01 November 2009

It's Family...

Last night we had a blast. We had a bunch of families from church over to our place for a BBQ and fireworks. A kind of un-Halloween party combined with un-Guy Fawks. The kids dressed up, we painted their faces, they ran around and bounced on the trampoline, we grownups ate, drank, were merry and enjoyed hanging out in each others' company. The kids got to meet some new friends and hang out with their buddies.

And so did we. The mummies got to chat and laugh (Gail was there and Amy), while the daddies propped up the barbie, had a beer and burnt (oops I mean cooked) the sausies.

Later the kiddies danced around with sparklers, painting magically with light. Oooh's and ahhh's accompanied spontaneous applause as they watched the ($20 Budget box of) Fireworks illuminate our backyard. It was Fantastic, Priceless, Precious.

It was Community, it was Friendship, it was Family. It's what I've needed.

I have been wallowing in a bit of a dusty dry desert, spiritually, for quite a while. As I have mentioned before, I was having panic attacks nearly every Sunday, reacting to the volume of our church's (very hip'n'rockin') music. I was spending Sunday mornings in Starbucks with a Christian book. Hey, that's not so bad, I hear you say. Peace and quiet and coffee?
True, it was nice, but it was simply not the same as being able to go in to a service and be part of what was happening there.

I battled with feeling isolated, sorry for myself, resentful and critical. Finally I went to see one of our Pastors, Jill (my awesome counsellor), and sobbed out all my troubles and issues to her.

Being both wise and practical, Jill identified some stuff from way back (I'm talking 10 years) which I had unresolved and she set up a meeting with myself and two of our other pastors; she and Mr G came to support me. I was terrified, worried they would think I was a dufus, a doorknob, but nothing could be further from the truth. They heard me out, acknowledged my old hurts, affirmed me, encouraged me and I felt like a huge weight had rolled off me.

I looked forward to going to church and testing out my new attitude... (and sitting next to my buddy Gail!) Would I find that I could now cope in the service? I bought some earplugs just in case, I was determined to be there and be part of things from now on.

We were away for the next five Sundays in the UK, so I had to wait til we returned to find out. Imagine how stoked I was when I was able to sit in the service and sing with everyone else!

The following Sunday I had a sick baby... no church for me.

During the week I began to notice that even though I felt the past had been dealt with, I still felt disconnected, cut off and like an outsider.

Now, just so you understand, I have been in this church for nearly 20 years. I arrived as a 20-year-old newly-recommitted baby Christian. I have "grown up" in this church, I was on staff, I helped start things here, I have friendships that span decades which have held firm through the ups and downs of life... I met my husband here, got married here, brought my babies to be dedicated to God in this dear familiar place.

If anyone should feel like this church is where I belong - it's me.

But I had allowed critical thoughts to creep in and take over. My language had changed; it was "the church" not "our/my church". I was looking at things as an outsider and all I could find was things to get grumpy about: "It's not the same anymore!" "Everyone's so busy!" "It feels too business-like, not like a family" "It's more for the youth, where do I fit in?"

I looked at different church people's FaceBook updates saying things like: "Wow Church was Off the Hook!" and "Man God is really doing stuff here!" and I just didn't feel it. They're a bit OTT, I thought.

Then last Sunday Helen preached. Oh man. This lady is the most beautiful soul. She was a like a second mum to me all through my twenties. I soooo wanted to be like her. She is gutsy but gentle. Wise and discerning but not freaky or fruity.

And her message was like a gentle kick up my lazy critical butt.

It was not harsh, it was not judgemental. But it just cut through all my complaints and negativity. I can't really remember her actual words, I just know that at the end of the message my heart/brain had flipped a switch.

So I'm feeling like church aint as much like a family anymore? Well do something about it, Simone.

So I'm thinking maybe the grass is greener in some other church (after all this time?) Well, Simone. No church is perfect. I've got to decide that I am here and become part of the answer, not a fence-sitting critic. No Plan B. No escape hatch. This is my church family and dang it, I'm going to act like it.

Stop being distant. Stop imagining barriers. Invite some people over! Be hospitable!

All this was churning through me during and after the message. Mr G was feeling it too.

In a flash I remembered the conviction I'd had when the kids were toddlers: How important it was to invest into our friendships with our church family, so the kids would grow up feeling part of this awesome community, secure in friendships with people who shared our same values and convictions. So when they hit those teenage years, if they have problems at school or wherever, they will always have this base to fall back on; this sense of belonging and family.
And our church youth programme is phenomenal. These teenagers are not playing games. They are inspirational. They write amazing songs, they use their creativity, they go out on team missions, they are leaders in their schools: I want my kids to be part of that!

Long story short(er) we invited three families home for lunch after church that very day. They all brought food, we hung out, played sports, chilled. It was great! Easy peasy! They stayed all afternoon and some old connections were re-established and new friendships forged.

Mr G had the idea to do something on Saturday night (Halloween); so I FaceBooked a general invite: Who wants to come over for a BBQ and Fireworks?? Five families came over. We had the best fun.

Well, there you have it. I really believe/feel I have turned a major corner on this whole issue.

Any natural family can grow distant if you don't invest time, make an effort, work through the bumps. Why would I think church family would be any different?

So from now on there will be more BBQ's and Sunday lunches, many more. There'll be a Christmas party; I've even opened up my birthday list to include lots more people (I know, me and crowds... but hey! I'm turning 40! It's a big deal, yeah?)

Me and Mr G are going to play our part to forge and strengthen the "family" connections at our church. We don't need a job or "ministry" title to do that... we just have to be hospitable.

Should be lots and lotsa fun!

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Gail said...

Awesome post Simone! You are walking like a different person - I've noticed it! You summed up Helen beautifully!

Our church is our family. It is awesome. It is awesome to have amazing friends like you and Mr G... and that our kids feel so at home with each other!

We love hanging with you - and look forward to so many more get togethers - at yours, at ours, in the park.... where ever!
Can't wait to get my groove on at your 40th hahaha.

Amy said...

I love it Simone, what an incredible journey. And you have backed up your convictions with action, actually opening up your arms and home to others. I know this new season we are all entering into is for you guys too, and I am so stoked to be priviledged enough to be part of this circle of family. We had the best time last night - sincere, gorgeous company that has welcomed us with open arms. What a gift. I am already laughing at the thought of your 40th... will make sure the camera has battery for that one! Love to you xxx

PaisleyJade said...

Thanks for sharing your journey... and it is one we all go through at some point in our Christian walk I am sure (even when you are part of the leadership!). Loved this post!!!

Anonymous said...

you have made me smile...thanks for sharing this wonderful story about you!

Anonymous said...

Almost bought tears to my eyes. You are sooooo honest and open.It's so much more fun being a participant than a spectator. You will remember a passage from the GOOD BOOK ... knee deep, thigh deep and then "all in" swimming. Need boundaries and wisdom as the current can sometimes take you where you don't want to go, but still more fun than being on the shore. When open our arms wide, it's amazing how many hugs we get!(symbolically!) Love, Fiona (R)xxx

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