Not Me!

I’m not the problem!!

Social distancing.  It can be boring.  And, we all think that we are OK to be out and about.  It’s those OTHER people that are the problem.  Here are some things to consider in today’s environment:

  1. While people are thought to be most contagious when they are most symptomatic (the sickest), some spread might be possible before people show symptoms.  There have been reports of this occurring with this new corona-virus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.  The virus that causes COVID-19 seems to be spreading easily and sustainably in the community. So, we should probably enact the “better safe than sorry” attitude. 
  2. You may be taking every precaution and feel very safe about visiting with an at-risk person.  But, can you guarantee that the people with which you have contact are taking the best precautions?  What about their interactions with others?  The best advice may be “Act like you are already contagious.”
  3. Wearing gloves can protect your hands from coming in contact with the virus, but you still can pick up and spread the virus on the gloves.  Wearing a pair of gloves all day may actually do more harm than good.  Good hygiene is the best alternative. 
  4. Be aware of what you touch.  Don’t forget to clean your phone, your mouse, your keyboard. Antibacterial gels/hand washing won’t do much good if the items your touch most often are never cleaned/sanitized. 

Some of us are still required to go into the office to work.  I carry a disposable towel with me from the car to the office and use it as a barrier when I have to touch the stair railing, door handles, elevator buttons and light switches. I dispose of it when I enter the office.  I have a bottle of disinfectant that I used daily on my desk items, my desk phone and my cell phone, the copier buttons, light switches and door handles in the office.  I wash my hands often and use Hand Sanitizer quite often.  When I leave for the day, I reverse the process and use a disposable towel on the way to the car, taking advantage of the garbage cans in the parking garage.  Then, I use my hand sanitizer before touching my steering wheel. 
Because I am still working in an office, I am hesitant to be around any high risk persons. 

Social distancing is challenging.  But, the better job I do at protecting others from ME, the faster the curve will flatten and life will return to normal (whatever that might be.)

Cliches and Control

There are several platitudes that we say in order to find or give comfort:

1. Into each life some rain must fall.

2. God will never give you more than you can handle.

The first statement is rather sanctimonious. It basically says “Get over it. We all suffer!”

The 2nd statement is a misrepresentation of a Bible passage: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength but with your testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

I’ve come to understand that my strength depends on God. If I’m only tested to my strength, I will never need God. However, when I understand that “God will provide”, I know that I rely upon Him for all of my strength and endurance.

I think of The story of Noah. He was told to build a BIG boat. He was ridiculed. I doubt he truly understood, but he obeyed. The children’s stories make us think the journey through the flood lasted 40 days. The rains may have lasted that long, but Noah and his family were in the Ark for almost a year. I wonder if they had enough toilet paper? Do you think Noah survived on his own power? God gave Noah the Ark plans. Did He share the long term (ie: one year on the water) plan? Noah’s Faith was tested.

Are you ready to spend a year of faith living? How about a month or a day or even an hour? I want to say yes. However, the control side of me wants more information and frankly, more control. We are in the midst of panic and fear in our world. Will we trust God to provide everything we need even when we don’t have toilet paper? Do I have a choice?

 “So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all these things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to.

 “So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.

Matthew 6:31-34 TLB

Huffing and Puffing

Straw, Sticks or Brick?

We’ve all heard the story of “The Three Little Pigs’.  The first little pig built his house out of straw.  The second little pig used sticks.  The third pig used bricks.  The wolf was able to “huff and puff” and blow down the first and second houses, but the brick house withstood his efforts.  As a child in VBS, I also remember singing the song about the foolish man and the wise man:

The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the rock stood firm

The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
The foolish man built his house upon the sand
And the rains came tumbling down

The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house on the sand went smash.

So, how many of us truly heed the warnings of these two children’s stories?

We live in a “microwave” world.  We have no patience to wait for anything.  We eat fast food, drink coffee from pods, use credit to the extreme, treat sex as a dating option, and seek “happiness” above all else.  We’ve lost the need or the desire to plan, wait and/or build something of value.  We struggle and come apart over the “stuff”.  We live in a culture that confuses wants with needs.  I NEED a bigger house.  I NEED a new car.   I NEED the new phone.  I NEED to be happy.  I NEED to have the BEST. 

Instead of being content with what we can afford, we buy and sell and trade.  We save for the temporary things that we will tire of when the next newest thing is unveiled.  But, we forget about investing in the things that matter.  We are so intent in our pursuit of happiness, that people and relationships become secondary.  We don’t take the time to repair and/or build our marriages or relationships.  We treat relationships that should be the most precious with less regard than the latest IPhone. 

As we build relationships, we establish a solid footing for marriage.  We build the brick house for ourselves.  When sex becomes the basis for my happiness, I build a house of straw or sticks without a foundation.    A challenge or problem within the fragile walls will knock it down.  I know that I’m old school.  I do believe in the marriage vows “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.”  Unfortunately, the truth of many a marriage is this:  “to have and to hold today, (unless you disappoint me or become a bigger liability than an asset to my happiness) or until something better comes along.”

I do believe that we have to return to our strong belief in family values.  I do not advocate the “Leave it to Beaver” life, but I do believe that marriage and family have to come first.  My children were always important to me.  I was the typical Momma Bear and they knew they could depend on me to stand up for them.  However, my husband came first.  If I did not focus on building a strong marriage, my kids wouldn’t have the family that they needed.  These are the “bricks” that I have found critical to a successful life/marriage:   

  1. My Relationship with God
  2. My Relationship with my spouse
  3. Taking care of my children

I met both of my husbands through church.  Faith has been a huge part of each of my marriages.  Without God, I could not have survived some of the things I have endured.  We believe that God is in control.  We have to trust in Him for all our needs. My kids were also raised in the church.  I would make a pallet on the floor of the gym where we had services and lay my baby on it while I practiced the hymns and/or offertories on the piano.  Gracie learned hymns in the womb with I practiced.  The church was a 2nd home to my children.  Sunday’s were not optional.  We would be in church that day.  Never a question.

Date nights every month away from our kids are important.  When my children were small and money was tight, we were known to drop them off with a sitter and go home to watch TV alone.  It was what we did as much as just building time together, alone.  It’s important to spend time growing together.  It’s so easy to get pushed apart with children in the house.  There’s so much to do.  Sleep is often at a premium.  It’s work to remain a couple and not just co-parents.

I’ve spent my life being a working a mom.  I went to the office and sometimes traveled for work.  I don’t think my children ever felt slighted.  In fact, after being laid off and home for 9 months, they were ECSTATIC when I returned to the work force. 

There are many, many options in life.  I would challenge myself as well as others to decide which battles in which you engage.  Is the fight for newest or the best “thing” critical to your life? Or, will it just bring a moment of happiness and feed the “NEXT” wolf? Will my house stand against the huffing and puffing?

Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.”

Matthew 7:21-27 MSG

It’s Personal. . .

(Part 2 of 3)

To the old rugged cross I will ever be true
It’s shame and reproach gladly bear
Then he’ll call me someday to my home far away
Where his glory forever I’ll share

The Old Rugged Cross

When I really dig deep and understand the torture that Christ went through for the world, I cringe.  And when I realize that it was for “ME” that He died, I am ashamed of the days that I have not been worthy of that gift, of His death.

“The soldiers assigned to the governor took Jesus into the governor’s palace and got the entire brigade together for some fun. They stripped him and dressed him in a red toga. They plaited a crown from branches of a thornbush and set it on his head. They put a stick in his right hand for a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mocking reverence: “Bravo, King of the Jews!” they said. “Bravo!” Then they spit on him and hit him on the head with the stick. When they had had their fun, they took off the toga and put his own clothes back on him. Then they proceeded out to the crucifixion.”

Matthew 27: 27-31 MSG

On A Hill Far Away. . .

(Part 1 of 3)

“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross
The emblem of suffering and shame
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.”

The Old Rugged Cross

Things and events often feel very distant, maybe even insignificant to the daily struggles of life.  This is especially true of events that we did not personally witness.  In my Christian walk, although we talk of the sacrifice that Christ made, I often look at the cross as something very distant from my life.  It happened, but I don’t always count the cost in my day to day adventures.

“This isn’t the neighborhood bully     mocking me—I could take that. This isn’t a foreign devil spitting     invective—I could tune that out. It’s you! We grew up together!     You! My best friend! Those long hours of leisure as we walked     arm in arm, God a third party to our conversation.”

Psalm 55:12-14 MSG

The “I” in Christmas

I think one of my favorite Christmas memories is from 1982.  That was my first Christmas totally on my own.  I had moved to Houston for my first “grown-up” job.  This was the first Christmas that I purchased all my Christmas gifts with my own money.  I loved shopping for the perfect gift for each family member.  And what was even better?  I didn’t have to limit myself to just one gift.  I set my own budget and made my choices.  It was great!

My next Christmas memory is from 1988, the first Christmas that I didn’t spend with my parents.  It was the 2nd Christmas after Terry and I were married.  I was pregnant with our son and we spent that Christmas in Houston.  We were serving part-time in a church north of Houston and Christmas fell on a Sunday that year.  The church leadership decided that we should have our normal Sunday School and Church service that Sunday as well as a Christmas Eve service on Saturday night.  We spent weekends in a drab little house next to the church.  The furniture was old, the bed uncomfortable.  Our tree, gifts and dog were all in our apartment back in Houston.  After the Christmas Eve service, Terry and I went back to our little weekend house.  While he prepared spaghetti for supper, I went into the bedroom and cried.  I was homesick and (if I’m honest) a little hurt by the lack of consideration from our church.  After some discussion, we loaded up the spaghetti and headed back to Houston for the night.  We got back to our apartment about 11:00pm.  For our Christmas gifts, we had agreed to a dollar limit and decided to fill a stocking for each other.  So, late that night, we feasted on spaghetti and opened our stocking gifts.  We drove the 2 hours back to the little church in time for Sunday School the next morning.  I was so grateful for the tenderness and understanding of my husband that Christmas.  At was the greatest gift.   

It’s hard to pick a favorite Christmas with my Kids.  I loved shopping for them and seeing their excitement.  I think I enjoyed even more, the days when we would take them shopping for each other.  I will always remember the excitement of looking for the “best” gift for a sibling or a parent.  I believe we taught them that giving is what Christmas is all about. 

I find it disappointing when I see the joy of Christmas giving transformed into the greed of Christmas getting.  When I hear comments like “No one asked me what I wanted” or “I don’t want some cheap thing, I want a REAL gift” my heart sinks a little.  I don’t think it’s wrong to ask for input on Christmas gifts.  But, I think it’s also acceptable to be creative and give from the heart.  A handmade gift tells such a different story than a mass produced one.  Have I gotten things I didn’t need or want? Yes.  And, I try to find something to treasure in each gift, even if it’s only the thought. 

Too many of us get caught in the trap of chr”I”stmas where “I” is the most important part of the word. When that happens, it’s all about ME:

  • “I” want (fill in the blank)
  • “I” need to be central this holiday season
  • “I” will not be inconvenienced. 
  • “I” don’t care what you need unless it works for me. 
  • “I” deserve to be happy.

The holiday season can be very difficult and life experiences often exaggerate issues. 

The family that is missing a key member for the holidays, grieves for the loss of the person as well as many customs.  You may not be able to carry on all of your traditions. Why not try something new this year.  Don’t be afraid to be original.  After my husband died, I didn’t want to celebrate.  It took a few years to face Christmas with any type of joyful spirit.  When we were ready, we changed a few things.  Our tree was no longer traditional.  It was white and decorated in pink, purple, orange and lime green.  We used flamingos and boas to liven it up.    We still added a Santa figure to Terry’s collection and a house to his village.  But, we found new ways to move forward.

Blended families may being a competitiveness to the holidays.  There may be a desire to provide the “best” experience.  And, when adult children marry it adds another level of stress to the holidays.  There are expectations of family traditions from every branch of the family.  It can be exhausting trying to live up to it all.  Young families need to set their own traditions and accept that not everything will remain the same.  We celebrate the Sunday before Thanksgiving and Christmas with our children and their significant others.  That’s frees up the actual holiday for whatever the individual family groups need/want to do.  I’ll spend some “Mumzy time” with my grandson as well. 

Too often, the holidays are a stress on the budget.  You may feel the need to spend money you really don’t have and as a result, go into debt.  I think I forget the lesson from the story of the Little Drummer Boy.  He gave what he had.  He played his drum.  It didn’t matter that there were greater gifts being given.  He gave what he had.  When we give the best that we can, it shouldn’t have to live up to anything else.  It is the BEST.

When “I” become the center of the holiday season, I miss the reason of the season

When “I” stress about living up to the expectations that others set for me (or my gifts), I ignore the true gift that we celebrate each Christmas.

When “I” focus on what makes ME happy, I don’t have time to see what others need or have to offer. 

I need to keep the holidays in focus.  I need to remember that it is CHRiSTMAS and I have a very small part of it.  The joy of Christmas is in celebrating the birth of Christ, the greatest gift EVER!

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

Luke 2:8-20 MSG

Where the Heart Lives

Some farewells are harder than others. This weekend I bid farewell to Foard County.  It’s not the first time, but this time was different. For the first time in my almost sixty years, I accepted that Foard County isn’t “home”.   It’s where I grew up. There are many treasured memories.  

I moved to Nacogdoches for college in 1978. But, Crowell was still home. In 1982, I went to work in Houston and I’ve lived in that area ever since.  I married, had 2 kids, became a widow and married again. And I looked forward to going home to Crowell as often as possible. 

This weekend, I realized:  this is no longer home.  I am just a visitor passing through. 

Some say that home is where the heart is. Well, pieces of my heart are buried in the Crowell Cemetery.  I will always be a Foard county girl. Crowell will always be my hometown.  But, for now, my home is with my husband, my kids (birthed and bonus) and my grandson in the West Houston area. Brookshire calls to my heart. 

Farewell Foard County. Thanks for the memories. 

The Importance of Flowers

My husband knows I love fresh flowers.  Nearly every week, he fills my crystal vase with flowers. Often he selects roses, but we’ve had many different types.  I truly enjoy the various blooms.  Last week, I heard our girls discussing the dozen red roses in the vase that sat on top of the kitchen counter.  One said “Don’t waste money on flowers, save it for jewelry.”  They all seemed to agree on the concept.    It’s a sentiment I’ve heard through the years. 

If you know Tim, you know he is “thrifty”.  He doesn’t buy extravagant bouquets.  My weekly flowers come from the selection at the grocery store.  They are not expensive, but that doesn’t change their beauty or their meaning to me. 

I appreciate good jewelry.  My wedding ring is a symbol of the endless, eternal love we share.  Tim designed it to represent two broken people coming together to become one.  It is precious to me.  But, as much as I love the meaning behind this ring, there is so much more to building a lasting, successful marriage.  Marriage is all about daily sacrifice.  Every day, I commit myself to making my marriage better.  Sometimes that means I don’t get what I want.  Sometimes that means I step back and put my husband’s needs ahead of my own.  Sometimes, we both make sacrifices in the best interest of our family.  There are days that aren’t spectacular and in fact there are more ordinary days than extraordinary in this day to day life.

A vase filled with flowers remind me how fragile relationships can be.   Flowers are beautiful. If I keep them watered and protected, I will get days and maybe weeks of beauty.  Still, they fade.  New flowers must be added to the vase to continue to enjoy them.  If they are neglected, the water turns green and fungus begins to grow.  Before too long, the vase is stained and marred forever from neglect and disuse.  Marriages are just as fragile.  I have to pay attention and care about the details.  I cannot assume that the first days of romance will effortlessly continue.  I need to renew my commitment to my marriage, to my romance every day.  Just as fresh flowers can refill the vase, fresh attention replenishes a marriage.  Are there days when I don’t really want to invest in my relationship? Of course there are.  Sometimes, I have the RIGHT to be upset, depressed or angry.  But, I cannot allow those moments to turn into days or weeks of selfish indignation.  At some point, I have to pull up my big-girl panties and decide what is most important.   The world will tell me that I deserve to be happy.  The flowers remind me that happiness can be fleeting. But, the joy I find in my marriage, much like the crystal vase that holds and provides for the flowers, will stand strong and ready. 

I hope my husband never tires of giving me flowers.  For every flower reminds me of our love: past, present and future.

Romance will never die as long as we keep trying!

CONFESSIONS OF AN OLDEST CHILD

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out – plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” 

Jeremiah 29:11 MSG

I am the oldest of three children.  I am also the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  I am the definition of “the oldest child”. 

There are lots of perks that come with being the oldest.  Hand-me downs don’t exist when you are the first-born.  As the oldest, you get to do things first.  You get the undivided attention of your parents and grandparents when you are the only one.  But, there are some downers to being the oldest.  You are the first one that has to learn to share – everything.  You are the “learner” child:   your siblings get to do things you were never allowed to do. And even though it’s nice to be the first, it also means you will be the first to fail.

The first born has only adults with which to compare himself/herself.  Think about what an oldest/only child sees:  Everyone around can walk without holding on or falling down.  The only crawling seems to be to encourage the baby to get up.  You are being watched at every moment, so you try to please.   Communication is crucial and the praise received is worth the effort.  A first born learns early that you don’t want to disappoint the big people. 

The first born gets more attention.  This is partly because the baby stuff is so new, but also because the time is spent with just this one child.   Just look at photo albums or baby books.  The first child will have tons of pictures and a complete baby book.  Child #2 will have a few pictures and a good start on the baby book.  Any other siblings will just have to make do with a few snapshots and will be grateful if a baby book was even purchased.  The first born will benefit from more time being read to and being taught at home.  Even when siblings are added, the oldest child will continue to benefit from the time spent learning as a group. 

As soon as another sibling is added, the oldest child becomes a leader.  We know how it should be done and will not hesitate to point it out to our younger siblings.  We will be put in charge of our siblings and reminded that we are “older” and therefore “more responsible”.  Some will call this being a natural leader.  Others call it being bossy. 

First born children tend to be perfectionists, leaders, good students, and teachers.  We are often people pleasers that fear failing.  I never tried anything that I wasn’t pretty sure I would excel at.  If there was a chance that I might look silly, I did not attempt it.  I was never good at roller skating, mainly because I did not want to fall.  It hurt and people would laugh.  My younger brother was a good skater.  Granted, he was black and blue from throwing himself into the “experience.”  But, he had fun and enjoyed it.  I would rather spend my time with a good book or a logic puzzle. 

I was always at the top of my class in school.  Learning came easy to me.  I wouldn’t classify myself as an overachiever, I just did what came easily. My classmates that thought I had it made.  While others would be praised for getting a “B” on report cards, I had to get all “A’s and A+”.  Even an “A-“wasn’t good enough.  It wasn’t until I was taking college classes that I was really challenged.  I had to learn to study.  It was hard to accept that I might not be “the best” after all.  But, it was also in college classes that I found I could enjoy learning without being the best.  As a junior accounting major, I had a class under Dean of the School of Business, Dr. Lauderdale.  He promised to weed out the bookkeepers from the accountants in his class.  He was strict and had high expectations.  Our class size dropped by 50% as the semester commenced.  Before our last final, Dr. Lauderdale looked at me and said “You have a B in this class.  If you ace the final or not, you have a solid B.  Don’t come to the final.”  I have never been so excited to be told I was a B student!

I still struggle with perfectionistic tendencies.  This causes lots of anxiety in my life.   I play scenes over and over in my head of how I disappoint my friends and family.  There are days when I feel like I’m balancing on a pin cushion.  When I am out of control or over-whelmed, I protect myself with a veil of detachment.  I separate myself from those areas.  If they don’t exist, they cannot hurt me, right?  My husband helps me to see past the veil and to accept that I can only be the best that I can be.  If someone is disappointed at my best efforts, then that’s not my problem.  Hurt and disappointments are part of life.  I cannot avoid them.

I still don’t like to do anything without a road map.  I want to know EXACTLY what is coming before I step out.  But, I’ve learned that is not always possible.  But these things I know:

  • I CAN make phone calls when I must. (Many of you know how much a hate to do that!)
  • I CAN meet new people and get to know them without hyperventilating.  (I still do better in small groups.)
  • I CAN make decisions and live my life the way God leads me. (Even when others don’t agree/understand.)
  • I CAN trust that others will love me.  (Love isn’t earned, it’s given.)

I am the oldest of three children.  I am the first grandchild on both sides of my family.  And, I am a beloved child of God.

 “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” 

Psalm 139:13-14 NLT

 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.” 

Matthew 6:30-33 msg

Church, Why Bother?


In today’s world, there is a lot of discussion about the church, both universal and local congregations.  The universal church is comprised of all Christians of all times and places.  As Christians or Believers, we gather in local congregations for worship, etc.   For purposes of this discussion, the term “church” references the local congregation. 

I grew up in church.   I was on the cradle roll.  I remember my first Sunday School class as a 3 year old with Mrs. Carter.  Church on Sunday was normal and expected.  I never really questioned why we went to church.  It’s what we did. I was an adult before I realized that attending church wasn’t really a requirement and that people around me actually survived without attending church.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination.  We had  Sunday School and a worship service on Sunday morning.  Sunday evenings, we had Training Union and another worship service.  Wednesday night was for another service called Prayer Meeting, but it seemed to me that it was just a smaller Bible study service.  I was part of the youth choir so that meant attending rehearsals.  I grew up as a Sunbeam, a GA and an Acteen, more meetings during the week.  There were special book studies for the various mission emphasis times: Lottie Moon at Christmas, Annie Armstrong at Easter, and Mary Hill Davis in September.  We have revival meetings twice a year that lasted a week and included a noon meeting and and evening service and maybe a special emphasis night for youth.  I attended Vacation Bible School every summer for a week.  (I remember having 2 weeks of VBS, too.)  And, then there was GA camp, Youth camp and other youth events/trips to conferences and music festivals.  I spent a lot of time in church related activities.  I was well versed in what was expected of me and the respect that I needed to give through my attitudes and presentation.

As a college student, I learned the difference in attending church and being a part of worship.  There is a big difference.  I spent most of my life attending church.  Realizing what it meant to truly worship revolutionized my life.  People worship in lots of ways.  Some are very quiet and private with their worship.  Some people raise their hands and lose themselves in the worship experience.  Some believe that speaking in tongues is a requirement to worship.  Some believe you have to worship on your knees.   However you worship is between you and God.  I cannot stress how important it is to just be in the moment and worship openly from the heart.  It is not my right or my responsibility to judge how you worship.  Some of the sweetest worship times for me occurred during music rehearsals for the services and not during the actual worship services.   I served as a worship leader and as such couldn’t really get completely caught up in my own worship experience during the services.  But, rehearsals were different.  I could allow my heart to truly worship my audience of One. 

As a young, newly married adult, I served with my husband in several churches across the area.   One in particular comes to mind.  It was a small church in a changing area of the city.  No longer a middle class neighborhood, they struggled to survive.  It was a traditional Southern Baptist Church.  We sang hymns, had a choir and used both a piano and organ for the music.  I sat through service after service and starved spiritually.  This was a church that refused to adjust to the changes around them.  Reaching the local people was not really on the agenda.  The church was there to provide a food bank but we didn’t really want “those” people inside the church.  We were eventually asked to resign because my husband was getting too involved with the local troubled kids.  I have never been as wounded by a group of people in my life.  It took a long time for me to trust the local church, again.

As an adult, I am very involved with my church.  Things have changed.  I have realized that in order to have church you do not have to have a church building.  My church meets in a movie theater.  There are numerous churches in this area that rent space in the local schools.  Portable churches are an accepted and even exciting way to do church in today’s world.  People that are hesitant about the formal church are more open about attending in a non-typical arena.  We see it every Sunday at the Bridge.  It’s a sad truth that many churches thrive and grow until they finance and build a building.  Then, the excitement is cooled as the need to support the building and it’s upkeep comes front and center. 

I have come to understand and support Life Groups as the core of the church.  While Sunday School had it’s place in my life, I have grown more through Life Groups.  They provide a casual and far more personal way to engage in spiritual growth.  Life Groups provide a more relatable group in  which to learn  and to grow.  It’s much easier to be open in a group of ten to twelve than in a huge group.  Life groups create a feeling of family and acceptance.  They get down to the day to day needs in our lives and enable us to fully worship when the time is offered. 

Music has definitely morphed through the years.  We have the old hymns, we have the older contemporary music and we have the new worship music.  I learned to play the piano using the Baptist Hymnal.  It was blue.  When that hymnal was updated, it caused a lot of excitement.  There were “contemporary” songs included like “He’s Everything to Me”, “Pass It On”, and “Because He Lived”.  People that never really cared about music suddenly preferred the “old hymnal”.  (I was pianist at one church in the 80’s that still used the old Broadman Hymnal because “it was just better.”)  I still have copies of all three hymnals and enjoy the music contained in them.  But, I also love the “new” stuff. Of all the things people use as an excuse to avoid church involvement, music and the use of other creative arts seem to top the list.  No matter what is provided, someone is not happy. 

Recently, I’ve seen a few posts on social media that were critical of using the church services for “entertainment”.  I suspect that the church I attend would fall in that category to the outside observer.   This generation is known for being global, social, visual and technological.  In the last decade, the cell phone has revolutionized the way we collect and perceive information.  Instead of carrying a Bible in book form, the Bible App has become a mainstay for many.   Hymnals have been replaced with projection systems.  Church Bulletins are more reminders to go to the church website for information than actual information. 

While we tend to focus on the musical influences in church services, there are a multitude of creative arts that can and are used to promote worship. No longer is the primary instrument in a church the organ and/or piano.  A full band is now expected.  In the past, we all took piano lessons and would be expected to play at church.  Now, its guitar or drum lessons.  Praise Dancers are not a new concept, but they are more widely accepted across denominations now.  My late husband was a creative soul and loved to write and perform skits for the worship services.  He was also a proponent of building backgrounds to enable all of the senses to be engaged in worship.  Lighting, sound and (for lack of a better word) theatrics have taken their place in the worship services.  We want our services to be on point, on time and worth remembering. 

With all of the opinions on the type of service, where the services are held, the target audience, what to wear and what music to use, we often lose sight of the reason we are there: TO WORSHIP.  It hurts this believer’s heart when factions within the local church start bickering and criticizing each other and/or other churches/denominations.  How can we expect to present ourselves as the Body of Christ when we continue to pick at each other?  How do you know that the brilliantly staged service doesn’t open the hearts of the congregation to worship?  Just because it doesn’t fit into “MY” model, does that make it wrong?  Maybe we need to take heed of the message in the book of Ephesians: 

“But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is,

He climbed the high mountain,
He captured the enemy and seized the booty,
He handed it all out in gifts to the people.

Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.”  Ephesians 4:7-13 MSG