Monday, January 23, 2017

Rain Rain Go My Way


Southern California sure got dumped on yesterday. It rained and poured. It poured and rained. It never does this! It kept us indoors. It canceled our plans. It forced us to slow down. It turned our Sunday - a day of "rest" - into an actual day of rest. Unless, of course, you were filling sandbags.

I'm not overreacting, either. I drove and couldn't see. My daughter drove and hydroplaned. Rain went sideways! The baseball field down the street used to have pitching cages, but I couldn't see them - they were under water!

It was good for us, I think. Weather, forcing us to slow down, acting as a temporary "force quit" to our lives. Sure we didn't get snowed-in or anything. But still. We needed this.

During a recent, non-rainy-day drive to the gym, I stopped at a red light and looked around: to my left, folks were signing up for one of those fun runs, everyone wearing the same orange shirt, fighting for some cause. To my right, Boy Scouts were doing community service, picking up trash and planting flowers. And in the park behind them, soccer games were going on and dogs were pooping. There were shirtless dads pushing jogging strollers and cute moms walking with their Starbucks and workers trimming trees and a helicopter was overhead...and, and, and! (And don't forget me, going to the gym!)

My eyes beheld a vast labyrinth of human activity all in one concentrated area, at a single intersection in Mission Viejo, California, on a Saturday - the end of the "work" week. And it hit me: we all look so tired; we need a good rain to keep us home in our jammies. After all, it's been cheesily said that we are human beings, not human doings. When do we ever carve out time to "just be?"

So it's a good thing God nudged us in the direction of being-not-doing by sending us this rain. He longs for us to rest more, produce less. I mean, the guy didn't create wintry seasons for nothing, for he often uses them as a reminder to "come away by yourselves to a secluded place - put that sandbag down - and rest awhile." (Mark 6:31)


  

Friday, January 13, 2017

Part Two - CASUAL REFLECTIONS ON GROWING UP CHURCHED: "When Christians Cuss"


Growing up churched in the 80s, I was under the impression that people who cussed were "backslidden" in their faith - at best. At worst, well, they were probably not...(whisper)...not even Christian. But that was my experience. Not every churched kid grew up with the same impression, an impression I'm happy to report I've 98% moved-on from (I still blush on occasion), for I've seen God loving people in the midst of cuss words slipping out right and left.

Take my husband, Jeff. When he was in the seventh grade, he committed his first swearing felony, not on a playground or at the mall, but at a church youth group. And his naughty word of choice wasn't said out of habit or anger or because he stubbed his toe, rather he was going for cool-factor, similar to "smoking" candy cigarettes. He went around calling kids dildos. (I admit, that was difficult to type out.)

"Stop being a dildo, dude," he'd joke.

His youth pastor could have gone any number of corny and ridiculous directions. Thankfully he chose the way of grace and truth, for he casually said, "Hey buddy, do you know what that word means?" 'Yeah, it means dork!' "Actually, no it doesn't. And actually, it's super inappropriate. So how about we not say that anymore?"

The youth pastor didn't freak out, didn't shame him, yet still managed to give instructions on how to best proceed. He even called Jeff "buddy" before sending him on his way to "not say that anymore." Not too different from the way Jesus dealt with the woman caught in adultery: "...neither do I condemn you, now go your way and sin no more." (John 8:11)


My youngest sister, on the other hand, went around calling kids bastards in her youth group. Sadly, she got a completely different reaction from her leader. I don't know the exact details, but reinforcement was called in and she got removed from the youth room. Funny, she also seemed to think bastard was just another way of saying dork. (We kids should've stuck with boring, socially-acceptable "dork.")

Now, I'm not sure how proper it is for a churched girl, such as myself, to have a favorite cussing-in-church encounter, but I do. It happened at a women's Bible study ten years ago. It was the very last meeting of an eight-month-long study. About 300 of us were gathered in a large tent-like room, that's 300 "intergenerational" ladies - a buzzwordy term used when you've got 90-year-old great grandmas mixed with 27-year-old millennials. So you can imagine the varying degrees of shock levels represented should someone happen to swear into a microphone.

She was probably the hottest girl in the room. Who knew hot girls did Bible study? And as the morning's facilitator moved about the room with a mic, asking women to raise their hands and share what God had done in their lives, hot girl raised her hand. And in a sea of church-speak - "God proved himself mighty on my behalf this past year" - only one testimony stood out as genuine, unrehearsed, and heartfelt: hot girl's. Although she struggled putting words together (who wouldn't following such declarations of religiosity?), she clearly remembered what life had been like before putting her faith in a loving and compassionate God. In fact, she flat out told us what her life was like: "My life was shit.

Oh, the gasps for air heard throughout the room, the shifting in seats, the nervous sips of coffee - all so fantastic! I mean, I usually hate awkward moments, but not this time. Sure hot girl's testimony would've been sincere without the cuss word, but not only did it give us self-righteous types a little somethin' to work on internally, it also helped drive home the fact that God is faithful to produce change in a person's heart, starting heart first, not foul language first, and in his own timing. Profanity was obviously the least of God's worries that day. 

I'm so thankful God is patient with my faults. He seems to work on them in batches and from the root on up. And when I quickly string together my famous three craps in a row - crap, crap, crap - as I spill coffee on myself, I know God sees my frustration and has a non-shocked, "hey buddy, how about we not say that" way of handling things, always with the perfect amount of truth and grace.




Thursday, January 5, 2017

Part One - CASUAL REFLECTIONS ON GROWING UP CHURCHED: "Bathrooms To the Left, Decision Room To the Right"


Growing up "churched" can be a strange thing. On one hand, there's a whole lot of corny attached to it. A wide array of corny. It happens when humans attempt to make sense of their church's doctrines, policies, and traditions, and it often comes across as formulaic, robotic and sometimes, well, silly. Leaving the awe and wonder and unpredictability of God to lose some of its flavor.

On the other hand, being churched is the best thing that's ever happened to me, for I've seen God love me through his people, not their methods and techniques - however oft they were. Even if they had self-serving motives, God loved me through them, without them even knowing! He does that, you know. He can shine and sparkle through anyone and anything he wants, however flawed.

And I think we can all agree: not everybody sitting in a church is interested in following Jesus. But God used my choppy and very church hoppy experiences to not only show his love for me through his people, but also expose me to: 1) Cute boys, which led me down the aisle with cutest one. 2) Churchiness, which both perplexed and entertained me. 3) Scripture, which hasn't ceased to reveal God's precious thoughts toward me. Thoughts that outnumber the sands of the sea. Thoughts that have wooed me to him all these years.

Yes, I've seen God's hand over and over and over again in church. (See? I just used the phrase "God's hand" - how churched am I?) And I've seen this great big hand of his at churches I've grown up in...in America, of all places, where churches lately accuse each other of being too legalistic, too liberal, too western thinking, too judgy, too watered down, too in-depth, or too loud. There is no end to the many "toos" behind churches getting a bad rap. Ah-ha, maybe that's it! Could it possibly be the bad rap? I have a new favorite "too" now. (Christian rap is on my list of things-that-should-go-away.)

So without going into a super serious, theological, seminary-student discussion over why our American churched culture is getting eyes rolled at them - partly because I hope to write stories about how God met me and others in the midst of human-filled churches and partly because I'm just not that well-rounded of a thinker - I'm going to stick to the idea that started off this introduction, the idea that God uses a whole lot of corny sometimes.

Attending Christian churches most of my life (or should I say "communities" instead of churches to stay relevant?), I've always had a hunch that something was up, that something hysterical was going on. But until about eight years ago (I am now 43), when our family of five moved from Orange County, California to Birmingham, Alabama, I had difficulty gathering together my church-is-corny thoughts. However, there's nothing like a move to the Bible belt - to the very buckle of the Bible belt - to help a gal sort through her churchy observations.

I was simply mesmerized by the way some of the people "did church" over there. Not in a better-or-worse sort of way, just different. Although the area was more denomination and "church membership" focused than what I was used to - like the transferring of church memberships from one church to another, certificates of transfer, inactive vs. active memberships, and so on (all funny stuff) - I found the people of Alabama lovely, and I got involved regardless.

One night I volunteered as a greeter for a Christmas outreach at a local church. People from miles around showed up to collect toys for their children. My job was to mingle with families as they waited for instruction in the main sanctuary (aka: worship center, gathering room, big people church). There was a guy singing Christmas songs to the strum of his guitar on stage. There was a refreshment table. It was very pleasant.

Then the coordinator gal got behind the mic to welcome everybody and make a few announcements. She said, "Now, this is how tonight is going to work: when you see your number on the screen, your children will be escorted to the craft room while you head through these doors to meet up with one of our volunteers." Everything seemed normal and non-corny.

Then, out it came: "And help yourselves to brownies and sweet tea, and please read one of the Billy Graham tracks in the center of the tables. Oh, and down the hallway are the bathrooms to the left, decision room to the right."

"...bathrooms to the left, decision room to the right." The quote of the night.

I knew right then and there I had myself a title for a book one day (or blogpost). But please keep in mind: the "decision room" to which I'm referring has nothing to do with transgender this or that, rather it's where folks might go in certain church buildings to say the "sinner's prayer" (yet another churchy saying).

At any rate, it was church corniness at its best, and it was perfect...affectionately speaking, of course. After all, Billy Graham tracks are awesome, bathrooms are necessary, and decisions for Christ must be made. Sure the outreach coordinator didn't say what kind of decision must be made in the "decision room." But I guess if you read a Billy Graham track, it was assumed. However, I did wonder if anyone struggled with which sense of urgency to give priority. I mean, when you gotta go you gotta go. Or what if the bathroom served as both bathroom and decision room? Can a person pray to the sound of flushing toilets, while the cross-shaped silk flower arrangement on the wall tickles the back of her arm? Absolutely.

Looking back, imagining if I were in charge that night, I would have shared something heartfelt about my days knowing Jesus, with a sincere "and you can know him, too" finish. But that wasn't how God wanted things to play out that night. He took the cheesy route. For all we know, it was the love of the volunteer who helped put toys in trunks that caused someone to think twice about the promises of God they read about in that-them-there Billy Graham track. Thus prompting a non-decision-room decision for Christ at a later date, which could very well fall on a Tuesday morning in the sock section at Target. You know what they say, stranger things.

So as you eagerly await subsequent blogs on the topic of growing up churched, and in light of the fact that corny is in the eye of the beholder, please extend grace to me, taking off the white glove you planned on using to test the dust of the thought processes behind each story, and put on something that makes you your chillest you. Because there's a lot of corny ahead...