Yesterday when I was setting out all of our Christmas stuff, I came across this craft Ben made for me last year in cubs. And it reminded me of the one I made years and years ago at the girl's club I went to for most of elementary school.
I was almost exactly Ben's age. I just realized that. It seems to me in my memories that I was older, but I wasn't. I might have even been younger. Little Becky. I know there's a picture of me with my log craft somewhere, Mom probably has it. I remember thinking it was beautiful and the smell of it. Mine was made from a birch tree, so it smelled really nice, and it had red candles.
I also remember the church I made it in. Little Becky's friends went to that church, and she'd asked Jesus into her heart at bible camp, so she thought she should go too. She went to girl's club there faithfully every week. Monday nights. At 6:30. Her mom and dad didn't go to church back then, but most Sundays little Becky would get up, and put on a dress, and grab her little red New Testament from the Gideons, and walk to the church a few blocks away. She didn't like going to the service very much, because it was boring and she had to sit alone. At Sunday school and girl's club no one had their families with them, so it felt okay. But during the service on Sunday mornings, she felt stupid sitting there all by herself.
And sometimes, the moms were mean to little Becky. I remember once being accused of hiding someone's church shoes, because they'd gone missing, and where else could they have gone? (They turned up a few weeks later. In the coat room, I think.) I remember the moms who ran girl's club making me sit out until I told them what I'd done with those missing shoes. I remember the little girl who had lost them saying that one second she'd had them, and then the next second they were just gone. "Someone must have taken them! And hid them!" and "No one thinks this is funny Becky." They were right, it wasn't funny. I remember sitting on the steps crying because they wouldn't let me in two Mondays in a row until finally the shoes were found. I didn't bother showing up to church that week, because I didn't like it that much anyways. I wonder if they would have made me sit out of the Sunday morning service, with the pastor and everyone else to see?
And even if most of them weren't actually mean, they ignored me. And I just... I still don't understand. I was a noisy and silly little girl, but so were the rest of them. And just like the rest of them, I was a good little girl too. I wasn't disrespectful. Ever. I've always been a rule follower, and I've always been a people pleaser. So why? I can't imagine seeing a little boy Ben's age showing up at our church all by himself and not asking him if he'd like to sit with us... to sit with Ben. I was friends with their children. Why didn't any of them ever offer me a ride? Or just a place to sit? Or why didn't one of those moms stand up for me at girl's club? It makes me so sad, picturing little Becky trying to figure out what to do, knowing she didn't take those shoes, and coming back the next week to be told to sit on the stairs again. I can't even... I can't understand why they weren't excited that a child would come all on her own, I can't understand why they wouldn't welcome me with open arms, and I can't believe I went back.
I kept going back until finally, years later, the same thing (sort of) happened in youth group. When the youth leader told some of the boys to clean up under their table at a swimming pool concession stand, they said they hadn't been sitting there. I had. And he believed them even though I insisted I hadn't sat there and had already cleaned up my own spot. But because their parents went to that church, and my parents didn't, I must have been the one lying. "This isn't funny Becky." I agreed again, even if the boys thought it was the best joke ever. It wasn't funny at all, it was humiliating. I remember blinking back tears as I climbed under the table and picked up their crumbs and garbage and sucker sticks, vowing that this was the last time for me.
At first I meant it was the last time I'd go to any church, but I showed up at the Alliance church a few weeks later, and then every week after that till I got married and moved away to Yorkton. And so did my dad. At first I just went because it was across the street. Why not? And at first Dad just went to make sure this "Alliance" place wasn't some kind of crazy cult. And they were so good at welcoming and loving a silly teenager who giggled through the entire service with my friends, and then my dad after that, that before we knew it they were our family. My first church family. I found my place there.
But after all these years and churches it still hurts a little to remember little Becky trying to fit in where there was no room for her. Mostly because I know it's still happening. It's why so many people end up hating church. There's so much complacency and blindness to the world outside and the hypocrisy within. I know I'm not the only person with stories like mine, and I've heard even worse. It makes me sad. I don't remember ever feeling welcome at that church until I was an adult, and singing at a funeral there. By then I was "one of them," so everyone was super nice. Or maybe they'd changed. Or maybe it was a whole new group of people. I don't know. I do know there's still a "one of us" attitude that can be found in most churches. I wish I could fix all of it. I wish I could rewrite all of our sad stories and hurt, with a love like the Alliance church showed me.
That's the kind of love I need to remember when I put out Ben's beautiful craft. After all, Jesus wasn't made very welcome that first Christmas either. He knew what it felt like to tell the truth but not be believed, and to be humiliated and alone with everyone either treating him with cruelty or complacently looking on. He came here for that very reason, to show us that His love is all about making room in your heart and in your life for the unwelcome ones out there in the world, or even right there inside your church in the pew beside you.