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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Finally The Meeting We Had, for Months, Been Hoping For

Kenny was finally here and I could breathe a sigh of relief. It has got to be an odd thing to have a woman show up with 4 kids and not have a husband, but claim to have a husband in another state who is a pastor, and even odder, to be doing a weekly television program. And how do you explain our situation in a casual setting, something as complex as what we were going through. I just did the best I could. But I knew it was going to be  hard to process. Growing up in the south and in my home, my Father was very strict about the behavior of how men and women interact. And I am very careful how I conduct myself, even today, around men. You always address the woman and you always befriend the woman, not the man, it is just not proper any other way. So I befriended the women, however, the younger ones (I should say middle aged ones) had issues with me, for what ever reasons, so I joined the older group, which always seems to welcome and become my dearest friends. I think this age looks beyonds the outward and finds the true person and allows a true friendship to happen. So to validate, or prove myself, I was faithful to everything. I let the leadership know that I was a fellow minister's wife who had been in the ministry for most of my adult life and I was at their service. Me and the kids lived almost 45 minutes from the church, and we would brave wind, rain and snow to be in church. It was a great sacrifice, that is in "time", because there was nothing greater in our life than our time in church, but there were times we had just enough gas to get to church and home and no more. I was determined when we came to North Carolina the first thing on the agenda was to find a church. I knew this would be the lifeline me and the kids would need to survive what we would have to face. And we had found a home. The kids loved the Wednesday night program and I loved the class I had found. The only thing missing was Kenny.We would leave church Sunday and call Kenny and tell him all about the service and we were so excite when he was, finally, about to be here. So many things were yet to come together and we felt this was the time and the place. So Kenny sold the last of our things and was finally able to make the long awaited journey here. I cannot tell you how it felt, after all those months of taking the kids to church by myself, to finally have Kenny here and us to be in church as a family.I would sit in church so broken it felt like my chest would explode from the pain. It was like I was mourning a death, but no one had died. I would see families together and I felt like I was being punished, like I had failed God somehow. I felt like I was completely and emotionally wiped out as a woman. I had been the mother and the father for over a year and it had just wore me down, I had faced things that year I never, in a million years, would have imagined. God had been faithful, just when I felt like I couldn't go one more day, He showed up and gave me just enough strength to get through that day. Kenny was finally here, but I didn't know the disappointments we were yet to face.  The church we were attending was lively and vibrant, and it was one of those type churches which had
many, many programs for everyone.  We have known many leaders of churches, many religious leaders, yet I can tell you there are so few who do not have a long line of problems and issues, most of which the congregation will never see.  This does not mean these men are, necessarily, hypocritical or charlatans, it just simply means they are like all the rest of us, they need help.  Some were very bright, some were very simple, and some were simple, but were certain they were bright, but through and through they all wanted you to believe them to be something far greater than they were.  There have only been a very few who were men and women who just accepted and loved everyone and they knew and they never believed they were above,
nor never displayed to anyone the idea they were above, anyone.  The modern leader is, usually, of the sort who believe they are a "special" breed, they are making their way up, they are, in some way, superior to even the laity of their church.  When you find those remarkable individuals who have never accepted that form of personality, they are always the most noble!  They never forget the grace they first received from God, the kindness He showed in accepting the meagre and fool-hearty man or woman who were His creation, yet who lived with great evil in their lives, they could not, and, indeed, should not, ever forget that kind of compassion.  They are the most civil, most forgiving, most noble, most kind, most humble, and most remarkable people you will ever meet, but they, also, are the most uncommon.  We had been excited because the pastor of this church was extraordinary in many, many ways and he had forged a growing and unique church in the mountains.  It is always thrilling to see these kinds of churches and we felt that we were on the verge of leaving these bad times behind and, finally, moving forward again.  The pastor was a very sensitive man to spiritual things, which is also a very, unfortunately, unique characteristic in pastors.  He had, as a matter of truth, spoken to us on many occasions through his honest and sensitive sermons, and on one occasion, had spoken directly to us, from the pulpit, a word which was so very timely to us.  We knew we needed to speak to churches about our hard time and we also knew our message was going to be about "grace".  Let me say something, in case you might be from outside of a conventional church, about "grace".  When the people from churches talk about grace what they are referring to is a very uniquely Christian idea.  It has to do with the very core of God's Nature.  Grace is more than just a kindness, it is more than just God showing us favor, it has to do with who we are.  It, also, has to do with Who God is.  There is such a huge and unimaginable gulf between God and humanity.  Just in creation alone it is visible that God, by shear power and intellect, is something, or someone, Who is far beyond our capacity to understand, but there is something more, He is not only in power and brilliance far beyond us, He is in Honor and Nobility, unlike anything we can imagine or mentally understand.  He should never touch nor mingle with us for all of those reasons.  What He says, however, is that anything He does for, or with, us is a matter of nothing we have done, nor could do, to deserve such kindness, it is an act coming from Him.  Now, how that should translate in our lives is that we should never, if we understand anything about "grace", imagine that we are good enough, honorable enough, or noble enough, to stand in good favor toward God.  I hope I haven't confused the issue rather than defined it, however, if you have known church folk for very long you know most of them conduct themselves as if they have deserved every single kindness God has shown them, how ridiculous!!  Back to my point, as Kenny was arriving we were sure this was the time and the moment for us to be resurrected from this death sentence, therefore, Kenny and I decided to visit the pastor and tell him everything.  He had built a respected and honorable relationship with many, many pastors throughout the region. We were sure this was going to lead to opportunities to begin to start over, or maybe to begin what we knew was our destiny.  The meeting was scheduled and as it started Kenny felt a connection with the pastor.  It seemed to be exactly what we had expected, but suddenly things changed.  Kenny was not sure if the pastor had believed he was not telling the entire truth, if he has said something offensive, or if he had just not been very clear, however by the time the meeting was coming to a close the pastor was beginning to use, what we call in the church lingo, "coined" phrases, the kind of things you tell teenagers who you know are trying to find themselves, a feeling that was confirmed when three to four weeks later the pastor used the exact same phrases from the pulpit in speaking to people who were just getting into church circles or just beginning to understand who God is, they certainly were not the types of things you say to a peer or a person who you know to have been a long-standing leader in the same circles.  It was devastating.  We were not certain what had happened.  We knew what we would have done had we known someone who had been in our shoes, as a matter of fact, we had a very similar situation happen when we were leaders in the little church in Tallahassee.  A young couple had come home from overseas after a, almost, five year stint in South Africa.  They were on a humanitarian trip, yet they had been devastated by many robberies, many betrayals, many misgivings.  When we met, it was with the hopes of  them coming to serve in the church in Tallahassee, but as we got to know them, even though they would have been fantastic leaders, we knew they were destined to return to South Africa.  We spent months making sure we helped them find their bearings and carry on their noble vocation.  They did, indeed, do exactly that.  We were certain we were going to find a friendship and a key piece of our future.  We knew it would take time, there would have to be some time spent getting to know us, some time to fill in a few blanks, but it was sure that all that would happen.  I assure you, it did not.  We were a much a blight to this new leadership as we had been to the leadership we had known in West Florida.  It was staggering!  We never got a text, never got phone call, never got a letter.  We did, almost a month later, get a small check from the church, for which we were so thankful, but money was the least of what we needed or what we hoped for.  It certainly helped us for the moment, but, as most of us know who have been in remote dessert places, what people need is hope, connection, a listening ear, more so, a listening heart, this was left off the table.  These are the times when you are unable to make sense of things.  What did this mean?  What was the point?  We always built our lives on a foundational principle, or I guess I should say two principles, try to Love God first and foremost, which I confess we have failed at, and to try and love people in the same way we loved ourselves, which I confess, again, we have failed at, however, it is not very hard to attempt this.  We always tried to imagine what people were feeling, what their life was like, what their pain was like, and then do something, even a small thing, to connect with and bear under that pain.  We knew this was what we would, eventually, find, especially from people who were those unique and extraordinary types, who you seldom find, those who have known grace and those who live in grace towards others.  We would not find it!  I am sure much of it had to do with our imagining what was suppose to happen next, our trying to figure out what was meant to happen, and "how", it might, also, have been the accumulated time of hardship, none-the-less, it was no less painful.  We had started this journey alone, and it seemed, we were destined to always be alone.  What it may well have been was another of those untidy issues no-one wishes to talk about when it comes to our "church" communities.  We have lots of "stuff" in the churches of America now.  We have what we have called "the best".  We have sound systems, so that we can really appreciate the fantastic voices of our talented church singers, we have softball fields and baseball fields, we have video and audio technicians, just in case we decide to publish our wonderful productions, which, surely, if the world could only see they would flock to our houses of worship and, thereby, see God, what we struggle with is "time", "time" to look for the eyes of the people around us who are crushed and weary, "time" to drop our choir practice to make sure that 19 year old, unmarried, pregnant girl, can have an afternoon, not of counseling, but of companionship, "time" to have coffee with the 79 year old woman who has lost her soul-mate and is, privately, undone.  I don't know everything our modern church needs, but I know what it seldom has, genuine, heartfelt, and unrelenting compassion.  We have mimicked compassion by making sure we have many programs, but compassion can never, ever, ever be mimicked.  People aren't looking for leaders they are looking for what I would call "searchers", people who search out broken spirits, not to help guide them, but to help hold them!!

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