My dad has a ritual of sorts.
Every year around the holidays whenever I come home, he plays the song, "Please Celebrate Me Home."
When I open the front door, see the Christmas lights and hear that song playing in the background, tears usually fill my eyes.
The emotion comes, because I am home. And my return is celebrated by my father. And that is a gift. It has taken some time to realize the power of my dad's gestures, but now as an adult, I am so grateful to have a dad who welcomes me into his arms and his home every single time I return.
Yesterday, I was listening to a talk on leadership and the speakers were talking about the true purpose of the church.
The purpose of the church, they said, is to help people come back home.
I had to pause the audio when I heard that. Because it resonated so profoundly with my story.
I grew up in church. But that never equated to a personal, intimate relationship with our heavenly father. A church, in my eyes was just a building you went to on Sundays to feel more guilt. It did not represent truth, it did not represent grace. It felt more dark and stifling than anything. It was for finger-pointing, denying actual reality, and lots of "you should haves". Church felt systematic and just one of those things you go to in order to check a box. And I never, ever, looked forward to going...only leaving.
So I left. And I really had no desire to ever go back.
But then I met my now soul sister. She's one of those people who just lives in a way that draws you in. So real. So authentic. So different. She invested in me. She told me in time that there was actually another kind of church out there. But it wasn't defined by walls and buildings.
It was defined by Jesus. It was defined by grace. And it was all about second chances and warm welcomes.
I was skeptical. But she kept living authentically. And kept being open to my questions. I thought maybe one day I would just try her church-I would go to where she was going to try to get what she had.
But we lived in different states so the geography never worked.
Then one day while out running errands in Buckhead, I saw across the way a building with the word "church" on it. But it looked nothing like a church. No steeple. No stained-glass. No big signs with cheesy verses or turn or burn accusations. I don't know why but it peeked my interest. So I decided the next day I might give it a try.
When people ask me what I love most about our church, it is that thing I heard those leaders talk about.
It is a place that is easy to come home to.
You can come as you are. All are welcome. The messier, the better.
You don't have to clean up and master that perfect appearance and character before you can enter.
You don't have to pretend about reality.
All of this reminds me about the story of the prodigal son. The prodigal son went out searching for that perfect life. He lived, he spent, he used, and then he realized all he wanted to do was go back home. But he was so afraid. Afraid of what his father would say. He was so scared of his father's reaction to the mess that he had become.
And then he got to that point where he knew it was time to turn around and make that walk of shame. He had no choice but to face the judgment and the ridicule he knew he deserved.
But do you know what happened when he showed up on his father's property? His dad ran to greet him. His dad ran to greet him because he was dying to have his son back home. That was it. He just wanted him back. He didn't want retribution. He didn't want repayment. He just wanted him. Mess and all.
Having a home to come back to has changed my life.
Maybe for some of you reading this, you are looking for that kind of home. The kind of home that is warm and kind and gracious. The kind where you will be met with love, grace, and the receptivity of a father perhaps you never had.
I just want to encourage you to keep looking. There are places and people out there who can point you in the direction you need to go.
Don't be afraid. I promise you, you have a heavenly Father out there who more than anything wants to celebrate you home.
Because it is almost the holidays and I am so grateful for my Melv. Here's that holiday classic you can't help but sing along to.