Opening the Door.

“Yes, I am the door.  Those who come in through me will be saved.”  John 10:9.

After I acknowledged God – and started to study His Word – I resisted finding a church home.  The usual culprits were at play: pride, ego and (of course) fear.

I told myself I did not need to hang out with other Christians.  I had my “one on one” relationship with God and that sufficed.   I didn’t want other people to bear witness to my crazy.  Plus, I have an inherent distrust for people in power and don’t like being told what to do.  It’s a control thing.

Good thing for me God was ready to dole out a humility smack down to keep me on track.  My experience has been – that the minute I think “I know best” – God brings me down to earth and compels me to acknowledge that He is all powerful and I am – in the most loving way possible – an idiot.

DSC_2680fLet’s fast forward six years from when God came to me at my mother’s home and I purchased the pink Bible (Background Reading: Finding Faith).

I successfully passed my bar exam (whoo hoo!); was married to my best friend (Jeff); and had two beautiful girls.  We owned a sweet little farm house and I was partner in a law firm.  Life looked good.

In spite of my outward success – I wasn’t doing much better than I had been before I failed my bar exam.  I was plagued by anxiety and depression.  I despised my career and didn’t know how to get out of it.  We were remodeling our home and the disruption to our lives was great.  Jeff and I fought a lot.  We each struggled with demons.

On the outside – we looked perfect.  But on the inside?  We were a mess.

After our second daughter was born – things in our marriage spiraled downward.  Our fighting was volcanic and we even tried a period of separation.  Nothing worked.

imagesOne winter day, Jeff and I had a blowout.  I left home with our daughters to drive around and cool down.  I was devastated.  I thought my marriage was ending and that life had – yet again – become hopeless.  As the snow started to fall – I pulled into the parking lot of a large church I had driven past hundreds of times before.  I put the car in park as my girls slept in their car seats.

Every day on my way to and from the office, I drove past this church (where I was now parked).  I passed a lot of churches on my way to work- but this particular church always generated “feelings” in me.  It irritated me.  I would roll my eyes and mutter things like “Why do people go there?”

There was no rhyme or reason for it.  I was just being ornery.  The more fired up I became – the more I had to admit to myself that I was deeply curious about the church that annoyed me so much.  

I know better now.  The Spirit was working in me.  He was calling me to this church.  As is my pattern, I chose to argue with God instead of letting Him guide me.

Damn law degree. Damn willful nature.  Damn Irish stubbornness.

2017-11-18 11.51.28However, on this snowy day, something about the simple cross at the peak of the church called to me.  I didn’t feel annoyed at all.  I didn’t mutter anything under my breath.  I just wanted to be near it – in the presence of that cross.

So I parked in the parking lot by the main entrance of the church and cried big wet tears – willing someone to come out to my car and rescue me.  However, the parking lot was empty and no one was there.  The building was pitch black.

After awhile, I stopped crying and let the sound of silence and my daughters’ gentle breathing fill the car.  I closed my eyes and started to pray.  Soon, I felt a warmth spread over my body – comforting me – like a hug.

And then, I heard God’s voice.

“Go in.”

I looked at the church.  It was closed.  I raised my eyebrows.

Really?” came my sarcastic reply.

“Go in.”

“It’s CLOSED!” I said loudly – looking upward and gesturing with both hands.

“Go in.”

Now, when God speaks to me – it isn’t like a scene from a movie. There are no ominous voices or burning bushes.  I feel His voice in my head and heart.  Sometimes I am guilty of squashing that voice.  But on this day – I chose to listen. I rolled my eyes and sighed – dramatically – but I listened.

I was already the crazy lady crying in the church parking lot.  What did it matter at this point?

My daughters woke up.  I drove over to an entrance at the back of the church campus marked “Kids World.”  I had seen a jungle gym structure from the road and knew there was play equipment for children inside.  I took a chance – exited the car – and tested the back door.

Open!

“Okay – you’re right!” – I said loudly again, looking up at the sky and laughing.

“And so I tell you, keep on asking and you will receive what you ask for.  Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks, receives.  Everyone who seeks finds.  And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10.

IMG_7191I parked the car and brought the girls inside as the snow continued to fall.  They played and giggled.  I found myself giggling too.  Their joy became my joy and a great happiness filled my heart.  My pain went away and I felt nothing but peace.

After the girls had their fill on the play equipment – we walked around the church to check things out.  There was no one there except for us.  I kept thinking “how nice” this church was and “how comfortable” I felt there.  The more my girls explored and bounced around – the more convicted I became that I needed to attend a service.

I retuned home that evening – calm.  I apologized to Jeff.  Jeff apologized to me.  We forgave each other.  It was like the bubble of peace that had surrounded me at church had followed me to our broken home and filled that with peace as well.

Later that week, I asked my husband if he’d watch the girls so I could go back to the church to hear a sermon.  He agreed and I went to Saturday night service alone.

images-1

The first time I heard the pastor speak, I was taken aback.  I had never been taught the Bible before.  I mean, to read the Bible is one thing – but to be taught the Bible – this was completely foreign to me!  I left feeling energized and hungry to dive deeper into His Word and purpose for my life.

I loved the feeling of being surrounded by so many people in worship.  Even though I knew no one there – and did not speak to anyone – I felt supported by everyone in attendance.  Where I was weak, I could feel the strength of the people in that room and the power of the God we worshiped.  He was there.  The Son was there.  The Spirit was there.  Present – with each of us eager to receive grace and, of course, love.

I was hooked.

After that first service, I invited my husband to join me at church and – initially – he declined.  I didn’t push – but asked if I could take our girls to a service.  He agreed and the three of us started to attend every weekend.

Lawyers are first taught the law and then learn how to apply it.  There is a huge difference between reading the law and understanding how its application impacts real life.  Up to this point, I had been reading God’s Word – but now – I was actually learning how to apply it.  As we flushed out the definitions of grace, forgiveness, accountability and judgment – I started to see the world with new eyes.  I became “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” James 1:19.

Unknown-1Every Sunday I went.  Even though I sat alone, I went.  While I longed for Jeff to hold my small hand in his larger one during the sermon – I did not let my pain stop me from attending.  I knew God was at work.  I sat in a crowd of hundreds of people – but I often thought the pastor was speaking only to me – calling me out in a firm yet loving manner.  I often teared up in church.

I went because the discomfort I felt was a good discomfort – like the type you get after an exercise class.  My spiritual muscles were getting a workout.  Every day I read His Word – and expanded upon that reading on Sundays – I found myself growing stronger.  I started to see things differently.  As the world became increasingly new, I was compelled to adjust my lens.  (Background Reading: Looking Through a Different Lens).

Soon, Jeff noticed a difference in me.  I became patient – kind – less irritable.  Yet again I was being transformed into the woman, mother and wife God wanted me to be.  I could not control Jeff.  I could, however, control myself.  Through Christ’s example, I could be the light in the dark.  And through that light – perhaps my marriage could be saved and my husband could be drawn to Jesus too.

“Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16.  

After months of attending service alone, praying for my husband to be with me, on a random Sunday, Jeff offered to go to church with me and our girls.  I was more excited than a kid on Christmas morning!  Raised Catholic, Jeff was taken aback by the modern praise music and the pastor’s casual jeans and sneakers.  However, he held my hand and listened.

After attending the first service, Jeff did not come back for several weeks. I invited him (lovingly) to join us every Sunday – but I did not press.  Jesus could not be a point of contention between us.  Plus, I had confidence that God was on my team.

I continued to pray that Jeff would attend church with me and our girls.  I continued to hope that Christ would save our marriage.  I continued to let God work on me through his Word and the pastor’s teaching and let that light shine for Jeff to see.

IMG_7353So, here’s the cool part about faith in Jesus Christ: if you believe – it is nearly impossible for those closest to you to not start to believe too.  His teachings are infectious.  His way?  Patient, loving and kind.  It is not always your words about Him that will bring others to His light – but the way you conduct yourself will attract many.  Including stubborn Italian husbands.

“…[C]lothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.  For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.  And always be thankful.”  Colossians 3:13 – 15

Eventually, Jeff started to come to church with us every Sunday.  Not because I made him – but because he wanted to.  Over time, we formed relationships with other people within our church community who became powerful influencers for us in our marriage and faith.  We started to put down roots.  The deeper those roots grew – the stronger our marriage and faith became.

The transformation that took place in both our lives is the definition of a miracle.

There is a reason why Jesus charged Peter as the rock upon which he will build churches.   To be clear, I am no Biblical scholar.  However, Jesus’ request that Peter “build” His church seems obvious to me.

You can believe.  You can follow.  You can read the Word.  But the temptation of this world is great.  By surrounding ourselves with a community of Christian fellowship – we strengthen (fortify if you will) as one against the power and persuasion of the dark one. We were not designed to do this alone.  We were meant to walk in faith with other believers.  Jesus Christ is our Savior.  We are each other’s security in this world.

For me? Finding my church home started by trying to open a door that (for all intensive purposes) should have been locked to me.  But it was’t.  In fact, the only thing keeping me out of that building had been my own willful pig-headedness (the root cause of most of my short comings).

IMG_6658

Let me challenge you.

For those in the faith – who do not have a church home – why not?  I bet the reasons you identify will shed light on challenges within your own life you need to take accountability for.  Just sayin’.

For those who are seeking – what are you afraid of?  I don’t mean to sound trite but it’s a church for crying out loud.  No one is going to bite you.  If I can do it – you can do it!

For those who say – “I already have a church” (but never attend said church) – then that is a different matter altogether.  Here’s something to consider.  If you are a member of a church; but don’t attend that church; maybe that church isn’t feeding you the way it should?  There is a reason why there are so many different denominations of Christianity.  We all respond to His Word in different ways.

I happen to respond to no-nonsense preaching; rock music; stadium seating and a latte.  But that’s just me.

So, how do you find a church community that fits you?  After all, not everyone will be blessed with a commute that takes them by their eventual church followed by a parking lot meltdown and an open door (which I will always attribute to divine intervention!).

Take some time and visit churches in your area.  Attend a service and journal about how the service made you feel and what you took away from it.  Did you find your mind drifting – or did it keep your attention?  Did the message resonate with you?  Did you feel that your presence during the sermon helped you on your spiritual journey?  Did you, well, “get into it?”

UnknownThrow your excuses and limitations out the window.  Trust me, in this department, you do not know best (and this is coming from someone who thinks she knows everything).  Open up your mind and heart.  What do you stand to benefit from putting up walls?  If you are not in a fulfilling Christian community – strongly consider who is keeping you from your Father’s house and why.  

Let me add that worship should never feel like a chore or obligation.  It is the one day a week we get to praise God with other believers!  Every Sunday, I can’t wait to get to church and, after, I don’t want to leave!  Jeff and the kids frequently need to drag me out of there!

Don’t stop seeking until you find a church that helps you deepen your faith.  Deepening your faith will mean a period of discomfort (which is a sure tell sign of growth) – but run – seriously run – from anything that makes you feel bad about yourself.  Self-deprecation is not part of the doctrine.  Accountability is – but self loathing, guilt and shame?  No.

The point is this: don’t sell yourself short by not finding a community of believers that will walk with you on your journey.  You cannot do this by yourself.  Take a chance – and open a door.  Who knows what you’ll discover on the other side.

Have Comments or Questions about my Faith Story?  Let’s Connect!

 


 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: