precious. Borders are there to preserve and protect. Without them, nothing of value is safe.

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Where Love is Found

It’s not in Valentine’s Day bouquets and chocolates that true love can be seen and felt, as nice as those things are.

It’s in the dear voice in the hospital room when a scary diagnosis comes. “It’s OK. We’re in this together.”

Love is in the extended hug at the end of a long day when a tired husband comes in from the cold, having toiled so that wife and child can have what they need.

It’s found in the man who carries the laundry baskets up the stairs for a wife who struggles physically.

It’s in the clean laundry a husband finds in his drawer and the meals prepared, however simple.

Love is there in forgiveness when an apology comes from one or the other.

It is in the warm hand that covers a cold one when life’s tragedies seem overwhelming.

Love is in the eye contact where a smile is never far away.

It is in the ear of the listening spouse who may have heard the same story many times, but doesn’t say so, because he knows something lies underneath the telling of it.

Love lies in deep understanding of where a spouse is coming from, even when they are at their worst.

It is real love that patches up hurt places, that listens, that protects and defends. It’s real love that builds up the other, that looks through kindly eyes, that supports, that is loyal and steadfast.

This is what young adults, especially, need to know in this tragic, broken world of fakery and fraud in counterfeit love and marriage.

When you remove all the contemporary wedding frippery and glitter, all the Instagram filtered glam of the Big Day, you will have either a foretaste of hell or a glimpse of heaven.

It takes two who are committed, by God’s grace and with his help, to walk through life together with the goal of bringing a little heaven down, whether it be in a hospital room, a little cottage or a castle. It can still be done.

“And standing there…Jane knew that she had found the best. Marriage was not a thing of luxury and soft living, of flaming moments of wild emotion. It was a thing of hardness shared, of spirit meeting spirit of dream matching dream.” ~ The Dim Lantern by Temple Bailey

“…Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.”

Shakespeare, Sonnet 116

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~ Corinthians 13:!3

Caring Hand on Senior Hand

Savor Them Now

The photo below was posted at a Texas daycare. Parents were too busy on their phones to look into the faces of their dear children who had waited all day for the moment they would have a parent back. Imagine being that child, so proud of your handiwork, waiting to show Mama or Daddy what you’ve made, only to find that they don’t care enough to get off their phones. It brings me to tears.

If such a thing were possible, I wish I could have one day with each of my six children back when they were small. I can remember the feel of each their skin, the bath times, the bed time stories, the meal time fun we had, the times they were sick and I was worried, the hugs and tuck-in rituals, the kisses on their chubby faces. I love each of them more than words can say, and I always will.

Advice from older generations to the younger is not generally received well anymore. Young people don’t want to hear it. The terms “Grandma”and “Grandpa” are used as an insult online frequently to dismiss something an older person has to say. But here is what I would tell a young mom if I could. You have absolutely no idea the speed with which time flies. You hear it often, because it is true. That baby who wakes you up every two hours is a toddler by the end of their first year. Walking. Away from you. Do not resent your children’s impositions on your time. The echo of their small voices in your mind will soon be all you have, and regrets are terrible to live with.

I have to remind myself of these things every day. We have a young child, and some days, I think (as I once did when I was a young mom), I can’t wait until this child can do this herself. But what is different is that now I stop myself from that line of thinking. She will be eight years old this summer. EIGHT. How did that happen? The little girl times will come to an end so very soon that it chokes me up.

At night, I lie awake thinking of her asleep in her bed with the Hello Kitty sheets and her dolls and stuffed animals nearby, and a kind of panic hits me. Was there something else I should have done—should be doing with her? Have I enjoyed and savored this phase enough? She doesn’t know that some nights I get up to kiss her while she’s sleeping. Because she’s growing so fast, and like her siblings, she will be gone before we know it.

Moms (and Dads), whatever else you have to let go, don’t let it be loving and spending time with your little people (or kids whatever their age.) Emmy asked me to play with her the other day, and I was in the middle of something. I wish I had put it down. I promised to make some muffins with her the other day, and we never did. Muffin making is on the agenda after school today. She will be thrilled.

Don’t rush your children to the next developmental phase. Their “littleness” is precious, and they’ll get to the next milestone before you know it. Those soft little hands will soon stop reaching for yours, because they’ll be too big. Something to remember.

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Small Girl, Big Faith

fb_img_1485441432706Emily was not feeling well and was home from school last week. She wanted to watch kids’ shows on PBS, but I said, no, today was a books only day. She got propped up in bed and got her Bible story books, three different ones and spent the day, literally, immersed in them. About 11, she came into the family room where I was and had her face crumpled up with tears coming down. She held open the story of Jesus’ crucifixion with an illustration of Christ on the way to the cross. “This is so sad, Mom. They did this to Jesus.” She said several times, “It’s so sad…” We had a wonderful conversation about what it all meant. She also asked about the two criminals on the cross on each side of Jesus, how one believed and one did not, how Jesus triumphed over death by rising again, how He ascended into heaven and before He left, how He promised He was coming back. She came back several times with questions about Old and New Testament, and showed me the illustration of Jesus with the children, and then, she came back again with the story of Jesus healing the blind man, and again, showing the beautiful illustration of young Jesus at age 12, discussing the Law with the teachers in the Temple.

I have seen a great uptick of interest in our daughter about spiritual things lately. Her love for Jesus is real and it shines in her eyes when she talks about Him. It’s a very sobering responsibility to know that our children are watching and listening to us, and that we can either blunt that faith, destroy it, or nurture it, water it and help it to grow. Having this responsibility with Emily has been a great help to me spiritually. Why? Because the ugliness of this world, the harm done to us by the inexplicable evil we experience—especially from other professing Christians– can cause us to make shipwreck of our own faith. It’s in the simplicity and trust in a child’s eyes and praise that I find my way home again to the Lord many times, and I understand newly, nearly every day, why God places such value on the example of children in the area of faith. All our sophisticated thinking, intellectual pride and self-righteousness drop away when we look into the face of the Savior, like a child, and believe that his atoning wounds on Calvary covered our sin. Thanks be to God.

 

All Lives Matter – Starting in the Womb

The value of a human life in the womb should not be determined by whether or not the child is wanted by the mother.  What kind of madness is that? Throughout history we can see the piles of corpses stacked high from governments and movements and individuals who believed  that certain lives, the ones devalued and “not wanted”,  had lost any right to exist.

Those who believe a child has no value because they are not wanted by the mother should not be surprised when other people groups are also devalued and targeted for destruction. That is the inevitable outcome of situational ethics – morals that change depending on the shifting winds of public sentiment.

The only society that is safe for all is one that values life at all stages. If a society doesn’t, the creeping devaluation of all human life is inevitable. The carnage and growing violence in America, across all socioeconomic lines, is powerful evidence that violence in the womb never stays there.  The culture of death starts with the unborn child.

I’m a proud marcher for life today, even though I cannot be in Washington. God help us all, especially the most vulnerable.

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Different March, Different Women

You’re going to see a very different crowd of women and very different speakers today at the March for Life. After catching the video collection this morning of obscene, vulgar, violence promoting women on the march last weekend, this march will be a stark contrast. Those who love and want to protect all life, beginning at its most vulnerable, are marching today. I don’t care about numbers – it’s irrelevant. If there were 12, these would be the women I would march with, if only I could. But there aren’t just 12, there are millions of us who know that each child is precious, that no child deserves to be torn limb from limb and discarded with the trash, or its body parts sold for profit. (There is an actual established price on the skin of the Downs babies now routinely aborted.)

God bless all the women who stand for life today and always, who know that children are no burden when you love them. Adoption is the loving option, not murder. Vice-President Pence has my deepest respect for his promised presence there today. The harpies shrieking about men shutting up because they don’t have wombs are totally wrong. It takes two to make a child, and the voices of fathers have been totally shut out of the abortion discussion. Thank God for real men who take responsibility for the children they father. And thank God for a Vice-President with the moral character to stand for life and not further the bloody death culture of the last Administration.

“Open your mouth for the voiceless, in the cause for all who are appointed to destruction.” ~ Proverbs 31:8

(This is our little daughter, Emily, at 8 weeks. She’s the one the perinatologist suggested I should abort due to risk factors for me. I never saw that hard-faced woman again. All life deserves protection. )

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Women, Sex and True Power

An article recently detailed the thinking of men refusing to commit to marriage. A more depressing look at the world of relationships today would be hard to find. With the loss of a sense of what real manhood actually is, there is another problem that was evident from the comments by men. Their thinking could be summarized this way: Marriage is nothing but liability for men. We don’t need it to have sex. There’s no point for us.

In our shame-free hook-up culture, women complaining about men not proposing really is irrational. When you are giving your body up without any requirement of a man’s marriage commitment beforehand, it isn’t surprising that you’re being used for pleasure alone. If you don’t require that a man get to know you, appreciate the totality of you, honor you, and respect you with his vows to be faithful, you’re going to attract exactly the kind of man who uses you up and then moves on.

What’s called progress for women is the exact opposite. What’s called “equality”, supposedly a good thing, only leads to the devaluing and degrading of women. Women think they are earning more respect, but the opposite is true. Women are used more by men now than they ever have been. They become nothing but warm bodies that exist for a man’s pleasure without the respect of a marriage commitment and the accompanying protections of that union.

Additionally, women, by demanding abortion rights, have played right into the hands of user men. They personally delivered no consequence, free use sexually of females to the guys. If free use of their body means a baby is conceived, the child can be killed for a price at a local clinic. Even fatherhood can be wiped out for a little cash.   It’s no-complication fun for men when women abandon their true power and make it so easy.

Yes, it is worse now for women than ever. The women wearing vagina hats this last weekend, screaming obscenities and bashing men have helped create the whole apocalyptic social scene we see where children’s lives are snuffed out in the womb, men scoff at the concept of any kind of commitment as they openly use females for sexual gratification, and women live in a constant state of unhappiness and rage at men. Epic failure on all fronts.

There is another world for women who respect themselves and know that they have real power when they protect and reserve their sexuality for a man who values them enough to honor them with a life commitment. There is another, very different world for women who refuse to accept the lies of the female radicals who have done more to destroy happiness than anyone else. They recognize the utter bankruptcy of those “women’s leaders” who build their cause on the frail bones of children killed in the womb. Wise women embrace and defend life at all stages and know that radical feminism is built on a foundation of total selfishness. No happiness is ever built that way.

One male in the article I read expressed these words. “A man with any smarts avoids marriage like the plague.” In reality, real manhood starts with the assuming of responsibility, the willingness to commit, and the wisdom to find a woman of the same mindset.

God bless the remnant of young men and women who see the tragedy of the social landscape today and choose to do things in wisdom. The fear and honor of the LORD is where this wisdom begins. God’s ways are the ways of peace and contentment. Those who reject that way of peace inherit the wind.

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“Do You Think He’s Seen Jesus Over There?”

The last seven years of raising another little girl has had its challenges and joys, emphasis on joys. Being the mother of a young child is always fascinating and rich with insights. There is a reason that Jesus said we must become like little children if we desire to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Their faith and trust, lack of cynicism and self-righteousness are what He was talking about.

There are many spiritual lessons to be found almost daily with a young child.  Some stick out in my mind. I remember a moment when Emily was four years old. On Christmas Eve we were talking about the Advent (coming) of our LORD in Bethlehem so long ago. I said to her, “Tonight is the night we remember Jesus coming to us.”

Her face lit up, eyes like two stars. She ran to the front  door and began jumping up and down and shouting.

“Jesus is coming here? When, Mama, when?” She thought He was coming to our door. Literally. In person. That night.

The joy and expectation on her face moved me deeply. The faith of a child, delighted she would meet  her Jesus. No doubt in her mind. Just faith and belief in the goodness of our Savior.

At age seven, she is on that borderline between knowing facts and still having the innocence of young childhood.  The line is frequently blurred. Last night I had an article up about Israel and there was a photo of the Prime Minister prominently displayed.

“Who is that?” she asked, walking up behind my chair.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel,” I told her.

“Israel? Wow.” She thought about that for a moment. “Benjamin was one of the  names of Jacob’s sons. We learned that in school”

Another pause.

Then her eyes lit up. “Do you think that man has gotten to see Jesus over there?”

I reminded her that Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

Her face clouded. “No, Mr. Benjamin isn’t that old, I guess.”

Lots of laugh out loud moments with children, and also moments that cause tears to come to your eyes.

“Do you think he’s gotten to see Jesus over there?”

A wistful and hopeful question. Maybe he has seen my Jesus.

For now, we see Jesus by faith. Hebrews 11. Some day we will see him face to face. The hands that were scarred for us. The One who loved us so much He took our place and the penalty for sin.

What a day that will be, Emily., when you can run to the One you love, who saved you by His grace. That is the blessed hope that keeps us as Christians going in this dark world.  That is how we continue on when the rebellion and sin around us gets worse and worse.

There’ll be no sorrow there,
No more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain,
No more parting over there;
And forever I will be,
With the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.
What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

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