Where should I begin, my friends? Or, should I say…where did I leave off the last time I spoke?
I haven’t written a blog post since October. That’s a lifetime ago. 5 months. A lot can happen in 5 months. Heck, a lot happened in 3 months last year, so 5 could be an eternity.
From the outside, it might look like not much has changed. Our lawn is still patchy with too many dandelions. A wreath still hangs on our front door although it’s moved from autumn to Christmas to early spring colors. My son plays faithfully with his football, soccer ball, sticks, and other random toys with any neighborhood friends who are home. My kitchen swells with sweet scents as I take up my baker’s hat once again. We have fun with friends and family, go on trips, visit the stores, and go to church most Sundays.
It all seems normal, right?
But it’s not normal. Because, well, what IS normal?
Normal: the usual, average, or typical state or condition. Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.
Doing what’s expected. Conforming to a standard. But WHO’s standard? Ours, someone else’s, or the general world’s point of view?
I’ve conformed to a suburban living because that’s where we live. That’s what I know. It’s what I see every day. It brings comfort to know I’m in the “norm” around me. Similarly, I conformed to a city life when I lived in NYC: I never looked people in the eye. Never looked up at the buildings to get mistaken as a tourist. Learned the lingo of the subway station. Knew that the best bagels came from H&H, and never expect real name brand purses below Canal Street.
But where does the line between conformity and facade blur? When does it become an act to fit into the culture? I’ve found myself wondering this a lot lately.
I grew up in the church. We went every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and even Wednesday nights. I was a baby during the 80’s “Charismatic Movement.” If you don’t know what I’m referring to, it’s basically when the modern church went through a revival of bringing “gifts of the Spirit” to the forefront. Speaking/praying in tongues, prophecy, dancing, being slain in the spirit, etc. became the norm in our Pentecostal churches.
I remember kneeling at an alter when I was 5, looking at all my friends crying and starting to fake cry myself. When people would ask me when I got saved, I’d refer to that moment. The moment I thought I cried and gave my heart to Jesus. In reality, I just conformed to what I saw was normal.
As I aged, we moved to another state. We changed churches a few times too. We went from Assemblies of God to Baptist, to Wesleyan, and back to Assemblies of God. At 12-years-old, I remember the children’s church leader telling all us kids to pray for the ability to “speak in tongues.” I honestly didn’t even know what that meant. All I knew was I’d heard the phrase many times. I’d seen other people, including my parents, speak in a weird language at church. People seemed to pay close attention to those who spoke like that, especially when they got really loud. And I’d heard how you weren’t a true Christian unless you were “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “Spoke in tongues.” So, I prayed for that ability. I prayed SO HARD. I thought God didn’t love me unless I could speak in that weird language. I doubted my faith. I doubted my relationship with God. So, alone in my bedroom at the age of 12, I asked God to come into my heart. I didn’t speak in tongues then, but I did realize I wanted to know who God was and what He wanted of me.
We changed churches a few times after that too. The norm changed. My surroundings changed. My view of the church shifted. I won’t bore you with all the years of details. I just want to set the stage. Give you a look into the foundation of where my ideas of “normal” began.
We all have a different definition of normal. Yours might be a suburban family of 5 with Saturday soccer games and Thanksgiving’s in Tennessee. Yours might be a broken family with weekend’s at dad’s apartment and weekday’s at mom’s bi-level. My normal life changed every couple of years, but two things remained constant: a close family and our unwavering faith in God. The circumstances around both those things fluctuated – drastically at times – but I credit those 2 pillars as to why I haven’t gone insane. lol
You see, once the environment changes, so does the definition of “normal.” And when you realize you were just acting to conform to that normal existence, how do you know who you really are anymore?
Like I said in my first paragraph, this blog isn’t really a beginning; I’m continuing. I’ve been talking about identity a LOT the past few years in my blog. That’s because I’ve been finding myself ever since we left our “normal” environment in Pennsylvania Dec. 2019. Each year seems to bring a new set of things to work on. What choices am I making simply because I’m trying to conform to my definition of normal? Or what choices SHOULD I be making because it’s what God wants and what is truly me?? It’s complicated questions with complicated answers. Am I going to church because that’s what I’m used to, or because I want/need to? Am I going to THAT church because that’s what I’m used to or is it where God wants me to be? Am I friends with that person because they’re the kind of person I’m used to, comfortable with, or are they keeping me from growing into who God wants me to be?
On that same note, I’ve realized something else too: As much as it’s dangerous or wrong to keep doing something because it’s your own definition of “normal,” it’s also dangerous to do the opposite because you’re running from your definition of “normal.” Yup, I said it. Whether you love your past or hate your past, doing the same or opposite BECAUSE of it can be detrimental to our current & future identity. I’ve found this out the hard way a few times. Living your life the same as your parents, family, or friends is wrong, but trying to live your life OPPOSITE of your parents, friends, and family is also wrong. Be careful to consider what motivates you.
The point of all of this is to encourage you – as I encourage myself – to do something because it’s what GOD wants of you, not because of your past or environment norm’s.
I mentioned how I grew up in a Pentecostal church. How talk of the Holy Spirit was the norm of my upbringing. The events at these churches both helped and hurt me. I was hurt many, many times over various people, events, and tragedies in these churches. I’ve watched a self-proclaimed pastor of faith leave his wife and children to run off with the church secretary. I’ve watched so-called friends pray and weep in tongues one week and lie to my face the next. I’ve met so many hypocrites, pedophiles, cheaters, abusers, gossipers, liars, etc. it had me doubting if any of these people REALLY loved God like they claimed.
Despite all of these people though, I stuck to the church because that particular “normal” kept me sane. Going through the motions of church helped to bring stability.
Until it didn’t.
When we lost our foster daughter, my normal changed once again. Ugh, it hurt. It still hurts. Maybe it’ll always hurt. But in that time, I saw how – once again – a church doesn’t save us. Going through the motions of church didn’t help that time. I floundered. Too many “normal” things were lost. Hello identity crisis!
But in those moments, my 2 pillars remained steadfast. God and family. You see, church isn’t God. Nope. Sure, good churches are full of God-loving people. Good churches are filled with people worshiping God. Talking about God. Using the gifts and talents God has given them. Good churches are a community of people working out their faith in God.
Yeah, I know you noticed my term of “good churches.” I’ll let that definition be depicted in your own minds. There are a lot of good, wonderful churches out there. That doesn’t mean God wants us at every good church though; it’s always good to ask God where HE wants you to be. Because a good church is still filled with flawed humans.
Whenever in doubt – seriously, ya’ll, whenever you doubt ANYTHING turn to your Bible. Turn to the Word of God. It truly is amazing how all the answers lay there…
Church in the Bible isn’t about the rhythm of going through the motions. It never sets a time limit. In fact, it never mentions going every Sunday. It does mention the early believers gathering every day (Acts 2:46), but it doesn’t mention how long they kept that regimen up. It does say this:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Hebrews 10:24-25
We decided as a family – my hubby, son, and I – that we never wanted to give up gathering together with fellow believers. I.e. going to church. But we also realized how church is so much, much more than songs, hearing a message, etc. It’s about encouraging others. It’s about people. It’s about faith. It’s about worshiping our Savior. It’s about our relationship with Christ.
I was able to separate my church experiences with that of my relationship with Christ. Because God isn’t a flawed human. And flawed churchgoers definitely don’t speak for who God is. The Bible does that.
Thus, when so many of my fellow millennials have stopped going to church, we took a new normal. Because we’re not doing it because it’s normal. We’re not even doing it because it’s abnormal. We’re doing it because we realized it’s who we want to be and what God wants from us. So, for the first time in a long time, I look forward to going to church, but I also don’t feel guilt when we miss a Sunday service. Because we’re not doing it out of ritual.
Likewise, I’ve found myself doing other things that are either different from my normal or back to who I really was (because I’d been committed to NOT doing it for whatever selfish reason). The size of my family isn’t defined by my surroundings. The careers I pursue aren’t dictated by social norms. I’m not guilted into keep a tradition. And I’m not guilted into stopping a tradition.
The wreath might change, but the door has unlocked. The grass might still be full of weeds, but it’s as green and fun as the “normal” pretty grass. Maybe we’ll act the same, maybe we’ll become something amazingly different; either way, we’re trying to do it because God wants us to, not because it’s the norm.
I hope you’ve read my words with clarity. I might not wear my emotions on my sleeve like I did in childhood, but sometimes it feels like I’m transferring emotions to the page. Whether through metaphors or blatant language, I always try to speak truth. It’s my identity. Words. Sweets. And sharing love in every art form. Ha. I think I just broke through my normal boundary and found something that God placed there all along. 🙂
Until next time… continue to find the art in life. Love y’all!