I park, grab my Bible, jaunt down the sidewalk, excited for Sunday’s service. A woman is pacing in front of the stairs that lead to the towering doors of our 110-year-old church. church doors
“Good morning,” I say, ignoring her body language, begging to be left unseen. church doors
“Are you thinking about coming inside?”
“I’m not dressed proper.” church doors
“We’re a “come as you are church,” so you’re dressed perfectly. Come on in, it’s hot out.”
Red-faced from heat and anxiety, she follows me through the doors. I wink at my husband who knows the signal for “just ignore that I am not sitting with you.” He’s our Sunday guy, arriving hours ago. The one who opens the doors, turns on the essence of air conditioning unit and does whatever behind the scenes stuff needs done. church doors
I learn my new friend’s name is Dahlia. She likes extra cream and Splenda in her coffee and my red hair. During worship, she apes my every move. I stand, she stands. I sit, she sits. My hands raise, so do hers. I hate that she feels there are rules or standards she must abide to be accepted. When the sermon begins she hands me a small plastic crucifix. It looks as if an 18-wheeler ran over it, twice. Sipping her coffee she asks, “Is this Catholic?” church doors
Quiet as possible, we talk about the cross is for everyone. She asks more questions, the kind you’d travel across the world to answer. A well-known local homeless fellow to my left shushes us. Before my apology nod is complete, Dahlia yells, “shut-up!” church doors
Then he calls her a nasty name. church doors
Eyes move from Pastor to our side of the congregation. I laugh, rather loud, partly from anxiety but also because I admit the messy situation amused me. Granted, I’d rather be viewing than performing the scene.
The good news is, we all survived, together as the church; a building packed with all types of people, each with their own flavor of imperfection, seeking a common goal—God.
You see, Dahlia is not that odd.
I know. Years ago, when I walked through the doors of this same church, I sat in the balcony staring down at the seemingly angelic beings. One woman, a good friend today, swayed and raised her arms with such joy. I was certain she was born from a Teflon womb, void of any crust or stain and raised with parents who spoke volumes of kind words derived out of pure thoughts. Later I learned, she’d struggled with addictions and brokenness—like me.
Truth be told, a lack of church upbringing is more normal than we’d like to think. Of course, there were occasions of church, like funerals, weddings, sporadic Easter Sundays, and even a season of church camp. But, it was not the McFarland tradition. Our Sunday ritual began with closing the drapes followed by a redundant explanation, “We don’t want Aunt Betty and Uncle Arthur to think we are home if they stop by after church.”
It’s not that they were disliked. On the contrary. They were highly respected as kind, loving and dear. No, we walked stooped over, hiding our silhouettes behind the drapes because we were not prepared to be perfect today. At least, that’s the impression it left on me. Betty and Arthur might be good folk, but they would never accept us “as is.” Since those days, I’ve met scores of people, young, old and in-between who believe they are not good enough for church. They believe, as did I, that God doesn’t want them until they get their perfect groove on.
I was shocked when I read the Bible. Did you know it is full of stories about imperfect people that God liked—a bunch. How could I have been so wrong? And, churches are full of people like me; broken, hurting, needy. Maybe there’s a few leaning toward angelic, but it’s highly unlikely. The best part is, they took me in, loved me into believing God loves me even more.
Not everyone knows God. There are many like Dahlia, hanging outside, afraid to enter fearing they’re not spiffed up enough for God to welcome them. Even sadder are those who believe they know God’s character based on tainted information and misconstrued ideals. Oh dear God help those who seek to know you via social media.
My heart cries for those who feel they are unlovable. I get it. My hope, my prayer, is for those sitting in the balconies, back pews or hanging outside afraid to enter. This strange, ever-changing world is full of hurting people, each from a special cookie cutter. What makes a widowed social bee feel welcome may scare away a newly sober lone wolf. I’m grateful for those who swung open the doors, and allowed me entrance, right where I stood. Let’s pray for each other that we will be granted wisdom for each soul knocking at the doors of our church.
I am grateful for these four gifts of grace shown me.
- This helped me to trust others more than anything else. If they were willing to hear my views, I could hear and give credibility to them, as well.
- Accept and love them right where they stand. Let God convict and correct.
- Put feet to your faith. Don’t make grandiose statements of intended prayer rituals when what they need right now is a drink of water, a meal, a friend or a place to rest.
- Be kind, warm, generous and willing to give a hug when appropriate.
Recent studies show that over the past fifteen years, the drop in religiosity has been twice as great as the decline of the 1960s and 1970s. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02732170802205973#.Uub3FGTnaP8 In “How the West Really Lost God,” sociologist Mary Eberstadt asserts, “The fortunes of religion rise or fall with the state of the family.”
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