Sheep look so cute, but they can smell terrible up close. What impression do others have of you, as a Christian, when they see you up close?
I had a lovely time at a work-dinner tonight. It was the Homecoming Alumni Banquet, where the university recognized three alums for their achievements. The food was good, the company was nice, and since I’m fresh out of hot dates at the moment (that was sarcasm, in case you missed it), I got to bring my 15yo as my guest. We had fun, and he behaved like a gentleman — see, I knew he was capable of breathing between mouthfuls of food! 😉 He cut his meat into bite-sized chunks, ate slowly, and carried on conversations with others at our table. I was very proud of him and enjoyed our time together.
Then, we got back home.
I learned that No. 4 had ridden his bike through the neighbor’s neatly raked gravel driveway ditch, which a) he knew full well not to do, and b) he’d already been scolded for doing it once before. So tomorrow, he and I are walking back over there (his big brother who was babysitting already made him apologize today) to offer his manual labor services for whatever they might need done. In addition, he’s grounded from anything with wheels for the rest of the month. I will probably tack on some additional chores, especially if the neighbor doesn’t accept his offer to work.
I just don’t understand what goes through their heads sometimes! It’s infuriating, not to mention embarrassing because the neighbors must think I’m a totally out-of-touch parent. I probably shouldn’t care what they think, but I do. We are the minorities in this neighborhood/community/city/state, and it makes me feel sad and awkward when their behavior reflects poorly on our family. Maybe that sounds like I’m putting too much pressure on my kids to behave, but are the Mormon kids riding their bikes around the neighborhood like stark-raving maniacs? Absolutely not — in fact, I hardly ever see them. It’s like there are these huge houses filled with gobs of kids, and you Never. Hear. Them. EVER. It’s uncanny to me, because my boys are LOUD even when they are behaving!!
As if that weren’t enough, No. 3 blew a gasket with me when I scolded and grounded him because he was disrespectful to his brother-in-charge while I was away. There’s more to the story, but I’m tired and don’t feel like rehashing it. He accused me of not caring about him and wanted to call Nana to tattle on me for being so mean to him. Sometimes, I have to take deep breaths before I can even speak.
Then, I found out that one of the best hug-givers at my old church died unexpectedly today after what seems to have been a very brief and violent illness. No one knows anything substantive, so we have to wait for the autopsy results to learn more. Her husband died of a heart attack a year or so ago, and part of me feels glad that they are together in glory, but part of me still feels the loss. We weren’t even super-close friends, but she was always eager to greet me with a hug, and she looked forward to reading the devotionals that I write. She was one of those people who you don’t realize are watching you, until they say something that blows you away — like how I meant a lot to her, and she looked up to me. What? Really? Wow. Humbled.
Plus, tomorrow is 9/11, which means social media is filled with quotes and blurbs and photos and rants. I think I’ll just take a day off from Twitter and Facebook, because the deluge of that type of imagery makes me feel gloomy.
I really should be in bed by now, but I need to clear my mind. I read my Bible for a little while earlier, and maybe I’ll read a novel for a bit. It’s hard to go to sleep — and sleep well — when my brain is filled with sadness and coulda-shoulda-woulda scenarios that make me feel like a terrible parent.
Think about how you felt when you visited this church for the first time. What did we do well? How can we improve? How can you help?
What impression do you want to make at church tomorrow? Begin preparing your heart for worship and let God clear out the distractions.
How can your attitude and behavior honor God and make a positive impression on others today?
If you met someone today and didn’t encounter them again for many years, if ever, what might they remember most about you?
In the hopes of sending the kids out of the house each morning in the right mindset, I taped a Dr. Seuss quote to the door that reads: “Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.” Similar to the cliché about having only one opportunity to make a first impression, if you see someone infrequently, then your attitude and actions from that day will stick in their memory, whether good or bad. Unfortunately for parents, it seems like the times when you want the kids to make the best impression, they do completely the opposite and act like hyenas in a boxing ring.
As a church family, we have a similar opportunity every week to make a good impression. Every detail matters – from having enough greeters in the parking lot to enough toilet paper in the restrooms, from the printed bulletin to a handshake during welcome time, from the music to the sermon. What do we want visitors (and members, for that matter) to remember as they leave the building each week?
I’ve been guilty sometimes of showing up to church in a grumpy mood, stressed out or preoccupied. It pains me to think that I may not have smiled at someone who really needed to be uplifted that particular day (even more than I may have) or didn’t go a few steps out of my way to say “hi” to a new person because I wasn’t feeling sociable. Those aren’t the things I want them to remember. I want them to remember having a personal encounter with God because of their worship experience that morning.
Psalm 111 provides a great example of a lasting impression. The author begins by declaring, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (v. 1, ESV). Surrounded by people who are creating a first impression of us (and Christ in us, consequently), will we put aside the distractions and focus on giving thanks to God with all that we are?
The good news is that even though we are human and screw things up more often than we’d like to admit, God is still so gracious and faithful. Today marks another fall and another new school year for us as a church family to strive to live authentically (albeit, imperfectly) in community together. Looking back we can claim dozens upon dozens of people baptized and hundreds of lives changed. God deserves our praise and thanksgiving! The psalmist wrote, “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful” (v. 4). But, looking forward our hearts must still ache to say, “Oh, there are more stories God has for this fall and into the new year.” If we are faithful to live out our calling as a church family, just imagine the stories we will be telling in the fall of 2015. And what about the stories to come in the years that follow? It starts now! It starts today!
Originally posted June 2, 2013 (revised)