Taking my place in the Pews

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ‘new’ Christians. People who’ve just decided to accept Jesus or maybe they haven’t accepted him yet but they are ‘trying on’ the Christian life. I have some good friends who have just begun attending church. In fact, they were previously pretty Anti-church. So now when they sit next to me, I’m keenly aware of all the nuances of the service. How church members relate to each other. The rituals and habits we have. It must seem so foreign to them! I remember when it was foreign to me. The churchy language, the small groups, full immersion baptism. Oh man , THAT one used to freak me out! (I worked hard on my hair and makeup and you want to ruin it? In public??) I’m also aware of the expectations that can sometimes accompany church membership.

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One of the things I dearly want for my friends is not to confuse who they are to the church with who they are to God.

I  started attending church again regularly after a lengthy almost  two decades  hiatus during which I royally screwed up life (another many stories for another time) I was happy to be there but I felt like such an outsider. It was like being the new kid in middle school and all the other kids had been friends since they were in Kindergarten. Fortunately, the congregation was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Plus they served snacks after service. Bonus! They drew me into their tribe, their culture, their lives, their conversations. It was amazing! I couldn’t get enough. After 14 years in my  2nd abusive marriage (no judging) my self esteem was next to nothing and I didn’t feel like I had anything of value to offer other than my hairstyling skills. But these people-they seemed to love ME and that’s what I so desperately needed. So, in true over achiever fashion I jumped right in to everything they had to offer. And there was a lot!! I did women’s ministry. I did Bible studies. I attended conferences. I helped with and planned events, dinners, children’s ministry puppet shows. You name it, I said YES. Heck , I even went to Bible college and graduated Valedictorian! I drank ALL the Kool Aid! I was killing this Christian thing!! And for a while it felt awesome! I was accepted. I was praised. I was wanted. I was appreciated.

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When I was at my lowest God knew what I needed and He generously supplied.However, while I was moving up in church leadership I began to realize that something was off. My church family seemed more interested in what I was producing rather than what I was becoming. I was a major player. One of the ‘special’ ones. I also felt tired, judged, confused, stretched thin, and vaguely empty.

I began to realize that I wasn’t doing all this for God. I was more concerned with what people would think of me if I Didn’t do #allthethings  all the time. Ashamedly,  I also realized that I was addicted to the accolades that I got from being ‘one of the chosen’ who sat at the front of the church. Or being one of the few that attended the inner circle meetings of church hierarchy. I’d become one of the cool kids and I liked it. It made me feel special. Somewhere along the line I’d gotten it wrong. I’d come back to church and to Jesus because he accepted and loved  ME.  Not because of Anything that I did. He loved me when I wasn’t doing anything ‘special’. I didn’t want to have to do all the right things to be accepted anymore. Jesus had only one qualification for me to follow him and that is that I am totally Unqualified.

My marriage(s)  had left me with the wound of ‘ never good enough’. Even though I thought I’d left that at the door, all I did was bring it with me and put a Sunday suit on it. I’d moved my hamster wheel of worthiness from home to church. I’d spent years and years trying to become whatever people wanted me to be so that I’d be valuable to them. Constantly trying to figure out what they wanted from me.

What I didn’t understand was that all God wanted from me was– Me.giphy (1).gif

 

Because God likes to mess with my comfort zones, He led us away from that particular church and all the activities I’d put in His place. He removed my protective Armor of Productivity and put me on a ‘Busyness Time Out’.  I no longer had my committees and bible studies and women’s groups to take up my time. In the absence of movement there was only me…..and God. And you know what I began to realize? I didn’t need all the busy work. Not once. Not one single time did I feel any less loved for not ‘producing’ . In fact, I felt peaceful and comforted and accepted again. As I spent my time with God and reading His word it slowly dawned on me that He just wants me to love Him. Trust Him. Love others. Be kind. It doesn’t matter if I do that for 300 people or just the guy bagging my groceries.  I don’t need to do something that looks Big and Amazing to people. To God the smallest gestures of love ARE big and amazing. He knows that my giving of love produces far more results than anything else.

So, if you want to find me at church don’t go looking where the volunteers are. That may come at another season of my life again; but not now. For now, you can find me sitting in the aisles next to my newbie church friends and just being with them.

Building the Butterfly

“The caterpillar is a necessary stage but becomes unsustainable once it’s job is done. There is no point in being angry with it and there is no need to worry about defeating it. The task is to focus on building the butterfly, the success of which depends on powerful positive and creative efforts in all aspects….” Elizabet Sahtouris 

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I’ve been thinking a lot about butterflies lately. Like there aren’t far more important things, right? I know it’s weird but whenever something sticks in my mind like this I usually know that God has something for me to share. So stick with me on this one even if it gets a bit ‘science-y’ okay? It’s fascinating. Truly.

It started when I went to see my dear friend and business partner, Patti, in the hospital after she suffered a horrible car accident. This was not the type of accident where you have a few broken bones and some whiplash. This was a stay in the hospital three weeks, wheelchair, home care nurse,six month rehab, let’s hope you heal normally type of an accident. LIFE Altering!

One of the first things she said to me in the hospital was, “I just want to hurry up and get this (recovery) over with!” Well, yeah! I mean, who wouldn’t ?! As I looked around her room at the cards and children’s drawings meant to cheer her up I noticed how many butterflies were on them. Patti. Loves. Butterflies. They are all over her house. And I thought, how funny that we always see the beautiful butterflies but not the cocoon.

As a culture we are obsessed with the pretty. Me included. #shinysyndrome .We love the ‘before and after’ photos of people who’ve gone from obese to gym beast. We can relate to a Before photo and we  desire to be the After, but we ignore the getting there part. Why do we celebrate the butterfly and despise the chrysalis? It’s in the butterflies getting there stage that all the magic happens. That’s when I realized how much we have in common with these little winged creatures.

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Although we can’t see it, I’d imagine that being stuffed in a cocoon is  cramped , uncomfortable, and dark. Isn’t this pretty much how we feel when going through a transformation? I know I do!  The stretching , molding, breaking down and building up again into a new creation generally sucks when it’s happening. It’s painful. Caterpillars can totally relate to this.  (Get ready! Science-y part coming!) Inside the cocoon, they go through a stage called histolysis which is defined as “the breaking down [of tissues] during the process of metamorphosis.”  Ok, first off , Eewwww!!! Secondly, Holy wow! have I been there! The last 15 years of fully turning my life over to God I’ve changed in a million ways. Every habit , attitude, or belief I hold now required the tearing down of one I held before. Old dreams perished and new ones were fashioned. Goals I’d had, no longer seemed worthy of pursuing. Huge parts of me had to disintegrate and die in order for new ones to be born. People knew something was going on WITH me but they couldn’t see what was going on IN me. And, just like Patti, I wanted to hurry up the ‘getting there ‘ process and reach my ‘After’.

Ok, here’s my last ‘science-y’ butterfly fact. When I read it, it blew my mind. Inside of these insects are structures called Imaginal Discs.These discs are responsible for the caterpillar turning into a butterfly. They are what actually becomes the wings. AND they are only activated once they are in the cocoon!  Why does a caterpillar even form a cocoon? I’m so glad you asked…. Because they run out of something called juvenile hormone. Basically, their carefree days of living off the tree and eating free leaves are over and they have to get out and get a job.Seriously, I’m not making this up. Can’t you see how this is so much like us?

At some point, being juvenile doesn’t serve us -it stunts our growth. God knows the potential He’s placed in us and He loves us too much to let us stay as children in our faith. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like He loves us because the whole ‘getting mature’ thing is even More painful than staying immature. For me,I wanted IMMEDIATE change, not months or years of angsty self examination. I reached out to God looking for light and freedom and it felt like He put me into a dark crampy cocoon. Then He made me stay there. Well, I really made myself stay in the dark. I remained until all the lies I’d believed about myself were crushed and my mind was renewed with God’s truth of who I really am. I am made in God’s image and everything I needed to be a butterfly was already in me.

Because here’s the thing about us humans, we will happily walk around consuming things of this world until something forces us to seek God and the change that comes with that. We don’t just wake up one day and think, ‘Today I want to question all my motives, goals, and relationships. Then I’ll reexamine my dreams and where I put my finances. Yeah! This is gonna be awesome!” #no  . It takes the cocoon; the journey through the dark, to find your wings. When your time comes to go through transformation, embrace it. It’s in the dark that we find the power of Christ that is in us. It’s that power that will give you your wings.

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