It is a tremendous blessing that I have a large extended family. I have dozens of first cousins, beloved aunts and uncles, and grandparents whose longevity gave us the motivation to gather regularly and savor the great storytelling, hearty joking, and comfort of familiarity. Unfortunately, this cherished extended family lives stretched across the country, from Chicago to Arizona and from Texas to Wyoming. It is no easy task, staying close over the miles. I remember, a few months after starting college, feeling isolated and alone. I concluded that what I most needed was the comfort of a hug; something so simple, but so unavailable, in a place where my longest acquaintance was two months’.
Shortly into my college career, I began attending church. At first, I sneaked in the back unnoticed. My attendance was sporadic, and even the beloved greeter, who typically dropped by with a flower or cookie for visitors, never took notice of me. Eventually, however, I got up the courage to ask the choir director about joining the choir. She was kind and friendly and seemed happy to have me come to a rehearsal. At that first rehearsal, I was warmly welcomed and quickly found that these jolly souls, mainly my parents’ and grandparents’ age, appreciated what musical abilities I could offer, and even welcomed my weird sense of humor.
In the years since, I’ve had ups and downs with my church family. I have a deep appreciation for how they acknowledged and encouraged my call to ministry, adding me to staff and helping me get a seminary degree. Unfortunately, local church ministry can also be frustrating. Sometimes the demand to be constantly available, the sense of closeness that such a large church family feels for me and my family, can challenge my need for privacy, and my desire to be with and enjoy my biological family. Sometimes the generational differences in what effective ministry looks and feels like create barriers between us that feel insurmountable and make me question my calling. In the last year, especially with the overwhelming demands of pregnancy and newborn care, I’ve let the occasional snarky or insensitive comments of church members play on me more than usual. Even just a few abrasive people can sometimes lead me to group the whole church together as unappreciative and demanding.
Lately, I’ve been unfair. In a world where technology and distance have often disconnected people from each other, our church has offered a sanctuary of familial connection. They have surrounded my family with prayer during our trials and sorrows. Their joy in our return after maternity leave has been palpable. There are dear friends among them who demand to babysit my kids now and then while we have a dinner date, or else they complain that we’ve been hording them. My newest daughter has an exceptional collection of blankets, sleepers, rattles, and a beautiful cross-stitch birth sampler, received in equal shares from biological and church family who waited anxiously for her arrival, poised to love her heartily. I arrived home this week to find that my mailbox had been overloaded with the cards of well wishers, offering their condolences and prayers for my grandma’s death. I’ve taken for granted the love and connection that many others long for and live without. While other new mothers long for company, I must turn visitors away. While others face the burden of sorrow alone, I am humbled by an outpouring of empathy.
I am so grateful that in a lonely city, I found myself at home among people of faith, who long to love others as Jesus did. We don’t always agree on how that love should be expressed, but we do always agree on the one great source from whom it comes.
I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will bless you and be kind to you! May God bless you with his love, and may the Holy Spirit join all your hearts together. 2 Corinthians 13:13