Oh my church, oh my. Don’t be this, church.
While attending a church in Louisville, KY, for six years, I came to love how the church desired community and how they gathered (worship) and scattered (small groups meeting in homes).
Meeting people where they were in their life journey. Sins and all. Pointing them to a Savior, preaching hope in every facet of life. Expositing the Word, piercing the heart like a double edged sword.
I was invited by my son Gabriel to attend. Gabriel at the time was living in a sober house, a mere block away from this popular growing church.
Gabriel was so in need of a Physician who could heal his brokenness. He had been broken physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Covered in shame at his fight against substance use. Addiction’s physical grip had him in a snare.
Early on in his substance use, Gabriel had spent many a night on a barstool. Sometimes the only way I would see him, before he entered a sober living facility, was to go to him at a local bar. I would often drive around the city looking for a glimpse of my son. I knew the places he frequented.
On several occasions I entered a bar where he usually could be found sipping on a BudLight.
All I wanted to do, each time, was to love on Gabriel, kiss him, chat, and to bask in his company. We would laugh and enjoy the moments together. And upon leaving, like so many times over the years, I would rub his ear and say, “You be a good boy Charlie Brown.”
There was one particular night I stopped in to visit Gabriel at his hang out. Peculiarly, when I walked into the business, I noticed all the patrons were gathered away from the bar area in a circle.
When I walked in, Gabriel saw me, his eyes lit up like a lightbulb, and announced in a loud voice to everyone in the bar:
“My mom is here! My mom is here!! She’ll pray!!! She will pray!!! She will pray for us!!!!”
As Gabriel walked over to me, he hugged me, kissed my head, and said, “Mom, one of the men (our friend) who comes here (the bar) has died. Would you pray for his family and for all of us here?”
My response, “Why of course, I’d be honored to pray.” So, there I stood, in a circle in this local bar, surrounded by beautiful people, holding hands, some whose eyes were filled with tears.
And I prayed.
I could not tell you the words I spoke, but I can tell you this, it was one of the most precious sacred moments I have ever encountered.
Even though Gabriel attended church sporadically since he graduated high school and left his youth group at our home church of many years, he still recognized how the hearts of men needed hope, and their hope being found in a God who loves you where you are in your life.
Once Gabriel sought help for his chemical substance use through a sober house, he called me one Saturday. To my astonishment he said, “Mom, would you and dad go to church with me? I have been attending this church, the music is so awesome [Gabriel was a musician, and the music was theologically rich]! I love it there! Would you come sit and worship with me at this church?”
On many occasions while worshiping, I would glance and observe Gabriel, and silently thank God for the honor to be in this place called church, along with people who loved well, even though my son had sat on a barstool.
Freedom to worship, and an overwhelming sense of Gabriel shedding the shame he had carried because of his substance struggles. No stigma, no judgement, and the ability to worship alongside his brothers and sisters in Christ, uninhibited, at this church.
While Gabriel departed this earth at the young age of 31, some of the most sacred moments were spent beside him in a pew at this church, worshiping a mighty God with people who loved Christ, and showed Gabriel love and respect, even though he had sat on a barstool.
Thank you Sojourn for accepting my son, for loving him, for not judging him for sitting on a bar stool, but showing him acceptance, and pointing him towards the cross of Christ.