Sunday, January 20, 2008

An Inconvenient Sunday, Part 1

Siberian Sunday School

My cute black shoes with the razor-thin bow – the shoes I bought explicitly for Sunday wear - are dirty.

The hem of my expen$ive, black velvet Sunday skirt from Coldwater Creek has been decimated by slush.

My Big Hair was Limp Hair before Sunday School even began.

Our Sunday was not off to a great start.

We arrived at our brand new beautiful church building for a scant minute or two, before learning the children were having Sunday School in the aforementioned beautiful new church building and the adults – the adults! – were going to have Sunday School in the grange hall down the street.

The grange hall. I thought we just bought a brand new beautiful building so we didn’t have to meet in a grange hall anymore!

So we schlepped back out into the ice-capped parking lot with our rapidly cooling cups of previously-hot beverages and headed to the grange hall.

The grange hall is fine. If you’re a grange.

The truth of the matter is I was more than a little peeved we were doing this all over again.

My beautiful church shoes were not meant to be death-marched through added layers of corrosive Illinois slush.

The added time in the harsh, below-zero-wind had reduced my fluffy, voluminous hair down to a mousy half-flip.

And the cold had forced us all to bundle up, so my pretty meant-to-be-seen skirt was completely obscured by boring black overcoat.

And the worst news of all…the missionary was back.

Our pastor had been so impressed with Brad Dunford, a missionary to China on deputation, last Sunday that he invited him to speak again this Sunday.

If we had known this, I believe we might have skipped church today. As it was, we skipped Sunday evening church last week because we knew “the missionary” was speaking.

Since I was a small child, I’ve believed missionaries to be a little strange. The expression “cooked in the head” comes to mind.

I could never understand what would compel someone to go halfway around the world to win unsaved people to the Lord, when they could walk five feet down the street and win their neighbor.

So, every time a missionary speaks in church, I take a commercial break. Most often to the tune of Gilligan’s Island.

My thoughts usually run like this: They’re going THERE. To help THOSE PEOPLE. They need MONEY. To go THERE. For THOSE PEOPLE. Uh, huh. Uh, huh. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! A three hour service.

Anyhoo, during last week’s Siberian march to Grange Hall Church, we had been subjected to Mr. Dunford’s multi-media presentation on missions and the most recent statistics on same.

This week, after the cold march, shoe and skirt tragedy, and hair that could have qualified as peat moss, I was already in quite a mood when I sat down on the cold metal folding chair inside the grange hall.

Upon learning of Mr. Dunford’s return, I was mightily ticked off.

“Didn’t we JUST hear this guy?” I whined to Brett. “Geez, we could have TiVo’d this.”

“What’s wrong, baby? Are you cold?” My husband didn’t realize I was shivering from irritation, not the frigid wind.

“I’m fine.” I snapped. “I don’t like this. Stupid grange hall.”

Like it was the grange hall’s fault.

I resigned myself to a half-hour of more mission stats. I shuffled my feet, popped a piece of gum, and checked my lipstick. Twice.

Geez, I was bored.

I looked around the room, searching for another face like mine. I know misery loves company. Misery also likes to complain, and I was hoping to find a sister Christian with whom I could share my horrible travails.

Or at least exchange exaggerated eye rolls.

As I searched the faces, I couldn’t find one person who looked as bored as I felt. People were listening intently, their faces schooled in concentration.

“Great. Nobody is even as ticked off as I am.” I thought furiously. “I can’t even have THAT in common with anyone.”

I chewed my gum vigorously and finally gave in to listening to the missionary. That lasted all about five minutes, before I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me about my attitude.

Obviously, I didn’t HEAR the Holy Spirit ACTUALLY talking to me. But the inward conversation went a little like this:

Holy Spirit:
“Not only are you having a rotten attitude about church - an attitude, by the way, that has nothing to do with others but only with you, you, you – but you are actually looking to SHARE that attitude with fellow believers?

You are TRYING to make friends and influence people with a NEGATIVE attitude. Do you realize what you’re trying to do?”

“What’s so wrong about sharing a few, minor hardships?”

Holy Spirit:
You know nothing of hardship! You are trying to spread dissent and plant seeds of ungratefulness. Just so you can have someone to complain with. Life, my dear, is not all about you. It’s all about Him.”

Me (with dawning realization):
“Oh, right. Sorry. Um, so I guess I’d probably better listen to the missionary, huh? Put myself in the right frame of mind?”

Then, I remembered something my mother once said.

When the deacons of her previous church refused to allow her and Gary to get married in their church, due to Gary’s divorced status, Mom was devastated.

She and my dad had spent over ten years in that church. They had given dedicated Christian service, doing over and above all that was asked of them.

Across town at First Baptist, Gary had done the same. He had proven himself to be a dedicated servant of the Lord, despite his ex-wife leaving him BECAUSE he came to Christ.

Now, Mom’s church was not going to allow these two humble servants of Christ to be married in their facility.

Mom was crushed and extremely sad. When she called me crying, I was enraged. “How dare they!” I rallied. “We are going to tell people about this!” I promised Mom.

But she made me promise not to.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Gary and I don’t want to do anything that would detract from the spirit of unity in the church. We don’t want to be detriments to the cause of Christ.”

I felt my anger melt away. Mom was right. Her heart was hurting. Her church – those brothers and sisters who should have cared for her - had wronged her, and still she saw the end goal – that God would be glorified in her actions.

She and Gary didn’t want Satan to gain a foothold in the church with a few well-placed words of anger or wrong reaction.

And so, until today, the recounting of those events has not seen the light of day. I tell them now only to reinforce what the Holy Spirit was convicting in me.

Nothing I would have shared in my present state of mind would have been for the good of the church body or my fellow believers. It would only have been a reflection of my own selfishness.

I bit the bullet. Felt the cold acid of shame wash down my throat. And I asked forgiveness. Shoes, skirt, hair, and attitude were all forgotten as I felt the Lord work in my heart. He granted me forgiveness in that instant and answered my prayer to turn back to the things of the Lord.

Unfortunately for Mr. Dunford, the mini-revival taking place in my seat took place at the expense of his Sunday School lesson.

But he had nothing to worry about. The Holy Spirit wasn’t about to let me off the hook.

I was about to get my comeuppance in the morning service.


Heidi said...

I was about ready to start chewing you out until I read your repentant spirit. I then would have had to ask forgiveness for the judgmental attitude I was about ready to cast upon you.
I too was challenged. I have always had a heart for missions, but would dread their sermons because it was always the "fields are white and ready to harvest" verse.
I did not Scott Dunford last week due to other circumstances and heard that he was really good, so I was looking forward to hearing him.
Note to you: next Sunday, wear the old ratty snow boots and change shoes when you enter the building. I know it is a hassle, but would save the shoes. (you could also have Brett drop you off in the back where it is plowed and at the door of the grange and he can go park). Just an idea to make your morning go more smoothly next week.

Alice said...

I would have given you special dispensation to wear pants and boots to church yesterday. I did. My mom will never know.

And...anxious to hear Part II!

Anonymous said...

I ask myself the same question every time I hear about missions: Why do people act as if going to the other side of the world is more important than going next door? You know why? That whole cultural barrier spiel gives reason to be rude or weird. Who wants to admit to their neighbor that, living in the same culture and knowing the norms, we choose Christ? That's much more uncomfortable than bugs for breakfast...
I have also often thought... if they can't do it here they won't do it there. Talking about Christ should start in your native language, right?
Sorry,...and you know I wanted to be a missionary "over there"...and still often do, but you point about missions to neighbors doesn't get enough press. Thanks for bringing it to light.

Ann-Marie said...

H - Thanks for not bailing out on me before I had a chance to explain! I tried to capture EXACTLY what I was thinking, and looking back, it WAS SO SELFISH! I'm so glad the Lord intervened!

Do you know I don't own any snow boots? Am I crazy or what - living in Illinois! Either way, I'll have to slog through the slush, Brett doesn't ever drop me off - he wants us to walk together, so we can "be together." Sheesh!

Heidi said...

Jason offers, but I always turn him down because it means that I have to stand in the cold and get three kids out of the car. We all just suffer together.
I do own a pair of boots, but I guess I do have a little bit of vanity and don't wear them, but I guess since I wear pants to church most often now, I could probably get away with it. My feet just get swollen and it is hard to get them on sometimes.

WendyJanelle said...

Your mom sounds great. Maybe I'll be able to meet her someday.