On Rainbows and Reclaiming My Place in God’s Family

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By Jaime Riefer | Twitter: @jaimeriefer | IG: @jaimemarvin

As I crossed the street a few blocks down from Main and Hastings, I heard a voice rise up from the din of wanderers: “Kids!” It was a sudden warning.

Soon other voices were whispering, “Kids” in a strange chorus as people announced our arrival. Hands swiftly tucked into pockets. A path formed as three little girls and myself made our way into the group of pushers and buyers.

Instead of the usual “whatchu lookin’ for” muttered eerily close to my ear, a louder “EEEEy Mami!” found its way to me. The speaker looked at the girls and me. His face was kind as he smiled beneath the tattoos. His eyes didn’t look like the eyes of a man dealing drugs on a street corner.

“Mami, you lost?” His tone had a note of genuine concern.

I smiled at him.

“Nope. We live right over there.” I pointed in the general direction we were headed. Then we continued on our way.

A few blocks later, as my little ministry team and I handed out sandwiches, smiles, and hugs, we found a woman, huddled in a dirty alcove. The woman was not much older than I was. My littlest approached her with the confidence and boldness that only a four-year-old is capable of.

“We have sandwiches!” she stuttered with excitement.

Kneeling down, she gently put her hands on the woman’s face and looked directly into her eyes. The woman was startled at first, but the child jumped up and pointed at her sister, holding the bag of PB and J. They handed the woman a few sandwiches and we chatted for a few minutes. As we got ready to head down the street, the woman looked at me with a deep desperation.

“What are you doing here?” It sounded almost like an accusation. “You don’t belong here.”

My eight-year-old smiled sadly at the woman, and with wisdom and compassion beyond her years, grabbed the woman’s hand, and said: “Neither do you.”

//

I was 18 and living in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, BC with a funny little band of Evangelicals. We were there to tell the lost, the last, and the least the good news; there was a place for them in the Kingdom of Heaven. 

Our particular brand of good news embraced the idea in Isaiah 61:4 of rebuilding, renewing, and restoring. We firmly believed our God was interested in taking the broken people, the desolate places, and the ruined cities and bringing them back to beauty, functionality, and wholeness. We lived for Scripture that promised to take the lonely and place them in families. We welcomed the outcast and forgotten with a guarantee that they had found where they belong. We reminded people that God is with us, God will not leave or forsake us.

When we go up to the heights, God is there. When we make our bed In the depths? God is also there.

We met men and women society had forgotten. They were exiled to a four-block radius with my intersection on Main and Hastings as its hub. We walked up and down those streets, learning names and stories. Singing songs, praying, inviting people in for tea.

Growing up southern, I thought I knew how to drink tea. I soon found out that this was an entirely different kind of tea. I quickly learned to love it. Hot tea, good conversation, new friends; I was living in a whirlwind of grace and mercy, leaning on the good news of redemption and reconciliation.

Little did I know I would cling for dear life to these promises in the years to come. Though I would not experience the utter desolation of the friends I’d made in that old neighborhood—my soul would come close.

I was a pastor, ordained in a non-denominational, but largely Southern Evangelical tradition, when I met and fell in love with the woman I would marry.

This was the church where my grandparents, met, married, raised their children and were pastors. This was the church where my parents met, married, raised their kids, and were pastors, along with my sister, brother and two of my aunts. This was the church that raised me—from infancy to adolescence to full grown adult; from accepting Jesus to being called to full-time ministry to ordination and commissioning.

This was the church that no longer had a place for me. I was welcome to attend a local church, but I was no longer afforded the rights and privileges of a member. I was no longer welcome to provide input or feedback. And my attendance came with side-glances and whispered concerns. Suddenly my ability to preach, teach, and serve was questioned.

We went in search of a place, knowing God’s calling and gifts are irrevocable. I knew that whether in the heights or depths, God was with me, God’s hand would guide. And so I embarked on a long, arduous journey to reclaim my place in God’s family.

The first church I attended, boasted a billowing rainbow flag in front. And in the foyer. And as the backdrop on the platform. And as the pastor’s stole and shirt. Suddenly I felt like a commodity. That was not the place for us. We tried a few more churches, but couldn’t find the right fit. My heart ached for the church of my youth. Everywhere we went the music was off, the theology was different, it didn’t feel right. One place didn’t smell right.

Six weeks before the arrival of our son, we found our way to a small, reconciling Methodist church. That first Sunday they sang one of my favorite hymns from childhood. The sermon spoke of the longings of my heart. The people were kind, and the coffee was good (and fair trade.)

We knew immediately we were home.

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About Jaime:

I am Jaime. I read all the time, I write when I can, I think too much, I tell big stories and terrible jokes. I still believe that I can change the world. My biggest fan, maybe because he has no choice, is my 15-month-old.

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