As our gray Ford Expedition pulled onto the road this morning, we caught a glimpse of our neighbor’s blue Expedition speeding down a side street.
“He’s racing us!” Will said, laughing, finding his own shortcuts to take. We hurled down a back alley only to lose the race by a few seconds. But we all entered the church door together, full of gladness and goodwill.
My little girls trotted after me to the church kitchen to deposit a luscious plate of gingerbread that Keane and I had made the night before. Judging by the amount of cookies consumed by my offspring Sunday after Sunday, my contribution to the cookie supply was long overdue.
Our family made a drinking-fountain stop before settling into a bench with a flurry of children and paraphernalia. Somehow, when we get to church the children suddenly remember that they are hungry or thirsty or need a bathroom. But this morning we all ended up in the bench as the nine-thirty bells rang.
For today’s service, our family was assigned the Scripture reading and lighting of candles, which was a classic fail.
Will was the only one who maintained his elegance on the stage while reading Isaiah 60. Keane and Desiree got distracted by the cute shepherds in the nativity scene and dropped the shepherd’s staff on the floor. I held a toddler who yanked on my sweater, trying to wriggle down to race that beautiful red-carpet aisle. Elijah was the acolyte but his candle lighter kept going out and he had black ashes on his nose. (The pastor came to our rescue with a box of matches.) Stuart never showed up at all, because as he said later, “I don’t like standing in front of everyone.”
Elijah was finally getting the candles lit when his foot knocked a display of poinsettias. With a loud crash, several pots rolled over the floor. Desiree responsibly scurried to save the poor plants and restore them to their proper spots.
A little sympathetic laughter rippled through the audience, but people were kind. They all saw, as did we, that none of us have to be perfect to worship Jesus.
Nonetheless, I was glad to settle back into our bench with our herd.
That part over, I was able to relax. Gospel-centered teaching nourished my soul as our pastor taught the Scriptures in his gentle way. Cookie-time nourished the children’s tummies and our friendships. An elderly gentleman kindly picked up my foster child’s dropped gingerbread.
We all drank coffee together, and the neighbor who raced Will to church suggested we meet up for lunch.
I went home feeling completely content.
In a forgotten place like Medicine Lodge, Kansas, we are a light to our world just the way we are, because we love Jesus. Our family and our church is a light.
The gathering on Sunday mornings is small, but that is not a bad thing. It is the people who really care about Jesus who keep showing up. A winnowing of sorts is taking place. What is left behind is certainly imperfect but ever so real and true.
Indeed, it is all I want, this giving and receiving of Christ and each other. Perfection isn’t part of the picture. But performance, age, status, and background don’t matter when we are centered on the sweetness and purity and love of Christ.
I think this small-town odd assortment that we call “us” is exactly how church should be.