Hope Finds Resolution

church doorsThroughout my search for a church, I have gleaned important lessons. Because life-long learning is one of my core values, it gives me joy to learn something new or to confirm principles I’ve known for decades.

So what have I learned?

The Community of Believers Thrives

Throughout this year, I have met so many wonderful believers. Pastors have rearranged their schedules to talk with me. Gracious and vulnerable, they let me pray for them and asked how they could serve me. I have been humbled, awed and thankful for these men and women who love the same Lord I love.

Within these communities, I have snacked on a variety of goodies, experienced a women’s Christmas tea and tried numerous versions of the same coffee brand. Eleos seems to be the favorite. However, I believe my choice of a church is solid even if they have no snacks and no coffee bar.

The variety of music has provided a soothing balm for my pilgrim soul. Although I love the old hymns and enjoy a rousing classical version of the “Hallelujah Chorus” – I have found so many wonderful worship teams, praising God with joy. Do they know how important they are, lifting the spirits of saints who need the comfort of lyrics and chord progressions?

We Share Common Struggles

Churches are living organisms, peopled by fallible human beings. The world we live in makes it easy to ignore God and focus on ourselves. Yet so many believers are trying mightily to be the persons God created them to be.

And in every church where I have talked with the leaders, they’re not quite sure what to do with me. My particular demographic is a puzzle. Most churches aren’t set up to serve single moms or know how to deal with the growing numbers of divorced people and their children. This is one reason why 67 percent of single moms leave the church and never return.

But I am encouraged that leaders are willing to at least open the conversation. They’re hoping to try new programs, discuss new resources and consider how to be vulnerable even within traditional guidelines.

Sunday is the loneliest day of the week, and in my visits I have seen many women who worship alone – sitting by themselves, their heads bowed even as I peek at their solitude. I imagine they pray the same words I pray, “Will someone, anyone, Lord, talk to me or come and sit with me or invite me to lunch or even acknowledge I am here?” Can we do better? I believe so.

Church is Important to Me

Although I took a sabbatical from church to soothe some of the hurts, I always knew I would return. I just didn’t know where. It is important to belong within a body of believers, to find how my little digit somehow fits into the kingdom work of a particular group where my gifts are respected and utilized.

In searching for church, I have been encouraged by my own faith and by the principles my soul believes so strongly that I will hunt for them week by week. I stepped forward, fell back and began again.

Because belonging to a church body is part of who I am. Because church sanctifies my core beliefs and helps me grow. Because the people in my church become family. Because I am a believer, and church is what we do.

God Cares About Where I Go

Throughout this journey, I have prayed every Saturday night, “Show me, please, Abba Father. Make it clear. I want to be where you lead me.”

And God came through. When I visited the church where Jesus was absent, the Spirit in me cried out in melancholy loss. When I attended a church with my son and his girlfriend, God told me it would be only “for a while.” The following would result in leaving.

And when I came to a crossroads which almost exhausted my list of possibilities, it was within that scary moment the divine whisper directed me to the final answer.

As God so often does with me, he confirmed it in a unique way – this time in a dream. I was at an amusement park, already buckled into the metal car of the roller coaster. Just as it was about to begin its cranking ascent, the divine voice urged, “Get off the roller coaster.” So I unbuckled and left the amusement park.

When I woke up and journaled through the dream, I saw the confirmation. My search had led me to highs and lows, to spiritual discovery through the valley of grief, to stops and starts. The roller coaster search needed to come to an end, and I had to make the decision to unbuckle and walk confidently in a new direction.

So I learned a great deal, and I am grateful for the learning which involved more than a year of prayer, visits, leavings and yearnings.

I am finally off the roller coaster, stepping carefully because belonging precipitates the possibility of another hurt and my heart does not want to risk it. But for now, I have found a home and I believe God is smiling as together, we walk through the door.

©2016 RJ Thesman  ̶  Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

Hope Thrives With a List

Because I process best while writing, I decided to make a list of what I’m looking for in a church.checklist

A perfect church does not exist – anywhere – because it is an organism teeming with fallible human beings. The minute I walk in, the dynamics of that church will change because I am not perfect.

So I know my list is only a series of guidelines, parameters I am looking for in a church body. But it helps me set my limits, to know exactly what I’m looking for and to eliminate any groups that don’t have at least 50 percent of what I need.

My list includes:

  • Jesus. He must be front and center. I want Jesus to be the focus, always. The church is, after all, the bride of Christ – the body that started with his disciples, men and women devoted to following the Son of God. This is one parameter where I will not waver. If you doubt my sincerity, re-read my post “Hope Reaffirms” about how I left the church that had no Jesus.
  • I need a church that looks at Scripture as an entire document and God-breathed inspiration. I will not attend a church that takes just one verse and makes a doctrine out of it. Legalism is dangerous. Been there. Done that. Finished with that forever and ever, Amen.
  • Humble leaders are paramount in the church of my dreams. To minister means to serve. I don’t want my pastors to preach from their strongholds or to demand special treatment just because they happen to be ordained. The pulpit should be a place from which to share truth, not to pontificate.
  • I do not want to hear politics from the pulpit. If I want to consider a political opinion, I will stay home and watch CNN.
  • One reason I am having a difficult time finding a church is because I believe in egalitarian theology. Jesus was the only religious leader in history who truly respected women and gifted them to serve in his kingdom. Scripture says, “In the last days sons AND daughters will prophesy.” Many churches say they respect women and their gifts, but will only let women practice certain gifts. They don’t practice what they preach (pun intended).
  • I want a church that is willing to learn and grow – not remain stagnant with what they’ve always done. Jesus broke the mold on traditionalism. Life-long learning is one of my core values, and I believe we can always learn more about God, about his love and about how to grow in relationship with him. My soul tires of the same old messages. I want to grow in my faith and in how to effectively be a disciple in my world.
  • God blesses churches that care about missions, but many churches are caught in the romanticism of travel. I believe mission also exists right on our doorsteps. I want my church to be active in the community; not just across the globe. I want us to help the people in the pews and in the apartment complexes and those who are sleeping on park benches.
  • Because I am a single mom, it is important to me that my church cares about the orphan and the widow, in every definition of the word. Fifty per cent of us have experienced the shattering of our marriages, and if the church doesn’t want that number to escalate – then they need to “be” the church and reach out to those children and their lonely mamas. I have attended churches where the leadership regularly quoted negative statistics about single moms and other churches that had vital programs to help single-parent families. I believe Jesus cares about every demographic.
  • I am looking for a church with diversity, a body that welcomes every age group and every race. Since heaven will be a mixture of every tribe, language and nation, we might as well start getting used to it.
  • One of the churches I visited filled almost all of my parameters, but they had no need for any of my giftings. I believe it is important to serve within the church. However, I need to be using my authentic gifts and not placed in a traditional gift box. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I should be relegated to holding babies in the nursery or organizing a pot luck. I can’t help it God made me a leader, a writer and a teacher. I’m a first born, for Pete’s sake. I want my church to accept who I am and believe God sent me their way so that I could fulfill a definite function.

In my visits to various churches, I have been encouraged by the numbers of lovely Christians, the various programs and the ways churches function effectively.


When we attend one church for many years, we may believe ours is the only place, the only way.


But many believers are striving to learn more about God, serving in their communities and the world, giving of themselves week after week as they worship together. It has been encouraging to me to find these bodies everywhere and to know we are all part of the family of God, brothers and sisters with one focus – to share God’s love to a lonely world.

One of the pastors I met said, “Don’t shop around for a church. Let the Holy Spirit draw you into community.”

I like that thought, and I am praying in hope for that direction. I believe someday, somewhere, I will find the place where I belong.

©2016 RJ Thesman  ̶  Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

Hope Hides in the Pages of a New Book

Something special happens when I begin to birth a book. I’m not sure if I am unique in this. Perhaps other writers will comment and let me know if I’m weird or somewhat normal.writing pencil

Because one of my core values is life-long learning, I love to initiate research. So with the new idea, I start to look for credits that may prove my point if it’s a nonfiction book.

For novels, I start to pay attention to settings, cultures, recipes, clothing – anything that will make my characters believable.

Then I go nuts with ideas and start free writing. For nonfiction, I play with an outline.

For novels, I write letters to the characters and let them write me back (I know – weird!).

This is the most exciting part for me – similar to when the doctor said, “Guess what? You’re pregnant!”

I begin to imagine all kinds of scenarios. What will the cover of this book look like? What if this book becomes a best-seller? What if the words I write impact somebody’s life?


The beginning germ of my idea mushrooms and ripples into a story line. Even in nonfiction, it’s important to tell the story.


 

So I feel excited, fulfilled, working away at this idea and waiting to see how it will manifest itself in chapter headings, quotes, character quirks and the resolution of conflict.

As I work on the idea, I imagine my readers – feet propped up in front of a cozy fire, turning the pages inscribed with my words, wiping a tear or tilting back their heads in laughter.

Then I take the idea and play with it from the marketing standpoint. After I find my focus, how many articles can I write from this one idea? Will it be only a novel or can I also write a nonfiction book, using my research as a starting point?

That’s what I’m doing now with all my research about Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Reverend G trilogy is finished, so now I’m putting together a nonfiction book of essays and meditations to help caregivers.

For me, the best part of writing is letting my creativity loose without any roadblocks or fears stopping me. I envision the massive impact this idea will have and the huge numbers of people who will either learn from my topic or change their lives because of it.

Ultimately, I thank God for the idea because he is the one who creates life – in the womb and in my writing soul.

Then I ask him to bless the project and hope again – that it will be very good.

©2016 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Learning Treasures of Hope

Because one of my core values is life-long learning, I am always reading and scouting out new resources. As a writer, I yearn to pen unique words or phrases that leave my readers with their own a-ha moments, something to think about all day, some treasure that leaves a taste of hope in their lives.

Recently, I added three new treasures to my learning bank, so I wanted to share them with you.Grace quote

Treasure 1: In her new book, “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace” Anne Lamott writes, “They say we are punished not for the sin but by the sin.”

Even when we know we are forgiven, natural consequences still attach like magnets to iron.

If you hammer a nail into wood and then take the nail out, a hole marks the spot where the nail was hammered. It doesn’t matter how many times you are forgiven for hammering that nail, it will still leave a mark.

I think we need to worry less about how God will punish us and more about how we can cause our own defeat by the wrong choices we make.

Treasure 2: Gerald May wrote, “Grace threatens all our normalities.”

Now isn’t that the grandest truth?

Just when we feel the most soul-grunge because we’ve committed one of the seven deadly sins and actually enjoyed it, God comes along and says, “Oh by the way, you’re forgiven.”

When we sin again because we’re stupid and can’t seem to learn from our mistakes, we go to God in penitence and cry, “I did it again. I’m so sorry.”

And God says, “You did what again?”

His grace breaks down all the normal ways we deal with repentance and retribution. Grace transcends omniscience, so God chooses to forget and says, “It’s okay, kiddo. I love you. My Son already took care of this.”

I don’t think I’ll truly understand grace until I graduate to heaven.

Treasure 3: Recently, the Samaritan Woman taught me an important truth. Even though I’ve read her story hundreds of times in John chapter four and loved how Jesus went out of his way to dialog with her, something really struck me this time.

Jesus treated her with respect in spite of the fact that she lived a rather nontraditional life. Her past included a handful of men that she married or lived with, probably because she had to survive.

But Jesus did not judge her. He appreciated her authenticity and answered her challenging questions. He revealed his true mission as the Messiah to this woman who wasn’t even allowed to draw water with the other “good” people in town.

Then what did she do? She ran back into the village and evangelized the same people who had rejected her. She brought them to the source of grace and showed everyone that she had more character than those who followed the laws of culture and religion.

Through her courageous behavior, the Samaritan Woman showed transparent forgiveness.

You see, when we meet Jesus and talk face to face with the man who saves us from our grungey selves, it doesn’t really matter how others treat us.

We just want them to meet him, too.

©2015 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh