My youngest daughter and I were waiting for someone inside a Christian bookstore.“Seems like everybody’s talking about that ESV Study Bible,” I said, pointing to the display. Hardback editions stood on end next to a stack of nicely bound versions boxed up and marked $75.“The church bought those for the graduating seniors this year,” my daughter said.“Really? The hardbound ones?”“No, those fancy ones,” she said, pointing to the boxes. “The students could get their names engraved on the front if they wanted to.”“Those? Right there?” I asked, incredulous. “For $75?”“Yep. I’m sure of it. I was standing next to the youth pastor while they were discussing it.”“That’s a great gift,” I murmured.“I know,” my daughter agreed. “We need to stay at this church for at least six more years so I can get one, too!”As I contemplated the Bibles, I suddenly thought of the tiny country church I attended sporadically throughout high school.My parents belonged to a church in town, ten minutes’ drive from our farm; but by the time I was in junior high, we hardly ever went. So when I asked my parents if I could start attending youth group, Sunday school and worship service at a tiny, red brick church of the same denomination, they agreed. It was only a mile from home. Mom would drop me off, and I’d run down to the basement for Sunday school. I loved earning stickers during the Bible drills and then heading upstairs for worship, sliding into the hard wooden pews and pondering the portrait of Jesus hanging above the altar. Summer Sundays they opened the stained-glass windows. I looked out across a farm field to a small apple orchard as we sang hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Trust and Obey,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”I was a regular attender throughout sixth, seventh and eighth grade, but by high school, the youth group leaders had left the church, so I slacked off. My best friend and her family always welcomed me when I showed up, but they never made me feel bad for missing church. No one else was urging me to go, so I usually ended up staying home, sleeping in, and watching TV instead. Sunday morning programming was a little old-fashioned: I recall seeing a lot of Shirley Temple movies and reruns of “The Lone Ranger.”My senior year, I may have only attended three or four Sundays; I can’t remember. But I attended the Sunday in spring that they honored the graduates. I knew from years past that they presented each Senior with a Bible, and it occurred to me as the Sunday approached that there was a slim chance they would get me a Bible. Or not. I didn’t know.The graduates whose families were members of the church were invited up front and given Bibles.I stayed in my seat.I didn’t really think I’d be getting one.But part of me really, really wanted a Bible.And not so much for the Bible nor to be “recognized” as a Senior; rather, I wished that they thought of me as one of their kids. I wanted to be part of a fellowship of believers that was looking out for me, that longed to see me grow in my faith, that wanted me to head out into life with a strong foundation.So when I didn’t get a Bible from them, part of me felt distanced…forgotten.I didn’t really need a Bible. In junior high, when my faith was so fresh and exciting, I bought myself a King James Bible and had my name engraved on the front in gold. Later, when I found the King James language difficult to comprehend, I bought myself a Living Bible with birthday money from my aunt. I was so pleased with that new Bible, I asked my mom to write my name on the inside neatly because I hated my sloppy handwriting.So I had two Bibles.I just didn’t have a place where I belonged.Back in the bookstore, looking down at that $75 ESV Bible and hearing my daughter dream of the day her church—our church—would present her with one of her own, I decided we must, if at all possible, stay with this church body as long as we can. Six years from now, I want her to stand up front and look out at the people beaming back at her and know that she has far more than a Bible…I want her to know that she has people who know her and care about her spiritual growth.I want her to know that there’s a place where she belongs.
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Ann Voskamp@Holy Experience says
I could feel this post, Ann… feel the ache, feel the love for your daughter… feel the Father close.
Beautiful words. Beautiful photo of you on those church steps!
I anticipate seeing you in September, Lord willing…
I am glad the Anns belong together 🙂
So much love to you today…
Thank you for your encouraging words here, Ann, and I can’t wait for September!
Michelle @ Graceful says
I love this post, Ann. I could feel your pain as you described being left out of the “Bible party.” And now I have to go check out this ESV Bible…as always, I’m behind the curve when it comes to Bibles!
Thanks for stopping by, Michelle! I don’t have an ESV study Bible, but I’ve read the translation online–they’ve set up several one-year reading plans using that translation:
I’m using the M’Cheyne.
Nice, Ann. Belonging is so important. I love that Jesus is so inclusive.
Oh I love this. Could feel that sting of rejection and being left out. That longing to belong… I carry that heavy these days. A place. Faces that smile and love in return. To have a space to be me. It’s long gone and slow in finding.
I want that for my children too.
This speaks to my heart today.
Amy Sullivan says
I can relate. When I graduated from high school and received a Bible from a local church I rarely attended instead of feeling thankful, I felt sad. The pastor asked all of the seniors to stand in the back to be recognized after the service. I stood there for ten minutes wishing just a couple people knew my name.
Jennifer @ GDWJ says
Oh … I just want to cry reading this. Tears so close. And tears so good. And oh, tears are here, spilling.
I wish I had the social-media power to send this to every church across America. This is just … beautiful.
L.L. Barkat says
I’m with you Jenn. My heart was breaking. How many times do we not understand the dreams in our children’s minds? There’s no getting around it I suppose, but it makes me catch my breath.
And I agree with Ann V. That is a gorgeous photo of you, Ms. Ann Kroeker! Funny, but I was reading your words and when I scrolled down and caught sight of your face it all came together and that’s when the deepest sorrow hit me. It was you, Ann, who was disappointed. You, beautiful you.
I’m so happy you and your family have found a church home. Mine truly is my family. This was beautiful. Thank you.
Suzie Lind says
Establishing roots is so important and it seems like I’ve talked with several parents of grown children who regret not staying in one body with a vibrant youth ministry for their children’s spiritual growth. I hope your daughter grows to understand the value of the body of Christ and is encouraged along the way as she matured. And while we’re on the sub-subject of the ESV study Bible, I have it and absolutely love it.
We go to a “big” church and my husband sure as Hades does not fork out $75 for senior Bibles. LOL! Most seniors toss those Bibles into a box somewhere. We buy slimline NIVs. We do get all of them engraved with the senior’s name, however.
I love this story, $75 Bible aside. Watching hubby do senior prep every year and wondering if the kids even care… this encourages me. I will pass it onto the hubster.
We do go to a fairly small church, and I’m sure they found a price lower than that retail tag I saw at the bookstore! I ended up buying myself an NAS in college (got my own name stamped on it at the urging of my boyfriend), and then told my husband to get me an NIV for Mother’s Day one year about 14 years ago. I’m reading from NLT I found at Goodwill for $1 for devotional read-through-the-Bible.
Hm….for what occasion shall I request the reasonably priced ESV?? I’ll have to chew on this.
And maybe you’ll be surprised–there may be some seniors who pull out those Bibles again when they find themselves needed to find God’s Truth in the confusion of college classes. I think it’s a great gift, even if it must seem like a token thing at the time.
Becky Ramsey says
Wow, what a touching post.
We all want desperately to belong. Your story makes me want to do whatever I can to help make sure that God’s house is the place where EVERYONE feels they belong. Because they do!
I’m sure I seemed a bit odd. Most of the attenders of that tiny church were families that came together, or at least one parent would come with the kids. For me to just come on my own as a teen, dropped off by my parents or by 16 driving myself…it may have been hard for people to figure out what I might have needed.
Such a great post. We all want to feel like we belong. It wasn’t the bible or the recognition, it was the sense of belonging. What a gift now, for you to pass along to your children what you didn’t get (in terms of belonging to a body of believers). What a great perspective. I might just pass this along to our children’s ministry director and youth director as an encouragement for what they are doing.
I hope they do find it encouraging–people were pleasant and polite. I might have been a bit shy, too; it’s hard to be objective.
One thing I’ve really appreciated about our current church is that people seem to know my kids as well as they know me (maybe better). At our old church, my husband and I were known, and the kids were just there. People would nod and smile, but it was the adults that they wanted to interact with. At our current church, the kids are interacting with other adults as often as I am. I love that they are known and their opinions and conversation are valued.
Gordon Atkinson says
This one hit home for me. I remember the hard struggle as a minister to remember the marginal folks. When you are being taxed to operate about about 175% of your relationship capacity, it is SO easy to get focused on the people who are there all the time.
This was a VERY GOOD reminder that, in fact, it is the ones on the edges of church who need the most love. I think you managed to make your point with such grace and no anger. Thank you for that.
I featured this post today at http://highcallingblogs.com/9550/around-the-network-3/
How thoughtful of you, Gordon, to leave a note reminding me of the other perspective–that of those ministering. Thank you so much for featuring this post, and I hope it is encouraging. I didn’t mean to make anyone feel guilty or bad; it was just a memory…a longing. I did get a note on Facebook from the one best friend of that era in my life. Her family attended that tiny church and they loved me well.
I so felt this, the need to feel you were part of it and not forgotten. How deeply we crave a sense of home and that includes a church home.
Growing up, lacking either of those, the sting can remain. Again and again, I have turned similar experiences around to ask, “Who can I be HOME to?” I believe God has worked this in me and is not my own doing at all. Ashes to beauty. You on ‘on guard’ for your own daughter because of your experience and who but God knows how that will serve to lead you where He wants you to be…or to stay where He wants you to stay? Or to reach out to the (church)homeless.
Who can I be HOME to? Great question, like Charity’s question at HCB on Wednesday, who can I be family to?
I do appreciate your gentle caution that God may lead me somewhere else. I’ll trust that He’ll help me find a way to be sensitive to create a sense of home, no matter where we end up.
It is so important for all of us, especially our children, to find that place of belonging in the Body of Christ. Excellent post, thank you 🙂 .
B Gorinski says
Nice Ann. Certainly makes me think about my children and all the kids currently in our church community.
Cheryl Smith says
The stinging part for me is this: We are in a church that has been struggling for many years. My husband is ready to move on, and I am waiting. I say for God’s release, and that is true. And yet I fear that if I miss it and hold on too long, it will become a place where no one longs to belong, yet they do. And if we leave, well, that belonging place may not be found… and us with four children in or about to be in youth, so needing a place to grow and be nurtured beyond what we do at home. We, after all, are loosing our coolness far more quickly than I thought possible.
So many thoughts…
Can’t wait to see you in September. We’ll share stories of sitting on church steps, talking with all the other kids.
Jojo Agot says
This is heartbreaking, I don’t know what to say. It just baffles me that this is happening everywhere. I once attended a church where the staff really made me feel like an OUTSIDER. I was on my way to the bathroom when an usher told me I could not get back to my chair because that would disrupt the service. Less than a minute later, I was already out on the street. That church didn’t need new people.
Sandra Heska King says
This brought a lump to my throat. I can’t help but think how this experience must have tenderized your heart toward others with hurting hearts and a need to belong. And it makes me more determined than ever to be sure my grandchildren know a church home.
That is what church means to me, belonging. I am not totally sure that where we are at is it, but I trust that God will let me know so that someday my children can feel that church family connection.
Thank you for sharing your heart in this post.