I was just a teenager at the time - a junior or senior in high school. In many ways, those years of my life I was much closer to God than the first years of my "adult" life. I don't remember all of the circumstances. What I remember is this. I was out front of the church walking in. She had on clothes that weren't all that clean. Her hair was a mess. Honestly, I think she was drunk or high. She'd been crying. She wanted to go to church - but wasn't sure if she'd be welcome. (I don't remember if she said this to me - or if I knew somehow that's what she was thinking.) I do remember knowing that if Jesus were walking with me, He would have stopped, and smiled, and asked if she wanted to come in. And I do remember trying my best to act - instead of just thinking about - "What Would Jesus Do".
(My mom sometimes reads this blog - Mom, if you see this and you remember more about the story than I do, will you add it to the comments. This memory is touching my heart today - I've lost a lot of it, whatever you might add back would be a real gift.)
She came into the church - it seems that she didn't stay the whole time. I do remember answering questions from some of our church members like, "Who was that girl?" And I remember thinking - if the church isn't for that girl, then who is it for. I'm not passing judgement on any of the people who inquired - I know they were acting out of a sense of love and protection for the church and the people in it.
And I have to confess - I've been one of the folks in the pews asking, "Who is that?" If not asking, thinking to myself - couldn't they have put on some nicer clothes - don't they know that behavior of that nature isn't acceptable here of all places? It's easy to become one of the "churched" who forgets...
...forgets that, in God's eyes - we are all sinners in need of grace, and love, and acceptance.
...forgets that, to honor God we must honor one another, love one another as He loves us.
...forgets that, in the shadow of our steeples, there are lost and lonely people, that we've never even met because we don't see past the "scarlet letters" we find to look at instead.
...forgets that we wear our own "scarlet letters" - even if they are more "socially acceptable" or are overlooked because we're "a member" of the church.
Today, I feel deep in my heart that what God is calling me forward into is a life dedicated and devoted to hearing those who aren't being heard. That young mother wandering around outside our church doors, that young father battling his addictions, the teenager who just can't believe there is a God who would create a life as unloving and cruel as the one he sees through those tender and frightened eyes... all of them knowing that the last place they should turn for help is the church, because they wouldn't fit in, might not be wearing the right thing, or just don't want to be in another situation where all anyone sees is the big red letter on their chest.
God - help me to be the man you're calling me to be. Help me to never become so "churched" that I forget we are all just poor sinners in need of your love and grace, help me never to forget that in Your Holy eyes we are ALL beautiful.
Grant that I may see with the eyes of Christ... and that, wherever You allow me to serve, I'll follow You in loving the lost and lonely people in the shadow of our steeple.
You know - my friends - memories and tears are not always sad. Often, memories and tears wash away my illusions, and bring me back to the heart of this journey.
(You knew there had to be a song somewhere in all of this - didn't you? I'm so grateful for all the ways God speaks to me through music these days. If you want to see and get to know the young woman I was writing about at the top of this post, listen to Casting Crowns' Does Anybody Hear Her?. Let it speak to your heart.... God bless.)
She is running
a hundred miles an hour
in the wrong direction.
She is trying
But the canyon's ever widening
In the depths of her cold heart.
So she sets out on another misadventure just to find
She's another two years older
And she's three more steps behind.
Does anybody hear her? Can anybody see?
Or does anybody even know she's going down today
Under the shadow of our steeple
With all the lost and lonely people
Searching for the hope that's tucked away in you and me.
Does anybody hear her?
Can anybody see?
She is yearning
For shelter and affection
That she never found at home.
She is searching
For a hero to ride in
To ride in and save the day
And in walks her prince charming
And he knows just what to say.
Momentary lapse of reason...
And she gives herself away.
If judgment looms under every steeple
If lofty glances from lofty people
Can't see past her scarlet letter
Then we never even met her.
Does anybody hear her?