Monday, 24 February 2014

Misfits and Mat-Carriers

It’s Sunday morning again, and I sink down into the farthest seat in the second row on the right-hand side of the building. I’m a creature of habit, and there’s a certain comfort to being in that spot… out of the way, but close enough to clearly see what’s going on.
Leaning forward, I rest my chin in my hands and listen intently to Pastor Jesse. He’s re-telling the story of the paraplegic in Mark 2:1-12, in true Pastor Jesse style. “So here they are… here they are, carrying their friend in on his mat, and they’re pushing and shoving and finally they go, ‘Oh no! Oh no!’ Because, you see, there were so many people crowded into that house that they couldn’t get in. Can you picture that? So what do they do next?” He pauses for impact before asking, “And you know how the story goes, don’t you?” He nods knowingly. “They carry their friend up on the roof. I’m not sure how they did it… maybe with ropes or pulleys or something, but they make it, and then what do they do? They start digging a hole, right through the roof!”
I tilt my head on one side as Pastor Jesse explains, “We all have a mat. Some of us have gotten pretty good at pretending it’s not there… in fact some of us devote our whole lives to ‘mat maintenance.’  And we look at others and say, ‘Oh, your mat is bigger than mine.’ Or, ‘Mat? What mat?’ But the truth is, we all spend our lives sitting on a mat… and we all need friends, at some point, who will carry our mat to Jesus.”
I can’t hide a smile at those words… because many of my “mat-carrying” friends are sitting right here in the same room with me. The funny thing is, I never would have dreamed that I’d become so close to so many of them in the seventeen months since I first came to Open Door.

I remember the first few weeks of Open Door… we were a baby church, in its earliest stages of infancy. I walked in through the doors just the second week of its inception, and I’ve been here ever since. Although at first, I had a hard time believing that I’d ever fit in.
You see, I was, and am, a misfit. Oh, not in a bad way… I just tend to not be like other people. And that’s fine with me. First of all, I stand out physically, with my copper-colored hair. I’m also painfully shy, as most people realized when I spent my first months at Open Door standing with my arms crossed over my chest and my back pressed as firmly to the wall as I could get. In a crowd of bustling, loudly chatting people, I can get overwhelmed pretty quickly. It took me weeks before I’d even venture away from the wall in order to snag a sandwich or a cookie, before retreating to my “safe spot” against the wall.
Even now, after a year and a half, I still stand against the wall. Although now, it’s become a standing joke among the “Open Door crowd.” If I happen to stand against a different wall, someone will invariably ask me, “What did you do, switch walls?” or comment, “Oh my, you’ve moved!” One man even laughingly “posed” me against the wall. “Take a step to the right… now this way… back a little bit… perfect!” Pastor Jesse has teased me about this often enough… and as a fellow introvert, he occasionally joins me.

I’m not much of a talker either… even when someone that I know approaches me with conversation in mind, I tend to fumble for words, forget what I intended to say, and rarely make eye contact. (This despite the fact that I have no trouble writing long, wandering blog posts about whatever comes to mind.) But the odd thing is, it’s easy to talk to people at Open Door… because it’s okay to be weird here. I’m surrounded by fellow introverts and shy people, as well as by confident, outgoing folks. We all tend to balance each other out in some way.
After seventeen months at Open Door, I have discovered my “safe place.”
I love Open Door for the plain and simple reason that the people here love me unconditionally and accept me for who I am. They are my “mat-carriers” who take me to Jesus when I need them to.
I recall one service where I broke down and cried in the middle of Pastor Jesse’s sermon. Unashamed, I rested my head on my knees, wrapped my arms around my head, and sobbed like my heart was broken… because it was. But nothing meant more to me than the lady who was at that time a perfect stranger to me, who sat beside me, wrapped her arms around me, and cried right along with me. That, to me, is what Open Door is all about. Although she was hurting herself, she carried my “mat” to Jesus.
One Sunday, I found myself unable to sing with the band because of a bad sinus infection. Amid much good-natured teasing from close friends, quiet Jim passed by, patted my shoulder, and said, “I feel your pain.” Although he couldn’t have known it at the time, those few gentle words meant more to me than a host of get-well wishes. And it’s another example of what makes Open Door tick… whoever you are, you will find someone to empathize with you.
Someone once asked me, “So, where do you go to church now?” When I mentioned Open Door, they gave me an odd look and said, “Isn’t that where all those druggies go?” I merely looked them in the eye and replied, “Yeah… and those addicts are all friends of mine.” You see, there are no boundaries at Open Door… we’re all misfits in some way. From people on the most limited income, to those who appear to have it all… at Open Door, you can’t tell one from the other.
And that’s simply because at Open Door, being a misfit is how you fit.
Seventeen months… and yet I’ve done it all with these people. I’ve cried until I had no tears left… and then gotten up to sing with my nose still red and my voice scratchy. I’ve crawled on the floor, hiding from a mischievous three-year-old. I’ve sung, prayed, served communion, set up chairs, and yes, even preached. I’ve laughed until my stomach hurt and I was panting for breath. I’ve stayed up until the wee hours talking with friends. I’ve even ridden a motorcycle here. And through it all, these mat-carrying misfits that I’ve come to adore have carried me to Jesus.

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