It was your typical Tuesday, except for the atypical text message from a church acquaintance—the husband of a woman I deeply admire:“You will like this morning’s Spurgeon excerpt. Many references to gardening are in there. Blessings upon you and David this day.”Wow. So cool. I immediately felt considered, remembered, and spurred toward the Lord.Unfortunately, this type of interaction is not too typical in our PCA circles, is it? We aren’t sure how to do exactly what my acquaintance-friend did: communicate care, thoughtfulness, and honor in a respectful and appropriate way across gender or even generation. But he did it—he did exactly that. And my heart was moved toward the Lord because of the small but thoughtful act of my brother.How did he/we get to this place? To a place of safety in authentically extending the hand of friendship across genders in an appropriate, God-honoring way, encouraging the edification of all involved? Especially in this current socio-political climate of each gender elbowing the other out of the way to assert their self-importance? In our case, I’m chalking it up to church wide devotional.A couple years back, our church body began this practice, and it’s now become a significant thread in the life of our congregation—so much so, in fact, that we now refer to it as a means of grace. The brain trust of one of our associate pastors, Greg Poole, church wide devotional was born out of pastoral realization that significant numbers of Oak Mountain PCA’s flock were not spending daily time with the Lord on a consistent basis. (And sssssh, come closer: some of those numbers even represented church staff.)We needed a plan, and we needed one fast. A devotional was selected, full participation was encouraged, and before long the numbers told the story—the members of our congregation reporting time spent in daily devotion to God increased so significantly that Greg and staff were already on the hunt for which devotional to use the following year…
The church I attend recently began a small-group discipleship ministry for our women. As part of getting to know each other better, the leader of my group asked us to share a little-known fact about ourselves. I decided to tell the group about living in Argentina in the early-1970’s. The usual questions regarding life in a foreign country followed, accompanied by my well-practiced answers. Being so far away from family and friends at a time when communication was limited to snail mail was decidedly difficult, but the opportunity to experience a different culture and learn a second language was priceless.We spent two years abroad because my dad accepted a temporary transfer to work for the Argentine subsidiary of his U.S. employer. Thus, part of the pre-move preparations involved my parents’ 2-week, company-paid attendance at a local Berlitz total-immersion language school. It was a stressful, morning-to-night grind, no English allowed.Unlike my beleaguered parents, I began my language studies once we landed in Argentina. I was enrolled in an American school where I had classes in English in the morning and classes in Spanish in the afternoon. That, plus daily interaction with native speakers in our community, provided an excellent learning environment. Nonetheless, my parents hired a tutor to help me with the intricacies of sentence structure and verb tenses.Community ImmersionJust as I benefitted greatly from learning Spanish in a Spanish-speaking country, Christians thrive best when we’re part of God’s visible church. Scripture is clear that each of us has an important, God-ordained place in His body (1Corinthians 12:12-30) and that we should not neglect meeting together (Hebrews 10:24-25). Furthermore, God’s family is composed of members of varying ages, abilities, and spiritual maturities, just like biological families. We are called to do life together in compassionate covenant communities, where we rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn and come alongside each other to teach, support, and encourage according to the gifts we’ve been given (Romans 12:3-21).
My office shelves are lined with a colorful assortment of pictures and memories I have amassed over twenty-five years of ministry. There are pictures of mentors and friends who have profoundly shaped my life. A Japanese silk fan and a colorful teacup from the Dominican Republic remind me of connections with my international sisters in Christ. In the middle, sits a brass hinge in a small black frame. People often ask me to tell the stories behind these mementos. Without fail, everyone asks me about the hinge.I am a HingeI am a hinge. A utilitarian piece of hardware. Its job is to connect two pieces together so that they are made useful. When a hinge does its job, you rarely notice it unless it squeaks. My calling as a hinge gets me up every day. I connect people to people and churches to churches. My goal is to strengthen them both by connecting them to sound resources.I long to hinge in such a way that people don’t see me but see the Christ and the beautiful unity that occurs when things join for His glory. I am a fifty-one-year-old hinge. I have great delight when I get to stand in the gap and help women connect across differences: different generations, cultures, and contexts. But I have no greater joy than when I see them vitally connected to Christ and His Church.
Have you ever wondered what difference it would make if we believed we were better when hinged together to Christ and one another?
Most Mondays and Wednesdays find me at daughter Mary’s house. As 1pm draws nigh, I start herding 7-year-old Joshua and 2-year-old Emma toward the car so we can pick almost-5-year-old Lyla up from pre-school. Depending on the number of distraction-produced detours they take, the process can last anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes. Likewise, the drive to school and back may be filled with enthusiastic commentary on the scenes passing by or with shrieks of “Grammie, tell (insert sibling’s name) not to look at/touch/talk to me!!!” Yes, the trek to retrieve Lyla from school and return home safely is often the most stressful part of my day.
But a couple of Mondays ago, the events surrounding our mid-day trip were decidedly pleasant. As soon as Lyla and her teacher exited the building, Joshua, exclaimed, “Lyla’s got the bucket! She’s kid of the day!!” And so she was.
As Lyla climbed aboard and buckled up for the ride home, we all started talking excitedly. Congratulatory remarks blended with curious queries regarding the contents of her bucket. Several pieces of candy, a stencil, a super-cool, light-up pen, a certificate declaring her kid-of-the-day, and two books resided inside.
Joshua read the books to us after lunch. They were all about how we fill or empty each other’s imaginary buckets by being kind or being mean. Furthermore, the books pointed out we’re doing one or the other all the time.
We hadn’t seen each other very much lately, or even texted in our usual way. I knew we had both been busy, so I hadn’t thought much of it. I have lots of friends I don’t see very often because of proximity, different life stages or work schedules, but we always pick right back up as if no time had passed. Assuming the same would be true with this friend, I had looked forward to seeing her at an event later that week.
But the big hug and incessant catch up session I expected didn’t come. Instead my presence was barely acknowledged. Not knowing what to make of her icy reception, I pretended not to notice, opting instead to keep trying to get the conversation going. I kept asking questions hoping to make things feel normal, only it was never reciprocated which left me hurt and confused.
Back home, later that night and into the next day and week, I kept replaying this whole scenario in my head. But the longer I dwelt on it, the more my hurt turned to indignation and I became convinced of my own narrative. Of course, at this point I didn’t know what was really true, but it didn’t matter. I felt justified in thinking how dare she be mad at me for not texting or calling her, when she hadn’t reached out to me either. Ironically, in the same way I felt like she wanted me to “pay” some consequence for something I knew nothing about and I now wanted her to pay. For I deserved a better friend than what she’d shown me!
I know I’m not alone in this line of thinking even though we usually don’t tease it out.