“In God’s family, there are no outsiders. All are insiders…. God says, All, all are My children. It is shocking. It is radical.”
Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream
In high school, I did everything I was “supposed to” do to belong at our church: I taught children’s Sunday school, I was a regular participator in youth group, I never missed weekly Bible study. I was similarly involved in Young Life and helped lead the middle school Wyld Life club, as well. My junior year, I started questioning how things were taught. Nothing radical, but I started taking my questions beyond our dining room table, where my parents encouraged critical thinking and processing. One day, I sent an email to my youth pastor, asking a question about his recent sermon. I don’t remember anymore what the question was. I do remember his reply: There are many churches in our town. Perhaps this isn’t the one for you. A month or so later, during a leader’s meeting, I questioned an interpretation another student had about a verse. Suddenly, I was missing out on last-minute meetings. When I asked our head leader about it, he suggested that Young Life might not be the place for me.
Fortunately, my parents encouraged me to never stop questioning. Even though I wasn’t involved in church anymore, I knew that this was not how Jesus envisioned life together. As I prepared to leave Colorado Springs for Paris, my old youth pastor saw me one Sunday and asked if I was sure I wanted to go to one of the “darkest cities in the world.” I thought, Paris couldn’t be any darker than my experience here. The amazing, redemptive part of that story is that, in Paris, I attended an incredible, vibrant church that encouraged questioning. In fact, if you weren’t grappling with your faith, you were in the minority. I was refreshed by discussions and debates, exposed to new theology, and reminded that God is present, even in the darkest cities.
In fact, God has a way of showing light and grace in the most unexpected places, people, and moments. In our stories and listening and doing life together, we see redemption and a reminder that All are God’s children. When I was in Nepal, a country of Hindus and Buddhists and not many Christians, I saw God: In the hearts of my fellow volunteers, giving time and love to people around them; In my students as they eagerly loved learning and sharing their culture with me; In sitting on the rooftop, playing cards and talking about nothing in particular, except sharing life and stories.
One day, about two months into our visit, Ella and I were on the roof, planning lessons when a group of young missionaries joined us. They were in Kathmandu on a short term trip and staying in our guest house. We chatted a bit and soon they started asking us about our relationship with God. Ella, an Atheist, immediately shut down. And, without asking me my story, these well-intentioned missionaries assumed I needed to be saved, as well. It was an important lesson to me about the power of story and of assumption. Yes, Ella was an Atheist, but she was sharing herself with the kids she worked with in the same way these missionaries were sharing themselves with the Nepali people. And yes, I was planning English lessons rather than Bible lessons, but I was sharing myself with the kids I worked with. Maybe the words and intentions were different, but the actions were the same. “God says All, all are My children.”
In the years since, I have experienced the belonging of community at church, but I have also experienced God loudly in having lunches with my teaching partner, as we shared stories and listened to the other’s point of view on theology and Jesus. I have experienced manipulation while working with a Christian organization and grace while discussing God with my weekly book club. I don’t think one is a more beautiful story or one reflects God more than the other; I think they weave together to create a story of redemption.
The radical idea that All are God’s children is woven into our stories. When we stop and listen, when we open up to the vulnerability of sharing, we experience God. I believe any story of redemption, any story of grace is a reminder of God working through All his children. And, as important as it may be for me to share my story, it is far more important for me to listen to other stories. To see God weaving his redemption into our world, even in the darkest places.
What’s your story? Where have you experienced God’s redemption?
Linked up with SheLoves Magazine’s month of Belonging.
7 thoughts on “Stories”
Hi Annie! Anne-Marie here, from over at Sheloves. I love that you went to Paris anyway, but also that you were open to trying again to connect in faith, and that the Parisian’s had the perfect spirit for your heart full of questions. I agree, often in our family, it is our non-church, non religious friends who bring to us the perfect help in a way that speaks God’s presence and attention. He is so able to love us everywhere and at all times. Thank you for this thoughtful Linkup!
I have to keep reminding myself of that – God shows up in the most unexpected people and places. Thanks for stopping by!
Hi Annie, I’m excited to be reading your posts. I loved this post and am grateful to have found a place and people that can accept my questions and care for me and love me in the midst of them (and not even in spite of them). Keep writing, dear! (and I’ll keep reading.)
Thanks, Megan! That’s such a compliment, especially from you! And, I love being a small part of hearing your story and sharing with you.