It was the late nineties, and I had fallen in love with the only group of Christians I’d ever known.
Following the painful divorce of my parents, we started attending a new church. My experience with the church and its people up until that point was one of stuffy, self-righteous obligation and hollow conviction, and I had no desire to participate in that sort of thing under a different roof.
But these people were different. I could tell from the very moment my awkward, insecure, 15-year-old self worked up the courage to push through the heavy, brown double doors and enter youth group territory. The brief time I’d spent in catechism as a teenager told me that if I didn’t know someone or belong to a clique, I would be excluded...and I didn’t know a soul.
Almost as if the Lord was determined to start exposing the lies that held my heart hostage, someone came over and introduced themselves immediately. Not only that, but he took me around the room and introduced me to everyone else, too. He saved me a seat beside his girlfriend, and instantly, this outsider was included and welcomed.
It was a lot to absorb, this positive and uplifting church culture. I watched in amazement as they sang songs I’d never heard before like they actually wanted to sing them, like they actually believed what they were saying. How they prayed out loud as a group and didn’t think it was weird. How they were perfectly cool with the fact that I didn’t want to, yet. How they shared testimony after testimony of God showing up and moving in their everyday, ordinary lives.
I remember the testimony of one boy in particular. He talked about having a really crappy day, proceeded by a series of difficult events, that left him feeling depressed. It was garbage day, and it was raining. Still, he needed to get out of the house, so he walked to the curb and plopped down on the janky couch his family was trashing. He just sat there feeling sorry for himself, like we all do sometimes. A woman happened to be passing by and saw him sitting there. She told him everything was going to be okay. That even though it might not seem like it right now, God has a plan for him and his life and isn’t through with him yet. In that moment, like a messenger sent from heaven, it was exactly what he needed to hear.
The story stuck with me because it seemed surreal; somehow, a God way up there was intimately concerned with our mundane, daily concerns down here. I later married that boy.
But in highschool, the lot of us did everything together. We were as thick as leftover oatmeal. It was in those echoey corridors in the basement of the church, rife with hormone-laden friendships and authentic community, that I came to know the real, true Jesus. On Sundays, Wednesdays, and most Fridays and Saturdays, too, we hung out together, like family. We had it all.
I can still remember peering through quizzical eyes, head cocked to the side like a bewildered dog, at the half-sheet flyer tacked to the bulletin board outside the youth group room. Amidst the mess of lock-in’s, bible studies, announcements, parties, and activities, this one seemed slightly out of place. Our church recently opened a new campus in the city, and the flyer encouraged attending and volunteering at the sister church to support the new ministry.
Why would anyone ever want to go there when we have such a great thing going on here? I thought. You’d have to be crazy to give all of this up.