Category Archives: church

Outside the Church Doors Do the doors of your church swing wide for all?

old church doors

I park, grab my Bible, jaunt down the sidewalk, excited for Sunday’s service. A woman is pacing in front of the stairs that lead to the towering doors of our 110-year-old church.  church doors

“Good morning,” I say, ignoring her body language, begging to be left unseen.  church doors

She nods.

“Are you thinking about coming inside?”

“I’m not dressed proper.”  church doors

“We’re a “come as you are church,” so you’re dressed perfectly. Come on in, it’s hot out.”

Red-faced from heat and anxiety, she follows me through the doors. I wink at my husband who knows the signal for “just ignore that I am not sitting with you.” He’s our Sunday guy, arriving hours ago. The one who opens the doors, turns on the essence of air conditioning unit and does whatever behind the scenes stuff needs done.  church doors

I learn my new friend’s name is Dahlia. She likes extra cream and Splenda in her coffee and my red hair. During worship, she apes my every move. I stand, she stands. I sit, she sits. My hands raise, so do hers. I hate that she feels there are rules or standards she must abide to be accepted. When the sermon begins she hands me a small plastic crucifix. It looks as if an 18-wheeler ran over it, twice. Sipping her coffee she asks, “Is this Catholic?”  church doors

Quiet as possible, we talk about the cross is for everyone. She asks more questions, the kind you’d travel across the world to answer. A well-known local homeless fellow to my left shushes us. Before my apology nod is complete, Dahlia yells, “shut-up!”  church doors

Then he calls her a nasty name.  church doors

Eyes move from Pastor to our side of the congregation. I laugh, rather loud, partly from anxiety but also because I admit the messy situation amused me. Granted, I’d rather be viewing than performing the scene.

The good news is, we all survived, together as the church; a building packed with all types of people, each with their own flavor of imperfection, seeking a common goal—God.

You see, Dahlia is not that odd.

I know. Years ago, when I walked through the doors of this same church, I sat in the balcony staring down at the seemingly angelic beings. One woman, a good friend today, swayed and raised her arms with such joy. I was certain she was born from a Teflon womb, void of any crust or stain and raised with parents who spoke volumes of kind words derived out of pure thoughts. Later I learned, she’d struggled with addictions and brokenness—like me.

Truth be told, a lack of church upbringing is more normal than we’d like to think. Of course, there were occasions of church, like funerals, weddings, sporadic Easter Sundays,  and even a season of church camp. But, it was not the McFarland tradition. Our Sunday ritual began with closing the drapes followed by a redundant explanation, “We don’t want Aunt Betty and Uncle Arthur to think we are home if they stop by after church.”

It’s not that they were disliked. On the contrary. They were highly respected as kind, loving and dear. No, we walked stooped over, hiding our silhouettes behind the drapes because we were not prepared to be perfect today. At least, that’s the impression it left on me. Betty and Arthur might be good folk, but they would never accept us “as is.” Since those days, I’ve met scores of people, young, old and in-between who believe they are not good enough for church. They believe, as did I, that God doesn’t want them until they get their perfect groove on.

I was shocked when I read the Bible. Did you know it is full of stories about imperfect people that God liked—a bunch. How could I have been so wrong?  And, churches are full of people like me; broken, hurting, needy.  Maybe there’s a few leaning toward angelic, but it’s highly unlikely. The best part is, they took me in, loved me into believing God loves me even more.

 Not everyone knows God. There are many like Dahlia, hanging outside, afraid to enter fearing they’re not spiffed up enough for God to welcome them. Even sadder are those who believe they know God’s character based on tainted information and misconstrued ideals. Oh dear God help those who seek to know you via social media.

My heart cries for those who feel they are unlovable. I get it. My hope, my prayer, is for those sitting in the balconies, back pews or hanging outside afraid to enter. This strange, ever-changing world is full of hurting people, each from a special cookie cutter. What makes a widowed social bee feel welcome may scare away a newly sober lone wolf. I’m grateful for those who swung open the doors, and allowed me entrance, right where I stood. Let’s pray for each other that we will be granted wisdom for each soul knocking at the doors of our church.

I am grateful for these four gifts of grace shown me. 

  1. This helped me to trust others more than anything else. If they were willing to hear my views, I could hear and give credibility to them, as well.
  2. Accept and love them right where they stand. Let God convict and correct.
  3. Put feet to your faith. Don’t make grandiose statements of intended prayer rituals when what they need right now is a drink of water, a meal, a friend or a place to rest.
  4. Be kind, warm, generous and willing to give a hug when appropriate.

More information:

Recent studies show that over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s. In “How the West Really Lost God,” sociologist Mary Eberstadt asserts, “The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family.”

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Dance Before the Lord with All Your Might

Worship Hands Raised Stained Glass Window Worship Praise Dance for the Lord

It’s the early seventies. I’m 20 years old. In simple math, a long time ago. I’m invited to a dance, a first date. For the occasion, I buy a tangerine silk wrap dress along with a pair of strappy heels. The ones that look amazing while squeezing your toes in a vise-like manner.  Worship Praise Dance for the Lord

My date arrives in a 1971 Volkswagen bus, dressed in Levis, a Led Zeppelin T-shirt; the iconic image completed with messy hair and mutton chop sideburns. We converse in “first-date-ESE,” each asking the other prepared clever questions. You know, like, “What’s your sign?” Or “What band do you groove on?” Worship Praise Dance for the Lord

When we arrive at the Broadway Grange Hall, he excuses himself, points to the punch bowl, joins his buddies across the room. It’s one of those moments when mundane tasks feel awkward, like standing, selecting a facial expression, breathing in and out. Looking around the room, I notice the crowd is… different. Then I remember my date works at Yakima Specialties, with disabled adults. He failed to mention this is a dance for his clients. Worship Praise Dance for the Lord

Just then, a young man in plaid bell bottom pants and platform shoes taps my shoulder asking, if I’d like to dance. The dance floor is empty. The song is Jim Croce’s, Bad, Bad, LeRoy Brown. I want to say no thank you, but instead say,

“Sure.” Worship Praise Dance for the Lord

As I perform the lackadaisical dance of inconspicuousness, my partner turbo-jives, using arms, legs, feet, hands, head, and every inch of the 20 by 40-foot dance floor. Looking back, I now see, his dance was brilliant, ahead of its time and exactly what people strive for today. But, being the age of “everyone is looking at me,” I pray for a fairy godmother to “poof” me away. Contrary to the insistence of my inner narcissist, no one is looking at me. My date is engrossed with his buds, talking shop, or sports, or who cares what.

The song ends but before I slip away, the next begins, enticing a fellow in a ruffled tuxedo shirt, to join us on the floor. Moments later, a girl in a rhinestone tiara, pushing a walker, and a few others boogied onto the scene. By the fifth number of the night, Elton John’s, Crocodile Rock, the dance floor is packed with non-couples, dancing free style, not only to the beat played by the band, but many others, as well. Worship Praise Dance for the Lord

It took longer than it should, but I came around. Who could resist? They were free, real, alive. They trusted the music, the moment, the calling. They exchanged uptight for “out of sight.” That night, they set me free as well. My self-absorbed fears melted away, leaving me worthy of my partners. We tapped, river danced, dosey-dohed. I even taught them how to do the alligator; a dance performed with tummies on the floor. I witnessed a pirouette, and an impressive leap across the floor. It was exhilarating.

          Unadulterated joy!

Fast forward, 30 years and much life, good, bad, and ugly, to the year 2001. I walk through the doors of the Vineyard Christian Church, the same as I attend today. I’m late, uncertain I want to be there. The service has begun. I choose a balcony seat, in the corner by an exit, where I can keep watch over the entire church.

The music is unlike any I’ve heard before. I’m fascinated with the interaction between it and the people in the pews. Many are standing, hands raised, swaying, eyes closed. Others remain seated, eyes open, one or both hands outstretched. Some weep. All, appear at ease, or at least content. Mid-investigation, to my surprise, I feel tears streaming down my cheeks. Good tears, comforting, like warm water when you’re chilled. The kind that shows up at reunions, weddings, and births.

I didn’t know what to think.

Back then, I thought people sang in church for the same reason they joined a Barbershop Quartet or rang doorbells with Christmas carols. I must have heard it referred to as worship, but did not make the connection. After witnessing worship, and having been introduced to the Holy Spirit, I hung around. Like a starving cat given a bowl of milk, I wanted more. 

The mysterious tears continued to show up in the balcony, dripping down my face. Eventually my fascination with the worshiping lessened, and my own desire to praise grew. My familiar enemy, I call, oppression, kept my arms dangling awkwardly at my side. One day, I ignored the nagging oppressor, shooting my arms straight up. I laughed out loud, because for a moment, I thought I might fly up through the air with my limbs. Such bliss, beatitude, joy!

Freedom to praise, love, honor, adore, worship my Lord, in MY way. I’m not saying, animated worship is for everyone. For some, sitting still, basking in His presence is THEIR worship mode. I practice this style as well. But, one of God’s coolest traits is knowing each of our hearts, style, idiosyncrasies… our nature. I was trapped in a safe mode of worship, by fear, not choice. It suits me, to raise my arms, sway and sometimes dance. It’s fair to say I’m a David, when it comes to worship.

“And David danced before the LORD with all his might.”

When worship sunk in as a verb, I was set free to show my heart to the Lord. I pray all will find the place of worship that unlocks the boundless praise, longing to escape.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 150:6 | NIV

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Church Ladies… Hot Flashes and Faith

Church lady appearing to be gossiping in wide brim flowered hat and gloves.

            The other day in church, my attention turned to the pews, a Divine tap on the shoulder. I looked around, noting the faithful bobbing heads of our congregation, worshipping to the song, “I’m a Lover of Your Presence.” My heart stirred as my imagination drew a line above the heads of all the women, connecting them like a graph. I understood, resting for a moment, knowing, I, too, am a dot on this chart. Church Ladies 

Then I laughed. Church Ladies 

“Oh dear God, I’m one of those “church ladies!”

My past connotations of church ladies are both sweet and bitter. A picture of wide brim hats bursting with silk flowers, gathered like a bouquet, under which tongues wag gossip and white gloves point fingers. A gaggle of pinched nosed ladies, pecking rumors, slipping smooth smiles as innocent victims pass by their coup. Still dear, the image of gloves and big hats, it’s the gossip and finger pointing that tastes like vinegar. No better is the stereotypical “church mouse,” staring at the floor, incapable of squeaking one word without an apology. Neither of these portrayals are women I want to model. Church Ladies  Continue reading Church Ladies… Hot Flashes and Faith