Yesterday Eric preached on what it means to belong to The Village. Community is the essence of Christianity- it’s the expression, the experience, the joy, the pain, and the presence of God. Community allows us to draw closer to the heart of God. It allows us to care for one another. It allows us to disagree and push one another. It is essential. The problem with community is that it asks us to be vulnerable and authentic and real and what about when we exercise those things and then community crumbles or dare I say it, fails?
David and I found The Village 10 years ago. We attended for 2 years. We grew. We loved. We even fostered a little girl for one of those years. Then we left for 8 years for David’s medical training- unsure if we’d ever return. While we were gone we changed. a lot. Not only did we have 3 children. The first being diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome. We lived in the inner city of Detroit. We started community groups. And we were part of a church plant. A church plant that ended up kicking us out leaving us with scars- tattoos on our hearts- that will fade, but will never go away. And so when Eric preaches on community- specifically on church leadership- I hurt. I cringe. I want to erase that part. I’ve seen the damage not only done to us- but to many many many of our friends. Friends who are now divorced, in counseling, and some who walked away. The church has this beautiful ability to love and heal- but it also has the ability to slice hearts.
I’ve signed covenants. I’ve had people sign them. I was discipled. I discipled. I led Bible studies and small groups- and the whole children’s ministry. I even submitted to the authority of the church. And when things got rocky-when my questions came pouring out through salty tears- all those things got shut down and thrown back at me. You’re not faithful. You were never all in. You’re not welcome here.
We lived 2 blocks from the church- it would be like living on Cloverland/Pima- a place that everyone passes to get to church. Friends- people who knew my deepest longings, my biggest regrets, my brightest hopes- didn’t even look at me when they drove by. Caught between obeying church leadership to not have contact with the Crawfords and their desires to know what happened- looked the other way. My heart would sink and I’d yell at the kids to get in the car and then I’d sob. My husband was the voice of our family and so I was shamed to silence. He’d go to meetings and come home and a group of us would drink and smoke until 3 am. It was our way of dealing with the pain.
Months went by and I was totally numb. We were covered by God’s grace and loved by a select. A select that my heart strings are attached to- a select that fought for our hearts- fought for our souls. I remember standing in the kitchen- totally numb- wondering if this was really my life. Three little children who only need. An emptiness as wide as the sea and pain known only by those who have been wounded by the church. And so David looked at me and said, “Do you want me to fly to Arizona? I have it figured out. You can stay with Eric and Sue.” There were no words. I just wept.
I wish I could say that the trip, the months of professional counseling, the pursuit of my heart from other believers, the scriptures, that it was all enough- that the pain went away- that the skepticism dropped. I wish I could say that I’m all healed up. I even wish I could say that I did my best to fight- that I didn’t sin greatly through it all. I wish I hadn’t also hurt.They say, “Hurting people hurt people.” And I hurt people. I hurt my family. But I’ve met wounded healers- and those wounds- the wounds we bleed and the wounds we get- they become our crowns. They can become the part of the story that brings redemption. I believe this is true. The very thing that broke me- has been part of my healing- a bigger healing then I was aware I needed.
That church shamed me. It threw scriptures at me. It didn’t want to hear my heart. It just wanted the fire put out. Fire is extinguished when the oxygen is lost. It’s death. And so when the fire- that was the Crawfords and a few others- was extinguished from the church- it felt like my own salvation- my belief about myself and the God I was serving had died.I was killed by the thing I had once lived for. The confusing thing about church leadership is that it can feel like when they speak they are literally speaking the words of God and so it can take years to figure out- wait, was that God? Or was that human? But they aren’t just human words- they are the words from the people you signed a covenant with- words from the top. And so they’re weighted words.
After awhile we eventually went to a church that offered David a lot of healing. They even got a letter asking them to send us back. We were thrown from the camp and we needed to repent. This church knew such things were false. We were excluded from THEIR camp, but not THE camp. They covered us in their love. Protected us. Defended us. The pastor was an older man who had been in Detroit for decades- he was not knew to cultish churches- he had us. But then he announced his retirement and the church would need to figure out who they were… we were not in any position to help them with that. So we went to another. It was in this church that after a year we agreed to meet the pastor and I feared his rejection- I feared his sending us back and he wrapped his arms around us and told us that we are loved. And that God has not abandoned us. And that he heard us and he knew what was going on. And then I exhaled.
We’ve been back for just over a year. We’ve slowly and cautiously opened up. We wrestle with the scriptures. We wrestle with God. And we wrestle with church leadership. We don’t sign covenants. We don’t like to be told what to do. And yet we are soft. We desire community. We need it. We are fragile. We are cautious. We are wounded.
My story- our story- is that we are afraid. We are afraid of baring our souls only to be kicked out. And we don’t have as much as we used to have. We have a child with a disability that takes up the extra- which means the other 2 littles get less and so we are cautious to give them more. And in the end there’s not much left. And so I fear it won’t be enough. You’ll tell us we aren’t all in and ask us to step back.
And instead of holding these things in my pockets I’ll lay them on the table. So there they are -in a sloppy display of truth and love and fear.
(I’m attaching a recent podcast blurb from the Liturgists- it’s from “The Bible” and it is soooo good.