Doing the Work

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Life is such an interesting, beautiful, terrible mix, textured and rich, sometimes overwhelming and difficult, but laced with grace and beauty, often in surprising ways.

I wrote a back-to-school blessing for my husband last week, and he is back at it full-tilt, bringing treasures to share, stories to tell, strong arms to push swings and build forts.

This morning, he brought this beautiful nest, discovered in a plant hanging outside our window. It held two lovely small eggs within, abandoned by their parents. For some reason, this loveliness was a powerful reminder to me that sometimes life doesn’t happen the way we plan or hope or imagine. Sometimes the eggs never hatch, no matter how beautiful they look.

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It’s been a week of gray days mixed with sunshine, extreme fatigue tossed together with energy spurts. I drove my car for the first time in three long months last week — and the adrenaline high from that joyous event carried me through two overly busy days that led to a crash-and-burn I’m still recovering from.

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The next day brought a sobering morning when my mood matched this sky. But the following day, there was a delightfully delicious morning celebrating this blond child, the one who now has her Poppy for a teacher two mornings each week.

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The pre-school hosts a Grandparents’ Tea the first week of school, so I hung out with Lilly for about 90 minutes, watching her agile body climb every piece of equipment in the play yard,

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enjoying her creation of an abstract water color delight, listening to “I’m a Little Teapot,” with miss Lil being the tallest student in the center of the back row of the ‘choir.’ We finished the morning by stringing colorful beads on yarn and then giving each other our creations. (We’re wearing them in that first picture.)

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The entire week felt a bit like this bowl of brightly colored beads — a mixture of bright and dark, shiny and plain, loud colors and quiet ones.

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The mixed-up-ness continued into Sunday, where the text for the day was one of my least favorites anywhere in the New Testament, Matthew 18’s admonition to deal well with conflict in the body. This is a text that has been sadly abused and misused, but it’s also a text that we need to ponder.

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It’s a tough thing, this conflict business. Often easier to avoid or ignore it than to face right into it and try and bring resolution, even reconciliation. There are those days when we feel like a broken pot or a string of barbed wire, and conflicts inevitably arise when one sharp edge meets another. It is never ‘fun.’

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Everything in me resists this topic — which generally means, pay attention, kiddo! — so I did.

I paid attention to the entire morning — the music, complete with a kids’ rhythm band, the prayer, even the announcements!

Fall marks a definite up-tick in events, programs, small group opportunities. The slower summer is good for all of us, but it’s always energizing to see the college students return, to welcome families home from vacation and to enjoy more opportunities to be together outside of Sunday morning.

Every section of the service served to underscore the wonderful/terrible truth that we do this work, this Jesus-following work, together. That’s the way it’s meant to be. When we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we are invited into community life. And that means there will be wonderful and terrible things ahead. For all of us.

Why? Because we’re human, that’s why. And conflict is inevitable — just take a casual look at the New Testament and it becomes crystal clear that church struggle is nothing new — it’s built into the whole idea. And done well, it can nourish and replenish and bolster the ways we belong to one another.

That text I try to avoid? Well, it turned out to be the perfect one to dive into as this busier season moves into high gear.

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I was grateful that it happened to land on Communion Sunday in the lectionary rotation. That table that we share is all about togetherness, isn’t it? Unless we’re housebound and ill, we are meant to partake of the Lord’s Supper with the community, not by ourselves. And passing the bread, the cup? Offering the words? It’s tough to do that if you’re harboring bitterness or anger.

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Jesus tells us clearly that if we’re upset with someone else in the community, we need to deal with it. Directly.

We are not invited to tell others how p.o.’d we are, and we are not instructed to get someone else to make things right between us, at least not initially.

We are told to work it out between us. To talk, discuss, apologize as needed, and to forgive. If we can’t manage it privately, then we invite an elder or two to come along and help us. And if that doesn’t work, then the entire leadership team is made aware of the difficulty. And then? Well, this has always been the sticking point for me.

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Then. . . we’re to treat them as ‘pagans.’ I have always felt like that was an extreme and unexpected thing for Jesus to say! Until Pastor Don helped me remember that Jesus treated the pagans with a lot of loving attention and grace!

Tax collectors? Women? Adulterers? People on the edges? 

They all were offered grace. GRACE.

Those who continue to hold a grudge of some kind may choose to disassociate with the community. But if they do, they are still loved, still welcomed back whenever they are able to return, and held before God with tenderness and concern.

We welcomed new members on Sunday, as well — another piece of sweet timing. And the elders laid hands on them all, as the entire congregation affirmed our desire to support and encourage each one. A rich morning, reminding me of the mixed-up-ness of life together and calling me to do the work, to welcome others, to seek reconciliation wherever and whenever possible.

Streaming out into the warm sunshine after the service felt good and refreshing. And as the afternoon sun began to set, we came back and enjoyed a magnificent block party to kick off the new year. Bounce houses, taco truck, badminton, face-painting for the kids and a fun photo booth. 

This is life, and we are woven together as we live it together. Sometimes the work of weaving is painstaking. And sometimes it is glorious and exhilarating and fun.  ALL of it is good.

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Joining this with Laura Boggess’s Playdates with God, Jen Ferguson’s SoliDeo Sisterhood, and Jen Lee’s Tell Your Story – so grateful for these friends along the way.

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Comments

  1. Divine, Diana. you must have been sitting at our breakfast table this morning, when we had a ‘talk’. phew. trying to move on into the day with grace. But knowing inside that it’s better to have *talks* (insert frustrated voices and much misunderstanding) than to not deal with things.

    Thanks for that reminder that the family, and the greater family, need this.

    you are a blessing, and you look fab by the way – congrats on the boot and on driving!

    AM

    • Oh, honey – I only have to be sitting at my own breakfast table to know the reality of this stuff! Thanks for coming by and encouraging – I appreciate it!

  2. Look at you looking all beautiful 🙂
    I read something in Thomas Merton recently where he talks about the body of Christ walking about as a bag of broken bones and that the work of reconciliation is the work of God resetting all of those bones, a painful process indeed and sometimes I would prefer to limp instead of the ouch! of God’s healing ways.

    A mix of light and dark, that is my week, my life and I’m continuing to learn to trust and give thanks as one gives way to another. Thank you for your sharing, Diana.

    • Oooh, I love that quote from Merton! Right on target – and I get it with the limping, in a big way. Always so glad to see you here, dear Kelly.

  3. “We are not invited to tell others how p.o.’d we are, and we are not instructed to get someone else to make things right between us, at least not initially.” It’s so easy to tell others..and sadly it feels good too. This isn’t one of my favorite scriptures either. Yet we do “need” to confront ourselves from time to time and set things right. We don’t do this often enough. At least I don’t so things just fester. Thank you Diana for taking us into your sunday service with you. (And I particularly like the new mustache 😉

    • Yup, gossip feels mighty good some days! There’s a fine line sometimes between commiserating (which we are instructed to do – “weep with those who weep”) and gossiping about how fed up we are with certain people at certain times! Confrontation is never fun, but it is often good. (I like the mustache, too!)

  4. A message I think I was meant to find today, Diana. While I do “desire to support and encourage each one”, I’m a private person… really, a little on the antisocial side. My natural inclination isn’t to work at relationships so it takes extra effort. In work, play and worship, it’s important for me to remember “we are woven together”. Thanks for this. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Carol. And I don’t believe for a minute that you are antisocial – just a good solid introvert. And there’s not a thing wrong with that. Thanks so much for coming by – good to see you. (And I loved your recent vacay shots!! Gorgeous.)

  5. We were studying that passage at our home bible study last week. It also happened to be the week that I was leading the group, and as you can imagine, what with having been excommunicated and all, passages on church discipline stir up All The Feelings with me! I tend to come at passages like this from the viewpoint of the one receiving the discipline, rather than the one administering it, which may or may not be helpful… 🙂 I particularly struggled with the part where whatever 2 or 3 decide together on earth, is carried out by God in heaven. I can’t get past the times when 2 or 3 (or 200 or 300) decide something together, with scriptures to back it up and the best intentions in their hearts… and it’s been wrong. And in the process of carrying out that decision, lives are irrevocably changed and hearts are broken. Because as far as they are concerned, they (the 2 or 3) HAVE done exactly what the bible said to do. It just happens that too often control and power trump grace, understanding or love. 🙁
    I know that that isn’t most people’s experience or understanding of church discipline, but it has, unfortunately, been mine.
    One thing I did enjoy, was realising that Matthew, the man writing about Jesus telling people to treat others as tax collectors and pagans, was himself a tax collector! I imagine he must have smiled as he wrote it… 🙂

    • I absolutely get your mixed feelings about this passage, Donna. And I am quite sure that Jesus did not mean 2 or 3 agreeing to shun somebody! What a terrible misuse of this powerful teaching. And I am so sorry it happened to you.

  6. It’s so interesting that I’m reading this tonight, just moments after my husband told me about a meeting he had with our church elders in which they discussed how, as a church, do we handle someone’s sin. Of course, they talked about Matthew 18 and what that would look like in a real life situation. Our desire is to always be motivated by God’s love, as well as be faithful to do things His way, even in these most difficult scenarios.

    I’m so glad to hear that you are able to drive now. In the photo with your granddaughter you look beautiful and she’s adorable. I think being a grandparent is just about the best thing in the world.

  7. I learned on Sunday that the most ancient Greek manuscripts do not have the words “against you.” They simply say “if someone sins…” Often times, we get so caught up in personalizing everything and when we make so much personal, our vision gets distorted. (Now, sometimes people hurt us and it is personal, but not all the time). I have a hard time with this passage though — what is the line between addressing sin and judging? But what your pastor said clears up another question I had, too. Jesus says to treat them like pagans, which HE treated with love and grace. AMEN!

    • Yeah, we do tend to way over-personalize! And I agree, the line is often very hard to find, and always requires great care and tenderness. Thanks for coming over, Jen. I appreciate it.

  8. “Sometimes the work of weaving is painstaking. And sometimes it is glorious and exhilarating and fun. ALL of it is good.” Oh, yes. I’ve lived long enough to experience the truth of your conclusion, Diana. The goodness of the painstaking part is AFTER the work of confrontation, forgiveness, and reestablishing goals, when greater understanding, renewed commitment to one another, and a sweet, fresh start results. Thank you also for the memorable object lesson of those kindergarten beads that highlight the BEAUTY of our mixed-upness!

  9. You are one, quite a lovely weaver of words,
    and two, very wise.

    So grateful for you, friend.

    Thank you for sharing this gem of wisdom with us at #TellHisStory.

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