Although it was about to be aggravated by a misunderstanding, the sense of not belonging had been intensifying over the previous weeks. Up until that Sunday morning I'd been doing a fairly good job of ignoring the feeling of isolation in Church, but everything came flooding to the surface as Steve joined me in the front row and whispered, "What's this about Paul's birthday party last night?"
While still clapping to the praise song, I whispered back, "We weren't invited."
"We weren't invited?" Steve sounded slightly puzzled, but I didn't understand why until later that morning.
With a quick response in the negative, I turned back to try and focus on the praise and worship, but honesty seemed to force me to admit one more thing.
"And I feel quite hurt."
"You feel hurt?" Again Steve repeated my whispered comment making me wonder whether I was standing at Echo Point!
I simply nodded.
"Oh," Steve said, and with that he turned to the front and started to praise God.
Not being much of a party person, I knew that what I was feeling had nothing whatsoever to do with missing out on a fun night. Instead, it had everything to do with feeling left out of an event that "everyone" else seemed to have attended. It seemed to re-enforce that sense of being unloved and unnecessary in the life of our congregation.
It would be wonderful to say that I was able to praise my way through the rampaging emotions of self pity, but it wouldn't be true. Instead, every song seemed to bring the tears a little closer to the point of brimming over and I spent the next hour and a half stewing in my own misery.
Thankfully, God knows when we're wallowing in a pit of our own making and is able to yank us out before we start digging it any deeper. Thankfully, He made sure that this particular pity party didn't extend a minute longer than could be avoided.
As the service came to an end and I prepared to beat a very hasty retreat, the wife of the Birthday boy caught me at the door. Her face was a picture of disappointment and hurt as she said, "Debbie, where were you last night?"
Now that was unexpected, but I still hadn't quite registered what had happened.
"We weren't invited," I croaked out as the tears began to brim again.
"NOT INVITED?" Marilyn was shocked and as she grabbed me close in one of her overwhelming hugs of love, I finally realized that we'd experienced a communication breakdown.
"But we missed you so much," she said through her tears. "We didn't know why you hadn't come."
It was then that I discovered why Steve had sounded a little surprised when I'd said we weren't invited. When Marilyn had seen him before the service and asked him the same question, he'd told her that he didn't know anything about it. Then, in true husband style, had blamed me for obviously not letting him know.
No wonder I'd confused him a few minutes later!
As it turned out, Marilyn had given a general invitation to everyone who was at a group that we'd attended earlier in the week. She'd taken it for granted that we'd heard - but we hadn't. That in itself was amazing, because Marilyn is the type of person who can call long distance without using a telephone!
Holding tight to each other's hands, Marilyn and I sat down and reached for the tissues. As we talked, I shared the feeling of isolation I'd been experiencing. "I know it's silly, but I can't help thinking that if I just stopped coming, no one would notice or care."
Bring out the violins! Yes, I know. It's pathetic and something I shouldn't have allowed to take hold. But it was there like an open wound, just waiting for infection to set in.
Marilyn's encouragement and love at that moment had the power to turn off the string quartet and change my perspective back to what it should have been in the first place. Instead of scurrying out of church that morning under a rain cloud, I left with the special inner warmth that's only kindled by a caring friend.
Two weeks later, just before the service began, Marilyn came alongside and handed me an A4 sized piece of card. It seemed to be a flow chart of some description and although I could tell that it was something special, I wasn't quite sure why.
The band had started to play as Marilyn attempted to explain what she'd done, but the sound was so loud that it was almost impossible to make out more than the odd word here and there.
"... time ... people ... see ... don't realize ... you don't know some ... couldn't fit ... more."
With another hug, she headed back to her seat and I took the sheet, folded it in half and slipped it into my Bible. I wanted to save it for a time when I could give it my full attention.
Later that afternoon I retrieved the sheet from my Bible cover, spread it out on the office desk and started to absorb what it contained.
Almost every bit of available space had been covered with what looked like cloud shaped balloons, which were all connected by lines. At the bottom left hand corner was a very large cloud-balloon with the words "Debbie & Steve Porter & Family". This balloon only connected to the one other large bubble on the page, which contained the words "Paul & Marilyn".
As I looked at the multiple lines radiating out from Paul and Marilyn's cloud-balloon to join with other smaller name-filled bubbles (which in turn radiated out to connect with other name-filled bubbles) I suddenly understood the significance of this precious gift.
Marilyn had taken the time to do something that very few of us would ever bother to do. She'd shown how one family had been used by God to influence her life and how this had added to the impact that she and her husband had been able to have on their family and friends.
It was an overwhelming and humbling chart. Some of the names were easily recognized as people who were now active members in our church. Other names were quite unknown, as the influence effect rippled out. The main point was that Steve and I had not had any direct involvement with leading these people to Christ; and yet indirectly we had!
What a powerful statement!
Whether we realize it or not, and even if we don't believe it, the reality is that as Christian men and women we each have influence. In some cases we'll see the results of the influence we have, but in the vast majority of instances we probably won't know this side of heaven how many lives have been indirectly touched by us.
It may not be the most pleasant of examples, but it's definitely the most appropriate. The word "Influenza" actually comes from the word "influence" and describes the way the virus is transferred. It may only start with one person, but that one person may pass it on to five people, who in turn each pass it onto five people, who in turn pass it onto five people, who ...
Well, you can easily see that if not treated, it would spread like wildfire and way beyond the original carrier's personal group of contacts.
Our influence radiates out in the same way, although we would hope with much healthier results! As a follower of Christ, our desire should be to impart some aspect of our Lord into those with whom we come into contact. To invest something into their lives, which will in turn be passed onto others.
The best Biblical example I found of this was from Paul's letter to the church in Thessalonica:
The original point of influence was Christ, and radiated from Him through Paul to this congregation of believers. Subsequently, the lifestyle of faith shown by this church was an example to people everywhere.
Was the Thessalonican church aware of the influence they were having before Paul brought it to their attention? Perhaps they may have known of some, but I honestly believe that for the most part they would have been quite oblivious to the fact. As they read Paul's letter, I wonder if the reaction was something like, "Who? Us?"
Perhaps that's what you're thinking right now. "Me? A person of influence? I don't think so!"
Whether you want to believe it or not, you are. In fact, being a person of influence is really part of the responsibility we have as followers of Christ. It doesn't mean you have to become a travelling evangelist. It just means letting the light of Christ shine through your life to everyone you meet.
Have you ever stopped to think how the stone that splashes into the pond doesn't get to stick around and see how far the ripples spread?
Make a splash in someone's life today. The ripples you create just may spread out across eternity!
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