I just spent the last two months visiting my sister in New Mexico. When my husband drove us from the northern border to the southern border I thought I was saying good bye to this part of the country for good due to my husbands upcoming transfer. I said goodbye to the very few friends we had, packed up our vehicle with must have necessities and drove away from the cold, the rain, and the gloom. It wasn't a happy goodbye. It was a bit sad. I mourned for a little, well actually a lot.
The reason for my mourning --> our family broke up with our church.
Yes I know....people leave churches all the time.....for all kinds of reasons. However, the heaviness of relinquishing our membership from this particular church cut a bit deep. I'm not going to go into all the dirty laundry for the many reasons we left the church, and there were many, meaning it wasn't just because of one specific thing. Regardless of what happened, its still God's church and I will respect that.
It's also still a bit hard for me to rehash what we, both my hubs and I, felt were legitimate and Biblical reasons for leaving this church, but I will say the difficulties of leaving stem solely from the fact that we moved our entire family from the isolated desert of West Texas, sold a house we had just built and relocated our family across 2006 miles.....specifically for THIS church.
The problem lies in the fact that I made this church "ultimate". In making it ultimate, I placed all my hope that this church was going fulfill all of our family's needs. Well.....it didn't, and didn't in a big way.
I once had a conversation a couple of years ago with a pastor's wife from our church back in Texas and in our talking we came to the realization that whatever it is that we glorify or inadvertently idolize, meaning unintentional worship directed away from God, we end up demonizing when what we've glorified lets us down.
This church that we moved to Washington for didn't really stand a chance in my heart and mind. Before we left Texas, this church had become an idol in my heart, and when it didn't measure up I was devastated.
Yes I know the cliche that is regurgitated to people who leave churches--> "no church is perfect". No one needs to remind me of that. I was not expecting nor was I wanting a perfect church because I know there is no such thing as a perfect church.
Last year sometime, I had another conversation with another friend who posed this question to me after I shared briefly some of my concerns.
She asked: What if God used that church to bring you up here but that's not where your family is supposed to be?
I remember immediately shutting down any entertainment of that possible scenario and concluded that God does not send mixed messages and reminded her that God opened up all doors for our move from Texas to Washington to be a part of THIS church, not some other random church we had no idea existed and regardless of the issues we were having with our new church, we were just supposed to endure, persevere, have patient hope that things will get better, and eventually we should see beautiful God glorifying fruit take place.
That didn't happen. I then began to doubt everything. Our move. The church. Even my identity.
And it laid me out.
Emotionally. Mentally. Due to the stress of it all, physically....and even psychologically.
I placed all my hope that this church would be "it" for us, and even though this particular local church is still a part of Christ's universal church, I was shown and reminded that nothing, not even a church, should be placed above God in my heart as ultimate provider and full-filler of life.
I think my husband and I knew this church was not a fit for our family probably about year after we made the move. Something just did not seem right but we chalked it up to a couple a desert bumpkins, with West Texas dust still on our boots, not yet knowing the culture of our new hip coffee drinking smallish city. We attempted to dig our dusty heels in, volunteered where we could and kept at it. Heck I even got rid of my Wranglers and got me some skinny jeans. I tried gosh darn it. (though I really do now prefer skinny jeans over boot-cut, but that's a different post altogether)
Oftentimes in my transparency of sharing my own personal shortcomings, confusion and judgment met me and I was let me down. With each let down, I withdrew. I became guarded even though I told myself daily to not be. I failed at not listening to myself.
On top of dealing with heartbreaking let downs from certain expectations from our church, simultaneously my health failed. My immune system did not appreciate the lack of continuous sunshine and proceeded to attack my body by plaguing me with ailment after ailment.
This made for one very unhappy, grumpy, depressed, not to mention alone mom and wife. I thought I was isolated in Texas, well, we literally were geographically isolated in Texas. But here we were, in a completely new state, were members of a church that, unlike Texas wasn't 50 miles away but a mere 20 minutes away, making every effort and to the best of my introverted ability to connect with others....yet I was still very much alone.
Being a homeschool mom can already be isolating. I knew that. I've always known that. I just thought things would be better once we moved up to Washington.
Exactly two years after our move, we threw in the proverbial towel and realized that our church was not for us. We could no longer ignore the things we saw, or actually didn't see and faced the reality that it was just time for us to move on.
In spite of this painful breakup with our church along with continuously dealing with debilitating health due to lack of sunshine, chronic rain, and gloomy days without sun, after much family prayer, we felt it was time to leave the area completely.
My husband put in for a transfer at his job and things were to move pretty quickly, meaning we were supposed to be moved by March or April. The house needed some serious work if we were going to get a decent return on it so we decided it was best for me and the kiddos to head south to my sisters while my husband worked on some major home renovations. Things seemed to be moving right along but on the very day the transfer paperwork was supposed to get approved, the guy that was supposed to transfer with my husband calls us up to let us know he needed to withdraw from the transfer list because his father-in-law was just diagnosed with cancer THAT VERY day and his wife was not willing to leave her father.
I had a myriad of emotions once I heard this but sorrow over this man having cancer was not one of them. My husband, 1555 miles away would call us at night so that our family could continue to pray together during our separation and when he would include this cancer struck man in our family prayers, it occurred to me that I was being so selfish in my desire to move that I forgot to be compassionate. I had to face the reality that instead of driving to southern Cali to get ourselves situated, I was going to have to head back to Washington to wait it out for the next transfer slots to open up...which should be mid June. My husband was handling the delay in moving much better than I was. I even asked him to pray for me directly because bitterness was rising up in my soul....and I didn't like it, as a matter of fact, I hated it.
Yet....even through the stress of dealing with a church break up, a move that didn't happen as quickly as I would have liked, living without my husband for two months while I was in NM so that he could work on getting our house ready to sell, full time seminary classes, homeschooling, stomach pain due to all of the above stress, God showed me things in my heart that I needed to see.
1) Idols of the heart are sneaky
Idol #1 - I wanted desperately for this church to be ultimate for us. When it wasn't, it devastated me. Who could have thought that wanting to fit into a church culture could be an idol in one's heart? In my desire to fit in, I lost sight of seeing things that were amiss. I caused myself more hurt because I wanted this church to work for our family even when it was obvious that it wasn't.
Idol #2- Because we found ourselves without a church, I wanted, no needed, the move to happen quickly. Without even realizing it, moving became another "ultimate" in my heart. It was going to solve all our church-less problems and all my health problems. When it didn't happen in the time frame that I wanted it to happen, I was emotionally devastated, even to the point that it muted my ability to be compassionate, empathetic and patient.
Idol #3 - "Simple country living" also became an idol in my heart, though I have just recently discovered this when I was visiting my sister in NM and looking for a potential new place to live/home in our upcoming new destination. This revelation lead me to #2
2) We make plans but God directs our way
The thought has recently occurred to me that there is a great possibility that we were never supposed to fit in with this uber hip pacific northwest culture and church. In the last few years, God has been slowly, and I mean slowly growing in my heart a desire to serve impoverished/inner city women. I come from that background and initially I wanted to stay far far away from inner city-ness, or just plain city-ness. I was scared of city life for a really long time, and if I am going to be perfectly honest, to a certain degree...I still am. Country living has been "safe" for me. It's predictable. There's security in monotony and quietness, where one goes outside to gather eggs and the only sounds are wind, insects, critters and chickens rustling through your own personal forest. It's serenely nonthreatening. However, when I find myself deep in the throes of our sheltered shielded country life, my soul begins to stir. From deep within, I feel a calling that stirs my heart in such a way that it interrupts my bread-baking, homeschooling, chicken-raising, savy-sewing life. This calling scares me because it feels too familiar. For the most part, I have ignored it. Recently though, in the last year or so I realized I cannot anymore, hence why I decided to enroll in seminary. I don't know what the future holds, but for some reason, I feel it might be a good idea to be ready for it.
All that to say, had our family been ushered into this church community, had we blended in with this very foreign pacific northwest culture, would I have been at a place where I would have been open to moving where I would never have considered moving to, where there are inner-city women that could be served, loved and shown a great Savior from a woman who knows all too well their lot in life? I don't know the answer to that so I will just leave that right there.
The reminder of a sovereign God puts so many things into clear perspective:
Proverbs 16:9 --> the heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps
Should I even be upset that this church wasn't meant to be our church? Should I be upset that our move didn't happen right away? I am reminded that I have no right to be upset or filled with anxiety because God directs our steps. This reality reminds me of #3
3) I carry my stress in my stomach
No need for elaborate word-age here. This is just what it is. Becoming self aware of my lack of trust, in my worrying and fretting, I see that it shows up in real physiological symptoms that manifest with symptomatic chronic pain in my tummy, or other parts of my body. I hate it. Which leads me to #4.
4) I need to trust God more
I'm not just talking about a theoretical trust...but a deep rooted trust where when things go wrong, circumstances don't slay me emotionally.
Paul in the NT reminds us that being content is a matter of adjusting our attitudes, not our circumstances. I know I fail daily in this but prayerfully, through Christ's strength and ability, I can one day own the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-13
for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me
I have yet to attain this. One day.
5) My home is where my husband is
Leaving my husband for 2 months was way too long to be away from my only best friend. Whatever it is that we will face in the future, we need to do it together. End of story.
6) Thankful for thankfulness
In spite of sinful anxiety that plagues me, miraculously I have been able to be thankful to God for these stressful circumstances, even knowing that I don't oftentimes understand them. I may not deal with stress well, but I've learned to be thankful for stressful situations because its in those very circumstances that I am able to see things in my heart and soul that don't honor God. When I see them and have to deal with them, I can then repent.
When we pray together at night with the kids, my husband and I stress thankfulness in our prayers, even when our plans fail. We never want our children to think for one moment that God does not answer our prayers or ignore our pleas so we focus on thankfulness in the midst of our uncertain circumstances.
We don't know what the future holds for our family. We hope to be moved to the southern California area by mid summer. If it gets delayed again, we will thank God. If it happens when we expect it, we will thank God.
Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)