Archive for the Category » Jesus Time «

Tuesday, December 15th, 2015 | Author:

I remember being in college, and learning that one of my old junior high students from the youth group I helped with had had his mother die. On Christmas day. Their dad was already out of the picture and life was already hard.

For a story I wrote earlier this year (which will be published at a later date), I sat in an interview with a man who told me his mom and his dad sat them down to tell him and his brother that his mother was having an affair with their friend’s dad. It was Christmas day when they told the boys this. “We took the tree down after that,” he said. “Christmas was over.”

Just this past week, a guy I know from my hometown had his dad unexpectedly pass away. And the week before that a gal I went to school with had her little four-month-old baby die in his sleep.

But here comes Christmas and while no one means it in a confrontational way, the messages all around us tell us that everything is, or should be “merry and bright.”

Ideally, our families would all get along and our Christmas days would be Merry and Bright — our tree would shine with the hundreds of starry lights, and our front lawns would be covered in snow, and our bellies would be full from good food and would laugh heartily, merrily, if you will, from all the joy of the day and the good news that Jesus is born and Santa came.

But sometimes Christmas — like many other days that have no name aside from “monday” or “today” — is a hard day to get through. Sometimes the whole Holiday Season is hard to get through. When everyone is bustling around looking joyful in their instagram pictures and you are hurting and aching inside and you feel like you just want to hide under a rock until January when it’s finally acceptable to be “hard and dull” again.

Sometimes, our worlds are quite dark despite — sometimes because of — Christmas time.

But this is what I know. Christmas is a symbol of light in darkness. The bright does not have to be merry, it is simply hopeful. It doesn’t even mean that things are going to be fixed now, better now — it just means that there is hope of brighter days ahead.

Whether you are religious or not, or whether you believe in God or not — that’s what Christmas is meant to be — that’s what Christmas is to me — a hopeful light in the dark sky that says, “You are real, your hard-life crap is real, and while it’s maybe really dark right now, and it feels like you’re alone, that everyone has forgotten you, that you just cannot catch a break, there is hope. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not the next day, or even the day after that, but this pain, this sadness, this aloneness gets better. There will be better days ahead. Please, know that you’re not alone. Please, know that there is hope.”

The story goes that 2,000-some-odd years ago, actually not in December, not with snow, or trees, or any brightness or merryness, a young girl completely shamed by a sex scandal, pregnant, married to a man who thought she was a liar for a time, and on the road for a last minute tax census started to go into labor. They couldn’t find a place to stay. They tried and tried, and could not catch a break. Until finally one generous (read: I think he was probably an asshole trying to do his minimum standard “good deed” for the year. Who doesn’t give up their bed to a pregnant lady in labor??) inn keeper says, “Alright fine. you can stay in the barn. Don’t mess with the animals.”

And she has a baby. Away from home. Young. Afraid (I’m certain, because who, when giving birth for the first time isn’t). Practically alone. Her mom isn’t there. The women of her village who she always had thought would be there when it came time weren’t there. And she probably had the sadness to realize that even if she was home they might not have been there, because, again, she was shamed by what everyone considered a sex scandal.

And yet there, there was this little baby. His formal name was Jesus. But they called him “Immanuel,” which means “God with us.”

That’s what Christmas is about. If you believe the story, know that it’s about God being with us. If you don’t believe in God, know that it’s about the fact that still, you are not alone. That there is hope. Hope, even in the midst of dark, dark, nights where you can’t catch a freaking break.

For those whose Christmas times are feeling Merry and Bright — please try to reach out, spread that brightness to those in the dark nights.

For you for whom Christmas is a hard time, I believe that God is with you. My prayer is that you will feel that to be true, even when it feels hard and dull.


 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, December 01st, 2015 | Author:

“Name ten people you met this week,” he said to us. We were sitting in a dining room in South Africa. We’d just come back from a couple weeks in Malawi, Africa, and we were debriefing in Johannesburg before returning home.

They’d sent us — 5 teenagers from North America — to Malawi to meet people, to see projects that were happening, to see the ways people were living and to see how things like fish ponds and irrigation systems could change their lives. Sometimes save their lives.

Malawi was in a severe state of drought. And statistically those people in the fourth poorest country in the world (2007) would run out of food half way through the dry season. Let alone running out of water.

Dave, our leader, had told us again and again — “You are the eyes and ears of 10,000 youth. Take it all in. Don’t miss it.” We were to return to the states and speak to 10,000 of our peers at a conference, trying to relay the need that existed in the world and the ways we all could help.

He said it to me as I was about to leave alone to follow a woman named Monica down a dirt path to her village. What I saw and heard for the 10,000 was that Monica doesn’t have clean water. She has a mud puddle to provide for her family, which sometimes makes them sick, and which then dries up and leaves them with nothing. I saw the trees under which her children that have died from the water-born illnesses are buried. I saw a young boy being buried there presently as I walked by. The red dirt they dug up for his grave stained my shoes and my memory.

“Name 1o people you met,” he said. So we did. The five of us went around in a circle and named 10 people we’d met and connected with in Malawi. Names like Monica, Mwabi, Immaculate and Gloria.

I went last. And when I’d finished, with tears in his eyes, he spat, “pick one that dies.”

We looked at him with hatred and confusion.

“Pick one that dies. Every one of you. Pick one that dies.”

Silence.

“Pick one that dies, because if they don’t get this help, the statistic is that one in ten won’t last this dry season. So one of your people will die. Remember that when you speak. This is not about people buying fish ponds and feeling nice. This is about people who will die if nothing changes.”

Those four words have always haunted me. Pick. one. that. dies.

It’s easy, when things are out of our face, out of our minds, out of our lives to ignore the need in the world. But when I look into their faces. When I know their names. That changes everything.

One of the men whose name I listed in that room actually did die. He died two days before I said his name. I didn’t find out for a couple of months. He had AIDS — we’d met him at an AIDS support group and he’d taught us a song about God’s goodness. It was enough to make me want to believe in God’s goodness in the face of sadness, too.

Today is giving Tuesday. If you want to give, if you want to help be the change in the world, here are some ideas how to do it.

 

DONATE:

  • Charity Water — This one is awesome. Clean water is probably the thing that is nearest and dearest to my heart. AND, I found this guy in san diego that you can follow on instagram (@thepancakedad) who is raising money for charity water. If you donate through his link HERE, 100% goes to Charity water, PLUS he’ll make you whatever customized pancake art you want (you only get a picture though, the actual pancakes go to feed his own children). It’s pretty awesome and fun.
  • World Vision has a sponsor who is matching any donations made today. You can donate a general gift that they will use where it’s most needed. You can Sponsor a child. You can help the refugee funds. Or you can purchase something from their gift catalog — as big as a well or a fish pond, or as small as a chicken. All these gifts help people in communities like the ones I’ve been to in Malawi. Donate HERE
  • World Relief — $40 provides winter wear for refugees entering the United States. “Many refugees come to the U.S. from countries with hot climates. Prepare a refugee for their first cold winter with warm coats, gloves and scarves. In light of #GivingTuesday our goal is to provide 250+ refugees with warm winter gear. Your help in giving warmth to the most vulnerable is appreciated.” DONATE HERE
  • Salvation Army — at this time of year most of your local salvation army locations do a coat drive. Donate new or gently used coats to your local store.
  • Donate/Help/Love on people around who have recently lost loved ones. The first holidays after someone passes away are incredibly tough anyway — especially if they’ve passed during this season. If you don’t know of anyone to help in this category but feel that tug on your heart, a girl that I went to middle school and high school just lost her couple month old baby who passed away in his sleep earlier this week. You can donate to her gofundme account for their funeral expenses here.

DONATE YOUR TIME AND TALENTS:

  • Hand out socks and blankets to those you see who have to sleep on the streets. This is a cold time of year and socks are some of the least donated, yet most needed items while on the streets. Other items that homeless individuals have told me they often need and don’t get — clean underwear, a towel, something healthy to eat that lasts (like a protein bar), and feminine hygiene supplies like pads and tampons.
  • Invite a struggling family (struggling with life, finances, grief, whatever) to join your family for different events and activities throughout the season. Inviting people in is a huge gift this time of year.
  • Look into your town’s local services for the homeless and what volunteer opportunities they have during this season (and beyond). Maybe you can be a greeter as people come in for a meal. Or maybe you can be the one who chops all the onions for the soup beforehand. There are lots of options with varying degrees of personal interaction so you can still be helpful without being too far out of your comfort zone if you’re wary.
  • Go buy a coffee for someone whose super busy this time of year. Seriously. Get them their cup of coffee of choice and bring it to them midday. The caffeine and your kind generosity are sure to be a help.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Category: Advent  | Leave a Comment
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 | Author:

When I was born, I was in a hurry. As my mom’s third child, she’d gone through the ordeal before. She’s one of those women that actually loved being pregnant. She felt beautiful and vibrant. She worked out and was healthy. It was a good deal for her.

But only 30 minutes after arriving at the hospital, they told her it was time to push. “What? I just got here!” was her thought. (That’s what she says when she retells the story, at least.)

They had her in the delivery room when her water broke (or maybe they broke it… I technically wasn’t there yet to know for sure). But what they saw was dark, cloudy water — the technical term is “Meconium in the fluid”, the reality is that baby me shat myself before I was born.

And while there are jokes to be made about that now, it’s actually a fairly common, but potentially dangerous predicament. When this happens, if a newborn breathes it in, and gets it into his or her lungs, it can block their airways.

I don’t know how many doctors and nurses were already in the room at this point, but when they discovered this, they started to call out the door to other doctors and nurses around. Apparently, at that point in the wee hours of the morning, there wasn’t much going on on the floor, aside from the woman delivering super fast, and her baby with bathroom problems.

When she delivered me, my mom says she looked up and there were doctors and nurses lining the walls, looking on. She said she felt like that phrase in Hebrews 12:1 about being “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” had been brought to life in the delivery room. That’s how I was brought into this world.

I suppose I’ve been in front of an audience for most of the rest of it, too.

Excelling in school always made me known to the teachers, and parents of other kids who excelled. They let me stand at a podium and address the sizable crowd at the stadium when I graduated high school.

A month later, I stood in a conference center, and shortly addressed 10,000 teenagers to talk about my recent trip to Malawi, Africa.

In college I felt like I blended in a lot more than ever before in life, only making it onto a public stage a couple of brief times to address a crowd.

But that’s just it. I feel like in every instance since being born, I’ve been in front of crowds. Not witnesses.

Witnesses witness something real — the good and the bad. They’re not a captive audience, they’re choosing to be onlookers. They’re seeing the realness of everyday life happen, not contrived speeches or scripted talks. Not awards ceremonies or graduations. They’re not seeing public-presentation you, they’re seeing you.

When it was announced in front of my home church that I’d been involved in “an inappropriate relationship” with a pastor for many years, since my teens, it was the first time since being born where I wasn’t in front of the crowd. I sat among them as an apology statement was read. And I sat among them in the coming months as I wept through every church service I attended in that building.

I was among a few of them as they welcomed me into their life group. It was a group made up mostly of couples in their 50s and 60s, and they told me they wanted me there.

I was among them as a few invited me over to dinner. To lunch. To decorate cookies with their children.

I was with one, my therapist, as I sat in her office each week, struggling, defensive, broken, reeling, seeking, questioning, accepting.

I was with some in cafes. I was with some in their homes abroad as they welcomed me in after years apart.

And because of the internet, as I’ve started to write again, as I’ve started to present myself publicly again, I again have people who are not just in close proximity of everyday life who are looking on. But this time, I am trying (and I think — hopefully — succeeding) to do it different. I’m trying to give the public venues (my blog) my real, raw self. I’m trying to invite people to be onlookers, not an audience. To be friends, not a readership.

And what I’ve found is an incredible result. I feel like, in the ways I push myself to write what’s raw and in-process and unresolved in me and my journey, that I have again found myself with a great cloud of witnesses.

People who are there on the sidelines of my journey watching, rooting me on. I am not on big stages talking to lots of people about grand things I’m doing in the world. I’m alone, at home, pouring myself out in words about the ways I struggle or the things I’m discovering. And I feel more loved and supported in this chapter of life than I ever have before.

Because I have this great cloud of witnesses, I press on, toward the goal of living the best life possible, being the best me I can be in and to the world. And I believe that that’s what I’ve been called to. It’s not easy. It feels like (and certainly is) a never-ending journey.

But you, my people who love and support me, who tell me you want to see me happy and successful, you who are glad for me as I struggle and do find my way — I am so, so thankful for you. You help me know that I am not alone as I journey on, even if the journey is a solo venture sometimes.

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.


 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015 | Author:

This is not an opinion on the passing of the marriage equality law.

This is not an opinion on homosexuality.

This is an opinion about people who call themselves christians. And the heavy weight that entails.

 

In my blog post a few weeks back, I wrote, “even with all my qualms, and doubts, and wounds from the church, I would still call myself a christian.”

It physically made my chest cavity hurt to write that sentence. Because as I have found myself on the outskirts of the church — sometimes by my own choosing, sometimes not — I have begun to see more clearly what the church looks like to the rest of the world. What christians look like to the rest of the world. And I have found myself relating more to those on the outside of the church — especially those who used to belong to the church and got hurt or disillusioned and left — than I relate to those inside.

The christianese language sounds foreign and fake to me though it once spilled out of my mouth with fluidity.

Similarly the ways the church talks about and approaches problems and hardships in life feels not just unnatural, but fake as well. Though I have lost touch with the church culture, I have not lost touch with the personality of God and his son. And I’m seeing more and more and more how much of a disparity there is between mainstream American christian and church culture and the personality of God.

And then there’s this: there’s a commandment — one of those ten big rules to live by in the Christian and Jewish life — You shall not use the name of the Lord in vain.

I grew up with that being explained as why we don’t say “Oh my God” or “Jesus Christ” as an exclamation.

For a long time I would notice each and every time someone around me said either of those. I didn’t mind it if they weren’t a christian, because I understood that those that do not follow a belief system should not be held up to the specific standards of said belief system.  But I still noticed it.

Then, a few years back, I was working for a church in San Diego in youth ministry and I came upon this study about the 10 commandments. When it came to the “do not take the name of the Lord in vain” command, I was blown away by the authors’ interpretation.

He said that the commandment is about misrepresenting God, not saying “Oh my God.”

And what had once been the most trivial of the commandments became one of, if not the most important commandment to me.

When you do things in the name of God that have no business with God, you are breaking this command.  When you spread hate in God’s name, you are misrepresenting the character and name of God. When you are vicious to the world that God so loves, you are dragging his name through the mud. When apartheids and slavery and crusades and protests at funerals and wishing ill on a people group and refusing to acknowledge someone’s humanity and refusing to forgive and standing up for a cause that is against people not for people all take place in the name of God — that name is sullied — for some people beyond repair.

The world is full of people who think they have been hurt by God, simply because the “people of God” hurt them using His name.

And this fills my throat with hot bile and my eyes with hot tears. Because that is not who God is. And if you are in the business of misrepresenting God to the world, you are not an agent of God.  You are worse than the merchants at the temple gates charging too much for sacrificial animals — the people whose actions Jesus so detested that he threw their tables and scattered their goods. The peaceful Jesus, the Son of Peace, is also a son of Justice, and when people’s actions under the guise of being “from God” keep people away from God, he will not stand for it. He will make a scene. Because as far as I can tell, there is nothing that angers God more than people hurting people and doing it in His name.

The repercussions are biblically harsh for people who lead others away from God, either by misinformation (i.e. the Prosperity gospel which doesn’t pan out anywhere where pain or hardship spring up) or by harm (like hateful words or actions).

It pained me to say I was a christian — which pained me then further to have that realization — because one, I want to make severely sure that if I call myself by the name of God that I am not misrepresenting Him. And two, because the label “christian” is so saturated by those who misrepresent the God who by his own definition is Love.

I don’t have an ending to this. It’s something I needed to air and get off my chest and challenge you with as I am challenged by it as well. The next time you speak or act in God’s name, please take into consideration that this is a huge command. If you have an opinion that you are not sure aligns with God’s, call it your own, not a “christian opinion.” It’s time we all stopped using God’s word, God’s will, and God’s name as an umbrella excuse to act and spout what we will without room for challenge.

We shall not misrepresent God. We shall not hate or harm in the name of God. We shall not keep people away from God.

I’m practicing this in my own life as well. It takes some guts to say what I think, not what I think God says. My hope is that what I think will align with God thinks often, but if it doesn’t, I’ve not marred His name or his reputation in the process. It’s up to me to own my own thoughts and actions. The higher power I believe in is not an excuse for any of my attitudes or behaviors. And I will not label them as such. God is love. If I am less than that, it is because of me, not Him.

To those who have been hurt by myself or another “christian” misrepresenting God: I’m so, so sorry.

To those that are gay, black, female, poor, of a different religion, or anyone who the church (including me) has outcast, ignored, or persecuted — I am sorry. My heart is changing. I am praying for the heart of the church to change. But I am certain that the heart of God has not changed — He loves you. I’m sorry if you’ve been fed a message that is different than that. It’s a lie.

He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. And He tells us, the hypocritical christians, to love you and one another as well. Not only in our hearts, but in our actions, in our lives.


 

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, June 09th, 2015 | Author:

6248742474_997d54ee34photo credit: Lower Floor. via photopin (license)

I met a man in Seattle recently. His name was Sean.

He was in Pike’s Place market, his worn backpack and layers the only things suggesting he was without a place to stay. I may have taken him for a wary tourist if he had not been asking loudly, in the general direction of the crowds passing by, “Can anyone spare enough money for a cold drink?”

I passed right by him, and when I looked up to meet his face, he was looking elsewhere. My eyes didn’t linger, didn’t spend any extra energy trying to meet his gaze. I passed on, and his tone got louder, his voice hoarse and raspy. “Can anyone spare some change? Please! Does anyone have enough money for a cold drink?”

I sauntered by another flower stand. Then by a produce section. Then by a small fish stand, not the famous one. Then by another artisan’s table.

All the while I could hear him. He was shouting now. Not an angry shout, but a sad, desperate shout. By the time I got back to him, his dry voice was shaking and begging the crowds that just kept passing by.

Regardless of my issues with the church, my wounds and my past, my distrust of people, and my serious questions about the Bible, I still would call myself a Christian. A God lover. And there is one thing I don’t have questions about from the Bible and the character of God. He says clearly, “I will say to you, you saw me naked and you clothed me, when I was thirsty you gave me a drink…as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me.”

And I know I’m undoing any karma or glory or whatever by telling you this, so believe me, I know it — it’s not to brag, and I’m fine with not getting anything from this. That’s not why I did it.

I did it because I had those words pop into my head, and I had this vision of this thirsty man, yelling with his parched voice, and no one, myself included taking the time to even acknowledge his humanity. Even if they didn’t give him anything, he was literally yelling for help and everyone was walking by ignoring him. He was thirsty, a basic human need that hits very, very close to my heart, and I hadn’t paused as I had walked by.

I’m telling you this because I’m ashamed of it. I’m pained that my first response was to ignore that tug in my chest, that churn of my gut, and to keep walking. To keep ignoring the yells for help right in front of me.

How will I ever pay attention to the yells for help that I can’t hear around the world — the “Please, I need something to drink” pleas around the world — if I blatantly and heartlessly walk past the one shouting in my ear at the Pike’s Place market in Seattle?

I don’t know.

As I was in front of the artisan’s table several shops down and I could still hear his soft, but urgent yelling, desperation in his voice, I had a serious moment with myself where I said “What the F— do you think you are doing??”

I’ve had moments like this before. Where I feel the urge to help, the nudge to engage, and I walk by. And I still feel it as I walk farther and farther and I’m too embarrassed to turn back, so I continue to ignore it. I still think about several of those moments years later.

This time, I was more disgusted with myself than ashamed, and I had to fix it.

“Hi,” I said, as he stopped his pleading to the crowd when he saw me approaching.  “I don’t hand out money,” I said apologetically.

“No, no, that’s ok,” he cut me off. “I just need a cold drink.”

“Sure. So, let’s go somewhere, and I’ll get you whatever you want,” I finished my first thought.

I again reiterated he could have anything he wanted. He literally got a $2.50 fountain drink. He filled his glass with cold water first and downed it, and then filled the second with ice and soda.

We did not have any significant interaction as we got his drink. I learned a little bit of his story. He a little bit of mine. We’re both from near Sacramento, and we’re both on journeys that we didn’t want to have to begin. We’ve both missed what we thought we’d find, and are trying to figure out what’s next.

My life right now is asking people to talk to me, to share their stories. It is my life to listen and then write and validate.  But I passed by a man literally crying out to be heard and helped.

It cost me $2.50 to fix someone’s thirst. But more importantly, it cost me nothing to look him in the eye, speak to him, and validate his existence.

When I think about it, I’m still extremely frustrated with my reactions. I still have a long, long way to go on this journey. And if I get thirsty along the way, I hope there will be people quicker to hear than I was.

Sometimes the people or circumstances around us are mirrors, and this moment was a mirror in which I saw that what’s in there is still kind of ugly. That I still have a good deal more work to do to be the person I want to be in the world. They’re not fun moments — those mirrors — but they’re necessary.


 

If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon        storyofjoblog@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 | Author:

“Do you know of any churches in Denver?” I texted a pastor I know from California when I had just moved to Denver last fall.

He texted back right away: “Scum of the Earth Church. Pastor is Mike Sares. We went there last summer. If you want to go, I’ll let him know you’re coming.”

“It’s f—ing hard to find a church when I don’t trust the church,” I thought to myself, frustration welling up.

“Thank you. I’ll go tomorrow,” I texted back.

Then I found the tears rolling down my cheeks as I sat at the table alone in my new apartment, overwhelmed at the thought of trying another new church. Getting to know people who would eventually have to know my story if I was to be known. And knowing that with telling my story, I might be judged, outcast, burned again.

I pulled my laptop out right then and wrote the blog post from last fall that I titled “I don’t trust the church (but I wish I did).” Many of you have read and commented on that blog post, and in the responses, I have realized that I am not alone in my distrust of the church, of religion, of pastors.

But I went to Scum of the Earth church the next day after I first typed out that blog post.

While driving by where it was supposed to be, I did see one church kind of looking building between a dirty alleyway and a house, it didn’t have any sign saying “Church” or anything at all, actually. No signs. So I wasn’t sure that was it.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI parked and walked back, asking the people in patched vests smoking on the steps if this was the “scum of the earth church.” It was, so I slipped in and found a seat while the folks inside were singing in the dimmed light. A little girl, maybe 6 or 7 years old, danced barefooted and beautiful in the open space in front of the worship band.

Soon, a big, white-haired Greek man got up to the microphone at the front.

“We have something we do a few times a year here at scum, and it is consistently one of the most important things we do. That’s tonight. Tonight we are having our “story night” and we have a few people who will share their stories with us.”

I was interested, immensely, because I love stories. But also somewhat skeptical — I had images of “I was doing bad stuff, and God saved me, and now my life is awesome and I have no problems” testimonies. I was prepared to discretely walk out if that was the case.

But instead, three or four people shared their scarred stories, and none of them were just about some sort of conversion of how they “came to Jesus.” Rather, they were their personal stories. Stories of them as whole people, not as “good christians.” Stories that didn’t have pretty bows to tie around them at the end.

The stories did involve their relationships with God — sometimes how they started to get intrigued about God. Sometimes how they met him. Sometimes how they wanted to follow him, how they wanted to accept His love, but how the dark draw of cocaine, of men, of alcohol, of resentment and pain over the wrongs done to them made it a rocky pursuit at best.

Not that their pursuit of God used to be rocky but now was great. But the fact that one woman still was fighting the urge to not go out and F— some random man a few weeks ago after church to temporarily fill that void, that ache. The stories felt real. And in the midst of conflict. In the midst of wrestling. In the midst of the battle between I-want-to-love-and-follow-God and this-world-has-screwed-me-over-and-it-sometimes-feels-like-I’m-dying.

The church itself is not what I’m used to. It’s a conglomeration of church styles and ideologies, not many of which fit what I’ve grown up in.

But what I found during story night was a church who was willing to be honest about the struggle. Not the I-used-to-struggle-but-now-God-has-saved-me, but the I-am-currently-struggling. A church that is willing to be honest about the messes of life, and be a safe place for people to admit that they are sinners, that they are hurting, that they are doubting, that they are wrestling.

And I have never seen another church like that. I have never seen an entire church that can be honest about flaws. That can be honest about life. That enables the people in it and around it to not pretend to be better than they are.

There are still challenging messages about how we can and often should do things differently. How we can allow God to better us and heal us. But the bleeding wounds of the church people’s souls don’t have to be ignored or hidden there. And that is the most important thing I need in a church right now.  That’s why I stayed.

I sat down with Mike, the pastor, the other day and he asked, “did you ever go check out other churches?”

I told him the same thing: No. I saw that you could handle struggles in honesty. And that’s the most important thing I need right now.

Though I think I told him then, as I told them the very first night 7 months earlier: I like this church. But I hate the name. Scum of the Earth? Really? That’s not how God sees us. But I’ll overlook it because of your church’s honesty about life.

I went to dinner after that first church service with Mike and his wife and several others from the church. And I told them my story. “So, I don’t really trust the church, or pastors right now,” I said.

And without missing a beat, Mike, this new Pastor I had just met said: “I don’t blame you. I wouldn’t trust the church or pastors either.”

Again, he and the church seemed willing to have people be honest about where they were on the path. Not just in a general message from the front, but at dinner at Pete’s Greek Town to me, specifically. They were giving me permission: I didn’t have to pretend to be better off, or farther along than I was. I was welcome. And I was welcome to be honest. As was the rest of the church.

When you look around the church, about half of the people look like the outliers of society — the punks, the goths, the homeless. They have different colored and styled hair, lots of large plugs and piercings, tattoos galore.

The other half of the people look like they’d fit in well in clean, professional social circles. You could find people who look like them in bulk in any church on a sunday morning — well dressed, they sit up straight, speak with an educated tone, and their classic-ness gives them the “good church people” air. I’ve always found this mix of the type of people in Scum curious, but valuable.

And as I sat in the back of the church on Easter sunday, I noticed that someone a few seats down from me smelled heavily of BO. And I noticed that a woman across the aisle smelled freshly of sweet perfume. And I realized as I looked around, as I’ve gotten to know peoples’ stories there, why it’s called Scum of the Earth church.

Because it is for those who society thinks, the church thinks, or they themselves think that they look like scum on the outside, or that they are scum on the inside.

And it was the first time I realized and admitted how scum-like I have felt over the past few years.

This church, it has brought me up a bit farther out of the cesspool. It has given me space to be honest from day one about who I am, where I have been, and the fact that I’m still wrestling. That I’m still doubting and questioning. That I’m still distrusting, and they said, “you’re welcome to be all of those things here. We are and have been all of those things, too.”

I get it now.

I’ll be sad to leave Scum as I move on in a few weeks. They have taught me that it is not a sin to be honest about life and struggle in the church. They have restored some hope to me about what a church could be.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, April 07th, 2015 | Author:

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I met him once, briefly.

“Sit, with the opportunity to listen to one of the ‘saints in the land’ speak… this morning,” were the chaplain’s closing remarks of introduction before Brennan took the stage.

“In the words of Francis of Assisi as he met brother Dominique on the road to Umbria: ‘Hi,'” he began in a slow, measured voice with a grin.

The crowd exhaled in full laughter, their air having been held in their lungs a little too seriously during the astounding and gracious introduction about him was given.

Brennan Manning, christian author and speaker, was in his 70’s and his light blue eyes had already gone blind. His friend and traveling companion had to lead him up the carpeted stairs of the stage to the podium from which he would address our sleepy-eyed college-student selves. It was a Wednesday in early January, 2010.

It was the first chapel session that I had attended at my christian college since being back from my year studying abroad. I didn’t know that Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and grace-touter extraordinaire was to be the speaker.

But he was. As soon as our Chaplain began introducing him, my heart and ears opened.

I’d first encountered Brennan’s name and face when I was about 11 or 12 years old.

I was at the Christian book store with my mom, and a book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, caught my eye as it stared up at me from a “15% off” table in the center aisle. I picked up the book, and flipped it over to find a picture of Brennan looking back at me. He had wrinkled skin and white hair, and the short bio said that he lived in New Orleans.

I was impressed that a straight-laced looking, older Christian author lived in a place I only knew of for it’s debauchery on Mardi Gras.

When I first heard the news of Hurricane Katrina hitting the city in August 2005, I immediately thought of him and prayed for him and any family he may have there. I had not thought of him or his book at all since seeing that copy of the book several years before, but somehow, the information had stuck: There was a ragamuffin christian who lived in New Orleans. May God have mercy.

When I was in my early college years, I had been fully entrapped in the cycle of abuse and lies that my story unfortunately holds. Dying on the inside, feeling like I was never, never good enough to get out of the cycle, I found Brennan’s Ragamuffin Gospel again, and read it. Consumed it. I didn’t understand grace all of the way yet, but I knew, I knew I needed it.

And as I sat in the auditorium of my christian college, and as Brennan began to speak his famous message of grace, I was ready. I was familiar with grace now. I had realized that the grace of God on the hurting, the dirty, the trapped, the grieving, the sinning, the I-want-to-be-different-than-I’m-able-to-be’s was the only thing keeping me afloat. And Brennan’s words drenched me that morning.

I went up to him afterward, tears streaming down my face and urgency in my shaking voice as I spoke to him.

I don’t even know what I said to him, aside from “thank you, thank you so much for your message of grace today and in life.”

But I do remember that as he faced me, he took both of my arms, and clasped them right about at the elbow, holding our forearms parallel to one another’s as we spoke. He looked me in the eyes, though he could not see and his blue eyes were cloudy. They began to fill with tears in our short interaction. He thanked me, I thanked him, and we parted ways.

I didn’t think of Brennan the person (though I did use his books often) much for the next few years, until almost exactly 3 years later, when my life imploded, and the shrapnel of shame and pain went flying, lodging into anyone nearby.

About a week into the aftermath of that time in my life, in hours of searching through the book store for something to distract or help, I found it: Brennan’s memoir. It hadn’t been finished yet at the point I had met him, but I knew, this would be the book of the season.

The book is titled: All is Grace.

The reason Brennan knew grace so intimately is that he was such a “ragamuffin” (of his own naming). Ragamuffin meaning, one whose only prayer could be “God grant mercy on my soul, a sinner.”

In the beginning of the book, he writes this: “Warning: Mine has been anything but a straight shot, more like a crooked path filled with thorns and crows and vodka. Prone to wander? You bet. I’ve been a priest, then an ex-priest. Husband, then ex-husband. Amazed crowds one night and lied to friends the next. Drunk for years, sober for a reason, then drunk again. I’ve been John the beloved, Peter the coward, and Thomas the doubter all before the waitress brought the check.”

In his ruthless honesty about pain, about grief, about short-comings and sins, and shameful things, Brennan walked me through his life, and I found light in the broken places.

In a poem by  Leonard Cohen, it’s written: “There is a crack in everything. // That’s how the light gets in.” That’s what I found in those pages — a testament that God loved my cracked self, and that he could pour light and grace into me, and hopefully, maybe one day, out of me as well.

Brennan’s honesty of his story was a tiny shimmer of light in a very dark season.  I took my time over several months to read through the book. But I was finally finishing it on my way back from a trip to Israel in April 2013 when I heard the news — Brennan had passed away. I sat on the plane and cried a few silent tears. Tears for a man who was broken, who failed often, and who God used in huge ways to tell the world about the message of grace and love.

To this day, Brennan is one of the few Christian leaders who I would wholeheartedly recommend because of his ruthless honesty about who he has been, who God is, and that when you match those two up, the only conclusion is this: All is Grace.

——- ——— ——-

There’s a movie that’s about to be made about Brennan and his life which I’m really excited to recommend. It’s called “Brennan.” You can keep your eyes out for it to watch it, but more than that, there’s the unique opportunity to help it get created.

The movie is being made by the same folks that created the film “Ragamuffin” a couple years ago about Rich Mullins’ life (which was, obviously, one of the lives touched by Brennan Manning’s message of grace for the outcasts of the world). If you know me, you know I sort of despise christian movies, but I’m really, really, really looking forward to this one. They will execute it well, and it’s a story well-worth telling and knowing.

 ——- ——— ——-

Lastly, this is Brennan’s “A Word Before” note at the beginning of his memoir:

All Is Grace was written in a certain frame of mind — that of a ragamuffin.

Therefore,

This book is by the one who thought he’d

be farther along by now, but he’s not.

It is by the inmate who promised the parole

board he’d be good, but he wasn’t.

It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path

to others but kept losing his way.

It is by the wet-brained who believed if a

little wine is good for the stomach,

then a lot is great.

It is by the liar, tramp, and thief; otherwise

known as the priest, speaker, and author.

It is by the disciple whose cheese slid

off his cracker so many times

he said “to hell with cheese ’n’ crackers.”

It is by the young at heart but old

of bone who is led these

days in a way he’d rather not go.

But,

This book is also for the gentle ones

who’ve lived among wolves.

It is for those who’ve broken free of collar

to romp in fields of love and marriage and divorce.

It is for those who mourn, who’ve been

 mourning most of their lives,

yet they hang on to shall be comforted.

It is for those who’ve dreamed of entertaining angels

but found instead a few friends of great price.

It is for the younger and elder prodigals

who’ve come to their senses

again, and again, and again, and again.

It is for those who strain at pious piffle

because they’ve been swallowed by Mercy itself.

This book is for myself and those who have been around

the block enough times that we dare to whisper

the ragamuffin’s rumor —

all is grace.


If you’d like to support the Story Project (to cover travel expenses, costs of Stories for those who can’t afford it, etc.) you can do so below or contact me at storyofjoblog@gmail.com if you’d like to send a check. Thank you for your support! 

 To Donate to Stories By Jo: The Story Project click below


Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014 | Author:

If I’m honest — which I am — homesickness is the cause of my current wandering-life phase. I’ve been saying that I’m searching for a place that feels like home. I didn’t know of any that still existed for me until one night not too long ago.

I was staying with my parents in my hometown one night, but I was coming in from an appointment in the next town over. I had a lot on my mind and I was just driving on autopilot. When I had arrived and parked my car, I went to reach for the handle to get out when I realized where I was — I was at my old apartment.

An apartment I haven’t lived in now for a year and a half. I have lived 4 places in 4 cities since I left that apartment.

It was the apartment I moved into when I had graduated college and moved back to my hometown. It was the apartment where I first paid for my utilities, where I first learned where I got the best reception with my TV antennae, where I first furnished and decorated a home from top to bottom on my own.

It’s the apartment where I first lived alone. Where I first made all my meals for myself – no dining hall, no cafeteria, just me and my printed out recipes.

It’s an apartment down the street from the jail, with sketchy neighbors who are on parole, and some parolees whom I had gotten to know and become friends with. It’s an apartment with security screens on every door, with the cops coming by several times a week for some call or another.

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It’s an apartment with blue walls in one room because I painted them that way. With extra shelves in the closets because I built them myself. With a doorknob that I bought on the front door because I locked myself out and had to have the locksmith come and drill the lock through and replace it. With a small exposed nail on the front of the kitchen sink where the tiling had broken off before I moved in. I used that nail as peg to hang my pot holders from.

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It’s an apartment with a view of Table Mountain and the Oroville O, with a view of the trains that chug by in the distance. It’s both walking distance to the Oroville forebay where I learned to sail as I was moving in, and to the Feather River, where the stone picnic tables served as my desk as I journaled through some of the hardest thoughts of my life.

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It’s 1.3 miles from the Youth Center I helped open, and 4.4 miles from the church I used to work at and belong to. It takes 7 minutes to drive to my parents house from this apartment. Always. It is a 2 minute drive (including the time to walk down the stairs and to the car) to the nearest Red Box at 7/11, allowing me to watch a rented movie until 8:58 before I had to pull it out and leave to return it before I got charged again.

It’s the apartment where I first defined home as being anything aside from my parents house. The town was always my home, but in terms of within Oroville, it was the first place of my own that I meant when I said “I’m going home now.” The dorm rooms of college had just never felt that way to me, and I’d been intentional about my vocabulary — I don’t know if my college roommates ever noticed, but I never referred to those dorm rooms and college apartments as home. “I’m going back to the room,” I’d say, or “Are you at the apartment?” Never, never, “I’ll see you at home.” Because home was somewhere in a podunk town in Northern California. Period.

And this apartment, this afforded me the chance to both be an independent adult with a home of their own, and to still call my hometown home.

But then life changed. Old normal in that Oroville life feels like a long lost memory. I’ve sold most of my possessions that filled that old apartment.  I’ve had different jobs since then. I’ve moved to different cities. I go to other churches. I rent movies from different Red Boxes and I have different people sitting in my apartment during movies and game nights.

 

But in the midst of getting lost in my thoughts as I drove, my internal compass took over and led me here. It led me home. Only it wasn’t my home anymore.

And while I have felt homesick for a couple years as my life changed so drastically, this moment as I sit in the parking lot in my old usual spot looking up at really the only last remnant of my old life, I feel sad. I feel more homesick than before. Because there it is, my home, in the most literal sense of the word. The place where I lived and slept and cooked and bathed and let me body and mind and heart rest and take shelter from the world.

And I hadn’t realized that my heart, that my internal compass still believed that, still missed that. But here I am, and it’s not my home anymore. It’s someone else’s.

I take a few moments to just look up at the front door before I turn the car on, back out, and drive away, tears rolling down my cheeks, grieving another loss — this time of a place I didn’t even know I missed.

Because the reality is that the places where we do life — where we share moments and let our hearts settle in with our bodies to a place we embrace as home — those places mean something. They’re just a place, but they’re the setting where our lives unfold.  And when the rest of life may change or be gone, you can still accidentally “drive home” and end up in those old places. It’s like visiting the grave on a chapter of life once it’s passed. But sometimes it’s good to have those monuments.

Maybe that’s one of the most beautiful parts of the world — that the land itself keeps on existing — despite our times, despite our pains and gains — it continues on, one of the only constants available to us.

Grief for people is of course the most powerful, the most full of agony and meaning. But grief for places — places we lose, places we leave, places we see change — that is still grief in it’s own right. It’s taken me a lot of life to realize how true that is.

As I’ve been back in Oroville this month for the holidays, it has been hard, and feels foreign in a lot of ways, but it’s also been healing to drive the streets that I know well enough that I know every curve, every pot hole and patch where it floods. To be in the place where I know which post office to go to for what things. The place where I know someone everywhere I go. The place where I walk into a hamburger joint I’ve been going to since I was born and they ask “Where have you been? We haven’t seen you in a while!” and the Mexican restaurant where they know that I’m the one in the family that changes up my drink order every time while the rest stay the same.

It’s a place that I love. While the sense of home is gone, the memory of it in this place is not.

 

I’m beginning to understand that in the Christian tradition, the meaning of Christmas isn’t just about the fact that God so loved the people in the world that he sent his son, Jesus.

God so loved the world — the place too. He could love us from afar, but only in a physical place could he walk with us, cry with us, touch us, heal us. The fact that the birth of Jesus happened in a place – in a feeding trough, in a stable, at an inn, in Bethlehem. And that while time and the world have changed, the place remains. That is a holy thing. And it is a human thing. Because places are the stage where the intermingling of our hearts and bodies and lives and time all take place. And that means that places matter. To God and to us.

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And the story says that some day there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and if that comes to be, I hope to walk with God down my old street by the jail, and to say, “that, that right there, that’s where my home was,” and I imagine he’d take my arm, and let me rest my head on his shoulder as he sadly, nostalgically says, “I know, Jo. I was there with you. I know.” And then like the other night, we’ll turn away and keep walking toward the hope of a new home someday — except that someday will have arrived.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Author:

I was sitting in a new church, in a new city, feeling very unknown again for the umpteenth time. It was my first time to the church, and while it felt warm and welcoming, I still felt new, knowing not a single person there.

It was the end of actually a really touching, raw and honest church service, and the worship band started to play, and the song that we all began to sing was not new to me. Somehow in the singing of a common song, I felt a little less alone, a little less like a stranger. It was a song I’d sung in the past with people who knew me as well as you can know a person. It was a song I’d sung before when I was new in a church, feeling uncomfortable. It was a song I’d sung on my own, in my bedroom while journaling through some dark times.

I knew the song well, and it seemed to know me in my broken moment.

These are the lyrics:

 

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains
One thing remains

 

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me
Never runs out on me
Never runs out on me

 

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

 

In death, in life, I’m confident and
Covered by the power of your great love
My debt is paid, there’s nothing that can
Separate my heart from Your great love

And I stood there singing this song that I knew so well when all of a sudden I realized something about it for the first time.

At the end of the second verse, as it goes into the chorus again, these are the words: “I never ever have to be afraid… one thing remains… your love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.”

As I sung those words, I realized that to me, what I’ve been meaning when I sing this is a reminder to myself: I don’t have to be afraid, God’s love never runs out on me. But not in the “We ran out of money now we don’t have any” way, but in the “my dad ran out on us” way.

I had never realized before that I’m afraid that love will run out on me. That those who love me will leave. That the God who created me would just decide that I’ve been taking too long, wandering too far, questioning too much, and that he would decide it wasn’t worth it to chase me anymore. I never would’ve voiced that before, but that’s the deep fear, the deep ache of things too scary to think about — that maybe God’s love, and others people’s love will run out on me.

And in terms of other people, that’s a real fear, because it’s a real possibility. I’m learning to trust people with my heart again, but that piece is still there.

But with God I’d never realized that that was a fear of mine as well. That’s not based in truth, or in experience. It’s just fear. And this song, that line, it speaks to those vulnerable, fearful places deep inside me and reminds me of what’s true: I don’t have to be afraid, God’s love will never run out on me. And it will never run out on you.

My favorite image of God is based in an old English poem I found tucked away in a book at my Uncle’s cabin one year, and it has stayed with me ever since. It’s called “The Hound of Heaven.” God is the hound of heaven, like a relentless dog that pursues and pursues and pursues us, across ages and spaces. We don’t have to run to God. I really believe that. We just have to stop running away and let him catch us.

This hound of heaven picture is what I know to be true of God — that he not just won’t run out on me… he’ll run after me. And he’ll never stop. His love is ferocious in it’s pursuit, relentless in it’s goal, and gentle in it’s touch.  That’s what I know of God.

His love never fails, never gives up, never runs out on me.

And that calms my fears more than anything else ever could.

 

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

instagram: @jrolicious         twitter: @jrohanlon

storyofjoblog@gmail.com
Tuesday, October 14th, 2014 | Author:

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photo credit: Flickmor via photopin cc

This is hard for me to write, even though I’ve been saying it with my actions and body language for more than a year now.

I don’t trust the Church.

And that breaks my heart.

Like the admission, “I don’t trust my husband,” or “I don’t trust my father,” it hurts to admit because one, it’s true, and two, I wish it weren’t.

I have always loved the Church — my home church and the greater Church. I grew up in the church. The rough brick hallways and the green and purple faded carpets have known my touch, my presence since they were erected in the first couple years of my life. I have spent a massive percentage of my life within those walls.

My home church looks kind of like a prison from the outside. All gray cement blocks and massiveness in the middle of a large parking lot between two barren and vast fields of dead grass. It is lonely and unwelcoming in presence and stature. But it was home.

People said that, about it looking like a prison, and I could see what the meant, but I had personally never seen it like that. It was the place that held all of my dearest people in the world. People who had known me since I was born. People who had seen our family through some of the most trying times, including my mom’s severe illness with Lyme disease, and the sudden death of my 21-year-old sister. These were the people who had been there through it all. Not just at the church — in our homes, in our backyards, in camping trips and missions trips, in the schools, at softball games — but in the church, too. That was our common home, and I was there more than most.

Now when I drive up — which I don’t do often — I see what they mean. It looks like a prison. A prison full of beautiful people who know how to extend grace and how to love one another, mostly. But a prison none the less.

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photo credit: .brioso. via photopin cc


When I enter, I feel like I’m entering the prison. I walk through the foyer, down the aisles, and into rows of seats and I get stared at (or intentionally ignored) the whole way, like a prisoner walking down the cell block, being eyed — plotted against, sized up, respected, scared of — but being eyed none-the-less.

I take my seat and rely on the word of the warden-pastor that I am welcome there, of course. And though I know he wants it to be true, it’s not. I am not welcome. I am tolerated by most, judged and unwelcome by some, and greeted by a few (who really mean it).

The stares, glares, looks of, “Oh shit, how do I respond?” are palpable and, I am certain, mostly unconscious and involuntary.

I have a few friends who make conscious and great efforts to welcome me — to show that they won’t just tolerate my presence there, but align themselves with my presence there. They seek me out to hug me and chat, or even greater, they come and sit next to me. That’s how it was nine months ago at least. That’s the last time I could bring myself to attend a full church service there. I went one time since then, just for the worship portion, when the lights were down, and I wept and had to leave before the rest of the service continued. I wept because I so wish I could trust the church. I so wish it was still my home. I still love those people who bristle at my presence — and I love them dearly — but I know that I am not a part of them any longer. I wish I could be, but the welcoming hands and eyes of maybe 20 in a crowd of 500 is not enough. I can’t belong to a home where I am tolerated at best by the masses. It is better to be unknown.

But this is the thing, yes, that’s just one church. But that was my church. And I know those people — they are good people. Real people. People who have been through the mire of life with me. And they stiffen when I walk in, unsure if they should even look at me. Because they are human.

And the thing is, the reason why the stiffen, why they bristle, why they stare, is because they’ve been hurt by something that involved me. The reality is though — I was hurt by something that involved them.

And as I think about joining a new church, trying to find a new body of people to belong to — I have met many groups of people who are full of grace and acceptance. But I am still distrusting because while they welcome me now, I have been welcomed before. I have been known before. I have been carried through the trials of sickness and death and grief before. But then there came something that was too much, and everyone stepped away. And I was left. Unwelcome where I was once loved. Tolerated where I was once celebrated.  A threat where I was once a servant.

Not just by a few. Not just by casual church attenders. But by pastors, board members, and life long friends who I called family.

It’s not that they’re just bad people. They’re not. I know them. They’re hurt people. And hurt people hurt people.

So I’m distrusting of churches. All churches. Because they’re all made of people who have the ability to be hurt, and then to hurt.

I’m distrusting of pastors more than of churches. So the pastors that are big on grace, I’m suspicious of because it makes me think they KNOW they need grace, because they know of their depravity, and it scares me to think of the people they have hurt, or do hurt with that grace-needing depravity.

And the pastors that tote punishment, I’m wary of because, truly, I believe in grace.

And the pastors that talk of prosperity and hope, I don’t feel that they can understand the depths of the brokenness that I have drowned in.

The only ones I trust are the ones who talk honestly and openly about pain and brokenness and the God that is with us in that. But actually, in real life churches, I have yet to find those pastors.

The reason I don’t trust churches is because I don’t trust people. It just breaks my heart that it was church people who taught me to be distrusting. And it breaks my heart that I’ve taught others to be distrusting, too.

So this is me saying I’m fledgling right now. I’ve been drowning for a long time and am trying to find my way to the surface again. If you’ve got your head above the water, if you trust people and belong to the church and feel welcomed, don’t follow me.

But if you’re drowning too, if you’re distrusting and hurting and it breaks your heart, I’m trying to find a way up, and you’re welcome to come along. I can’t promise that I’ll find the most direct route, but I’m searching, and I’m trying to be honest about the journey.

And if you’re distrusting and it doesn’t break your heart, I hope it will some day. I’ve lived on both sides of this line now, and while this side feels wiser and more enlightened, the other side is more fulfilling indeed. It is a beautiful thing to trust people, and to have them be trustworthy in return.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

Other places are

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