AJ and I returned from our overseas adventure excited, energised and expectant. We had spent a year traveling and working through Europe, mostly in the UK and in Italy. Some of the time we were working in hotels, cleaning rooms and serving in bars, other times we were working in drug rehabs and learning what mercy and grace literally and tangibly looked like. And some of the time was spent on a beach in Morocco, some exploring the ancient cities of Turkey and an inordinate amount of time was spent in restaurants in Tuscany!
We weren’t sure what we were ‘meant’ to do on our return, but we were sure that it involved stepping back into the local church we called home and asking God to use us there.
I remember how excited I was the first Sunday we were back. I was so excited to see old friends, to worship with our family and to hear all the stories we had missed. I remember walking into that sacred, oh-so familiar space that morning and revelling in the joy of being amongst my church family.
A few Sundays in and I started to falter. Something wasn’t quite right here. Time had moved quickly in this place. Things had changed. People and spaces, energy and ideas – it all seemed foreign. This place that I use to call my ‘lounge room’ because it was so much my home, this place that embodied all that I knew to be safe and sure, this place that had poured out healing and love to me in extraordinary quantities…it had become alien to me. Painfully I was realising that perhaps this wasn’t the place for us, that this was not family any more.
So I did what I always do – I pushed away the pain and willed myself to fix it. I was going to make this work.
I knew that I had changed. I knew that God had rearranged my heart in a way that I did not think was possible. He had taught me of the power of dignity. He had held my hand and taught me of the simple, quiet moments that His Spirit dwells in. I felt like I had something to offer. I had willing hands and an open heart. I wanted to serve this place.
And so I threw myself into offering my services. Can I help? Can I bake cookies? Can I drive the youth group kids? Can I pray?
At each juncture, and each offer, a blank face, a hesitant maybe. And my heart was breaking with each step back.
We were breaking up and I didn’t want to let go.
This was particularly difficult because I am ‘local church’ girl – yes, it is like my super power. I love the Church. I love it for all its imperfections and for all its promised beauty. I love it for its willingness and for all its failings. I love it because it is the Bride; it is the promise of wholeness and redemption and grace. I love it because God chose the church, he chose us. I love the church because we are the visible hands of Christ in the world.
Breaking up, yes, that is what it felt like, was a not a quick, easy separation. It took months for me to realise that I had drifted away from this church. It was a slow dawning of realisation that we did not belong together, that I was not needed nor was I necessary to this place.
(to be continued…)