I have a complicated history with church in both forms - denomination and people. I also have a checkered path with community. I have been hurt deeply. There are scars. There are scars that date back to before my age was in double digits. I do have a serious case of the "want to" though and so I have tried again and again over my life to find a church "home" that gives me the joy and purpose that I see in others' lives.
The past three years I have purposefully NOT sought a church home. I have immersed myself in Livestream, Podcasts, and You Tube videos of church services from all over the nation (and even the world). I have dived into Bible studies, lessons, books, and at the heart of all that - the Bible itself (go figure). I know. I know. Brilliant. *LOL* I also visited a lot of churches (and still do). The truth is that my favorite church experience over this past three years occurred in Haiti, but I digress...
Towards the end of 2015, I felt God changing my heart towards church and knew that 2016 would be the year I would find a new church home, maybe two. It was time...
Oh if it was that easy.
The truth is that whether you grew up in the church (both hands raised) or have never darkened the door of one, odds are you have been wounded by the church.
...everybody writes about that...or as someone who has been quick to read articles with that topic, it feels like that sometimes....*Deep Sigh*
So lets talk about restoration.
In. The. Church.
I tasted restoration in some of my oldest church wounds today, and it took my breath a bit....felt a little like someone stepping on my toes...turned into a few tears and smiles.....left me feeling a little like I had completed a 10K...in Haiti.
When you are in Haiti, you see the world through a different prism. God seems even more beautiful; the devil darker. The world feels smaller. Joy is so thick you imagine you can touch it. People are more real. Life is more raw. Walking a 10K in Haiti is to walk hand-in-hand with God through all of that, and you imagine that if you had a time machine and could be transported back to Jerusalem, it might have felt something like that...walking with Jesus.
I walked with Jesus today...we walked side-by-side through some painful memories....and the irony??? I stepped across the finish line with more energy than when I started...oh, that was Haiti...but the line still applies...
I attended a membership class for a church home today. Due to my unique life choices, I felt God giving me permission to choose two churches in 2016. Today I attended the membership class for the first one, and I did. not. die.
...I know. I was surprised too.
Here is the deal.
There is the church you were born into.
The church you grew up in.
The church you got lost in.
The church you got found in.
...and there will always be a church you got hurt in.
...BUT there will also ALWAYS be the church you got restored in.
You have to do the work though...on yourself, with God, with others. You have to fight the pain (cramps). You have to engage strangers along the way. You have to face truths about yourself that cause you pain. You have to nourish and replenish yourself with protein and water (communion). You have to keep going.
Restoration happens when we stop, drop, and unclench our fists. Restoration happens when we do the work. Restoration happens when we choose better over bitter. Restoration happens when we give up the pursuit of perfect...in ourselves...and in others.
Today the pastor said you are choosing this community...you are choosing us. I think he meant it one way, but all I could hear in my heart was that after a very long time, I was making an active choice to say yes to church. I was saying yes to church in all of its beauty and all of its messy. That is the difference between then and now; I understand now that the beauty is great, but the really good stuff is in the messy of church. That is real. That is doing life with others. That is community.
Church is just another chapter in the story of how God is restoring my heart to him.
When I was a little girl, I have heard that I would hide out in the church buses and put smiley faces in all of the windows. Supposedly that is how I got my nickname Sunshine.
For all of these years, I always thought the beauty of that story was the small country church or the love I thought those that told it had for me...
It was none of that.
The beauty of that story is a little girl so in love with Jesus that she was perfectly content all alone on old church buses making smiley faces, spreading the joy and love in her heart on every surface she could find....I focused on the wrong part of the story all of those years....
...so when three years ago a couple of little bullies, children, desecrated that memory by tampering with my vehicle in that same parking lot...and I thought I would never heal because it was the latest (and I was determined it would be the final) affront of my childhood from a long season of affronts....God said NO.
The touchstone came today when I realized that the beauty of my childhood was not the buildings, the parking lots, the doctrine, or even the people - it was God, in my heart, overflowing....and I suddenly couldn't fill out the membership paperwork fast enough....
We are built for community.
Community should come from the overflow of our deep and passionate love of Jesus.
Someone(s) hurt me. Someone(s) hurt you. They broke your heart.
God can restore you. God can restore your heart.
All of these years, I thought I was pursuing important things, when in fact I was running...as fast and far as I could...
Today I sat at a table hungry for more...more of God...more community...more messy, and I will get all of those things I am sure, but first God said, "Lets go for a walk....and talk...just you and me...(in the fields together)."
I am reading this book "Moving Mountains" by John Eldredge (you can pre-order HERE) that I was grateful to get an Advance Reader's Copy of a month or so ago. There is this great line in the first chapter about the dilemma of prayer. How we want to believe God will come through for us...then he doesn't seem to....and then we are LOST. John writes, "I believe God is in the dilemma; I believe he wants us to push through to real answers, solid answers."
You mean WORK???
Let me begin to tell on myself of my HUGE laziness when it comes to "doing the work"....but...BUT then I did....I decided to do the work.
The Christian walk looks UNBELIEVABLY a lot like a 10K through Haiti. Click the previous link to read about mine.) Funny how before tonight I didn't quite get that...and now all of those lessons are flooding back.
I am proud of the work God and I have done together this past three years. There is a part of me that is sad that I have exited the wilderness. There is safety and comfort there. Ask the Israelites who wandered 40 years. Sometimes the scary part becomes stepping out....into the promises...even when those promises are from God.
Restoration is literally the crossroads of something ending and beginning.
So here I stand.
In the simplest pursuit...of God.
That little girl was talking to someone on that church bus....on the pine floor...on the mountain....on the bed...on the back roads of Haiti.....in that seat at the table today....God...is right HERE.
He has always been...right...here.
God, not to sound like Sally Fields, but...You love me...You really, really love me....and you always have...and thank you. Thank. You.
Smiley faces for everyone. :)
Sunshine Dreams to You ~ Today and Every Day! :)