Surprised by Church

They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers. Acts 2:42, The Message

‘Why do we have to go?’
‘Because they’re family that’s why.’
They’re weird, there’s always lima beans, and I would rather stay home.
I only say this in my head about the family reunion because it’s rude as a child to say the thing everyone is already thinking.
Bound by blood, obligation and corn casserole to be together, we go. And there we meet with family to which one senses a magnet’s pull to be around and whose smile across the room feels sun-warm on the face and also those you walk the long way ‘round to get tea because they always look grumpy like they just ate a spoon full of poop. And still others you have no idea why you’re related and you ask how again every year. They tell you how tall and pretty-as-a-picture you’re getting, where they think you got your nose, and they never fail to mention how tight your pants are.
This is family.
It’s unexpectedly hard and surprisingly wonderful.

******

Ask a grown woman how much she weighs and you’ll likely get less of a reaction than asking one fresh-moved if they’ve found a church home yet. The process can be a near beatdown for families a little undone by change and I’ll admit we moved to town last year ruined by the last one we attended.
It was the first time church had ever felt like home to me.
I always cry during any service, I can never help it. And over the course of a year of visiting new churches, sometimes I cried because I was moved by worship and sometimes I cried in the missing of our sweet community left behind and the tears just ran together. Are we being picky? Is the culture of church changing? Are we trying hard enough? Is the church trying at all?
Yes to all.
They’re weird, there’s always lima beans, and I would rather stay home.
And the dread to go becomes stronger than the desire and we find ourselves staying home some Sunday mornings because it’s raining and there’s a sad kind of relief in this. My family feels slingshotted out into the blazing atmosphere as a lone comet without our community. Some days it burns the same way.
I am surprised at how hard this is.
After all, we are just garden-variety sinners looking for other fallen people to be with.

******

I walk through my backyard gardens several times a day to check for new growth, the gardens’ and my own. Big fanny in the air, nose near the ground, deadheading the carnations and I hear:
I want you to love My church well.
I straighten and look towards the river as if the words had come from over there, maybe hoping it was from a strange neighbor calling up. But I know it is from One I cannot ignore and I sink low again, slowly, and pick over the dahlias now.
I do.
I do love the church.
I want you to love My church well.
Hearing the words again, I feel a mile-wide gap in my own reply. I love church because the Bible tells me so and I’ve genuinely loved a few we’ve been a part of. But maybe mostly I’ve loved the idea of the church with the eyes of a fickly hearted little girl loves a Prince who rescues her and then turns out to be a perfect human. Old wounds, my rebel’s yell, and a low grade fever that’s been running seeing the body of Christ air family business to a watching world on Twitter since the election has kept me mostly heartsick.
I consider for a long time Christ’s bride: a peculiar set of people, His beloved.
I am surprised at this request.
I take it to mean something.
It always does.
And right there in the dirt a new hope begins to stir alongside a familiar brand of protective love and the gladiolas.

*****

‘Who are we having dinner with tonight?’ my youngest asks from her usual perch watching my hands snip lettuce into a bowl.
‘I don’t even know. They’re perfect strangers.’
‘What!’
I explain to her that a family we don’t even know from the church we visited the last Sunday sent me a message by Facebook asking if our family would like to come to their house for dinner.
‘They don’t even know us. Why do they want to have dinner? What if they’re weird?’
‘What if we’re weird?’ I counter.
‘We are,’ she says. I agree and we laugh.
‘Isn’t it the kindest thing you’ve ever heard of?’ She nodded softly and I knew she was marveling same as me.
An hour later we showed up at the strangers’ house…yet we recognized our kin. We prayed and we broke an entire loaf of bread and we spread out scripture in the air between us while the kids listened in and we had real Mexican popsicles and conversation.
I ate so much I thought I might die…but my heart was even fuller and I thought to myself with a small secret smile, ‘Now isn’t this church?’
And there was one part of me that felt caught off guard with the sweet gift we’d been given…and one part that expected it.
Because this is family.

*****

For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities but the Body of Christ, in which all members, however different, (and He rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences. ~C.S. Lewis

9 COMMENTS

  1. Alex Cornett | 3rd May 17

    This was so helpful. Thank you.

    • Melissa Blair | 3rd May 17

      Alex,
      Thank you so much for having us. I will never forget your kindness…It was very simple and very profound for us. You do good things with the eating and talking and stuff 🙂

  2. Susan | 3rd May 17

    Oh my goodness, Melissa. This is nothing short of beautiful.

    • Melissa Blair | 3rd May 17

      And your words are nothing short of a gift to me today. I read them in a parking lot because I got an email alert and I just smiled and thought about you the whole way home. And it was a drive. So thank you. Your encouragement means something to me. Talk soon 😉

  3. Heather | 3rd May 17

    Such a great column. There so many reasons to line up excuses not to make church/mass. You said with such ease in one breath of air the best reason for all of us to make it to church. Maybe we are the one that extends the invitation or the one looking for an outreached hand – both are equally critical but more importantly what we are called to do.

    • Melissa Blair | 3rd May 17

      Hi. I miss you. Thank you for this today. We are called, aren’t we? It’s a pain and a privilege–just like all our great loves that take deep commitment and bring great joy. Gosh. Have I told you I miss you lately?

  4. erika | 4th May 17

    This hits the nail on the head. I remember in college it was cool to just say we were into Jesus — not Christians, but Christian had such a negative connotation. But I’ve come full circle, because I know God loves the mess and that we shouldn’t expect those in the church to be any better — we’re all sinners, those in the church are just hopefully there because they see their sin and the need for the Savior.

    I’m so glad that you were blessed!

  5. Jamie S Harper | 5th May 17

    Very beautiful as always.

  6. Eliza | 9th May 17

    Thanks for this. So hard when the home that is church becomes a little lost, whether because of a move or simply the busyness of life and a weary heart. Miss you down here. Praying for sweet connection for both of us. May we love the church well.

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