Church is not a code of ethics, set of standards, exclusive club.
Church is a way of life. Seasons help us find our way. The advent season is a time of preparation in which gifts abound all four weeks long. There will be invites, stockings, candy, and trinkets. All, which are secular expressions and gestures representative of the truest gifts: hope, love, joy, and peace. These are the weeks we celebrate in advent as we prepare for Christmas.
We recognize this when we live in fellowship with the Lord, learning to love as Jesus loved. This is easy to see in church, the lighting of each candle binds us in this deep faith. We are connected in preparation.
So, too, are we bound in fellowship and good will at that work party, in the exchange gift, with a holiday bonus, and more. When we open ourselves beyond the surface cynic and open our eyes to see God is all around us providing love and joy in these occasions. Peace and hope come too if we quiet ourselves to see the peaceful yard displays, the joy of a young boy’s face spotting Santa in the holiday parade!
I am blessed that my church is a living fellowship were we feed the community, shelter our neighbors, teach our children, care for our adults, gather as friends, support one another, and pray as believers!
Our church building space is a light in the storm, a refuge, a pantry, a nursery, a music academy, an adult day building, a craft store, a community kitchen, a funeral parlor, a wedding venue, complete with a baptismal fount and more.
More is its sanctuary, where the good words are spoken and sung, heard and absorbed, respected and appreciated. Here the good words are in action, inspiring, reminding, affirming our belief in Jesus and that he is still speaking through all of us.
Our church is pretty radical!
But, we are not in those walls all time round. We are in the community living with radical love, endless hope for the needy, joy at the rich abundance, and peace in knowing the season is approaching where it all began.
This is a season of preparation. Prepare for the birth of Jesus, another radical guy!
This month marks seventeen years of marriage for my husband and me. It is a seemingly insignificant number because it is not divisible by five. And in comparison to others, it is not a record run. I, however, tend to celebrate it all. So, this additional tally mark is worth remarking upon. After a comfortable seventeen years, we are not in need of any gift exchanges, but as celebrators we look to find ways to express our love and mark the occasion.
As a list person, early on, we decided to go with the traditional gifts over the years. For our first anniversary, I framed his book jackets as paper was the traditional gift. For our third, I could have gone awry with the modern gift of leather, but went with a smart jacket that he still wears. Year four was fruit, tickets to the ballet. And so it went on, year after year.
A quick Google search, and I came upon the traditional and modern seventeen-year anniversary gift is furniture. Furniture is sturdy and reliable. Practically, it is necessary; furniture provides function, comfort, and expresses our sense of style. In nostalgia, I think we can all remember our parents’ kitchen table or living room couch. Maybe, it’s grandpa’s chair where we climbed as youngsters to hear a story or tickle his beard. Furniture is significant and a solid gift for a solid anniversary year.
We are mature in our love. Having settled into a comfortable coexistence where we are fully ourselves and live in admiration and appreciation of each other. This is no accident. It is equal parts effort and effortlessness.
Coincidentally, we are in the process of furnishing our little cottage. So we decided to buy furniture together as we marry our tastes to style a cohesive home away from home. Bunks to rest upon, a right-sized table and chairs to enjoy coffee and toast, a love seat facing the window overlooking the lake, dressers to stow suits and sweaters, and, of course, for a couple of writers, we are on the hunt for the perfect book shelf.
When I was in my early twenties, prior to meeting my own soul mate, my father told me he could be happy anywhere as long as my mom was with him. They will celebrate their Golden Anniversary, fifty years, in early 2023. Each marriage has its own magic, and those that stand the test of time are an inspiration for us all.
I now understand my dad’s sentiment as home is not a physical space. Over the years, my home has been in my husband’s arms, standing beside him, applauding his efforts, and encouraging his endeavors. He is my home. He provides balance to my days. When I am anxious, he is calm. When I am tired, he carries the load, when I am happy, he dances with me. When I am broken, he comforts me. When I am celebrating, he toasts my success. When I am anything, he is what I need. I rest upon him. I rely on him. I trust him. I know he will be there.
The gift of furniture represents home and stability. So too does my marriage.
We were married on a cold November afternoon, at a Presbyterian church against a backdrop of the pipes from the massive organ. Light made the stained glass glow. Our pastor led a sanctuary full of our family and friends in joining two families into one. I had beautiful, wavy chestnut locks gracing my shoulders. My everything stood waiting for me to make it down the aisle to exchange our handwritten vows. I felt God in that moment. The Lord steadied me as I made the most important promise of my life.
On this seventeenth anniversary, with gratitude, I reaffirm the scripture, which was read that day by a dear friend now living in the eternal kingdom of God.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
This scripture is printed with a gold font on an ivory ceramic cross. It hangs by the door of our bedroom, where I can pause and take note of the love I try to give. And, certainly, it serves as a reminder of the love I have received.
In the presence of God, I strip away all the unnecessary chaos. I get essential. I have luxury, but I aim for simplicity. Less unimportant stuff. More meaningful artifacts and art. Curating an uncluttered space is essential.
I was recently considered an essential worker, such a crazy idea that was born out of the pandemic of 2020. It was no special prize, in Wisconsin, liquor store employees also were considered essential when the country went on lock down.
The word essential used this way is misleading. Yes, the economy and society needed basic and advanced goods and services. I, however, didn’t need to be the one leaving my family, who was locked at home with laptops and lessons. It was a choice I made. It seemed right, dutiful, and prudent.
Looking back at all the time that has since passed, I regret not being present more at home. And looking at the present, I still question how essential my time away is. The best I can do is self care to be more effective when I do have the opportunity to be home. Not burnt out, not exhausted, but rather full of energy to participate in the joy of family life.
Day jobs are essential, period. Yet, these structures do not have to cage us into positions that remove us from what is truly essential. It is easy to get wrapped up in deadlines, projects, and ideas. But the personal why is vital to understand. I do not exist for other’s profit, but to create good. The result of the effort should enhance the quality of someone’s life or said another way make my corner of the world a better place. Yet, I do not stop to think in this way. I go through the motions: dress, hair, make-up, laptop bag. This time of year, I drive to the office, coffee in hand, in the dark. I spend the bulk of my day there and return in the early evening’s darkness. And this is not all drudgery. I truly enjoy the hours spent in collaboration with like-minded, ambitious colleagues and the contributions we make in our community.
Onward, though. There is more. I can remember the essential practices of prayer and relaxation. I can make a concentrated effort to live in joy. From this moment, I can peel the layers of chaos. I can eliminate the fluff. I can step away, take notice. Reflect on the gifts of the Lord in my life.
God gives these essential blessings. Let me take notice and give thanks.
Pay attention to the present moment.
Ironic that I say this as a writer. A writer doesn’t live in the present while partaking in her craft. She is reflecting quietly on a memory or a fantasy. When writing, it is good to visit the non-present moment. The act of scribing stories relies on pulling your mind out of the present and into the imagination.
Great writers however, pay attention. They recognize writing as a spiritual practice where they become creators. In this practice, the ultimate creator lives through the writer, uses her as a vehicle through her mind and her hands. In this way, she too become a creator. She takes those reflective escapes from the present then returns to practice her creativity.
When I am listening in the present moment, I feel God. I am placing my attention on my intention to appreciate the wonder of life in the wonderment of the world in the exact moment. It’s easiest to do this in spiritual practice — worship, prayer, stretching, meditation, hiking, biking, ectara. It is like suiting up to go in the game. When we practice the things that bring us joy and live in that moment, we can be grateful to God. Each time prayer is mentioned in the bible, it begins with thanks. When we live with gratitude for life and the earth and the galaxy, we can get God’s attention to speak to us.
This is easy in solitude. This is easy in fellowship with like-minded people. It is less accessible in the hustle and bustle of daily life. Day jobs, growing pains, and the logistics of living take up so much space. It is vital to remember to listen in these moments too, to enjoy the ride. These are not things that are separate from our life and purpose. These daily living activities are the opportunities that we find on the business side of life. We can get wrapped up and have mixed emotions about our obligations. It is wise to pay attention and project your purpose into the universe regardless of what activity we are undertaking.
I find that when I neglect to carve out any time to devote to spiritual practice, it is more difficult to recognize God while tackling the everyday task lists. I have a post it note on my desk that I use as tool to sort my day job responsibilities: “Is it urgent? Is it important? Will it take less than five minutes?” I need to remember showing up for my spiritual practice is all these things — urgent, important, and reflectively quick. Showing up for God is also vital to have any fortitude to bring peace into my life during what could be a grueling day. The less I practice listening, the more grueling days I have.
God isn’t just speaking to us, nudging along. He is living in us, and we are vehicles for his work. Whether we believe it or not, we are creating the world we live in, just like God created us. Our words and actions have consequences – some good; some bad – that happens. We are, however, not neutral. Even a tiny pebble creates a ripple. With my confirmation of faith in a loving God, I hope to leave a positive effect on those around me and the greater world. Not to make you believe, but because I decided that this is my best chance at joy in this life. To give thanks, believe in happy endings by ascribing to a benevolent creator, is to know love.
I put this in the universe and know this comes back to me.
Binding gives stability. Day job. House. Love. Family.
I reference the definition of the noun binding as the word we have for the act of fastening, securing, uniting, or the likes. Ideas bind us together. Shared beliefs are binding. We can be bound in big intentional ways or in bits of happenstance. We can be bound together in consequential and trivial ways.
Who and what you chose to bind with determines your destiny. Love binds us with our partner, with our families, with friends. Loves bind us with the Lord. Love is binding material that secures all with an unbreakable strength.
Love is a choice, we can choose to accept God’s love and share it with the world or we can chose to settle for more brittle binding materials to create our networks of connectivity. With care, we can unite our hearts and lives with those who multiply the power of our efforts.
God’s love binds us with his promise, his mercy, our own salvation. This love is sacred for sure, but accessible for everyone. There is no secret handshake. There is no dress code. There is only an open invitation from God to accept his love.
I once overheard my husband say, “my wife’s the churchgoer of the family.”
If only my husband knew how many times he has been lifted in prayer to the Lord. I have thanked God for my husband’s glory. I have begged God for my husband’s salvation.
So many times, I prayed silently while we embraced. Sometimes, it has moved me to tears and nirvana. A release of mind, body, and soul as I marvel at what love can do.
I have held my husband in my heart.
Yet, I have failed to provide a steady rhythm along a lighted path to God. I have fallen short. You see I am a churchgoer because I don’t always get it right. I fall! Short! I go to church to remind myself to do better, to be better, to carry Christ all through the week. Week after week, after week. I need to hear the message again and again. I find my strength in the pews, in the Word, and in fellowship. I find my courage to be audacious and say, “I pray for you!” Church is where I need to go so that when I leave, I have a heathy spirit. This light then shines in me. After church, I am clean again. I am ready. I am reminded. I am full.
Our church tells us to “be” the church. Our buildings are not where the work is done. Communal worship is a tie that binds, but it is not the necessity or the entirety of a Christian life.
COVID-19 emphasized the point! Close our churches! Yet, still we preached, still we gathered, still we prayed. And we prayed and we prayed. We reconnected in the building, first gathering on lawns. Then our doors were open and our alter was adorned for in-person display. And the pandemic wore on. It went on past the expectancy of duration. We had a cure, yet the pandemic wore on. More people died. So, we reclosed our doors, we returned to streaming online.
The building felt less important somehow. We gathered united separately in the comfort at our homes. Technology connected us. Fellowship was not lost. We had our simplistic praying hands. We typed our thoughts and prayers in the comments. We prepared our own communion and filled ourselves with the body and blood. The refrains and responses were sung and spoken, heard only by the dog.
I am the churchgoer, so you can recognize me. I shower and dress and do my hair and make-up; I put my faith on display. My friends and family learned to not invite me to Sunday morning activities, because they knew I already had plans. But I must be the church, seek the truth, walk in the light, live in service.
I am the churchgoer in the family. I have held each member in my heart and lifted each unto the Lord. Yet, this is because I am weak, not because I am strong. Yes, I am the churchgoer in the family. This is my quiet way of leading. I do not drag my family by their arms. When they stay away, I pray. When they join me, I rejoice, and still I pray.
“God is love. Love is God”
A former pastor would say this at least once during every service. Sometimes, it was a centering expression. Other times, it was part of her sermon. At times she sent us out with the reminder.
“God is love. Love is God.”
Her license plate was LUV2LUV. All theology of Christianity should emphasize this foundational point. I recall an Agape Potluck, which was held monthly on the first Sunday. This recurring fellowship activity — where everyone brought what they could, if they remembered — was where I learned the word agape. We all sat and shared in what was presented, and it was enough. God’s teaching to love one another as He has loved us, is enough as well. Love is the key to peace. If we are strong, we remember to praise and thank the Lord. If we are weak, we can receive comfort in the ways of his gifts – faith, hope, and the greatest is love.
Agape, Greek agapē, in the New Testament, is the fatherly love of God for humans, as well as the human reciprocal love for God. In Scripture, the transcendent agape love is the highest form of love and is contrasted with eros, or erotic love, and philia, or brotherly love. In church, agape is used to designate both a rite (communion) and a meal of fellowship (Jude 1:12). Some scholars believe the agape was a form of the Lord’s supper and the bread and wine the sacramental aspect of that celebration.
In practice, I am writing a spiritual memoir where I journey to reach agape love. It is an ultimate goal. I have experienced agape love. It is fleeting, and I lose my grip. However, when there is a firm hold, life is full of blessings and joy. When I am stumbling, His love comforts and cradles me. With His hand guiding me, I hope to bring faith and hope to others who are lost without agape love.
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John, 4: 8)
Love is what we all seek to give and receive in this life. It is omnipresent. Recognize, share, and rejoice in this simple vow to love one another as God has loved us.
I wish to be a beacon of light.
Steady in storm, constant in sight.
I wish to be a vessel of light.
Strong in word, humble in deed.
I wish to be a reflection of light.
Quick to listen, slow to speak.
By: Tara Huck
I sit here on a quiet morning, legs curled beneath me, laptop resting on my thighs nestled on the love seat. Across from me is my husband, book in hand, with our youngest cuddled close with the dog on his lap. This moment gives me contentment and happiness in the joy of the family I have built.
This house has become a home. It is more than a shelter from the elements and chaos of the outside world. It is an oasis of love where both comfort and joy live. There are shelves of curated books – poetry and historical fiction for me, crime fiction and thrillers for my husband, business for both of us, children’s books, and my collection of autographed first editions. We also have three bibles – an impressive family bible from my husband, my middle son’s confirmation gift bible, and my journaling bible.
We have art – fine, commercial, and homemade. My favorite homemade sign says, “In this kitchen we dance,” which a friend made for us because she found it endearing that we dance with friends at happy hours and had once revealed we embrace and sway at quite intimate moments in the hearth of the home.
Our family is growing and changing. Our older teen is in his bedroom at the end of the upstairs hallway. And further away our oldest is turning his own house into a home about two hours from us. I already miss my sons as young children with toys and sippy cups scattered around the house. These days, there are sports bottles and backpacks taking up space. Fishing poles, bows, and hunting totes round out the things I will outgrow.
There is a five-year plan my husband and I talk about. This plan sensibly includes ideas of downsizing, selling our house. This isn’t the first house we owned and it won’t be the last. With our next chapter, the empty next, approaching in the distance, I find myself thoughtfully looking at our material objects considering if they are keepers or something I can live without in a smaller more practical space. As it turns out, there is very little I need. My great grandparents quilt will travel will me to another home with a few other sentimental or otherwise valuable items.
I am sentimental, if that isn’t obvious from my posts, but I can let go of the objects that no longer serve their purpose. The bedrooms will be empty. The rec rooms free from gathered children.
I could be that person who holds onto the family home for the nostalgia of having raised a family here. I could hold onto those artifacts from passing childhoods. Save the space for holidays with grandchildren that may come.
The current plan is to let it go. To move on. To recognize house is just that; the magic of home is the view from inside. The bread broke and shared together. The cozy moments curled up with books or notebooks. The idle time watching television. The frenzy of preparations for the little things – school days and day job, and the big things – weddings, funerals, and holidays.
The memories of the home will be my husband teaching each of the boys how to tie a tie, the children working hard on homework or other pursuits, the meals prepared and shared. Home is not always as idyllic as this description, but this is home at its essence. The house, I have to accept is temporary.
A favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert, uses “onward” a lot in her creed for living well. I have to agree, onward indeed. But not just yet, there are still more memories to be made in this home.
The state or fact of being present, as with others or in a place.
It’s easy to be distracted. Multitasking is a marketable skill. I remember being asked to rate my ability to multitask at an interview for my current employer. I looked each of the interviewers in the eye and said, “I don’t multitask. I find it most efficient to give my attention to one thing at a time.” Flashforward five years at day job, I have indeed lost my ability to focus, as the demands of my position come from all directions across multiple mediums. I used to have a smart watch flashing interruptions to the present with vibrating notifications, which I turned off after a few months as it was too much. It is hard to be present when announcements of urgency demand attention. There are competing priorities. It is important to discipline oneself to prioritize rather than scatter our attention. In the practical demands of day job, practicing presence improves productivity and relieves stress.
When we slow down and are present in the big and little tasks of the day, we open the way for the work of God to vessel through us. When we slow to the moment, we enrich the experiences that make up our day. Giving your presence is the path to joy. With this intention, we can live our best life. The best gift we can give to others is to be present. This is a gift we should give ourselves as well. Total awareness, that is the prize. Complete intentional focus on the present moment. Living in all of it. Breathe.
Ignoring or quieting the stimuli pulling us from the present moment opens us to live with joy and contentment. It reduces worry and anxiety. Mindfulness, meditation, prayer are opportunities we can practice to improve our ability to be present. With this commitment to the here and now, we can soak up the emotion and strength to own the day.
Of course there is a time and a place to multitask. It is unavoidable in our culture. We never leave home without our cellphones. Honestly, I sleep with mine on my nightstand. I carry it with me most hours of the day, tucking it in my pocket from kitchen to living room, to the yard. It is synced to my car display every time I drive.
Recently, our book club read “The Power of Fun: How to Feel Alive Again” by Catherine Price. She also wrote “How to Break up with your Phone.” Both books highlight takeaways from her research as an award-winning science journalist. To have fun, one must be present and intentionally so. Of course, this is common sense, but the reminders in the book affirm the need for presence in our lives.
I also seek and create moments to be present with God. Removing the distractions, and allowing room for the creator to live in me, through me. He is the ultimate source of strength. This is true in the sacred place of a sanctuary or an intentional time spent on devotions or bible journaling. He is equally present in my secular moments of gathering with friends, working, making meals with my family, working out, even watching movies. God is omnipresent, and if I listen and watch carefully, I can feel Him.