Once she loved me. She had held my face and known me like a mother knows a child: the smirk, the thumb smearing dirt from the face, leaning her forehead into mine. She was with me. She put her hand on my back and prayed for me deep. She made a home for me, served hot bread and good wine, but it’s been a long time.
Our baby has been sick again, and I’ve travelled. I’ve fallen in love with Jesus’ people from all over. My brothers and sisters here have had to divide and conquer. I don’t have a group here anymore. On Sunday mornings, I’ve gone back to her, and when she opened the door, she didn’t know my name, and I had a hard time recognizing her face.
I haven’t known how to find my way back home.
Waking in the morning, waiting for the coffee, I’m not sure the exact thing that makes me so angry. It feels chronic, like green eyes and Scottish blood. My heart beats like stomping feet. I pour the drink and go to the quiet room for my routine time alone, my quiet time. I’ve said that I’m not afraid anymore. I threw fear off like an ugly coat. I’m afraid my fear turned to anger. I peal it back – down to the anger. Down to the fear beneath. The fear that always, every single time, opposes love.
This pilgrim thing is not my favorite part.
I cling to the ones who share my strange taste in music. I cling to those of you who write in the same vein. I touch the spines of my favorite books like pictures of old friends. Once a couple asked why I don’t ever just write what I mean. I cling to you okay with the I-don’t-knows. I keep kilter with the ones who are a little off a rocker, more comfortable on porches with ashtrays and melting ice cubes.
I don’t belong here. I’m the girl from the woods with a Bible in her hand, and I don’t always understand why I don’t much feel at home.
I walk with Jesus, and the more I do, the more homesick I am. Are you a wanderer, too?
I have friends who have never understood the struggle with love for church. I’m not sure people understand that I don’t mean THE church. The picture I have of the spotless bride of Christ (she is me), and then that after party? Oh I am so good with that. I love her now and forever. It’s just the going to church thing, like it’s a place on a mountain where God hovers like a cloud.
Church is not what happens on Sunday mornings, is it? Is it?
Maybe it is. Maybe that’s a big part of it. Maybe I wanted it to be the whole. Maybe I wanted Sunday mornings to mean nothing at all.
If a hammered dulcimer plays, you can guarantee that my husband and I are about three seconds from a good lip quiver, because hammered dulcimers sound like Rich Mullins, and his music points home. At church, Josh had the dulcimer, and Seth had guitar, and then Shelly put her hands in the air exactly how I know we’ll all be doing when we see Jesus face to face. We were throne-room singing. That’s usually why I go.
When I first sat down, I looked around and saw in the sea of people only two that I know. But next to me were two of the only people of color in the room. At the awkward meet-and-greet part, I couldn’t place her accent, but she’s not from anywhere close to here. I wondered how far away from home she felt, her Spirit-Filled Bible in her lap. I felt close to her.
On my other side came to sit one of our elders, and he is one of those tender-tough ones, looks like he could beat your face in or kiss it – either one. When we sang our Rich Mullins, he might have been deaf for the tones, but he sang like he had written every word. I fell in love with him there, a man who is tender-tough. When I turned to him at the awkward meet-and-greet, he said my name and asked of my sons.
I was angry because church hasn’t felt like home in a long time. I’m starting to think it was never meant to feel like home, not any more than Rich’s music and my Mama’s banana pudding. But at church, when I got Titus early from nursery, and I asked the people in the back to pray, he limped his unfed body into mine like he would fall asleep. They gathered around us, and one whispered over us in praise. One said Jesus is Healer; that is His name. One said Seth and I were brought together to bring forth a godly generation. One prayed against the fear and brought the Bible verses out. They put their hands on my back, called me Moses.
Once in a while you find yourself in the arms of your broken church, and she looks exactly like THE church, and THE church looks like Jesus. It’s worth pressing on, going to commune with the homesick ones, going to find a hand to hold, a bag to carry, wine to taste.
I am a pilgrim, and I get so homesick.
Little church, you don’t have to know my name to be beautiful. I just want to see Jesus. Let me be like the child to you.
Suffer me not.
Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God says
My church has let my son down…built doubt in him instead of trust. How do I love her and yet not be angry? She is God’s house, but built of human hands…hands and tongues that betray her truth. I am a pilgrim too and I am so homesick for the times that she looks like Jesus. Please pray for my son…
Amber Haines says
It can get so hard so fast, Bev. I am praying for your son right now. So many of my friends have found their people among small groups in homes or in small communities where it’s much harder to hide the messes. I’ll pray the Lord provides for him a safe place.
I’m praying for us all that we begin to act out the word, not as mere hearers, and that we begin to pray for the church and call her a good gift from the Father of Lights. I’m praying that we become a people who shine.
Also, I was a very rebellious child, and I’m guessing that your son is not, but anyway, my doubt and pealing everything back actually led to my lowest point, but it brought me straight into the arms of Jesus. I would never hope for any sort of hard road for any of my 4 boys, but my point is that I personally know that the arms of Jesus are at the end of your son’s journey to the truth.
I’m believing with you, Bev!
Amber, Bev; Yeshua~Jesus our kinsman redeemer and beloved bridegroom, who tabernacles/dwells among us (Emmanuel) will bind our deepest wounds, (perhaps many received from fellow believers !) Restore all intimate places and enable us to Love all, serve all, forgive, heal, disciple, and GO ! For me personally He made it simple; Preach the Cross, baptize~immerse new believers, disciple them in His Word, Tell all who will hear. Jewish and Gentile, and I believe that the next generation who will bear His image, with His scars and suffering, then take the universe by storm and light the unquenchable fire for our Glorious G_D and Messiah~ For such a time as this ! I pray for healing and wholeness for you, as we worship as one ! If I may; Help us Lord to Love as You love, wash the feet of those you send our way and Crown You with Glory ! Love and Shalom, Lee
Bev Duncan @ Walking Well With God says
Thank you so much for your gracious reply and your prayers. My son is rebellious and I do so pray that as the doubt is peeled away it will bring him right into the arms of Jesus! Your story gives me hope…and I need it!
God bless you,
Karen Sandford says
This struck a chord with me.
I hadn’t been able to put my finger on why I suddenly felt out of place and alone in a group of fellow church leaders I’ve been part of for over 11 years. But this! This sense of homesickness makes sense.
Of course church is much more than Sunday. But I think it is part of a whole. And maybe at times they need us to show up, more than we need to show up.
You’re writing my heart here. I am committed to the church, but like any marriage, I have many days when I think surely, leaving would be easier. It’s a broken, busted up love story. Thanks for always telling the truth, Amber.
Kimberly – ‘it’s a broke, busted up love story…many days when I think surely, leaving would be easier’…Kimberly this reminded me of Hosea’s story..and my heart weep for the relationship between Christ and his church (people)…oh how he’s wooed again and again…and how prone so many of us are to go our own way, even causing wounds that go deep in our brothers and sisters. So thankful for those clusters who are seeking to restore the true beauty in the midst of this brokenness, through a running after HIM…and not just a building and a term. Thank you so much for sharing this.
These are wise words, Janel.
Becky M says
We retired and moved away from our home church. I can’t think of the number of times when I have volunteered something and the response is “you’re not from here you don’t understand.” There are so many days I just want to stay home, the pain is so great. Your words today obviously struck in a deep place. Thank you.
I imagine how out of place that Christ must have felt. Don’t you bet he had the same temptation to stay in bed? I wonder.
THank you for coming here, Becky. I think that leaving a home church that you love is certainly something that would cause heartache, grief even. I’m so sorry you’re going through that.
Marty Coleman, The Napkin Dad says
I think Jesus felt out of place within his heritage within the Jewish faith. Maybe that is why he found whoever he found, seemingly random people from who knows where. I mean really, a fisherman, a tax guy, a couple of brothers, some women who probably weren’t thought of in the best of terms. Among them, and among those that were condemned by his religion, I bet he didn’t feel out of place. He didn’t have to pretend to be something he wasn’t. He was a man of ideas, of action, of humor, of conviction, of being down to the bone. He didn’t fit in, or out, of a white washed tomb.
Then he finds they don’t always understand him either. He’s in the midst of them, in a happy, supportive, loving group. And he is also miles away, not understood in the slightest, from his cohorts.
I would be tempted to stay in bed at times, no doubt.
Lj Downs says
This brings tears. I am one off rocker and I know anger and I am sick for home, too. This writing, your writing – as much as your meaning – is stunning. I’ve read it twice, I’ll read again. Just beautiful
LJ, thank you for this.
Belinda Bryan says
I GET THIS! AT THE DEEPEST LEVEL! I am so homesick for the place where the Bride does not “have” church, does not “do” church, but IS THE CHURCH! I find glimpses of it in people whose hearts are after His, and that keeps me trying. I know Jesus passionately loves the church. He called us “golden lampstands.” I need to love Her too. So I keep trying, keep yielding, and cherish the fleeting moments where I find “koinonia” and not just “ekklesia.” Thanks for being real.
I’ve been crazy busy with a virusy kiddo today, but I read this comment early on and haven’t stopped thinking about it – about BEING the church every day. Duh and also, whoa.
I really love every word you’ve said here.
Thank you for your truth. It’s nice to know you’re not the only wanderer in a land where everyone seems to know where they belong (or at least pretend).
Sometimes I wonder if church was ever meant to be married to Sundays. My marriage wouldn’t work very well if it were only one day a week either.
It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Now I want to know how to live it out in the everyday. Do I go to church? Do I keep searching for the place once a week or do I start searching for the people everyday?
I’m not even sure if the answer matters.
Jen in MN says
Had to comment, because I’m with you, Amber. I am continually feeling like an alien, outsider at every church I attend. We’ve attended at least 7 churches in 15 years of marriage, and have yet to find a place to call home. A place where we are known and understood and accepted. Where I can wear my cute boots and worship, arms raised, in total surrender, and no one bats an eye, because they’re worshiping too, not looking at me. Where people *see* me and surround me with the heart of Jesus.
I’ve found that sisters online have been more of the Church to me than most people in real life. This post encourages me, though, to keep trying. Most days I want to give up and just move South (seems that’s where all my heart people are) but I don’t want to run away. Until God calls us elsewhere, this is home, and I want to find Church here. Thanks for your authentic heart, Amber—I really love it. 🙂 xoxo
Kristen Strong says
Hey Jen ~ I read your comment and nodded my head up and down because during specific seasons, your words have been my own. I am with you and Amber…it seems the answer is to always keep trying. Because it’s worth it always.
Much love to you, sister. Thanks for sharing your story here in *this* community that values you mightily.
My 6 yo little girl (she’s 15 now) was raped in church while she was supposed to be in children’s church and I was in the sanctuary listening to God’s Truth. The man who did it seemed to be a transient so I don’t know if he was just going church to church looking for easy targets or if he was a believer with his own set of struggles who fell off the wagon that day. I will never know. The result has been that my husband and daughter hate God for not preventing this, my daughter’s constant struggle with who she is and the fact that her childhood was robbed from her. She tried to OD on pills over the summer. Regardless of all this, I know that God wants us to be a part of His body so I involve myself alone. I believe that’s where true healing lies. I don’t understand why my daughter was abused, but God is still God. We have been hurt, but we have hurt others too at times. My prayer is that God will redeem this as only He can. Church is about celebrating who God is,immersing ourselves in the Truth and serving others. Thanks you for writing this. It reflects my heart as sometimes it has been hard to go.
Debbie; Much love and every prayer I can think of that your daughter so heals mind, body, spirit from an unthinkable crime and hope with all of my heart that you heal with her ! It was my daughter (22) and Jesus that saved my life in 1996 (suicide attempt-pills and cut wrists). Your post so moved me,( I love young people and kids ) that at 51, I would like to go back to school to become a counselor/medical professional. Thank You !
I wish being a Christ follower meant we were immune to the sickness of this world. I just can’t go without saying I’m so sorry about your daughter and the pain of it all. What a brave one you are, Debbie. What perseverance. I’m thanking Him for you today, and I”m praying with you for your family to know His peace and love.
Loretta Owens says
I too have often felt like a stranger in a foreign land. There’s an old song that says ‘i am a poor wayfaring stranger travelin’ through this world of woe’. Let’s face it folks this world is not our home, we are just passing through. It’s just practice for the real thing. We must remember to be kind since we are getting ready for the big day when our groom will come to claim His bride.
Thank you for your post today and your words from the heart. I wanted to share this scripture with you as it has made a great source of strength. March on, my soul; be strong! Judges 5:21b Your heart touched mine in that the hammered dulcimer reminds me of Rich Mullins’ music and heaven. Praying for you !!
Resounding chord still ringing deeply. This city where we’ve been five years, offers many hollow churches, flat places of “club members”. We find a small, church plant, go there. Worship is for me, a bereaved mom, a needed let me be fully there, yes, Rich Mullins…water to my heart and soul. Here…many weeks my invisible me longs to slip to the floor and crawl out. Not make a scene…only, go. Rather than stand and exhaust my heart trying to enter worship when all is done so so. My kitchen floor is a CD worship floor….at least 😉
Homesick, oh so much. I lead here, tho the women have their former circles and there is no gathering in. Homesick. Right now, my heart says to drive the 2&1/2 hrs to our home church….for the teaching, the home feeling ( grief has snuggled me this week even into my nighttime dreams)
The sacrifice of praise!! Needs be grabbed by this heart, sadly this place we go here, can’t be counted on for that. The homesick is a tangible element…
Grief has snaggled me. No, it never ever snuggles.
Beth Werner Lee says
Oh Deb! Praying for you right now. Grief, I know but not like yours so I honor you my sister. Rich Mullens? My favorite is Can I Be With You, my feeling ever since I was 15 and my best friend died of cancer. I want to be in heaven while yet I live here. I’ve walked with grief since, and while sometimes it hides I’ve learned to beg God for his comforting in the midst of our suffering, and for his joy. My verse for today was Ps. 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. It’s a deep verse Deb, not easy, not platitude, hard but true.
Amber, thanks for writing this. Rich Mullens is about my only music; it seemed he wrote my heart. I’ve learned to sing better but I’m like that elder that’s tone deaf too. So picture me there standing next to you too.
We’re in this baby startup church of the NALC denomination, and like Titus it’s alive but not growing very much at all. *Paused to pray for Titus*
Your writing? You know Emily Dickenson’s Tell all the truth but tell it slant/success in circuit lies…that’s what I think and I love how you write. That and thank you always for spending time with me: thank you for sending time to me and real and raw and love.
Shelly Miller says
You’ve written my heart here Amber. Have you read The Jesus Way by Peterson? He talks about the purpose of metaphor and I thought of this quote when you said a couple asks you why don’t write what you mean: “When metaphor is banished and language is bullied into serving as mere information and definition, as happens so often in our computerized culture and cultural religion, the life goes out of the language. It also goes out of us.” I think you write the way God wants you to write, that way He created you to write. That’s what I think, for whatever its worth.
I’m a pilgrim on my way home home home to JESUS JESUS JESUS. Well actually, my Father who art THOU in heaven. Church …… dunno …. it’s not home as we are all on a journey like Abraham right. Back home home home.
Buddy Black says
Amber\Great article and bearing your intimacy for all to read and look upon. Brokenness has a glow about itself, a beauty all to its own a beauty only those who have been broken can understand and a beauty the world really wants but cannot find the way. We have to lead them. Individually. The large “church” was never the way. Small groups, this is precisely what the “church” is or was intended. Those small intimate groups of Jesus followers that really knew you and loved you for the good, bad and the ugliness of our lives. I truly believe the “church” will completely crumble away from the Sundays only and large congregation settings to find itself back where it all started….the home. True place to break bread and really care and fellowship with one another. I see and hear daily of people and their families hurt by the “church” or leadership that is goal driven to get more attendance, $$ or perfection. Sadly nothing could be further from the heart of God. Be blessed dear saint and tell Seth hello.
Becky Jones says
Amber, You are too young to be seeing all that you have. But as been said before we are just passing thru o our way HOME to our Jesus who is making a perfect place for us. Sometimes we wonder what is taking Him so long but we get Home to Heaven what glory there will be. I love your heart felt feelings about what is going on in churches today.
I attend a Bible Study with several different churches and we get along so well and study God’s Word.
Amber thanks for sharing what is on your heart.
Becky Jones–TN resident
Patty Muich says
I was reading this post and replies when I had a computer program (unrelated) mess with me. I had to planned on saying something but the goofy computer (?? or was it God) kept me silent… And I decided not to say anything.
Problem solved and while rebooting for like the 3rd or 4th time I opened my devotional… Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. This is what I read…
Facades abound in the world, even in my body, the church. Sometimes, church is the last place where people feel free to be themselves. They cover up with Sunday clothes and Sunday smiles. They feel relief when they leave because of the strain of false fellowship. The best antidote of this artificial atmosphere is practicing My Presence at church. Let your primary focus be communing with Me, worshiping Me, glorifying Me. Then you will be able to smile at others with My Joy and love them with My Love.
Does that help anyone? I hope so. I love to help.
Now what I was going to say… when I was little and went to church my mom always quoted Matthew 18:20 and said that you could also consider that as church as God was with you. I think that is true too.
Love to you all,
Amber, this was my first time reading your blog. You write beautifully and touched me deeply. I felt a need to share my experience on chuch as well. I joined a large church near my home after being invited by a friend in my moms & tots play group. I was a new, stay at home mom, quiting my job of 12 yrs to raise my first and later have a second child. When I first attended, it seemed everyone was welcoming. I joined a small group and taught in Sunday School. But soon my friends moved away and I felt awkward at times. After 5 years, my husband was laid off and I needed to get back into the Corporate workforce which further alienated me, especially when I had to give up teaching with the children. (My husband has never attended with me) Several years passed and the only reason I kept going was knowing the Holy Spirit was alive in our worship…and He touched me every time. But I felt the pain of other people, like mine…loneliness, separation, issues in life that needed prayer. God had spoken to me many times to act on it, but I was too afraid. I said no soooooo many times. Finally, in His persistence and assurance that He would never leave me, I said yes. I was terrified, but once I got the ball rolling, to step out of my comfort zone and say hi to people I did not know, and talk to them about the glorious things God has done in my life…they would share with me! Sometimes their stories were similar, sometimes they were still searching and wanting God’s movement in their lives…sometimes Christ got to work through me to bring to them what they needed. I have been sooooo blessed that I cannot put it into words. I have learned that WE are the church and church is every day and where ever WE are! I hope and pray that everyone learns that it is a choice we have to say yes to not only follow Jesus, but to BE Jesus to everyone around us…
Debi Schuhow says
Made me cry………..I don’t fit in anywhere. Once, I told a pastor that my husband and I are just a couple of hippies plucked from the fire. He did not understand.
It took awhile to understand that my walk with Jesus did not have to be one in which the square peg was forced into the round hole.
However, God has blessed us with some solid Christian friends that transcend wherever one may go on Sunday morning or the fact that you don’t go on Sunday morning at all.
Kristen Strong says
I just love the way you put this into words: “It took awhile to understand that my walk with Jesus did not have to be one in which the square peg was forced into the round hole.”
Oh, how I’m thankful for this tonight, Debi. And for you.
I love you Amber.
Thank you…. I resonate with your words so very much.
One homesick pilgrim to another…
I don’t want to be able to relate to this post, and yet I do. My church, the place I found Jesus, the place I met my husband, the place we got married and have raised our babies, let us down when we needed it the most. I’m almost okay now. I’m almost at the point where I have remembered that the church is made of messy, imperfect people just like me and we are going to let one another down. But it hurts. Maybe because we want/need to see Jesus so badly in others. Still, its so good to know I am not alone. (although kind of sad, too)
Shelli Littleton says
We have moved several times. I always feel like a stranger in a new church for a while … a year … often in Sunday school, I feel like I don’t belong. Then, I start teaching children … and I belong. I personally think that God gives me that feeling of not belonging, so I’ll get busy working with kids. And I can give, instead of receive. But then, I receive. They are precious!
Your writings are new to me, the one on being Welcome was the first, so I went back and read some recent posts. First, prayers for you, your husband and your wee one. Nothing will tilt us off our axis quicker than our babies issues(whether small like yours or grown, like mine). Next, this post, the pilgrim angst. Coincidentally I have been musing on this lately, trying to find my place and vacillating between ‘what’s wrong with them ‘ and ‘what’s wrong with me’….I guess, for me, I have come to the thinking that some places worked for me at the time, but the wandering always resumes. I try to use it as a growing time, but sometimes, I am so weary. This was so beautifully expressed, Amber. So glad I found you.
This struck a chord in me. It’s nice to know, I am not the only one.
Amber, having just uprooted life and completely started over, I know what it means to feel lost and like you just don’t belong. We visit church after church, week after week, and none of them feel like home. It’s pretty embarrassing to realize how many times I’ve seen the new person sit near me in my own church and I didn’t say a word to them. I now know how that feels. I feel surrounded by people who are busy looking good and “holy” rather than being what Jesus intended the church to be. Has the church been invaded by the culture? Are we actually any different? Is Sunday morning nothing more than a show? It’s so discouraging yet I believe there is something more! I’m just so tired of trying…
Kimberly Dial says
I’ve felt like a stranger for a while now. Thank you. It’s feels good to know I’m not the only one. This post was beautiful 🙂
Oh my, yes!
thank you Amber for again opening your heart to us!
Amber S says
It’s so funny how many if us feel like outsiders in our own churches. We came home from missions 10 years ago and still haven’t fit back in. But we persevere. Someday we’ll find it.
Love love love Rich Mullins, and I understand the lip-quiver. Beautiful post!
Interesting quote from R. Kent Hughes – Acts – The Church Afire: “When Satan does not succeed in stopping with a frontal assault, he attacks from within. This usually happens subtly – an invitation not sent, a job unnoticed, a critical comment overheard or jealousy over something that does not matter. When murmuring begins, the devil smiles.” Let’s not give the devil any reason to smile (although in our flesh we may feel we have one).
Becky Jones says
Very good, Jenny, That is what happens to a lot of us. Let us try not to let the devil have any way in our lives and churches.
Beth Williams says
This struck a nerve in me soo deep. Most of my life I have been in church, but never really understood church–just the doing. Knew some people but never really connected and did life for God.
Enter my husband and his small Christian church. They preach the Bible, but also live it daily. We end each service with a prayer time where the pastor reads the list of people to pray for under different categories. Our church does some local mission work–helping Ronald McDonald house, getting gifts for needy at Christmas, etc.
The most exciting part is that I know everyone there–some of them intimately and can pray for them. We discuss life and send cards to each other. You miss a week or two at church and someone is calling to see if you are ok. We always say Hi to each other, but make it a point to say hello to a newcomer.
Basically it just feels like family–a family like I’ve never had before in the body. The pastor and his wife have visited my parents and he even re-baptized my dad. They go to great lengths to be the hands and feet of Christ. Since going there 10 years ago I have become a prayer warrior and encourager to people daily!
Wishing everyone could find a nice small church with such wonderful loving people as are at Blue Springs Christian Church. BTW our pastor has been there 24 years and is starting his 25th. We love him and his wife.
I caught a glimpse of the white-bride last week. So hard to be content with brief glimpses when we know there’s an HD 3D waiting.
Beautiful writing here. So much like prose…I can’t really expound and add comments. I need to let the thoughts sit and grow, simmer. Just lovely.