In 1983, most of my Sundays started out the same. I woke up, got dressed, grabbed myself a bowl of cereal, then hopped on my bicycle and pedaled off to the neighborhood church.
My best friend Diana introduced me to this church. She had moved to a new neighborhood recently and was attending a new school. I missed her terribly. But one day, I spent the night at Diana’s new house, and the next morning, a shiny silver bus pulled up and carried us to church. It was a church only blocks from my own house, and after that day, I was hooked.
The Sunday School teachers were so kind, and I really enjoyed learning and singing all of the songs. I got to see my best friend every week, too.
But my favorite thing of all was earning stickers for memorizing Bible verses. Some mornings I would memorize up to four or five verses before heading home happily with my new stickers.
When I found out I could earn my own Bible by attending church for 12 weeks in a row, I committed to that goal. I was so proud the day my name was called to go up in front of the gathered Sunday School classes and receive my brand-new blue Bible.
But one day, the unintended actions of a few pierced my happiness, and doubt began to trickle into my heart.
I had just arrived at church, and like I did every Sunday, I was chaining my bicycle to a bench outside because there were no bike racks. While I was bent over clicking the lock, I sensed someone watching me. As I turned my head, from the corner of my eye I could see a couple of adults in a small group, and they were looking at me and chuckling.
My fair, freckled face turned red and hot instantly. I may have been only 10 years old, but I knew when someone was having a laugh at my expense.
And that was the beginning of a year-long battle in my head. I continued to go to church most Sundays, but the joy I had once felt in being there was being eaten away by doubt and embarrassment.
I was different from most of the children going to church every week, and I knew it. But before the bike-chaining day, I had been able to ignore it. Now it was all I could think about, and the differences began to loom before me, stacking up like bricks in a wall that eventually would block me from going to church at all.
Most children did not ride their bicycles to church. They came in a car, and not only that, they came with their parents. I saw them holding hands with their parents as they walked to the Sunday School room each week. And I saw them leaving with their parents after church, happily detailing what they had learned in class or deciding where to go for lunch.
Their parents brought them to church each week, while mine were still in bed, sleeping off the previous night’s drinks.
And most children came to church dressed appropriately, while I was dressed in the only clothes I had. Jeans with holes and old t-shirts and ratty tennis shoes made up my wardrobe.
As the weeks went by, I began to make excuses to myself not to go to church anymore. And because no one at home cared if I went, it was easy enough to just stop. It was about two decades before I returned.
Knowing what I know now, there are a few things I would tell my 10-year-old self if I could. If I could write my 10-year-old self a letter, just like the encouraging letters I send to my sponsor children each month, I would pour love and praise into that unworthy little girl, and build her up so she wouldn’t even consider leaving church.
Dear “Younger” Kerri,
How are you? I pray that you are healthy and happy, and that God is blessing you every day.
I am so happy to receive your recent letter, but something in it worried me. You said you might not continue going to Sunday School because you feel so different from the other children there.
I want to tell you, I know how hard it is to feel different. Sometimes it can be so embarrassing and painful that you just want to disappear, right? I remember feeling that way.
Did you know that your Heavenly Father loves you no matter how different you are? In fact, he loves you just as much as he loves the girls in their pretty Sunday dresses, and the boys whose mothers kiss them on the cheek at the Sunday School door. Those things don’t matter to him. He loves you.
Job 34:19 says, “Who shows no partiality to princes and does not favor the rich over the poor, for they are all the work of his hands?”
You will be a teen soon, and it is so important for you to continue your relationship with God. It is so important for you to have fellowship at church, where people can encourage you and teach you.
You are about to enter some difficult years, Kerri. I know those adults who laughed at you made you feel small and embarrassed you, but I am sure they meant no harm. They probably were impressed and surprised to see a child like you taking on the responsibility of getting yourself to church. Please don’t think badly of them or let that day ruin the many years ahead when you will benefit from a close and personal relationship with your Heavenly Father.
Please persevere, continue going to church every week, and pray that God will ease your feelings of discomfort and unworthiness. He will be there with you. And please write to me, and tell me what you are learning each week.
You are a special and unique young lady, and I send you lots of love.
I leave you with this verse:
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11
Won’t you sponsor a child today and share the encouragement and love that is unique to your personal experiences? There is a child out there who will benefit greatly from your words.
Click here to sponsor: http://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/default.htm?referer=129652