I wrote the following words many, many months ago and, compelled by the Spirit, have held onto them prayerfully. Content to share them for the good of the Church OR to take them to my grave, I asked the Lord to give me guidance as to which course I should take.
This week, after much prayer, I am feeling the inexplicable nudge to share them, with faith that God will use them for good and not pain. The following thoughts and stories come from the most sacred and vulnerable places of my heart, and I am entrusting them to you, dear readers, with humility and trembling. Please read in good faith of my intentions, as one who adores the Church and longs to see her purified.
It was a crowning moment, as far as moments go.
Heaven met earth, mysteries were revealed, and life, for just a little bit, made absolutely perfect sense.
And as I slipped my arm through his and walked down the aisle next to his side, our history flashed before me…
I was a teenager when I first began to really notice him.
He was a married man, but it was actually his relationship with his wife that caught my eye.
They were so alike, the two of them, with a gentleness, a friendliness, and a sweetness that was perfectly matched. They both wore polyester pants every Sunday. And their hair was the exact same shade of white.
Looking back, there was nothing spectacular about the day my heart chose them. There was no voice from the sky, there was no spotlight, there were no goosebumps or premonitions…
I just liked them and, in a rush of spontaneous affection, I wanted to know them better.
How could I know then that God had a specific plan for us?
How could I know that their story would one day intertwine so beautifully with mine?
And how could I, a young and clueless teen, have any idea that, though sad days lie ahead, God would use every sorrow we endured for the good of all of us and for the glory of His name?
Obviously, I could not.
Not even a little bit.
During that particular time in my life my heart was beginning to soften toward the elderly, in general; by His grace, God had been tuning my ears to appreciate their wisdom and tweaking my sensibilities to sympathize with their season; I couldn’t even enter a Braum’s during those days without being brought to tears by the elderly men who ate there alone. “Did that man’s wife die?” I would wonder. “Is he lonely?”
But in a moment of supernatural sovereignty, God specifically trained my eyes upon Kenneth and Virginia.
They easily returned my affection, recounting stories of my childhood days when I was less aware of them, and fully embracing me with their encouraging words and faithful interest in my life.
Hardly a week went by that Virginia didn’t recall her memory of me, as a young girl, coming into the church library where she volunteered, setting a book down on the table and staring up at her with giant, solemn eyes. I was too shy to speak a word, but she, in her thoughtful manner, didn’t press me and went straight to stamping my library card so I could take a new treasure home with me.
She and Kenneth were as proud of me as my grandparents and I flourished under their friendship.
And week by week and month by month, my love for them grew as God continued to focus my eyes upon their well-being.
Before too long, however, that love would turn fierce.
Midway through my college years, the unthinkable happened. A tragedy, really.
For reasons too manifold to name and for faults on every possible side (including my own), the church that my parents had been a part of since the day my daddy became a believer, the church that had been my home since the day I was born, split right down the middle.
The building was still there and the foundation was still in place, but the real church, the body of Christ, was ripped violently in two.
It was the darkest day I’ve ever lived through, and the darkest I have experienced since.
Those of us left behind after this massive divorce were hit by wave after wave of aftershock, marking the beginning of a rather intense decade of consistent pruning and shifting of which the repurcussions continue to this day.
Aided by cultural transience, a widening gap between morality and church attendance, and an overabundance of rural churches, this initial and unprecedented uprooting began a new era in which it has become normal and, sadly, even expected to see person after person and family after family depart from our fellowship for any number of reasons.
And while I have naturally had personal hurts to work through from these heart-wrenching losses and doubt that I will ever completely get over the pain of what happened among us, at the end of the day, my sadness seemed to hover particularly over the senior citizens in our church.
Especially Ken and Virginia, who, without the body, would be utterly alone in this world.
“Does anybody see them?” I finally found myself wondering in frustration as another brother or sister departed through our doors, never to return, “How many people are going to walk away from them and never look back?!…”
And, before I move on, I want to be very clear here that it was not that I was good and others were not.
It’s not as if I had compassion while everyone else was heartless.
Church disagreements and splits are a complex and seemingly insurmountable beast, with a thousand nuances that cannot always be nailed down to a group of good people versus a group of bad people or a group of people who “get it” and a group of people who do not, and I say that to assure you of this: if I was strong in this one tiny area, I was hopelessly weak in a hundred others.
No, I was not good, but this was God’s will for me, to see and feel these things.
And from that time on, He sealed a longing firmly inside my heart, that I would never have to leave our congregation for another and that I could see these brothers and sisters through to the end.
And while this plea was on the behalf of our entire church, my eyes were still on Kenneth and Virginia.
They had no children?
God, let us be their children.
They had no family?
God, let your Church be their family.
To be continued…