I am on the outside looking in

I can’t bear to drive by my old house. My husband tells me they have replaced the front door and painted the garage door white, but that doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that they have also pulled out the daylilies and replaced them with sod at the side of the house, and ripped out the two beautiful lilacs by the gate. They replaced them with two rocket junipers. I have always hated junipers.

As much as I can’t bear to drive by and look at the yard, however, I did pull up to the plaza behind the house in August. From there I could see the tall, yellow sunflowers peeking over the back fence. I was at once proud and heartbroken. They are so plentiful, and so beautiful! From the tiny seeds that I planted–and carefully protected from the squirrels–they have grow into robust plants more than ten feet tall. They are strong and healthy looking. At least the part that I can see.

It feels very strange being on the outside looking in, and not at all pleasant. I have no access to the yard, no right to go and see those flowers in their full height, glowing in the sun. It may only be a wooden fence with peeling paint, but it might as well be made of concrete and barbed wire. I am not welcome there.

I do not like this feeling. It isn’t one I deal with often, mind you. In a country like ours, very few places are out-of-bounds. Even the houses on my street would be accessible if I knocked on the door, showing my friendly and vaguely familiar face.

Standing behind the fence on tip-toe, hoping to get a better view, I thought about my church. It is a warm and loving community, grace-filled in a way that some communities aren’t. You can wear what you want. Show up late if you slept in. Bring your rowdy kids or surly teenager. Sing. Or don’t. Cry. Laugh. Ask questions–even really hard ones. It’s ok. You belong.

After ten years immersed in ministry here, perhaps I have forgotten how important that wide welcome is. Have I become too complacent, my time absorbed by the ones I already know and love? I felt a sudden pang of guilt, wondering if I have missed anyone, if anyone has come along and felt just as I was feeling right at that tippy-toed moment: excluded, disappointed, unjustly shut out.

I let these unpleasant feelings sink in, feeling them all the way through. As I drove away, I resolved to be extra mindful of the people–wherever they are–who find themselves left out. Maybe there are fences that can be dismantled, gates that can be flung open, sunflowers that can be shared.

Yes. Those off-limits sunflowers made me mindful of it in a new way: everyone wants to be welcome.  In that moment, I resolved to keep a special eye out for people on the perimeter. I hope you will, too. Someday we might see each other.

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6 Responses to I am on the outside looking in

  1. Bob says:

    I have to jump in here… rocket junipers are the invention of the devil. They are evil. There is a time and place for everything, and the time for rocket junipers is never.

  2. Major John says:

    The church has been an exclusive organization for so many. It has been unwelcoming in its forms and traditions. Ensuring that a welcoming atmosphere permeates not only the building (or meeting place) but also is demonstrated by those who are regular attenders or members. We like those things that are comfortable. We long for “sameness” even as the rest of the world continues to evolve (and revolve). Thank goodness that the sunflowers can stick their heads above the view-blockers. They stand out. They make a statement. They don’t go unnoticed. I was always disappointed when I returned to my home church as I saw changes that made it less and less like the church I grew up in. But change can be good… it took me a long time to accept that! You have seen a vivid illustration of the way life continues to open up to us, even as some things remain as they once were. “Change and decay in all the world I see, O thou who changest not, abide with me.” Thank you, Kristine, for this… hope your new home will become a place where you have light and colour to brighten up your day.

    • Yes, church has been an inaccessible place for too many people, and I grieve that. You know as well as I do that cultivating a spirit of grace and welcome–in everything the church says and does–is no small challenge. Sadly, many who are excluded don’t have the strength to share their experience, and many do not want to listen when they do. I know that often those ‘on the inside’ miss the opportunity to acknowledge their mistakes and change their way. Those of us in positions of power need to learn humility, and take responsibility for seeing, inviting, listening and welcoming.

  3. Lorraine says:

    HI Kris! As difficult as it is, we cannot go back but only march forward. The sadness you feel has to be translated to a new positive. Leave your old garden and till a new one, a better one! I speak from experience and am waving madly at you from the perimeter!!

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