Parking Lot Prelude

I’ve been uniquely positioned to see a new angle of behind-the-scenes church since I’ve become a mom. Whether it’s catching most of the sermon from the foyer speakers, inhaling the shared meal before the baby wakes up, or catching conversations over the diaper changing table in the nursery, church looks a bit different in this season. I’ve appreciated the new observations I’ve made. 

Sunday morning I sat in our car, fitting in a baby feeding before the service started. My husband was greeting at the door, but I had a chance to observe the happening parking lot.

There’s something special about seeing car after car turn into this holy slab of cement. The day washed in sunshine, smiles appeared bright.

I noticed a newlywed couple, dressed in Sunday best, but returning a post hole digger to someone else’s vehicle before heading into the building. 

There also was a darling collection of six young siblings tumbling out of the van, waving to their friends as they patiently waited for their parents. Their pink dresses, blue plaids, and grins melted my heart. “Behold, children are a gift from the Lord.” What a testimony their smiles were to the joy of the Lord! 

A few spaces down, my sister and her husband emerged from their car, with laughter and coffees. They whipped out baby and baby stroller in practiced teamwork style, also eager to worship.

As more people filed toward the front doors, I also noted a new haircut, a young believer in the faith, and a proud, new grandma. The high school seniors had arrived early to pass out their grad party invitations.

Each sister and brother in Christ — young and old — spoke some aspect of God’s truth to me. I need them all.

They are individuals carrying unique spiritual gifts into the church foyer. Members of Christ’s body, and if they are suffering, we all are; if they are rejoicing, we all are, and somehow we can visit both places at once in our Oneness with Christ. The Man of Sorrows and yet, the Dayspring from on High.

What a gift to be physically together. The sun and spring blossoms beckoned praise. I reached for my Bible to read a little, and my eyes fell on this passage:

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;

    let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!

For He is our God,

    and we are the people of His pasture,

    and the sheep of His hand.

Today, if you hear His voice,

 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,

    as on the day at Massah in the wilderness.”

Psalm 95:6-8

Since I was peering through my vehicle’s tinted windows, and not through rose-colored glasses, I knew this was as an imperfect sheep gathering as any. We desperately need God to soften our prone-to-be-hard hearts to worship Him and genuinely care for one another. We also need each other to call one another to worship and bow down.

My heart swelled as I prepared to set up my own little sheep’s stroller and enter the gates with thanksgiving. I determined to encourage anyone I could and also be encouraged.

The behind-the-scenes of the parking lot gave me a small prelude of thankfulness as I prepared to worship with this gift of grace we call the local church.

The Blessed and The Besieged

This week I’m sharing a short story I wrote as a writing assignment. The goal was to capture an attribute of God. I hope you enjoy! Have a beautiful fall Tuesday.

The Blessed and the Besieged

“I’m home–if anyone cares!”  

No answer, but a wave of butterscotch oatmeal greeted me as I slung my keys onto the hook.

    A pile of warm cookies and a hot pot of coffee on the counter was all the apology I needed for the absent welcome from my family. I left my jacket on as I surveyed the empty patio out back. With use of every limb and a shoulder, I gathered my Bible, journal, coffee mug, and a sweaterish blanket and stumbled through the backdoor. 

    My coffee steamed as I arranged myself on the patio chair. Tufts of raked leaves meant my brothers were somewhere nearby, but for now I breathed the bright, crisp stillness. 

    I thumbed through my “thankful journal,” thick with lists of God’s faithfulness of the past few months. Good grades on the midterms. A way to serve my church at the upcoming harvest party. Family who followed the Lord. Forgiveness.  

    Today I added butterscotch and bowling parties, the book of Psalms and piano music. I closed my eyes and fully felt the warmth of the sun. God, you are so good. 

    The door burst open. “Kate? There you are.” 

    My brother Tobias waved my phone. “You’re getting a bunch of calls in a row.”

    “Oh, I hope I don’t have to go back into work for some reason.”

    “It’s Lindsay.” Tobias tossed me the phone.  

    I snatched it and re-dialed. 

    “Kate?” my best friend sounded desperate. “Can you come pick me up? I was in a wreck and my car . . . was damaged.”

    My heartbeat quickened. “Are you ok? Tell me where you are. Ok, I’m on my way.” Almost tripping on the creamy sweater blanket, I wadded up all my books and the blanket and thrust them into Tobias’ arms. “Tell Mom I’m going to pick up Lindsay.”

    The orange-gold branches waved at me from the sides of the road just like before, but they seemed to lose their magic as I made my way to the intersection. 

    It was a mess. Where to park? Police lights, ambulances, traffic directors. The peace I had felt moments before seemed wadded up with the blanket I had left behind. Finally I spotted a turquoise hoodie I knew well. 

    The tow truck loaded Lindsay’s new-to-her buick. The side looked like a chewed-up caramel.

    “Oh Lindsay! Are you free to go? Are you ok?”

    “I’m ok. Everyone’s ok. But let’s get out of here!”

    Questions nagged me, but every time I tried to voice them, my words failed. I drove through a nearby coffeehouse and ordered a double cappuccino with whipped cream.

    Tears broke through my friend’s stunned frozen expression.  

    I didn’t blamer her. This was a financial hit on top of an emotional mountain. Lindsay was on the heels of a painful breakup and her mom’s mysterious health issues worsened by the day. Her boss recently cut her hours and no one had heard from her dad in six weeks now.  

    I handed Lindsay the coffee, scanning her face for signs she was ready to verbally process. “Thanks, Kate.” She sighed. “I thought God was loving.” 

    My eyebrows shot up. “But you know He is.” Surely a bent-up buick wouldn’t be the breaking point for one of my strongest friends. I fumbled as I put my change back in my purse.  

    “Then why does my life play out like this? All the time. Seems like He’s kind one day, and then He’s forgotten me the next.” 

    I swallowed and fixed my eyes on the road. “God is good all the time…He isn’t a mood ring. He’s all of His attributes all of the time.” 

    “You remember when we used to play dollhouse? We’d use the cushions and the bookshelves to make mansions and pool houses. Their lives were perfect.”

    I smiled. “Yes, of course. Not to mention the horse barns and boats galore.”

    “I feel like your life is like that. Mine just isn’t.” 

    Defense rose in my chest, and I gripped the steering wheel tighter. But it wasn’t the time to point out how we didn’t have a pool or horse barn or to say how I sprained my ankle recently, or that our wifi was terrible or my dog died earlier this year. She was right. The pain wasn’t comparable. I thought of my thankful journal, creased and crinkled. My parents were strong Christians, and I didn’t have to worry about chronic back pain that had kept Lindsay from sports in her senior year. 

    “Everything is going to be ok…” I knew this was the wrong approach but I had to say something. “Just take a moment to rest. It will all look better in the morning.” We were now in her driveway. Her eyes were dry now but the frown assured me I hadn’t persuaded her. 

    “I’ll see you at the Harvest Party.” She shot out of the seat. “Thanks for the coffee.” 

           


  

    My thoughts, cinnamon sticks, and orange slices bobbed as I scooped cupfuls of cider to different church members. As I handed them away, I thought about each of their circumstances. An older widow who was losing her eyesight and thus her driver’s license. A man whose wife left him years ago. A toddler who already had undergone several heart surgeries. 

    Nothing seemed fair or just. No one tasted the same cup of suffering. 

    I smiled at each of them and tried not to mind the hot drops of liquid spilling over the ladle. I hoped Lindsay would join me soon, but she seemed occupied at the kettle corn booth. What would I say to her when she did come? She thought I had a perfect dollhouse life.  

    “And teach me humbly to receive the sun and rain of Your sovereignty.”

    Was it just this morning in church that we sang The Perfect Wisdom of Our God? My eyes found the turquoise sweater again then dropped to my boots. Leaves bigger than my head pasted to the damp ground. Yes, there was a lot of sun in my life when it came to tangible blessings. 

    And yet, did this give me a silencer — a reason I couldn’t speak into my friend’s trials? Should I be afraid that my turn was coming? 

    Corrie Ten Boom, a Papuan believer in the jungle, my pastor’s wife. Believers from shades of history who, though they had different earthly gifts, still had access to God’s person and character.

    God is all of His attributes all of the time regardless of our situations. 

    The joy spilling around the Harvest Party, the strength of the Ten Booms, the promises of trials but also shared holiness — all of it the evidence of everlasting lovingkindness.

How could I remind Lindsay?  

   


   

Praise and smoke drew upwards, the bonfire concluding our time together after sunset. 

    I joined with my cider as our pastor said, “Please share a testimony of what God’s done for you!”

    I sat next to Lindsay and tugged my beanie closer around my face. “Hi,” I whispered. She halfway smiled.

    Testimonies brimmed between songs. All the same people I had served cider to hours ago, were now giving thanks for the blessings truly tasted in the contrast of pain. It gave great hope for me . . . and for my friend. Trials now and unknown would receive His same sovereignty and grace. 

    Lindsay pushed away a tear, I hoped borne from a softening heart. After a rousing round of Come Ye Sinners, the pastor again called for our testimonies. The silence tugged on me. I had so much to share. But I didn’t want to seem like I was boasting and insensitive when I knew about Lindsay’s doubts. 

    That’s not a good reason to withhold praise! I can’t be afraid. 

    I stood. “God has been encouraging me through a thankful journal I’ve started.” I glanced around at the fire-lit faces. “Every day it seems I use a different pen and have different circumstances, but His attributes stay the same. I’ve been reading a lot about His lovingkindness. The Bible says it’s better than life…my life is very sweet. But I’m finally realizing it’s because His love is larger and longer than life. It will outlast and outshine both the good and the hard of right now. Sin and death will end. No matter what trial He sends, we can humbly receive it with this perspective. So…yeah. That’s all.”

    I thudded back down on the bench. My eyes stung for a moment because of the smoke and because I was checking to see if Lindsay was mad.

    “Thanks for sharing,” Lindsay whispered. “You are one way God’s shown His love to me. And that’s an encouragement.” 

    I gave her a hug. I didn’t want to be the extent of anyone’s experience of God’s love, but I knew He would be faithful to her. He would show her the depths and heights. If I was a start of her remembrance of His love, there would be no end to the marvels she would discover. And God will wipe away every tear one day.     

“Blessed be the Lord, 

for He has made marvelous His lovingkindness to me 

in a besieged city.” 

(Psalm 31:21) 

A November Prayer

Hallowed be Your name, oh Lord. Let Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

We’re on the brink of a loaded November, and only You know what will come.

I know it will cause us all to need You just as much as we always have. Please bring us humility from Your heart and wisdom from Your storehouses.

We ask You, like the psalmist did, “Do not grant, Lord, the desires of the wicked; Do not bring about his evil planning, so that they are not exalted.” (Psalm 140:8)

Continue reading “A November Prayer”

View from Below

I enjoy heights. Even though I’m no hardcore hiker, I love a good vantage point. I first learned this when I helped my dad tear off old shingles on our three-story house.

There is something indescribable about an elevated view which lets you collect a tiny swath of a larger perspective.

Continue reading “View from Below”