In 2010, I joined one of America's microcultures, with high hopes and ideals.
It did not take long at all to realize that there are a lot of hurting people in this one.
(This can be said of every culture, of course, but this one has a combination of people being very free about expressing their pain, while being mistrustful of outsiders. There are a lot of people who want to help, support, encourage, but the idea is, unless you've lived our pain, you can't understand it, and we don't trust you.)
Roughly two years in, I found a spot in an organization, mostly within said microculture, made of members who want to disciple other members and bring them to knowing Christ more deeply. One of their staff was part of the community I belonged to, and he mentored about a half-dozen of us, while teaching another twenty who were less confident about depending on the Bible.
I decided then that I wanted to be staff someday, like this man was. I envisioned joining part-time, and mentoring under someone who did this full-time, and being part of this marvelous mission.
(One of the very bad chapters in my life came about because I didn't listen to that particular mentor's instruction - which was to start each day with God, and do nothing until He told me to do it. Said mentor knows how that works for me, it's not booming voice from the sky, but I do not yet know how to describe it to someone else. The problem was, I was panicked at such a suggestion, because I knew God, and God sometimes does things that don't make any sense from my end*, which could result in me getting punished by the people I worked for. This was unthinkable. I basically lived to try to avoid punishment (which is a really crappy way to go through life, but it was the best I knew at the time.) So, the result was that I was willing to listen to God AFTER I listened to my manager/boss/employee handbook, and there came a point where I had a manager who wanted me to do something I knew was wrong, and I did it, pretty consistently for a year, and that year was so painful that I ended up losing /leaving my job**.)
*I have compared this to me doing things that make no sense to my beloved pet rabbit. Look, sometimes the floor just has to be vacuumed. She hates this. **Stress resulted in depression at near-lethal levels. Rick went into action. Rick is very kind and gentle when he interacts with me, but Rick interacting with something that threatens his treasured bride is a persistent force who Does Not Play Fair. Well, maybe he plays fair, but he uses rules no one has thought of looking into.
The downside of having left that job is that, after a year of recovery, I've largely forgotten about the need, about how many people are hurting there. I'm focused on my marriage, focuses on the teenagers and preschoolers, getting connected with our community and getting to know the area, learning more about this cool new area I've landed in. I'm focused on many positive things...and forgetting what we cared about.
Joining staff now would not look the way I'd anticipated. I'd anticipated a sort of apprenticeship, studying under someone who'd been staff for years, probably into the next stage of life. We're it. Everyone in our group right now is in about the same life stage.
I've been holding a focus of, "What do I need to do to make myself a better Christian? A more dedicated follower of Christ? To increase my understanding of the Bible, and who God is?" And, in doing all that, clean forgotten that anyone we don't know has similar needs.
One point would be taking off from our church every so often to meet the new incoming people at the only location where they know to go for meeting other Christians. Do I want them to know that there's a safe place for them, a place where we practice more in-depth study, life-on-life, pushing our comfort zones? Absolutely. Am I willing to miss the time with the youth and our choir in order to be there? Oh, hold on now, wait a minute. Those teenagers only start to trust me when I indicate to them that they're a priority to me. When they think I prioritize some other ministry over them, they pull away, clam up, shut down.
...well, can I serve the teens, without them trusting me? Yes. It's less gratifying for me. It means that someone else will have to be the one to receive their secrets, those precious moments. It means working for fruit I don't get to see. That's okay. Or, can I pray that they would still trust me even when, from my perspective, it does not make sense for them to do so?
Can I pray that another leader would move into the area?
Can I pray that God would give us another place to meet, that's large enough for the current group?
Can I pray that God would give direction to the group? Would give life and purpose again?
*sigh* We're in a weird position. The last person who led, who was really able to do so, thought it would be wise to shut things down for awhile, until a new leader emerged. Have everyone grow strong in their own churches, marriages that were just starting get somewhat established, keep meeting for the purposes of fellowship perhaps but let teaching be done by those who are qualified to teach. (This is marked out for us in Scripture, by the way, the older men teaching the younger, the older women training the younger women.)
Well and good. But there's pressure from the leaders up north of us. They know so, so many people come through our area - we have the capacity, locally, for some of the largest communities within this microculture, and we're also THE central location for a pile of the most isolated communities within the microculture. And they're not finding anyone here.
One scene from Doctor Who keeps playing in my mind on this. Opening the second season, there's an episode where the Doctor (who generally acts as the problem-solver for interplanetary time-traveling mix-ups) is out of commission, so his friend Rose, completely unqualified, squares her shoulders and says something like, "Doctor's unavailable, somebody has to be the Doctor." She puts forth a solid effort, and completely fails, but her effort ends up buying a little bit more time until the Doctor heals/wakes up and can save the day.
I can't lead any of the women in this group. (Rick asked me to think about mentoring one of our new young wives - no. Nope. Not happening. To mentor someone my age, I would have to have some clue of what I'm doing at my age. I can mentor teenagers, because I have some idea of how to handle being a teenager, but I cannot tell you in words how very in-over-my-head I am in relationships with my husband, my mother, my work (not having gainful employment makes me a failure in the eyes of our culture - try mustering up to that one every day), my long-distance family...look, it's sweet that you think I help someone else do this, but it gives the impression you have no idea how much I feel like I'm failing) But I can be a friend to any of the women here, and serve, and help. Lead? No. But serve, yes. I can take off at least one Sunday a month and go to the chapel, make some connections. Three meeting-spots in the area, but actually only one of them holds any sort of Protestant gathering. I don't know what we're going to do about space, but it hardly seems Christian to decide, "God has not yet provided more room for us, so we're not going to help any more people."
We ARE plugged in with a really great church. They're not affiliated directly with the organization we're staff for, but if the overall purpose is to get people connected with a community that's oriented around knowing Christ, teaching the Bible, serving each other...okay, we might just be acting as conduits for a time.
Come to think of it, it was because of the afore-mentioned leaders that WE got connected with that church. It's a good place for new believers, and believers looking for other believers, and younger people looking for older people to learn from, and the church sure knows how to celebrate a baby better than we do. And thanks to the purpose of serving the teens, I have a vehicle that can haul people who don't have wheels.
I don't know that this is exactly being staff, but it is serving. If we had someone who could disciple, I'd connect people to that person or couple.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
This happens once in awhile in our church. And by, "once in awhile," I mean the last time this came up was either before I came to this church, or while I was on deployment. This is the first one I've witnessed.
It's been a year in the making, I think. The whole process. The man's daughter is one of the girls I've come to love. I've been praying for her, that she wouldn't grow hard and bitter through this, because she's one of the more gentle ones and I hate seeing that.
I didn't think beyond that.
One of my friends is going through a lot of pain because the church she was attending didn't want to do this. They'd prefer that, since a man is a friend and leader within their church, the sin he refuses to address not be known to the congregation. She wanted to confess her part in it, and they would have none of it publicly. Privately, they blamed her and made it clear she was not welcome. (This is the opposite of what's supposed to happen. It's supposed to be that the repentant one is welcome, and the church as a body works together to help the person. Repentance is the outward posture of the gratitude that is the natural response to understanding who Jesus is. You only make it known to the congregation if someone really won't repent, because that's how someone announces they're done with Jesus.)
I knew about this girl's family pain, a little bit, but I mostly saw it in terms of her being in pain.
I've grown so, so callous. I had a philosophy that divorce was like cancer - it was really awful to go through, but it happened sometimes, and there wasn't any way to predict whether it would happen to your own family.
It's not supposed to happen.
Our pastor read a letter to the congregation this Sunday, and it dawned on me that this is a small picture of why our (Rick's and my) mentors are pleasantly exasperated with us. We're one of three couples in our tribe that they counsel, and every time we bring them a conflict, they help us through it, but there's an air of bafflement as to why we aren't solving these ourselves.
I'd forgotten that this couple sees so much of what happens in this church, not just our little tribe, which is at most a tenth of the church's size. They've been trying to help this older couple be resolved and whole again, part of the body again. This is not the only one, but I can see how it's been wearing on them.
Most of the things we've been bringing them are really, truly, small potatoes. I just didn't see it. I know, I know, any problems in a relationship are the fault of both people, not just one...but I also know the mompetition rule.
(The mompetition rule states, among women, if you want to eliminate half the competition, one-upping, and negativity from your relationships...stop doing it.)
While it might not clear up everything, a huge chunk of what's been going on has just been my own selfishness. I've been demanding that Rick do what I want, that he be perceptive to what makes me happy, while also expecting that he interpret what I do for him in the spirit it's given. Basically, double-standard, evaluating him by how I feel about what he's done, and evaluating myself based on how I feel about what I've done.
God's bigger than that. A LOT bigger. And His standards are infinitely more worthwhile than mine.
Listening to the letter written to the congregation, something hit me about both writing and marriage. Part of the reason writing used to be so good, so enjoyable for me, was because I liked writing about what I thought was beautiful. It might be tragic beauty, it might be fiercely joyful beauty, but I loved writing beauty. Writing to vent ugliness from inside me - it makes sense that this would make for undesirable reading.
There is so much that I am thankful for in Rick, in our marriage, in our life together. I'd rather live in awareness of these things. I'd rather write these things.
Seeing Jesus - understanding a glimpse of who God is, and what He did for undeserving wretched little me - produces profound gratitude. There's a moment of despair, over how I could not possibly deserve this gift, and when I understand that it is given to me, not because I'm worthy of it but because He wants to give it and because He's the supreme authority He's going to give it* so it's unquestionably mine now...that blows my mind and makes me want to do everything that pleases Him. That's repentance - turning around and going His way.
*I grew up in a culture where it was socially expected that one gently refuse an offered gift until it is very clear that it is to be accepted. One does not gently refuse God.
Living in my marriage in gratitude for who Jesus is, which spills over into gratitude to Him for who Rick is (because, as wonderful as Rick is, Rick is wonderful because Jesus made him wonderful, not because Rick decided to be wonderful)...that's the marriage I want to have, the life I want to live.
How did I read this email I got WRONG? I looked at it more than once. I forgot all about the hymn we are supposed to be playing because of the wording at the bottom of the email! AUGH! Now I am up trying to get my mind right so I can play the song with some semblance of power and knowledge tomorrow. I know how to sing it, but playing it is a different story. And this other song...I keep forgetting the melody :( God help me! I have to be up at nearly the crack of dawn to get to an earlier than usual practice so I am praying that I am okay by the end of said practice. As it stands, I have to also get the children's lesson ready and going for tomorrow since I am in charge of BGMC Sunday learning sessions!!!!
Though I am exhausted, I am happy with what we did and why we are so tired. Friday night, we were at our old church having a good old time with the youth there till about 2:15 in the morning. They had an overnight coffeehouse club type thing going on. My husband got to do a song. Then we got to sleep around 4am. My husband had to get up 2 hours later to go and open the church for an event. Then, the boy and I woke up at 9:22, which meant we couldn't go to the book reading at Target cuz we would be too late. SO I got my son situated, his father came back to take a nap, and I left for the Lady's Tea. My son's birthday was yesterday, too, so he was happy to have a bunch of time to just do what he wanted, eat what he wanted, and hang out in the living room. When I got back, we had to get ready to go to the surprise birthday party for our dear friend. It was a 4 hour church service/party/celebration. AWESOME. Hubby and I both got to share our ministry with the congregation.
This morning, I was on worship team at our new church for women's day, playing guitar and singing. I also did the responsive reading. Hubby was in the sound booth, as always. After church was a delicious lunch prepared and served by the men. After that, I got a 2 hour nap only to get back up and go to our old church for their Martin Luther King Jr celebration where I was singing in their worship team and did my solo in the special song.
Needless to say, I have good reason to be tired....but I am sooo blessed! The messages and fellowship this weekend were totally off the hook :D