Finding a church

We’re shopping for churches. Sort of. I mean, we’d have to attend to officially be shopping, and we aren’t really trying yet. In the five weeks I’ve lived here, we’ve been to one church one time.

I don’t like the shopping analogy, but that’s what it is – trying on different congregations. Finding a church to attend regularly. Trying to determine if it’s a place where we want to become active participants, where we can contribute to the local body of Christ. Where the message of the Gospel is taught. Where we can become engaged, not simply entertained.

Some people never miss church – it’s where they are, every Sunday. On vacation. In snowstorms. Not fair-weather attenders, but faithful followers. I can’t say that’s me. I know church is important, and I have been an active member of several congregations in my lifetime, where I’ve been able to serve and be ministered to. But not since my childhood have I attended every single service the week has to offer. Not even close.

When we were first married and we missed a Sunday, I was overwhelmed with incredible guilt. Hard to distinguish if it was the Holy Spirit, or my own accusations. But like anything, it became easier to miss the more I missed. When I felt particularly guilty about missing, I might do a Bible study lesson or watch a sermon online. Not always because I wanted to, but sometimes simply to assuage my guilty feelings.

These are not pretty things I’m admitting to. I’m not proud of my spotty attendance in this search for a new church home. And I don’t want to make excuses. I’m hoping that if I write it down, it will help me figure out why it’s so hard.

In the 15 months we lived in Florida, we attended 3 different churches – repeatedly each time – until we finally felt like we might have landed in one where God could use us and we were comfortable. We were just getting settled into a routine there; that lasted a few weeks, and then we moved to VA.

So now we start over. Like I said, we’ve been to one church one time. We haven’t been back, nor have we been to the other churches on the list of potentials. It takes effort, and it’s easy not to go. It’s hard to always be the strangers, the ones sitting in the pew alone. A greeter shakes our hands and we are welcomed. Barely.

But I’ve been in this place before, and I know that relationships happen in small groups, in repeated fellowship. So I’m joining an evening women’s Bible study at this church. Maybe it will make Sunday mornings easier.

Mystery walk

What’s at the end of this sidewalk? Is it different in the dark?

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I can’t see beyond where the immediate light shines. Future is a mystery.

So I depend on faith for my future, affirmed by what I’ve experienced in the past.

I trust Jesus, the Light of the World. He’s been with me every step of my life, lighting the way as I needed to see, and guiding me when I was walking through the dark times where I couldn’t see, when He called me to simply follow Him. He has led me, is now leading me, and He will continue to lead me, curvy path and all.

(This reminds me of the excellent book, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On, by Stormie Omartian.)

Paths

4C608623-8BE6-4C6F-B70A-546A312B36CDPaths. I love paths. Dirt or grass or boardwalks or brick or stone. Looking down the path to the horizon line, watching as it converges on an invisible spot. Makes me wonder what’s at that point? Does the path curve? lead out onto a beach? wind back into the woods? What comes at the end of the path?

And then there’s the journey along the path. I love walks that wander through woods, though recent path walks have led me through swamps and sloughs and beach brush.

Climbing down steps in a National Park, steps built by the Civilian Conservation Corps under the New Deal of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. Those men made some otherwise inaccessible views available to Park guests. I feel such a sense of pride and history when I walk those paths.

Paths where I have to climb over large tree roots. I recall walking on such a path with our camping buddies as we made our way to a secluded bay of Lake Superior. My husband and I had started ahead, but my sense of balance wasn’t completely steady, and the sound of laughter and chatter approached from behind as the kids all made their way to the beach, passing us to reach it first. Stepping between the tree roots – sometimes my shoe just fit – delightful! – and sometimes I stood on roots themselves. Big beautiful trees. That path led to a fantastic day with great friends.

Walking on a boardwalk above the water of a nearby slough – looking for alligators or fish or turtles. Birds overhead, a baby owl. Lovely colorful flowers and spanish moss strands hanging down from the branches. Blisters on my heels so I walked barefoot, the wood so smooth under my feet.

One of my favorite paths – a small stone and pebble walkway to the cabin I stayed in for my get-away. The whole weekend was magical, and the path that led to the front door guided me there.

The path that wound through the woods near the outdoor theater. Up the hill, on white gravel rock, making it easy to see in the dark when coming back down after the show was over. And the other path built there, winding in a sort of circle away from the indoor theater. I lost my sense of direction as it curved around.

Many of these paths I’ve walked take me away from daily noise. I first enjoy the silence, then when I’m listening more closely, I hear the sounds along the path – dripping water, birds chirping, leaves blowing, wings flapping. A plop and I turn quickly to see what I missed. The path is not silent, after all.

I’m not certain where my life path is taking me. Turns out, I don’t need to know. I’m trying not to focus on the horizon spot but to enjoy the walk along the way. To listen. To observe. To delight. To appreciate. Of course, I’m not walking this path alone either. Friends and family accompany me for big parts of it, and Jesus is always by my side. He knows where we’re headed, and so I’ll just enjoy the path and its beauty. If it gets dark or scary, with trees looming in towards me or overgrown underbrush against my legs, I’ll hold His hand more tightly. But mostly, I’ll simply enjoy the path.

The 2 Hour Support Group

The Monday Leader Lady ran another Depressed Anonymous (DA) group, on Fridays – not as structured, and it met for 2 hours instead of one. When I began attending, there were several other people there too, but since it was small to begin with, when folks dropped out, it was noticeable. There were many times that there were only two or three of us. This had a huge impact on group dynamics – it’s hard to have the group’s input if there is no group. These times became more about mentoring. And that was ok – our Leader had lots of encouragement and practical advice to offer.

We’d start the same as Mondays – read the Serenity Prayer, the Statement of Concern, the 12 Steps of DA, and a few general guidelines. Then we’d share our about ourselves in a traditional Round Robin. If we finished before the hour was up, we’d often read from the book we were using to help us understand depression and a 12 Step program, in this case, Codependents’ Guide to the 12 Steps. Then we’d take a short break, refill our coffee, and come back together after 10 minutes.

Leader lady would sometimes use Fridays to offer guided meditation during the second hour. This was one of my favorite Friday afternoon activities. She would paint a picture for us, outline a scene. She’d mention details but not specifics, like “A bird flies overhead,” and in our thoughts, we would choose what kind of bird. We filled in the colors, types of birds and flowers, sounds and smells. It was very focused and detailed, and also incredibly relaxing. She would describe the scene for 15-20 minutes. Then she’d encourage us to gently open our eyes. We’d often share our private pictures with each other, and I was always amazed at how different our interpretations were.

We were not hypnotized. She simply helped us focus our thoughts in a relaxing scene. For me, her words often helped me recall a place or time, like my grandparents’ house at the lake, or an anniversary beach trip. I know that at the end of a stressful week, this was incredibly relaxing. And I found myself picturing the scene during the next week if I needed a mini vacation to calm my anxieties. This was a great way to practice relaxation, I discovered. It was not the same as mindfulness – being in the moment. Quite the opposite – this was enjoying a daydream.

Other weeks we talked about forgiveness, wrote a letter to our future-selves, drew a spiderweb diagram of Step 4 – “made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” Sometimes, there was just more time for sharing with and encouraging each other, and that was good, too!

From the Friday group, I learned more about sharing in a smaller setting. I learned how a concentrated daydream can bring a real peaceful relaxation – a great tool for fighting anxiety. I learned creative ways to work through the 12 Steps. I made friends with other women for whom I came to care very deeply, particularly the Leader Lady. I recognized that we all have been wounded by situations in our lives, sometimes caused by the actions of others, sometimes by changes in circumstances. Yet I do not have to be alone in my pain when I’m willing to share it with others. We who walk through depression have had very personal, private, and unique journeys. But the effects of depression are something we have in common, and by sharing our stories and our coping skills, we help each other along the way.

Walking Into A Support Group

My husband saw the article – a brief blurb in the newspaper telling about the group. Depressed Anonymous, meets Mondays at 5:30pm at the Franciscan Spirituality Center. “Have you seen this?”

I hadn’t, but it sounded interesting. And I was feeling a little desperate, alone, isolated  – “I’m the only one who feels this way. ” So the idea of meeting other like-minded, or like-mood, folks sounded encouraging. Terrifying, but encouraging. I decided to go the next week.

That Monday, I worked later into the afternoon than usual. I tried to plan so that I would have a little time to find my way to the room and look around a bit; I didn’t want to feel completely unprepared. It wasn’t far from work – just down the road, maybe a mile. I drove to the Center, and found a spot to park across the street. I walked up the cement steps to the building and pulled hard on the front door.

The door made a funny swishing sound, and it clicked loudly when it latched behind me. I climbed the inside stairs  – covered in a green-blue carpet – and opened the inner door to a quiet but well lit hallway. To the left was a bathroom (I didn’t see it until the next week) and a wood paneled wall with a small rack to hang jackets. To the right was a large open window with the same wood trim into an office area. There were several desks and filing cabinets, and a couple of older women chatting. One asked if she could help, and I told her I was there for the Depressed Anonymous group.  (How does the anonymous part work, since now someone knows I’m here? But won’t everyone in the room know I’m here? What’s anonymous about it?) She gave me directions to the room.

I wandered down the hallway, up a few stairs, and across the hall from the Rose Room was the conference room. The overhead light was on, and there was a large boardroom table with chairs all around. There was a TV on a portable stand, a podium pushed to the side, and a couple of other small tables with books on them. There were no people.

I was early, and so I walked back down the hallway toward the receptionists, trying to figure out how to kill some time. There were large banquet tables lining the hall, covered in mostly old books, so I perused the titles, picking up one here and there, trying to focus on anything other than my anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I’m not Catholic – will that be ok? The ad did say it was open to anyone. What’s in the Rose Room? How many people would there be? Will I feel out of place? Should I plan to say anything?

I stood at the book table for a long time, and several other people came in, some stopping to look at books too. I heard some greetings from the receptionists, and thought those might be people in charge of the group. A few folks passed me and I watched them walk toward the room. When it looked like several had gone in, I made my way back up the small steps and into the confernce room.

I was greeted with a very cheerful “Hello!” from a lady at the end of the table. She had a small box in front of her, and some papers. She welcomed me to Depressed Anonymous, “or DA, as we call it,” and invited me to sit anywhere. I headed to the right side and middle seat at the table, so as not to stand out as the newbie (yeah, right). Others in the room said hello and smiled.  She told me she had papers for me about the group, and slid the pile down the table. This gave me something to look at as more people came in and sat down, until 5:30pm. Then a large man said it was time and got up from his chair, looked down the hall to see if anyone else was coming, and closed the door. Starting on time. A good indicator of structure. Maybe this would be more than a misery-loves-company complaint session.