I was out to lunch recently with a friend. Catching up with her, I mentioned I had a journal that asked a question a day and each page had a spot for five answers, as it was a five -year journal. She inquired as to what kind of questions were asked. Off the top of my head I shared one that I was sort of stuck on: What is one thing you wish you didn’t know? I think the reason I had been so stuck on it is because good or bad, everything I know makes me who I am today.
All of us have scars of some sort, whether they were of our own doing or as the victims of someone else. Those life experiences mold us into who we are. They shape how we vote, choose to raise our families, and even how we interact with others. I’ll start by sharing a brief rundown of some of my past. My parents divorced when I was six. My mom remarried quickly to a man who began molesting me at the age of seven. He ended up going to prison and is now a registered offender. (She stayed married to him for over 20 years, finally divorced him and is remarried to a wonderful man and has become active in church again.) I went to live with my Dad. He remarried when I was ten. Shortly thereafter we got custody of my little brother. In college, the hurt I had been feeling because of my abuse, my mom still being married to him at the time, and other events growing up surfaced in promiscuity for me for a little while.
I met Brandon, my husband, during my last year of nursing school. We were together as a couple for over a year when we decided to get an apartment together. We got engaged on February 16, 2008 after I got off work at the hospital. Even though we were living together, we started bible study, a couple’s devotional, and set out to find a church home. We wanted to get on the right track. Getting married should be a joyous occasion. We were optimistic starting our wedding plans. We weren’t sure who would perform the ceremony, but we knew we wanted to get married on my parent’s farm on a mountaintop overlooking the lake (Spoiler Alert: it rained all day unexpectedly and we ended up getting married in a church.)
We went to visit a church where family attended. The pastor “greeted” us with, “So. You’re the ones who want to get married?” while looking us up and down. There was no: “Welcome! Nice to finally meet you! Congratulations, I heard you were engaged,” etc. It didn’t feel right to even ask him to officiate. We asked a relative, who did not want to perform the ceremony because we were cohabitating. STRIKE TWO! The third strike came when we asked a family friend. I overheard the phone call to Brandon, when we were shopping. You guessed it, another no. This time the reason stung even more: they didn’t know what my beliefs were; where my relationship was with the Lord. There wasn’t an offer to get to know me either, just a no.
I had a wonderful coworker, a fellow nurse named Lesa. She had known me from the hospital, but also because her family lived in the town where I had gone to high school, about thirty-five minutes from the hospital. She prayed with me and for me, but she also invited us to come to church in her town where her husband Russ, who had been a familiar face for me as a substitute teacher at my high school, preached at a small church. Brandon and I were in the market for a church home. We got up early and made the long drive to that little rock church house. We sat near the back arriving just before service. We enjoyed the time of worship, and especially the way Russ delivered the message; there was humor peppered in. At the end of the service, Russ and Lesa would walk out and greet the congregation as they left for the day. Since we were in the back, we were some of the last to leave. Russ greeted us with the biggest smile, reached out to shake our hands and proudly proclaimed, “So I understand that I get to marry you two!”
We hadn’t even asked! Lesa had shared our story with him, obviously, but his response was to take joy in a new marriage. We met with Russ for premarital counseling, started to regularly attend that church, and even visited their family home before our wedding. Lesa and Russ opened their arms and showed us community. It was the closest to Christ we had felt from Christians. Even though we had done things wrong by living together before our marriage, we finally weren’t being shunned. Russ didn’t know Brandon, but chose to get to know him.
A lot of times feeling like you fit in or are even just accepted is not easy in a church. Some churches are so dogmatic with their rules that outsiders don’t feel welcomed, or feel so much shame because of their past mistakes. When we did Discovering Grace, we learned of some people’s past mistakes. Through years of fellowship and getting to know people, we have learned the not-so-perfect things about their lives. We still love these people and choose to be in community with them.
When Christ came back from resurrection, he bore his scars and wounds to doubting Thomas and the rest of his disciples. (John 20:20-27) Our Savior had defeated death. He could have come back perfect, being the spotless lamb that he is, without scars. He didn’t. I realize that viewing these verses in the context I am referring is not conventional at all. Christ had scars from his life experiences. He shared them with his community. Love and acceptance was still there.
Christ had scars from his life experiences. He shared them with his community. Love and acceptance was still there.
Our experience at Grace has been welcoming. Our body of believers is a little eclectic, but we’re family. We don’t all think the same way about certain issues but that’s okay. There’s room at our table for everyone.
Ashley is a night shift nurse taking care of America’s heroes at the Veteran’s Health Administration Hospital. She is married to Brandon and mom to Josie and Rayland.