Today would have been my dad’s 60th birthday.
It’s been a painful but enlightening five years since his death. The time has been full of mysterious joy and overwhelming sorrow. Walking through the grieving process of a parent’s early death is a perilous journey. It’s full of minefields of trauma and grenades of pain. Your hair falls out. Your body gives in. You can’t sleep and, when you do, you’re plagued by nightmares. It’s inescapable, unavoidable pain.
The months following my dad’s death were horrifying. I found myself without a job, without roommates, and without a purpose. My entire existence crashed down at my feet like an avalanche. Like Job, I lost everything. I couldn’t even keep the hair on my head.
But then the miraculous happened…
Friends slowed down enough to see my avalanche.
Looking past my facade of “I’m okay”, they saw the rubble I kicked under my shoe and the devastation I so desperately hid from the world, the rebuilding of my life that was going nowhere. They saw past my ‘Christianese’ insistence that “I can do all things through Christ” and my faulty theology that there’s no room for grief in God’s Kingdom.
Seeing my desperate, sad state, they did what no one had done before. They sat amongst the rubble with me. Brick by brick they helped build back up my life, strengthening me through the process as I learned to have faith and life again.
For me this looked like moving closer to me. It looked like insisting I meet every week for pizza and beer (a tradition we still keep after 5 years) and handing me cookies and chores and hugs. It looked like praying over me but also being the active hands of God sowing hope into my soul when I was empty. It looked like insisting I go to therapy when I was, again, “just fine” and listening to my near constant state of confusion about life. It looked like hard truths and kind words.
It looked like family.
In my early years of faith, church was relegated to a brick and mortar building. It was a place where I went on Sundays and Wednesdays to wrap my head around this ‘Big Guy in the Sky”. It was an idea.
It wasn’t until I walked this lonely road of grief that I finally knew what church was designed to be.
When Jesus says “Go and make disciples”, he’s not asking us to bring more people through the doors of a church. He’s asking us to be THE CHURCH- to sit amongst the rubble of the avalanches and to love well. To leave behind our denominations and our squabbles, our differences and our fear and… love well.
When I think of the Kingdom of God, I see Thursday nights of pizza and kindness. I see chunky baby arms reaching out to hold you and warm apple cider simmering on the stove. I see holding hands as we cry in prayer and laughter that could fill a thousand cathedrals. I see sacrifices both small and wide that show God’s vast, insurmountable love even in the midst of our deepest pain. I see unlikely friendships forged through toil, pain, and perseverance.
When I think about church, I finally understand it's not just a hobby or a building, but a family of love that looks like this:
The family of God is patient.
The family of God is kind.
It doesn't boast.
It isn't proud.
It doesn’t dishonor others.
It isn’t self-seeking.
It isn't easily angered.
It doesn’t keep record of wrong.
The family of God doesn’t delight in evil.
It rejoices with truth.
It protects, trusts, hopes…