“It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace. . . .”(Philipians 1:7)
Last night we ate dinner on the kitchen floor. An ‘inside’ picnic, as the kids like to call it. Only this was a no-frills version. We didn’t even have a blanket.
I was the one to set the floor-revolt in motion. My back was sore, and right then the living room seemed too far away to shift plates, and glasses and cutlery to the table. So I leant against a kitchen cabinet and stretched out my legs. It didn’t take long for E and W to leave their kiddy dinner table and enthusiastically join me. And of course it took no time at all until their floor-seats expanded territory to include a floor-table. Dr M reassured me any germs that they would be ingesting would already have come to them by way of play. But I still felt a little bad.
But only a little. It was cosy. The weather had turned cold outside, and the rain was coming. And it was like we’d escaped to a secret little island of our own making. And it was Sunday night. Which means for our family the end of a long day. The conclusion to what we call road-trip Sunday.
You see, since we moved away to live at College it takes us quite a bit more time to get to church, and even more to get home again. We must first travel across the city, with not two, but three young children in tow. One of whom is only 4 weeks old today! (Happy 1 month Little J!)
At least we have tactics now for getting out the door. I am head of the clothing and nappy supply department, while Dr M heads up food, water, and snacks. And together we assemble what seems like enough bags for a small town and take turns going back and forward to the car, before we herd the kids (and on average about 3 soft toys each) into their seats. And then the trip begins, from Sydney’s inner-west to the fringes of the Northern suburbs. From hip urban cafes strung like ornaments along straight narrow streets, to tall clusters of Eucalypt trees, and valleys. And like the traveller in Pilgrim’s Progress we face all manor of obstacles along the way, including the sudden urgency of toddler toilet trips, and the unrelenting wails of a hungry newborn on a demand-feeding cycle.
But we aren’t the only ones doing it. Church travel that is. I know of others too who are committed to going the distance to get to their churches.
Because as much energy as we expend driving, we gain, and more, from gathering together.
Because a church is more than just a building, it is a family. In our case it is a family we have grown to dearly love over the four and a bit years we have been worshipping there.
To give you a little insight into our church family, let me give you a few small snapshots of some of the members as we found them yesterday morning.
First, there was YW who arrived in the car park at the same time as us. As we unloaded our car I watched as he moved from his own vehicle to another, then another, then another, greeting each family in turn. And like some sort of pram-valet he helped parents unload their boots, bending to strap in their wriggling children, looking each child in the face as he did so, engaging what I could see even from a distance was animated, concentrated conversation. YW did not seem hurried, even though the music was about to start inside, signalling the beginning of the service. Nor did he seem tired. But I happened to know, since we had had he and his wife EW over just the previous night for dinner, that he was on call that weekend at the local hospital.
You see our dear friend YW is a paediatrician. He had risen early, after staying out late helping us do our dishes, and praying on our porch, to do his hospital rounds so he could get to church on time. EW was already inside welcoming newcomers with that beautiful gentle smile of hers. And just in case this all seems a little too good to be true, I happen to know that YW and EW aren’t naive do-gooders who have one face for church and another face for the rest of the week. They’ve felt life’s rougher edges. They know the scrape and sting of struggle. But just to watch them standing side-by-side in the worship singing, he with his fingers raised upwards, says so much about where their strength comes from. He’s pointing, always pointing upwards. Pointing up helps him stay grounded, as he cares for others, as he loves his wife, as he looks after his patients, as he helps load kids out of cars and into strollers.
And then there was the friend, LB, who hailed us down with a bag before we even entered the building. Inside was a hot dinner. She had risen that morning to make us a meal. Despite having two kids and jobs outside the home to do of her own. And she is only one of several, generous friends who have taken care of us this way in the newborn zone
And again, inside there was the brother, RV, who greeted us with warm affection, who just the day before had given to us out of his gifting and taken photos of our house and children for us, who shared our life over lunch and through chaos. [Stay tuned very soon for an entry all about Rob’s photo shoot!!! This man is a storyteller through pictures. And believe me when I say that his heart speaks through his lens. You can tell a lot about someone by how they listen. Rob is an active listener, and his nuanced observations appear in his photographs.]
Then there was K who spoke to Dr M over post-church coffee. K with his expressive gestures and wide smile. When K speaks you want to lean in close, to make sure you catch every word, and store it up. Because K speaks wisdom. As if straight from the source. K prays. K is the man you’d want beside you in a battle.
Of course, the list could go on and on and on. The musicians, the hospitality team, the children’s workers. Our dear, faithful pastors.
This is our family. A family who helps us see God better, to see grace better, to stand better, to sing better (not more in key, but more in earnest), to worship with our lives better, to serve better, to rest better, to love better, to let ourselves be loved by the Lord as we soak in his amazing Grace each and every week.
Some families are just worth travelling for.
All photos in this post are by Rob Viuya. You can follow him on Instagram at @rr_v