Empty Pew


It seems that our world is filled with people who assume that their attendance in a specific building on a Sunday morning makes them a better person. I struggle to deal with the people who seem to believe being churchy is the same as being a faithful servant of God’s. Perhaps my view is jaded because I seem to have lost my love for going to church. Sometimes, I truly miss it.

There have been many times in my life when attending church was the thing I looked forward to the most. Especially in my teenage years, being a part of a big youth group really saw me through some trying times. So many times I have sat in the congregation, and felt the words break my heart with the messages of love and forgiveness, and yet it’s always been a love/hate relationship for me.

I’ve always had a hard time with the “dress code” of the day. I’m sure this has a great deal to do with my own low self-esteem, and skewed self-image, but I have never, not once, felt like I “looked the part” when I’m at Sunday School. I think it also had to do with a mean girl who made fun of me for wearing the same dress on more than one Sunday when we first moved back to Houston and we went to church with my grandmother. I can remember after that I couldn’t sit in that room without thinking everyone was staring at me. Maybe I need to try Cowboy Church, I hear it’s a blue jeans kind of place. But it’s not just the dress code that seems to leave me out in the cold.

I remember once when my older son was born. He was premature, I had been avidly attending church until I was put on bed rest. No one visited me when I was sick. My baby was born, and when he was 8 weeks old, had to have surgery on his stomach. I remembered sitting in church and the congregation was asked to pray for a sick baby, mine I thought, surely, but no, another baby of a much more affluent family had a pretty severe cold that week. People baked them casseroles. I kept telling myself jealously and anger weren’t Christian responses, but I’m a human, and I got my feelings hurt because I didn’t get a prayer or a casserole. My disappointment multiplied when we finally did get a visit a few weeks later, and it was simply to ask if I’d start working in the nursery.

Still there were so many good things that came out of going to church, I kept on going. The messages always helped me form perspective, and often times I worked out the real struggles in my life sitting in those pews. Then, when the kids came to live with us, I kind of quit going. At first, out of sheer exhaustion.

We were this family, with 3 children. Blondie was a freshman in high school. Dyl Pickles was 10, and Tucker was 6. We had just come through a pretty big storm where we almost lost my dad when we took on a 3-year-old, twin 2-year-olds, and a 1-year-old. Nobody was potty trained. They all needed new clothes. Our house only had 3 bedrooms. Our bank account was empty, and yet, I could not say no.

The first day CPS brought them here, I made a pallet on the living room floor, and these babies locked hands and went to sleep. It caved my heart in to see them clinging to each other. I knew, there was no way I could let our family divide them up. SO, I did the only thing I knew to do, and I kept them. At first, the plan was for them to live here a year so their mother could get some parenting classes and counseling and they would be reunited.

For months I changed diapers, potty trained babies, worked with CPS for visitation with Mom and counseling for kids and case-workers in and out of my house, so when the kids first left, it was this bittersweet mixture of relief and sadness. I truly wanted them to be back with their mom, and to have a happy life. I wanted their time with Aunt Tiff to have been what got them over the hump…

Sometimes life doesn’t go the way we plan. In fact, if you make a plan, beware! The Big Guy will show you who makes the plans! The kids were gone a few short months when I got a phone call from CPS days before Blondie’s big Sweet 16 party. By the end of that day, I was faced with the decision. Would I adopt these kids and give them a permanent home?

I knew what my answer was immediately, but I wasn’t sure I should say yes. I knew I wanted them, that I had already done so much work bonding with them, caring for them, and keeping them together, that for me, there was no other place for them to go. But I also know what a burden it is at times for my other children, and for my husband.

He is our soul supporter. I barely make any money working part-time at the high school. (I’ve been going to college on and off forever, and taking kids slowed me down big time on finishing my degree.) Somehow, no matter how bleak it looks on paper, he always manages to get us through. I don’t give him near enough credit for that.

Knowing how little money we have, and how far we have to stretch it is a big stress factor in my life. I guess that’s another reason it’s so hard for me to sit in church. When I hear the requests for special offerings to go overseas and on all these mission trips, I am left wondering why more of that money isn’t used right here in our own little town. Our big factory closed a few years ago, and pretty much everyone was affected by the loss of jobs. I look around me and see so many needs, not just my own, and I wonder, why aren’t we working in our own community first? Don’t get me wrong, I think the mission trips and donations are a must, I just think the proportion is out of balance. I see deep needs to do more here.

Don’t you feed your own kids before you hand out dinner to the neighborhood? Trust me, I’m the kind of girl who loves to feed the neighborhood, but I always make sure my babies get what they need first. Am I wrong to think churches should pay more attention to what is right here around us?

For Blondie, the struggle to go to church became a battle when two of her friends committed suicide within a year of one another. There’s a story I’ll save for later, but bottom line, with the kids fighting not to go, and my own inner voice nagging me every time the plate was passed, not to mention how much I wanted that little bit of extra sleep on Sunday morning, I slowly dropped off the face of the earth, or at least the face of the church pew.

Now, part of me is aching to go back, seeking guidance for the next big step in this life. We are nearing the end of this adoption process and I can’t lie, it’s scary. My husband comes home every day with new fears. What if I leave him, and now instead of 3 kids, he’s got 7 to pay for? What if one of us dies and leaves the other of us all alone in this zoo? What if he wants to take a job over seas, who would help with the kids? Where will we get a babysitter for Friday night? Then there are the horror stories people tell him about how adopted kids automatically get the bulk of your estate and your natural children aren’t given as much (this can’t be true, but supposedly it happened to a friend of a friend of this guy some other guy knew).

I think about things like: what if we keep on having to buy a new washer and dryer every other year because of how much laundry we do? What if they end up hating us because we couldn’t afford brand name shoes all the time? What if they someday think we wanted to steal them from their mother? How in the world do I balance her role in our life? (She is a family member, and struggles with mental illness. Still, I think the kids have every right to know her and know how much she loves them, because she does. But knowing she loves them doesn’t always make it easy to have her around.) How can I give my own kids the self-assurance to know how loved they are no matter how many kids they share their mom and dad with? How do I give each of them a piece of my attention every single day? How do I stop worrying about every one else’s opinion in these matters? (And for this chronic people-pleaser, that’s the toughest one!)

Already I know that many of my friendships did not survive this change. People were brave enough to tell me outright that they just couldn’t handle me anymore, now that I come with so many kids. Sometimes, it’s a little lonely around here, but then, I guess I have exactly what I need. I have my family. And my little house. And even though he has no idea how deeply I love him, I have this wonderful man who has let me drag home every stray kid that ever needed me, as long as he could drag home a beat up old car every other week. Sometimes, he’s not himself, and I know it’s because I have put some awfully big demands on his shoulders. How do I lift him up again? How do we put these fears to rest and put our faith in each other again? I mean we have weathered 17 years together, and that’s a long time considering I’m 36! But kids grow up in a flash, so it won’t be long that we are given the chance to rise to this challenge. Sooner than we think it will be just us, and we’ll miss all these crazy kids!

I’m not sure where to find all the answers I am seeking. I don’t know if sitting in the pew on Sunday will bring me any closer to calming the storms in  my life. Still, I know God surrounds me with his love and blessings. I’ve always had a faith that didn’t come from Sunday School, it came from something deeper, and I just know I’m ready to sign my name on that dotted line and say…

We are family!  Now, you sing it with me, you know you want to!

I spent way too much time drawing this when I should have been washing clothes! But that's the life of a zookeeper... always off task!



9 responses »

  1. I commend you for what you are doing for those sweet kids. You are providing them with a loving and supportive home. I am completely impressed. And, if I lived closer, I would drop you off a casserole once in a while (one that The Captain made, of course) or just bring over a bottle of vino (for the grown-ups, of course!) About church, I have always believed that it is what we want it to be. I think you have aquired saint status already!

  2. I also think you have a huge heart, and a lot of love for your family! Your husband is also an amazing sounding guy! Church is in our hearts. I’ve had my issues with them over the years, and the flaw they all have is- there are PEOPLE running them! Yes, it’s true! People, by their very nature are flawed. 🙂 If you are blessed and fortunate, you find a few true friends, who will network with you and share your burden with you and help you along. You find a fellowship of ladies, (shouldn’t that be ladyship?) who you can open up to, laugh with, and have a cup of coffee with while the kids play. Some days won’t go this smoothly, but that’s that. You get into more leadership roles in the church, or start a group called “charity at Home First”, where you and some volunteers make a point to locate and do a secret friend outreach for people like yourself who sorely missed their casserole and who wish people knew and cared for their situation, too., You reach out to the divorcee instead of judging her, you give a free massage certificate to the new mom of twins whose husband is overseas, and you trust God to take care of you. Easy for me to say, but I do understand a bit of the feeling you describe. Not one of my church friends would stand in my corner at court because even though they all understood and had compassion, they said, they didn’t believe in divorce, and so nobody came. I lost custody of my kids. Nobody was there to stand up for me and to tell the judge what I had gone through, or what kind of mom I was. So, I don’t believe you have to go to church to be a Christian, no way- but it is so nice to be able to truly rejoice, sing, worship, and fellowship. It’s wonderful to find that group of true friends. You could find a new church, where everyone understands that it is not the outer garments that matter, but what is inside! Isn’t that what Jesus always preached? Yes, yes it is. 🙂 As to the adoption question. Love is often the hardest choice, the most demanding, but it is also the most rewarding, and what we are called to do. Love casts out fear.

    • I’m sorry no one came and stood up for you. That’s really sad. I have been volunteering in our community for almost 10 years, but this year, I had to step back from a lot of it to focus more on the kids. I was really sad that people were more searching for some juicy gossip as to why I resigned as PTO President or quit doing other things I used to do. It seemed “focusing on the kids” wasn’t a dramatic enough answer. I just wanna find a place where I can still be myself, but find the messages and lessons I still need to learn. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with me!

  3. My advice to you is to keep looking for the RIGHT church. Even if you have to look in other denominations. We had to do just that. We visited one church that we were considering joining, but no one from the church ever contacted us once even though we had requested a visit from the pastor. We looked elsewhere because we needed to feel like we had a church family. God’s hand was in all of it, and we see that now. For all we know, He stayed to pastor’s hand and didn’t allow him to pick up the phone to call us. Or He shuffled our request off the desk to a place where it wouldn’t be found so that we would keep searching and find where we were meant to be.

    The tough part about churches is that they are full of sinners. It took me a long, long time to realize that we’re all just trying to find our way.

  4. It certainly does sound like we have a lot in common when it comes to church experiences. I think what is more important than attendance at the “right church” (or social club as too many people see it) is to hold on to your faith tenaciously. Thanks so much for sharing your story!

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