After attending a church for a number of years, we had one of those things happen that sometimes happens in churches.
The leadership was going in a direction that we were not comfortable following and churches are churches, and people are people…but when the leadership doesn’t line up with the Lordship of Christ…it’s time.
We were hurting and confused.
And we were invited in to a new church.
We had friends who attended there who had also left churches for the same reason and so we settled in to attending this little church that dreamed big for God’s Kingdom.
They did a living Christmas tree with the choir standing in a literal wooden stage shaped like a tree. The children were included in the program and so I sat in the old pews of this traditional old church building our first fall while our three practiced music with the children’s choir.
I remember I was sewing a Ninja costume for Sarah to wear trick or treating that year and I wondered if this new church that was so different from any I had attended even celebrated anything Halloweenish. If so, they didn’t make me feel bad and complimented my handiwork as I sat there hand stitching gold braid around the edges.
I found out years later a lot of them didn’t participate in trick or treating and such…but they were serious about Scripture based thinking and it does say holidays are not theology.
Another year, our pastor’s wife, who is also our dear friend Leslie and was mentioned a few days ago with the basketball ornament, wrote a play to go along with the tree.
She asked me to be one of the characters in it…and I said yes, because as anyone can tell you at our church…when Leslie Kent asks you to do something she usually starts with how Jesus loves you and has a plan for your life. And that’s a hard one to say no about.
My part came at the beginning and was a rather brief exchange as a neighbor who had stopped by to visit one of the main characters. She had made me a cup of tea and we chatted a bit about our different Christmas experiences. After I would finish my lines, I would head up to the balcony and watch the rest of the play.
It was such a sweet story about a man who was so mean and hard hearted, especially about Christmas. A modern day take on the Dickens’ classic; this grinchy guy was visited by various members of the nativity throughout the evening as he tried unsuccessfully to nap.
Finally a little lamb awakens him and shares how Jesus loves him and that’s what Christmas is.
It was sweet and beautiful and interspersed with songs from the choir still in a living tree behind the set..and of course the children’s choir making an appearance as carolers.
There were so many kids in that tiny church. We were definitely following the command to be fruitful and multiply. They would come down the aisles and fill the front and sing and then the woman who was also their director would sing a solo.
The song still makes me cry.
Night after night she would sing about her own testimony in a song called “Mercy Saw Me”.
As I stood in the dark of the balcony, I felt the song had been written for me personally.
The years had left scars,
And the scars had left pain,
How could He recognize me,
For I wasn’t the same;
I knew I should pay and I knew the price,
For justice and law had demanded my life.
And then the next verse:
Beautiful, that’s how mercy saw me,
For I was broken and so lost;
Mercy looked at all my faults.
Justice of God saw what I had done,
But mercy saw me through the Son;
Not what I was but what I could be,
That’s how mercy saw me.Mercy Saw Me Lyrics by Geron Davis
It’s a precious song to me because as I listened to the words that year and even the next, I began to believe in that forgiveness. I took to heart that Jesus’ mercy was for me too.
I had loved Jesus my whole life, but I had not always lived in what I knew to be true. I failed many times and from some ingrained misinformation, felt I needed to earn my way back into grace. I was sure I had messed up too much and in my heart I wanted to make it up to Him.
But as I listened to the song and the story of the play and the sermons and Sunday school teachers at my church, I finally understood.
And so this little tea cup reminds me of that play and the church that taught Russ and me about grace.
About receiving it and extending it and living in the fullness of it.
The best Christmas gift ever <3