“If each of us can learn to glory in the fact that we matter little except in relation to the Body, and if each will acknowledge the worth in every other member, then perhaps the cells of Christ’s Body will begin acting as Christ intended.”
-Dr. Paul Brand
I love maps. Maps found in books, maps that are all folded up, or the kind that roll out right in front of you. I enjoy being able to take my finger and point to the places I’ve been, or take my time and slowly trace over new territory I’ve yet to visit. Old world maps, maps of the United States, Italy, Disneyland, and cheesy campground maps with triangles and dots. I’m really not partial. The school map that displays the campus layout or the hiking trail that leads you over the mountain and through the valley. Maps are just as good as pictures, often times better than a memory, and the best kind of keepsakes. Begging for you to come take a look, or inspiring you to get up and just go…
I recently hung this old world map in my living room. It reminds me that the world is much larger and greater and grander then I treat it sometimes. It reminds me of people and stories and history that I’m a part of. Something that’s much bigger than me. Maps remind me of God’s love.
If I could look back on my life like a map, there would be a couple churches that shine bright with color, history, and a deep impact on my soul, like Paris or Beijing. Christ Church at Grove Farm in the rolling hills of Sewickley, Pennsylvania and NorthCoast Church in Vista, California. What two, glorious, bright lights of love that will always hold a special place in my heart. Not because of the building, purely from the people.
When my family and I lived in California, we were so fortunate enough to be a part of NorthCoast Church. We found grace and healing and love and friendship through our painful and wonderful time there. NorthCoast was and will always be sacred to me. I can trace the bricks, the dark sanctuary, the counseling hallways, and the cafe that was filled with tears, heartache, mending, and worship. It was honestly the truest form of church I have ever experienced in my entire life.
Now that we are here in Arizona, my heart feels a little lost. I miss my church. My little small group of amazing, wonderful, ladies that taught me more than I could ever begin to explain. The various people who worked relentlessly on putting our family together, piece-by-piece, without judgment or partiality. The friendships of hugs, smiles, food, and get-togethers, that made it reminiscent of family. The gifts, the talks, the laughs of broken people.
I wish in the deepest part of my soul that all churches were like the two I described. I have seen and experienced more bad parts of “church” than I care to remember. The ones in the shadows, wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, or just the plain mundane, lifeless, body of people, with triangles and dots pointing the way. But over time, with grace and healing, I’ve finally begun to understand what church is meant to be…
“My young preacher friend Anni pointed out to me that God could do anything God wanted, heal and create through weather or visions or the ever popular tongues of fire, but instead chooses us to be the way, to help, to share, to draw close. To me, that is a terrible idea. No offense. Look at us.” –Anne Lamott
I have been mostly a beautiful mess throughout my life. I have made a lot bad decisions, countless wrong choices, and have headed down every wrong road imaginable. But I’ve learned something so important along the way. I’m in good company. God seems to like people like me in Scripture, and what’s even crazier you ask? He uses them. I love Rahab and Samson and Tamar and the woman in John 4. Actually, I like all the characters found in Scripture. None of them were perfect.
I’m so sorry if church told you at one time you had to be perfect. That’s simply not true. Jesus came and loved people radically to restore them. All of them. I think that’s why the two churches in Pennsylvania and California had such an impact on my life. They weren’t perfect. They were very different and didn’t even share the same traditions or theology.
But they had the commonality of love and people.
I was loved radically to restoration. I wish I was ready for it in Pennsylvania, but I wasn’t. I was too young with too many unresolved issues, unwilling to accept the love they had to offer. But I was more than ready for it in California. I was ready to let my walls come down. Ready to ask for help. Ready to let go of anger and hurts and regrets and receive healing. I soaked it all up and became much like a child.
You see, church takes both parties involved. Them and you. Like I said, I know there’s a lot of judgemental churchy people, but there’s also a lot of self-sacrificing, loving people. Sometimes when we think it’s them, it might be us.
I know I can’t recreate the past and I’m not trying to. This time, I’m not searching for a church out of desperation, I’m searching for a church to be a part of and help. It’s my turn. I’m ready to be part of a bright, beautiful, light that is church, on someone else’s map.
“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” I John 4:11-12
So, first I would like to say to the people who have been church to me: I am eternally grateful to you. My heart cannot contain the love and gratitude and memories that you all hold. Now, after all these years, I know it’s not the building, the speaker, the chairs, the bulletin, or bad cookies that make up church. It’s you. It’s your imperfect love that God has made complete.
Next, to the people who go to church: keep going. Try not to go to be entertained or to check a box or to elevate your status. Look at a map, see the world the way God sees it, and then look at your own life. My guess is, you’ll know what to do from there.
And for those of you that don’t go because of countless, various, legitimate reasons: I’m just so sorry. I can understand how you feel on so many levels. I can only give you my own story to show that not all churches are bad. Actually, a lot are quite good. It’s the people in them that make it either really bad or really good. I think that deep down, those that really have experienced Jesus, just want to spread a little love. Sometimes it doesn’t come out right and sometimes it does. Sometimes you have to sift and seek and bend to find the really good ones. And that doesn’t mean the big, bright, shiny ones, good things come in really small, imperfect packages too.
Now that I am part of the body of Christ in a way I have never experienced before, I can’t wait for our family to find a new church home to be a part of in Arizona. Because when I look at a map, I now see the global church. God’s chosen people, full of love and grace and mercy. The church that shines bright for the entire world to see. Just like Paris or Beijing.