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Serving from the brokenness

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Serve again.

The thought popped in my head not too long ago and startled me. The widows and the orphans. The poor. The broken. The old. The marginalized. Serve them.

But I don’t do that crap anymore.

But that stuff is for the Super-Christians.

But I’m still healing.

There was a time in my life I sang on the worship team and worked in the church nursery, led small groups for junior high girls, volunteered to lead high school retreats, set up chairs, baked casseroles, invited 15 teenage girls to sleep on the floor of my 1-bedroom apartment.

Five years ago, Joe and I were literally kicked out of our church by the senior pastor. All the serving came to a ugly, screeching halt. When this happened, we were encouraged by some to jump right back in at a new church, as if the Christian life is a bus that can leave you behind if you hesitate at the station.

We didn’t do that, because we couldn’t, or didn’t want to, or something in between.

I’ve spent five years quietly licking my wounds, bristling when someone gushes about their recent mission trip, or their thriving student ministry, or so-and-so’s growing food pantry.

Bleh, ugh, and yawn. I’d think.

“Good for you,” I’d say, striking down their enthusiasm with indifference.

I’ve learned at least two things in the last five years: 1) That even if I never served again, God would still love me. And 2) Life is kind of empty when you’re not giving back.

I’ve been isolated from community for a long time. All I could see were the Super Churched inviting me to all their Exciting Bible Studies and Outreach Programs, and around them I felt vaguely nauseated and guilty for my cynicism and for not wanting anything to do with it.

Then I found solace with a group of people on the Internet committed to telling their truths and caring for others in ways that didn’t scare me.

It started – as it does for so many – with Rachel Held Evans. I found “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” at the bookstore about a year ago, and almost bought it. I actually carried it to the checkout counter before turning around and putting it back on the shelf. I just wasn’t ready.*

But I did go home and type her name into Google. Through her blog, I stumbled on an arsenal of inspiring people I never knew existed, people who are allowing love and justice – not bitterness – to seep through the cracks of their brokenness.

Kelsey Munger and Micah J. Murray are helping others find redemption from childhood church abuse. Esther Emery is an advocate the poor and marginalized, and a balm for anyone who has felt like an outcast. Natalie Trust shows us a way to healing after betrayal and to God after tragedy. And there’s so many more.

More and more I started to notice people in my own community who are quietly making a difference – the ones who do not draw attention to themselves, but faithfully work in the background because they care about others. They are hidden under the blankets they knit for homeless people. They are listening to stories from people about to die at the local nursing home. They are the ones who give anonymously to the single mom who wants to buy her children new school clothes.

Everyday I feel a little more ready to uncross my arms and open up, to be a part of this tribe of imperfect people who serve – not because they’ve arrived or have all the answers, but because they want to make their communities a little more peaceful, a little more fair, a little more loving.

Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind for us all along – simply becoming people vulnerable enough to tell our own stories and working earnestly to bring justice into someone else’s. We’ve heard that hurt people hurt people, but maybe hurt people have been given the compassion and insight to reach others who are broken in a way that the Excited Bible Study Inviters just can’t.

But I’m a terrible example of Grace. 

But my language. 

But I really sometimes almost hate church.

But I’m so messed up.

And to those voices, I say:

Exactly.

*I did go back and read “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” a year later, and I wish I hadn’t been so scared of it. It really wasn’t what I thought it would be.


Photo by elycefeliz, Flickr Creative Commons.

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17 Comments

  1. Kelsey Munger on March 3, 2014 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for mentioning me in your post, Carly. It is so helpful to find an online community of people who are still healing, too.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 3, 2014 at 8:08 pm

      You’re most welcome. Community is so important, wherever we can find it.

  2. wnhen@aol.com on March 3, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    And thank you for linking up with Esther, Luke, and me in this synchroblog. You and your story are most welcome here.

  3. Micah J. Murray on March 4, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I know this feeling well. Thanks for putting words to it.

  4. Esther Emery on March 4, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    I rely on my online community, too. I didn’t fall off the Super-Christian bus so much as I feel like I could never catch it. But I appreciate your vulnerable words so very much, and identify with them as well. Thank you for joining our link-up and thank you for telling the truth.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 4, 2014 at 3:42 pm

      Esther, this gives me such a great picture of you trying chase the Super-Christian bus. I like those of us misfits who have been left behind. Thanks for your words.

  5. Tamara Rice on March 4, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    This was beautiful. I so relate. And, yes, I sometimes almost hate church too.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 4, 2014 at 3:47 pm

      I really hate to say “I’m glad you can relate”. So instead, I’ll say that I’m glad to have others to share the journey with me. Thank you.

  6. Kelly Cone on March 4, 2014 at 11:46 pm

    That’s so sad that you were kicked out. We were “excommunicated” by the pastor who married us at the Presbyterian church when we became Orthodox.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 6, 2014 at 10:19 am

      Wow, excommunicated is a way more fun word to say. We were just asked not to come back. Not nearly as dramatic. That’s pretty rotten the pastor who married you excommunicated you.

  7. Juliet Birkbeck on March 5, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    I sort of outed myself when my partner and I decided not to marry way back in the 80’s. We were idealistic, feminist minded socialist Christians and drawing analogies with the anti-apartheid movement that we were involved with we deicded it would not be right to take advantage of the fact that we are a heterosexual couple and marry when gay friends could not do so. So I hovered on the edge of communities, and only recently have I been brave enough to enter in with no pretence. But I struggle with denominational divisions and am currently not really doing the church thing though I mean to go to early morning Mass throughout Lent and I go to a Bapitst study group where we are reading N T Wright’s ‘Simply Jesus.’ I kind of miss the sense of being one of the in crowd but I’m also starting to accept that we need people on the margins, linking the insiders and the outsiders. And like you, I’ve been supported through books and online friends, a different sort of community but important nevertheless.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 6, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Another dabbler from the fringes! Peace to you as you dabble with the “insiders”. An NT Wright study seems like a not-so-scary introduction. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Emily Heitzman on March 12, 2014 at 11:30 am

    I love what you say:

    “Everyday I feel a little more ready to uncross my arms and open up, to be a part of this tribe of imperfect people who serve – not because they’ve arrived or have all the answers, but because they want to make their communities a little more peaceful, a little more fair, a little more loving.”

    Yes! It’s not about having the right answers or being perfect… (which is actually quite impossible.) Rather, it is about “making their communities more peaceful.”

    And I am so sorry to hear your experience. That must have been extremely painful.

    I agree with you: that those of us who have been hurt have so much to offer others because we have “been given the compassion and insight to reach others who are broken in a way that the Excited Bible Study Inviters just can’t.” I think Jesus is a great example of this… he truly understood what it was like to hurt, and I believe that his own experiences enabled him to have the compassion and insight he has to understand and reach the broken.

    It sounds like you also have a lot to offer when you are ready. Blessings to you as you discern how and what that will look like.

    • admin on March 14, 2014 at 10:25 am

      Thank you so much, Emily. One step at a time.

    • Carly Gelsinger on March 16, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Thank you. So much.

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