I was the kid who never really fit in. In elementary school, I was a dork. This was before the words “geek” and “nerd” had any sort of prestige to them, and “dork” is ranked even below those labels. I tried too hard, and pushed people away, and was picked on for it. It seemed that kids could smell lack of confidence like sharks can blood in the water, and react about the same way.
In junior high, I was just awkward. I know, all junior highers are awkward, but I didn’t even know how to act around other kids. I transitioned from private school to public school and was even more awkward, hearing kids use words I’d never even heard in rated R movies. I was the weak one. The one who wasn’t strong enough, or mean enough, to use those words. I was growing up, everyone thinking I should play football, but I only wanted to read Star Wars books. And escape.
In high school I was in JROTC. I initially decided to do this to get out of P.E. classes (remember, I just wanted to read), but those first few weeks captivated me. I heard talk of brotherhood and family and belonging. But I didn’t. I was one of the few “good” kids, only I wasn’t cool. I didn’t go to the parties, probably just because I wasn’t invited. I thought I would belong, but in my joining this crew I separated myself from the rest of the kids at school who were “normal” and didn’t have to wear an Army uniform once a week.
This separated me from my youth group, too. Because I was the one who knew war was tragic, but also knew that evil wins when good men do nothing. We didn’t have the robustness necessary to understand how a Christian could fight and kill and defend country for the glory of God. I don’t even know that “for the glory of God” crossed our minds, for that matter. There were times I even looked at my crazy family and thought I don’t belong here, either. I was loved, but feeling like one belongs is different.
In college I was probably even more awkward than when I was in junior high, only I’d acquired a sense of humor (or at least sarcasm) to help me make light of (defend myself against) the responses to my awkwardness. I was still reeling from my high school plans of joining the Marines not working out, trying to find some way to cope with the only word with which I could identify: failure.
I threw myself into the only other institution I’d known my whole life – church. I became passionate about Theology, and about being right. I helped whenever I could. I volunteered for almost anything that involved college, youth, or technology at church. Trying to figure out where my new identity was, desperate to shake this label of failure I’d acquired for myself.
I think the definition of irony should really be “the way God works to confuse people and make us realize we don’t have it all figured out.” Because I didn’t find life or hope in any of these constructs, and when my heart broke over a friend’s suffering, I just walked away. I walked toward sin and away from God, because there was at least some comfort there. At least for a while, I could rest while I was running. Two years later, maybe three, God knocked my legs out from under me, and I never felt so loved. He made me realize that the one place I belonged was in Christ, no matter what else I did or who I was with. His kindness led me to repentance (Rom. 2:4).
I’ll be honest, I’m even a little out of place now. Writing in a Starbucks about Jesus and redemption, the only Dell in a sea of MacBook’s. For that matter, I’m probably one of the view bloggers who actually writes at Starbucks instead of a coffee shop that’s a little more hipster, a little less mainstream. But that’s ok, because I know I belong.
Because when I sit at The Table, where we take the bread of the Body broken for us, and where we drink the cup of the Blood spilled for us, I don’t just remember a Savior and a cross and an empty tomb. I remember the God who loved me when I was at my lowest, at my weakest, who wasn’t waiting on a future version of me to be good enough to earn His affection, but instead pursued me at the cost of the cross (Rom. 5:6). When I look at the bread and the cup, I don’t just remember the need to confess and take sin seriously, I remember the forgiveness I’ve already found in Him.