From birth, I was branded with a great destiny. I was an evangelist. I was going to do great things for the work of God’s kingdom. I was given the name Charity. Charity means love. I was a manifestation of my name. I grew up hearing this message being spoken into my life and I believed it with all of my heart. I knew deep in my heart it meant I was really special. Charity is the greatest of them all. In the the King James Version, 1 Corinthians 13:13 told me that in the end there would be 3 things that remain… faith, hope, and charity. But the greatest of these was charity. I frequently liked to remind my sister, who was named Faith, how this was true.
I asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was 5 years old. From that moment on, I personally took on the responsibility of making sure the entire network of children in my school and neighborhood was saved. During a school field trip, I once asked a girl that I was sitting with on the bus if she had ever said the prayer of salvation. The girl looked at me quizzically and I explained if she didn’t say it, she would go to hell when she died. The girl was freightened and quickly had me coach her through a quick prayer. I was extremely proud of myself! My first soul! I wore that experience as a badge of pride through much of my childhood.
I was the master Christian. It was my craft. If there were martial arts belts for Christianity, I would have had a black belt. If there were scout badges for Christianity, I would have had an Eagle Scout badge. I was living out my name and becoming the greatest Christian I could imagine. At 7 years old I began my education journey at a private Christian school. I would stay there throughout all of gradeschool until I graduated with my highschool diploma. It felt right being there. I needed to have the maximum amount of Christian education if I wanted to be the greatest Christian. At 12, I had read through the entire Bible for the first time. Naturally, I was called into ministry at age 12 as well. I knew my destiny was going to include me on stage ministering to thousands of people. When I was in junior high I became the worship leader of our praise band in youth group. That would remain a title of mine well into my adulthood. In highschool I led a morning bible study before school started for any youth attending our private Christian high school that did not already feel like they received enough Christian education in their daily life. After I graduated from highschool, I went to a private Christian college full time, I worked at a Christian book store, I was a praise and worship leader for 2 churches, and I started working with teenagers that were identified as troubled from local churches and began a ministry with them.
I was finally starting to see my congregation come to fruition. However, I am certain I learned more from them than they ever learned from me. I was intentional about getting to know each and every kid that I worked with. I believe God (maybe for the first time ever) truly worked in my heart. I began to love them. I began to see how God loved them. I learned that these kids were amazing exactly how they were. They were brilliant, strong, passionate, and gifted individuals that were rejected, mislabeled, and marginalized in society (especially previous churches). I set out to prove them wrong. They could be accepted and loved in churches for sure! After all, that’s what the church was here for! They must have had some bad luck with a couple of bad seeds. As our small congregation grew from 3 teens to 70 teens, I started contacting church group after church group trying to collaborate and connect these kids with church bodies where there were adults who would show them love and support and help them thrive in their faith just as they had done with me. I was horrified to see church after church send us away for being too loud, too liberal, some dressed too casually, some couldn’t sit still, some said naughty words, and some just looked too different. I am ashamed to say that there were times the police were called on some of my congregation because people were afraid of the teens I worked with. I was shattered. I committed to the teens telling them our church would not be a church about judging or putting down others. I followed many of them into adulthood and began a small ministry for adults who wanted to feel love, acceptance, and connection from the church. We met out of a local church building on Saturday evenings and spent the time discussing the Bible, society, and questions we wrestled with all while genuinely loving each other a long the way. Absolutely anyone was welcomed without judgement. We laughed, cried, and celebrated with each other. If someone was homeless for awhile, someone offered their couch. If someone needed food, everyone pitched in and gave them some. If there was a reason to celebrate, we would throw a party. It was by far the best church I have ever been apart of. It’s a crime that there aren’t more of these churches out there. We met weekly until some of the church building members attended our service and complained about the type of people we had in our congregation. We were asked to leave a week later. We tried collaborating with some other churches but the end result was always the same. No churches wanted our type of people inside their walls.
I began to seriously question my own faith. Was I taking crazy pills? Could I have been so wrong for so long about the type of people God loved and wanted to minister to??? I thought I was the BEST Christian!! I worked so hard! I studied so hard! Why doesn’t anyone see what I see in these people?! I started reaching out and asking questions of people that I had trusted for many years. I began to hear answers that still haunt me to this day… answers that reflected hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, lack of empathy and compassion for people who are poor, dirty, smelly, homeless, struggled with mental health, addiction, trauma, and disabilities… I was told numerous times that I was focusing too much on the people and not enough on their souls… that’s what did it. That’s when I realized that I had come from all of that. These people hadn’t changed… I did. And I did not want to be a part of that culture anymore. Thus began the slow unraveling of my role in the church… It started by me realizing that I cared WAY more about helping these people feel loved and heal from trauma than I ever did about preaching to them. I wanted to help them. I needed to help them gain access to resources…. I HAD to help them. I was passionate about it… I LOVED them with all of my heart. I needed them to feel that love. I still bring myself to tears thinking about how much I love these people. It is in this revelation that I now realize two things. The first revelation is that I am meant to be a social worker. My college years working toward a major in ministry, music, and education all failed miserably. Something was off. It didn’t fit. Social work and counseling is where I am meant to be. School was suddenly a source of passion rather than a chore. I recently received an MSW and am licensed as an Advanced Practice Social Worker. The second revelation is that even though I have lost my faith in the church, I haven’t lost my faith in God. I think He’s in my passion for people somehow. Now, I may have more questions than answers, but I’m ok with that. I feel a love and passion for people that I couldn’t even begin to describe. I guess I am living out my name after all. Charity means love.