what my heart wanted to share

i’ve spent the last week tortured by a piece i was writing.
i mean, it consumed me.
i asked friends, strangers, customers, dogs,
anyone i came into contact with
“help me with this piece.”
i pleaded.

unable to find reprieve anywhere, i walked away from it.
the answer came.
the unexpected and most difficult awareness of truth:
the story was being manufactured, not felt.
i was creating something my heart wasn’t in.
the passion was forced. the message may be very real,
and the lesson might have been learned,
but it wasn’t what my heart wanted to share.

for some, this may feel like a dead horse.
i was scared to be the person who is stuck in the past,
but this is my story.

this will probably upset some people.
this may even surprise some people.
but in the wise words of Anne Lamott:
“you own everything that happened to you. tell your stories.
if people wanted you to write warmly about them,
they should have behaved better.”

for me, this is important.
the most raw story i could share.
bear with me as i wade through a painful subject.

in my last year the church made me a prisoner to my pain.
silenced before i even opened my mouth.
my dream job was stolen,
and the culprits were protected by everyone else,
myself included.

i loved these people.
and if you know me, i do nothing half-hearted.
i would have given everything for them.
kept every secret, lied a thousand more times,
signed every contract the church gave,
that required me to keep my mouth shut.
i thought i was doing what was best for students.
the ones i held so dear,
the reasons i went through silent hell for months.

my time as a summer intern was over,
and i finally felt free.
until the church told me i could never step foot on the property.
then i had to fight back.
and i did.

hit after hit after hit
i was black and blue against the ropes,
their hands were around my neck but i wasn’t about to choke.
i continued going despite what they said about me
to employees, to congregants, to friends, to enemies.

i was on the wrong side of the church.
the rejection was real and apparent.
i was the outsider in my own place of worship.
i felt the deep pain of gossip.
until every bomb began to go off.
and all at once we were blown to smithereens.

allies joined in. we stormed the beaches.
and before i could stop it every trigger was pulled.
everyone lost.
heartbreaking pain was all we could see through the smoke.
the only real love i ever saw in the world, and for the world was destroyed.
arguments in a parking lot ensued. arrests were made.
and the story began to circle the inner circles.

we were all told to get out, and stay out.
a community of people turned their backs when we needed them most.
over a decade’s worth of relationships were thrown away.
rumors swirled. the rejection from our “brothers and sisters” was real.
silence and distance grew where love once lived.

when they saw the “sin”,
the bad decisions,
the heartache,
they ostracized us.
left us out in the wilderness.

enemy or not, the same people who stole my dream didn’t deserve the same treatment.
enemy or not, creating a great divide was never in the plan.
enemy or not, i never wished this pain on them.

the christian machine was brutal.
the words of pastors, leaders, friends ring through my mind all the time.
“you are not essential to ministry.”
“you brought this upon yourself.”
“this is all because of who you are.”
“they made the right call.”
“i don’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

the worst part was the silence.
not a single person stood up for me or anyone else.

and the words that echo in the other side’s ears
must be as torturous.
i don’t pretend to know their pain.
i only know that as this dust has settled i see the light lost.
the goodness that was thrown away.
that church lost the best thing that ever happened to them.

we are on the outside of the walls now.
protected by nothing and no one.
and i hope my enemies see one thing:
the picture of eden the church painted used all the wrong colors.

these past few months i’ve wondered how to articulate all of this.
without bitterness.
with grace.
without landmines.
with love.
without bullets.
with truth.

the reality of church can be unbearable to most.
our hearts can be pulverized.
my deepest moments of healing
and the harshest winter i’ve known came from inside the walls.

i saw how it all works from the side of the unfavorable.
i think Jen Hatmaker said it best when she wrote:

“my mind knows the difference between the christian machine and Jesus, but this year it feels hard to separate. the whole system seems poisoned, and i struggle to drink any of it. even as i recognize my cynicism throwing a wet blanket over the credible, sincere declarations of others, i can’t quite stop it. it’s all falling on damaged ears. every bit of it feels manufactured, brand-building, pretty words that failed me, didn’t show up, joined the chorus that broke my family’s heart. this is plainly unfair, but here i am.”

this is an excerpt from a piece she wrote about good friday.
the friday that Jesus was crucified.
sent to the masses to be mocked, and torn apart.
thrown to the wolves,
given to death.
a necessary death.

you read that right.
killing Jesus was necessary.
in order for new life, something had to die.

i think we skip over that part too often.
it is too messy, too hard.
we walk through friday, remembering only sunday.
i hope you never have to understand friday,
but there are so many of us out there who can only feel the darkness.
the hearts that can’t hope for resurrection.

it is nearly impossible for me to be around insiders now.
how ironic it is that exclusion made me more exclusive.
but i want to find every human kicked out,
the ones the rumors ran off,
the kings and queens of darkness,
the ones they tell us to stay away from,
the broken,
the guarded,
i want to find the ones religion has excluded,
the ones told they aren’t essential, worthy, holy,
i want to find every single one and tell you
the wilderness is better because you are here.
we are better because of the wilderness.
you are holy, you are good, you are worthy.

this story has weighed heavily on me.
maybe because i have found few words that talk about it;
the excruciatingly real pain church can bring.
how difficult and life altering it is to be excluded from your safe place.
it changes you, makes you question everything you once knew.
when the place that claims to welcome all,
sinners and saints alike,
all the broken and ugly bits,
when that place tells you
you aren’t good enough,
how are you to find refuge anywhere else?

make no mistake:
the wound is still fresh,
the smoke is still rising,
the rubble is still fragile.
the war zone exists and casualties still happen.
like Jacob, we wrestled with God and He gave us a limp.

this story has been trying to claw its way out of me.
maybe i am searching for hearts that are scorched like mine.
maybe because i am human and need comfort.
but i think the truth is
i never want anyone else to feel the way i did.
and maybe if i’m honest, we can change it.
or bring comfort to those who feel unworthy.

tell the story in your heart, my friends.
the story is important.
it is worthy of being heard.
the mountains you are climbing may be uncharted,
but someone has to write the guide.
if the story is weighing on you, let it out.
let it go.
you might be writing the survival guide for the rest of us.

and for those of you who feel a little wilder than the rest:

the church does not have the final say.
the universe is on the side of justice.
the resurrection comes.
even when your world is shattered,
when your friends scatter,
when all you see is death,
the dead rise again.
and it’s usually better the next time around.