Friday, June 26, 2020

Gift-Wrapped, Ribboned and Delivered . . . to You!

          My grandson Scott once gave me two bugs. Oh, not real ones. These are ornamental bugs with a terracotta look. One is dark red; the other, orange. Both have bulging eyes, multicolored spots, springy metal antenna and hooks for feet. They’re maybe 3.5 inches high.

One bug hangs on the handle of a mason jar filled with clear yellow balls and topped with a solar lid that lights at night; the other sits by the jar.

          These bugs warm my heart because Scott picked them out for me himself. He knows my love of nature and wanted to give me something that his little boy heart loved as well.

When women at his church made blankets to take to the sick, he grabbed one for me because “Nana’s always cold.” How thoughtful.

I love the gifts I get from grandchildren that reflect their knowledge of who I am. On my kitchen wall hangs an oven mitt my granddaughter Rachel brought back from a mission trip to Haiti. It was made by women there, and Rachel knows I support missions.

As I look around my home I see many such gifts, each one special, each one picked with thought and concern.

Perhaps it would be good if we saw the people, things and situations in our lives as special gifts God has picked out just for us.

We tend to take people for granted. Our spouses will always be there to bring home the strawberries, to do the dishes, to take out the trash. Our children may annoy us with antics more often than delight us with cuteness.

Our neighbors may be ordinary people whom we rarely see and make little effort to do so. After all, we don’t have that much in common.

What about our colleagues, the people at work? Do we know anything about their families? Their cares and their concerns? Their joys and their pleasures?

The people in our churches come and go Sunday after Sunday. We say “Hi” and “See you next week.” We may be known as a friendly church because we offer friendly greetings, but do we ever invite these people into our homes? If not, why not?

But what if God brings people into our lives for specific purposes? What if He gives them to us to enrich our lives? And for us to enrich their lives? What are we missing out on by failing to appreciate them, by not getting to know them?

We might also look at the situations in our lives as provided by a loving God. That burnt dinner. That challenge at work. That car that won’t start. Challenges bless us with the gift of patience, one of the spiritual fruits listed in scripture. Challenges force us to rely on others, to work together to solve a problem. And as we do, we may be God’s image-bearer to a watching world.

What about our homes? Are they not gifts? From the humblest hut to the most spacious mansion, our surroundings can make us happy. It’s not what we have, but how we value what we have.
So look around at the persons, places and things that touch your life. How do you feel about them? Is there anything you might do to enhance a relationship? Or improve your environment? Or change an attitude?

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Perhaps that means we shall stop wanting what’s on the other side of the road and appreciate what grows in our own backyard.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Is Church for You?

A painting of my childhood church, St. Matthew's, near Spring Glen. Painted by the late Ginny Alexander.

Who would have dreamed we’d ever be denied access to church? And once we get back to “normal,” I’m sure it will be a "new normal." More distance, less hugging. More scooting, less lingering. But have we taken church for granted?

The psalmist writes “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord” (Psalm 84:1 NIV). Two months after sheltering in place, I yearn with the psalmist.

Precious memories of church stretch across the years. I miss the sacredness of the sanctuary. I miss “dressing up” on Sunday mornings. Many of my memories come with clothes.

As a child, we dressed differently on Sundays. Taffeta dresses and Sunday shoes. Easter bonnets and gloves. My father and brothers wore starched white shirts, suits and ties to church. The only other time they wore them was for funerals. Which, of course, were usually held in a church. Church was where you dressed up to show reverent respect for the holiness of God.

As a teenager I knelt beside a wooden pew on a wooden floor, worried about snagging my newly acquired nylons. It was a holy moment. We always knelt, maybe four times a year, when we had communion. Church was where we confessed our sins and promised to do better.

I also "dressed up" for Halloween. We met in the church basement, before a panel of judges, and waited breathlessly behind a rubber mask to see who would be the last one guessed. Our family disguised ourselves behind Li'l Abner masks—the "Injun," Mammy, Pappy, Li'l Abner and, of course, pretty perky Daisy Mae. Church provided our social life.

In my teens, I stood before the congregation in a blue dress with rhinestone-dotted black velvet across the top of the bodice to profess faith in Christ, although at the time, I didn’t really understand salvation. (Can you find me in the photo?) We “confirmed” our faith, and I received a Bible of my own, which I read pretty regularly. Church informed my faith.

I wore Sunday dresses when “drafted” to play the piano for Sunday school. I had had only a year or two of lessons. My parents said, “If you don’t practice, we don’t pay.” So playing for Sunday school was a big deal and made me nervous. But I practiced the songs and my forgiving audience followed my lead.

In ninth grade, I played “Holy, Holy, Holy” on my clarinet for a baccalaureate service held in a church. I don’t remember what I wore that night, but to me, that was another holy moment, a special privilege. Church offered a place to explore using my gifts and talents for God.

One summer day I borrowed my friend Ginny’s wedding dress to get married in our little country church. I stood before a holy God, vowing to love, honor and obey my husband. It was a hot but holy moment. Church was where God blessed life events such as marriage, baptisms and dedications. (There’s our family in the clothes we wore for Terry’s baptism.)

As a young mother I wore a blue woolen sheath dress I had sewed myself as I walked to the front of a sanctuary to commit my life to Christian service. I didn’t know if that meant inviting a neighbor for coffee or going to Africa, although I must admit, I worried a bit about the latter. Church challenged us.

Photos remind me of maternity dresses I wore to church, many that I made myself. Throughout my life I “dressed up” for church. I cannot even imagine going to church in jeans on a Sunday morning. Not that there’s anything wrong with jeans. It’s just not me on a Sunday morning.

But lately, I’ve watched church in jeans, limited to worship by the screen of an I-Pad. And that too has been good. But I miss the fellowship. The “hi’s” and “good to see you’s.” I miss the singing and the prayers. The holy atmosphere of a sanctuary.

One good thing is that the church has been pushed out into the world. More people are probably tuning in via Facebook and YouTube than ever darkened the doors of churches.

Families now worship together, separated from others. Parents, I hope, realize they carry the prime responsibility of teaching their children about God. Perhaps they’ve never before prayed with their children. Now’s the time.

However, “Let us consider . . . not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV).

So I ask, will we have a greater appreciation for church now that we’ve been denied access? Will you go to church once your church reopens and you feel safe to attend? I hope so.