Little's Life

Little's Life

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Growth

I am a member of the church of Christ.  I grew up attending church services every Wednesday night and twice on Sundays.   We went to Bible Bowl, Impact, Uplift, Castle Bluff, youth retreats, mission trips, and Singing School.

We ate together, camped out, slept on opposite sides of the gym during lock ins, and swam in gender specific shifts covered neck to knees.  Our shorts that we never worn on Sundays were finger tips length at a minimum, girls tank tops were at least 3 fingers wide on the shoulders, and the boys were expected to cut their hair short (the 90s, though...).

 We played Broom Ball, Blind Volleyball, and Hearts.  We learned about the dangers of dancing and alcohol.  We sang Jars of Clay and Steven Curtis Chapman (a capella, of course) on the van rides to Six Flags.  We were taught that even one drink of beer was a sin and divorce was a 1 way ticket straight to hell.  We knew our disciples, apostles, fruits of the spirit, books of the Bible, and John 3:16.  We knew we were heathens for not being able to afford to go to the one christian school around here.  We made some of our closest, longest lasting friendships in youth group (Hey DannaDannaDannaDannaDanna.  Hey Stasia.  Hey Dustin.).

We learned that "we don't run in the house of the Lord"!  We learned to love our neighbors.  We knew that Jesus was the son of God and that he died on the cross for our salvation.  We learned to repent and be baptized.  We were typical teenagers on Saturday nights and obedient followers on Sunday mornings.  We developed a genuine love for each other and for Christ.  We dreaded and avoided at all costs "Budget Sunday".  We had annual homemade ice cream competitions.  We learned that Satan was a big bad wolf and one should "Build Your Life on the Rock".

We laughed.  A lot.  As teens, we sat up front and in the center.  We were taught that only men were allowed to lead during worship and that only baptized church members were allowed to partake of communion.  We knew giggling during the sermon was shameful.  We studied directly out of the Bible and no other text.  We learned to be kind and compassionate and above all, to show the love of Jesus to everyone around us.   We sang our hearts out while holding those heavy hymnals.  We learned every word of "The Princess Bride".

We learned not to question the Elders, Deacons, Preacher, or tradition.  We learned right and wrong and that there is no grey area. We learned that we were saved after baptism and yet taught to feel shame and guilt over every sin after it.  We were warned not to take the Lord's Supper in an unworthy manner, never researching what exactly Paul meant when he said that in Corinthians.  We were taught that a good christian accepts, gives, worships, and serves others without complaint or inquiry.

And then we grew up.

We had children.  We started to think for ourselves.  We began to entertain those questions about why we worship how we do.  We started studying the Bible instead of memorizing lists and verses for Sunday School goals.  We experienced life and the joys and traumas it brings and went to our Bibles and deacons and elders for answers and comfort.  Some of us became the new crop of deacons and elders and preachers.  Some of us dipped into the sins we were taught as children would prevent us from Heaven.  Some of us came back.  Some of us are still searching.  Some of us are changing our churches and our worship.  Some of us are stuck in the past and traditions.  Some of us are caught somewhere in the middle.  Like me.

I have been a member of four congregations in my life.  The first two as a child and young married adult, the second two as a mom going through divorce with a terminally ill son.  The first two taught me to live in shame and guilt and a constant state of repentance over the fact that my marriage was ending.  The third congregation taught me that nothing I did caused Andrew to be sick and that God loves me more than my failed marriage.  The fourth congregation has opened my mind to a whole new side of God and worship that I would have been to afraid to give a second look 2 years ago.  I'm learning the difference between tradition and scripture.  My teacher this morning described it as freedom and he's spot on.  There's a freedom in my spiritual life I've never had before.

I have so much love for my years at the first church.  My foundation in Christ was set there.  My youth minister performed my wedding ceremony when I was 25.  I learned so much about how to treat people with love and compassion.  I keep in touch with almost my entire youth group.  We've been to each other's weddings, baby showers, and life events.
Our children play together.

My second church was by far the most black and wide, tradition lead congregation of them all.  We even had a sermon one Sunday morning on the proper attire for worship.  It wasn't 'come as you are' it was 'go to the store and buy something fancy because anything less is disrespectful to the Lord'.  It was the only place to go on the glacier, so I felt I had no choice. What was I supposed to do?  Not go at all?  For shaaaaaaame!!!

Those 30 years spent in the uber conservative/traditional congregations left me very conflicted.  I knew that my divorce was not of my will, but I had it drilled into me that being divorced meant an eternity in the pits of Hell.  Period.  I knew there was punishment for sin while on this Earth, too.  So I had a small nagging question of  whether or not I deserved to have a child with this awful disease because of the mistakes I'd made during my own life. I spent two years in counseling over both of these issues.

My third was my beloved Barker's Mill in Clarksville, TN.  That was a church family like nothing I'd ever experienced before.

In the military, bonds are created quickly and deeply, and so it was there.  I've never felt so close and so loved and so accepted by an entire congregation like that.  There were no cliques, no tiers.  Just christian love.

I was so encouraged to grow in my prayer life and in my involvement there.  How I miss hearing Andrew's name being brought before the Father every week.  Like my first church, I made friendships there that I will have forever (Hey Desi.  Hey Whitney.  Hey Candice.)  I even got to bring one of my favorite Alaskan based friends into the fold (Hey Valerie.).
That was Andrew cheering one of Valerie's children on during her baptism.  They showered Andrew with birthday cards 9 months after we'd left them.


That being said, Barker's Mill does still tend to operate on the more traditional end of the spectrum.  And that's ok.  I didn't get a sense of close mindedness from them, more of an operational conservative way about the church service. (hymnals only, women not in leadership roles, closed communion).  The people of Barker's Mill taught me that I am still worthy and forgiven even in divorce.  I learned about the passage in John 9 that frees me from carrying responsibility over my son's random mutation in his genes and drove deeper my belief that all things can and should be used for the glory of God.
"1As Jesus was passing by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned,this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened that the works of God would be displayed in him.…"
 I cherish every minute I got to be a part of the Barker's Mill congregation and if life were to ever take me back there, I'd join again.

And now, here I am at Sylvan Hills church of Christ.  They have mic'd singers in the pews (gasp!).  They don't have any hymnals in the backs of the chairs (shriek!).  There is a woman in charge of the children's ministry (whaaaaaaat????).  They let me run a yoga class in their classroom building (eeeeek!)

Our children partake in the Lord's Supper right along with those of us who have been baptized (faint).  I was hesitant at first.  More like indignant.  But as I worshiped there and got to know people, I realized that these weren't spur of the moment decisions.  Elders meet and study and pray on every new thing that comes up.  They keep their eyes open to new ideas.  They entertain questions.  They have a class on Sunday mornings called "Round Table It"  specifically to research and pray on the questions we weren't allowed to have in my old church!  We are allowed to have opinions and voice them.  My child has learned more about who Jesus is to him personally in the one year we've worshiped here than I ever did as a child.  Yes, the kids still memorize Bible verses and the plagues and such things, but the emphasis here is so much deeper than repeating words back to their teachers.

These sweet babies, MY baby, will have a completely different journey in Christ than I did.  Andrew will not have the same fears, shame, guilt, and conflicting spiritual ideas as I did.  As I do.  Its hard work unlearning what you've known your whole to be true.  I'm a work in progress,  Little will always know the freedom of being allowed to raise questions, leave traditions behind that dont have a hard scriptural basis, and being able to worship the way that sets right in his soul.  Gone are the days of being forced to sit in silence and stillness (for me - this Little boy has always been a roamer).
This is not a post meant to bash anyone's congregation or worship style.  What I'm learning is that there's not any one right way to come together in His name.  I'm not saying all old school churches of Christ are beating down their members' ideas.  I'm not saying your grandparents are wrong  I'm not saying this was anyone else's experience other than mine and those I've discussed this with.  I'm saying that I was taught things as concrete that are fluid. I am saying that I am so incredibly thankful that I am raising my child in a church family where he will grow up knowing he is loved by his Father even through his sins.  When Andrew needs to ask for more clarity on a biblical principle, he will be encouraged instead of hushed or written off as argumentative.  I'm saying that it is my job, as his mother and as a christian, to study and find out the truth in the Bible instead of just taking someone else's view as the end of the discussion.

Andrew is growing up in a time of worship where he will be learning that fellowship is just as important as reverence.  I am so grateful for this place and what I'm learning.  I am so excited for where this faith adventure takes Andrew.  I'm excited to see where it takes me.






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