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Fringes {The Longing for Acceptance}

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 ridiculous.  I come from a loving family and have parents who are still together.  I'm a middle-class, white Christian living in the Bible Belt.  Why would I feel like an outsider? 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 longed to wear the name brands other kids donned so I could blend into the background, even while I loved being known for my unique talents as a dancer or one of the smart kids. 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 people when I was in high school.  Finally, a place to belong...or so I thought. I didn't know all the right "church" words or the Bible stories and songs the kids grew up learning.  I didn't know how to say and do all the right things which made me a good youth group kid. So, I put everything I had into learning. I was at every service and class. I checked all the boxes that allowed me to be noticed as a "good Christian"—don't cuss or party, go to the Bible clubs at school, tell people about Jesus, date the right "good guys," In the process, I alienated my family who didn't share my beliefs or desire to belong to the church.   Fast forward was the end of summer before my senior year. I was still as lost as ever—though I pretended that having all the "right" answers about faith meant I was in on the secret of belonging. I sat on the fringes of the crowd of some outside gathering. I don't remember any teaching or songs from that night.  

I just remember the people who called me friends a few short weeks ago sitting together and laughing, excluding me.  I'd lost their favor when that "right guy" moved on to another girl and I was no longer welcome in their little clique. Every bit of laughter between them felt like a slight—their inside jokes casting me as the outsider. Again. 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 around me 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.  I bounced between majors, between friend groups. I tried on the local music scene and the local church. I slipped in and out of identities. All of them fit like last year's hand-me-downs I grew up wearing. It took a lot of wrestling with God until I linked up with another friend who felt like a misfit and entered the student ministry building.  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 broken and wounded, 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.  I spent so long believing God loved those on the margins, but someone with privilege like me had to earn her own way.

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 chameleon who tries to fit into whatever mold will win her praise. For every one of us running this human race and losing. We all have this intimate cry in our hearts for belonging.  No man will ever be able to fulfill that, not even the community we call the Body of Christ. We get it wrong, too.  We try, and we should try, every day to live out the love of Christ.  That is why he created this messy, beautiful group of people who bear his name. At a time when more people are walking away from the church forever, I am running toward it. Yes, she wounds people still. But she also heals people every day, too. And if I can be part of making that difference and building something that will create a real place to belong for a scared kid like I was—I'll spend my life trying.

I still believe 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 her?

*This essay was first published in 2016 on AltarWorks. Edited and re-published January 2024.


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