Sunday, January 19, 2014

She was THERE!

So some of you are aware that Bill & I have been lackadaisically looking for a new church home for a few years now.  Long story and old news, so I won't get into it here.  Hubby moved around so much as he was growing up that it's easier for him to feel God in strange places, so he's been letting me figure out where I feel the most comfortable.  Anyway, I haven't yet found a place that screamed out 'HOME' to me. Strange, perhaps, but I've been waiting for some kind of significant statement, feeling, sign, SOMETHING to say "stick around" at a particular church.

One of our family goals for 2014 is to find that home, no more putting it off and sleeping in on Sundays!  We've made a list and are visiting twice. Thanks to a timely invite from Jessica, her church jumped the line.  Divine Appointment, methinks.  My soul desperately needed the balm of corporate worship today.  (Everyday, really, but especially after this week.)

CONFESSION TIME:  After growing up in a liturgical church with all the bells, whistles & formality that comes with being a conservative Presby maverick congregation, I sometimes struggle with churches lacking in the 'trappings' that I've always equated with church services.  I miss the robes, the processional, the organ, the chancel steps & altar cloths.  I miss the rarified air of a church building with pews and hymnals tucked into them.  I know it's superficial.  I do.  Really.  I don't want a replica of the church in which I was raised...there were many challenges, there, too.  As you know from my last post, I resigned my membership shortly before my marriage (more old news).  It is easy to become enamored of the trappings themselves and forget to focus on the One those things are meant to magnify.  But still I miss them sometimes.  Oh, the blessing of voices raised to sing the Lord's Prayer together!

This area is full of lovely churches in lovely little church buildings.  Also full of churches held in borrowed school buildings.  I usually gravitate toward churches in their own buildings--hard to transport a pipe organ in a church truck--but we've visited congregations of all sorts.  Today was the first time I entered a church in a school building and felt like I was actually entering a church sanctuary.  There was an almost tangible change in the atmosphere of that school auditorium-- I found myself expecting a sermon and not a lecture on bullying prevention.  I settled in to worship, comfortable in a way I hadn't been a long time.

I've spent a lot of time this week wishing I'd been in touch with Linda more, appreciating the blessing of her friendship and mentorship. She's been there for me--even discussing this problem we've had finding a church home--and has often been a spiritual reference point for Bill & I.  What Would Linda Think of this church?  Weird, but whatever works, right?  You will probably think this is weirder, then...

Partway through the service, a woman walked down the aisle to rejoin her family; if I hadn't known that Linda was already with her Heavenly Family, I really would have thought she was visiting the same church.  Seriously.  Same hairstyle as the last photos I've seen.  Same color palette, same posture. My eyes teared and I wondered if I was just seeing things--but her hair bobbed to the music and nodded during the sermon.  Gift from God #1...that somehow, Linda was there with me, enjoying the sermon as I had.  (Don't worry, my friends, I know it wasn't her in the flesh!)  Today's sermon was wonderful...laced with humor and depth!...and about the sovereignty of God and how sometimes that is tough to swallow.  Linda would have liked it...her absolute faith and confidence in God's sovereignty AND His Grace would have been pleased by today's lesson.

Gift from God #2:  The Benediction.  Something I've oft missed in my visiting.  Who knew that not all churches close with a Benediction???  And this one, today?  The one that defines Benediction in my memories, my heart and my mind; these are the words that, to me, are "The Benediction."  The God of Comfort knew I needed to hear familiar and meaningful words today and He gave them to me.

Are these signs that I've found a new home?  Only God knows, today, but He has given me the comfort of knowing that there IS a church family out there for our family.   Thank you, God.  And thank you, Linda, for showing me that you are already looking out for me and my family.  (And thank you Sovereign Grace folks for bidding me welcome as a stranger in your midst.)


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It Had to Happen

I met her when I was 6 years old.  She seemed rather old to me even then, but perhaps it was her wise soul that made her seem so.  I prayed the "Sinner's Prayer" at her knee during a Children's Sermon and grew in faith every Sunday and Wednesday thanks to her tireless efforts as the Children's Education Director at our fledgling church.  Covenant Presbyterian was, back then, a small but sturdy set of believers who had broken away from the Presbytery...a mighty maverick church in the making.

In every child who came through the doors of that converted bar, she instilled a strong faith and steady confidence in the promises of God.  And reminded us that "a little child shall lead them"  encouraging all of us to be brave in our sharing of the faith.  And even as she was a shining neon sign pointing to Him, she had struggles of her own.  As we grew and came to understand more, her strength became an inspiration because we saw that her faith had survived the devastating loss of a child.

On Confirmation Sunday, it was her beaming face we sought in the congregation (after our parents', of course!).

She prayed with our parents as we navigated our teenage years. She prayed with us when we brought her our trials, no matter how silly.  By taking these things seriously, she taught us to lean on Him for everything.

When we were young women, she was there for us girls, praying over us...even as she grieved her daughter. God knew we all needed each other.  Her home was a haven--and often the residence!--for most amongst us.  (I used to address her mail to "Wests' Wayside Wigwam for Wonderful Women.") Rarely did it occur to us not to include her in our plans.  And it was there, in her own home, that we learned of her greater grief, an unbelieving husband.  And we learned to pray for our mentor.  And to pray for Godly men to come alongside and share our lives, knowing that it had been her earnest prayer for so long.

When my church refused to allow me to marry there, it was she who came to my side to help plead my case with the Session.  It was she who knew my heart.  And it was she who comforted me when I turned in my treasured church key and letter of resignation from the congregation.  And it was she who knew me well enough to choose to gift my husband and I with her take on Ephesians 5:22 - 33 at our wedding reception:

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[b] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Five children, 4 moves and almost 20 years later, her encouragement and exhortations from that day are oft repeated in our household. "What would Linda say?" is a frequent query between my husband and a loving way, of course!

She rejoiced over the birth of each of our children.  When Patrick was first diagnosed and I was wrestling my faith, she reminded me that I had chose James 1:12 as my Life Verse during Confirmation Class...and then gave me the rest of that passage:  
 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.
Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. 11 For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business.
12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
Linda West, 1994
You know, Pastor thought it an odd choice for a 13 year old.  I remember telling him that I knew the road ahead might not be easy, and so I was just getting ready.  Eighteen years later, Linda remembered that discussion and helped me see that He was readying me for motherhood and the special blessing of a son with bonus features.

On Easter Sundays, it is Linda's voice I hear in my memory, calling out across the churchyard "He is RISEN!" and  "He is risen INDEED!"

Linda entered hospice today.

He is calling her Home.

Linda, thank you for building the foundation of my faith by living yours.  See you in Heaven.