Freckle Face. Carrot Top. Shrimp. Two by Four. Trailer Trash. These were all labels I received as a child.
I have always felt like the odd one out. Look at me and you’d say that is rediculous. I am not a minority (though I have lived in a country where I was, in race, language, and religion). I come from a loving family, have parents that are still together. Middle class, white Christian living in the Bible belt. Outsider. That is crazy.
But growing up I never felt like I fit in. I wasn’t one of those “cool kids” and I struggled to belong, my freckled face, red hair and skinny legs screaming, “pick on me!” I bounced from trying to fit in to trying to stand out, anything to be noticed and accepted. I had this gnawing emptiness inside of me, always searching to belong somewhere. Having not grown up in the church, I discovered both Jesus and His Church when I was in high school. Finally, a place to belong…or so I thought.
I didn’t know all the right “church” words, didn’t know all the Bible stories and songs the kids grew up learning. I didn’t know how to say and do all the right things that made me a good youth group kid, but I sure did try. In the process I alienated my family who didn’t share my beliefs or desire to belong to the church. I tried so hard to fit into one world that I walked away from the family I did belong to all along. I started dating a guy who was in the group of the “real” youth group kids and I thought I was in…until that relationship went south and I was the pariah of the group I tried to so hard to belong to.
It was the end of summer and I was getting ready to start my senior year, still as lost as ever. I sat on the fringes of the youth group at an outside event we were having. I don’t remember any teaching or songs from that night. I just remember the people who called me friend a few short weeks ago sitting together and laughing, excluding me. Every bit of laughter felt like a slight, like it was directed at me.
I walked away from church that night and it would be three years before I returned to the body of Christ, finding a new home at a campus ministry in college. I looked at the people who talked about love on the weekends and walked into school and showed nothing of the love of Christ to the people around them. If that was Christianity, I wanted nothing to do with it.
My college years were so full of wandering. I had a million interests and was on the outside of every group, just trying to find myself and a way into one as a real member. Pre-med, nope I didn’t belong with those smart kids. I became a dance major but never felt like I really belonged there, not in a company, not as good as the other girls. I pretended but I knew I didn’t belong there. Partying and the local music scene. I tried it but it didn’t make any happier. I even tried on churches from several denominations, sitting in the back, staying on the edges.
It took a lot of wandering and wrestling with God until I entered the building of a student ministry. The preppy college kids who had it all together still didn’t look anything like this confused emo kid who had found her way into their midst. But they loved me anyway. No, I didn’t “fit” into their world at first glance, but they made room for me. They welcomed me and helped old wounds heal.
I slowly began to see how I had been looking in the wrong place for acceptance all of my life. I looked to man to show me what acceptance looked like, what unconditional love meant. Those church kids were just like me – lost, struggling to find meaning and to know what to believe and where to belong. I expected them to have it all figured out and to be the perfect model of Christ’s love at 17. And I was surprised when they let me down? God showed me over and over again that man will always let you down. We are all sinners, all lost, all unable to love perfectly.
That is exactly why we have a God who loves those on the fringes, those who feel like they are on the outside looking in. And it isn’t just the tax collectors and prostitutes who were on the outskirts of society that the Lord changed everything for. He changed what love looks like for the church kid who doesn’t know if he believes what his parents have taught him his whole life, for the freckle-face girl who just wants someone to see her and accept her, for the minority, the disabled, the atheist, the Muslim, the refugee, the orphan, the rich, the poor….for every one of us running this human race and losing.
We all have this intimate cry in our hearts for belonging. No man is ever going to be able to fulfill that, not even the body of Christ as we will fail, too. We try, and we should try, every day to exude the love of Christ. That is why He left us here, our purpose here on earth until He returns. But it took truly seeing Him face to face in a moment of surrender in that college Baptist Student Union for me to get it. I understood the truth that there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, but that we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).
It is only in Him that those on the fringes (or who feel like they are no matter where they go), can belong.
Righteous. Beloved. A new creation. Friend. Bride. Redeemed. These were all labels I received from Christ. Accepted, just as I am. Thanks be to God.
Join the Conversation: Do you/have you every struggling with belonging or feeling like an outsider? How has Christ changed this for you? Maybe this is a call to reach out to another on the fringes with the love of Christ. Could you be the one that takes the message to one who feels like an outsider that there is a God who accepts and loves him?
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