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A Lonely Pew

Jackie is nervous this morning. She doesn't quite know what to wear. It's jeans and an worn pair of tennis shoes that  fill up most of her closet. She has changed clothes five times now and it's almost time to leave.

She was invited to church by girl from school who she sits next to in fifth hour. Things haven't been going super for her over the last few years. Jackie has felt alone and left out. At times she has felt as though her world has been torn apart. Is there really a God who lets junk just happen to us?

Jackie picks an outfit finally and slowly opens the door to leave home. She hears her mom shout, "Just where do you think your going missy?" Her momma starts her day off with a drink and ends it pretty much the same way. God has never set foot in their home. Spoken or otherwise. Sadly, Jackie doesn't know if she should tell her mom that she is attending church this morning. She finds the strength, somewhere, and the words are out before she can take them back.

She feels the slap redden her cheek. Jackie hears the words, "Who are you kidding? Church? You think your going to be accepted by those hypocrites?" Jackie is out the door without another word.

Her daddy has been in prison for the last five years for robbery and drug running. She has no family to speak of really. A brother, but they both know that relationship is rotten to the core. No love loss after the abuse she has been hit with time after time. At least her mom finally made him leave. That's one good thing. But, is it really good? She has no idea where her brother is today. He could be dead. Last she heard he was living on with a friend and selling drugs.

Jackie goes to school and works at a little grocery store after. The money she earns each week goes not to her needs, but in her mother's hand. Whisky is the greatest need in their house. Jackie can't even call it a home.

She is proud of her grades. She makes straight As and hasn't missed one day of school in two years. School is just about all she has. No one knows where she lives. She has learned how to keep secrets. No one would ever guess where the scars came from on her arms. It gets hot wearing long sleeves all the time.

She tries to just mind her own business and keep quiet. She really doesn't like nosy people, but just today she realized, no one has been nosy in her life in a long time. Oh what she would give to have a friend to call at night when she is lonely. Just to go shopping with a girlfriend or have a boy take her to prom. She has almost but given up on those dreams. But she does dream. She dreams of a happy home, being surrounded by friends and family. Does that even exist?

Okay, she pulls into the church parking lot. Where should I park? Am I on time? I surely don't want to walk in late and have everyone look at me. Jackie decided she would just come to one church service and see what it was like. She's never even walked into a church before. Would Jesus even want her here today? Her heart is pounding she is afraid others can hear the beating.

She doesn't have a Bible. She's not even read a page out of a Bible. Her thoughts quickly go back to her friend who invited her. She always looks so nice and she's always surrounded by other kids. How should she say it? Her life looks really good from the outside. Something Jackie can't even imagine. What would it be like to have dinner at five O'clock like a family?

Alright, she pulls on the church door and it opens. Should she dare to walk through those holy doors? She does. Now the question of where to sit comes to mind. She looks around and she sees people being busy. It's almost like watching fluttering butterflies.

Well, she knows she isn't sitting in the front row. That just wouldn't be right. I'm sure those are saved for the good people. Jackie takes a seat near the back row corner. She notices more people are sitting closer to the back than the front row. Maybe she isn't the only visitor today. Just where is her friend? Her friend told her about the youth group and how awesome it is. Maybe her friend will be watching for her and invite her to sit next to her?

Ten minutes and service will begin. People pass by her in a flurry. Some laughing, others are hugging. Jackie spots her friend. She is with four other girls. They are moving up front. She catches the eye of her friend, Tammy. Tammy looks and keeps going with her friends. That's okay. Jackie is used to that by now, but for some reason she thought it would be different here. Church people are suppose to love, right?

The pastor enters and walks up with his Bible open. He begins reading scripture. He begins preaching. Isn't that what you call it? Anyway, not everyone is paying attention. Adults are chatting to one another and Jackie over hears the two ladies sitting in front of her speak about another woman. They aren't saying very nice things.

Jackie tries to focus on what the pastor is talking about. He's making his point about hypocrites. He's talking about how we should not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

The sermon ends and now there is an alter call. Wow, people are really going forward to pray? Not in a million years would I go forward. No way. If I went forward people would see the truth right through me. They would know I don't belong here.

Church ends.

Jackie gets in line to walk out the front door. The pastor is standing there waiting to shake hands with people. Maybe he will invite her back? What will she say to him? She is just as nervous about leaving church as she was about walking in. She is almost to the pastor. He is hugging people and telling them it was good to see them.

Before Jackie gets to him, he gets a call and must walk away. Hmm..she doesn't even get to meet the pastor. Well that's okay. What would she say to him anyway?

Jackie finds her car as she walks past many people. Wow, this is a huge church. At least three hundred people. Jackie opens her car door and places her purse next to her. She sits for a bit just watching people as they leave with their families. How sweet it would be.

Her ride home is filled with thoughts. Just maybe her mom was right after all. Tammy didn't even act like she knew Jackie and what was going on with the ladies sitting in front of her? She is remembering the sermon. She recalls the smile on the pastor's face. What she isn't remembering is anyone speaking to her. She didn't even get a hello. It was as though no one noticed her at all. It's like she was the wallflower of the hour.

Part of her was hoping no one spoke to her, but that other part? Her heart was aching for someone to notice her. To invite her back. Maybe just say, "It's nice to have you join us today". This is why Jackie decides putting up a wall around her is what she should be doing. No one cares. Not her mother and surely not those church people.

Monday morning comes and she sees her friend, Tammy, in fifth hour again. Now Tammy talks to her. She asks, "What did you think of church?" Jackie answers with the only answer she knows. "Those church people need to listen a little closer to the sermon".

"This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another." 1 John 3:11

"We love each other because He loved us first." 1 John 4:19

"God showed how much He loved us by sending His One and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love-not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and His love is brought to full expression in us." 1 John 4:9-12

Sadly, Jackie never entered a church building again. This was her invite and she got a look on the inside. It's what her mother told her to expect. She went in empty and came out just as empty. Her life went on just as it did before. Home, school and work. A drinking mother with a nasty right hook and a father who would be released from prison soon. A brother who found his way back home.

Just think what could have happened if one person. Just one had reached out to Jackie and made her feel welcome?

Dear Heavenly Father, please forgive us. Forgive us for not reaching out and sharing your love. Lord, help us to love everyone. Whether they are just like us or totally different. Help us to remove ourselves from the comfort of our circles and be the love of Christ to all we meet. May we have hearts filled with compassion. May we remember the first time we walked into church. Help us to walk with accepting hearts filled with love. You make all the difference, Lord. Use us to bring others closer to you. Change us to look more like You, Lord Jesus.

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