Wide-eyed and determined, I entered the gold-trimmed doors in expectation. 14 and seeking – almost desperately so – I was open, too, just like those doors. Spread wide and greeted with a simple “welcome”, I followed mom and Lance into more doors and more people. This was the sanctuary. Often considered a sacred place, I had expected a kind of high church. You know, stained glass, valiant robes, and a perfectly polished organ. I saw jeans, stained carpet, and people huddled close in rows of regular chairs that you could find at any ole gathering place.
I had friends who, like me, had never regularly attended church, and I also had friends, unlike me, who were raised from day one within a church. Brokenness – among other things (tradition, habit, expectation) – will often lead people to place their hands on the handle and do something unexpected: open the door itself. We choose, after all. God can always find us, but are our eyes open?
I do not recall the first sermon or the first scripture referenced or the day it started. There was no spiritual call to fall at His knees that first arrival at Fellowship Community Church. No, that would come years later, and in ways, must occur daily as a process to refine the proverbial silver that The Lord speaks of (Zechariah 13: 8-9). Little by little.
I do know, however, that I quickly latched on to a famous Casting Crowns song of the day. It was the early 2000s and so in the Christian world you have your radio playing Jars of Clay, Switchfoot, or Casting Crowns.
They had this song, “Who Am I?”
Who am I that the voice that calmed the sea would call out through the rain and calms the storm in me?
Not because of who I am but because of what you’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done but because of who you are
Still you hear me when I am calling Lord you catch me when I’m falling And you’ve told me who I am
I am yours.
I heard that song around when I first started attending church regularly in 2004.
It struck me because it answered a question I had never quite grasped myself. While it turns out that life IS a journey of self-discovery and patience within that process (because hello, life changes like that!), we also can rest in our identity rooted outside of our victories, mistakes, joys, and struggles. Those shape us, they inform our identity. They do not necessarily define us in the bottom line.
If it did, I would be a compassionately confused stubborn-minded woman.
And that’s generous. My culture, history, family, and life experiences mold me. So much of me is wrapped in service, Rwanda, friendship, and uncertainty. In athletics, alcoholism, pride, and people-pleasing. In family dynamics, relationships, hope, and selfishness. There’s good and bad, just as Jesus tells us there will be in the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13: 24-29). And what I love among other things, is that God never intended us to be “the same”.
We are beautifully, intentionally made. Your neighbor, mother, friend, co-worker, or fellow congregant is different from you. That’s kind of the whole point. We each have characteristics, personalities, skills, and callings that come from a Creator, who I think, values uniqueness. For some reason, I enjoy the taste of bold roasted coffee in the mornings, read frequently about the Civil Rights Movement, and feel most comfortable around others (it’s that ENFP kind of thing; I quite enjoy Myers Briggs personality tests). I’m an enthusiastic communicator, an energized writer, a firm advocate for multiculturalism, and a burrito connoisseur.
It’s a common approach for your run-of-the-mill American to say – to place uniqueness on a pedestal – but it was living in Rwanda that made me believe it even more. For women who farm their land, men who herd cattle, or teachers pressing chalk on the chalkboard, like Americans, Rwandans and every single kind of person from any country, are special, valued, and have meaning. Life matters. And so we matter. And so you matter. And so I matter. And so forth. This, to bring it back to my point, is all the more amazing, considering all of the fragmented parts we carry around with us. We are not perfect and God loves us anyway. He knows us intimately and He knows our hearts. And still, we are His reward. That’s simply mind blowing. When Fergusion became a thing, and our racial gridlock came to the spotlight again and the que for such discussion became #blackmatters and then eventually #livesmatter, I was pleased. That’s exactly why those kinds of things are important. Because they do.
He, being God, brings out our best, however. Those “good” things listed above? Those are from Him. All of them.
My hunch is that the qualities that makes us us and err on the positive side, are reflections in how we conceptualize of God Himself. Take Melba Beals for example.
Melba came to Hendrix my freshman year and spoke to the student body. She was one of the “Little Rock Nine” who integrated Central High School in Arkansas in 1957, facing intense discrimination, hatred, and abuse. She sat on this large chair on an even larger stage and I remember thinking, “this woman is larger than life.” She spoke firmly about her relationship with God. In a journal that I kept at the time – it was 2008 – I wrote,
“…she seems utterly devoted to God. She was so inspiring. She emphasized the future. Work needs to be done, but to accomplish this, diligence and action are required. Yes, I want to go to Afica and work in an orphanage. I want to remedy racial injustice and poverty too. To make a difference though, I need God’s guidance. He must lead in a move for actual sustainable change.”
The overarching idealistic tones of my writing cause me to smile and shake my head, but it’s telling to see what that experience left me with. I could feel Melba Beals’ bravery and in turn, could see how it affected her belief in who God was. Courageous. Melba knew that to overcome that level of revulsion would require a spiritual force that could contend with that kind of evil. So, she, being Melba, demonstrated a clear commitment to change, clearly drawing upon God for valor. She would later note that from Little Rock, she came to understand the importance to “count on God first, then yourself….you have to know who you are.”
The “bad” too, they come because ultimately, there is a call to a “fellowship of sufferings.” They come because of that, because of the world we live in, and from the realities that develop as human beings. Jesus, being fully God and fully human, experienced the very temptation we inherit (and arguably to an even stronger degree), but He resisted. He was offered the world from Satan himself (Matthew 4:8) but if He did so, it would mean worshipping Satan. It would mean avoiding the cross altogether. Instead, we are invited to share in this suffering – to experience pain, to understand grief, whether it’s our fault or not. This can result in “bad” things – just like the “good” can too – and ultimately, they both mold us more and more into the Christian walk and understanding a bit more of what Jesus had to go through.
We are imperfectly perfect. It doesn’t mean we give up, throw in the towel and say, “hey, what’s the use if there is nothing to attain to?” because actually, there is. Let us live up to what we have already attained (Philippians 3:10) proves that there can always be spiritual, mature growth. Always.
Jesus re-writes the story, you know.
We are HIS.
So, if we belong to HIM, perhaps the question we should be asking is, who is He?
I am no preacher, pastor, or ordained teacher. But like you, I am His. I am capable of reading, thinking, writing, and sharing – and so I will.
In the next couple of posts, I’ll be sharing and contemplating who Jesus says He is and maybe what that means for us. I’m neither the first or last person who had something to say about this. Heck, nearly every single person on Earth has something to say regarding this, it seems. I’m exploring, contemplating, and processing. And, I’m a girl who likes writing. I like writing about Him.
So, I will.