I was alone in the church lobby the morning she walked in.
Scummy, in sweats and a tank and a barely held together bun, my plan was to just run in and run out without crossing paths with anyone. I may have been barefoot, I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is how very much I did not want to be seen. I was just running a quick errand, so I had taken the long way through the lobby, up the stairs, and into the offices through the back door. (Fine. It’s the really long way.) I was already on my way out, skittering across the wide open space like an antelope (if an antelope was slow, and derpy, and out of breath from running down stairs), and that’s when I saw her. She had her hands cupped between her face and the glass door… She was searching for signs of life. And there I was. Just me. A fat clumsy antelope, trying to hide from the world.
Not gonna lie, ignoring her crossed my mind. “If you don’t make eye contact, she’ll never even know you saw her.” But that seemed mean, even for me, so I took the high road and let her in.
This girl was so, so beautiful. All black hair and dark eyes, brooding and broken. She had the freshly inked outline of lilies and leaves tumbling over one shoulder and down her arm, still waiting for color, which on this day would have seemed out of place for there was no color left in her – she was all grey, from the inside out.
She told me she didn’t know why she was there, she’d never stepped foot in a church before, she didn’t know where else to go. She was lost, she said. Tears began to well in her dazed eyes, and the purpose of her visit came with them. “I got hammered last night… and I f*cked my husband’s best friend.”Those terrible words were holding in so much, and that’s all it took for the flood gates to open and a tormented soul to pour out on the floor, right there in front of me.
She cried. I cried. We cried… together… which sounds kinda weird, but it wasn’t.
She talked. I listened.
And I totally want to tell you how I gave her some brilliant words of wisdom, or some bit of truth to hold on to. But I. Did. Not. Know. What. To. Say. I mean, jeez, I’m not a counselor. I don’t even know what to say to my own children when they screw the pooch, y’know? Ugh! The pressure!!
So I just sat there, feeling inadequate. And scummy.
And she sat there, feeling inadequate. And probably super scummy.
We met each other where we were at in the most primal way because there was nothing false between us. No pretense, no makeup, no shoes. …Ok. She had shoes… But what more could we have done than sit and cry and talk and listen?
We stayed there for awhile and I did the things I thought a good Christian would do; I gave her my number, I prayed with her, I invited her back. Finally, she took a deep breath and stood to leave, and then she paused, “…Where’s the Sanctuary?”
I motioned toward the double-doors separating the lobby from our big, boxy auditorium, and I said, “You found it.”
But I knew we weren’t really talking about the same thing…
Because, in that moment, I remembered so vividly being the girl with her face pressed against the glass, broken and hurting, crushed by the weight of a world I couldn’t seem to navigate. It was desperation that sent me out in search of a place of Rest and Peace and Nourishment. I was hopeless and shameful. I was starving for Love. I was lost and wandering.
The first time I walked into a church, I wasn’t looking for salvation.
I was looking for Sanctuary.
And she met me at the door.
…. …. ….
If the Church is to be the last bastion of light and hope for the world, we must open our big glass doors. To everyone.
If the Church is to be a stronghold for the weak, the starved, the sick and dying, we must invite them in. And welcome them.
If the Church is to lead people to the foot of the Cross, then we better have a damn good answer when the world asks, “Um, excuse me. Where is the Sanctuary?