wherever i'm with you

I practically lived at the neighbors’ blue house growing up. I’d get there early enough on Saturdays to watch PeeWee’s Playhouse (unless, of course, I’d woken up there) and can’t begin to count the hours we spent in costume, lost to our imaginings. She was an only child and their home a charming oasis where classical music soared at the piano, and her mom served hot, homemade Chex mix, fantastical movies, and creativity in every hue. We accompanied her do-it-yourself parents on dozens of trips to Hechinger Hardware, played cards with her Nana, and celebrated Thanksgivings, because that’s what you do when you’re family, even if not by blood.

In high school I joined a Baptist youth group. My Presbyterian self rolled a bit differently, but I barely realized it till years later (when I told my youth pastor, “I followed in your footsteps!” and his eyes widened, confused). Back then we all just loved Jesus and U2 and each other. They were my skiing, singing, shelter from the adolescent storms.

In college, I joined sundry Christian groups full of earnest-hearted girls and irresistible boys with guitars, but when I found My People, they didn’t believe or look all that much like me. They were smaller and darker and laughed even louder, and it never seemed to matter that we weren’t The Same when the dance floor heated up or someone needed a listening ear.

Other times in my life I’ve experienced—or at least suspected—that I’m Too Religious to be accepted by those who aren’t, but finding a home among Christians is tricky too, if you’re deemed Too Free-Spirited or Progressive (or if you’ve been hurt too much or ask too many questions). Alternately, I’ve found myself feeling Too Serious, Too Silly, Too Smart, Too Inexperienced, and altogether Too Much. If only I could somehow make myself less—or more—surely I’d find my place.

But looking back, I have found my heart’s home at way stations along the way, just rarely, if ever, among people exactly like me. When my husband and I left the city for the life bucolic, it took me long and wandering years to find my footing, but eventually we did: at the evangelical camp where we live and work; at our Episcopal country church, among the elderly and empty-nesters; and with friends our age with whom we share secrets and meals and vacations down the shore but not our faith.

I’m increasingly convinced that belonging is more about nurturing creative space together than finding a “tribe” of people Just Like Us. Belonging is cultivated in the fertile soil of hospitality, kindness, and grace, not doctrinal, political, or cultural conformity.

(Anyone who tells you differently is probably selling something, and it’s not the gospel, which is surely not for sale.)

The honest-to-God, Truth-in-Love Good News is that our differences are gifts not liabilities. We need and complement each other precisely because our strengths, perspectives, and experiences are unique. We’re not meant to squeeze diverse passions, personalities, or people into tiny molds.

Folks are disenchanted with Evangelicalism. I get it. Sometimes you gotta get out, start over, and not look back. There’s just one holy catholic and apostolic church, and like the phoenix She’ll outlast every smoldering ruin.

But if there are no standard molds, there are few one-sized-fits-all answers, either. Sometimes we’re just running away, and we can’t outrun our ghosts. Loneliness catches up, and depression descends anew the moment we stop to catch our breath.

At some point, rootedness and growth require staying put, mucking shit, faithful watering, and more patience than we think we can muster.

There is always a death. “Pain is our mother; she makes us recognize each other.

But we are an Easter people. Joy comes in the mourning. Seasons and families and hearts change. The Spirit whispers, and new life stirs.

Shadows lift at Sunday’s dawn, and the strangers and aliens are found at home at last.

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