Hello, Is It Me You’re Looking For?

So we’ve safely established in this series how to embrace your single season and wait for the right person. I can hear some of you saying, “But how do I know if they’re the right person?” I’m glad you asked.

There are a ton of books out there around this particular topic. I’ve read several excellent books with a Christian perspective on what to look for and what should be your deal-breakers. I’m not going to repeat all that stuff. However, there is one thing that is worth discussing at length.

The most important thing to look for in a partner. Something worth its weight in gold. Something more important than looks, attraction, or even personality. Chivalry can’t even touch it. This one thing will determine the success or failure of a potential relationship more than any other factor. Have you guessed it yet?

I’m talking about character. It’s the one thing we don’t talk nearly enough about in terms of dating, but will have the greatest impact on your relationship. Think about it. If a man has integrity, he won’t cheat. If a woman is honest, she won’t lie. If your partner has strong character, they won’t put you in a compromising or harmful situation. Character is what will determine how your partner treats you. Physical attraction waxes and wanes, but how a person treats you will have a lasting effect.

How many of us have fallen for someone charismatic, physically attractive, or with a great personality? I’m willing to bet all of us at some point. But charm and charisma alone, can’t be trusted. If they’re charming you, they could likely be charming someone else. My favorite example of this is a line from the Broadway musical turned big picture, “Into The Woods,” when Cinderella catches Prince Charming cheating…

As for physical attraction, that can change over time as we age. I’ve seen sad stories of people who left their spouse because of physically altering accident. True love, the kind that lasts, isn’t there only because of outward beauty. Proverbs 31:30 addresses this well, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised.” Men aren’t exempt, though. It goes both ways. A partner who fears the Lord (has a real relationship with God and genuine, good character) is of far more value than anything else.

So how do you find someone of good, strong character? “Where have all the good ones gone?!” I hear some of you lamenting. It’s simple really. The only way you will be able to find someone of good character is to BE someone of good character. Because people of good character have already figured out how important it is to find someone who values integrity, honor, and compassion. So naturally, they are looking for someone who exhibits those same values. Like attracts like.

So how do you become a person of good character? What are good character traits? Start by reading the book of Proverbs. It is a book full of wisdom. And that will set you in the right direction.

“May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God.” ~Philemon 1:11

You’re Nobody Til Somebody Loves You

I love me some Michael Bublé. He does an amazing cover of the above titled song. Dean Martin sang the original swoony, croony tune. As much as I love the song, it’s just not true. You’re NOT nobody until somebody loves you.

As silly as it seems to state the obvious, this flawed way of thinking is more prevalent than you may at first realize. Love songs definitely push the idea that our value is found in what the object of our affection feels toward us. You’re thinking, even if it’s not totally true, it sounds good or just rhymes well in a song. Okay. Fine. But Disney movies, romantic dramas and comedies, by in large, tell us that our “happily ever after” comes only when we meet Prince Charming. Disney and Nicholas Sparks have effectively ruined a generation’s expectations and values in relationships.

Between movies, music, pop culture, and society, we are told from a very young age (especially as women) that our highest and best purpose is marriage. Therefore, if you’re not married you must be defective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had the following conversation:

Me: “You know ‘So and so’ is single.”

Other Person: “Really? How old is he [or she]?”

Me: (ballpark age)

Other Person: (If the age is over 30ish) “What’s wrong with him [or her]?”

Me: (Laughing) “What’s wrong with me, then?”

Other Person: Immediate, profuse backpedaling

We have been so indoctrinated to think that love or marriage have to happen by a certain age. And if not, there must be something innately wrong with the person. They somehow offer less value as a potential romantic interest. I’m here to tell you that is a big, steaming pile of crap!

You were loved and valued by the Creator from the very moment you were conceived. He has loved you from the beginning and will love you to the end. No matter your mistakes or character defects, God’s love is eternal and truly unconditional. He extends the greatest gift: a personal relationship with Him. That is the only relationship worth finding your value in.

In your single season, seek out what your value is in Christ. (I could tell you, but where’s the fun in that?) Who does He say you are? What is your personal and specific purpose on the planet? What is God’s plan and will for your life? What are the character defects He would like to help you eliminate?

Once you’ve discovered the answers to these questions, I would contend that you bring MORE substance into a future relationship. When you know who you are and where your value is found, you’re less likely to obsess or settle. You also understand how much God loves your partner and can offer grace authentically without being a doormat.

Those who believe they are nobody till somebody loves them tend to be what I call “serial daters.” They hop from one serious relationship straight to the next without any healing time in between. They’re never single long enough to even begin to explore who they are on their own. And why would they? They’re convinced their value on the relationship stock market begins to plummet the minute their Facebook status goes back to “single.” I knew someone once that treated relationships like most people treat a job: She wouldn’t quit one until she had the next opportunity lined up. You may be laughing at that analogy, but it was heartbreaking and frustrating to watch.

One of the most obvious problems for serial daters is that they don’t take the time to process and analyze why the previous relationship didn’t work out. Instead, they drag their hurts and baggage from one relationship into the next, building up a stockpile of relational damage.

I’ve never been a serial dater, but I realized that I was “masking” my hurts by “going out with the girls” in an unhealthy way. In my mid-twenties I would go out a lot. Karaoke, ladies’ nights, or just dinner with the girls. Nothing wild or crazy. I’m just an extrovert and needed to be around friends. Or at least that’s what I told myself. God showed me that I was using “girl time” to avoid being alone. In turn, I was avoiding my own healing process. I would do anything to not be stuck at home, especially when my son was visiting his dad. I couldn’t bear the thought of the total quiet. Because then I’d have to deal with what was going on in my head and heart.

Solitude is not a bad thing. Nowadays I enjoy it. That’s where God can speak to my heart without distraction. That’s where He can gently encourage and love my soul. That quiet “alone” place is where I find peace. It’s where I’m reminded of who I am: a daughter of the Most High King. There is my value. In Him who made me and loves me more than any man ever can.

“How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” ~Psalm 139:17-18

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places

If I could sum up my previous dating experiences in a single phrase, the above line from an old country western song would be it. Needless to say, I’ve dated the wrong way- the world’s way. I’ve tried online dating, blind dates, and “shopping” for dates at the local bar scene. But the problem with my dating blunders wasn’t so much the places as it was the looking.

Last week, I talked about where to place our focus (on Jesus) whether single or attached. Well, the problem with dating in the way I’d experienced before was that it first caused me to take my focus off of God and start looking to and fro for a person. Mistake #1.

As the title implies, looking for love in all the wrong places leads no where. It only brings more heartache. As they say in the real estate business, “location, location, location!” Mistake #2.

Many years ago, my dad said, “If you look for a husband in a bar, you might find an alcoholic.” Boy was he right! I met my son’s dad at a bar, through a co-worker who I worked with at (you guessed it) a bar. He was an alcoholic through and through. He always wanted to go to the bar on weekends, drank 6-12 beers 7 nights a week, and when I was ready to settle down, he was still out carousing and partying. He was the life of the party. And the charisma and charm that drew me to him at the bar became harsh words and heavy drinking in our home. My dad had tried to warn me with a common sense quip. My dad was right. I should’ve listened. Mistake #3.

Several weeks ago a single friend of mine asked if I “put myself out there” and where does a good christian girl meet a good christian guy. Short answer: not the bar! I’m not saying EVERY person who goes to a bar is an alcoholic. Nor am I saying every person who goes to church is a saint. However, the odds of meeting someone who is authentically seeking God are far higher in one than the other.

Now I can hear someone saying, “Stop everything! You want me to look for a date at CHURCH?!” Yes. And no. You’re probably imagining singing songs during a worship service while looking up and down the rows of people, hoping to see an eligible bachelor that makes eye contact with you. And right there during the chorus of “How Great Thou Art,” you give the call-me-maybe hand sign.

No. Don’t. Just stop.

Let’s back up for just a moment. My parents have been married for nearly 40 years. They have one of the most beautiful relationships I’ve witnessed. They adore each other to this day and are true life partners. They’ve been through a lot and they have never bailed on each other or hurt one another intentionally. Guess where they met? That’s right. Church. Now, they weren’t hunting for partners. They were in a Bible study together; strictly friends for a year before they ever talked about taking their relationship to the next level. Then they dated for a year before my dad FINALLY proposed to my mom.

The beauty of their story is that they were friends FIRST. He knew her background. She knew his character. They had the same circle of friends, so there were no surprises. He knew she wasn’t going to turn psycho out of nowhere and she knew he wasn’t going to turn out to be an abusive jerk. There were no facades to try to impress one another. It happened naturally and S-L-O-W-L-Y.

Don’t start trolling your church foyer. That’s creepy. You should be attending church to learn more about and draw closer to God. First and foremost, keep your priorities straight. Do get involved with things that are important to you. Serve at your church. Volunteer with ministries and organizations where you feel you can contribute. Enrich your life with things that matter and when God’s perfect timing strikes, the right person will notice you.

It’s not so much about searching for the right person as it is about focusing on God while becoming the right person. Then and only then can He open your eyes to see what’s right in front of you.

“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”   ~Matthew 6:33

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

The Apostle Paul, who was unmarried, said this in Colossians 7:32-35, “I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.”

I had a hard time with that scripture for many years because, quite honestly, I’ve always desired to be married and have a healthy, whole relationship with a partner for life. It wasn’t until the FIFTH consecutive year of being single and seeking God’s kingdom first that the lightbulb came on. I’m a slow learner, I know.

First, Paul very clearly says that this is a suggestion, not a commandment or restriction. He’s just saying, “Hey, this is my recommendation.” That always made it easy for me to brush off this segment of scripture. I could say, “Well, that’s his opinion because he was single. So of course, he’d suggest everyone do it his way.” But what he’s really saying is that Christ should be our central and foremost focus.

Second, my deep revelation about this scripture had less to do with the married versus unmarried aspect, but more to do with the heart condition. I realized it has more to do with where our focus is. God’s greatest concern is always for our heart and if it is turned toward Him.

If we truly call ourselves Christ followers, we must follow Jesus first, above all else. Dating, marriage, and relationships can be a distraction from our primary focus. Though that’s not always the case. And romantic relationships aren’t the only culprit. Many things can distract us from our relationship with God. Television, friendships, activities, and even our own kids can be a distraction from God.

I’m not saying you need to cancel your cable, disconnect your phone, and move to Tibet. What I am saying is that it’s important to look at all of the distractions in our lives and take note of what/who is pulling our eyes away from Jesus. What or who is leading you away from God rather than drawing you closer? And then the tough one: What do I need to give up partially or completely in order to draw nearer to Christ?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”    ~Hebrews 12:1

To Every Season Turn, Turn, Turn

Life is made up of seasons. After winter is spring. After spring comes summer. After summer is fall. And so it goes. We learn this in kindergarten. Yet it takes us until much later in adulthood to realize how profoundly true it is in every area of our lives. There are times of abundance and times of lack. Friendships that ebb and flow. The tide rises and then it falls. As the late, great Jim Rohn said on the topic, “…When you get your own planet, you can set it up any way you like, but as long as you’re on this one, it’s just the way it is.”

You can either enjoy each season as it is, while it lasts or you can spend your life miserable, fighting against the rising and setting of the sun. You know those people that are always wishing things were different? If it’s summer, they wish it was winter. When it’s snowing, they wish it was 70 degrees. If it’s night, they wish it was daytime. If they’re married, they wish they were single. If they landed a new job, they want the next big promotion. And if they had a car, they wish it was a plane. They’re miserable no matter what because nothing is as they want it to be. We all know someone like that. They could be living in Tahiti, sipping Mai Tai’s and undoubtedly praying for snow.

Many of us fall into this trap. We want to get to the next stage. We want to hurry up the process and move to greener pastures. But in doing so we miss out on the beauty around us right now. I’m a planner. So I totally get it. I’ve fallen into this snare more than once myself. Hoping for things to change, wishing for circumstances to be different, pressing toward a goal. But I missed out on the season I was in. Change comes. It’s inevitable. Circumstances will always shift. And while ambition is great, it can also lead to discontentment.

Singledom is also a season. You can choose to embrace it and enjoy the season of getting to know yourself, your Creator, and who He made you to be. You can maximize your time of learning who you are, Who God is, and what He has planned for you. Or you can get caught up in discontentment, missing the beautiful perspective and priorities that being single allows you.

Think about it. As a single, unattached person, you can come and go as you please. You can cook whatever you want for dinner. Or not cook at all. You have the freedom to serve and volunteer as much as you want. You can go to lunch with your friends without a second thought. Whether you have children or not, as a single person, you have certain freedoms that are easy to take for granted. You can sit up in your bed until 2am, reading your Bible and writing on your computer with the lights on… Hypothetically.

Enjoy those freedoms. Embrace this season of singledom. If for no other reason, so that when the time comes to be in a relationship, you can move fully into that next season without regrets.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

One Is The Loneliest Number

When I found myself single again and broken by an abusive relationship nearly 6 years ago, I swore I would do things differently. I would do things “God’s way.” That sounded great in theory, but how? And what does that even look like? I had learned well what NOT to do. My battered heart and body were obvious signs of that. How would I know what a good, godly man and relationship might be like? How could I even conceive of being vulnerable again? What’s healthy and what’s not? My mind was a jumble of questions. But I was determined in one thing: to choose something better.

It’s been a long journey, but I’ve learned a few things along the way. After having a series of conversations with single women recently, asking many of the above questions, I realized how much I have grown. And while I don’t have all the answers, I do have some wisdom on the topics of singledom, dating with dignity, and honoring God in the process.

I’m reminded of the Three Dog Night song as referenced in the title, “One Is the Loneliest Number.” I’ll be honest, sometimes it’s lonely being single. That part can suck. But I also remind myself of the rest of the lyrics in the chorus, “…two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Have you ever been in a relationship like that? I’ve sat on the same couch and felt miles away from my partner. There’s nothing worse than being in a relationship that still leaves you feeling empty and lonely.

So often I have conversations with single friends who are jealous of those who are coupled up and I remind them that loneliness, just like singledom is a choice. I’d rather be single and occasionally deal with pains of loneliness than hop into the first relationship opportunity just to change my Facebook status, yet still feel lonely.

More importantly, as a Christ follower, it is imperative to make the distinction between loneliness and being alone. I am never truly alone as a Christ follower. He is my Source, Comforter, and Lover of my Soul. Looking to a relationship to fill the “loneliness void” points to a greater issue. Another person can’t make me feel whole or complete. Only God can fix us. There are times when I feel lonely. But I’m never alone.

The longer I have been single, though, the more I have learned to focus my attention on God. I seek Him to fulfill my needs, not another person. God has placed some amazing friends in my life who hold me accountable and point me to Jesus. But ultimately, my relationship with Jesus is my own. When I have moments of loneliness, rather than scoping the dating websites or calling a friend, I turn to God in prayer. I search my heart to honestly assess where those feelings are coming from. Then I ask Holy Spirit to comfort me and remove any feelings of insecurity, loneliness, or envy of couples.

When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer. ~Psalm 94:19 [NLT]

Worship Where You Are

There’s significance when something is brought up for the first time in scripture. The first time a particular word is used, it gives us insight into the original meaning. Do you know when the first time the term “worship” is used in scripture? If not, it may surprise you. You ready for this? You better sit down. The first mention of worship is…

In the story of Abraham & Isaac. Just to clarify, it says nothing about singing or music.

Abraham was over 100 years old and finally had his son, Isaac, who was about 12 years old at this time. Isaac was the embodiment of God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled. God knew how much Abraham adored his son, this cherished, promised boy. So God chose to test him and commanded Abraham to offer his own son as a burnt offering to God. Sounds awful, right?! We know it was a test. Most of us know the end of the story. But Abraham didn’t.

Can you imagine?! Put yourself in Abraham’s shoes for a moment. Your son whom you’ve waited for many years is here, healthy and strong. And then God asks you to murder this precious gift as proof that God is first. Even over this innocent boy. That mountain must’ve looked like Mount Everest as Abraham knew what he was about to do. The weight of it mounting on his shoulders.

“Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.” Genesis 22:5 

“We will worship there.” As far as everyone else knew, they were climbing the mountain to offer a sacrifice. Only Abraham knew that it was to be a sacrifice of his most beloved possession: his son. THAT was the first example of worship: putting God first to the point of sacrificing what’s most important.

Are you willing to do that? Would you sacrifice the thing most important to you to prove to God that He truly is first. What would that thing be? For some of us it might be an addiction or habit. Maybe it’s your work or what others think of you. Maybe it’s giving up control or letting go of the outcome. Oh how we like to think we can actually control things. Or perhaps it is trusting God with our kids.

We don’t need to literally burn “the thing” on a physical altar. But I would lovingly encourage you today, right now, prayerfully and honestly ask God to show you what you have allowed to take precedence over Him. Then (and this is the hard part), worship Him by letting go of “the thing” and put God first.

David & Garfunkel

I have played piano since I was 8 years old. I’ve sang since I learned to speak my first words. Literally. Ask my mom. I grew up in church and have been a part of worship teams off and on since my sophomore year of high school. Music holds a special place in my heart. It’s an instant soul connection. From writer to listener, singer to audience, soul to soul. My favorite thing in the world is to hear a song and “feel the feels” of whatever the songwriter is communicating.

I recently told a friend, “I’m a worshipper.” While, yes, all believers should be worshippers, I feel that some of us musician types get an extra dose of that thing David had. I imagine young, pre-king David hanging out with a flock of sheep, playing his lyre and writing music. I also envision him as a long-haired, Simon & Garfunkel type, chilling on the hillside, playing and writing. His desire was not to become a famous rockstar, but rather to write songs for the simple sake of worshipping God.

This whole scenario in my head got me thinking, “what was God’s intention for worship?” So I went on a super nerdy study journey. Cuz that’s what I do.

First, I narrowed it down by recognizing what worship is NOT. Worship is not entertainment for a crowd. It’s not a certain style of Jesus music. Worship isn’t an ego boost for musicians (that stings for the prima donnas). It’s not only for those on stage or for the most talented, trendiest super-clique at church. Worship is not a popularity contest.

So if that’s what worship is NOT, then what is it to be? According to Webster’s: Worship is to render reverence and homage to someone/something.

Most importantly, worship is a posture. It’s a heart response to God, Who He is, and gratitude for all He’s done. Worshippers exalt God to His rightful place. Exalt means to lift up, or make more important than everything else. As worshippers, our purpose is to bring God to the forefront and let everything else fade into the background.

Worship gets distorted when we try to make it about us. Musicians (myself included) are very good at being the center of attention. We want people to notice our incredible talent and sheer awesomeness. But worship isn’t about me… or you. It’s about God. Worship is about making Him the central focus because it is in Him that we live and move and have our being. It is only because of His creation that we are creative. It is only in and through God that we have the gifts and talents we do. Worship is simply using those gifts and talents back to Him.

So the next time you join or lead corporate worship, gently (or not so gently) remind yourself that it’s not all about you. But rather, it’s all about Who God is. And when you bring Him to the forefront and make it all about magnifying God in your focus, He can show up in your life in miraculous ways!

“I will praise the name of God with a song,
And will magnify Him with thanksgiving.” Psalm 69:30

 

Jonah Called. He’d Like His Whale Back.

“I love you. Come back home. I called you to ministry and you said, ‘no’…” As my dear friend shared these words meant for me from God, tears streamed down my face. “I didn’t say no… exactly,” I argued in my head. “But your actions didn’t say ‘yes,'” my heart tugged.

A little over a year ago, I felt very strongly that I was being called into vocational ministry. I was scared, anxious, and excited. God had been very clearly taking me down a path of preparation for full time ministry. I didn’t know exactly what that ministry would look like, but I knew writing, public speaking, and ministering to broken and abused women would play some part in it. This very blog was my first step of faith toward whatever it was God wanted to use me for.

But then my son started struggling in school. The preverbal crap hit the fan and suddenly we were in an all out war for his life. Depression and suicidal thoughts, lying, swearing, anger, and disrespect were causing more and more problems for my boy. Until, finally, we made the decision to homeschool. I stepped down from my ministry leadership roles and ultimately pulled back from everything ministry related. With the best of intentions, I chose to focus on helping my son deal with whatever was plaguing him. We eventually quit going to Celebrate Recovery altogether which had been my ministry field for nearly 3 years. Even church attendance became more and more sporadic as I tried to clean up the mess of our family.

Because of my son’s struggles and behaviors, I continued to isolate us and tried to handle it alone. This mess was too messy for church. People couldn’t possibly understand what we’re dealing with. Especially not church people. So when we’d go to church, it was like a secret mission: Slip in. Slip out. No one sees. No one knows. Incognito church attendance. Or better yet, watch the live stream online. Can’t get your messiness on people that way! I’m a single mom. I’m supposed to fix this on my own.

Isn’t it crazy the lies we’ll buy into to justify our unhealthiness? The devil is using the same tricks today as he did in the garden. Lies, manipulation, and isolation. He plays on our insecurities and then convinces us we can do this without God. He convinced Eve that just a little bite wouldn’t hurt and she didn’t need God anyway! And here I am convincing myself I can parent a troubled preteen without Him and the best way to do that is to desert my community?! Yep. That totally happened.

Every time I step out and try to pursue God’s calling in my life, something catastrophic happens that knocks me back 10 feet! (You’d think I’d figure out where those blows come from.)

The last year has been my Jonah in the belly of the whale season. God called me and I chose a distraction to focus my attention on and say, “See? I can’t do what You called me to. It’s too messy out there! I think I’ll just hang out in here for awhile.”

Many years ago, a very godly woman whom I admire a great deal told me, “You know God has called you to ministry. If you don’t step up and do what He has called you to, He will find someone else to pick up YOUR mantel.” Those words echoed in my head tonight like a movie reel stuck on repeat.

But I’m a mess! Look at me! I’m a mess! I’m supposed to get my crap together first. Make a million dollars so I can fund this ministry way off in the distant future doing I don’t know what yet… I’m not qualified. How can I lead Your people when I’m standing in the middle of my own pile of garbage?!!? I screamed at Him in my head as I sat in my seat. And then that gentle voice of Abba Father said, “I qualify the called. I don’t call the qualified.”

I leaned over to my friend sitting next to me and said, “I think it’s time for me to do another Step Study.”

“Are you volunteering to lead it?” she asked. Seriously? I KNOW she’s in cahoots with Him on this. I could’ve sworn that whole conversation was just in my head!

“Yes. I guess I am,” I said.

Fine. I submit to you, God. I’ll follow You wherever you want me to go and do what you want me to. Even if that means starting from this whale’s belly. I won’t try to figure out all the pieces on my own. I’ll trust you. I won’t put You off anymore while I chase the dollar. I trust You to take care of me just like You do for the sparrow. I’ll lean in to You and Your people, my village. I won’t try to control every step. 

And then I bawled and whimpered through the serenity prayer….

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time. Enjoying one moment at a time. Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will. So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

And right then, it was like God dropped the mic. #BOOM

Open to Everything

“Be open to everything and closed off to nothing.” One of my dearest friends shared these wise words with me recently. Ironically, I was able to nearly immediately put them into practice.

Last Sunday, I visited a church that a year ago I would’ve rejected. The denomination is one I would’ve classified as dull and dry. My home church is one with electric guitars and fog machines during worship; videos and skinny jeans adorn the messages. Conversely, the church I visited had pews, an organ and hymnals. Enough said.

When I walked in, I reminded myself of my friend’s words. I made a conscious decision to set aside my preconceived notions about what I might expect. I kept an open mind and opened my heart to receive whatever the Spirit might have to say to me.

Being raised in a Charismatic church (in the eighties, mind you), I was led to believe the Spirit of God chooses only to speak through interpretation of tongues and dramatic encounters of the rolling on the floor kind. Looking back, I don’t think I was taught to listen to the “still, small voice.” But rather, look for flashing neon lights of sorts.

This week, as I sat in the pew, listening to the teachings and singing along to the hymns (all this over the dull roar of restless children), I felt a peace that I can’t describe. Later, when I joined the women for a class, I was moved by the authenticity of the ladies and their desire to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community through whatever opportunities presented themselves. Isn’t that what the Gospel is truly about?

The services were simple and the people so kind. In fact, at a couple intermissions, I felt a bit like a rockstar. It was obvious that I was a visitor and rather than breeze past, people lined up to introduce themselves and offer to show me around. I had 3 people in a row offer to show me where my children would go for Sunday School. I was overwhelmed in all the best ways. I felt welcomed and wanted.

At the potluck following service, my children and I sat with a lovely family to enjoy the meal. While the children carried on in lively talks, the mother and I had the most engaging, authentic conversation. I think the last church potluck I attended was in elementary school. But it was wholesome and enriching. Why did we ever stop this tradition? When did we get so busy that Sunday services became an entertaining in-and-out event?

That sweet woman even invited me to join in on choir practice. Oh how glorious it was to sing in a choir! I didn’t feel like an outsider one bit. They were thrilled to have another alto and I was delighted to participate. The Christmas hymns with piano, organ and a cello resonated in beautiful harmonies. I almost giggled to myself at the thought of the drastic contrast to my normal Sunday digs.

I started out this Sunday, open to see God through another perspective. Admittedly, I was nervous initially, not knowing what to expect. However, I certainly did not expect to spend 5.5 hours at a “traditional” church, being ministered to through simple talks and hymns.

One thing I know, I felt loved and appreciated by people who would receive no benefit from loving a tattooed, single mom. It wasn’t just the sweet people who met me and enveloped me in kindness that Sunday. It was the Holy Ghost Himself. The light of Christ shown through that congregation in such an unexpected way. My children skipped to the car, begging to go back next week (did I mention we were there 5.5 hours?). I floated out of the doors, feeling a peace that surpasses understanding.

At the end of the day, we all worship the same God. Whether Charismatic, contemporary or traditional, we all follow the same Jesus. Rather than drawing lines and distinctions between the various denominational differences, we should appreciate the value in a lively service as well as the full sound of an organ. The Spirit of the Lord is present with those who desire to seek Him. As believers, we should unite over the commonalities. And as a follower of Christ, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and worship where that “still, small voice” might be leading you.

“Be open to everything and closed off to nothing.”