The Break Up, part II (also known as, Falling in Love Again)

church

(part I of this story can be found here)

‘Slow dawning of realisation’ is somewhat of an understatement. It took me 18 months to admit that we (I) did not go to this particular church. 18 months of driving home from church sobbing. 18 months littered with days of anger, bitterness, indignation, and accusations.

But more than all those things: I was sad. Wretchedly sad.

I had been a part of the team that had planted this church. As a pretending-to-be-confident-secretly-petrified-18-year-old I had moved from country to city to commit my heart and energy to this seedling of a church.  I had watched it grow from the few of us to a thriving community embracing its neighbours and learning to live in the ‘now and not yet’ of the Kingdom.  I had the extraordinary honour of being the Youth Pastor of this community. A role that I loved and was deeply humbled and terrified of: in fairly equal measures.

But now…

My once home and my heart no longer sang in harmony. 

The dissonance grieved me more deeply than I can say.  Those 18 months of letting go, along with the following years of not finding a ‘home’, were sad, desolate and confusing. This ‘local church girl’ was without a church.  On unsteady feet I entered a season of deep uncertainty and questioning. Much of who I was and how I expressed my faith was wrapped up in my relationships with people from this church and the heritage this place had given me.  Absolutes became negotiable, solidity became fluid, and I was floundering in the insecurity of it all.

Throughout this time we regularly attended a church led by some dear friends of ours. It was a gentle, honest, deliberate and kind community. It became a place of great rest.  But ultimately we knew that this wasn’t the place for us: it was a 25 minute drive away – too far for my ‘local church’ heart.

A number of good friends of ours went to a church not far from us.  We decided to visit one Sunday morning, ‘just to see’.  We walked in and were surprised by the buzz in the building. Everyone was congregated around a tea/coffee table, drinking, eating, laughing and chatting, there was palpable joy. The service was lovely, the people were kind and the kids were well looked after.

But my hesitant heart couldn’t bear another break up and I was reticent to go back.

Each Sunday AJ would gently suggest going to church, sometimes I said yes, sometimes no. He had already fallen in love with these people. I had not.  It took me many months of God reminding me of what He had long ago written on my heart before I was ready to commit.

And then it happened, suddenly and decisively, I fell in love with this church.

We had only been going along for a few months when our youngest daughter was born. One of the pastors organised meals for our family for the week after her arrival.  One night when our baby was only days old, there was a knock at the door and a lady who I had never seen, let alone met, was standing there, laden down with food. She delivered her homemade meal, adored our baby girl, and left. I stood in the middle of our lounge room, speechless and amazed.  I couldn’t believe that this community, complete strangers!, were celebrating our baby’s arrival with us, welcoming her into the world with their generosity and kindness. Their goodness dissolved my wariness.

And here we are, 2 1/2 years later.  This is indeed the place for us. Creativity is encouraged, the Word is taught, kindness is a way of life, mission is core and laughter abounds.  I have found people that know me and love me, and who encourage me to pursue God with my hands, feet and words.  It is not perfect – it is not meant to be. But it is good. Very, very good.

That long season of uncertainty was, of course, necessary.  My questions regarding faith, church, community and grace are far from resolved. But my heart is considerably healed and there is time and energy to continue to seek answers. What I am sure of is that the local church does indeed occupy a special place in my heart, and I am honoured to be a part of our local church. What I am sure of is that I am grateful for my heritage. And I am sure there will be seasons to come that will feel dark and unsure, but I am also sure that light and life wait their turn, and Jesus delights to redeem.

(There is so much of this story that I haven’t told here. Partly out of respect for others, and partly because I know that there are necessary conversations that I haven’t had yet. Healing continues, in all manners and ways: and the writing of this part of the story is one of those ways)

 

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Promises

 

cultivate-beliefs

At church we are working our way through a series called ‘Cultivate’ (which is brilliant, by the way).  Yesterday we were looking at the idea of cultivating promises in our lives and how promises are foundational in all relationships, including the relationship between God and his people. We regularly have a ‘prayer event’ during our services which reflects a particular issue or theme. This is the prayer I wrote/struggled with for 3 days for the prayer on the theme of promises.

 

God of life, your unflinching promises are our safe place and our certainty.

They twist and turn in and through our lives.

The promise of grace, of life, of light, beauty and clarity surprise us around hidden corners, shed light in the dark places and sing glorious lullaby’s over us.

 

When all is uncertain and the sky is dark, your promises oh God are solid and unquestionable.

 

For you oh God, are the great Promise Keeper.

You have chosen to bind yourself to us in covenant and in love.

And there is nothing fickle or feeble about your word or your hands. We can trust you.

 

Teach us to be like you. To follow your ways. To only speak when we have grace and truth to give, to give our promises with open, gentle hands, acknowledging their great fragility and cost.  Teach us that words have great meaning and power, that they contain all that is life giving and all that is life deceiving in them.

 

You have blessed us with a life brimming with your promises that never fail and never give up. They see through the sin and circumstance and declare life over us.

 

We are humbled by your endless song of promise.

We are overflowing with thanks and joy that we are bound to you.

We choose to fill our hands with gratitude and grace and lift them towards you in worship.

We adore you God, the great Promise Keeper.

We choose to honour you and your promises today.

The Break Up, part I

churchAJ and I returned from our overseas adventure excited, energised and expectant. We had spent a year traveling and working through Europe, mostly in the UK and in Italy. Some of the time we were working in hotels, cleaning rooms and serving in bars, other times we were working in drug rehabs and learning what mercy and grace literally and tangibly looked like.  And some of the time was spent on a beach in Morocco, some exploring the ancient cities of Turkey and an inordinate amount of time was spent in restaurants in Tuscany!

We weren’t sure what we were ‘meant’ to do on our return, but we were sure that it involved stepping back into the local church we called home and asking God to use us there. 

I remember how excited I was the first Sunday we were back. I was so excited to see old friends, to worship with our family and to hear all the stories we had missed. I remember walking into that sacred, oh-so familiar space that morning and revelling in the joy of being amongst my church family.

A few Sundays in and I started to falter. Something wasn’t quite right here. Time had moved quickly in this place. Things had changed. People and spaces, energy and ideas – it all seemed foreign. This place that I use to call my ‘lounge room’ because it was so much my home, this place that embodied all that I knew to be safe and sure, this place that had poured out healing and love to me in extraordinary quantities…it had become alien to me.  Painfully I was realising that perhaps this wasn’t the place for us, that this was not family any more.

So I did what I always do – I pushed away the pain and willed myself to fix it. I was going to make this work.

I knew that I had changed. I knew that God had rearranged my heart in a way that I did not think was possible. He had taught me of the power of dignity. He had held my hand and taught me of the simple, quiet moments that His Spirit dwells in. I felt like I had something to offer. I had willing hands and an open heart. I wanted to serve this place.

And so I threw myself into offering my services. Can I help? Can I bake cookies? Can I drive the youth group kids? Can I pray?

At each juncture, and each offer, a blank face, a hesitant maybe. And my heart was breaking with each step back.  

We were breaking up and I didn’t want to let go. 

This was particularly difficult because I am ‘local church’ girl – yes, it is like my super power. I love the Church.  I love it for all its imperfections and for all its promised beauty. I love it for its willingness and for all its failings. I love it because it is the Bride; it is the promise of wholeness and redemption and grace. I love it because God chose the church, he chose us. I love the church because we are the visible hands of Christ in the world.

Breaking up, yes, that is what it felt like, was a not a quick, easy separation. It took months for me to realise that I had drifted away from this church.  It was a slow dawning of realisation that we did not belong together, that I was not needed nor was I necessary to this place.

(to be continued…)

Easter

I haven’t been to church on Good Friday for the the last 10 years. Not by choice, but because family tradition necessitates otherwise.

Each year our Easter weekend consists of travel, extended family, Easter egg hunts on a massive scale and the lovely busy-ness that comes from being surrounded by nieces, nephews, brothers and sisters.

This year was marked by chats late into the night with sisters, hands and hearts open, swapping stories of parenting moments you wish you could take back.

Sneaking away with AJ for coffee and holding hands.

Watching ‘Gavin and Stacey’ and laughing and crying all over again.

Celebrating the impending arrival of a new niece or nephew (my money’s on nephew!).

And it was stealing a moment on Sunday morning to stop and say thank you to the One who makes all this joy and beauty possible.  Life – my life- is possible, in all its luminous light and all its graceless shadows, because of Easter Sunday.  And I am grateful.