Monday, July 1, 2013

The Long Ugly Goodbye

It is with a heavy heart that I must (once again) walk away from the church I chose - I CHOSE - to attend.  It wasn't my decision to leave 14 years ago, and I wish I didn't have to go now. 

I've written A LOT about the circumstances surrounding us leaving the church the first time, and about how that event changed the spiritual landscape of my family forever.  I always believed that one day there would be - surely there had to be - restoration and reconciliation.   I returned after 11 years, believing the time had come.

I was wrong.

Lest you judge me, please know that I've done everything to reconcile according to scripture.  I went to my offender one on one, then I took someone with me, and then I went to the leadership to help with the restoration process, but all to no avail.

Some people have told me I still haven't forgiven.  Not only have I forgiven, but I go home nearly every Sunday and have to go through the phases and steps that result in forgiveness all over again because of new offenses.  It's exhausting, demoralizing, heartbreaking - and completely unnecessary.  I've given it three years this time around.

I'm a good person.  It's ironic that I have been, and continue to be, highly respected, loved, admired, and embraced in my "secular" life.  I have a great reputation as a teacher, an actor, and a director.  My gifts and talents are recognized, my strengths are celebrated, and my weaknesses are made less weak because of the strong support of my unchurched friends.  The people with whom I work know me as a woman of integrity and heart.

I, however, am NOT embraced by the church (note the little "c") that I attend.  I've never been forgiven for accused offenses - misunderstood words that resulted in false assumptions.  And why do I care?  Because those I attend church with are the very same people who will be my neighbors for eternity in Heaven.  It'd be good to be reconciled here on earth first!

I returned to the church three years ago, believing that time had healed.  Since I've been back, I've been shunned, walked away from, told I could NOT serve, ignored, refused, and even denied communion!  One woman told me my children "deserved" to be kicked out of church and that I should give up on them as they "made their decision a long time ago".  I told her she missed out on having front row seats to miracles and that I felt sorry for her.

Yes, there are wonderful and loving people, but I do NOT deserve to be mistreated by the few.  I deserve to be seen for who I really am.  Even if the accusations of years ago were true, I deserve grace.  I'm a child of God.

I sincerely believed that I was back in the right place at the right time for the right reasons when I learned you - the church - would be reaching out to a community I love and have worked with for many years.  I adore the people that are The Tower District - the men and women, the vibe....the truth.

I ask you, dear church, to see The Tower population as I do.  Please don't run in with your sword and shield with the intention of changing them.  I ask that you spend time getting to know them, and allowing them to teach YOU.  Let them show you unconditional love, acceptance, authenticity, and art.  So many of the people down there are not only unchurched, but many have been de-churched.  They've been wounded by those they once trusted. They're not going to respond to being told they're bad.  They'll respond to a new kind of love - one they've never known before.

John 13:35 reminds us that the unbelievers will know we are Christians by our love for one another.  We need to be so accepting, loving, and warm toward our own body that the world is drawn to us, not repelled by us.  We can't win them over until we accept, love, support, and show grace toward one another.

It wasn't The Church (with a big "C") who held me in their arms and let me cry when my drug-addicted child was missing.  It wasn't The Church who walked the streets of Fresno at 7:am on a Saturday morning putting up "missing child" posters.  It wasn't The Church who said, "I believe in you" or "I forgive you" - it was those people - the very same who need God.  They weren't afraid to get messy.  They loved my family right where we were.

So, it is with sadness that I walk away.  It's with a broken heart that I accept - finally - that I cannot be a member of your family.

I don't know what else I could've done.  I wasn't good enough to be shown grace and my family wasn't good enough to be part of your club.  I'll say it again - you missed out on being part of the miracle of restoration and you've missed the miracle that is my children.

What could I have changed?  I was always honest, authentic, faithful, and dedicated to keeping my word.   I'm a good mom, a loving wife, and a loyal-to-a-fault friend.  I would NEVER have said the things I was accused of saying and I'll never understand all that was at play against me.  I loved serving the body. This has been a long, ugly chapter in our family, and I still don't know why it all had to happen.

All I know is....I've always loved you.