[My heart can’t let go of the tragedy that happened at First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX. Their pain has given reason to pause. Today, I reflect on the power of church and ask that we continue to pray for these fine families who have lost so very much. I know God is near to them and holds them close.]
“Grace. It is unearned love—the love that goes before, that greets us on the way. It’s the help you receive when you have no bright ideas left, when you are empty and desperate and have discovered that your best thinking and most charming charm have failed you. Grace is the light or electricity or juice or breeze that takes you from that isolated place and puts you with others who are as startled and embarrassed and eventually grateful as you are to be there.”
― Anne Lamott,
The Power of Church
“Don’t forget to grab the bags in the back,” my husband reminded me as let me out at the front door of our church.”
With three plastic bags filled with goodies to fill Thanksgiving baskets, I made my way into the foyer.
I could hear that the service had already started. Voices lifted in beautiful unison filled the air.
I dropped the bags in the collection bin and entered First Hall, the sanctuary of our church’s contemporary service.
Literally a hundred bags were filled to the brim. This is the power of church. Reaching out to help.
Why I Go to Church
As I walked in, children were assembling on the steps of the stage. Today was their day to share a choral arrangement they have been practicing on Wednesday evenings. Their faces and voices so pure. So hopeful. So alive. The entire world open before them. Some wiggled. One yawned a big yawn. And one sang louder than all the rest.
After a time of worship, a lovely little ten-year old girl, Bonnie, was baptized. On her birthday. Her countenance serious and her heart receptive. She walked down the steps of the platform holding her baptismal shell (the one used to pour the baptismal blessing water over her head), as if it were the holy tablets of the Ten Commandments. So reverent and serene. Something tells me this is a birthday she will always remember.
As Bonnie and her family found their seats, our pastor called another family forward. This time for healing prayer. Their sweet little toddling boy is heading to Boston for his third heart surgery. With great love, the pastor invited the congregation to come forward and lay hands on this family. To seek God’s help and healing on their behalf. As we surrounded this courageous family of four…heaven opened its arms and embraced us all. I looked around, for a second, soaking it all in. This is why I come to church. This is why I believe in God. This is what really matters in life. Being behind the mother holding their darling preschool daughter, my teary eyes met her big brown eyes. She was wide-eyed. She, too, taking it all in. Her wise little soul whirling with wonder.
What is she thinking? I thought. So many people. So many hands. So many words. So much faith.
I so wished my son’s drone had hovered above this scene, capturing the powerful presence of a community surrounding its own, because that is what a healthy, authentic church community does.
It loves others deeply. Extends grace. Welcomes with open arms. Speaks truth that is clothed with strength and dignity. Holds one another accountable. Leads by example. And, so much more.
Living in the Lavish Love and Grace of God
Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults.”
-1 Peter 4:8 (The Voice)
Reformer Martin Luther once said, “This grace of God is a very great, strong, mighty and active thing. It does not lie asleep in the soul. Grace hears, leads, drives, draws, changes, works all in man, and lets itself be distinctly felt and experienced. It is hidden, but its works are evident.”
This morning, Grace enveloped ordinary people and imparted something very hard to put into words. From small voices singing big, to a young heart bent low, to parents holding on tightly, Grace assured each of their hearts that they are not and never will be—alone. That no matter what Life unfolds before them, Grace will be a constant companion.
Maybe It’s Time to Come Home
If I’m honest, a few years ago I hit a spiritual rock bottom.
Hurtful words from a woman I thought I could trust served as an emotional tipping point in my life.
I couldn’t take anymore.
I found myself feeling a strong and very desperate urge to walk away from church.
Not from God or my deep faith in his Son, but “organized” church “systems.”
Until, one Saturday morning, I found a beautiful prayer retreat called, “Morning Aside,” led by one of my now favorite people.
In a quiet room, she spoke of healing prayer and God’s lavish grace. And then she invited me to her church.
The next morning, I braved my fears and decided to visit.
My husband and I have been there ever since.
My Prayer Today
Dear friends, I am so grateful God didn’t give up on me. That he opened heaven and embraced my broken heart. That really is his specialty. What if I had walked away? I would have missed this morning’s special presentation of God’s lavish love and grace. I would have missed the powerful spirit of authentic community.
More than anything, I don’t want you to miss experiencing this love, either. I’m not sure where you are on your spiritual journey. Maybe you’ve been hurt, too. Decided you are done with organized church systems. I understand. All I ask is that you consider coming home. Open your heart to the possibility of finding an authentic faith community, again. It does exist. The holidays are coming and churches open their doors wide, with special holiday services, children’s programs, community service projects/soup kitchens and so much more. Maybe this year, you’ll discover the power of church as your greatest gift.
Take your time. Visit as many as you need. Lean your ear towards heaven and listen closely. God’s whisper will come. Welcome home. Trust your heart here. I’m with you.
And, please know you are loved and that I am praying for you and your spiritual journey. If you can’t set aside your history of hurts, I can help or I can point you in the right direction.
P.S.S. It is my earnest desire to bring the healing words of this book to your church community. Schedule a book signing/meet and greet or live event, today. Let’s ignite a healing revolution! For more information, contact me right here: janellrardon.com/contact or firstname.lastname@example.org.