It has been a while since I have literally written anything, but the longing never leaves…..every day feels like I am living a blog post- a life of learning lessons from my own experiences and those around me that change me forever. I think the last month I have been taking in so many experiences I have not even known where to start. Today I figured I needed to start somewhere…..
I come across like I am confident and fearless but in certain areas I am a HUGE scaredy cat. For example, I don’t think I would be good with tools so I never, ever use them. I have never even used a hammer to drive a nail to hang a picture. I have also never painted a wall. I know it makes me sound like I am just a spoiled wife because my husband does all these things and does them well so why do I need to? I admit I am relieved I don’t have to do it but the bottom line is that I don’t think I would be good at it so I don’t even try. I also don’t touch finances for us personally or for the nonprofit- ok….I will be honest. I DID try that and my own husband fired me. For that one, I am grateful I tried and failed horribly because it was my worst nightmare but for a few days after my termination I did feel like a failure and I don’t handle that feeling well. Fortunately, the stakes were not too high on that one.
Going a little deeper, I fear being alone, not having a place to live, and not being able to provide for my family. I fear my friends in Haiti going hungry because I did not do enough. I fear my children not knowing how much I love and adore them because I feel like I can never say it enough. I fear a life cut short by heart disease that runs in my family. I fear living a life that does not matter. My biggest fear is that something would happen to my husband- the most powerful voice and presence in my life. I fear…..the list goes on…….I don’t think about them all the time but when I go to the places in me that make my chest hurt and my breath shorten- it is these.
With all these thoughts, voices and fears swimming in my overactive mind (and not the good kind of active that can remember how to do algebra and geometry to be able to help my kids with their homework), I am always exposed to courage around me that makes me stand up and say, “YES! THAT! That is what I am talking about!!” Then I leave changed. Encouraged. Blessed.
I love to learn. It reminds me I have a long way to go on an exciting journey.
And here is what that has looked like to me the last month….
Churches are scary for people who feel like they do not measure up. And churches have only reinforced this for many. I talked to someone who is in her thirties who remembers distinctly being a little girl and not having a dress to wear because she was poor and told she could not come to church in anything less. She was taught that being poor meant she was excluded- from the one place that should have embraced her. This memory is so real it is like it happened yesterday.
Whenever I bring visitors to church who don’t know how to “act right” and who maybe talk too loud, ask too many questions, or are too fidgety, I can feel the stares. I sense the judgement. I feel the question being asked, “Why are you letting that person interrupt my hour of worship?” The reason….because Jesus called the church to be the church and the church will never be the power hour at 10:30 AM on a Sunday. The church will always be a group of people loving others to the point of sacrifice and above all else loving a Jesus who first loved them. How quickly we let church be a place of convenience where we let our own comfort win. That will never be a win for Jesus.
And then we have classes or groups of people who have not been programmed to be churchy and shallow, and we don’t know what to do with their honesty and brokenness….so we put on a DVD and give the one-word answers in the workbook so we don’t have to really confront the demons who haunt so many of us. We stay safe and contained in the script that was written by an author who had no idea what that group would be facing and therefore, remains irrelevant to most of the people in the room. When we take prayer requests, we don’t REALLY want to know how we can pray for the people in our groups because that makes us WAY too uncomfortable so we pray for our aunts, cousins, and distant relatives and their ailments, which are important prayers but not in place of our own struggles that need to be shared.
But I also learned this…..God can use me to break the cycle of churchy people looking down on outsiders and he can use you. We can ask the questions that may take the person more than two minutes to answer and listen patiently while she shares. And then we can follow up day after day and week after week so people learn that they are not momentary projects to make us feel good about ourselves. That is where Jesus becomes real to them. That is where the Holy Spirit grows us and gives us the words we need when we have no idea what to say. THAT is the church.
I learned this month that I was afforded the opportunity to attend a prestigious university but many never had the chance to finish middle school. Lazy? Unmotivated? Not at all. Childhood abuse, homelessness, endless moves in foster care, parental neglect- all contributing to the end of the road of education for MANY. “Go back to school! Get your GED!” That is what everyone has to say. I say….”Are you ready to go back to an institution that failed you? Are you confident enough to face the vocabulary and math equations that you never understood the first time? Do you fear being teased and mocked for the being the “new student” when you had to do that 4 or 5 times a year as a child because the foster care system failed you horribly and could never stabilize your placement?” From there, I say….”We will do this when you are ready, not when everyone else thinks you SHOULD be ready.” Most people want to throw judgement around about someone’s level of education without a thought as to how it can be done with the past that is still only a memory away and those memories are beyond painful.
“Why are so many people who are homeless obese?” How many would say that it is because they are lazy? Probably the majority of Americans would reach this conclusion. A friend recently told me, “A honey bun is a whole lot cheaper than a salad.” I get it. Many cannot afford fresh fruits and vegetables, much less the GMO free spinach or the cage free chicken. Think about it.
What about the way people dress? Maybe the shirt is too short and the stomach hangs out because the free clothes closet at the shelter had 3 shirts to pick from and they were all too small. But anything is better than nothing. Maybe the person never had a mom to explain “modesty” and what is “appropriate.” People are quick to say, “She knows she looks like a slut!” I talked to my friend whose family had spent decades owning strip clubs and she told me that she never was taught another way. She was doing what she knew. Maybe, just maybe….if we stopped pointing fingers and saying “modest is hottest” to people who do not even know the definition of “modest” and took the time to shop with them and teach them how cute clothes can be without our bodies hanging out- the problem would get better.
While we post pictures of our perfect trees with the ornaments appropriately spaced, our Christmas cards in the field with the chalkboard MERRY CHRISTMAS and the red wagon, and the presents perfectly wrapped and nestled around the tree, there are so many who have nothing. Absolutely nothing to share with their families but love. We are quick to say, “But love is enough!” That is, until it is us who can’t exchange a gift or make a cookie because even the Betty Crocker mixes take a stick of butter that is more than we can afford.
You say, “There are programs for people like that!” Yes, there are programs for children whose parents are in jail. Yes, there are plenty of programs for children in foster care. But what about the mom who works two jobs and has nothing left after the rent? Nothing for her….except the people who profess Christ and decide to live it out and give less gifts to their overindulged children to give someone else gifts to put under the tree. Oh, that’s right….they don’t have a tree. Or ornaments. “But they have each other.” Have you tried explaining that to a six year old?
As God continues to reveal to me, I will continue to write. If I am too bold and too mouthy, then I am doing what I am called to do. I feel I have been called to live what I talk about and bring others along with me. Sometimes kicking and screaming but as God does the drawing of people, I never worry. He is raising up an army to be Jesus to a dark and broken world. As we sit in our comfortable churches hanging with the same exact people every single week and snickering at the ones who don’t know all the “rules” yet, we are not the church. We are a failure for the kingdom. As we decorate our homes and our trees and ignore the least of these, we are again a failure for the kingdom. As we judge others for how much school they have, how they dress or what kind of job they can get and we never help them fill out an application when they are illiterate or take them to AA so they can stay sober, we are a failure to the kingdom.
We have to stop failing and start loving. It is what we are called to do. It breathes life into our very bodies and makes the light of Jesus shine in the dark places where most are scared to ever go.