I lay on my bed, thoughts swirling through my head like dizzy paper streamers, and I listen for the voice of God.
In my heart, I ache for peace. My heart throbs for justice and healing and unity, for Jesus to ooze out of my very pores all over this hurting world. I yearn to apply the balm of the gospel to the festering wounds of broken humanity, to look into the faces of men and women created in His Image, and tell them there really is good news....
But tonight is a little different. Tonight I am thinking about the church. I am considering how it became so dysfunctional and shattered and judgmental and exclusive. I wince even as I type these words, because it feels as though I am publicly slandering my own mother.
I want to put my hands over the gaping wound and hold it closed.
The church I attend is falling apart at the seams. Each week I see the strain on the faces of the faithful and I ache inside. I want to scoop these dear ones up into my arms and assure them, like I do my own precious children when they are frightened, that everything will be alright.
My husband and I were asked to volunteer as youth leaders, and for about 2 full minutes we were absolutely thrilled to death. We have been sitting in with the youth for months now, and God has begun knitting our hearts to the hearts of these teenagers. We were definitely sure this is exactly why we were supposed to stay at this church, and we were excited to have a direction and purpose.
A meeting was called and the very first question that was asked was whether or not we say the pledge of allegiance. We do not. That is not the point of this post and so I am not going to go into all that right now, but suffice it to say, we never dreamed this would be an issue, because in all the months we have been helping with the youth, the pledge has never once been said.
Still, we attend a church in a community that is very largely active or retired military, and the woman who asked the question was offended by our response and informed us she did not know if she could leave her sons in the youth if we were leading.
I would be lying if I didn't say I went back to my car and cried like a baby.
I have struggled, living here in South Georgia, feeling like I don't fit in. Feeling like my gifts and talents aren't useable or desirable. Feeling like maybe this church is a bad fit for me and my family. I have absolutely fallen in love with so many of the people, but sometimes I fear I still look like an outsider.
I don't own one single dress or one pair of heels and most of the ladies who attend my church have dozens of both and wear them beautifully on Sunday mornings. I wear the same jeans and tee shirts over and over because I gave away almost all of my clothes. Not to mention, I am no good at dressing myself.
I have several chronic illnesses that keep me home quite a bit, and I rarely talk about them because I hate drawing attention to myself. I have tried very hard to be intentional about practicing hospitality and being friendly, though this is not easy for me. My home is run down and falling apart in a lot of ways, but my husband works long hours and I am too ill to do much of it myself, as I used to.
I can sing. Almost no one in my church even knows this about me. I used to sing professionally for a short stint. I love singing. I developed cysts on my vocal chords last year, and they have just been removed with surgery. I'd love to be able to sing in the choir.
I love reading and studying and writing and I have to try very hard to shut my face in class because even though I am painfully shy I get so excited talking about God and all the neat things I am learning. I don't want to dominate a discussion or act like a know-it-all.
I tend to look for the lonely, the shy and the different person in a group to reach out to. I am not scared of oddballs. I am one.
I think all people need, at least once in their life, to experience the unconditional love of Jesus. It changes you, it just does.
I am not going to go on and on about all the ways I would do a great job or which college classes I took that make me qualified because none of that really matters anyway. I would, however, like to end my post tonight with a story from my past that explains why I feel as I do about the youth in particular.
I grew up in a Christian home but rebelled pretty badly in my later teens. By the time I was 20, I was so angry at the hypocrisy in the church that I had given up on God.
One night, a friend asked me to come with her to a college Bible study she attended. I was curious, but didn't want to act like it. I had a tongue piercing and lots of ear piercings and decided to cause a little trouble. I put on a shirt that said I LIKE YOUR BOYFRIEND in big blue letters.
My friend deliberately ignored my shirt, though I'm pretty sure it irked her. She was the nice Christian girl type. We arrived to the study and the guy moderating, who couldn't have been older than 30, came over to greet me. He introduced himself, asked my name, and started to read my shirt- OUT LOUD.
I admit it, I started to smirk. Here it comes, I thought. A self-righteous lecture by Mr. Goody-Two Shoes. He started to say something but cut himself off mid-sentence. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, "You know what? I don't care about your shirt. I'm just really glad you're here tonight, Amy. Jesus loves you."
It may sound cliche to some of you reading this, but in that very moment, all of my defenses came crashing down. I don't remember what we talked about during the study that night, but I do know it was the first step I took on the road home.
That's what I come to bring. I look at that youth group and I see a bunch of kids wearing shirts with big, blue letters that all say something, and I am coming to ignore the shirt, look them in the face and tell them I'm glad they came. That Jesus loves them. That He loves them unconditionally.
Because it changes people, it just does.
It changed me.
I'll be real with you: It will break my heart if the church asks us to step down because of our stance on the pledge to the American flag. I don't think it should be so important and I don't think we should fight about it. But whether as a youth leader or not, you'd better believe I'll be looking past messy exteriors into hurting and confused hearts and bringing my Jesus right along with me. That's just how I roll. It's what I was made to do.
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