For the second time we followed the call to gather. This year the gathering looked like 87 women, from high school to retirement, from 18 different churches within a 5 county area of southeast Kansas. We are still processing what a miracle these stats reveal.
The call to belief in God and living that faith out in real ways is a very hard thing to do. But especially hard when you are from a small town.
Because when you still live in the same town you grew up in, there isn’t anywhere to hide. Your past follows you in glances and postures and withheld forgiveness. Unresolved conflict lies only slightly below the surface of any size gathering. All the time. Gathering women together is risky business in a small town but on some days it feels like the very kingdom is shaking. Perhaps it feels like fearful steps into the Jordan, out of the safe into the unknown. Joshua’s command to “be strong and courageous” was exactly what our hometown beauties needed reminding.
Confession, repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation. Small town girls would rather change grocery stores or churches or move their children from one school to another than deal with these kind of words. Bold and courageous faith is almost always frowned upon in small communities. We hear voices that say I remember what you did, who you are. Voices in our own heads and from those we love the most. Who do you think you are, anyway?
I know this well because I grew up in a tiny town of 2,000 in the southeast corner of a different state. I vividly remember an afternoon in the 5th grade. The Brady Bunch has just started. I was munching on an oreo and sipping red kool-aid when my mother announced that we were going to introduce ourselves to the new girl who had recently moved in across the street. She was older than me by about four years and one of the cool kids. Her parents worked so she was home alone after school. My mom wanted to let her know we were available if she needed anything. And to invite her to church.
I just about died.
Because in a small town where everybody knew everything I was learning to live a scared faith, a don’t ask don’t tell sort of faith. There were 7 of us in our “youth group”, including myself and siblings; a more awkward bunch you’ve never seen. There was no hiding in that town. I cared deeply about Jesus from a young age, but wished I could just keep that sweet relationship between me and Him. As one whose bent was to care deeply about other’s perceptions, standing out from the crowd to me meant social death.
My heart beat fast with mortification. With sweaty palms and rapid breath I quickly poured out excuses to mom about the urgent need for homework and didn’t she just say yesterday how I needed to do better at getting it done sooner and excuses piled up high. She allowed me to stay home while I peeked out behind the bedroom curtains.
Inside my comfort zone, I’ve peeked behind curtains my whole life while watching others step across the street in faith. I’ve cared too much about being called a fool. In many ways I was unaware of this choice. A quiet anonymous faith has just felt normal and safe and right.
Living my 20s and 30s smack dab in a west Texas Bible Belt town, 60 times the size of my hometown, only nurtured a safe, risk-less faith. My little light poured seamlessly in with the lights of people I surrounded myself with.
Then God said enough and moved us to a small town in Kansas. To a place where faith lived out in real ways stands out. People won’t call you a fool to your face but you feel the whispers behind backs. Especially for those who’ve spent their entire lives here. When faith-filled changes come, there is often major push back from family and friends. We quickly learned that everybody is related to everybody in this area and relationship dynamics are complicated. It is very acceptable and even advisable to stay in the wilderness and just keep doing what you’ve always done. Who do you think you are by wanting to cross that Jordan? I totally get that.
In small towns the walls between churches are built high because of generations of stories filled with hurt and disappointment and brokenness. And way too many souls have just stopped going because of these same stories.
IF:Pittsburg. 87 women. 18 churches. I am so proud of these women. I cry every time I think of them. Every time I look at the pictures. The faith it took for them to gather in a church not their own, not knowing exactly who might be there. A few knowing full well who was coming and gathered anyway.
If God is real, then we want more than anything to live like it. By the spirit of God, this statement is settling deep into the hearts of the beautiful women of southeast Kansas. Stirring up dreams. Making connections. Healing wounds. Applying flesh to dry bones. Calling us all into the promised land.
I’m grateful its finding a home in my heart. My 40s has been the decade where the comfort of anonymous faith has been shattered. In this small town my little light shining has felt exposed and vulnerable. I’ve wrestled over the past 10 years with just how much to let leak out and during what times and in what ways. One baby step at a time, God has graciously begun to teach me the beautiful foolishness of a faith lived more like Jesus. He has crooked his finger with a grin, inviting me to step out from behind the bedroom curtain and across the street in sweet, hilariously uncomfortable ways.
This IF:Gathering business has caused me to want to go ahead and light a match, burning the curtains forever. My faith is still quiet but it’s not hidden anymore. I pray heavy words to God in these days following our local gathering. For these women who live in small towns and risked much by saying yes to last weekend. Deep prayers as we live a faith that says yes to confession and repentance, reconciliation and forgiveness. As we simply walk the next step in the land we’ve been promised. Together.
(Linking up with Amy E. Patton at Life Rewritten today with other shared experiences. #ifstory….Thanks again to Mariah at Missy Mae Photography for photos and video)