It's been a day of contemplation for me... I wasn't ready to write about it last night (and didn't want to mar the beauty of the slipper post with irrelevant distractions,) but church last night was pretty amazing - and epiphanic.
The sermon was about prayer. Intercessory, earnest, obedient prayer. Which, in and of itself would be a pretty convicting sermon. But what it did for me was reveal a pattern of sin in my life that has completely brought me to my knees and has had me in tears all day.
I wrote the following email to my pastor this morning. It pretty much sums up my heart right now, and it's much easier to cut and paste this baby than try to get back all the words. (To clarify the beginning of the second paragraph, Asia was teasing him after the service about always making me cry...)
Thank you for an excellent message last night.
Asia's comment about my crying... let's just say God has me in a pretty raw place right now, and the atmosphere at New Community is extremely conducive to tears. I am so thankful we have landed there - because God is slowly and tenderly revealing lots of schtuff I've allowed into my heart that needs to be pruned away...
Basically, it comes down to this: as someone who was raised in the church, and gave my life to Christ at a very young age, I learned early on how to feed my ego with churchianity. I was pegged at a pretty young age as a leader - and stepped into demanding roles with enthusiasm. I grew up in a relatively small church and found myself leading worship at 17, being discipled by the pastor personally and giving up every summer for full time ministry. It was only natural to go into full time ministry. So I did. When Asia and I got married, he was also in full time ministry.
My love affair with church continued as we started our family. I loved the young family ministry and continued to use my musical abilities in church. I attended every retreat, every bible study and took the kids to Awana. When we moved to Spokane and began attending (the ex-church), I dove in headfirst, striving to help in whatever way I could be used.
This is when God began to humble me though. (The ex-church) was large - and I was a little fish in a big pond for the first time. I wasn't the best singer there. They didn't need me to play the piano. The women's ministries carried on quite successfully without my input. I felt like an outsider. But, I persevered, and eventually was moved into leadership positions, which I loved. At the time of our departure, we were totally immersed in ministry.
When we first left, I went through a lot of soul searching. At first I blamed my pain on being wounded by (the ex-church) - I felt used and labeled and betrayed. I began to question the "Institutional Church" and whether it was even necessary to participate in one. After doing lots of reading about the "Outchurched," we determined that we still really wanted to be part of a local body of Christ, but despaired that we would find one. We tried lots of churches - attending several for weeks at a time, but were so weary and worn that we were turned off by what felt gimmicky and program driven. I prayed that we would be able to start the school year with a solid church home, for the kids' sake. When we came to the conclusion that the church we had attended most of the summer just wasn't a good fit for us, I despaired - questioning what God was going to do for our family... I longed for a place where we could walk alongside other believers, but was wary and worn-out.
Then we attended New Community.
Now - this isn't going to be some "we've found the perfect church" story. I know better. God used our experience with (the ex-church) to break down any illusions I had about that. What I have found, though, is a place where week after week God reveals more and more how my habitual service and prideful striving has been idolatry. Where I see that for my whole life, I have been having an affair with "church" and have neglected my Savior. My heart has been putting Jesus on the bottom of my priority list, under ministry, under recognition, under "spiritual growth". I spent years promoting myself instead of loving others. Years loving an organization instead of Jesus. Years ignoring the greatest commandment: To love the Lord my God with all my heart and my neighbor as myself.
So yes, I cry a lot. I cry when I take communion and someone looks me in the eye and reminds me that the bread is "Christ's body, broken for you." I cry when I sing "Blessed be Your Name, On the road marked with suffering, Though there's pain in the offering, Blessed be Your Name." I cry when I see genuine, vulnerable leadership humbly serving the body. I cry when I hear a sermon about prayer and I recognize my anemic excuses. I cry when I hear a quote by Billy Graham about choosing death over dishonoring God and I realize my motivation for service has been misguided my whole life and what could have been God-honoring was instead just clanging cymbals and vain conceit. I cry when I realize that for a good portion of my marriage, I resented my husband because he didn't fit the traditional "church leadership model" and was not going to aspire to the sorts of ministry I always imagined my husband would be involved in. I cry when I read about God's mercy and grace and I know that He has taken every one of my self-centered efforts and used them for the good of His kingdom. So yeah, I cry. I cry a lot.
I feel such a sense of peace and safety in the midst of all this difficult revelation. New Community has been a sanctuary for my soul - a den of grace and a refuge where I can be vulnerable to myself and to Asia. I look forward to the time when God has pruned out all the worthless branches and I feel empowered to serve the body as God intended.
I have been blessed to call New Community my church home. I covet your prayers and appreciate your patience as God continues His wounding and healing process in my heart.
Believe it or not, this is the short version...
Thanks for your faithfulness to deliver God's word week after week. It is sharp and poignant and exactly what I need to hear.
Thanks for letting me share.
It's all good stuff.
Painful, but so sweet."
(End of email.)
This is what has run through my mind all day. It feels good. A new beginning. A changed life. A future ripe with possibility.
I was wide awake for hours last night.
Of course, for someone who is not generally a deep thinker, I'm pretty wiped out.
Geez - considering the wide range of topics in my last few posts, I see that I may just be scaring the heck out of some of you... sorry to go all multiple personality disorder on you... I just want to be real about this journey I'm on. And I want to document it, to pile some rocks up and put an alter here to remind me of what God is doing in my life...
At least you never know what to expect when you come here. Cause that would get boring, eh?