Last year, not that long after Brett and I got married, we started going to the church we "church at" now.
[[For those who want a CHURCH DISCLAIMER, I"ll make up one for you: Half the people reading this hear the word "church" and don't even give it a second thought because they do church. The other people-half reading this either get frustrated when they hear that word, laugh at it, or just dont care.... and some people are pretty sure the elephant that walked into the room when "church" got dropped, just farted.
I know what it's like to walk into a building where people seem to be bursting with questionable positivity and everyone there seems to want to hug somebody. I know what it's like to walk in sweating, feeling judged or alone, or just fearful that my actual circumstances, thoughts, or life story will be discovered and I won't qualify to be there. I also know what it's like to walk in, feeling known, not putting on a show, not feeling judged, potentially outwardly happy because, maybe for the first time, I'm around people that worship the same God I do. Church happens differently for everybody.]]
Some people walk into church and they have a place they like to sit. Some of them even venture to call it their "spot". Maybe that's why some visitors get nervous walking into a church or even a coffee shop... they don't want to accidentally sit in someone else's spot or table. Everybody knows "spots" exist because of that orange couch at Central Perk that the Friends cast ALWAYS seems to snag EVERY episode. I don't think anybody really cares if someone sits in their spot... but for some reason, those of us who are socially sensitive and savvy, feel a heavy burden not to sit where someone else does. Brett and I? We sit in the balcony. That's our place. Vague enough that we don't have a specific "spot" and could really sit wherever so long as it's in the balcony. We like the view. The cleaner air. The walk up the stairs is a good workout. Plus all the new moms bring their babies up to the balcony because they think that makes their kid less of a distraction. Well, I LOVE getting distracted by the church babies. Especially in October. We just dedicated twenty-something babies. That's a TON of babies... that I get to gaze at, wave at, and make faces at during the sermon.
A year ago, Brett and I sat in our spot, the balcony, on a not so busy Sunday. We were the only people in our section, and, in the section next to us were a few people and the pastor of our church with his wife. I know what you're thinking, why is the pastor in the balcony? I thought he chilled in the pulpit? Well, not my pastor. On the Sundays when he's not preaching, I see him sit in the balcony a lot and I kind of like that he never takes it upon himself to be the center of attention. He leaves that to God, and rightly so.
We were alone in our section until a woman walked in with her little girl who must have been four or five and potentially mentally handicapped. They sat directly behind us and immediately I could tell that this lady was frustrated she had chosen to sit as close to us as she did. Just as the sermon started her little girl started a raging one act play, much to her mother's dismay. No matter how many shushes her mom gave her, she jabbered on and on, ran into our heads when she ran by, and I could even feel her spit on the back of my neck as rambled away. I was nervous about what others or this mother would think if I turned around and smiled at this little girl or even asked the mom if it would be okay if I took her out into the hall and played with her so her mother could enjoy a sermon. I wanted to turn around, but I didn't. So five minutes in, this mother gave a sigh that sounded like a sob, took her child, and walked out. The air hung with dejection. I never turned around once. I pretended like it didn't happen. I didn't want her to be embarrassed but I was so disappointed in myself for not acknowledging the need of this mom.
This is one of those moments I was sitting IN church and I felt like I wasn't THE church. This is one of those moments where I tell people that the church, whether in the building or out of the building, isn't perfect and always loving, but that's it's good that the God the church worships IS... ALWAYS loving, gentle, perfect, and understanding.
And, really, this isn't the kind of story that turns into, "well good thing the pastor was there". But I'm SO grateful our pastor was sitting in the section across from us. Because he did what I wish I would have done. He did what I think Jesus would have done. Just as that mom was walking out, he got up and ran after her and I can guarantee you that he told her that the church was there to love on and serve her and her daughter. That she didn't need to be ashamed of the show her daughter put on. That the church was there for her in messy moments like that because God's kind of the guru at handling everyone's messy lives. I guarantee you he showed her love.
What I love about THE church, not A church, is that church doesn't do alone. It does together.
And if I've grown in any way since last year's balcony incident, I've found that I cherish not what the church can do for me, but what WE do AS a church. I so firmly know that if that balcony incident were to happen again, I'd turn around in a heart beat. I also know that God had grace on both Brett and I for not turning around. I was convicted I didn't act and asked God to forgive me for ignoring that mom. And here I am writing about it because I think you should know how God's grace and forgiveness, not guilt, has grown and matured me since then.
A few months ago our church went through this phase where we called ourselves The Dearest Place On Earth. It sounds kind of "huh?" at first, but I've grown to love viewing the church as the dearest most beloved place on earth I could ever find myself in. For those who believe God saved them, He purposed the church to be a life-giving and necessary part of our lives. That's what I hope Brett and I both can be in every Balcony-like incident that happens in our lives from here on out. That the way we live out our marriage and lives can be evidence that there is something more dear and deep going on because of the One we answer to. To be a part of this dearest place on earth, is to know the God who created it. And share in His invitation to join. To join and be loved and to love so so so well.