onbruisedknees

"Tell your story. Tell it on your bruised knees if you must, tell it at the risk of madness, scream it at the top of your lungs." –Andrew Lam

Category: Church Camp

Church

Church Steeple Sunrise Silhouette

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Moving has taught me dozens of things—gratitude, most of all. I’m working on a list of all I’ve learned. In fact, I’ve recently concluded that the reason we haven’t received our transfer home yet is because we must still have some things to learn up here. God must have more to teach and reveal. And learning always involves growing pains and bruised knees. It’s the only way the healing begins.

One thing I’ve learned about moving away from home is that Sundays are hard. At home, I lived inside the nostalgic country song “That’s What I Love About Sunday.” You know, “Amazing Grace”, chicken for dinner, cat napping on a porch swing, new believers gettin’ baptized and all that. But up North, I dreaded Sundays—sometimes they brought full-on panic attacks. I knew I needed to be in church, but so many churches felt wrong.  “Where’s my warm and fuzzy community?” I wondered. Or “Where’s a community who won’t judge me for what I wear or for not having kids yet and for planning on immunizing those kids and for not planning on homeschooling?  And more importantly, “Where’s God amongst the drama and the Sunday school gossip and the legalism and all that unnecessary background noise?”

I church hopped. I did. I church hopped until I could feel God. And I think that’s okay.

Today as I sat by myself in my new northern church, I remembered I was missing Little Prairie Christian Church’s homecoming. I’ve been so refreshed and recharged by this new church the past three Sundays, but I can’t lie—I sat down for a few seconds during worship and cried (and not just because I was missing the amazing potluck of southern food).

I’m thankful for my many Little Prairie memories. It’s the place where I first sang special music with Josh. And its parking lot is where we had many fights, made up, broke up, and got back together. And eventually, I walked down its aisle, lined with pink rose petals, to my groom.

Little Prairie—that church body—those are my people.

It’s the place where Jack Kelsey handed me an index card with scripture written in his handwriting about where real beauty comes from (not from outward adornment). The sweet man said the Lord told him I needed that verse. I did. I was sixteen and had some very mixed up ideas about beauty. Little Prairie’s the place where Bible studies convicted me and stretched me and where I learned that women can be real with one another. It’s the place where Danny Lankford cheers me up without fail.

I am the product of Lorna Mann’s Sunday school class, Brian Maas’ high school youth group, Bible Bowl and Bible Busters, and Sunday movie nights at the St. Ledger’s. Little Prairie’s the place where I was on the prayer list and prayer chain for months. Where I can count on a card from Angie Garrett for every occasion and know I will not be forgotten. It’s where I knew Jesus with my head and rejected Him with my heart for years until Matt Johnson, who never gave up on me, took my anger and showed me God’s grace, took my sadness and showed me how to trade it in for Christ’s joy. It’s the place where I can count on seven or eight hug-like-you-mean-it hugs. I cherish my home church, but I got comfortable there. I had built-in things to do, ways to serve. I didn’t have to try or deviate from the plans set out for me. Children’s church. Worship team. Sit in my regular comfortable pew. Eat my weight in potluck food.

I’m proud of Little Prairie for many reasons, but most recently for their Block Party on the Bricks outreach yesterday. I heard it was cool. I heard the food was free, the bounce houses drew in all the kids, and the singers and musicians worshiped God from the very top of the pagoda. I heard random people walked up to see what the party was all about. Maybe they’ll check out this whole church thing. I hope so. I never paid much attention to “outreach” until I moved seven hours away and yearned for some northerners to reach out to me. “I just need people,” I said honestly and without inhibitions, to the lady standing in the row behind me.  Now, I feel like outreach could be a passion for this introvert. I’ve been a secure and comfortable member of a church…and I’ve been an uncomfortable visitor, a seeker, a girl so scared to get out of her car and walk to the door. A dear writer-friend of mine wrote an essay about sitting across from a church every Sunday for an entire year before a church member invited her into all of the love she found inside.

I have some tips on how to welcome new people. Firstly and obviously, please invite people to church. I wouldn’t have found my current church if two separate people hadn’t persistently invited me. Gather some people to stand near the entrance/parking lot. That first Sunday I found the courage to walk up by myself, an older fellow met me halfway down the parking lot, shook my hand, and introduced me to the others standing near the door. I felt so relieved that I had tears in my eyes. That same man said hello to me today. He remembered my name.

Show them where the coffee is. Coffee makes people comfortable. Coffee is a miracle. Tell them where the restrooms are. Do not allow visitors to stand awkwardly with their hands in their pockets during “greet one another” time. Visitors know that you can see them. They know they stick out. So really see them. Walk up to them. Acknowledge their presence. Invite newcomers to small groups and Bible studies. Personally invite them, don’t just assume they’ll read the bulletin. Exchange phone numbers. People just need people. Get to know another human soul.

And scan every single car in the parking lot.

Virgin Faith

          

I don’t know any girls at church camp. They seem like they have no idea what life could throw at them; they are stupid, innocent, seemingly flawless, spoiled girls.  I’m angry at God. I’m a stone wall—hardened and cold. I don’t think about how there is “power in the blood” or “washing in the blood of the lamb” or being “covered by the blood of Jesus” until I wake up in my bunk covered in my own blood. And I don’t tell a soul because they’re all just interested in saving my soul.
Camp is not the first time I’ve seen the blood. Several months earlier when the blood appeared, I knew I’d “become a woman.” But when it disappeared for months, I guessed it was a false alarm.  Perhaps I wasn’t actually ready to be a woman. I felt like a girl, a bud not ready to blossom, too ugly and stupid to bloom. I wanted to shut the world out and remain tight, forever in a bud.
I have stained sheets and stained faith. I tear strips of my white washrags.  I then wind toilet paper around the rags and wrap them around the crotch of my panties to keep everything secure while wondering why those ridiculous wing commercials on television make having your period seem glamorous. I don’t think I can speak to anyone about supplies. I’m never good at asking for anything, especially asking for things I need. I bet the girls in the bunks surrounding me would have no problem asking. They seem like they wouldn’t be ashamed about talking to their moms about shaving their legs or using scary looking tampons or needing a stronger deodorant to prevent sweat stains from going all the way down to their waists.
  I don’t think I can speak to anyone about anything.  I can speak, technically, but what I can’t do is hear, not very well. About a year before I came to camp, God decided to take most of my hearing, take it away from the girl who is scared and awkward already. We went to hospitals and specialists. No tumor, no blow to the head, no ear infection. God just took it suddenly with no good reason. Now I feel stuck in my own world where the real world is muffled and muted, slightly spinning and baffling to me.
The bell signals flagpole time.  I waddle to the circle hoping blood won’t seep through my jeans.  With my luck, today’s Bible lesson will involve Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. Instead, we’re each given a notebook. I am handed a red one. Red must be the theme, the color of the week. I run my hand over the smooth cover and fan the pages. The first page is so white, so blank, and so pure. I stare at the first page for two hours. I write, “God, You feel far away.” There. That sentence wasn’t so bad. The act of writing was easier than holding hands around the table and listening to my disappointed parents beg God to fix me. Writing was easier than my dad’s idea of allowing the Elders at church to place their hands on me. I didn’t want them to touch me or hear them say, “Thy will be done- heal this child- out demon, out- restore her- to God be the glory.” I could, however, handle a notebook. I could control a notebook. I could fill it with what I wanted. I could take away from it what I wanted.  I could close it when I felt like it. I could rip out pages. I could chuck it across the room. I could sleep with it under my pillow.
I tried to explain that I couldn’t pray out loud.  When my youth minister took me to a shelter house to talk, he didn’t actually make me speak. He simply sat with me and read to me Romans 8:39 NIV: “Neither height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Christ that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I wondered, “Nothing will be able to separate? Not my wall, not my distance I put between us, not my faith so spotted with questions and doubts and the embarrassment of being me?” Did God take away my physical hearing so that I could spiritually listen? Though I don’t know the answer to that question, I do believe God started listening to me.  In Genesis, when Cain kills Abel, the blood cries out from the ground. God hears the blood. God heard what was happening inside me, inside my hopeful, pumping heart, inside my changing body.
That night, as I took my flashlight, virgin faith, pen, and red notebook under the stained covers with me, He heard the words I no longer hesitated to write but instead thrust onto the paper.  I spilled out questions. I reminded myself that even Job questioned. I poured out fears, anger, and brokenness, knowing I’d heard somewhere that God uses brokenness. Faster than I could think, my words dripped out of the pen. At that moment, I realized writing was submission. Writing meant opening up, stretching, tearing, releasing, and most of all, giving and letting go. It was writing that redeemed me. Writing is what broke the shell, tore the curtain, destroyed the wall, and awakened a woman.

During invitation, I put one foot in front of the other until I made it to the altar. Jesus bled and died for me. Blood stands for sacrifice, for pain, for lifeblood, for womanhood, for birth, and for me—rebirth. As I emerged from the water with the floating melody of “Now I belong to Jesus,” I noticed, with a slight smile on my face, that I had stained the baptismal water with the slightest tint of red.           
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