when I was around 8 or 9, I went- at the urging of my friend, to vacation bible school. I don't remember everything about it. I don't remember the crafts, but I remember something that changed my outlook for while.
we were in a small classroom full of kids I knew by name, who unbeknownst to me, were regulars in attending church. I was not. this was my first time in vacation bible school; and other than opening up a bible and glancing through it (I was familiar with the story of Noah), I knew very little about church or the bible.
I didn't know you were supposed to bring your bible to vbs. I know, it seems like common sense, but I didn't know; and since I didn't bring my bible to the classroom, I was given a spare King James Version. (in my opinion, pretty difficult to read at kid level)
we were to go around the table, each of us reading a certain number of verses, and the next child was to pick up where the last one had left off.
the teacher called out the book and chapter. I didn't know any of the books. I looked around and everyone had found the spot. I gauged their bibles, and tried to open mine to about the same spot, hoping to help find the book. I went the wrong way. I was in a panic. I was typically a good student. here, I couldn't even find the right page.
I looked up for help. "where is the book?" I asked. "it's in the new testament," they all replied almost in unison. "right after romans," someone else replied. my head swirled. where was the new testament? where was romans? I felt sick. I wanted to run out and leave.
"if you haven't found it, we'll have to skip you," the teacher said in a voice that to me seemed disapproving.
"I haven't found it," I said, hearing my own voice shake.
I didn't earn any points that day. I hadn't brought my bible, I didn't read aloud. I couldn't come up with a song to sing. I didn't know the words to any of the songs they were singing.
I would come home from the morning spent there feeling like a disappointment. I didn't have fun. I had seen tabs on bibles before, the ones that tell you where the books of the bible are. I thought that would solve my problems, so I had asked about them in that small classroom. i was told that if I actually took the time to read the bible, I wouldn't need those silly tabs. I just thought it would help while i was learning. I didn't finish out that week of vbs and I didn't return that next summer.
I felt like a total outsider...and really, I was. and that's the persona I took on. an outsider.
I wonder how many other kids have gone to a function like that for the very first time and felt that way. what happened to me then-- now, it seems small, unimportant. but I wanted so much to fit in, to make new friends, to learn new things...and the whole thing just backfired horribly.
it made me afraid of church. I felt judged because I wasn't familiar with the bible, because I didn't know their songs, because I was laughed at for asking if they had the words so I could sing along.
later, whenever I was invited to a church, I refused to dress up; partly because at the time, I felt awkward in dresses, and partly because I didn't want to do anything to conform to "them". I would NOT be one of them.."them" who judged a young girl who was there on an invite and was in completely new territory and just didn't have a clue.
I was angry with any church that someone spoke about; surely, they too would've behaved the same way towards me. how dare they.
and that anger grew when my name mysteriously ended up on a church prayer list in a church I had no affiliation with...
and not because I was sick...I wasn't; but because of how I dressed, and the music I listened to. I was so angry and it basically confirmed for me what I had always thought: "they're all alike."
please don't look at this and be angry with these folks. I've gone down that road (see my high school years if you'd like to know why I dressed the way I did or was completely cynical about everything) and really, being angry- it does no good.
I can look back now and think, "good...I needed prayer then." but at the time, wow, I was mad. I was embarrassed. I didn't worship the devil, I was mad about everything. and as for vacation bible school, well, I just chalk it up to inexperience. whoever it was that was teaching, they clearly didn't know it would've helped to have helped me. they had no idea they were molding me into someone. lots of things happen in a person's life that changes who we are or how we react to things.
honestly, it's helped me.
if it weren't for a friend and her mother, I would've never set foot in that church for vacation bible school. if it weren't for a youth pastor and his wife (joy and aaron young- I hope some day to find out where they are now) I wouldn't have developed a thirst for knowledge about the bible- I loved their bible workbooks and after school meetings. if it wasn't for arnie and his mom's urging for us to find a church after we were married, I would've never been baptized, or met the most wonderful people who've become life long friends.
yes, some crappy things happened to me in church by people I perceived as Christians. i'm somewhat nervous about posting this, but I hope that anyone who reads this knows that I don't want to bad mouth anyone. I don't want to give anyone a bad name. they made some mistakes. but guess what: we all do. we can live with mistakes or we can move forward and grow from it. it took me a while, but eventually I let go and grew up.
having been in that position, it's made me a lot more aware of "new" people. I try to go out of my way to let them know they're welcome in any place i'm familiar with.
and I might add- the good far outweighs the bad i'm thankful for everything that's happened and i wouldn't change a thing. we'd all do well to remember that churches are made up of human beings. imperfect, sinning human beings. we need to remember that....and cut each other some slack.
if I could give one piece of advice, it is this: please don't judge or write someone off because of how they dress, or how they look. don't ever write someone off, especially if you see that person in your church. show kindness. show God's love. let them hear "welcome, i'm glad you're here." instead of snickers and whispers. that small act could change that person's outlook on the day...on their week...on their life...and on God.