The Rest is a Show. I'm in it for the real.

My first memory of church people was in El Dorado, Arkansas.  A guy named Willie fed his dog chick-o-sticks still in the wrapper while we visited, I think he was a dachshund. 

Do you remember the felt story boards we sat in front of during Sunday school when we were little?  The teacher, generally my mom, layered the scene with felt figures on top of colorful backgrounds. She started with a beautiful hyper-pigmented landscape, added the sun or moon, clouds, trees and shrubs, then the characters and anything relevant to the story.  We learned about Daniel, Esther, David and Bathsheba, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, baby Jesus and that taking donkey. 

Exceptionally white Jesus loves the little children.

During the week when no one was there, I ran down the long dark hallway to the classroom where the felt stories were kept.  I could manipulate the bits and pieces to create the perfect scene.  The empty dark rooms at Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas were exceptionally creepy.  I hated using the bathroom when the building was empty.  It was always cold, and one time my mom pinched me really hard in that bathroom because I wouldn't smile for the Olan Mills photographer on family photo day.  The picture was for the church directory, so it mattered.  I always knew dad was in his office all the way on the other side of the sanctuary, generally working on his sermon, but it was pretty far away and dark from me to him. After singing my heart out to empty pews, the felt storyboards were enough to draw me past the kitchen where the grape juice and stale wafers were kept, past the empty, exceptionally spooky fellowship hall. When my grandmother died, my mom created a sitting area in there with her old furniture.  It all smelled like cigarettes.  One year it snowed over a foot and I can still remember the feeling of the freezing ice under my feet as I ran from the parsonage to play Mario Brothers on our new Nintendo.  My dad set it up in the fellowship hall for me and my brothers.  It was a brilliant way to give my mom a little space and we could be as loud as we wanted.  I never quite mastered NBA Basketball, but I could float like a butterfly playing Mike Tyson's Punch Out

Outside of the church, circa 1985. I'm in the front. Extra large shorts.

There was so much life lived in that church.  I loved so many people who came and went and we all grew up together.  My parents dedicated their lives to meeting the needs of others.  Youth groups and picnics, Vacation Bible School, musicals, funerals, weddings and Bible studies.  We did it all and we were in every detail.  I remember those years fondly, honestly, I do. I got to know the church and also the building full and empty. I remember the day I told my dad I wanted to be baptized and he said I wasn't ready. I still got baptized. I felt comfortable with God.  He’s been a great hope in my life since I was little.  It hasn't been this way for my whole family. Churches attract broken people. Lots of pain occurred within the same walls where I felt at home. Things we did not know where happening were in fact happening. There was little separation between church and home and we felt that too.  My dad's whole world opened up when he met Jesus in college and he wanted us to know the same God that changed his life.  He didn't understand why we didn't immediately acknowledge and feel connected like he did.  This is life though.  This is all of us.  We meet God when we meet Him.  I thought then that saying the "Sinner's Prayer" saved my soul, and now I know this eternal walk and relationship doesn't occur at once, but over a lifetime.  My dad is utterly different now.  He's gentle and quiet, too quiet honestly.  I wish he would open up more sometimes because his knowledge of the Bible is immense, but He knows this great God of ours calls us in His own time, in His own way.  Preaching from a place of desperation and fear often leads to religion, but not relationship.  I know this now and so does he.  

I brought up the felt boards from Sunday school, because they are a tactile metaphor for life.  We are given this incredible Earthly backdrop. We create a life layering our cut-out pieces and it is fun and beautiful and terrifying.  We embellish our story with family and friends, passions, hopes and fears.  Sometimes we are proud of what we've made and sometimes our comforts are stripped away from us until our hands are completely empty.

These are the moments though.  When all seems lost, or hopeless, or pointless.  When anger and fear overwhelms and I finally scream His name out loud.  God where are you?  Suddenly it's just me and Him and absolutely nothing else.  This is how my story began and this is the way it will end.  It was always about meeting God in the quiet.  Away from the noise and the stories and the loud voices full of religion.  The only way to live well is to eliminate distraction long enough to talk to God. 

It's simple and it's so hard.  He's a good and kind God who loves us in ultraviolet.  We can't even see the depth and abundance of His love. 

For the pastors' kids reading this, indoctrination  is so confusing to work our way out of, but once we do, church walls can make God seem small.  Getting back on our spiritual feet feels like swimming upward from the bottom of the ocean, overwhelmed by the pressure of the sea. We do it though.  Even if it takes a lifetime, we get there.  We look back and understand the value of the local church, but also feel the need to push forward.  To be like Paul, Elijah, John the Baptist even stubborn Deborah and truly make waves.  I've learned waves are made in the pain of life.  They are made in every moment of everyday, in gentle conversation.  We feel entitled to an easy, healthy life, but God is also in the pain, sickness and uncertainty.  Things we don’t like talking about on Sunday morning. He is close to the broken hearted, and have no doubt, this has been me a million times. Happy or sad I want Him with me. When I don't trust God, I still want Him by my side.  If you are hurting, know that the Lord is near to you.  Right there in the same room.  He’s in your prison cell, hospital room, empty house, and lonely moment. 

Don’t give up on God. Instead, acknowledge Him. Trust Him to know and see more than you do. He sees your life from now until eternity. 
We often see God as this cosmic kill-joy, but He’s the opposite. He wants you to live life to the fullest. 

I also miss the church Easter egg hunts from my dad's church.  My dress, shoes and hat were always on point because my mom put them on layaway at Carrot Tops children's boutique in Hot Springs, Arkansas where she had a part-time job.  You couldn't even handle my style back then.  I'm thankful I don't have a photo. 

Make waves.


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