Friday, May 1, 2015

Chasing Rainbow Unicorns

The biggest hurts and heartaches I've ever experienced have been within the walls of the church.

And so have the greatest healings.

I am a church girl through and through. I was the first baby born into a brand new church my teen-mom found her way to in the final months of her pregnancy. I gave my heart to Jesus in Sunday School when I was four years old along side my cousin with my aunt/Sunday School teacher guiding us along the way. I attended private Christian school, youth group and Bible camp. I went on short term mission trips, picketed abortion clinics and handed out sandwiches to the homeless. I have been a Sunday School teacher, youth group leader, passion play director, Bible Study facilitator, greeter, bookstore volunteer and - for a short time - a pastor.

I am a church girl through and through.

Along the way I have been over looked, judged, bullied, embarrassed, mocked, wrongly accused and shut out by the very people I counted on to include me and accept me. I was told that I didn't have the right skills, I associated with the wrong people, I cared about the wrong things, I wasn't cool enough, pretty enough, young enough - or I was too young, too edgy, too bold. I was too much and not enough at the same time.

I was hurt and angry and bitter. I was consumed by all the ways I was wrong and neglected the ways I was right, the people who were loving and good and the opportunities I had to just be me. I focused on my disappointment and began to judge the church - leadership, structures, programs and people - harshly. The more I judged the less I liked who I was but instead of dealing with me I blamed them.

I spent a lot of time dreaming of The Perfect Church. I imagined what it would look like, how it would feel to walk through those doors and be loved and accepted. I thought of the programs, structures, sermons and serving opportunities that would be full of life and joy. I dreamed of the perfect youth ministry and the perfect kids ministry and the perfect way to do baptisms and testimonies. I saw a place filled with laughter and love and sunshine and hearts and butterflies and rainbow unicorns!

Yeah - rainbow unicorns. That's what the perfect anything is. It's a completely unattainable notion that you will spend your life chasing without actually ever catching it. You will waste years of your life in this pursuit of a standard that is more of a vague idea than a real, tangible thing. You will sacrifice experiences, relationships and your own peace of mind in this fruitless quest for perfection. You will waste so much and lose so much. I know because I did.

I was looking for a perfect church, a perfect marriage, a perfect family and a perfect life. I hunted everywhere but I could never find it. Sometimes I would think I saw glimpses of perfection so I would chase after it hard but it was also to no avail. I was disgruntled and never content because I knew KNEW that somewhere out there was the perfect life I craved. I was sure that perfection would be found once we had that new house, or that friendship with that popular person, or a higher pay check, or a smaller pant size, or … or  …. or  … Wherever it was, it was always just outside my reach.

I lived like this for a lot of years - desperately discontent. Then cancer happened and things changed. I had a whole lot of time alone with myself and I discovered that I was lousy company. I was critical, angry, snarky and spent most of my time complaining - if not out loud, certainly in my head and heart. During that year of healing from cancer I also began to ask God to heal my heart. I specifically remember praying and asking God to break my heart for what broke His - and He did.

He broke my heart - and my pride. At the time we were living away from our hometown and had little to do with the church I grew up in. The distance from the place and people who had hurt me made it easier for me to feel like I was better, like I was over my bitterness and disappointment. I healed from cancer and in a lot of ways my heart healed too. I loved people more and I loved more people. I loved God more and I loved His Church better. I was aware of injustice more and was compelled to respond whenever and wherever I saw it. In this time I redefined what was 'perfect' and what was 'perfect' for me. I was living a practically perfect life - and I was okay with that.

It was in this practically perfect life that I was confronted with some unfinished business. When we decided to move back to our hometown I immediately said, in no uncertain terms, I would not WOULD NOT return to the church I had grown up in. I said that I had forgiven everyone but I had moved on. I'm not the person now that I was then so I don't want to go back. Nope. No way. Not going back.

So, we're now attending the church I grew up in. The church where I was hurt, disappointed and devastated. Yeah, that church. That imperfect, mess of a place. But here's the thing. I'm an imperfect, mess of a person but I'm changing - and so are they. No one there is the same either. All of us have changed. We have all learned and we have all grown. We are all trying to do better. None of us is perfect but we are perfect enough together.

I realized that I couldn't heal properly, forgive fully, as long as I was hiding out in some other church. I couldn't really let go of my bitterness as long as I held that church at arms length. For me, I needed to learn how to genuinely and warmly greet those who hurt me the most. I had to walk the halls with them, shake their hands and learn about their lives. I had to let them out of the box I put them in so I could step out of my own box. And you know what? Not one person has apologized to me or made amends. The same leaders who escorted me out of youth group are still there - and now they teach my children. The same pastor who misjudged me is still there - and now he is friendly with Mr. Awesome. The same person who looked at me like I was less than is still there - and they are still looking at me like I'm gum on the bottom of their shoe.

Not everyone changes at the same rate and at the same time. And some people really do never change and that's their loss. It's not up to me to prove to them how much they need to change or how much I have changed. My only responsibility is to live this practically perfect life as best I can and allow others the room and grace to live their practically perfect life, too.

The other thing I learned was that people very rarely intend to hurt one another. People usually do the best they can with what they know in any given situation. They make the best decisions they can in the moment and are usually surprised when they learn how deeply that have hurt someone. I know this to be true because it's been true for me. I do the best I can to live with kindness but sometimes I miss the mark, too.

So we are back at the church and finding our way again. I'm not looking for perfection. I am looking for community - but community is messy and complicated. I will probably get hurt and disappointed again and I will surely hurt and disappoint as well. I'm human. Humans are messy and imperfect and make mistakes at an alarming rate. I will have a messy marriage, I will raise messy kids, I will have messy friendships and I will attend a messy church and I'm totally good with that.

Just like rainbow unicorns, perfection isn't real but grace is. Grace is the antidote to mess. It's the buffer to relationships and its the fertilizer of our hearts. Grace is the real thing that I don't have to hunt or chase. Grace finds me where I am and if I allow it, if I relax into it, it will flow in and out of my life leaving a Perfect Enough life in it's wake.

The meaning of life. The wasted years of life. The poor choices of life. God answers the mess of life with one word: 'grace.'

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