About that whole “church” thing…

This weekend my house has been filled with people. People I love. People I want to know more. People that challenge me, inspire me, and that are a part of my life in a way I never could have imagined.

Friday night, my husband and I shared a meal with another couple that we have come to know, love, admire, respect, and hope to emulate in our own lives. We spent hours sharing food, coffee, stories, and real life. When they left, I was sleepy, but exhilarated and full from being in their presence.

Saturday I had several of the women Life Group (small group/community group) leaders from my church over during an open house gathering. Those women are brave, compassionate leaders. Week after week they show up to connect with other women—to teach, disciple, listen, and “do life” with them–through the real, raw parts of life that hurt beyond words, and through the mountain tops of joyful celebration. The women I spent time with on Saturday lead well because they are willing to get in the trenches with the women they serve. That’s courageous. And beautiful. And I love them all.

Sunday night, Adam and I had our own Life Group over. Man, those people have changed our lives. We have been meeting with our group for about two years, but we have grown. We started off with three couples, and now seven couples come together week after week to live alongside of each other. I cannot tell you how much I love those people; when the bottom has fallen out of life, they have been there cheering us on, supporting us, praying for us, fighting with and for us. We hope that we have done the same for them.Church is the people not the building April 26 post

It was a busy weekend; busier than usual. But I am so full. To everyone that stepped foot through our front door, thank you. Thank you for being you, and for being willing to live in community. Thank you for sharing that with our family.

That is what the local church is: Christ-followers living life among one another, challenging, teaching, encouraging, and meeting needs—tangible and intangible. To my family and I, the local church has become our lifeline.

That hasn’t always the case. Maybe you can relate.

I was adopted by my aunt when I was 10 years old, and her rule was that unless I was contagious or had a fever, I was up and at ’em Sunday mornings to attend church. Church was always my routine, but it was never something I loved or was passionate about. Until I gave my life to Jesus at the age of 17, church was the obligatory place I went every Sunday to appease my parents.

When I became a Christian, I did view the church differently. I appreciated going more, and my doodles turned into copious amounts of notes that I have in journals in my basement to this day. My youth pastor taught me how to pray and study God’s word. Church became a great resource for life, but still not anything I couldn’t live without. I couldn’t live without Jesus; attending church, however, was healthy, but not critical.

That all changed when I was in college. I attended Liberty University in Central Virginia. That place is a breeding ground for graduates that go out and change the world, equipped with the fire of the Gospel, and world-class degrees in a crazy amount of professional fields.  I love Liberty. Go Flames!

I got excited about Campus Church each Sunday morning. I loved being taught by Johnnie Moore and others (more volumes of copious notes), but after a few years, I found myself hungry to plant roots somewhere. I started itching to not only gain but also to give. I started longing to know other people, and to be known by them. So I started attending Brentwood Church, a local church in Lynchburg.

And that is when the game changed. God used what I learned at Brentwood to revolutionize my view of church. Apart from my initial decision to follow Christ, there are only a few things that have completely wrecked shop on my worldview, passions, and hunger for the Truth. Attending Brentwood Church during my time in Lynchburg is one of them.

Every week, I would walk through doors manned by smiling faces, authentically happy I was there. Without fail, every week I walked away knowing the values of Brentwood: invest in community by joining a Community Group (small group), serve and be served on Sundays by volunteering during one service and worshipping in the other, and change the world by taking everything we received each week and committing to being and making disciples locally and globally. Brentwood produced (and to my knowledge is still producing) disciples that grow deeper in faith, community, service, and impact all around the world.

That. Is. Awesome. And supernatural. And it’s something I didn’t know I needed, but now I can’t live without.

Turns out, everything I had ever thought I had known about church was wrong. Brentwood taught me that “Church” isn’t a place, it’s a group of people. And turns out I’m one of them. And if you are a Christ-follower, you are one of them. And we are invited into something sacred, beautiful, and powerful. When we realize that the church is the people and not the building, we cannot escape the weight of both the privilege and the responsibility it is to commit to its well-being.

Brentwood Church was a catalyst for me to begin understanding that if I love Jesus the way I say that I do, then I am to be connected to His church. It’s not an invitation with an optional RSVP; I am expected and called to be an active participant in the Body of Christ by offering myself—my story, my time, my talent, and my treasure—to its well-being.

God cares for the orphans and widows. He cares for the marginalized and oppressed. He also cares for lonely believers. And His solution for meeting needs in all of them is His Church.  If we really believe that the Spirit of God indwells believers, then we experience the presence of God not just through the Spirit that indwells us individually, but through other believers. We were made to live and thrive in community with each other, and to look out for each other. We are invited to give and to gain by actively engaging in a local body of believers.

So, for the next few weeks, we are going to dive into what that means. Does a church have to look a certain way to be right? Does it need to be a certain size? Offer a certain type of teaching and/or music? What is a small group, and why does it matter if I’m in one or not? What about serving? Is that required or optional?

I am convinced that our hearts are only healed through the redemption offered by God through His son, Jesus. I am equally convinced that God is passionate about His Church, and that we should be too. Stick around, and let’s keep talking about it.

Run Hard. Love Strong.

~Haley~

5 Ways To Fight Loneliness

Tuesday was one of those days. Like, one of those “ugly cry” kind of days. My husband called me on his way home from work, and I fell apart. Maybe it’s lonelypregnancy hormones (have I mentioned that I’m expecting baby #2? Well…I am, and I’m excited, but I’m also a hormonal mess some days…). I just felt so…alone. This is a blog about becoming authentically happy, healthy people. Is it okay for me to admit that yesterday I didn’t feel happy? Pull up a chair and a cinnamon spice latte and let’s chat.

Do you remember in my last entry when I said that we were going to talk more about intentionally investing in community with other people? It is a critical branch to the proverbial “tree of happiness” that we are aiming to become. Our security and the root of authentic happiness, joy, and contentment is rooted in the unchanging God that made us and loves us. But soon after God created man, He declared that it was not good for man to be alone (see Genesis chapter 2 for the whole scoop).

In college it was so easy to be in community with people. I lived in an all-girl dorm, and so more often than not there was some kind of social event happening, some group of people to be with, etc. My roommate, Rachel, and I got along really well and built a great friendship and still keep in touch. But I wasn’t prepared for post-college, adult, real-world friendships.

Maybe adults in my life at the time warned me, but I wasn’t prepared for friendship to become hard.  Real life hit, and suddenly it became much more challenging to have time for friends. Work, family, chores, errands…sometimes it’s all I can do to brush my teeth, let alone have meaningful time with other grown ups! Can I get a witness? But it’s important. Hear me: in order to be truly healthy people, we need to be intentionally invested in developing relationships with other people.We all need a safety net when “life happens.” We need people to celebrate our greatest joys with us, and to surround us in our deepest hurts.

So back to Tuesday. I was a hot mess. But it was Tuesday, which meant that in the evening I would get to be surrounding by some of the most accepting, loFriendship handsving, compassionate, gracious, hilarious people that I know; Tuesday night is Life Group night. It was such a relief to be surrounded by people that I have grown to trust with the most hurt, most raw parts of my heart and to look them in the eyes and say, “Man, today was rough.” Without blinking, those people just loved me, prayed for me, and said, “We’re with you.”

We live in a world full of people, and most of them feel alone. I’ve personally felt so alone at times that it drove me to really dark places that I never want to go back to. Most of us fear being rejected, fear being abandoned, fear being manipulated, or abused, or worse. But in order to truly break free, we have to fight the battle of loneliness, and “go all in” for the rewards of living in community with other people.

What are some ways that busy, tired adults can move beyond superficial relationships, and move into meaningful, supportive, safe friendships? Feel free to comment and share your own experiences and suggestions for other readers, and let’s have a conversation! Here a few suggestions that have helped me tremendously over the last few years to cultivate authentic, trusting relationships:

1. Commit to being the type of friend that you want to have.

A few years ago, Tim McGraw released his ballad “Live Like You Were Dying.” In it, a dying man says that if he could do his life all over again, he would be the type of friend that a friend would like to have. Whatever you think of Tim McGraw’s music, the man has a great point! Are we sitting around expecting from other people what we aren’t willing to give of ourselves?

2. Make the time. 

Like most things in adulthood, we will never have enough time; we have to make the time. Invite someone over for dinner (I’m a firm believer that food is one of the best ways to build relationships. Break the ice while breaking the bread!). Once a week use your lunch break to make a phone call. Creativity might be needed, but the sacrifice produces incredible dividends!

3. Be available.

We live very scheduled, hyper-structured lives. Coming up in this series we are going to discuss building margin into our days in order to allow for the unexpected (I’m really excited about that conversation, by the way). If you really want meaningful relationships, you have to be open to the reality that some of the most important events in people’s lives are unscripted, unscheduled, and unexpected. Plan to be inconvenienced, but it is worth it.

4. Learn to be a great listener. 

We have all had those friends who tap on the table, anxiously waiting to tell us all about their most recent events, while we are sharing the joys and hurts of our own lives. It’s irritating, isn’t it? Let’s break that cycle and cultivate listening ears and hearts. Are we really interested in our friends enough to lay aside our personal agendas in order to hear them, support them, and let them know that they are not alone? Trust me. This is one attribute that you want in a friend, so for the love of friendships everywhere, be willing to develop this in yourself too.

5. The little things matter. 

Simple, thoughtful gestures can be the difference between a Facebook friend, and a meaningful friend that really “does life” alongside of you. A quick text or email offering sincere encouragement, remembering a birthday or major milestone, really being happy for their successes, or taking a cup of coffee to their office on a rough day…those kinds of things add up!

What about you? What means the most to you in a friendship? How do you battle loneliness in your own life? Let’s talk!