Her name was Lyza and she hailed from south Georgia. She had waist-length light brown hair and thick-lashed brown eyes. We met at the tender age of nineteen when fate or circumstances would land us as roommates at a small Florida college.
We prayed together, broke bread together, and dissected women’s daily devotionals with a fat lavender candle lit between us. We decorated for Christmas and spoiled each other with tiny, thoughtful gifts that made the other smile.
She was, truly, a lovely spirit and a wonderful friend.
And then, one day, with real tears glistening in her eyes, she clasped my hands and said to me,
“JessieLeigh… you have such a good heart and such a strong mind… and, well, it just breaks my HEART that you’re going to Hell.”
I think I may have raised a single brow over a wide teal eye. A giggle erupted. “Lyza, what in the world do you even mean?”
“Well, you know,” and her voice got low, “because you’re not saved, JessieLeigh. You’re not really a Christian.”
There was one session that I knew I had to attend at Allume. Oh, there were oodles that looked interesting and helpful and informative. But there was ONE that I carefully underlined and committed to memory.
I trembled as I asked her the question, “So, I know you’ve converted to Catholicism and, well, I’m a cradle Catholic, but, still… I was just wondering… do you ever find other Christians telling you that you’re NOT a Christian now? At least, not a “real” Christian?”
She finished the question with me, even as my voice trailed off. The very fact that she knew what I was going to say was the answer, but she verbalized it anyway:
And my heart broke anew.
The divisiveness. The walls. The insistence that “you don’t get it and you don’t know Christ and this-is-the-only-way” is so, I don’t know…. HUMAN. I simply can’t believe that Jesus would determine, “You know… she lives a good life. She has a strong mind. She stands for the weak. Defends the voiceless. Loves her neighbors. Loves ME. But, well, she’s not Southern Baptist. So, obviously, down to the infernal pits of Hell for her.”
And, no, I’m not describing myself up there. I’m far more flawed than that description would indicate. (Most of us are.) I only seek to make a point…
These labels? They’re not purposeless… they help us find a “tribe”, if you will. They allow us to have multiple avenues to pursue as we seek to grow closer to Christ. And I’m so grateful for that. It makes me happy that there are different ways to worship, different structures for a service, different buildings and layouts.
I may bow my head and fold my hands. You might raise your hands and face to the sky.
We both love Jesus.
All the methods and rituals and trappings? Those help us find a place that feels good. A place that meets our needs and allows us to grow while feeling safe and ONE.
Do I think God has a list of which denominations are “right” and which totally missed the boat?
The only time I’ve ever felt, even for a moment, that one of my Protestant sisters or brothers in Christ was less of a Christian than me?
Was the day I was told I wasn’t a real Christian.