Friday, July 20, 2012

The Church That Built Me

(Taking a break from Feminine Fridays this week to share a series on Stones of Remembrance as I remember the hand of God in my life.

While I've grown to have a somewhat progressive theology/political side in comparison to my conservative upbringing, the church in which I spent most of my first 25 years gave me feet and gave me wings. Between normal church things and showing up at the building for everything from helping out the secretaries to hiding from tornadoes during southern storms, I spent more hours in that building than any other building of my life with the exception of my homes.

I can't begin to count the number of positive things that church did for me: from teaching me to love the word of God to giving me opportunities to be a part of the church, a part of a community, in various ways. I could probably spend an entire year giving weekly posts on just how much I was blessed, taught, and grew through the ministries and people of that church. Today, though, I'm just picking two areas that are on my heart.

Children's Choir is my first remembrance of learning about missions and serving others. The choir director took the time to teach us about music and notes as well as about people who served the Lord in different ways. My love for serving others started there as she told us the story of a young girl who longed for blue eyes like her family, but found one day that her brown eyes gave her a valuable tool in ministering to girls sold into slavery in India. To this day, that brown eyed girl - Amy Carmichael - is an influential person in my life.

I never was involved in the theatre department at my schools, but in Children's choir I got to sing and dance around on stage as we performed an annual musical that told the stories of Jonah, Nehemiah, and Josiah. One year it was the story of some kids camping in the woods with Psalty (a big, blue, anthropomorphic songbook!), and still today, twenty years later, when I am anxious and worried I find myself singing, "I cast all of my cares upon you. I lay all of my burdens down at your feet. And anytime I don't know what to do, I cast all of my cares upon you."

In youth choir I gained confidence as we stood in lines down the side of our long, narrow sanctuary and sang into the center. Our voices drifted above the heads of the congregation creating a harmony, but those seated near me heard my voice stand above the rest. Other times, I learned the different harmonies and melodies of a song as I worked together with the other youth and our choir director to master the notes. The directors loved Jesus, knew music, and had standards of excellence. I was part of a group and I remained an individual - learning my part, singing in my spot. The symbolism moved me even then. My voice is thoroughly average, but being a part of the choirs and having the chance to regularly take the stage and lead in worship gave me confidence and an understanding of my part in the body of believers.

Another influential ministry in my life was the youth ministry. My youth pastor and his wife are both wonderful people who love God and loved us. There were many positive things in my life that started in youth group, but I want to focus on one aspect here today - something called "T.E.A.M.S." It stood for "together everyone accomplishes more serving. The youth pastor had a thing for acronyms! The youth broke into different groups and were responsible for a variety of things in the youth group: organizing events, welcoming people, praise band, etc. Not ground-breaking I'm sure, but I got to be involved in my church community! I joined the prayer team and under the guidance of a college age volunteer, a few teenagers met faithfully each week and we prayed. Oh, how we prayed with such earnestness and passion and belief. I remember kneeling in a circle on the floor of the church prayer room praying for long stretches of time as our knees ached under us and we eventually stretched ourselves out with faces to the ground. In the beginning, we took time at the start of our meeting to talk about requests and such. As time went on, we just prayed from the very start of the meeting

When we took youth trips, the prayer team got a copy of the retreat schedule and scheduled in prayer meetings during the free times. We woke up before the trip and met at Waffle House at 5 a.m. to pray before we left. We were not pretentious, we were not chatting and goofing off and gossiping. We prayed consistently and were in tune to the hand of God and able to see how He was moving in our church. It was an awesome experience and a memory I that I cherish and one that convicts me about the state of my prayer life now. I am thankful for the wisdom and the leadership of my youth leaders who saw fit to tell a bunch of teenagers that they needed be a part of their church and that they needed to pray.

The summer before my senior year of high school I went on a mission trip to London. A number of my fellow prayer-team members were on the trip as well. Once we got to London and met up with a number of other teens there for the week, they divided us into teams as well. Not all, but a large portion of the group from my church joined the prayer team. We walked the streets of North London, talking to shop keepers, letting them know we were praying for them and their town, and asking if they had any requests. That week is only snapshots in my mind now, but I remember a boxing gym and the man who owned it, watching another youth kneel down next to a homeless man and offer him his lunch and then a prayer. I remember men with large turbans wrapped around their head selling us fruit from a cart and us trying to heed the instruction of our leader to contain our eager evangelical selves, respect the culture and the work of the resident missionaries, and to just talk and then later, pray. I learned a lot, in those streets of London, about respecting others and trusting God to work in the hearts and lives of people.

In moments of cynicism, my oh-so-evolved adult self finds it easy to dismiss those moments and many like them as sentimentality and naivety. There are some moments that stand out as glaring examples of what not to do. (A weekend that unleashed a couple thousand teenagers armed with the latest in Gospel Presentations Method upon an unsuspecting town being near the top of the list.) However, I know that my heart and passion was pure. I learned how to pray in my youth group. I was blessed to be witness to the hand of God moving because I was taught and given the opportunity to be still and to ask that I might see Him.

Since that time, there have been seasons of prayer and seasons of lack of prayer in my life. No matter which season though, I know that prayer is powerful and I find myself either reveling in the beauty of the still small voice or longing for it. The songs of my childhood come, often without invitation, into my mind and continue to remind me of truths.

There is a country song about your childhood home and how the singer wants to go back to the house that built her, certain that if she can see it and touch the walls then something will click for her. I have similar feelings when I return to my childhood church when I'm in my hometown for holidays or other events. The walls hold memories and many of the faces are still familiar. While there are things I absolutely love about my sort-of-nomadic life and the ability I get to start fresh and new and as a blank slate to a whole new host of people every few years, there is something special about being greeted and hugged by people, by a community, that nurtured me from childhood.

This stone of remembrance is for the church that built me.

Other Stones of Remembrance:
Scripture in My Childhood
Ode to the Internet
Meeting Together
When You Return: Faith Refined


  1. hmm... I'm loving these, Nicole.

  2. I keep saying the same things - beautiful! - but I mean it.

    I visited my former church on Easter. Just the building itself brought back such positive memories for me. Always grateful for my roots of faith.