Playing in Church

Written on this date, four years ago – December 15, 2012 (This is scheduled to post automatically – I do not actually have internet access).

This morning, I played in church.  If the verb were qualified by an appropriate prepositional phrase (played on the piano…played during Sunday school…played after the service was finished), my name would be cleared, along with the ambiguous statement.  No such justification would be accurate, however.  I [Paulette, former well-trained child and later Bible school student] played [games] in [seated on a pew] church [Sunday morning service].

For the record, I did not play simply for the fun of it, nor was this play solitary.  I played with R_, a lovable boy who makes Black Friday shopping seem slow and boring.  He is always busy – thinking, analyzing, moving, talking, instigating, running, screaming, throwing, or disappearing.

Having R_ in church almost every week for the past 10 months has been an adventure for our whole church family.  It has stretched people’s tolerance, patience, and creativity past all previously-imagined limits.  We have changed and grown and become more like Jesus.  In accepting unorthodox behavior and welcoming a child society considers a challenge, we have, albeit imperfectly, made Jesus’ love real to this little boy, his equally-challenging sister and their family.

R_ has taught me so much about true worship and its ramifications.  I used to worship each Sunday by focusing on the sermon, thinking about the words of each song as we sang it, sharing a testimony occasionally, listening to other testimonies, joining my heart in prayer with Pastor.  That was good.  When R_ started sitting with me in church, sometimes I regretted the lack of worship, or felt guilty, as if something was amiss.  And to be honest, sometimes I allowed myself to feel a bit stressed or frustrated by R_’s behavior and the reactions of those around us.  But my perspective was blurred by my own expectations and definitions of worship.  That changed one Sunday morning, as I rubbed R_s feet and looked deep into his eyes, loving him, wishing I could undo all the hurt inflicted on him, yearning for him to know Jesus, wanting to do everything possible to help him make right choices.  As suddenly as a lightening bolt flashes across the sky, a thought flashed into my mind and heart, “This is how I worship God.”

Worship does not mean following form and ritual, saying or doing what is expected and prescribed.  Worship is living by Jesus and for Jesus in every situation, allowing Him to live and work through me.  Worship is obeying and living for God with everything I am, anywhere, in every way, and in relationship to everyone around me, with a heart that is devoted to Jesus first of all.  Worship takes place whenever we follow these commands,

Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.  1 Corinthians 10:31

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.  Colossians 3:17

Today I truly worshipped God.  This worship was disguised in unconventional actions…

  • singing Christmas carols with one eye on the words and another on R_(okay, pretty much both eyes on him)…
  • snuggling his little head in my lap during prayer time and using great restraint to keep from telling him “Please be quiet.  We don’t talk out loud while someone else is praying,” thus breaking the principle simply by stating it…
  • sitting in the very back pew, hoping we would distract less people there…
  • letting R_ comb my hair…
  • going up front for the children’s message to sit with R_ and help him listen instead of disrupt…
  • playing a Very Fun Game which consisted of using a hair barrette as a catapult to aim a foam letter into your playmate’s hands…
  • holding onto R_s legs tightly so he would stop making noise by kicking the wall with his boots…
  • leaving the sanctuary briefly during testimony time to clean up a mess we had accidentally made.

Did all of this feel like worship?  Not really.  Did it look like worship?  Not a chance.

However, worship is intended to encompass every area of life, every attitude of the heart, every word that is spoken, every action towards others.  It relates to every part of our lives, because whatever we do should be done to the glory of God.  Worship certainly includes singing, Bible reading, prayer, testimony, and other conventional spiritual exercises.  Yet these must not replace other forms of worship which include loving a child, reaching out, performing mundane daily tasks, helping a child make right choices, and sometimes, playing in church.

The Post of Christmas Present

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of sharing briefly with my church family via Skype.  It was wonderful to reconnect with voice and video.  I was reminded again of just what a special church the Lord allowed me to grow up in.  And he gave us an amazing pastor, who prays for me and even shepherds me long-distance.

After the videocall, I continued listening to the church service in my bedroom here in the city, black metal shutters closed to keep out the heat.  It also keeps the room dark, which was perfect for the two purple candles I planned to light for the second Sunday of Advent.

Looking around, I saw a mess, almost a disaster area.  There were reasons for that – fatigue, sewing projects, doctor’s appointments, phone calls, banking challenges.  But it really resembled a disaster area, with piles of papers, scraps of fabric, unfolded laundry.  And I wished the room was cleaner.  But even miles away from my Bethel church family, with no pew to sit in, I lit a match and set it to the candles.  In that moment, my heart stilled, and I forgot (or chose to ignore) the mess and the long to-do list.  And a sharp contrast caught my attention.

Light in the darkness.  Quietness.  Stillness.  Worship.  Moments of peace intentionally clutched from the grasp of life’s busy-ness.  Seeing Jesus only, when everything around screams for our attention.

Jesus reminded me that He came not only into the darkness, but also into the messiness, the busy-ness, the rush of this world.  Jesus the light.  Jesus our peace.  Jesus who holds all things together, even when we might think they are falling apart.

Jesus is the first and best Christmas present ever given.  He is also alive and real today, in our current, present, daily lives.  The following prophecy was written years before Jesus was born, but the first part is written in present tense, as Isaiah saw the future as the present, by faith in the facts that God supernaturally revealed to him.

 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6

And although we now look back at the historical, past event of Christ’s birth, we can also view it in the present.  He is no longer in the manger, but He still IS born to us.  He still IS the Son of God given as the Saviour to all who will believe.  Christmas present.  Jesus present.  God with us.  Emmanuel.

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Merry Christmas!  Feliz Natal!  From the on-site Neno team to our long-distance partners!  Remember that we consider you a vital part of this mission, because you are!  May our lives always be centered on Jesus – worshipping Him and making Him known.  

We head back to the village tomorrow, bright and early!  Yes, I should be sleeping, not writing.  If any of my thoughts above are incoherent, please dismiss them and forgive the unclear writing.  And the Post of Christmas Future will just have to wait.  Please stay tuned for it’s appearing, as well as other updates, probably January 7th or so.

The Post of Christmas Past

The Shepherds Who Missed the Manger

written in December of 2014, edited a few weeks ago

‘Tis the season of children’s Christmas programs and musicals.  Other years I have written and organized such productions; this year I merely dreamed of one.  And this was what I dreamed…

Dressed in a tunic, a yard of cheap fabric wrapped around my head, I was a shepherd, surrounded by a group of smaller shepherds, little friends who were also part of the church’s Christmas program.  We were sitting in the shadows just offstage, waiting for the moment when we would enter the scene, to worship the baby Jesus, the Saviour whose birth the angels had announced.

But we missed our big debut.  As we waited for the right time to go onstage, the program continued without us.  The wise men, who traveled from afar, arrived at the manger, while we sat quietly on the sidelines.  As all the cute little angels, wise men, animals, Mary and Joseph sang the final song, we realized we had somehow ignored the cue given by the play director.  We had missed our moment to enter the story and be part of the celebration of Jesus’ birth!

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Two adorable “Lowly Animals” from last year’s Christmas play.

I woke from my dream, sad and confused.  How had it happened?  How had I failed to pay attention to the cues that our director had trained us to notice?  How had all of our reasonably successful rehearsals culminated in such utter disaster?

Worse yet, it was not just me.  All the smaller shepherds had been watching my actions, waiting for my lead to enter the scene, go worship Jesus, and then spread the news through the streets of Bethlehem!  When I failed to play my part, they failed to play theirs.  Thus, we all missed out.  Even if we couldn’t remember exactly when we were supposed to go onstage, it surely would have been better to take a risk and enter at any moment during the production, rather than stay backstage.

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Shepherds Forever, they will be.  Three real friends, who did enter the scene of our Christmas drama last year, playing (and singing) their parts well.

Have you ever imagined yourself in the Christmas story?  I like to imagine that we are the shepherds.  Like them, we are quite average and ordinary, caught up in our daily activities of work, community, family and responsibility.  God took the initiative to come to us, just as He took the initiative to go to the shepherds.  One night that seemed like any other night, as they watched their flocks, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, saying,

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.   And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.  Luke 2:10-14

True, we don’t receive angelic visitors in the middle of the night, giving us a GPS location to track Jesus with our phones.  But through God’s word, through friends who told us about Jesus, and through the personal ways He has worked in each of our stories, God has made known the incredible news that to US a Saviour has been born.  This Saviour came to save us from our sins, bring us into God’s family, give us unparalleled joy, and fill our hearts with true and lasting peace.  And this good, wonderful, terrific news is for all people living in the world today, just as relevant and life-changing as it was two thousand years ago.

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The crazy, busy, stressed Innkeeper’s Wife and Narrator/Play Director, post-production.

This is our moment.  Our time to enter the Christmas story is today.  If we hesitate or ignore the ways God is trying to get our attention this holiday season, we might miss a glorious opportunity scripted by Jesus Himself.  But He gives each of us the freedom to choose how we will react and respond to the good tidings of the angel.

What will your choice be?  Will you ignore the message completely, and go on with life as normal?  Or will you stay backstage in the shadows, waiting until you are certain that the timing is right, that the situation is perfect?  Or will you get up and go to Jesus in faith, believing the Word of God, which declares that that He came to save you from your sin, and that He is the only way to God?  Will you take risks if necessary, leaving your place of comfort and security to worship and obey the Lord, whatever He asks you to?

That’s what the real shepherds did, saying,

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.  And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.  And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.”

My Thankful Card

It is part of Thanksgiving every year, whether celebrated on the traditional date or Columbus Day weekend, be it in Lowville or Martinsburg or Weston.  Empty index cards are handed out while the turkey is roasting, wherever Quinns and Crosses are gathered for the three-day-long festivity called “Thanksgiving,” since we all know that everything included in our highly-evolved definition of the holiday cannot be crammed into Thursday alone.

No one eats Thanksgiving Dinner until the basket has been passed around, and each cousin, sibling, parent, aunt, uncle, and grandparent has dropped their written and folded card into it.  My mom makes sure no one skips out on this important tradition.  Her annual instructions to the procrastinators are the same as always, “Write what you’re thankful for.  No dinner until everyone gives me their cards!”

At some point in the afternoon or evening, while bellies are still full of stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, and pie, the annual reading of The Thankful Cards is officially begun.  Our dad has been the designated reader as long as I can remember.  He takes one card at a time, and reads what is written.  We do not put our names on these cards, so the rest of the family tries to guess who wrote each Thankful Card.  Some family members try to express their gratitude in ways that will not “give themselves away,” too easily, while others do not care if their card is identified after the first word or phrase.

The history of Thankful Cards has included alphabetic lists, acrostics, transcribed random phrases from one-year-olds who didn’t understand the game at all, patriotic poetry, and other spurts of creativity.  A dog or other pet, with assistance from their owner, might have contributed a card a time or two as well.  It is a traditon that causes us to reflect, makes us laugh, sparks creativity, and points us to God, the Giver of every good thing in our lives.

Looking back to Thanksgiving’s origins, God brought the Pilgrims to the New World and blessed them, preserving their colony through great hardship.  They worshipped Him by being thankful, celebrating, and spending time with each other and their new friends, Samoset, Tisquantum, and the Wampanoag people.  God has brought each one of us on a journey throughout this past year as well, some more dramatic than others, but all involving both hardship and blessing.  We too can worship Him by being thankful, celebrating, and spending time with the family or friends around us.

This year, on the fourth Thursday of November, I ate scrambled eggs and noodles and a carrot.  It was the first morning I woke up in the adorable little house God blessed me with, which was a fun way to start Thanksgiving Day!  In the midst of unpacking boxes and organizing and hosting an unofficial open house which started with a visit at 6 AM, food was not really a priority.  My favorite Thanksgiving dinner menu items are not re-creatable in the jungle anyway.  And although I love the foods that are consumed at a traditional Quinn/Cross clan gathering (we can fit lots of feasting and desserts and snacks into three days, after all), the holiday is not primarily about food or menus.

Thanksgiving is about two things – Thankfulness and Family.

And although my stomach was empty of turkey or cranberry sauce or stuffing or apple pie or peanut butter cookies or Italian sausage or lima bean casserole or pepperoni or coffee cake, my heart was full to overflowing with gratitude, joy, and thankfulness.  Since last Thanksgiving, God has blessed me more abundantly than I could have imagined.  How does He manage to bless me in new and surprising ways every single year?  What a loving, giving Heavenly Father!

So of course I wrote a Thankful Card.  Actually, I had typed it on the computer about a week before Thanksgiving, in hopes of getting a chance to send it to my dad, so he could write it on a card and put it in the basket for everyone to guess.  That plan was a fail, because the temporary internet signal at the school outside the village stopped working, but at least I tried.  We take this game seriously, people.  And we are serious about being thankful.  My cousin proved this fact as well.  Although she and her new husband couldn’t travel to Martinsburg this year, the two of them sent their pre-written Thankful Cards with my aunt and uncle, along with a lovely, decorated box for my mom to keep the cards in afterwards.

 

Despite the thousands of miles between me and the dear ones I love, our simple, shared tradition of Thankful Cards connected us in a way that helped me feel just a little closer to them.  Near or far, we are family, and family is forever.

Thanksgiving has passed, but it is never too late to stop, reflect, count your blessings, and thank God.  Have you done that in the last week or two?  Here’s a challenge for you.  Grab an index card and a pen.  Take a few minutes and write what YOU are thankful for this year.  You can even post it as a comment here if you would like to share!  If not, just do it for the sake of personal reflection, recording your life story, and thanking God.  Here is what I wrote this year.  (The underlining is to make it look sort of like an index card).

                                          My Thankful Card

I am thankful for a new house, new job, new coworkers, new friends, new language, new adventures, new opportunities to grow and learn and change,

and for new challenges which push me far past the limits of my own wisdom and strength straight into dependence on the grace and enabling of God, my loving Heavenly Father.

I am thankful that although His mercies are new every morning, Jesus Himself is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

I am thankful that God our Creator gave us His eternal Word, preserved throughout history and translated into our language.  I am thankful that this Word continues to change and direct my life each day, and also transforms hearts and families and cultures around the world, all the way to the Amazon rainforest (had to throw that in somewhere!).

I am thankful that Jesus came to save the world from sin, and give new life to all who believe –  abundant life in Him and through Him.

I am thankful for the dear family I love and miss more than words on a card could ever say, and thankful for the many traditional holidays, special celebrations and crazy memories we have shared over the years.

You are faraway in miles this Thanksgiving but are forever close to my heart.  I am thankful to any of you who will eat (on my behalf, obviously) an extra bit of turkey, homemade roll, serving of cranberry sauce, spoonful of stuffing, piece of coffeecake, or slice of apple pie.