This isn’t the post I had planned for today. However, the topic has come up in a recent lesson I taught, in recent conversations, and in the kindly act of a small but emotionally charged card of appreciation sent to me.
Those of you that have followed this blog for a while might recall that my mother left when I was fairly young. So, my brother and I were raised by our father.
He was a great guy, but like many fathers he taught us some of the traditional lessons, like boys don’t cry, be strong at all times, be the provider, be a fighter but only in self-defense and the defense of others, constantly give of yourself and help others but don’t expect anything in return. And I learned those lessons well. In fact, I learned them so well that when people tried to thank me for some act of kindness, or for doing a good job, it would make me extremely uncomfortable.
It made for a lot of conflicting moments, because I’ve always enjoyed helping others, and I was always taught to do my best at whatever I did, especially if it was work. And yet, whenever I was thanked or acknowledged for the help or good work, I’d feel awkward and uncomfortable.
I realized the conflict was internal. Because of how I was taught, I believed a “man” shouldn’t care for rewards and acknowledgments. But there was still part of me that really liked the acknowledgment…which made me somehow feel that I was betraying my belief about being a “man”.
Just when I was coming to the realization that it was okay to accept rewards and acknowledgment for doing good things—as long as it doesn’t go to the head, and you’re only doing the good deeds to get the praise—life threw me a huge curve and changed everything.
My life, which had been extremely active in many ways, hit a downward spiral because of injuries and disease that has continued to present day. Injuries and disease that literally changed my appearance. And I came face-to-face with a truth about humanity that most people don’t like to acknowledge or admit to. If you don’t fit the “normal” look, people are going to be uncomfortable around you. People that are obese, scarred, missing limbs, or whatever the case may be, know exactly what I’m talking about.
Sure, there are some mature people that have learned to get beyond it and treat everyone with respect and kindness. But, for the most part, even among church-goers, they treat the “normal” people better than they do others. They’re just not comfortable being around people that are physically (or mentally) different.
Needless to say, I didn’t have to worry about acknowledgments anymore, because they stopped coming. Like the proverbial “Grey Man,” I could walk through a crowd and not be noticed. And, surprisingly, it was little different in churches than in the secular world. People that had known me for years and used to greet me lovingly would no longer shake my hand, much less hug me anymore. In other words, I wasn’t even acknowledged for being there, much less for the work or effort I would put into any position. And if there is anyone who thinks they can go from one extreme to the other and not be bothered by it is simply in self-denial.
As most of you that follow this blog know, this is the blog for a small rural church in Central Oregon. I’ve been a member here for nearly twenty years, and have done a lot of spiritual growing during that time. However, there was a time when I seriously considered leaving this church, because I felt like they abandoned me when I needed them most. When my wife was going through the last stages of a seven-year battle with a terminal illness, and when she passed. Sure, the funeral and memorial service was held at the church, but that was it. All the time leading up to her death and after I felt like I was abandoned, and it hurt.
I really wanted to leave the church and move on, but that was not what God wanted when I went to Him in prayer. And, since that time, there have been two different pastors that have led the church in a new direction, along with new members that fit well with the direction we’re now going. And that includes a lot more love shown to everyone that comes through our doors, whether they be a business owner or a homeless person. People are acknowledged and accepted for who they are.
My spiritual gift is exhortation, which works with both positive and negative. Praise the positive and encourage those doing negative to turn it around and do what I know they’re capable of doing. And for a couple years I used to buy gifts and present it to people in church that I felt needed to be acknowledged for the outstanding efforts they continued to put forth. Like the old saying, “eighty-percent of the work in church is done by twenty-percent of the people.” Unfortunately, I’m a disabled Vet, and don’t have the funds to continue that kind of activity.
However, with the new direction the church has taken, and the new members helping to spur a truly family-like atmosphere, people acknowledging and appreciating each other has become second-nature within the congregation. It’s a beautiful thing to see…and feel.
For instance, I used to play guitar for the worship team and sing a lot of my original songs for special music, and the church body would constantly show their appreciation. However, I’ve developed arthritis in my hands and fingers, to the point I can no longer play the guitar, which really bummed me out. Luckily, however, I can still play the drums, and one of the best compliments I’ve ever received came when our Pastor Emeritus, Allen Elston, told me he feels my drumming is like “the heart-beat of the church.” And yes, that’s the same Allen Elston, whose rural wisdom I keep publishing on this blog.
I’ve been blessed and felt privileged to hold a variety of positions within this church over the years, and to get to know so many wonderful people that truly try to live godly lives. Yes, we’re all human and we still make mistakes. But this group has continued to grow while overcoming the obstacles and becoming a real family in every sense of the word. And, even though we acknowledge and appreciate each other on a regular basis, when a small card comes in the mail and lets me know that my absence (for medical reasons) is truly felt, while they praise a character trait or two, it can still bring a tear to the eye. And, while I only have one blood relative left, in a different state, in this small rural town, in a little country church, I’ve found a family…I’ve found a home.
Remember…everyone should be acknowledged and appreciated for who they are and the positive things they do!