Today as I was standing in church, singing “The Old Rugged Cross”, allowing a tear to slip down my left cheek although I wasn’t quite sure why I was crying, I thought “I have never written anything about my church.” I was crying for any number of reasons – singing that tune made me think of my Grandma Ayres and my Granny Terry, and I wished that I was eight years old and that we were on our way after services to one of their houses in Tucumcari for Sunday dinner, and it also made my heart ache.
I have been praying recently that God would open my heart while it was being healed – the last thing I want from this recent debacle in my life is for my heart to be hardened to grace and love and, most importantly, joy. What I have prayed hardest for is for my joy to be restored – I’m pretty sure God has no intention of allowing this ridiculously minor setback (you know, it’s not like nuclear threats in Iran or world hunger or the AIDS crisis or conflict in Libya, but it has still been pretty uncomfortable for me personally) to be such a force in my life that I can’t be joyous now that I’m through it. I’m pretty sure God’s standing back, rubbing His hands together, shaking his head, thinking, “Good grief, finally, she’s out of that. . .took long enough.”
Anyway, singing “The Old Rugged Cross” made me cry, and it made me realize that few things in my life have been as steadfast in my life as my church. No matter how far afield I’ve roamed in my life (and believe me, I’ve roamed far AND wide. . .), the First Baptist Church at Logan, New Mexico, has stayed in the same place, with basically the same doctrine and the same hymnbooks and the same scriptural teachings each Sunday. The preachers (I prefer the term “ministers”) have changed over the years, although Steve has now been here for a very long time, and the deacons have changed somewhat, but not much. There are new chairs in the last decade and new carpet in the sanctuary, and now there is a praise team up front helping with the songs while Powerpoint lyrics flash on the screen behind the pulpit, but the FEEL is the same.
It still feels like home. Especially when my heart is healing.
The song service still feels like a release. For a while after I returned to Logan in 2004, I didn’t like that there was no longer a choir. I loved watching my Daddy sing in the choir all those years before, and I wanted to sing in the choir. My Dad is the only person I know who dances with his hymnal – he finds such expressive joy in singing praise songs or hymns that he waves his songbook back and forth in time to the music and leans his head back and sends his entire voice and LIFE into the air, praising God in his very lovable and sometimes funny way. I didn’t like that I could no longer watch this. To me it was like finding my own joy every Sunday when I could look into the choir loft and see Dad singing (and dancing to) “Will There Be Any Stars in My Crown.”
And then I didn’t like at first that the organ and the piano were gone and Colleen was in their place playing the keyboard. I think that every church kid in the world should have had the privilege of watching June May play the organ, and Mildred Osborn before her. But June is no longer with us (God rest her soul, and how I miss her sweet smile and hello) and Mildred is no longer able to play, and it is time to admit that Colleen is extremely musically talented and feels led to do exactly what she does. She does it very well.
So now, although there is no Junie or Mildred, and no Thurman Thomas leading the singing, I still love the music. I love to sing. I am no Patsy Cline, but I’m not bad, and singing gets my heart pumping, and then some days, like today, it makes me cry just a bit, and it lifts my heart.
And Steve is good at what he does. He’s a teacher at heart, and he is trying to lead us out of the proverbial darkness into the light, and his heart is in the right place, and I love that he works so hard at making it clear in the most essential way. The best thing about Steve is that I have never feel like he judges anyone, and sometimes I go to talk to him privately and I say things like, “I’m just so damned pissed off,” before I catch myself, and he puts his hand on my arm and says, “You know, God doesn’t expect you to never get angry. He just expects you to ask Him to give you grace to get through it.”
So, now I am finally telling you about my church. I have had a love/hate relationship with it all my life. My parents never gave us a choice about attending. As a child I was there every time they opened the door – I never totally got the purpose of Wednesday night prayer meeting, but it was easy to endure knowing that we would go to Junior and Mildred’s afterwards and I would get to play Clue with my new fifth grade boyfriend, Vondell Koontz. I wasn’t crazy about Sunday night, but I knew that it was as much a part of our family ritual as the cold cereal and popcorn we would have for dinner afterward while watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” and then “The FBI.”
Here is the very best part about my church. No matter where I am in my life, it is always there. Regardless of whether I’m living in North Carolina wishing I was back home in New Mexico or on the lake at 6:00 on a Sunday afternoon (I always reflexively think that church is just about to begin, even though it’s been years since I was faithful enough to attend on Sunday night), my church is there. Just waiting, very patiently and without judgment, for me to return.
And, also, the other best part about my church is that my parents are always there. Today when we had the Lord’s Supper, my Daddy passed the trays of communion wafers and grape juice with the rest of the deacons and then he said the prayer over the sacrament of the blood. My Mom was sitting in her regular place, clapping when we sang “Power in the Blood.” I used to think that the best reason to go to church was to see my Mom’s smile when she glanced back and saw me in a pew behind her. I don’t know how I will endure life when they are no longer in church each Sunday, but thank goodness that’s not an issue. Seeing them there makes my Sunday complete. And safe. And secure. And right.
So, like I said, my church is always there, regardless of where I am in life either literally or figuratively. Kind of like God, I guess. My church, despite all the negative press it might get out there in the world, is still a place where people love me and treat me with kindness and where grace remains a possibility every time I come through the doors. I’m grateful for that. And I’m most grateful that God is always in my life as well. Not haranguing me or giving me hell for being absent the last couple of years. Just waiting for my return.
Today I found a great quote of Anne Lamott’s which says, “I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” My life has been filled with all manner of grace recently. I’m happy that my church has been one of the places I’ve found it in abundance.Pin It