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Society-our world, our culture-has margins just like this page does. They're places occupied by people who go unnoticed, misfits who seldom figure in when the mainline world defines and esteems itself. But they're there.
The margins are where I find people like me.
So many times it seems the rest of the world has gone ahead of me. They've created a mainstream life that mostly flows onward without me. Whether in church or in business or in relationships, there are times when I simply feel the rest of the world is out on the field playing, but it's a game I can't relate to. A game I'm not good at. A game I couldn't win.
So I stay in the margins. It's a place of security. It's where I find comfort.
The Author, Age 35
I've felt many times that I'm not very good at being a Christ-follower. There are issues, I guess, that make me feel isolated. For me, being loved is an awkward deal. I don't like having people care for me. I know that sounds weird because deep down we all wantthat. When someone does reach out to me, though, I tend to want to run. Some people would call it a fear of intimacy. Perhaps that's a good descriptive term, but it doesn't fix anything.
There's an illusion of safety in isolation. I won't be known there. If I'm not known, I can't be rejected. That's the unspoken mantra I've spent so many years abiding by. So I go to the margins. There's a kind of agreement there, an unwritten rule that everyone abides by: You get to be left alone. And even though there's this muffled scream coming from inside my heart, yelling out to people: I'm dying in here!
I find comfort in the fact that no one can hear that scream.
God? Well, he doesn't put up with my "fear of intimacy" too well. He invades my heart and screams back that he's here with me. It hasn't always been that way; in fact, most of my life, it's been just the opposite. Yeah, God keeps hounding me with his love and invitations.
The challenge that's always in front of me is to let him in.
I'm not alone here. The margins are crowded with people poured from the same mold. In many ways we share the same background, the same hurts, the same joys and hopes. So we share this same space-the margins.
Here are some postcards from their journeys ...
Tiffany, Age 31
I don't usually tell anybody these kinds of things. I don't like being vulnerable. I'm seeing a counselor right now. I guess that's no big deal; so many people see counselors. It just makes me feel like I'm not normal, you know? Like something is wrong with me.
When I was nine years old, I was molested by a family member. At the time I really didn't understand what was happening, but I knew it wasn't normal. I was too scared to tell anyone, and because he was a family member, I felt that somehow my mom and dad allowed it to happen. Looking back, I can see that wasn't true, but at the time I didn't know any better.
The abuse continued until I was twelve and I told my mom what was happening. She cried so loud and for so long. I realized then the gravity of what had happened to me. The family member was confronted by my dad, and I've never seen him since, but we weren't a family that really dealt with problems thoroughly.
I was so relieved it was finally over that I just sort of tucked the whole thing into the back of my head and tried to forget it ever happened. Now that I'm older I realize I can't do that. I've never been able to scrub the sick feeling off my soul that was put there through the abuse. So I just go through life feeling that if anyone ever knew who I was on the inside, they would simply reject me. That's a crappy way to go through life, I know, but I don't know how else to feel.
I hate men. That's maybe a little strong. But every relationship I've ever had has been shallow because of it. I can't give myself to them, not emotionally anyway. I can have a sexual relationship but that's about as far as it goes. For some reason, trusting men with my body isn't a big deal; I just can't trust them with my heart.
I don't want to be single forever, but I don't seem to be able to get past it. I think it may all stem from the fact that I hate myself. I know that sounds harsh, but I've thought about it. I just don't like me. I have friends, but there's still a sense that I haven't really let them know me and my whole story. You have to have some pretty thick skin on your heart to live in my soap opera.
God? Well, I'm kind of angry with God. Why did he let it happen to me? He couldn't really love me. That's what I think. And I don't think God has much to say of any real significance.
I do hope-not a lot, but I do. I hope one day I can be honest with someone about my life and about what has happened to me, even the things I've done. And I hope that person can love me anyway.
David, Age 24
I'm still in college. It's my fourth college, and I've changed my major about a hundred times. I know. What a loser, right?
I see friends moving on to careers and becoming successful. The American dream. But I'm still here, lagging behind the rest of the pack, not even sure I want to catch up. I work just like they work. I just don't make as much money. I serve coffee at a franchise of the ever-present, ever-famous corporate coffee vendor from the Great Northwest.
The truth is, I don't think I'm even gonna stay in school. What's the point? For the most part, even my friends who have graduated are still working simple jobs.
I never knew my dad. He left when I was around three. My mom told me he was living in another state, but I've never tried to get in touch with him. I don't really care, I guess. I know this has affected me somehow, but I just kind of avoid thinking about it. My mom was great-she did all she could to fill his shoes. I just kind of wish I had that man in my life to prepare me for this whole deal of growing up.
You grow up with all this pressure to succeed, and you think, Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll get it together one day. Then you wake up and you're twenty-four, still having to live with a bunch of people to make rent. Seems like life is passing me by.
I'm educated beyond my potential. I've taken philosophy, which taught me that life is meaningful only if you create meaning for yourself. I've taken biology, which taught me that I evolved by chance out of the primordial pond. I've taken business courses, which assumed my goal in life was to make money, a mistaken presupposition for this coffee bistro. All of them led to my collective pile of knowledge, and none of them connect into a meaningful whole. Not once in all my education has anyone asked the question, Why are you here? That would have been a great class, had I possessed the fortitude not to drop out of it.
Why am I here? I guess that's the question I'm waiting for someone to answer. I don't want to create my own existential reality. That would only be kidding myself. Who am I to create my own meaning? I can hardly get to work on time. If I ever buy into the fact that I'm here by evolutionary chance alone, I'm afraid I'll just "off" myself one day. I mean, what's the point?
But alas, if I join the rat race and buy into accumulation of cash as the meaning of life, I would simply die inside. I can't wake up, kiss my little blond wife on the cheek, climb into a Lexus, and drive off to throw elbows in the corporate boxing ring. I want something that's true and can speak to the growing emptiness that world seems to think I don't notice. (Tricky, aren't they?)
It's not that I'm in the worst place to be. I just can't get through a day without someone asking me what I want to be when I get done with school. That question pushes me into this loneliness where I feel like I'm huddled in a glass box that's only big enough for me. I guess I just wish I was something, so I didn't have to become something.
Jennifer, Age 29
I grew up homeless. Not on the streets or anything like that. I just didn't personally know the same meaning of "home" that I saw on TV.
My mom and dad got divorced when I was in fourth grade. I know divorce is no big deal anymore, but for some reason it still is a big deal to me. I guess that when I was kid, home made me feel okay. It was the place I could come to when I had a fight with my friends or when kids made fun of me at school, and then everything would be okay. I was safe again. The world out there was scary and mean at times, but home was the place where everything would be okay. It was a haven to protect you. It was peace.
Then one day all that was gone. My dad moved into our house with some lady who would become my "stepmom," and Mom and I moved out and into an apartment. I had to change schools, and I only saw Dad a couple of times a month. All of a sudden, at nine years old, I felt like all the scary stuff in the world had come crashing through the windows of my house like a hurricane. Mom and I were walking around with shards of glass sticking out of our hearts, and Dad was missing.
It probably took until I was in high school to get used to it. I know everyone's parents get divorced, and I'm supposed to get over it. But I've had a tough time doing that. I remember crying a lot at night, wanting it all to go back to normal. I so missed Dad and Mom being together.
I thought the divorce was my fault for a long time. I think I kind of still do. If I could have kept them together, I could have kept my world from crashing down. Before the divorce, home had been the one thing in the world that seemed right, but all that goodness turned out to be an illusion. It wasn't real.
Now I don't think home can really exist. It can't be a real thing, at least for most people. And that's so sad.
And God seems about as far away to me as those warm holidays at home before the divorce. I don't see God as really relevant to me. I want the safety of life in that illusion of home, not some religious answer for it. I don't want the sterile hallways of a church. I want to go back home. Listen to me-I sound like a Kodak commercial. That's how I feel, though. I don't tell a lot of people about it, but it's true. I still feel homeless.
Peter, Age 55
I'm pretty successful. I've made a lot of money and I have lots of things. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Bill Gates. But I live pretty comfortably.
My kids, Tim and Melissa, are out of the house now. Tim is in college and Melissa graduated last year and is engaged. I wish I were tighter with my kids. I wasn't around that much when they were growing up-I had to travel and we ended up moving a lot with the company. I always wanted to give them the stuff I never had, you know? Working was my way of loving them.
My wife, Linda, and I just moved into a new home. It's the best house we've ever owned. It's on a golf course, and it gives me an excuse to play in my backyard. Lately, though, I've been thinking a lot at night. I can't seem to sleep, so I've started asking these questions. They're questions that have popped into my mind from time to time, but I always pushed them back into their hole. They're questions that critique everything I've been about for the last thirty years.
Why don't your kids like you?
Who do you really know that you could call a friend?
If all your toys get taken away, who are you?
I hate these questions. I just can't seem to make them go away. I don't have answers for them. I have all this stuff, but what I don't have is relationships. Not ones that are deep, anyway.
Sometimes at night I lay there and my whole life feels like I just opened all the presents at Christmas and now I'm bored and lonely again.
I feel guilty for not being there for my kids. I also feel a bit ripped off. I feel ripped off that all the things I thought were important have ended up stealing the things that were most important. Now I sit here and wonder who the hell I am.
All the other guys at work don't really struggle with this. At least, it doesn't seem that way. They hold a confidence that I've somehow lost. I had it in my thirties and forties, but I seem to have misplaced it over the last few years. The security I was looking for is still there-I have my investments, my 401(k), and pretty good health. But I still feel insecure about life.
I just don't have any answers. I think I may be afraid to admit that everything I've been about is wrong.
Liz, Age 27
I grew up in a great home. I had two great parents who loved me. We went to church as long as I can remember, and my father was a deacon there. When I was seven, I remember having a very real encounter with God. The preacher was preaching and I don't even remember now what he was talking about, but I remember feeling touched by God deep in my heart. I went forward at the end of the service and asked God to forgive me and enter my life. From that day forward, I've had a relationship with God.
Growing up in the church was a different kind of growing up. I never really understood where I fit in the church. When we came through the doors, I would be rushed off to a class with people who were my age. I went from class to class as I grew up, all the while wondering when I would get to be in the real church. I felt kind of like God's kid who needed babysitting while God did his real business with adults who could understand him better. We learned all the stories of the Bible, but didn't talk much about how it was all supposed to fit into our lives.
As I got older and went to high school, I remember the focus changing quite a bit. The lessons began to be about protecting us from the world around us. I had friends in high school who didn't go to church, yet they were my best friends. For some reason this was wrong. We were often taught that if we wanted to follow God, we would need to choose to leave the friends we had because they would bring us down.
It seemed that somewhere along the way God quit liking nonreligious people. The only way I could really live for God was by living my life in a religious world and not in the world where everyone else lived. The problem was, I really liked these people. They were my friends. The only way to solve the problem seemed to be to create a little compartment in my head where I could keep my God stuff.
Excerpted from JESUS IN THE MARGINS by RICK MCKINLEY Copyright © 2005 by Rick McKinley. Excerpted by permission.
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