Sitting on the Fringe

  crucifixmudroom

I pass by the holy water font without pausing, fifty-three years of reflex gone. I slide into a pew tucked in the back corner of the cavernous church, an arm’s reach from the flickering votive candles. An arm’s reach from the nearest exit. It was not always thus between you and I. I spent hours close to your tabernacle, golden sunlight pouring through stained glass windows creating a walled garden sanctuary of peace.

I kneel and gaze at your tabernacle this morning, the pre-dawn light full of shadows, bathing your walls in blue and gray. My eyes rest for a moment on those gathered front and center, anxiety builds in my throat to even think about being so trapped and visible. Exposed to those who would judge me for my lack of proper responses, or query me as to why I don’t sing anymore.

I close my eyes and wait for the mass to start, aware of the presence of our fellow brothers and sisters sitting on the fringe. I have a sense of community with the residents of these pews nestled in the back corner. We are the late arrivals, the early departures, the masters of the art of being invisible.

I stare at the sanctuary and wonder for the hundredth time why, why do I continue to attend church every Sunday? I bring nothing to the table. I have no gift to share. My only offering is doubt. My only gifts are my companions of despair and emptiness. My sacrifice laughable to many, how do you describe the sacrifice of vulnerability after betrayal and scorn? It is easier for me to stand in front of a thousand strangers than to stand in the company of those who knew me.

Despondency threatens to consume me as I hunch down in the corner pew, I lean into the silence of your tabernacle, begging for a scrap, a flicker of your presence. Fleet-footed memories run past my eyes, my other self who used to dust your altar and care for your linens. I remember being so conscious that it was pure gift and privilege and could be taken away in a heartbeat. But I never thought the exile would be so severe and arid. I never thought the offering and sacrifice you would ask would be my own son.

The words of consecration fall on my ears, “this is my body, which will be given up for you.” My head buried in my hands, I hear the familiar hiss, “You should not receive, look at you, full of doubt and rebellion.” And another voice overrides the hiss, “You are always to come to me and receive, never keep yourself away from me.”

Slowly, so slowly, grasping the hem of your garment there in the back pew, I have a glimmer of the real exchange that has taken place. I have given you nothing of worth. I simply offer my presence, caked with the aroma of doubt and hopelessness, and you hold nothing back, you give me all of you. Freely given, lavishly poured out, nothing held back. You do not wait until I can give all of me, or more of me, love and mercy spills from your heart and runs to the fringe, to the crushed and broken places.

Like the wisps of a dream remembered after waking, I sense that the very offering of my presence, joyless and exhausted, is an offering and sacrifice that is acceptable on your altar. In your eyes, which see the heart, you know that it is all I have, mud pies, wadded up tissues that have caught my tears, the pieces of lint that make up my life. You take them and carefully unfold the mess, your scarred hand resting on the back of my bowed head, stroking my hair. I steal a glance upwards at the tattered gifts I gave you and I see not the mud, or tissues, but flowers and jewels emitting a sweet fragrance and shining in your light.

I repent and ask your forgiveness for whom I thought you were, for how I thought you loved, for believing perfection was the only way to win your heart. I open my hands letting go the stones I have thrown at myself and others. No, it is not like it was once between you and I, but I am learning your heart anew seated at the fringe.

Terri Jackson

Terri Jackson is a writer, wife, and mother of two sons. Her oldest son, Justin, was killed in a vehicle accident September 27, 2010. Terri and her husband, Doug, have been married for over thirty years, her blog tells the story of their struggles, tears, and the joy and humor of learning to live again after the unthinkable happens. She has been published in We Need Not Walk Alone, the national magazine for The Compassionate Friends organization. Terri has discovered a love for being a canine foster parent for rescued Shepherds, home brewing beer and mead, and hosting book studies in their home as she explores her new “normal.”

Latest posts by Terri Jackson (see all)

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  • Every single one of us, like you, brings nothing to the table, for Christ is all. Unfortunately, most of us don’t realize it.

    • Terri

      Hello Michele, I am slowly recognizing the freedom and liberation in bringing nothing, its like being able to catch a deep breath. Thank you for the gift of your time to read and share, wishing you a very Happy Easter.

  • Dee Mauger Incollingo

    Terri, this — every blessed single word — speaks to my broken heart. Substitute son with daughter. i am no longer able to find my voice to sing the songs of praise I joyfully sang for so many years. I miss my blind faith and while I find it returning, I still pray with one eye open. Why does it feel as though the death of my child was a punishment from Him. Yet in a quiet vulnerable moment I realize He gave me the gift of my daughter. He picked me to be Amy’s mother. His promise that we will be together again some day is the single thread I find myself dangling from many days. No one knows the pain of child loss unless they have lived it, but He knows my name and my heart. He understands a broken mother’s pain. Yes, I have been the recipient of some of those stones and have thrown many stones too since the sudden death of my youngest child. Beautiful, heartfelt post, Terri. Thank you.

    • Terri

      Dearest Dee, praying with one eye open – yes! Oh my goodness, yes! I write with Amy’s beautiful smile greeting me at my desk, thank you for the gift of your Amy. And thank you for the gift of your friendship and reminding me of the singular truth that Justin was pure gift, like your Amy. Grateful for your hand to hold on this journey.

  • Terri, what a gift your words are. “I sense that the very offering of my presence, joyless and exhausted, is an offering and sacrifice that is acceptable on your altar.” All of it but that sentence in particular helped me exhale today. I just wanted you to know that. I haven’t grieved to the extent that you have, can’t even begin to imagine enduring the death of a child, and then getting back up again inside a new normal as you are. This is so authentic and touching. Thank you for sharing.

    • Terri

      Thank you Julie. I know that feeling of exhaling! Thank you for reminding me to breathe and then let it go. Thank you for the gift of your presence today and your words of encouragement. Wishing you a beautiful season of spring and renewal.

  • Peggy Browning

    Dear Terri, I have been in your place on the fringe. In fact, I remain there with a new understanding, a new form of faith. Our sunny belief changes with the loss of our most precious love. I wish you well.

    • Terri

      Dear Peggy, I am grateful for your company on the fringe. It does become a new form of faith, so different, but filled with new understanding. Wishing you a peace filled day.

  • Terri, Thank you for sharing your story. What a great tragedy but remarkable that you’re determined to find God even in this. It reminds me of Jacob wrestling with God, demanding a blessing. Beautiful imagery here.

    • Terri

      Thank you Traci! Oh yes, wrestling with God, you captured it perfectly. Thank you for the gift of your time to read and connect. Wishing you a wonderful spring day.

  • Anita

    Terri, thank you for sharing this with us. Your heart-felt words paint such an beautiful picture of love, pain, suffering, loss, tragedy, mercy, survival, and faith!! As always, your words speak to my heart, and I am so thankful for you, your amazing talent in sharing your story and thoughts so beautifully, and for the help and healing you bring to me and others!!

    • Terri

      Anita, thank you. I am gathering up your words like fragrant flowers and holding them close. Your words bring hope and healing to my heart.

  • Karen @ BakingInATornado

    Through your honesty and storytelling skills you took me through hopelessness to hope,

    • Terri

      Thank you Karen, thank you for the gift of your time and kind words. Wishing you a beautiful spring filled with peace and hope.

  • Cathy Chester

    Stunning, Terri, and I weep with you at the loss of your son and send you healing thoughts and prayers. I understand what you are saying – completely – and I honor you with love and friendship. You are a gifted storyteller. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

    • Terri

      Oh Cathy, I was so lonely yesterday and you reached out your hand and pulled me out of my dark closet. You acknowledged and held my intention with such love, and responded with such care and concern. Thank you for your words of encouragement, friendship, and love. I treasure them and you my friend.

  • Oh, Terri, so beautiful and sorrowful yet full of hope, because Jesus meets us even in the fringes. The way you tell the story you draw me in and I get a glimpse of your sorrow, which must be very deep, your loss great. May God continue to reach out to you drawing you ever closer and may He grant you comfort. Thank you for sharing this part of your heart with us. Blessings to you and much love!

    • Terri

      Dear Gayl, thank you sitting with me in the Mudroom and listening to my story, thank you for the gift of your presence and love.

  • Sharon O

    Amazing words and writing. May you continue to use your gift.

    • Terri

      Thank you Sharon for those words of encouragement, I shall hold them close.

  • Martha_Brettschneider

    What a gift you are, Terri. Authentic, poetic, raw. You bring those of us who could never imagine the loss you have experienced into your world. I am changed after having read this piece. You are serving the higher good with your writing.

    • Terri

      Thank you Martha for the gift of your time to read and walk with me on my journey! I am so grateful that a crazy conference brought us together! Your presence turned that weekend into a batch of precious memories. Thank you for your words of encouragement and friendship!

  • Thaeda

    Had to wait to wipe the tears before I could see to start writing here. “Freely given, lavishly poured out, nothing held back. You do not wait
    until I can give all of me, or more of me, love and mercy spills from
    your heart and runs to the fringe, to the crushed and broken places.” And this is the only God I know. Not the one who would judge or discount. Not the one who sees anything but perfection when looking upon me. The only God I know anymore is the one who needs nothing from me. Who demands nothing from me. And waits only to give to me- all that I need- as soon as I ask. The path to getting to know this God has been long and winding, full of darkness and craggy rocks and deep pits…but I am slowly finding my way- just as you are. I love you. <3

    • Terri

      I love you too Thaeda! I got that tears thing happening too! Grateful to have your hand to hold in the dark places.

  • Momof3misses

    I can so relate to this. I continued going to church services after experiencing a trauma and sat towards the back since I went by myself and it was hard seeing all those happy families together. As time went on I attended a service and during the sermon this feeling of forgiveness came over me and right then I forgave the person who caused all the pain to my family. The priest who was giving the sermon left to go to another church and I have been unable to return to services knowing he won’t be there.

    • Terri

      Hello Momof3Misses, I can close my eyes and imagine that moment when feeling of forgiveness came over you, how gracious you were to extend that to the person who harmed your family. I know that sense of not returning after having a good shepherd leave to tend another flock. Thank you for sharing your story, it confirms that there is grace and mercy even in the back pews. Be gentle with yourself, trauma rewrites our life. Wishing you some gentle moments this week and a peace filled Easter.

  • Beautifully written. I was very moved by this post. Know one know the pain of suffering a great loss unless they walk in your shoes. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • Terri

      Thank you Carolann for the gift of your time to visit and reach out! The company of friends eases the suffering and gives hope. Wishing you a beautiful spring day!

  • Laura Palmer

    Terri, words fail me. However I can understand your thoughts and feelings and am so grateful you have chosen to share this journey. I can only hope it offers some amount of comfort to know you are not alone.

    • Terri

      Dear Laura, it does offer comfort to know that I am not alone. Thank you for gift of your time to sit with me in the Mudroom and share in my journey. The gift of presence is one of the dearest gifts we can give each other, so thank you. I hope that spring is arriving wherever you may be, and that you enjoy a beautiful day.

  • Helene Bludman

    Oh Terri, your words are so poignant and beautiful. My heart aches for your sorrow and loss. Holding you in my thoughts.

    • Terri

      Dear Helene, thank you for the gift of your kind words and thoughts. Thank you for the time you took to walk with me and share my story, those moments lighten my heart and gives strength to continue the journey. Wishing you a beautiful spring day!