As a Christian, I am a strong believer in church membership. This is something I questioned and worked through several years ago from a Biblical standpoint, but I have to confess that most of my reasons for believing in it so strongly have to do with experience more than theology. I have been involved with the same church in one way or another for about 25 years. I have not always had my membership there, for reasons too involved for this post, but for all of that time this church has had my heart.
My church is not a perfect church. There are people in it that I have a difficult time being around. There are times when I don’t like decisions made by the elders. There are times when the sermons are too long, the songs are not to my liking, and the temperature is too hot or cold for my comfort. Sometimes it is tempting to go try out the church down the street. But I have learned the value of staying the course. I have found, that when I pray for the people who irritate me, my heart changes, and I find a way to love them and to see the things in them that are to be valued. I have found that when I pray for my elders, and prepare my heart for their sometimes long winded sermons, that suddenly I am struck with the applicability of what they are saying to my life and struggles. I have learned that on the Sundays that I don’t like the music, someone else in the congregation is blessed by it, so I can be cheerful in sharing. And I have learned to wear layers.
What I have gotten in return from this body of believers is a family that works diligently to love me and care for me in time of need. The stroke was not the first time I was the recipient of this love. When my daughter’s chronic illness became so bad that we feared for her life, people prayed, prepared meals, helped care for her, and came alongside us in ways we could never repay. This present trial has been no different. I cannot even begin to tell all the ways they have helped us, but I would like to try to scratch the surface.
When Strokeman was on the way to the hospital in the ambulance, I called my friend, Cindy, who also happens to be the wife of one of my pastors. She and her husband came to the ER and prayed with us, sat with our children, and spread the word to the rest of the elders of our situation.
When we found we had no insurance, our redheaded EMT, advocated for us with his company and got the ambulance bill to go away.
In CCU, several of our deacon families and our elders all came to visit and to pray with us and encourage us. Our children were sought out for meals and whatever else they might need. I was contacted by church member after church member asking about me, Strokeman, and our children, praying with and for us.
When Pastor Steve visited, he encouraged us to see this as an opportunity to glorify God to the people around us, especially our children – a chance to live out the faith we have in a loving God, even when He does not seem so loving.
When Pastor Larry came, he told us that what we were going through was a terrible thing, and that it was not sinful to see it as that. However, God would bring much good through this terrible thing, and that we would find Him faithful to sustain us.
When Pastor Eddie and Pastor Jarrett came they also brought words of truth and encouragement, and love. All these men had proven themselves to be trustworthy over the years, so I could listen to them a believe what they said now. All these men assured me that the church would help us meet the financial demands that were suddenly upon us.
People from the church brought me food, they brought plants, and cards and books. They sang to us, prayed with us, cheered us.
When we finally came home from rehab they provided meals for us. I got my own designated deacon to call whenever I had a need for someone to sit with Strokeman, or needed something fixed, or needed the lawn mowed. Whatever I need, I call John and he makes it happen.
When I pull into the parking lot at church, someone comes out to my car to help me get the wheelchair out and put it together. They push the chair while I walk with Strokeman, sticking close so that if he decides he needs to sit, there is somewhere for him to sit. They seem to keep an eye on us the whole time we are there, anticipating needs, and volunteering to help in whatever way they can.
One man came and trained with Strokeman at outpatient rehab so that he could help me carry that burden at home. Several were trained by me to work with him while I got a break. These men still take time out of their day to come and encourage my husband with their own rehab stories, their life experiences, their knowledge of scripture.
The pastors, especially Steve, listened to my hysterics and rantings for months as I tried to cope with the fact that the world was still going on while my life was falling apart. They counseled Strokeman and me on how to work through the relational issues that come with this type of tragedy.
The church universal has helped us through this time. Many believers not of our congregation also served us in many ways. But as needs be the case, people eventually go back to their lives. My church has stayed the course, because we are their lives. Not only did our long time friends from church come to our aid, but many who were mere acquaintances have eagerly looked for opportunities to serve us.
We are blessed and cursed to live in an area where there is a church on every corner. This is a blessing, because we can be choosy. We can find a body of believers who are closest to our own philosophy of worship, theological bent, and lifestyle preferences. This is a curse because it makes it too easy to leave when we get disgruntled with some aspect of worship or some difficult person. The churches of the New Testament didn’t have this luxury. They had one choice, and often became involved at the risk of losing their lives. I am not saying there isn’t sometimes a reason to leave one congregation for another. It’s just too easy these days. And when one decides to leave instead of stay, or to only be remotely connected, one loses the joy of sharing the journey of this life. There are days when we are on the receiving end of mutual service, and days when we are on the giving end. Both teach us something about God. Even the commitment to stick with each other, come what may, teaches us something about God.
I cannot imagine my life without the people of my church. They are more precious to me than I could ever express – even the ones I don’t like very well. I am thankful for years of mutual commitment with them. I pray the Lord will let me live long enough to be the blessing to them that they have been to me.
This list is miserably inadequate to express all the gratitude I have for this wonderful community of believers. As long as they are in my life, I’ll get by!