Wednesday, March 4, 2015

I was 18, almost 19, and had just started college. Coffee shops were a new, very cool thing in the early 90's, and a friend had asked me to join her at one. A youth minister, a guy who visited us in high school, had kept up with her and wanted to meet and I tagged along.

I was in a phase that year, as most young people are during that time of life. I was experimenting with  clothes and make up. I had discovered that my curves had power. I had discovered liquid eyeliner. I wasn't great at applying it, but I liked feeling different in my own skin.  I had never been one to wear a lot of make up - mascara and lip gloss were about it.

We were sitting at the table with our coffee when he came in. I can't remember his name, maybe Rich, but I could be wrong. He came in and sat down across from us and ordered his coffee. We chatted a little, then he asked what we'd been up to.

I don't know if I fumbled as I answered or what. I was not making the best choices and I was certainly not proud of it, but I also didn't see a way out. I had been feeling not only directionless and out of control, the perfect combo for messing up royally. I'm sure I was giving off I'm-flaking-out vibes all over the place.

What happened next, though, was soul crushing.

"Look at you, Kara,"  he said, "What are you doing? You're dressing different. Now you're wearing make up on. Eyeliner or something that's smeared more on one eye than the other...."

I felt like I had been slapped in the face.

I think it may have been the first time I felt real shame for who I was. Yes, I had certainly felt shame over  actions as a child, but up until that very moment I had never felt ashamed of who I was, of the person I was. I left that coffee house humiliated.

I thought I was going to meet a friend and instead ended up feeling like I was in enemy territory.

I felt condemned, and I embraced the condemnation. I figured that I must have deserved it and I just jumped into it. I am by no means blaming my choices on this man, they were my own and I long ago accepted the consequences of those choices (hello, goofy tattoo around my ankle). But I will always wonder what would have happened if he had just loved me, smudged liquid eyeliner and all.

This guy, whatever his name was, was the only person outside of my parents who was speaking up for Jesus.  In one rash statement Jesus went from being a guy I thought I could trust to a finger wagger who only loved me if I fit the mold.  I wonder if I had thought that there were loving arms waiting to embrace me rather than a pointing finger if my choices would have been harder to make.

I can't believe that after 20 years that memory is still crystal clear. It makes me sad for my younger self. I  was so young.  I was just trying to feel my way through a really difficult turn. I was a mess but I was also really open to something and it could have been the message that 'Rich' was carrying. The message that guy was sending, though, was 'You are not welcome in your current state.'

Why do we do that to each other? It baffles my brain that in Christian circles shaming has become commonplace. We should know better. We should do better. Our churches should be filled to the brim with people who don't belong, who don't fit the mold. The minute they walk through the doors they should be showered with the kind of love that causes their heads to lift up - the kind of love that lifted us up.

No one should feel ashamed of where they're at, and certainly no person should be shamed by a another who claims Christ. Life is hard enough without making it more difficult for one another.

I am thankful for the memory of that day, though. It was an excellent what-not-to-do lesson. I believe it has equipped me to love my people, and even people who aren't mine yet,  right where they're at. I'm not perfect at it. I mess it all up. A. Lot. I try to drive home to my children, more than anything, that the voice of Christ is never critical.

"I will fail,"  I tell them. "I will mess up big. But the One who loves you more than I ever could will never mess up. Let his voice be bigger than mine."

Let his voice be bigger.

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  1. This is so true.....happen to me many years ago and it took many years and lost of "mess ups" to find a church that told me Jesus loved me warts and all.......

  2. What a beautiful testimony to your children birthed from a painful memory. I'm sad for your younger self, too, but thankful that through your journey you discovered the unconditional love and welcoming embrace that truly is found in Christ. ...hopefully by now "Rich" has, too. Glad to be visiting you from #TellHisStory.

  3. Let His voice be bigger. Yes. Thankful that God can take something like a painful memory and bring such grace and goodness from it.