I met Erica at a Creative Discipleship event where we were learning to give ourselves permission to take creative expression to the pages of our Bibles. Erica and I have not interacted much since then as she moved 10 hours away, but here is what I saw from that first meeting. Erica loves people. She craves community and values authenticity. She owns her story and intentionally looks for God in the pages of her life, even if it is difficult to find his fingerprints. Please read Erica’s words with a teachable heart. We need to hear these stories, to own our failures as The Family. Erica is part of our family, and we need to set a place at the table for her and others who walk similar roads.
Dear sanctuary I never felt safe in,
Hello readers, I’m Erica and I am a 23 year old alcoholic and drug addict. If I continue to grow in my relationship with Christ and do the other things my fellowship (Alcoholics Anonymous) tells me to do, I will have a year of sobriety in August. I come from a Baptist home and was raised in the church until I was given the choice to stop attending around the age of 12, a year after I began my love affair with drugs and alcohol.
Throughout high school I occasionally attended my parents church as a hail Mary type of deal. I thought I would get immediate relief and it would fix all the problems I was causing for myself. My lifestyle was no secret to the community of my suburban city. I was told I was unwelcomed in a Sunday school class because I was a “party girl”. I was completely ignored during the social part before the lesson started. I would sit in a room full of 50 to 60 kids who knew who I was and never approached. A leader in my class who knew my dad told me I was an embarrassment to my family and I should be ashamed of my actions. People in that class point blank came up to me and told me getting drunk was a sin so I was probably going to hell. As a 17 year old in the throws of an addiction I was hurting and so broken. I went to church hoping to find peace and acceptance and love but I was greeted with disgust and misunderstanding.
By the time I was graduating from high school I was scared for my life. My addiction was killing my soul and slowly ruining my life. Out of fear and in an attempt to “fix” my problems I chose to go to a small private Christian university. I attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor for 3 and a half years. I wasn’t too excited about going to a Christian school because most of the interactions I had had with people who claimed the name of the Lord weren’t good. However, God was faithful and brought me one person who I could see the light of Him in.
Throughout our time at UMHB she spent many nights consoling my broken spirit and my intoxicated body, but loved me anyways. She taught me about grace and how we all fall short of the glory of God. She never pushed me to know Jesus, she just let me watch how He worked in her own life. She showed me how she got through trials by leaning on the Father. I was resentful at the church for a long time. Since getting sober I have really had to evaluate my view on religion and the church. I realized that the church is made up of people who, just like me, are imperfect. My sins are no different than the people I met at church who treated me poorly. I am at fault if I judge every single church based off of the experience I had with one Sunday school class.
There is a quote from the Big Books of Alcoholics Anonymous that really helped to soften my soul towards organized religion and keep my heart in check. “We looked at the human defects of these people, and sometimes used their shortcomings as a basis of wholesale condemnation. We talked of intolerance, while we were intolerant ourselves. We missed the reality and the beauty of the forest because we were diverted by the ugliness of some of its trees.” (BB of AA page 50).
That perfectly sums up how I feel about the church. The sanctuary I never felt safe in is now a building made up of imperfect people who were all made in the sight of the Lord. I have been called to love, regardless of anyone’s actions. I think I needed to know the pain of being rejected in order to understand the importance of showing everyone love and acceptance.
Erica Joy LaHouse