Awkward and Isolated No More {I am a Spiritual Misfit series}

I met today’s Misfit writer Susan Stilwell last year at Allume, and I was immediately smitten with her easy, laid-back demeanor and her heart for God. Susan is one of those people with whom you instantly feel comfortable – she has a gift for putting people at ease. I love, too, what Susan says in her bio at the end of this post: while we all walk different paths toward faith, God accompanies each of us, and our eternal destination is the same. Welcome, Susan – I am so grateful to have you here today, lovely friend!

 


I sat stock-still in the ornate Presbyterian sanctuary with my best friend Lisa. I gawked at the palm branch she shoved in my hand. “You’re supposed to wave it,” she whispered.

I’d spent my entire ten years of life in church, but never once waved a palm branch. I raised it high, following along and mentally piecing together the familiar Palm Sunday story. I turned my gaze from palm branches to stained glass windows to shiny organ pipes suspended above the platform. So this is the way everyone else does church, I mused.

I’m a preacher’s kid and, as a child, I knew that fact alone made me strange. Adding to the oddity, my dad is a bivocational preacher. His paying gig is electrical engineering but the Lord also called him to pastor country churches.

Country Church

Dad didn’t just pastor one congregation; he pastored four. He’s what the old-timers called a “circuit preacher.” Each Sunday of the month we traveled to a different church, many of them an hour or more away.

None of my school friends attended our churches, so the kids in our congregations were more acquaintances than friends. They were polite and friendly, but I didn’t have any day-to-day interaction with them.

The kids I did interact with, the neighborhood kids and my friends from school, knew we didn’t go to any church in town. After seeing the big beautiful church that Lisa attended, I was embarrassed to invite anyone to go to church with us. Many of our little churches were one-room buildings. We didn’t even have a piano, much less an organ. And most of them had outhouses. The shame of that was more than I could bear, especially as I entered my awkward teenage years.

“I just preach the word and love the people,” my dad would tell folks. And he did those things, but he did a whole lot more.

Besides the usual pastoral duties such preaching, visiting the sick, and “marrying and burying,” I watched my dad and mom do whatever needed to be done in our little churches. They replaced light fixtures, swept floors, washed windows, hauled brush, and brought meals. My parents modeled to their three daughters,

There is no place for stars in the church; only servants. 

As isolated as I felt back then, God used those years sitting on simple wooden pews to shape me for ministry. I heard the Word proclaimed with boldness and clarity, and those King James verses still ring in my heart and spring to my lips. No cathedral pipe organ can compare to the voices of those precious saints, simple men and women who loved the Lord and loved us.

Matt 6-33 kjv

Those simple beginnings may have made me feel like a misfit in my little world, but they made me a perfect fit for His kingdom.

Susan Stilwell casual headshotI’m honored to share my story with Michelle’s friends, and I’ve loved reading so many of your “misfit” experiences. Isn’t it amazing the way God accompanies each us on such unique paths to faith? Although Michelle and I have walked different journeys, I love that we have the same eternal destination!

Most days Susan can be found studying and preparing to teach a message from God’s word at her church, in her community, or for a retreat. She recently returned from a month-long trip to Israel where she worked with Palestinian children and gorged herself on hummus and shawarma. She’s active on social media and would love to connect through Twitter, Facebook, and her blog, susanstilwell.com.

Click here to purchase Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith.

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When You Find Jesus Where You’d Least Expect {I am a Spiritual Misfit Series}

I’m  grateful to have gotten to know this week’s featured writer, Kelly Greer, during an online writing group hosted by (in)courage. Kelly and I really click in a misfitty way. When I read her story, all I could think about was the first time I attended church under a backyard tent at a family reunion – the whole time thinking, “This isn’t church! This doesn’t count!” I love Kelly’s story here, and I am so grateful for her willingness to share it with you today.

 


It wasn’t your typical church building. But there it was, flanked by a karate shop on the left and a printing shop on the right.

There was no towering steeple, no stained glass windows or oversized wooden doors.   No vestibule, holy water, rows upon rows of wooden pews.  Not even an altar.

Was this really a church, I wondered?  Where was Jesus? Mary?  The apostles?  The saints and candles?  No balcony, confessionals, or organ pipes.

Just a table with coffee and bagels in back, and lots of folks wandering around in their blue jeans and sandals, laughing and hugging.

A few men huddled together in the back of the room like they do before the start of a football game, only I think they were praying—out loud–right there in the open.

We were barely inside before we were greeted with the warmest welcomes and genuine smiles.  Introductions were made and we were offered some coffee and bagels.  We explained how we had learned about the church from a friend who had been visiting from Oregon and after his continual urging, while we were hesitant, we decided we might as well check it out.  Neither of us had been in church for years.  We had remarried and were blending two families with teenagers, and we could certainly use all the help we could get.  Maybe it was time to check in with our higher power.

After bagels, everyone began to take a seat in one of the padded stackable chairs that lined the room from side to side a few rows deep.  All together, there were probably less than 100 people there.

The young man in shorts and sandals who had been pacing in the back of the building stood up in front and said “good morning, let’s pray.”  This was Pastor Pete.

Another young man and a young woman began to play guitar and sing.  And we watched as hands were lifted one by one heavenward.  Each one there, eyes closed, hearts full, and hands lifted high.  I had never before witnessed such worship and it was breathtakingly beautiful.

Throughout the service there was no sitting, kneeling or standing on command, but there was spontaneous standing and kneeling going on around us.

A bible was resting in everyone’s hands, open as the pastor taught from it, verse by verse.  I had never used a bible in church.  I was given one at my wedding, but I had never read it in church, or otherwise.  Some were even taking notes in the margins of their bibles.  It was hard to believe.

It was even harder to believe that we were not asked to fill out any forms, give our address, take home a box of envelopes, or do anything except come–just the way we were.  Come.  And so we did.  Week after week we came back. We even got bibles for everyone in the family.  Don’t get me wrong, some weeks we fought all the way there, but somehow, God kept us coming back.

I remember my husband saying at one point, “I don’t know what Fred has, but I want it.”  We wanted what they had.  And the thing is, they wanted us to have it–a personal relationship with Jesus.  And we came to know Jesus personally there.  He opened up our eyes as his word became alive and active in our hearts.

This bunch of spiritual misfits off the street found Jesus in the retail strip center where we were loved to Christ.  No one pointed out our obvious issues, the things we could not hide; the fullness of our teenage daughter’s belly, our worldly attitudes, or the newsroom fodder that had become the black cloud over our heads. No, they never judged us once–only loved us–right to the saving arms of Christ.

That was fifteen years ago.  Our bibles are torn and tattered and scribbled upon now.  Our church moved from that building long ago and eventually too far away for us to travel, but it never left our hearts.  Its people are scattered all around the country now, but they are still our church family.

While our lives have changed since then, we still have faced some really tough things.  But never alone or without hope. We may not find ourselves in perfect standing with the world, but we do find ourselves in perfect standing with God.

When I read Michelle’s memoir, Spiritual Misfit, I recalled my own story of growing up in the traditional church where rituals were the norm.  I remember thinking back then that I would never be good enough for God. I don’t know if I missed the grace message or it simply wasn’t taught there. But I do know that God found a way into my heart at that storefront church, and his words revealed the truth to me about who he is, how much he loves me just the way that I am, and that he offers me an eternal relationship with him if I only believe. He wants that for all of us.

We are his and he is ours and it is a perfect fit. 

KellyGreerKelly is a wife, mother to five, and grandmother to eleven darlings.  When she isn’t on her knees in prayer, you can find her playing with her grandchildren, pestering her husband, snorkeling down the river or writing words from the heart of a prodigal mom at The Prodigal Mom.

Click here to purchase Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith.

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When One Small Question Changes Everything

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Truthfully, a Saint Paul-like conversion would have been a heck of a lot easier. What’s not to like about falling over in the middle of the road, hearing the voice of God bellowing loud and clear from the heavens and then dusting oneself off and resuming life as a convicted believer? It’s quick, it’s obvious […]

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One Globetrotter’s Desperate Search for Home {and a giveaway of Emily Wierenga’s memoir Atlas Girl!}

I am so delighted to welcome my good friend Emily Wierenga here today. I don’t even know how to begin to describe Emily – she is one of the sweetest, most genuine, most faith-full people I have ever met. I began reading her blog years ago and was immediately smitten with her deeply poetic voice […]

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You Might Be a Spiritual Misfit If… {and Enter the #IAmaSpiritualMisfit Contest!}

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  1.     “Christianese” makes you want to head for the hills. 2.     You ask “why?” more than a four-year-old at bedtime. 3.     You church shop as often as you grocery shop. … Hop over to the Convergent blog for the top 11 signs that YOU might be a spiritual misfit. AND Share Your Spiritual Misfit Story […]

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When a Small Sacrifice Makes a Big Impact

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“Ten Things God Wants You to Remember.” That’s what was written on the front side of the card, along with a list: “I am for you. I love you. I believe in you. I will not fail you. I will be with you. I will provide for you. I will bless you. I will give […]

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Why You Need to Take a Real Vacation {without Email, Smartphones, Tweets and Likes}

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We need to get away. I mean really away. Away from the siren call of our laptops and tablets. Away from the urge to check our Facebook page “just one more time,” in case we missed anything. {You didn’t. I promise.} Away from the Twitter stream scrolling like a Wall Street ticker tape. Away from […]

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Weekend One Word: Overflow

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With Sandra and Lisha’s communities.

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Fitting in Just Fine {I am a Spiritual Misfit Series}

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I’ve known Sandra Heska King for a good long while now, first online out here in the blogosphere, and then in person at the Jumping Tandem Retreat and at Laity Lodge. But even if you’ve only just met her, Sandy is the kind of person who puts you at ease right away. She’s warm, she’s […]

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Because There’s More Than One Way to Love

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As kids my sister and I were instructed to refrain from hugging or kissing Papa. He doesn’t like physical affection, my mother always reminded us as we clamored out of the car and up the sidewalk toward the screened porch. “Hey, Pops,” I’d call out with a wave as I breezed through the back door and […]

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