When I was in third grade, I had this wonderful teacher named Mrs. Creel. She was a sweet older lady, and she was the best teacher I ever had, hands down. She was like a super-hero to me. I thought Mrs. Creel could do anything. But I'll never forget the moment that I realized that Mrs. Creel was a human, just like me. I was at Wal-Mart on Drake avenue, with my mom on a school night. My mom was shopping for toilet paper and I was bored, so I was sitting in the cart looking at the back of the cereal box. This was possible for me because at age 8, I was the same size as most 5 year olds. I was abnormally small, and to this day, I am not sure why. Anyway, my mom was taking forever buying toilet paper, so I started looking around, and all of the sudden I saw her: Mrs. Creel. Wearing BLUE JEANS. And the worst part is, she was buying toilet paper too. And suddenly, my little 8 year old world came crashing down, all because of this one realization: Mrs. Creel buys toilet paper, which means that Mrs. Creel uses the bathroom. It was the weirdest moment for me. Before this moment in time, I didn't know that teachers had to use the restroom. I suppose I thought they were like bottomless pits, never feeling the consequences of drinking too much chocolate milk or eating the whole bag of gummy worms. But all of the sudden, I knew that teachers were human, just like me. Later on, I realized that this is not only true for teachers, but that all adults use the restroom and are also human. This was also a rough day for little Maryanne.
I was thinking about this today, about how funny it is that we can spend so much time with people without realizing how much we have in common with each other. For me, that night in Wal-Mart was one of many moments to come in which I realized that there are so many things that connect us as human beings. It started with the fact that we all use toilet paper, or that that most people only wash their hands when someone else is in the restroom, but these things were only the beginning of my learning that we're all in this together, being human beings, and that we are all, to some extent, connected somehow.
Tonight, I had the privilege of hearing my very favorite author, Donald Miller, speak at Lipscomb. I began reading Don's books in high school, and I haven't stopped since. I love Don because of how honest and real he is. He doesn't say what he thinks we want to hear, he says what is true, he is real and authentic, and to a culture saturated by image and ego and facades, true and genuine people stand out, like a splash of color in a sea of grey. It stands out because it makes us realize that we are not alone, that there are other people like us. So much of our Christian culture, especially here in the south, is built upon the idea that our lives with God are "supposed" to be and look a certain way, which is one of the biggest ways I feel that we are failing each other, because when our lives don't look that way, we feel like we are doing something wrong, so instead of talking about it, we hide it. We smile and build walls around our personal lives, and only let people in so far, yet we fool ourselves into thinking that we know each other, that we have community with one other. It's like we're afraid of what might happen to the little world we've built if we realize and talk about the fact that the people around us use toilet paper too.
But what kind of community have we built for ourselves if we are more concerned with keeping up our perfect images than we are with helping each other through our struggles, our sin, and our shame? I'll tell you what kind of community..the kind that many people in the world today want no part of, and I for one don't blame them, because I don't want any part of that kind of community either. What amazes me about so many of our church communities is how close we can sit to one another on a pew, yet how far we are from the heart and soul of one another. And the worst part is, we know it. We look next to us and see a woman, and even though we know that her 16 yr old daughter is pregnant, we can't look her in the eyes and tell her that we love her, that we can't imagine the pain, but that will be there for her and stand by her no matter what. We see a sea of families in our churches, broken by the pain from addiction, divorce, sin, abuse, and greed but yet no one is willing to step out and admit it, admit that their life is messed up, admit that they feel alone, and so we don't feel connected at all. We won't let ourselves be woven together by our shared stuggles and experiences, because we won't talk about them, so instead we sit isolated and lifeless, together in the same room yet separate entirely, and we have the same meaningless conversations about football, week after week. And then we go home and wonder silently to ourselves, because we're too scared to ask anyone else, "Where is God?" when the truth is that God is in that lady who sat next to you that you would't talk to, the family behind you who is going through a divorce, God is in yourself, He is in your struggles, He is in your sin, and He is in theirs too, and He is doing a beautiful work, redeeming our stories one by one, one day at a time. But we're missing out on so much of the story if we never talk about it, if we keep settling for the ego-driven, shallow communities and bonds we have created for ourselves.
I for one am not afraid to say that life is hard, that I have made mistakes, and that sometimes I don't feel God at all. I am not afraid to say that at times in my life I have looked up at the sky wondered if God is real or if someone made this all up. I am not afraid to say that at times my life and my behavior have looked like anything but Jesus. I am not afraid to say this because I know that God is redeeming my story, one day at a time, and that my struggles and sin are a part of my journey towards becoming who He made me to be. I am not afraid for you to know that I use toilet paper, because I am not afraid of what will happen if we realize that we're the same, that in some way, we're all the same we are all connected. As a matter of fact, I welcome the idea. And I encourage you to find the kind of community that does as well.