Thursday, January 23, 2014

Landing Place

And so, after months of convincing myself all this questioning and seeking was okay, I got up the nerve to attend a Wednesday night youth service at the boy's church. I will never forget that night.

We gathered in a classroom at the far end of the hall. Everyone seemed to know each other, although they all made an effort to say hello, too. The minister people came in and explained the night. We were going to have some group time. In order to find our groups, everyone gets a paper bag to put over their head and a secret animal noise! The object was to walk around the room making your animal noise and find persons of like species to form your group.

I've been in this church 10 minutes and I have a bag over my head. Fantastic.

Now, I'm shy anyway and it's hard for me to let myself go and just throw myself into an experience like this, even if I know everyone in the room. Imagine not knowing anyone in the room, except the one kid I'm kind of hanging really close to and very quickly disappointed that he isn't mooing. (I wasn't mooing either. I waited for someone to bump into me, and then went, "Oh. Uhm. I guess, moo." in a quiet voice.)

I didn't go back for two years.

But I did go back. In July 2000, they were hosting a large youth event for three whole days, an event they'd hosted for many years. I always saw the boy in the T-shirts. He always talked about the really cool things they did there. I always kind of wanted to go, but didn't dare ask. That summer, he asked me. Maybe he'd asked before and I just hadn't heard him, but either way, that year, I heard him. And I dared to go. Thinking, in the back of my mind, that if things got too weird, I could always just go home.

In that auditorium filled with young people, who weren't as concerned about my qualifications to be there as I was, I noticed something. In hindsight, it had been present in the animal bag experience, too. The majority of these young people weren't focused on each other. They weren't thinking about where they were. They weren't distracted by what was going on. They all seemed focused on the presence of God among them, and as one body, they were worshiping. 

This was the kind of answer my heart had been hoping to find.

In the preschool, there were qualifiers. Limitations and qualifications that determined where you could be and when. In the United Methodist church, there were rules and no room for personality. In the Wesleyan congregation, everyone was intently focused on the preacher and not the God, as if this was just some social forum where they came to agree with somebody. In the Pentecostal church...never mind. I really never got the feel of that place. But here, in this Church of Christ, everyone seemed to be looking for God. That's what I wanted to do!

A drama troupe called One Time Blind took the stage, and I name them because they have been so vital in my spiritual formation, even to this day. The one actor who always played Jesus stood on stage with his arms outstretched, and I swear he was looking at me when he said to the actress, "Laura, I love you." Ok, my name is not Laura, but I swore he was staring deep into my soul with the power of Christ in those words. I started crying.

I sat in the front-most lobby of that church for hours that Saturday night, crying as my questions wrung in my soul. Who am I? What right do I have to be in a place like this? What was the power of those three little words and those eyes that conveyed much more than a parental love or a brotherly love or an obligatory love or a love that is only in words? What just pierced my heart and why couldn't I make the pain go away? 

I questioned all my worthiness, all the lessons I'd learned from life and church up to this point. I was torn but I couldn't understand why or how. I didn't know what was going on. The minister people came and knelt and talked to me. So did the boy. I kept telling them to go back to the event, to go worship, to go be with the other kids. I was embarrassed. I didn't know what was happening to me. And then...I just kind of gave into it. 

Without answers. Still asking the questions. Not knowing if I could or should or even would, I begged for baptism. I have told that story before. (Starting here.) That night, I was baptized into Christ in the only place I'd found capable of confronting my questions - the church of Christ. (Which is really neither here nor there, except to say that is where I landed.)

I was baptized, placed membership, and became a part of this God-centered community. It became the place where I am unafraid to ask questions, where I don't feel pressured to have the answers, where I look to God with my community and don't worry so much about the details. It's the place that has loved me well, for no other reason than that I am who I am and I am God's. It's the place that has trained me and taught me in discipleship, faith, love, worth, service, honor, integrity, questions, answers, doubts, fears, certainties, and Promises. It is the place that has opened its doors, and continues to open its doors, for me to come to know God.

Which leads me to the whole reason I take four days to tell you this story...

**Disclaimer: The comments made in this story, throughout this week, is no reflection on the doctrine or theology of the various churches I have been privileged to visit in my journey. These words are simply a representation of my experience with specific congregations, all of which I know have grown and transformed over the years. All of which I understand are made up of people just like every other congregation. So do not take any of this as derogatory. It is not meant to be such.**

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