Grace happens in the margins (my #Relevant11 experience)

There is the unexpected grace of hallways, car rides, store aisles and of standingnext to a hotel closet whispering pain to a listening heart.

The story of grace in my life has never happened on schedule, on time, or in a controlled environment. I seem only to catch glimpses, fragments, snatches of the divine in the margins, on the fringes, in the unexpected moments.

Somehow, it's enough.

I went to Relevant without expectation, with hands and heart open. The conference turned out to be the most difficult thing I've done this year. Yes, it was even harder than Bolivia because attending the conference meant facing off squarely with my past.

I haven't been brave enough to join large groups of Christian women since leaving the cult 9 years ago. This was really the first time I've felt strong enough to re-enter a Christian-centric, large-group environment.

It took every last ounce of strength to make it through the weekend. For me, it was a kind of shock therapy--an intentional re-opening of wounds, a willful act of vulnerability. I have been deeply wounded by Christian community. But as Mary DeMuth said during an open sharing time, "Some of us have been hurt by community, but we will also be healed in community."

This is a painful truth and one I'd rather avoid. I prefer to think I can completely heal on my own, in isolation. I prefer to believe I am an island and don't need anyone else to come alongside and walk me through recovery.

But I cannot. I am hardwired for connection. I need community.

It galls me to admit that I cannot heal on my own. I need my sisters to walk with me. I can't do this alone. This was very hard for me to do when, 24 hours into the conference, all I wanted to do was run away.

Actually, I started calling American Airlines to see if I could fly out early. I wasn't sure I could manage another 24 hours. But it was too expensive to change my flight.

So, I stayed.

And my community picked me up and walked me through. I call them my Sister Survivors--we are the broken, the messed up, the ones who don't fit. But together, we are whole.

These brave women accepted me in all my mess and tears--and oh, how they loved me. They loved me enough to let me be me.

I ended up ditching a lot sessions. I realized fairly quickly that sitting and listening to people share their tips for blogging just made me feel like a bad blogger (to be clear, this is MY issue---not theirs!). I don't blog for money, for business, because I homeschool, eat gluten-free or because I craft. I don't even blog for..."the glory of God"---at least, not in the way that was defined. And that's OK! I'm very glad for women who have not been hurt by Christianity and can simply enjoy sessions like that without feeling like their psyche is under direct assault.

If anything, the conference illuminated my purpose in blogging:

I blog to expunge pain, to deconstruct and rebuild my faith, to grapple with the unresolved tension in which I live.

There wasn't really a session for that. Which was fine, really. I understand there's still not quite a place in church for people like me--the embarrassing, chewed-up leftovers of a bad church experience. And really, it's OK. One day there WILL be.

And anyway, I am more comfortable on the margins because that's where I meet other broken people.

So, I ended up standing in hallways and greeting people. I smiled a lot and tried to be chatty--even when I felt like curling up and hiding. I refused to let myself be judgey. I just accepted and accepted and accepted. I told myself that everyone is on their own journey and at different stages on that journey. I literally willed myself into a state of vulnerability--choosing to remain open instead of clamping shut.

(That took a lot of energy).

Yes, some people did not return smiles or if they saw me sitting at a table, they turned and walked the other way. I accepted and accepted and accepted. I kept my heart open and let myself feel the pain and the discomfort. I told myself not to take things personal. Because just as I would start to feel all panicky and overwhelmed, a courageous woman would approach me and offer the kind grace of a conversation.

You see? Grace in the margins. Grace in an unexpected snowfall, grace in an unexpected visit from Ann Voskamp, grace in spontaneous laughter, grace in hugs, grace in the tears I couldn't stop from flowing, grace in acceptance, grace everywhere.

And when you feel grace in community you start to understand: truly, grace is enough.