A few weeks ago, someone asked me to write a letter to my someday-adult-daughters explaining my heart and hopes for their faith… here’s what I wrote.
My Dear Girls,
My favorite time to enter our church’s sanctuary is mid-week. In the quiet. When the lights are off and the hot summer sun is softened and tamed and darkened by the stained glass windows. It’s one of those moments when, to me, the sanctuary most lives up to its name. It’s a silent haven from a fast-paced world; a peaceful place to pause and take a breath when everything around you seems to be moving faster and faster and growing louder and louder. It’s a reminder to me, under the soaring pitch of the ceiling and the silver streak of organ pipes stretching long to the rafters and the sometimes gently-swaying-cross hovering over our table, that really we’re quite small. And it’s good to feel small sometimes, especially when you’re tucked into the tender safety of a reverent space; a space that reminds you of the steadiness of God through the ages… through the baptisms and the burials; the seasons of celebration and the seasons of sorrow. Though the winds of life may roar and the sun may blister and burn, God is steady. God is constant. God is our protector.
I hope this church always feels like your sanctuary. Keep your mind open, my dear girls, for all the places and spaces where God dwells; may you never be lulled into thinking you’ll only find God’s Spirit in the four walls of a church on a Sunday morning. I pray your eyes see God’s creative and restorative movement in all the places your life may take you.
My favorite people to see in our church are those who arrive with belongings in plastic bags and grimy backpacks. They shuffle in wearing heavy over-coats with layers of dirt hardened like a shell to protect them from all that is harsh. To protect them, maybe, from people like you and me. You see, these are the people we sometimes pretend we don’t see, and when we do see them, I know our eyes are often clouded with disdainful pity. And do we think they don’t feel that? Is it any wonder they’re guarded? And yet it seems when they enter the doors of this place, most of us remember — for a few moments at least — they are our brothers and sisters, and this remembering of ours helps lift their heads. We share a cup of coffee and learn each other’s names; one tells me you girls are growing up too fast and another captures a little lizard scampering around the door frame. He shows it to you both; unabashedly delighting in this gift he is giving you. I see him soak in your wonder-widened-eyes, his dirt crusted fingernails protectively cupping the preciousness of life and gingerly tipping it into your not-yet-hardened-by-the-world hands. It seems he grows a little taller; a little more sure of himself and his value in this moment. It is here at this church, more than any place the rest of my week takes me, that I can really see the Imago Dei; the Image of God, on full display. It’s wrapped up both in polished suits and rummaged rags, in life-wearied-hands bending to show a treasure to expectant little girls. This is the Kingdom of God, together at the same table. There’s room for us all.
I hope this church always helps you see those we so often overlook. Keep your heart open, my dear girls, for those who don’t belong and don’t fit in. I pray your heart always makes space for the misfits and outcasts. And should you ever feel like one yourself, I pray your heart always remembers there’s room for you at God’s table.
My favorite thing to hear in our church is the sound of my own name. Each week as we take communion, someone looks me in the eye and more often than not I hear them quietly murmur, “Carrie, the Body of Christ, broken for you. “ And every time I hear those words — every time I hear my name — I feel God’s love wash over me. I am acceptable and I belong here. This is a feast for me. My name is inscribed into the palms of God’s hands. In my own childhood, it seemed like the loudest voices in my life were far more concerned with making sure I knew the right things about God rather than making sure I understood I was loved by God. But I don’t want you to be saturated in the messages of my childhood. In a world that’s constantly telling us how far we are from the mark – never good enough, pretty enough, strong enough, cool enough, smart enough – I’m not sure we can ever hear the message of our inherent value and worth frequently enough. I trust the rest of the things you hear here – the ways and teachings and callings of Jesus – will naturally take root and flourish in the verdant soil of a tender heart who believes God sees her and knows her and loves her. You are Children of God, my dear daughters; known and loved simply because you are. Your names are etched on God’s palms. You are worth the son of God going to a cross.
I hope this church always helps you remember the worthiness of your name. Keep your ears open, my dear girls, for anyone who would saddle you with the yoke of legalism or performance or any sort of God-will-love-you-more-if theology. Walk away. You’re free, darlings. Gloriously and graciously free. I pray you always remember you are beloved and that this core truth moves you to be love.
My favorite day and time at church is Wednesday nights at 5:15. For one thing, I don’t have to think about what’s for dinner. You’ll understand the value of that someday when you have a family of your own. But more importantly, we join a line of people piling food on trays as we check in with one another about the daily mundane and the stuff of life. Someone comes in dressed for baseball practice and there’s always at least four mamas telling their children not to run so they don’t plow into one of the elderly friends slowly making their way across the room. When your Dad is late from work, there’s always someone to help me get the trays to a table. One of you chooses where to sit, and I see your eyes darting from one table to another, unsure of where to go because everywhere you turn is a familiar face. There’s Mr. Doss, with a knack for finding quarters behind your ears. There are your young friends asking if you want to have a kid table; a sure-fire way to ensure no one eats their dinner. There’s Kelli and Chrissie and Kathy, and truthfully more than I can name. Choosing where to go is a conundrum; a beautiful conundrum of belonging. But in a world which seems to be mostly composed of tables where someone isn’t welcome, the round tables in Lynn Hall can heal lonely hearts and souls. They’ve healed mine.
I hope this church always is a place where you feel like you belong. Keep your eyes open, my dear girls, for those on the fringes and the edges even in — especially in — the church. I pray you use whatever influence you may wield to pull others closer to the center of belonging. There’s always room for one more. And if you ever feel lonely even in — especially in — the church, I pray you’ll be willing to be vulnerable. That’s often the brave first step we must take to find belonging.
As you grow, your journey will take you many places. You may wander far away or stay near to home. Regardless of where you go, your spiritual journey will be your own — and I’ve learned enough about parenting so far to know there’s no magic recipe of things your Dad and I or your church can do to draw you closer and closer to the heart of God. All I can say is that we will love you no matter what and we will always point you to Jesus. You will grapple with hard and weighty questions. The answers that settle in your soul may match the ones we cling to, but they just as easily may take you to places we don’t understand. But like a well-worn path leading up a mountain-side, I pray the timeless teachings and ways of Jesus you’ve learned in this church and in our home will feel like familiar paths for your heart and soul. I pray you’ll follow them, because they will feel like the way home.
We love you no matter what,