Sunday, August 25, 2013

Willow Chicago- Welcome Home

Today has barely started and already I've had an utterly amazing experience. Truly, I am amazed and awestruck.

What happened? You might ask that question- and I will answer!
I went to church this morning.

No before I loose half of my readers due to religious differences, please stick with me and read this post. I'm not going to preach at you, I'm writing about a much needed experience about something that is important in my life.
Chances are, if you are friends with me, my faith will come up in conversation. I'm not looking to shove my faith down anyone's throat, but my beliefs are important to me and shape how I act and view the world. The most important aspect of my faith that I try to live out (imperfectly, because I am human) is to love everyone. That itself is a tricky concept that I could and might try to explain another time, but that's not this particular story.

During the summer months, I don't really get to go to church. I'm performing at Bristol and that takes up my Sunday time. I do try to read my Bible during the week (not really good at the every day part, but several times a week is my low end of the goal), and sometimes listen to sermons (maybe once every few weeks or at most twice a month because I'm really bad at going online to listen to a free podcast). Even when I would go to church, I would often struggle with being there. Not because of any crisis of faith or because I didn't get anything out of the sermon.

I simply didn't feel like I belonged. Now, the church I had been going to is a wonderful church. They do so many good things and they are full of good people. Their sermons are often geared towards those who are coming into church as "seekers" (aka people curious about what this is all about). That's fantastic! However, as someone who was apart of the faith since I was 13, I always was left feeling like I wanted a little bit more.
Now- that church I spent age 10-present age at had a solution for those who were past the seeking phase! Small groups during the middle of the week and on Sundays. I tried. I really did. Midweek college services were not welcoming. I sat by myself and felt alone in a crowd of people who had already found their group and while they were friendly towards me, I didn't really feel like they wanted me around. This was made clear by the point that they kept giving me half of their attention and really didn't care about what I had to say.
I'd already gone through much the same experience in the High School small groups. I left because I never connected with anyone and my group was split up and I was set with another leader who I really didn't connect with. I wasn't going to do that again.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a neat person. I'm a mess. Every human is a mess, we're just really good at hiding how messy we are from 99% of the world's population. My faith gives me a foundation and a relationship that I don't have to worry about hiding myself from. For years I've longed for a place where I can be myself among people who share my faith and I won't be too much, or too messy, a place where people would believe in me and the things I could do. A place where I could be that weird mix of liberal and conservative and it didn't matter how far I went one way or another. I wanted a place where I could be imperfect in a world that labels me as a "trying to be perfect hypocrite." Because that's what the media says about those who follow Christ. I know that label because I've given it out, and that's not right. That's not what my faith is about or who I should be. I have no right to judge others when I have only to look into my mirror to see someone as equally broken as anyone else.
Unfortunately, I've been judged. Most of the time I've been judged by those who share my faith. There's a reason I like hanging out with people who don't share my faith because most of the time they are accepting of me and my mess. I was amazed last year when I went to Bristol and saw the love these people show each other and wondered "what if the people who shared my faith treated each other this way?"

I digress from my rant. I'm still working through a lot of the bitterness and hurt that I've amassed. I'm trying to put that behind me as a bump in the road in my journey. I'm trying to forgive, and it's not always easy when you feel that stabbing pain of being alone in a room full of people who (you're told by the pastor) are supposed to love you. Now, my whole experience was not all bad. I've had wonderful times at Willow Creek Barrington. It's just been a severely mixed bag and I've gotten a few vomit flavored Bertie Bots Jelly Beans along with the toffee and watermelon flavors. 

I've done a lot of growing over the past two years in my faith. I love where it is taking me. It's not easy and it's scary some times, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. My faith brought me to where I am today, and I want to know where it will take me tomorrow.

Today I decided to give Willow Creek Chicago a try. I was hoping that it would be a little bit different from Willow Creek Barrington. I was hoping that as a performing artist who thought a little differently from the suburban crowd (generally speaking), that I would find at least one person who was like me. Plus, I missed church. I really do like going and learning about the Bible. It's like a history class that has practical application.
I didn't go with any of my new classmates, and my roommate was still fast asleep when I left at 9:45 for the 10AM service. It's kind of nice to live that close to church.

I walked in through the doors and was greeted with a "Good Morning." from the welcome staff. I like the welcome staff at churches because they are genuine, so I always try to say good morning back to them. Then I found out that there was free coffee. I hadn't had any breakfast so the free coffee was fantastic and it was good coffee too, and you could bring it into the auditorium! 

The songs that we sang for worship were a bit older, but I like them better than the slightly more obscure songs I've been learning and singing back at WCB. The vocalists were outstanding, but that's not really what I was focusing on. The people there made it really easy to focus on praising my God.
The best part was what I heard during the songs, in that still, quiet, voice that can ring more clearly that any bell.
"Welcome Home."
I have to tell you that I almost started crying. Here I was in a church were I knew nobody, but I felt at home and accepted right off the bat. I didn't feel like I was dressed to shabbily, or to fancy. I didn't even feel like it mattered what I looked like.

The pastor who spoke today was preaching on Romans 12. Years ago, my little sister and I had to memorize Romans 12. I can't remember all of it, but Romans 12:2 is still one of my "life verses" that I try to emulate and dwell on. Today I got to listen as the pastor unpacked the entire chapter about what Romans 12 was about. I wrote four pages of notes in my journal. I've never written more than two about any sermon before. There was just so much for me to take in and I could feel my heart soaring with all of the information and understanding I was gaining.
During the service I was made aware of some people who I need to be kind to, even if I'm having trouble dealing with them right now. That's part of my faith, is being kind and loving to everyone. That doesn't mean letting everyone walk all over me, because that's completely wrong. However, just because someone is trying to tear me down doesn't mean I do the same to them.
We took communion today, and I honestly can't tell you the last time I took communion. When I started going to WCB, we didn't take communion as much. I've missed communion and the symbolism that goes along with it. 

I went up to the pastor after the service and thanked him and let him know where I had come from and how much this service had meant to me. I know WCC is smaller than WCB, but I've never talked to any pastor at my other church before after a service. They always seemed a bit removed.

I think that's what the trouble was. Everything always felt a bit removed for me at WCB. I didn't ever feel like I really connected. Something was always slightly off and tilted at the wrong angle, a bit like a picture frame that hangs 97% straight. It's almost there, but just a hair or two off.

To me, WCC was a place where people admitted that we are messed up. We are broken humans. We are not perfect. We are loved and called to love others. We do not have enough words to thank our God for what he's given us, or have enough words to convey the love He has for us and us for Him.
It's been very rare that I've had such a full feeling in my soul. It's like feeling the most alive you can feel and then some. You can feel the energy inside of you moving. I've never had that happen in a circumstance where it was simply meant to tell me I was in the right place and Welcome Home. I'm hoping that this continues and I'm able to really make a small place for myself at Willow Chicago, hopefully with the community. I want to get to know these people and I can't wait to go back.

Thank you, those of you who stuck with me while I shared this. Normally I don't post too much about my faith, but it is important to me, and this particular joy needed to be shared. It's definitely given me the strength I need to go forward during the next week of full fledged classwork.


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