I’ve gone to several new places over the past few weeks where I have been welcomed in an unforgetably good way, as a newcomer or stranger, kind of an outsider. I’ve been welcomed in that genuinely awesome sort of way that makes me want to go back. If you’ve ever gone to events or places before and felt awkward, out of place, or like you didn’t belong or weren’t supposed to be there, it can be one of the worst feelings. You definitely remember it. It grabs a hold of you and can take you straight back to the lunchroom or halls of middle school. You typically will not throw yourself into that environment again, if you don’t have to.
Maybe it’s just me.
However, if you’ve ever had that out-of-place feeling, you can truly see or relate to others in a similar situation. You may be able to read a person’s body language or if they’re like me, they may just flat-out tell you, “Oh, man. I’m really uncomfortable here. I actually prefer wearing scrubs instead of a formal gown.” Been there, said that. I have awkward extroverted diarrhea of the mouth, self-diagnosed. All of this to say that I have gone to enough uncomfortable places that I know how to appreciate a genuine, honest welcome to a new place with unfamiliar faces.
The first new place I recently went was an urban, predominately African-American church. My husband and I drove out of our neighborhood to be a part of a forum entitled, “The Racial Divide” in Kansas City. Two of the largest local Methodist churches came together to discuss some pretty heavy issues regarding race. Our church participated and is located in the suburbs of Kansas with a predominately white congregation and the host church is located on the outskirts of downtown Kansas City with a predominately black congregation.
From the moment we drove into the parking lot, my husband and I were greeted in the most genuine, helpful and friendly ways by one after another after another of this church’s members. I was pretty convinced before walking in that this is where I want to go to church. The welcoming smiles and greetings were off the charts.
The two pastors, one white and one black, lead the discussion and spoke honestly in regards to their own experiences growing up and currently with racial issues. After they spoke, they would ask the audience, all of us, to engage in discussion with our neighbor. The ushers had spread members of the home congregation, black people, with those from the visiting congregation, white people. It was truly a privilige to have honest, open discussions with each other. I’m pretty sure God strategically put me next to the most amazing woman, who happened to be a hospital social worker. It was my birthday and I have been missing my social worker friends in a desperate way. A night out with my husband and the conversations I got to have with this woman stirred and filled my heart in an awesome way. There couldn’t have been a better birthday present.
Fast forward a few weeks to the second new place.
I was graciously invited to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. A dear friend of mine was speaking at the meeting. I was honored to walk in, albeit a bit awkwardly, because of my high heels and the new environment. Within moments, I was welcomed, with hands outstretched and I was greeted by a room full of people who didn’t know me, but seemed like they genuinely wanted to. As I sat in that room, I began feeling completely grateful for the lives I surrounding me, even though I had just met most of them. I was in a room full of people on a journey. Together. I laughed. I cried. There were moments when I felt a stabbing pain in my heart. I wanted to do more. I witnessed that people can change. It’s extremely difficult and hard to explain but I witnessed transformation. I was introduced as the “normal” one although I quickly defended myself and said, “I’m really not that normal.” But, once again, I received the gift of trust, unconditional love, and friendship.
I think we all crave the feeling of being important, loved, and overwhelmingly welcomed into a room. Like we truly matter. And I think we want to be sitting in a room with people who truly want to be near us. People who are seriously stoked and want us to be sitting next to them. We want people to listen and hear our story, our whole story, and we want people to love us through every chapter, especially the painful ones.
I will be the first to tell you that I regularly lose my temper, spill drinks, break glasses, mildew laundry, get pissed at my husband, and frustrated with my kids. I have a ton of imperfections or scars, physical, ones on the outside and emotional ones, the inside kind. I share them because I want you to know that I’m like you. You’re like me, too. We all have our scars. Some seem easier to talk about than others. Some seem more socially acceptable. But we all struggle. With some things.
Here’s another time. Another place.
I will never forget one specific time that I sat in a hospital room with a curled up, sleeping boy. His mother had to go to the bathroom. She didn’t want to leave him alone. I entered their room and introduced myself. I explained my job and said that I would stay with him. It always seems like a long time when you’re waiting an unknown amount of time for somebody to return. I didn’t want the boy to wake up and be scared since he had not met me. So, I sat quietly waiting. Minutes passed. And more minutes passed.
His mother walked back into the room and thanked me. I said that I was happy to help, that it was my job.
Then she said, “Sorry it took me so long. I have this bag.”
She lifted up her shirt to show me her colostomy bag.
“I have one too.” I replied, as I looked down and pointed in the direction of mine.
I thought it was a really brave thing for her to do. I don’t normally share my medical history with random people but I do when I feel God tap me or elbow me, like I’m supposed to.
“You do?” She asked, as she looked a little surprised.
“Yeah. How long have you had yours?” I responded.
“How long have you had yours?” She asked me.
I said, “For about eighteen years.”
“I still cry.” She said.
“So do I.”
Every day in each and every place, we welcome each other in a million different ways. Simple ways, like smiling or saying “hello.” Or bigger ways like pausing to talk or listen or sit with someone who looks like they need another human being to recognize that they have been sad, frustrated, let-down, or upset. Every time we stop and break past these barriers, we open ourselves up to love each other more deeply and recognize how very similar we all are.
It’s as if we all put our hands together, bringing and sharing our struggles, joys, and pain
with one another. We recognize that we all so different but we are also so very much alike. We feel the weight of one another and we work like the most efficient and beautiful team to get through this life together, strangers, friends and family alike.