Do Not Forsake: my wrestling match with Hebrews 10:24-25

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

~

“I don’t know…” I said, “I’m just so tired of talking about it. I don’t want to answer any more questions. I don’t want to talk about how my belly has dropped or that yes, I’m “still here”, you know?…”

My husband just looked at me.

I squirmed.

I knew exactly what he was thinking and, as usual, it was conveniently lining up with what the Spirit was already telling my heart.

It was late Saturday night and we were discussing what I should do come morning. Nearly one full week past my due date, I knew that no one would expect me to be at church, and would even be surprised if I made an appearance, but I was feeling so torn about it.

“If you don’t feel well, that’s one thing,” my husband encouraged me, “and even if you just want to stay home and rest, that’s perfectly fine. But don’t not come because of what you just said…that’s not you.”

I knew he was right. Even as the words left my mouth, I was uncomfortable with them, as they went against everything we say we believe and have worked toward in our church.

You see, the last couple of years in our congregation have centered on learning to become a family. Loving each other as true brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Being transparent and real with one another. Assuming the best of each other. Bearing one another’s burdens…

And if I truly examined my heart, I was lying about why I didn’t want to come to church the next morning, because, honestly, if I showed up and no one mentioned my pregnancy or how I was feeling, I might have returned home confused and hurt, feeling like no one cared. I love those people. And I love their concern for me.

The truth of my resistance was simple to diagnose:

I wanted to bear my burden alone.

I didn’t want to humble myself and accept sympathy.

I didn’t want to appear weak or tired or haggard or needy.

In other words, I just wanted to disappear from among “my family” for a bit until I could return to them in better form…sitting up straighter, feeling more like myself, victorious over this pregnancy….you know, normal. Healthy. Whole.

I didn’t want them to see me defeated.

So now I was really torn about going to church, because this had just turned from a simple question of “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” into a very personal spiritual battle that I didn’t want to deal with; I didn’t want the Spirit to be teaching me anything. I was a week past my due date! Wah!!

But deciding we were borrowing trouble by worrying too much about it – after all, my water could have broken in the next 20 minutes and all of this discussing would be a moot point – we decided to just wait until morning and see what happened.

The next day, Mr. Gore decided to let me sleep until I woke up; by the time I joined the land of the living, there was only enough time to fix Rebekah’s hair and send my family off to Sunday School, tentatively planning to join them for worship.

On their way out the door, my husband continued to gently encourage me to attend if my body was feeling comfortable, reminding me that I could retreat to his office and rest on his recliner at any point during the service or the post-service potluck.

But, shutting the door behind them, I still didn’t know what to do…

it was so quiet in my house.

So safe.

So comfortable (I was wearing my muumuu).

And no one could see how big I was, or how tired, or how mentally fatigued or how weak; I was alone, and a part of me really liked that, even as my heart yearned to see the dear faces I had been missing over the past two weeks.

But I really needed to make a decision, spit-spot!

And in the end, it wasn’t my stamina that got me dressed and ready and out the door in time to make it downhill to hear the preaching. It wasn’t a supernatural burst of energy or resolve. It wasn’t even a spiritual change of heart or mind…

It was the truth of scripture and the example of my husband.

You see, during the 9 months that I have been growing our 4th child, he has been dealing with his own set of problems; a year and a half ago, he had a non-invasive surgical procedure done on a herniated disc, one that would potentially put a stop to his chronic back and leg pain without resorting to major back surgery.

Sadly, while it gave him relief for almost a year, he blew the disc out again early this year, and it has been undeniable that a fusion was in his future, the sooner the better, not only to put a stop to his pain, but to keep his nerve from becoming permanently damaged.

But I was pregnant.

And we have three little children.

And a two-story house.

And in a huge act of sacrificial love, he chose to put off surgery until I could have a full month to recover from having our baby…

Which meant that he had an extremely long year ahead. Pain management has been key, but even on medication, he has been either persistently uncomfortable or downright hurting. Sitting for long periods is unbearable for him, meaning he needs to be on his feet or lying down on the floor. His “office” became the couch in our church’s foyer where he laid with his laptop and a pile of books nearby, and most of his meals in 2013 have been eaten at his family’s feet…

and while God has been so gracious to allow him to comfortably stand and preach every Sunday morning, he comes home pretty sore in the afternoon and desperately in need of rest.

If anyone should feel the right to stay home on Sunday night while our other pastor teaches, it is him.

And if anyone should feel free to cut out early after that teaching and skip our weekly fellowship meal, it is him.

But I’ve watched him.

All year.

He wakes up from his Sunday nap, he takes his pills, and he goes to the one place that he knows he needs more than anything else.

To his church.

His body.

His family.

And he does the most unheard-of thing I have ever witnessed in my 31 years of church life.

He gets the pillow out of his office….

and he lays down in the floor at the back of the sanctuary to hear the Bible lesson.

People walk past and he talks to them, waving, smiling, never blushing, never acting as if it is out-of-the-ordinary that he is laid out on the floor in a house of God.

You know why?

Because when he says he loves his church family, he means it. And when he says that there is no better place for him to be than among the brethren, he truly believes it. And when he expounds Hebrews 10 from the pulpit and teaches us that one of the greatest and most powerful tools for our growth and encouragement is to spend time with each other, he then lives it out for his flock to see.

And as I considered his example on Sunday morning, I started to realize what I would be missing if I stayed home in my muumuu…

Getting my act together and making it to church wasn’t about a legalistic check-mark to prove how godly I was; this was a chance for me to have faith in the word of God and to seek His way rather than my own. And as much as I didn’t want to put real clothes on and face my own vulnerability by making a public appearance, it was undeniable that the Spirit was wooing me to come.

Take up thy pregnant girth and follow Me.

And so I took my bath. I got ready. I made some biscuits for the potluck.

And right as the preaching began, I waddled into my home-away-from-home.

The minute I entered into that familiar room filled with familiar faces, I knew that God had been good to pursue me in this. I needed this time with my family. I needed their love and concern. I needed to hear the Word expounded.

I needed to trust in what the Bible says is good for me and not what I felt like I needed.

And as unimportant and gross and exhausted as I felt that Sunday morning, my church needed me, too. To see that I was okay. To use their gifts to minister to me. To be encouraged by my gifts. Such is the beauty of the body and every single one of its members. There is no doubt that I would have enjoyed my Sunday morning at home, but I was richly blessed by joining my local congregation to worship the God who made us a family in the first place. I might have gone home tired, but I was refreshed.

Again, attending church every Sunday isn’t some sort of mystical bullet on a spiritual to-do list that will earn you points in heaven….

but we should never underestimate how important each opportunity to “stir one another up” is and take advantage of those opportunities, whether it is easy and we are excited about it or whether it is difficult and as inconvenient as getting a pregnant lady out of her muumuu.

We don’t need to wait until we are healthy and well…sinless…perfect and put-together…strong. We need to go now, just as we are…

just like the guy who lays in the back of our sanctuary every Sunday night.

Let not conscience let you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream, all the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him. I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms, in the arms of my dear Savior, oh there are ten thousand charms.

Mrs. Gore’s Potluck Etiquette

It has been awhile since I shared any ridiculous etiquette advice with you, and, as church potlucks are a common occasion for many of us, I thought today would be a good time to give a little guidance for navigating the potentially complicated waters of the casserole scene. Especially when the casseroles are watery…

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1. The numero-uno cardinal potluck rule: Never, ever, comment on the food you just tasted unless to say it is delicious. Simple as that. Break this rule and you will live to regret it.

2. Likewise, never, ever scrunch up your nose after tasting someone’s…interesting…casserole dish. Puh-puh-puh-poker face, baby.

3. Take extra precaution in the handling and cooking of your food for a potluck. I don’t know about you, but the thought of giving salmonella to my entire church body in one fell swoop is the stuff of this Baptist woman’s nightmares.

4. There are unspoken rules that must be obeyed when it comes to the recipes of your church family. Here they are:

  • The first lady to make a delicious recipe, even if it actually belongs to Paula Deen or the Pioneer Woman, forever has dibs on that recipe. In fact, from now on, it should be dubbed “So-and-so’s dish”…as in, “Megan’s lasagna”, “Amy’s chocolate chip cookies”, “Chrissy’s peanut butter brownies”, “Kodi’s peach crisp”, “Charlotte’s Pinterest-worthy Peeps cake”…
  • In fact, this is true not only at potlucks, but at any church gathering or if anyone in the congregation is sick or just had a baby. Never make another lady’s prize recipe unless you are making it for your own family. And again, when you do make it for your family, make sure they know, this is Megan’s Lasagna.
  • I personally have dibs on my potato soup recipe, snickerdoodles, granola, mini cheesecakes, lemon blossoms, sugar cookies and gooey butter cake. Feel free to make them at home, but if you bring these to a potluck or to a sick person in our church, you are dead to me.

5. This is just my own personal opinion, but…why’d you have to go and put cottage cheese in that perfectly delicious looking jello salad? Your salad is now dead to me.

6. In all seriousness, scan the room before you sit down with your typical buddies and see if you can’t find a table with someone you don’t know very well. These potlucky situations are great opporunities for developing unity and fellowship in the church. You can even bond over a game of “what’s-in-this-mystery-salad?”

7. At our church, we always let the elderly line up first, and encourage the children to go last. A perfect teaching opportunity, don’t you think?

8. We used to have a Pee-Wee Herman video that included a short movie in it about a boy named “Mr. Bungle” who always heaped lots of food on his plate at school and chose the largest piece of chocolate cake in the line-up. In other words, show some restraint, Miss Piggy. This is a potluck, for crying out loud, not an all-you-can-eat buffet.

9. Unless otherwise engaged in important or fruitful conversation, don’t be a lazy-britches and sit around smacking your fingers while the kitchen ladies are cleaning up after a large meal. Look to the ant, thou potluck sluggard! (I’m pretty sure that’s in Proverbs somewhere).

10. But then also be sensitive to the old truth of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” If you find yourself with nothing to do and are causing a major traffic jam in the kitchen while you stand there and gab, move on, sister!

11. And finally, in a modern church age where potlucks are slowly being replaced by trendy coffee-bars and fancy cook-outs, remember…you’ve got to fight. For your right. To potluck.

(…Did I just reference the Beastie Boys in a potluck article? Excuse me for a moment while I try to process this surprising turn of events…).

Okay, I’m back. And what I mean is…don’t really fight. But don’t let my favorite meal die. Potlucks are nostalgic. They’re fun. And they’re tasty, too!

Except for when they’re not.

But we’re not saying anything about that, are we?

~

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potluck etiquette

Mrs. Gore Says Y-Y-Y-Y-Yes to No-No-Stress VBS

We are returning back to earth after a week of Vacation Bible School, and while it is fresh on my mind, I wanted to share a quick word with my fellow brethren and sisterns about this most important week on the church calendar…

What gives you the authority to speak on any subject, let alone one as important and all-encompassing as Vacation Bible School? you ask?

Well, two things…

1. I am Mrs. Gore, first lady of my church.

2. I happen to attend (BY THE AMAZING GRACE OF GOD) a church body that is super laidback and kind, one that a) has the most non-stressful VBS I’ve ever heard of and b) has no problem with their pastor’s wife addressing herself as “the first lady”. (or if they do, they keep it on the down low).

To prove my point, let me show you a picture of our VBS decoration.

That’s right, I said decoration.

Not decorations, plural.

Decoration. Singular.

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I got so tickled everytime I saw this inflatable car. To promote our Bible School, our director (and my truly incredible friend), Chrissy, had it hanging from a string in the foyer (and my kids were obsessed with it…).

And then when it was time for VBS, she moved it on the stage of the sanctuary in front of the promotional VBS poster that came with our curriculum (after she cut the Sharpie-written dates and times off the bottom of the poster).

And I knew things had completely gotten out of hand when I noticed my 2-year old daughter sitting on that car, rocking it back and forth, and saying “Wheeeeee!”

Who knew a VBS decoration could bring such joy and multi-faceted entertainment to the children of our church? It’s a ceiling fixture. It’s a centerpiece. It’s a ride. Our inflatable car knew no bounds, really.

Okay, okay, I might be exaggerating a little bit. It wasn’t our only decoration. There was also some crepe paper and some posters and some sheets and tablecloths draped over stuff. Between Sunday and Monday, while I was at home chasing after the chaos that is my family, several very sweet and hard-working ladies (including Chrissy) gave up their time  and energy to turn our church into a welcoming, festive and kid-friendly atmosphere.

But my point is – and what that car represented to me all week – Vacation Bible School, a week that can sadly be known for its drama and stress and division and expense, can…and SHOULD…and MUST…be a week of simplicity, fun, unity, togetherness, and most importantly, gospel love.

And if it is not all of the above, then my, my, MY, are we missing the forest for the trees…

And this past Sunday night, as I watched the children of our church (and several from the community) cluster around my husband on the stage, answering impromptu questions about what they had learned this week, singing a few great hymns and a few fun songs, feeling comfortable and happy and doted upon in their church home, I was so pleased at what God has done among us.

The tension that can sometimes surround weeks like VBS and church camp and every single extra-biblical event just doesn’t exist.

And the stiffness of a stilted and nervous performance at the end of the week is not necessary.

But most importantly, more and more with each passing week, church feels as warm and cozy as…home.

Such was the atmosphere of our entire week together, and even though we were dead on our feet by 8:30 p.m. each night, it was glorious and the kind of stuff from which the sweetest memories are made.

And get this…aside from the nightly meals we shared together, the entire week cost us about $200. Get out, Jack!

And so I simply wanted to encourage you today. If you have the time and talent, if it brings you joy and peace, and if it helps you to meditate on the coming week of ministry, feel free to completely trick-out your VBS rooms with the coolest decorations you can dream of.

Likewise, when you are planning the format of your VBS – night or morning, 3 hours or 4 hours, meals or no meals – maintaining a spirit of love and unity, feel free to continue to do things as you’ve always done them or completely change the way you’ve done things before.

But if you find yourself getting edgy…

getting snippy…

sharing unkind and unnecessary opinions…

growing bitter at everyone else for not doing what you do…

feeling annoyed in any way at your church family…

fighting for your way more than you are working toward grace and unity…

take a step back and remember what weeks like VBS are supposed to be about: having fun, sharing the gospel, teaching young hearts, enjoying the brotherhood, and, mostly, saving young mothers like me from going off-the-charts insane in the midst of long summer days of heat and boredom.

Simple as that.

Regardless of what curriculum you use, let these things be the ANNUAL theme of your Vacation Bible School, and I promise you, it will be a roaring and happy success.

For, true to John 13:35, the children you are ministering to will be won to Christ FAR more by your love for one another than by the impressive and grandiose whirligigs you built in the church foyer or the tick-tock-timely manner in which your schedule runs. You can have all of the above, but never, ever sacrifice the former for the latter.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to conclude this happy ending by riding off into the sunset in my inflatable VBS car.

~

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