reflections

Scattered Thoughts of a Sinner in Church (Come As You Are)

When I was a kid, my cousin Charlie introduced me to the comic book character “Spawn,” a man who, from my limited understanding, was “too bad for Heaven, too good(?) for Hell.” Lately, I’ve been feeling that same internal tension: too “Christian” for the world (or so a friend called me, not entirely as a compliment) but too much of a sinner for church, too riddled with doubt and disbelief and anger to fit comfortably into the padded seats of the airconditioned assembly hall. Even the way I talk and act runs counter to the poised prayerfulness and doe-eyed Christianese of the girls in Friday Youth Group, where I stopped attending after my barnacles got too obvious to hide.

I am a Christian sanctified, but far from sanitized, and honestly, I feel that the slight whiff of “worldly” about me marks me, to this church, as imposter, a wolf trying to live under the blood of the Lamb, but my teeth are too big and my claws are still sharp and oh, how I howl.

(Church, could you love me if I wasn’t perfect? Because I’m not. I am so not. Please don’t judge me, but I don’t always feel “on fire” for Jesus. Sometimes I doubt if he hears. Sometimes, my faith is in shambles. Sometimes (a lot; I even have a tracker in my BuJo), I stumble. Sometimes, I don’t pay attention to the sermon. But oh, Church, how I could not live without Christ!  Surely, that is enough?)

I’m a small group leader. I still do not understand why, and my group meets less regularly than I think is ideal, but since my name is on the roster, I get invites to the regular Leaders’ Huddles our church holds. Since my mum is a leader too, I sort-of have to go, regardless of what I feel the state of my soul is at that very moment. Two huddles ago I spent the entire meeting on the verge of tears, calligraphy-ing my frustrations in my sermon notebook: a Christian on the fringes, on the outside looking in.

Today was a good day. Today, I felt my social anxiety and situational depression was at a low enough level that I could function as my Sunday self. I sat through the leader’s huddle, convinced I could fool my church into believing that I was a model leader…and then I was unmasked.

Well, not actually. The pastor–one of my favorite pastors; I want him officiating my wedding–didn’t suddenly summon me to the front to be rebuked. Instead, he preached about Zacchaeus, that familiar story of the wee little man in the sycamore tree. Since this was a leader’s meeting, the insights were about ministering, and one point struck me:

“People, not process.”

I have this habit of building up monsters in my head. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but I’m always expecting the worst, waiting for the axe to fall because I am not changing fast enough. Over time and familiarity and, okay, disappointed expectations (Who knew Christian millennials could be just as cliqueish as non-Christian millennials? Duh, Frankie. Christians are people too.), I guess I turned the Church into one of those scary monsters, another self-policing institution in a world full of self-policing institutions. But with three words, that terrifying image shattered, and I was reminded of why I believe. See, as my pastor exhorted us leaders to be sensitive, kind, and compassionate with people who, perhaps, did not fit our preconceived notions of what salvation–what the desire for changed life–should look like, all I could hear was “You are welcome here.”

Zacchaeus was a tax collector. In the Bible, tax collectors are mentioned separately from sinners, are their own brand of outcast. As turncoats who aligned with the colonizers, they were considered social pariahs, and it was not kosher to associate with them.  Here was a person who longed to change, but for whom the door seemed shut.

But then Jesus asked to stay at Zacchaeus’ house, and in that moment the nature of what the church should be was established: a place of open doors, where sinners of all sorts belonged, could find acceptance, could become saints by virtue of accepting one man’s sacrifice.

My two best Christian friends–really, my two best friends–are probably the two people I know who reflect this best. Together, we three form #TeamHumanChristian, and when we get together and talk about the journey of overcoming our sins it is so easy to see God’s grace. Painting on a Sunday face makes sense, but when you come in your Monday blues and Tuesday baggage, your Friday failings and Saturday sins, it becomes so easy to discover “I am not alone.”

Everyone is growing here.  Everyone has a ways to go.

I love meeting Christian sinners, people in the trenches, fighting their flesh; those for whom the words “His grace changes everything.” are not just lyrics but a daily reality. The struggle IS real. It is. And how beautiful is the honesty.

“People, not process.” This is a home for humans, not a factory for churning out cookie-cutter models of holiness. I’d forgotten that home is where you take off the mask, not put it on, but thank God for the reminder: “Who does the Lord receive?” In Luke 15:2, the Pharisees said it so clearly, voices strangled in self-righteous horror: “SINNERS! He eats with sinners!”

The church is His dining room, and I am a sinner. I am a Christian. Those labels were always meant to coexist. Every Christian is a sinner, every saint has a past. The armor of God maybe doesn’t fit just right, still sits uneasy on my shoulders, but it has always come with the reassurance that I will grow into it, should I choose to keep walking.  That everyone else in His church is fighting to grow into it too.

People, not process. Christ met Zacchaeus at the foot of the tree. I smell of the world. I howl like a wolf. Church means come as you are, because this is where God meets you.  This is where hope resides.

“You are welcome here.”

~aRT~

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[How To Grow Up] Learning By Example: A young woman’s reflections on her mentor’s ten years of marriage.

This will be quick (I hope), because I have finish a deck and send it off before midnight because I have an early-morning photoshoot tomorrow, but more on that some other time.

Last Friday, my discipler, May De Jesus-Palacpac (or “Miss May,” as I call her–it’s sort of a Filipino honorific to refer to a young woman in authority as ‘Miss’, regardless of marital status) of Fully Housewifed, celebrated the anniversary of her marriage to Jay Palacpac (Sir Jay–no, he hasn’t been knighted; again, Filipino honorific), our Team Leader (Overall Coordinator? I AM REALLY BAD WITH TITLES, ACK.) in the Kids Ministry Music Team.  They have been married ten years now (a decade!  The first number of years that gets a special name!), and have three sons: Pablo, Judah, and Lukas.  As Miss May’s disciple and one of Sir Jay’s volunteers, I’ve been very privileged to be a part, however small, in the lives of this God-fearing family, and it’s been an experience that has required some reflection.

I met Miss May last year, while I was going through a spiritual crisis which led me to contemplate permanently exiting the Kids Music Ministry.  Sir Jay referred me to a regular Bible Study held by Miss May with the other women worship leaders in Kids Ministry, and after attending one session, I had a one-on-one session with Miss May which led to me becoming her disciple.  We were soon joined by my best friend, Esther, and the three of us make a gregarious, words- and music-loving trio that meet weekly at–where else?–Fully Booked.

What amazes me most about my current group is how much we all understand each other, and, on a more personal note, how much Miss May understands me, to the point that even when I am agitated and communicating in what I must admit is a distinctly disrespectful tone–I’m not completely over that “spiritual crisis,” to be honest–she is firm, but very patient with me, and consistently reminds me that she values my friendship, that she likes me.  We’re also rather similar in personality, beyond the obvious links of being ambiverted, digital-native writers-slash-singers-slash-hungry learners with a habit of chronicling thoughts for the internet.  And I suppose it is that fact that makes seeing her relationship with Sir Jay a personal blessing for me, because it’s an object lesson in what navigating a Godly marriage could be like, for someone with my similar “quirks.”

(Though, to be honest, I must confess myself significantly more quirk-laden than my mentor.  Miss May has learned to submit to, and walk with, God, while I have not completely yet, and have all the rough edges to prove it.)

Having just turned twenty-one this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about the world of “adults.”  Arguably, I was an adult at eighteen, but there is something about being the big 2-1 that brings the reality of maturity–or learning to mature, in my case–closer to home.  And while perhaps it is too early to think about marriage–I’m still trying to launch a career, for crying out loud!–a part of me has felt that prayerfully considering what it means to be married is somehow an essential part in knowing what it means to be mature.

Of course, this is all totally foreign territory for me.  Boy-girl relationships are completely different from man-woman ones, and I am ignorant of both, having been single since birth.  A firm believer in courtship versus the “just-for-kicks, let’s-have-fun” atmosphere of worldly dating, my personal conviction, to be honest, has been to not consider getting into a relationship until I am open to thinking about marriage–not necessarily as an immediate concern, but at least as a long-term certainty; a “strategic direction,” if you will.  I realize this is a prospect that sounds absolutely cray-cray to people my age (honestly, it scares me out of my wits too), specifically boys my age, which is why I’m plenty sure that, at least for the foreseeable future, I am going to be single (and rightfully so, because I am in no fit state to be in a relationship right now, what with my…issues).

But despite the fact that relationships, and by extension marriage, are kind-of far off right now, occasionally I’ve had cause to reflect on the concept of it, of what it would be like for me to be committed to someone.  Some of that contemplation has been the little-girl fantasy stuff: what the wedding will be like, what the wedding AVP will be like (today I picked the song for it: the live version of Coldplay‘s “Yellow”), how many kids we’ll have, what their names might be.  Some of it, though, has been the more serious stuff: What would it be like to be a wife?  A mother?  To have to submit to a husband?  Parent a child?  How would we handle the finances, our kids’ wants, our own wants and needs?  What about our respective dreams?  How will I manage submitting as a wife if he asks me to do something I think is unreasonable?  What will he be like as a father?  

In an ordinary circumstance, these questions are big and scary all by themselves, but they are a bit scarier for me because I did not grow up in a family with a functional marriage.  I’m the product of a broken home–my mum and dad legally separated when I was four and the marriage was annulled when I was thirteen–and while my mother has been an excellent example of what it means to be a Godly woman and mother, and a great counselor even when it comes to questions about what it means to be a Christian wife…it’s one thing to have someone who can tell me, and quite another to witness things firsthand.  I do not have an insider look at a marriage upon which I can base my “analysis.”  Also, to be very honest, the failure of my parents’ marriage has made me worry about the potential state of my own: not only have I had it impressed upon me the necessity of being careful of whom I marry, but I am acutely aware of how difficult marriages can get.

Add to this my commitment to living a Godly marriage, with all the requirements of humility and submission that entails for the woman, and you have the makings of a mini-crisis.  Me?  Humble?  Submissive?  WHAT?!  I’ll be the first to admit that my personality fits none of these things.  I have a huge ego and a strong personality, am ridiculously bull-headed, and do not like to be forced to do things especially if I think my way is better.  Of course, I do know how to give in and compromise, but many times I do so grudgingly, soothing my ego with the inner mantra of “I was right anyway.”  None of these factor into a good relationship partner, let alone a wife.

This is why I am thankful for being able to witness, to some extent, the “ordinariness” of Miss May and Sir Jay’s marriage.  By no means do I accuse Miss May of having the same faults I do, but she does have a strong personality (it’s why I love and respect her so much) that reminds me of a (much better) version of my own.  Her ten years of a strong, God-fearing, God-filled marriage, set against the backdrop of a life that I personally find amazing (work-at-home mother, homeschool teacher, blogger, singer, eternal scholar), show me that it is still possible for this twenty-one year old Lonelygirl to become a woman of Christ, ready for all that role entails, including obedience in marriage.  It is possible for any woman, actually, so long as they commit themselves, as I have seen Miss May has, to constant pruning and refining and Lordship in her walk with the Father.

More than just the role of witness, though, I’m also benefitting from being witnessed to.  Miss May has taken her role of discipler very seriously, holding herself accountable for my walk even as she trusts me with a part of hers.  She is quick on the draw to lovingly (emphasis on lovingly) call me out on my behavior, even down to the posts I make on social media–little details in the discipline of learning to submit a life to Christ, guarding my mind and heart against giving in to the things that would make the process harder.  Both she and her husband pray for me, and I’m grateful for that, grateful that this couple is putting a protective “hedge”** around me even as they have put that “hedge” around their marriage, their shared journey with Christ.

So I’m taking this time to honor my mentor and my team leader in their spiritual walk and their marriage.  Here’s to you, Miss May and Sir Jay!  Thank you for your God-fearing example over ten years, and may God continue to bless you with the richness of his ministry in the many many many many many MANY years more to come!

~ARoamingTsinay~

P.S.

I know I’ve taken time to honor Miss May in this post for her participation in my spiritual walk, but I honestly feel the need to honor my mother too.  Miss May has been helping me as a friend and sister in Christ, but it’s one thing to have a sister, and another thing to have a mother.  My zany mum is another source of wisdom and guidance in my life, and honestly I would not even be thinking like this, about the necessity of surrounding myself with Godly women to mentor me, if it wasn’t for her guidance.  Thank you, Mama.  Love you!

(Even if you’ve stolen Boo Bear.  Mleh.)

** I borrowed the “hedge” illustration from Teach With Joy, the blog of another model of Godly wife- and mother-hood, Joy Mendoza.