If you would've asked me which traumatic event in my life would've been capable of sending me busting out of a Starbucks in tears, panicking and shaken and unsafe, I would've guessed, you know, that whole sexual assault thing. I mean...obviously.
But that would've made way too much sense to be a scene from my life. Because in actuality, I was minding my own business and studying Classical Mechanics at the Starbucks in Anderson, when the worst anxiety trigger in the whole world walked through the door.
(and the crowd gasped in horror)
It was my own fault. South Carolina is lousy with Christians, and it was Sunday afternoon. But the thing about these church people is not just that they're Christian; I'm Christian. I've just spent the past year of my life completely and utterly embarrassed by that fact, because I can't handle the baggage that comes with the label. My relationship with God became extremely personal this year; so much so that a once harmonious topic of conversation now has the power to disintegrate my voice into a symphony of atonal shakes and sounds. I can't talk about Jesus anymore. He is profoundly inside of me, and that is where He shall remain. Buried deeply. A constant companion, and a great comforter and friend. But this is for me to experience, and for you to mind your distance.
So, these church people. I recognized them. There was such familiarity there, almost tangible, glaringly obvious; aggressive, even. Aggressive because they all arrived at the same time, wearing blinding highlighter green t-shirts with their new service times in giant font on the back like some glorified heavenly billboard meant to litter the streets of gold upstairs; and their smiles and high-fives and "do you think the sound was extra loud today" and their iced teas and cappuccinos and their laughter and camaraderie and community and "let me tell you about Jesus, bro!"
I realized that it was too late. I had thoughtlessly chosen the one seat at Starbucks that was literally in the corner of the wall; I had cornered myself, with no hope of escape. I shuffled my papers. Everything about normal mode theory seemed unimportant and distant, and the Hillsong album pumping into my ears seemed almost woefully ironic.
Pitifully, I scampered into the bathroom and let fall the developing tears. Because I can't help but grieve for my lost community that they are so blessed to have. And I couldn't imagine that I'd ever be welcome in a group like theirs ever again.
Anyway, I managed to escape. And I cried all the way home, furious at the Great I Am for being "so mean" as to let this happen, the day before a big exam for His sake, and furious at myself for having a bad anxiety day; I had been doing so well.
So, why had I reacted like a serious PTSD victim? It surprised me, too. But I think it's because I invested the majority of my life involved in what I believed to be (and what very well may have been, for a while) a healthy, inspiring church environment with a church family who loved and accepted me just the way I was. But the more I reflect on this belief, the more diluted I find it to be. Yes, I have some deep, genuine, grace-filled, Christ-centered friendships that still exist from my years at Trinity, but there is a devastating flip-side to this coin. I've realized that nobody has made me feel worse about myself than some of my church "family." I mean, besides my own self. But, really? A church family is supposed to stand behind its members in trying times, not kick them while they're down or fire relentless accusations out of context, standing on dated scriptures and peering through narrow perspectives, spitting venom yet speaking of love. That's dysfunctional.
And dysfunctional it was. I backed away from church. And almost a year later, clearly, I'm still in an excessive amount of grief over the loss of such a deep foundation to which I had held fast. I am happy for the lovely, smiling green-shirted church people that came to Starbucks...all at the same time. I am also green, with envy. I'm tired of feeling like an outsider. It's a giant blow to anyone with a relationship with Jesus when one feels unwelcome in God's own home. It makes it difficult to establish trust, or believe in grace from what proclaims to be a gracious community.
But, I digress. I feel no better about the situation, so I'll probably go to the damn church. Otherwise, these things will keep happening. I will keep feeling terrible. Little by little, I'll start attending; I know when the new service times are, after all, thanks to the green shirts. And who knows? Maybe it'll blossom into one of those genuine communities that I crave so heavily, and I will grow because I love to do that. I will find other people like me. I will have the opportunity to share my gifts and my grace.
Or, the green-shirted people could start an exaggerated rumor that I'm a Godless lesbian with an alcohol problem.