Sunday, August 25, 2013

a heart ignored at church

I have never really "fit" anywhere. School. Work. And even church. My experience of "church" has not exactly been great, because churches, just like schools and workplaces, are filled with cliques. People will be nice to your face because they want you to come back. They want you to fill their pews. They want your money. They want to bring you in and get you saved. Once that happens, however, you're on your own. Well, if you don't meet their standards anyway. Their expectations. Their list of criteria. 

It doesn't happen all at once. It might take a while before you really notice. But you will. Because if you don't act/dress/talk a certain way, you don't fit. If you don't believe certain things and like to challenge authority from time to time, you don't fit. If you don't already know certain people, and if you aren't related to so-and-so, you don't fit. If you are single, you don't fit. If you don't have kids, you don't fit. If you don't live in a certain geographical area, you don't fit. If you don't have an outgoing, bubbly personality, you don't fit. If you want to serve beer at a men's group, you don't fit. If your life is just too "messy," well, just don't fit.

Sometimes it's really subtle. Nobody actually comes right out and says it. But it's true. If you meet one or more of the above criteria (and each church seems to have their own hierarchy of which ones are most important), you will find yourself without many friends. At the worst, people will gossip about you and just be downright nasty. (Now don't get me wrong: I'm not saying ALL churches are like this. I sure hope not, anyway. However, in the various churches I've attended in my lifetime, I have almost always -sadly- found this to be true.)

As a Facebook status posted by Jamie a few weeks ago says, "The more I feel part of a community at church, the less I feel church is shitty. 'Love covers over a multitude of shitty-ness' ~ The Bible. Pretty much."  While some people may laugh at this over-simplification, (and others of you may be offended because I just used the word "shit" in a quote), let me tell you: when your heart is ignored by people who are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus, it sucks. And it makes going to church and being around so-called "Christians" feel really shitty. 

In her blog post titled "When it Hurts to go to Church," Serena Woods writes: "Within the Christian subculture is this overwhelming message of the importance of community. [However]...these communities can also be really damaging. They’re damaging when they’re more about conformity and less about the Gospel. They’re damaging when they’re more about appearance and less about the heart. They’re damaging when they’re no longer about honesty in weakness and more about the illusion of almost perfection....

People who know how to love others do exist. They’re just kind of hard to find. ...If you’ve been hurt in your Christian relationships, then it’s hard to trust. For some, the word “Christian” does not conjure up visions of warm people with inviting arms. It conjures up visions of cynical judgements and cold shoulders. It’s damaging when you go to church thinking that you can find a community that won’t crush you with what you’ve done wrong, but [instead] find a community that won’t let you be an active participant because of your failures. It’s like finding out that the One who will always take you back, won’t. It feels hopeless in condemnation. It feels like a message of complete rejection from God. If there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then the message of condemnation is absent of Christ. It’s a fight of faith to believe the still small voice of truth over the overwhelming rejection of community."

In search of community, I have taken part in several small groups over the years. In one such small group, we were asked to answer the question, "Have you ever been angry at God?" We took turns going around the circle. Out of some 12 or 15 women, only myself and one other woman said, "yes." I was incredulous. Either everyone there was lying through their teeth, or everyone had experienced an incredibly easy life! Either way, it was very clear that I didn't "fit" there. I left that night, and never went back. 

So often in churches today, we hear the unspoken message all to clearly: "We don't want to hear about the messiness of your life. Your biggest struggle should be, 'I need to read my Bible more often.' " Well, guess what? Life is messy. And the sooner we get over ourselves and stop pretending that we have it all together, the better off we'll be. Sometimes reading your Bible more just isn't enough. Sometimes, experiencing the love and support of community (in its many forms) is more helpful than hearing another message about how you need to change. If the church can't handle my messiness, well then, who can? Where else should I turn?

Our last church was incredibly damaging to our emotional and spiritual growth. We left nearly two years ago with a very bitter taste in our mouths. It has been a long journey to get to the point where I can walk into a church without completely breaking down. Walking away, however, also meant leaving behind some very dear friends-friends who didn't understand what we were going through, and who for them, saw our leaving as a betrayal. Things with them have never been the same since. We have been left with either a giant elephant in the middle of our friendship, or with an irreparable rift.

We are blessed to currently be part of a church family in which people (for the most part) do not shy away from the "messiness" of life. We stand behind it's mission of "reaching, restoring, equipping, and releasing" people, and have experienced part of that mission firsthand already. Our pastor knows us personally, and has patiently stood by us and walked us through some of the baggage that we dragged in with us. 

However, while it's been great to feel like we can be ourselves and to not be ostracized and gossiped about within this congregation, it's been tough in other areas. After nearly two years, I don't feel as though I have any really, really close friends; I still feel very much like "the new kid." I definitely don't "fit" in any of my previous churches, yet I don't quite "fit" in our new church either. The sign outside our new church reads, "A Place to Belong." Yet why, after nearly two years, do I still feel so much like an outsider? 

I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's our geographical location. Maybe it's because everyone else our age has kids and we don't. Or the fact that most people our age are busy with work, children, and other commitments. Or maybe everyone is so entrenched in their own little cliques that no one has noticed that we haven't "fit" anywhere.  But as I read this week:"...if someone wants you in their life, they’ll make room for you. You shouldn't have to fight for a spot. Never, ever insist yourself to someone who continuously overlooks your worth. And remember, it’s not the people that stand by your side when you’re at your best, but the ones who stand beside you when you’re at your worst that are your true friends." (You can read the entire blog post in it's original context here). 

For people who have abandonment issues, there is no greater pain that that of their heart being ignored-in whatever way, shape or form that might take. Whether it's deliberate or completely unintentional, it doesn't matter; the pain is still there. Sandra Upson writes, “People who attend services regularly but lack [true] friends in the congregation are worse off [mental health-wise] than those who do not go at all.”  

 For someone who wants nothing more than to belong, to connect, to do real relationship, it's been very, very hard to sit on the outside looking in. Both in my old church communities, as well as my new one. Although my head understands that people are busy and have lives of their own with years of history with their own circle of friends, it hurts so deeply when invitations are unanswered, when no invitations are extended, when the inbox is empty, when your heart is ignored.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

being the hands and feet of Jesus

*** This post is a follow-up to my controversial post entitled 
"They Will Know we are Christians by Our Love..." ***

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."’ (Matthew 25:31-40)

Christian psychologist and trauma expert, Dr. Diane Langberg, describes her experience visiting one of the dungeon chambers at Cape Coast Castle, Ghana, which housed male slaves in the late 1700's. She was shocked to learn that above the dark dungeon was a chapel. Directly above 200 chained men, sat God-worshipers who "sang, read the scripture, prayed, and [who] I supposed took up an offering for the less fortunate. The slaves could hear the service, and the worshipers could hear the slaves [crying, screaming and utterly filthy]...The visual parable was stunning.

She goes on to say, "[The tour guide commented that it was] 'heaven above, hell below'...but I would argue... that heaven was not above...because that is not what heaven does... Heaven leaves heaven... Heaven comes down. If the people of that chapel had truly worshiped the God of the scriptures, they would have been in the dungeon. In the filth, in the darkness and the trauma and they would have entered in so they might bring out.

"...The church goes into the dungeon so the dungeon becomes the church...
God came to this dung-filled dungeon you and I call earth and He sat with us and He touched us and He loved us and He brought us to Himself... He became one of us. We are the slaves in the dungeon...and He did not take us out so we can stand on the necks of the oppressed... He's called go back into the plague infested dung-heap so that other slaves might find freedom... The dungeons of Cape Coast Castle existed below because they were first in the hearts of the worshipers." 

As our pastor said in a past sermon, "We need to be prepared to leave our sanitized world, and invest ourselves deeply in the lives of broken and traumatized people...To truly love God is to express that love in an ongoing, deepening relationship with people around you...especially those who are most wounded, most hurt, and most traumatized... 

"If the church is relevant to life of the world today, it must learn to identify the traumas of our day... [and the] questions that nobody has answers to...We need to be able to take a living Jesus who rose from the dead and who conquered the grave and who can speak into those situations and change lives unspeakably by the power of his resurrection. That's what it is to be a church! " 

A question our pastor left us with was this:

Who has God used to bless you and help meet your needs? Who in your life has been His hands and His feet?  Maybe it was someone who led you to Christ or someone who helped you grow spiritually. Or maybe someone helped you grow emotionally or psychologically by listening to your pain and embracing you with the love of Jesus. Perhaps it was someone who helped you with a physical or financial need. Or someone who brought you a meal or babysat your kids. Either way, I doubt it was the legalistic, holier-than-thou, afraid-to-get-their-hands-dirty Christian. 

As we have been shown the love of God through Jesus (and hopefully too through someone else), we in turn must show that same love to someone else. The final question we were left to ponder, was this:

Who is there in your circle of influence, that the Lord calls you to bless? Regardless of whether it is a dungeon of their own making, who do you know who is struggling in the dungeons of this world? Dr. Langberg argues that trauma is one of the primary mission fields for the church of the 21st century. When we refuse to go there--and instead choose to hide in the chapel--we are not unlike the chapel-goers at Cape Coast Castle. To stay in the chapel is to stay clean, but it is not to follow our Saviour. It was He who said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."’

I challenge you to go out and make a difference in the life of someone you know. It might be uncomfortable. It may very well be inconvenient. It will probably be messy. But it's exactly where Jesus would be. 

**** The complete presentation of Dr. Diane Langberg, 

as well as Pastor John's sermon entitled "People Helping People" are available online. ****

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

when you can't find a job - part three

Didn't think there was going to be a "part 3" did you? (Ha! Me neither!) Well, read on...

Some of you may not have know this, but before Organize Me! and The County Cupboard were born, I worked as a Kindergarten teacher. I taught in Trenton from 2005 until getting laid off in 2011. Then I picked up a maternity leave position in Picton, which ended in December 2012.  

To be perfectly honest, I didn't miss teaching. I was so emotionally and physically drained after my Year From Hell, that I really needed some time away from the classroom (and well...away from kids) to rest, and just focus on me. The fact that I didn't miss the busy-ness, the stress, or the kids--as well as the fact that there were no available teaching jobs anywhere in the area, were all clear indicators that I was not supposed to be teaching. 

My husband has always been very supportive of my business ventures; however, he did think it was a shame that I was unable to use my teaching degree. In June, he had brought up the idea of me doing some tutoring. I put out some advertisements, but there was just not a lot of interest at the time. While I wasn't getting a whole lot from EI, it was enough to cover our groceries, gas, and car insurance--with a little spending money for house renovations. Unfortunately, my EI ran out mid-July, and while both my businesses were doing well, they weren't generating enough income to make up for it. 

Again, my husband brought up the idea of tutoring. Again, I advertised. This time, I ended up with a great response: I signed up 6 students for summer tutoring in a matter of a few days! And thus began my third business venture of the year: 1-2-3 LearnI was really excited. Well, until I found out that I'd be tutoring mostly grade 5, 6, and 7 math, that is! Math has always been my worst subject, but I wasn't about to turn down a paying job because of it. 

So, a few weeks ago, I started privately tutoring my first couple of students. And much to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Even when I had to do math. My kids come right to my house for an hour at a time, and I do math problems on paper right along with my math students. (They think it's great when I make a mistake and they get the right answer!) It keeps me on my toes. And it keeps me humble. They are a great bunch of kids!

I have applied to several local schools to be on their emergency supply teacher lists. I have also applied to the Hastings-Prince Edward District School Board for their supply list (one of the hardest to get on, I've been told). I think I might enjoy an occasional call to go into school. But in the meantime, I'm enjoying helping kids one-on-one right from my kitchen table.

summer on the farm

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
So, here are 11,000 words to describe our summer so far!