How did you guys end up in Mississippi?
This week, as my husband and I chatted with new friends, a hard experience drifted into the conversation.
It’s a fair question. My husband was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. I was born in Kentucky and raised in South Carolina. We met at a church in South Carolina and eventually moved closer to his family in Alabama.
The leap from there to Mississippi was not one we ever planned to make. My husband took a job as a youth pastor at a church in a very small town on the bank of a river in Alabama, just thirty minutes from his parents and his daughter. It was there my oldest son turned two, and it was there I found out I was expecting my youngest son.
It was there the church broke my heart.
I grew up in a few churches and had mostly good experiences with them. The little church where my mama still attends taught me and sheltered me and launched me into adulthood. From them, I learned we always forgive, and we always lend a helping hand to those in need.
There were some lovely people at the church we served so briefly in Alabama. But the lovely people were not the people in power, as is often the case, and a series of misunderstandings and outright lies wove dissension around us. When we left, we left with broken hearts held quaking in our hands.
I still remember being six months pregnant, sitting on the floor of our little mill house, sobbing. Church people were supposed to be loving and supportive. They were supposed to be my community. They were supposed to lift me up when I fell down.
Instead, I felt isolated and scared.
All that to say, there was a time when I was terrified to let anyone associated with church into my heart.
It was in that moment, hopeless, money running out, that a church in Mississippi called my husband and asked him to interview for a youth ministry position. The timing was perfect, right down to the phone ringing as my husband was turning down a job offer in Alabama that we did not feel good about taking. We were hanging out on a limb, water rushing underneath us, not a canoe in sight. The church in Mississippi sure looked like a luxury yacht floating past.
We made the difficult decision to leave Alabama. Difficult, because my stepdaughter was there and the visitation schedule we were used to would not work with so much distance between us.
That is how we landed in Mississippi, but it isn’t why we stayed.
Nadia Bolz-Weber wrote, in her book Accidental Saints, “In the Jesus business, community is always a part of healing. Even though community is never perfect.”
We arrived at Crossgates United Methodist Church in Brandon, Mississippi, as two people broken by imperfect community. I struggled to find my niche. Nothing I had done at our previous church had worked. I was afraid to let anyone know me, because I didn’t want to get hurt again. I was afraid to listen to anyone, because hateful words had become the expected thing.
Slowly, the people of our new community drew me out. They bandaged up my wounds and showed me again and again that they were offering the love of Christ.
Did I ever get hurt by people at our new church?
Yes. I did. Eventually, I came to learn that a community is made up of people and people are often unpredictable. When you take a risk and share who you are, you might get hurt. But you might not.
And if you do get hurt, it might still be worth it.
My husband is planting a church now, and we are going to meet people who have stood where I once stood. There will be people who have no reason to trust us and every reason not to. I pray I can be a part of a healing community for those people, because I know how important it is. I know what healing looks like, what it feels like, how it takes time and effort and setbacks and fear and bravery and, eventually, you get to stand and look back down the road and see where you once walked.
The ugly can look beautiful when viewed across time and space.
He gives us beauty for ashes. I let the community that loved us burn away the pain, solder the wounds, and hold me up until I could stand on my own two feet again.
And it was worth it.
The risk was worth the healing.
*originally published on Middle Places