I grew up a church girl. We lived in this tiny house in Pasadena, a property with two houses stacked into it. Our family of six squished into the back house, while another family of six smashed into the front house. The horde of children played between the two houses and even though we looked quite different we were at some point just brothers and sisters.
We were this misfit community, primarily comprised of young first generation Christian families, and their hoard of children. We would play together daily, pray together on Sundays, and do life together the rest of the days, whether that was sharing a meal or sharing toys.
As children we’d to go from home to home playing magical ponies, and as we approached our pre-teen years discuss how awesome DC Talk was. Crushes would blossom and little hearts would get broken, but then somehow someone would mend them and on we’d go. We spent summers swimming and barbecuing, we did youth group in the various homes of people we felt more comfortable calling Auntie or Uncle than we did Mr. or Mrs. We’d essentially known each other all our little lives.
This is how we did church.
I occasionally get asked what my church background looked like, and if I had to sum it up in two words it would be “messy” and “lovely”. Sometimes in our little community we could lose where one of us ended and the other began. We, in some ways, just melted into each other. I was a child, and cannot pretend to know that it was really like for the adults. I assume something rip your heart out beautiful, but perhaps something a little without boundaries at the same time. Our lives and worlds were beyond intertwined.
I’d joke that we were one step away from snake charming and that there was a lot of Sunday writhing on the floor. This typically elicits a blank stare. You’d just have to be there.
Then it was the summer of ’95 and our world burned to the ground. Our people were dying and a string suicides rocked our little community. If my mom said the words “I need to talk to you,” I’d respond with “who is dead.”
The magic was over. We moved away. I grew up.
Some of the group scattered and some stayed in the same place. A part of me felt fractured, untethered. I felt much like a moth out of its cocoon subject to winds and weather.
I floundered. And kept floundering. I went off to college and did “my own thing” as so many faith-raised kids do. I decided to be angry with God for allowing my world to break apart. I decided faith was inconvenient. I decided church was an ugly place filled with hypocrites. I decided I wanted nothing to do with it. I decided to give up.
In truth, all those lovely days spent in our little comfortable community taught me what the church is supposed to look like, but unfortunately I didn’t come out of it with a solid foundation of who God was. Was He all knowing? All loving? Gentle or angry and wrath-filled?
I only had one-half of the piece. It’s taken me years to build a foundation under existing and at moments non-exsistant faith. One night in my early 20’s I came to the scary conclusion that the work was not going to do itself. I was not necessarily going to have a Saul on the road sort of meeting with God. My anger, agnosticism, hurt, resentment, confusion, brokenness, battle wounds, all of it, the whole wide messy package was something God could very easily hold in his hand.
I didn’t have to hide any of it.
I was studying abroad half-way across the world only to stumble into a church filled with Americans and ex-pats. The Pastor, fittingly, was from Southern California. Why I had to stagger around the world only to find someone that spoke my language to lead me back to Christ, I don’t know, but forever I’ll be grateful. This little church did church much like that messy little church in Pasadena. We broke bread together, did life together, watched Alias together.
I somehow ended up teaching Sunday school. They allowed broken messy me to teach Sunday school. We entered the season of Lent. Spring was upon us, there seemed to be more bread and wine passed during those 40 days and nights. There was a reverence and beauty that I hadn’t experienced in my past church life.
Then it was Easter Sunday. We rose before the sunrise and drove into the countryside. We climbed a hill and celebrated the resurrection as the sun rose. Right there, in that very moment, the profound impact of Christ’s sacrifice hit my heart like a freight train. Right there, from the ashes of my past I could see beauty and freedom and life and joy and release in a way I had never yet experienced.
There, right there, beauty from ashes.
Photo Cred: @sarahmakphotography