During these days at home, waiting, I bake aggressively. The smell of rising bread gives us a good change to look forward to, even as it gives us a measure of comfort and normalcy. We built a blanket fort that spread from our living room to our kitchen, and then a satellite fort upstairs that involved a full-size tent. Making a smaller home within our home seemed to help: it gave us somewhere to enter and exit, places to visit and then leave.
But in the evening, as all four daughters make their way to bed and the day’s work slows, I cannot hide from this thought: So little is certain. I do not know what tomorrow will bring. Even the world outside is shuttered to me then, and our darkened windows reflect back only these familiar rooms.
That thought has always been true: I have never known what the next day will bring, but I have been able to make educated guesses and found my plans upon them.
So little has ever been certain, and yet, as I brush crumbs from the table and sweep the dining room floor, readying the room for the morning, I know that some things are certain. Some things always have been and always will be. Whatever the news when I wake up tomorrow, these truths will remain firm and unchangeable.
What is Certain
When the things we thought unshakable are shaken, what can we stand upon? In response to the world-wide upheaval we’re living through right now, I wrote about this question for Deeply Rooted. You can read that article, “What is Certain?,” on the Deeply Rooted blog.
Last fall, our church of thirteen years dissolved. I wrote briefly (very briefly) about it here, but that acknowledgement only hints at how acutely I felt that dissolution.
About a month passed between the first twinge and our final service, and that month came during our remodel, when we were already displaced and presuming upon the hospitality of friends and family. We thought that move would be the year’s Big Event, but it was only the backdrop against which this much bigger displacement occurred—the breaking of our church fellowship.
In her book Keeping Place, Jen Pollock Michel writes, “Surely one evidence of the world’s fallenness from grace is its failure to provide stability. To lose our places is to lose our place.”
We lost our place. And that loss was a lot to process.
So one night, in the thick of things, I started writing. I had no intention of writing an article but wanted both to tidy my own mind and to make a gift for our weary church body—something that might help us lift our eyes above the horizon line of our church’s closure and to see God’s glory written in the heavens overhead.
This is a big thing, I wanted to say. But it isn’t an ultimate thing. God’s faithfulness doesn’t end here.
That thought eventually became a song that I wrote and sang at our closing party. But those ideas continued to simmer, and I kept lifting the lid and adding words to the pot. The soup gradually took on flavor, enough so that when I learned that the next issue of Deeply Rooted centered on the topic of the Church, I understood that I was, in fact, working on both an open letter to our church and a publishable essay.
But I also want to write about it because I have a little distance from the dissolution and I want to share that, too. We thought we had lost our place; we felt a wrenching, a breaking, an undoing, and we are still, in some ways, recovering from that.
Yet God’s kindness to us began long before this fall—or the Fall. He ordained for our good not that one church, now deceased, but The Church, a living body with members who carry the gospel to the world’s cities, villages, and camps; who translate the Bible so that others may know God’s Word in their own language; and who welcomed us in during those tender first months at our new church.
We have heard people express a desire to rest from church, but what we needed in the months after the final service was to rest in the church. To lose our old church one Sunday and the next Sunday step into the foyer of a new one and feel a continuity between the services, a familiarity in the love and generosity of the people there—the Church has never seemed so radiant to me as it does now, and I have never felt so privileged to be a part of it.
The New City Catechism answers its first question— “What is our only hope in life and death?”—with what has become a refrain for me in the past six months: “That we are not our own but belong body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.”
We are not our own but belong to him. The Church is his; our church was His. We did not lose our place at all, for we are his, and there is no greater comfort in this world than to belong to him. We are still learning the habits of our new church, but at the heart of it is the same command we strove to follow at our old one: love the Lord and love one another. He has given us new people to love, but our God remains wonderfully unchanged.
Lead me safely on to the eternal kingdom, not asking whether the road be rough or smooth. I request only to see the face of him I love, to be content with bread to eat, with raiment to put on, if I can be brought to thy house in peace.
“Weaknesses,” from The Valley of Vision
If you’ve read this far—thank you. If you want to read further, consider this Part II of the story. The Deeply Rooted article is Part I, and you can read it here.
If you want to read further still (and I highly recommend that you do), you can read Deeply Rooted’s full issue on the Church. Of all the issues we’ve published in the last five years, this one is my favorite, because it looks at the Church from several perspectives and elicits a wonder and awe that I find thrilling. God’s plan for his people! It’s so stunning!
I wrote a post about great (sometimes pop-up) church history books for Deeply Rooted. It boasts a few books that you know well and a few you haven’t met yet, and I think you’ll really like like them. (I know I really like the photos, which were taken by my neighbor Felicia, who has a knack for that sort of thing.)
My father used to read to me from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. He read it in answer to some question about my homework, some question that probably did not involve the Romans, and he read it at length. I know now that that was an awesome thing to do—take my homework question and place it in context by linking it to the historical moment that preceded it—but as a sophomore eager to finish that assignment so I could get back to living life (i.e. watching MTV while I waited for my hair color to set), I did not appreciate my father’s approach.
I appreciate it now. Just as we can’t pull Leviticus out of context and expect to understand its laws and commands, we can’t pull our point in history out of context and expect to understand how we got here, where we are headed, or what we must do to change.
The centerpiece of our backyard is a large pile of dirt—the leftovers from an unfinished gardening project. That pile exerts a magnetic pull on my daughters, who spend their afternoons excavating it, summiting it, and harvesting from it the makings of mud pies. There are days when I glance out the window at them and promptly go turn on the bathtub.
But when my husband walks in the back gate after work, my daughters do not run to the tub—they run to him. With dirt in their hair and on their hands, they hug him and chatter happily, less concerned with how they look than with who they’re talking to. When I think of prayer, that is what I see: my disheveled daughters and their dad, who sees the mud and the smudged cheeks, but delights in the daughters beneath them.
Come to Him Like Little children
The “Abide” series is finished! You can read all of the posts (including my newest post, on prayer) at the links below:
On Easter Sunday when I was 17, one thought appeared unbidden and would not be chased away: Maybe I’ll pray this morning. I attended church only by parental decree. I wore knee-high Doc Martens and crimson hair in protest and sat through the pastor’s prayers with my eyes boldly open, head unbowed. I did not pray. But:
Maybe I’ll pray this morning.
There is nothing dramatic in my story—no brutal addiction, no “rock bottom,” no conversion in the backseat of a police cruiser—unless you consider the fact that the Creator of the universe unlocked some hidden chamber in the heart of a hurting girl and sowed there one thought, Maybe I’ll pray this morning, and from that seed sprung the sapling that buckled the sidewalk, shattered the concrete, and is still growing.
There was an altar call at the strip mall church that morning, and at the front of the sanctuary I knelt, with damp mascara and a half dozen others, and I prayed: God forgive me. The Lord lifted the glass dome off what I thought was the world and in rushed the dizzying winds of heaven. In rushed a new thought: God exists and he is not cruel or indifferent, but he loves me. I held that thought tenderly, the way one might hold a bird.
Seventeen years ago tomorrow, I came to faith. Mine was not a flashy conversion, but one that left me reeling, as though I’d skeptically tapped the back of a wardrobe only to find that it led to Narnia. I got to share that story alongside the story of Easter in a post for the Deeply Rooted blog.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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