When I was 14, I gave my life to Christ, with one request: that He would heal me. I had come fresh off a botched suicide attempt and just wanted to have the weight of my pain lifted. And if I were to believe the evangelicals, I would’ve been destroyed over the idea that with one prayer and surrender, I’d be freed instantaneously from all my burdens. That’s their selling point, right?
Thank goodness I’m a realist.
My life got worse, harder, more challenging, more uncomfortable. At any given moment in the last 19 years, the devil was heavy on me. Why trust your God? The church forsakes you for a multitude of reasons: you’re too messy, too emotional, look at the way you dress; have you heard the way you talk? It’s no secret I’ve found community within the disfranchised. The queer community welcomed me; tattoo shops were safe places away from the hypocritical “church talk” people I saw on Sunday mornings. I have always had an unspoken bond with the communities of people shamed by the majority. Some of the best conversations I’ve had have been with people vastly different than me and I invest in those relationships because I know Jesus would too. I carry my conviction and faith; but I love them all. They’re family; the ones God sees and knows and no church can tell me different.
No one tells you that when you become a follower of Christ, your life gets harder. We don’t often talk about the reality that comfortability is often a tool of the devil to distract you from your first love. But oh, has he tried to separate me from the church many a time. There was the pilgrimage I made of all the uber wealthy, white churches. There was the cult, who claimed they weren’t a cult simply because “you can leave.” They failed to mention how controlling and precise their membership covenant was and knew their way around warped scripture. There was so, so much chevron and Noonday Collection and mention of “tribes”, because a bunch of white women appropriating the word tribe to describe friendships with people that look, act and think just like them isn’t borderline racist. And of course, you couldn’t just leave. When I finally told the pastor and wife that I was leaving, there were several emails sent over the course of several weeks by the church telling me I was violating my membership covenant by leaving, until finally the last email was a strongly worded email stating that they were removing me from membership for violating my covenant with them. It took me a few years to learn that normal churches don’t do anything like that. That “church” still affects me to this day, as every so often I am reminded that evil exists in the form of false doctrine and control.
But it’s not the hard stuff that gets you. It’s the comfortability that’ll get you. I had sporadic years of nothingness that were devoid of any real attachment to God. I clung to Him when He was needed and rejected him otherwise. There were three years I stayed in a prosperity gospel church just because it was easy and easy is what kills you, if you let it. If the foundation is weak, easy sweeps the foundation away. I knew why I was there. I was fresh off a mental health crisis and I didn’t want anyone to bother me, not even God. I knew what to say, how to engage but I wasn’t growing. I wasn’t changing.
And then Jesus starts knocking on the door ever so softly. So He brought me to the church I’m at now. It actually really sucked in the beginning, spiritually. People wanted to know me and I didn’t like that. I think in the last 3.5 years, I have tried to leave twice. And what the pastors didn’t do was force me to stay but they, through tough talks, told me they loved me. It was hard to believe at first because I didn’t think anyone in the church, let alone a pastor could love me. I didn’t find community in pockets called tribes; I found community in family. Family is way messier than tribes. Family means all of us; not just the ones we like easily. We argue, disagree; I’ve been annoyed and others have been annoyed by me. We don’t dress the same, look the same; we come from different socioeconomic statuses. It causes conflict at times but it also fosters reconciliation and deeper relationships than what I’ve seen at any other church I’ve been to.
Easter Sunday I was baptized. It was this commitment to a new version of me, more of who I’m meant to be. Slow to speak, quick to listen. An active part of a church family while still loving and maintaining relationships outside the church. Generous, ready to serve. Faithful. Life isn’t comfortable right now but God is good. He always has been.