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Who do our congregations want as new members?  That is the question many established churches are asking as rosters, and bank accounts, dwindle.  As we work to attract new members, who should be our focus?

I suspect that the answer depends somewhat on your congregation, specifically where you are located.   A church located in southern Missouri is going to serve a different population than a church in downtown St. Louis or out in the county.  Even county churches will differe depending on whether they are located in the inner suburbs, closest to the big city, or affluent West county.

But in the broader sense, the answer is one and the same.  We should reach out to those God sends our way whether these people are the working poor, opioid addicts, wounded warriors or multi-degreed medical professionals.

Because no matter who it is that God sends through our doors, they will come bearing burdens.  That’s the funny thing about being human.  We are all, rich or poor, educated and uneducated, imperfect and burdened.  We all have problems that can be helped by gathering together with our fellows, flawed though we all may be.

And while the person who just walked through the door may not have the gift that a congregation thinks will solve all their problems, without a doubt this person carries with them God’s blessing.

Though we may have to open our eyes a bit wider and seek God’s guidance to see it.

–SueBE

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I’ve been taking Miss Ruth’s lessons to heart so when I saw one of the young staffers at the city gym, I thanked him for doing such a good job.  This will make his day.

Sure enough. He smiled broadly.  But did he thank me for noticing?  No!   Did he say, “You’re welcome!”  He did not.

“It’s my job. I’m good at it.”

I laughed as my girl friend and I walked to our cars.  So much for my assumption that he needed my kind words to make his day.   Thanks but no, he’s got it under control.

Not that I’m going to let that stop me from thanking someone for a good job the next time I feel so moved.  After all, that person may need the kind word and may need to be seen at that point and time.

And isn’t that why I try to spread a bit of God’s love and joy every day?

–SueBE

 

Kids have not had a banner week, what with falling into gorilla enclosures and wrecking $15,000 LEGO statues and all. I have not formed an opinion on these events. I shouldn’t — I’m not a parent. I have no idea how tough it is to wrangle a small human being with a mind of its own. In fact, I’m not fit to judge anyone. I don’t know their lives: I’m not bipolar. I’m not an adoptee. I did not come from an abusive home. I’m not transgender. By the same token, you can’t possibly understand me, having not lived a life with the exact same contours, colored by the same emotions, experienced by a brain with its own unique wiring. No one can.

We are each alone in our brokenness. That fact tends to put up walls. More and more often, we see people wallowing in their aloneness, letting that aloneness define them. Why reach out to others when they can’t possibly understand? What is there to do but to trumpet my unique aloneness to the world?

There are constructive ways to deal with our aloneness. Several, in fact. One is to realize that, although our specific brand of aloneness is particular to our lives, we are all — every last one of us — broken and in need of healing. We actually have that in common. Maybe your “broken” differs from mine, but we can still reach out to one another in our common brokenness. I can’t understand yours and you can’t understand mine, but we can both understand how it feels to be sad, lonely, afraid, messed up. We are alone…but in a very crowded room. One touch is all it takes to bridge the gap.

Second, no matter how offbeat your type of aloneness is, there is someone who understands it. And you don’t need to go looking for a support group to find them. God understands every kind of brokenness there is, every kind of sinfulness, every kind of loneliness. Nothing is too foreign, too sensational, or too strange. I can’t promise instantaneous cures to your every injury, but I can promise that there is a listening ear out there who truly, deeply gets you. And, again, the chasm isn’t nearly as deep as you think it is. Open your mouth (or mind) and let it out.

Just as Emily Dickinson once opined that she was a nobody and asked if you, the reader, were a nobody too, let me be a literary catalyst: Hello, I’m broken. I’m a mess. I feel alone. How about you? Are you broken, too?

And if so, can’t we be broken together?

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I followed through on some of the impulses that flit through my mind. For instance, on the way home from the vet this morning (on foot; the vet’s office is just up the block), I thought strongly about sitting down on the sidewalk and crying. Would anyone have noticed? I did pass the mail carrier on the way. Surely he would have looked askance at me. Then again, I’ve walked home from the vet in tears before, and no one gave me a second look. And I don’t exactly live in a remote enclave — along with the vet’s office, the street holds a police station, fire station, Girl Scout headquarters (great for receiving one’s cookies before everyone else does), two dentists’ offices, a park and a bus stop. There are people about, believe me. But here’s the rub: Each one of us is so attuned to our own self-doubts, miseries, anxieties and pleasures that we often have no space in our vision or hearts for anyone else’s.

Maybe that’s a good thing. It’s hard enough to navigate one’s own life without taking on the baggage of others. Our own suitcases are plenty heavy, thank you. I, for instance, did not ask the mail carrier how his day was going. Maybe he was up all night with a sick baby. Maybe his mother is in the hospital. How would I know? I was stuck in my own woes. But we did exchange a smile, at least. And here’s the thing — I meant it. I like people generally, and hope our mailman has a nice day. And he, at least in that moment, felt the same way about me.

Maybe if I turned my vision outward more often, I would find that most of us are struggling with one thing or another, but are willing to reach out with positivity anyway. We are never as alone as we think we are. God made us responsive to one another from the get-go: Babies seek out human faces, quickly learning to smile so as to elicit a response should hunger, thirst or other need occur. It is instinctive behavior. Perhaps we are all just infants, whatever our age, looking for someone to respond to our smile, just in case we should ever need them down the line. Perhaps that’s what a smile is — a social cue passed from one to another to admit both our own inherent weakness and transmit the possibility of solidarity. I need you, and you need me. We agree, yes?

I won’t tell you to smile (though your heart is aching), or to let a smile be your umbrella: No one likes being told to feel something he or she does not feel. But know this — a smile is a gift, and you never know how much it might mean to someone else until you give it. In the uptick of facial muscles lies the hand of God. Pass it on.

I’m a serial murderer…of plants; my thumb more black than green. My singular success has been with weeds, which grow like, well, you know. But other, more personal gardens require tending, too — the care and feeding of relationships, for instance. I haven’t been terribly successful with this form of gardening, either, but I’m getting better. I hope.

Relationships need to be nurtured. I’ve lived on the assumption that, if we were once friends, even if you don’t hear from me over long periods of time, you understand that I still consider us friends. I think of you more often than you know. My silence holds nothing but sincere good feelings. But silence can be misconstrued. People often need more “upkeep” than I’m prepared to give, so used am I to living in silence and solitariness. Rifts may result. I regret this.

My best friend Susan is a marvelous caretaker of relationships. She is the queen of thank-you notes. She remembers to send you recipes for food you’ve enjoyed that she prepared. She writes letters — actual, bona fide letters — in a lovely, artistic hand. (When we both worked together in the Art Department of an educational company, Susan was the go-to gal for any photograph that required beautiful handwriting.) When you are sick, she will make you soup. Or an apple pie, artfully decorated with leaf cutouts.

Knowing Susan has made me a better caretaker of my own garden of relationships. (E-mail has been a boon, too, I’ll admit.) She is going through a difficult time right now, so difficult, in fact, that she has no time to write or call. We pepper one another with brief e-mails, mine mostly discussing how I’ve been praying for her, but we’ve not had time for one of our marathon long-distance chats. (She lives in California; I now live in Kansas.) Still, I feel her with me every time I remember to ask after another person’s welfare, or pray for their intentions. Susan is thoughtful. What a beautiful gift to bring to the world!

How is your social garden faring? Is it weed-choked from long neglect? Bursting with color and life? Take some time today to reach out to someone you’ve not been able to keep in close touch with, just to remind them that you treasure them, that their place in your garden is a permanent one, one that you cherish.

People need people. That’s why God made us in such abundance and multiplicity. And I’m betting that they who tend their relationships sit in good stead with The Creator. With God’s grace, perhaps one day I might count myself in their number.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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