“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” Mark 10:14
I am a member today of a Lutheran Church in Oklahoma, very much a Christian and very much forgiven and beloved of God, but you know I didn’t always belong to a church.
Confession: I used to believe if the pastor didn’t like me, he (or she) wouldn’t let me belong to their church.
For you life long, church going, Christians out there, that probably comes as a shock. Shock or not, I really did believe that and acted accordingly. This false belief creates a serious dilemma. I want to be part of a faith community and this one man (or woman depending) stands (I believe) as a spokesperson for God; I’m going to have to perform and dance and lie through my teeth if I want to stay here. Not much different really than what I believed about God back then but I am ahead of myself.
My desire to belong mixed with the possibility of rejection, created a fear within me that was so strong that the presence of a pastor made my body shake. And if they were wearing a death suit? (Black shirt and collar) I would hyperventilate. Nice hunh? yeah, I was a mess and a half. They call that idolatry – placing things or people in higher regard than God, but I didn’t know that. I just thought those were the rules. You are either in or you are out.
I used to try and hide my shaking by placing my right hand on the wall and my left hand on my hip. But then my knees would start to give and ….
To put it another way, my attempts to keep from falling off the planet, made me look like Mae West.
My physical shaking did not stop until about six years ago when I buried ten friends in twelve months. I was so devastated by my personal losses that I no longer cared if any of them liked me or not. They could all hang from a tree as far as I was concerned and like me or hate me I was here for the duration. I sat in church and cried for weeks on end, hanging on – not to their words, but to God himself.
Some faith communities require believing before belonging. Others allow a person to belong long before they really believe. Thankfully for me, by God’s Grace, we found such a community in Oklahoma.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Busted Stick Oklahoma is the very first church I ever belonged to in my entire life. Our family joined Trinity in 1993. It was a strange set of circumstances that brought us there really. 1. My husband was raised Lutheran, therefore… 2. It was within walking distance from our house. 3. I was a young stay at home mom in a new town, thousands of miles from my old friends. I needed other women to be around and they had young mom’s there.
Not one of those logical to me reasons included my believing what they believed. I just needed to belong somewhere. I was lonely. I’m also ahead of my story here.
When I was a young girl, I tried to join churches. I would visit my grandmother in Buffalo NY and take the bus to this beautiful cathedral and just sit in awe. Back home in Michigan, I would attend festivals and youth group things at local churches and would secretly wish for more. Even though I didn’t belong to a faith community, and I didn’t know all of the fancy prayers those churches had, I knew God and I believed I knew him well and knew that he knew me. We were best buds growing up. He was the one adult I could always talk to — and he’d listen. I liked that about him.
One day (1978) I went with my neighbors to hear Lisa Welchel (Blair from Fact’s of Life) speak at their church. There was something different about Lisa and while I didn’t understand it I knew it had something to do with Jesus and I wanted what she had. I went home that night and sat in my bed talking to God like I normally did. I told him about everything she said and how I wanted him to please – if it wasn’t too much to ask – do for me what he did for her.
(Edited to add: I had the awesome joy of meeting Lisa Welchel in 2008 when she spoke at E-Women in Tulsa. Lisa knows this story, is touched by it and allows me to share it. — I’m not name dropping here — Lisa was a teen just like me, I could relate to her and that is important)
That very week I walked to every church my little feet would carry me to and boldly sought out the pastors. Each time I’d tell them I want to learn about Jesus and could I join their church. Every pastor said no.
The Lutheran Pastor said no.
The Catholic Priest said no.
The Baptist Pastor even said no.
My mom, who was seeking her own place to belong brought me with her to a community not far from town, asking if we could belong, and you know what? The Maharishi, said yes.
to be continued….