Sunday, April 29, 2012

Church Woes

We moved to this area over 12 years ago, effectively moving too far away from our church at the time to continue to attend there.  Though we did go sporadically for awhile, various life issues made it pretty rare, and eventually we turned to trying to find a local church that we could go to.  Two good, solid attempts were made, each church that we attended we probably stayed at for about a year or more each.  We gave it enough time to really try to make it work, and in both cases, we realized it couldn't.

By then there was a new church plant that had branched off of our original church, and was close enough that we could possibly go.  We visited one week and it felt like a "click" for us--especially for our then 12 year old son who had started to really dislike the close-to-home church we had been going to.  We were looking at him, our oldest child, about to be in the teen years, and figured that hating your church was not a good thing, so we made the leap and dug in to the new church plant, even though it was a 30 minute drive from home.

Here we are 7+ years later, and again things are different.  Our hectic school year and resulting fatigue and overload has contributed to us probably only making it to church 3 or 4 times since last August.  Our kids never seemed to care, and other than some obligatory guilt, neither did my husband or I.  When we would make it to church we mainly felt like nobody cared if we were there or not, and for whatever reason, none of my kids seemed to have meaningful friendships with any of the kids there.  By now my oldest, who was one of the biggest reasons we went to that church in the first place, is now grown up, working, and not really interested in attending church there (or anywhere) any more, so he's no longer a factor in our church decisions.  The few friends that my current 13 year old child did have through church was complicated by the fact that *that* family had left our church recently, so not there isn't even anybody in the youth group age bracket that he is connected to or wants to see.  When the youth group schedule was changed in such a way as to make it even more difficult for our family to have any chance of participation, my 16 year old daughter told me that she didn't even care, and that she had no interest in going to any of the youth group stuff anyhow.

Alrighty then.

My younger kids, despite there being a large focus in this church of having things that are quite "hip" and geared toward their gender and age group, didn't really like it, were loathe to participate in most of what was going on at church, and always expressed relief when each Sunday rolled around and they found out that we were staying home (again).  Strangely, even after all the years of a small group type format in their kids church, not a single one of my kids made a significant friend at church.  Not a one of them.  Weird.

So all of this has given some food for thought.  What the heck are we going to do about church?

If it was just about me, I'd probably just not bother with church for the foreseeable future, quite honestly.  I feel like my ideas and beliefs have evolved to a point that I don't know where I could go to church and feel like it makes sense for me.  My husband tends to not want to admit any church apathy of his own, but his lack of motivation in going to church tells the truer tale, I think.

Regardless, we have children that still need to be reared, and my upbringing (I suppose) makes me feel that church should be a part of that.  Say what you want to about fundamentalist churches.  For me, growing up in churches and with a school that got me memorizing scripture, knowing every basic Bible story, knowing the books of the Bible by heart and being fast at "sword drills," knowing hymns and choruses by heart, knowing the Romans Road and the sinners prayer, understanding my childhood denomination's stance on various theological issues...all of that has been uploaded into my brain and is in there, for better or for worse.  I'm reminded that whether I do or do not go to church as an adult, I already have a whole lot of Bible and God stuff inside of me that influences who I am and what I do and what I believe. I guess I would consider it a benefit that I have so much of all of that as a foundational part of my understanding of Christianity.

What I often think about, though, is that my kids haven't really had that.  Churches have changed a lot, and we haven't been to ones that focuses on Bible memory and Bible stories and spiritual fundamentals all that much.  Certainly they've gotten a decent amount of those things, but nothing even close to what I grew up with.  I don't know what kind of outcome (I don't even know if that's the right way to say it) to expect if my younger kids don't get more.

Periodically I've considered sending them to Wednesday night stuff at our local Baptist church, thinking it might just be a good booster shot of fundie stuff that they aren't otherwise getting.  Alas, they don't want to go, and our schedule couldn't bear one more thing anyhow.

Several weeks ago I found out about a church about 15 minutes away that sounded like it had a balance of casualness, societal awareness, and hopefully not oppressive conservativeness.  We ended up deciding to go check it out.  We already know a family there, so my kids were walking into having friends in their classes, which was a plus, especially for my teenagers.  On the first week all 5 kids seemed very happy.  My younger boys were excited to have learned about Ruth in their Sunday School class.  My teens seemed happy and eager to get a parental commitment on whether or not we would continue to go there.  Through the week they even started referring to our regular church as "our old church."  We attended again today, and the kids liked it again.  But for me, personally, there was so much stuff that left me feeling blah, and then the more I thought about it, the more worked up and negative I felt.

The adult Sunday school class I attended (both weeks) had no depth and dealt with no real issues, real questions, or real problems.  I would expect a deeper class than that for elementary school kids.  Why on earth people even older than me would need a bunch of trite, pat answers to stuff that isn't even reality, I have no idea.  I honestly do not think I could endure going to a class like that for very many weeks.  At least at the church I (don't) go to, people talk about real issues, aren't afraid of not having the "right" answers for everything, and can talk openly about stuff that they think about and struggle with. This was worse than fluff, and I find that really, really meaningless.  Plus annoying.

The sermon was ok, but again, felt lacking in depth.  The pastor was pleasant, seemed very sincere and seemed very nice.  But I felt like everything he said was very safe, and that there were many times throughout his sermon that he could have been more personal or vulnerable, but he never did step into those opportunities, so it came across as pretty clinical to me.  I don't have to have a dazzling speaker, but I do want something that seems real and honest, and something substantial and thought-provoking wouldn't hurt either.  He also talked about the importance of going to Sunday School and Wednesday night services, because they were so enriching, blah blah blah.  Yeah, well, I could get greater spiritual enlightenment out of a good hot soak in the bathtub.  And eventually it was mentioned that the Wednesday night Bible study was about creation, which didn't exactly sound spiritually enriching nor life-enhancing to me.  (and the youth group, lawsie lawsie, is doing a several-week Wednesday night series about sex, and I sure as shootin' ain't going to send my two teens into a group of kids they barely know, with a youth leader than hasn't even made the effort to say hello to me for two weeks in a row, to talk about not having sex, etc.  No thank you.  We will not be participating.)  If this is the best this church has to offer for spiritual enrichment and ways to "connect" with other people, I fear this is going to be some dry bones for me.  Add in the fact that my schedule ended up getting *worse* for the summer, instead of less crazy--I am even less inclined to have one more place to go, one more day for lunch to be chaos and kids to be moaning about how HUNGRY they are on the way home.  I absolutely hate this whole combination of stuff and wonder whose bright idea was it to make church end after normal lunch time?  I wish there was a Saturday night church someplace around here....

There were other things, less glaring, but still felt a little -blah- to me.  While I was treated very kindly by senior citizens, I didn't have a single woman near my own age say hello to me or take any interest in me whatsoever.  (My friend that I know there did take us under her wing and was great--no problem with her or her family at all.)  There are wretched donuts on hand, which I would prefer to not have my kids eating or tempted by.  And--petty though it may be--the screen for the music is so high that it hurt my neck to look up at it, and the background behind the words on the screen moved around so much it made me dizzy and I had to not look at it very much.  Made me feel like a total geezer!  The fact that I don't know hardly any of the songs that they sing isn't helpful either.  There was already a little girl flirting with my boys while they were trying to participate in singing (the songs that we do not know).  She was batting her eyes and tapping them on the shoulders and generally being distracting.  She was kinda young, and I found myself wondering where the heck her parents were and why she was free to just come busting into our row to mess with my kids.  Ugh.  I do not feel like putting up with this stuff.

But there are my kids, thinking that maybe they just got themselves a new church to go to.

What do I do?  What do I do!?  They had recently been feeling a need for church (especially my 13 year old), and this is one they can walk into and feel comfortable with right away thanks to the friends they already have there.  They like it and are asking to go back.  Do I accept this as a parental duty and just take them?  Do we try to redouble our efforts at our church of the last 7 years, and see what can be done to make ourselves feel at home there?  (except, of course, that none of my kids are feeling connected there after 7 years, so.....what are the chances of that happening now?)  I don't know which aspects to give priority to.  At our 7 year church we have relationships with some of those people that go back 20 years.  As I've mentioned in past posts, I take relationship longevity seriously.  I wouldn't want to walk away from that lightly.  Except of course for the fact that really, we already have, just by pulling so far back that now there are a bunch of new people there who would think that *we* are visitors if we showed up.

I know that we don't want to go on an all-out church hunt.  The only reasons we even visited this church was because it is a fairly new church that wasn't even in existence last time we looked for a church closer to home, and it sounded more balanced than most, and like it might be similar to what we have been used to.  We hate church hunting and don't like jerking our kids around, either.  It does seem like, spiritually-speaking, that all (or most) of our 5 younger kids are in need of a change and could stand to have something new injected into their church experience.  I feel like if we haven't seen strong (or even mediocre) results after 7 years where we've been, it's probably time to admit that and mosey along.  But I feel like the options for me personally are rather bleak.  I realize that it *could* get better with time, and that two weeks isn't enough time to know everything.  I did like the mix of ages at this church. I liked it that it is much more racially diverse than other church options we have available.  I like it that we have one good friendship with a family there for starters.  I like it that the kids would actually be making friendships with kids that live in our general area, which was not the case in our 7-year church.  It's not all bad.  Just feels like I might have to check my brain at the door and add one more dutiful item to the long list of motherly duties I already perform in my life.  It would be nice to not feel like that about church.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012


I saw this today:

"Compassion means to become close to the one who suffers. 
But we can come close to another peron 
only when we are willing to become vulnerable ourselves. 
A compassionate person says: '
I am your brother; 
I am your sister; 
I am human, 
and mortal,
 just like you. 
I am not scandalized by your tears, nor 
afraid of your pain...'" 
~Henri Nouwen

It makes me think that there is no "safe" middle ground for me.  No way to be compassionate and have empathy, without also feeling pulled into vulnerability and pain.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Time Has Not Healed This Wound

My fourth child was born 3 months early.  I've told the story here.  For years I could not look at a photo of a premature baby--any baby--without crying at the sight.  For years it seemed like the event of Isaac's birth and the surrounding months was some sort of touchstone:  Before that happened.  and After that happened.

When we were in the NICU I would sometimes think that someday in the future, maybe when Isaac turned 1 or 2 or 3, I would take him back there and announce ourselves so the nurses and doctors on duty could have the fun of coming out to see what a strong and healthy boy he had become.  I saw people doing that while I was there, and the staff told me how much they loved those reunions; how it inspired them to remember that the small babies in their care would grow up and many of them would be just fine. They told me they hoped we would come back, send cards, and let them know how our story turned out.

When year one approached, I thought about taking him back.  Even being in the same general building for checkups in the NICU Grad Clinic felt much too close for me.  I didn't think I could walk down those familiar NICU halls or speak to the medical staff without just crying my heart out.

I felt the same every single time I have ever considered taking him on a here's-where-you-started-your-life tour.

I thought I might have gotten past that, until today.

Today Isaac is 12 years old.  I don't remember the last time that I thought of my timeline in terms of Before and After that happened.  On the way to our homeschool group this morning, we were hastily trying to figure out what we would do for our class presentations, since we hadn't planned or practiced any.  For Isaac, I suggested, "Maybe since it's your birthday you could talk about your unique start in life.  You could tell about how you were so little that your biggest brother said you could fit into a tissue box.  You could tell about how you were such a rambunctious little squirt that the nurses would constantly find you having scootched your way into a corner of your "bread box" isolette."

He liked the idea, but didn't have time to organize all of the ideas, so I offered to write up his presentation for him and give it to him in time to present it.

I wrote it.

I gave it to him.

The time came.

He began:

"Today is my 12th birthday, so I'm going to talk to you about my unusual start in life.  Most babies spend 9 month growing inside of their mother before they are born, but I was born after just 6 months...."

and I started to cry.

It was both surprising, shocking, and familiar.  The stark sadness of the words that I myself had written just a few minutes before jumped right out at me as if it was fresh, bad news.

Why didn't I know this would happen?!  I'm not going to be able to pull out of it.....

Poor kid.  He got about one sentence farther in his presentation, to the first giggle about the tissue box, when he looked up at me and saw me crying.

That did it.

I was blinded by my tears at that point, but next thing I knew Isaac was making a beeline straight for my arms, both of us crying and crying.

Phew.  Lawsie.   Gotta take another deep breath.

Thankfully, we have a very kind, supportive, and polite group of boys and moms in our class.  They were the perfect combination of sensitive, understanding, and kind while moving on to something else while Isaac and I sat, intertwined and crying, for at least 20 minutes.

Just when I think we've moved past the pain;  just when I think it's far enough in the past that it won't jump up and bite....Boom!  There it is.

And it was today.

Many people go through things so, so much worse than what we endured.  Many people do not get the excellent outcome that we have experienced with our son.  Yet, "logical" or not--the pain is real, the trauma can still be raw, and time has not yet healed this wound.

I know what it is

I figured out what it is.  About the domestic violence situation and my felt need to separate myself from her choice to go back.

Here it is:  For over three years, whatever situation she's been in, I've "been there" with her via the texts, emails, chats, and phone calls.  I've spent time wondering if she was safe, worrying about what would happen when he got angry at her again, concerned for the safety of the little children involved.

When she left, the relief and happiness I felt was because, in a way, I was leaving too.

And when she went back, I felt like she was asking me to go back with her.  And I can't.  I won't.  She may choose to go back, but I do not want to go back to hell with her.