Finding Belonging When You Choose Not to Fit in

Out of Place – April’s Story

When Sarah and I first discussed my guest post for her “Out of Place” series back in April, I was excited to share my story because I basically have felt out of place most of my life. I got married relatively young, I live in a home with four generations, we homeschool, I quit my stable normal job to be a writer, and I’m just generally socially awkward. Talk about weird. I thought the real challenge was going to be narrowing it down to just one situation where I felt like an outsider. Would it be the time I walked away from my career as a public educator to become a homeschool mom causing me to feel like an outsider in both circles? I could write about my struggles with Imposter Syndrome as I have pretended to be a writer, a grad student, a church leader. Maybe my social anxiety is the best topic; the way I desperately want to be seen and known and hate all the hoops I have to jump through to find authentic relationship. And all of these would have made for a good piece. But in April, I had no idea what would happen in May…

I had no idea about Breonna, or Ahmaud, or George. I had no idea that I would start writing about racial justice. I had no idea that our country would be torn in two. And I really had no idea that the Church would be so divided and I would find myself on the outside of the “Christian” circle.

Waking up

Really, this all starts with Colin Kaepernick. His decision to kneel for the National Anthem during a preseason football game in 2016 is the best I can come to nailing down a starting point on the journey I find myself on still today. As the news about his outrageous actions made the rounds, my conservative upbringing went into action, and I was immediately incensed and indignant at his blatant disrespect for our flag and those who have fought for our freedoms. The echo chamber I had crafted for myself reverberated with similar sentiments, but there was something in the tone that caught me off guard, something that was unsettling in my spirit. Comments about how grateful Kaepernick should be for his place in this country, one he found himself in because of our hard earned money… The underlying message that we were the harbingers of fortune, and our beneficiaries should only behave in ways of which we approve… It was a narrative that opened my mind to the idea that maybe “our side” was wrong. 

I had been an educator for several years by that point, and I was completely aware of the inequitable academic opportunities across the country, largely based on zip code, which also seemed to correlate with race. But Kaepernick’s actions and the ensuing fallout caused me to look deeper. I read books, listened to different voices, and did my best not to allow my current viewpoints to get in the way of actually considering what I was learning. Then, in the fall of 2017, I read Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown, and it changed my life. Through her poignant words, I found courage to step outside of what was comfortable to pursue what was right. “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, I fit in.” I decided I wanted to do more than fit in.

Shortly after I started this journey toward understanding race, I was introduced to the work of Latasha Morrison at Be the Bridge. Listening to her was the first time I actually understood that people of color have had/are having a completely different experience in this country than I am. I joined the Be the Bridge online community and adopted a stance of listening and learning as I worked through the curriculum that had been crafted for people like me to learn about a reality I had the privilege to ignore until I decided not to.

A lonely journey

As I learned more, I began to share my journey towards racial awareness and solidarity through my writing. For the most part, my posts were ignored except for by the few people that already agreed with me about the need for us to wake up to racial injustice in our country. And then, we learned about Ahmaud. I distinctly remember the day I read about his murder and my visceral response. As I pored over the news stories and watched the video, tears poured down my face, and words poured out through my fingertips. I knew without a doubt that I could not be silent. For the most part, people agreed and there was little backlash. And then, days later, when George Floyd was killed, I used my words and platform to speak out again. This time, though, the reaction was as swift as it was divided. I was called ignorant and selfish, told I was better than this, that I was pandering and only in it for the likes. People started to question my motives, and, worst of all, my faith. Private messages came in from friends and strangers alike to disagree with my claims, the majority of which were from self-proclaimed Christians. 

I found myself in a strange place. I had been a “good Christian girl” all of my adult life, and suddenly I found myself at odds with other Christians, many of whom had been mentors of mine when I was new to my faith. I was confused and lost. On the one hand, scripture is clear; God is just, and he calls us to pursue justice. Jesus spent his time in a way that seemed upside down to the religious leaders of the time. He hung out with the oppressed, marginalized, unclean. He elevated women and the poor. He offered grace and forgiveness to those who were thought to be beyond reach. On the other hand were religious leaders saying I was wrong to interpret that to mean I should stand up for racial justice in our nation. Were we reading the same Bible? Talking about the same God? Following the same Jesus? I was completely lost as to how we could all be Christians and come to completely different positions regarding racism.

I had been a “good Christian girl” all of my adult life, and suddenly I found myself at odds with other Christians, many of whom had been mentors of mine. I was completely lost as to how we could all be Christians and come to completely different positions regarding racism.

The crossroad

I had a decision to make. I could continue to head down the path I believed to be right according to God’s word and character but disappoint other Christians I loved and cared for, or drop the whole thing and stay snug in my ideological bubble. My enneagram two-ness begged me to go with the flow, do what I could to help people feel comfortable, and for heavens sake to do what I needed so that people would like me! And then I remembered that Brene said this would happen. She said that if we choose to venture out of our safe bubbles to search for what’s true, we will come up against opposition.

“We are complex beings who wake up every day and fight against being labeled and diminished with stereotypes and characterizations that don’t reflect our fullness. Yet when we don’t risk standing on our own and speaking out, when the options laid before us force us into the very categories we resist, we perpetuate our own disconnection and loneliness. When we are willing to risk venturing into the wilderness, and even becoming our own wilderness, we feel the deepest connection to our true self and to what matters the most.” 

BRENe Brown

With these words ringing in my ears, I made a decision that changed the landscape of my life significantly, a decision to stand on the truth of imago Dei. I’ve lost friends online and in real life. People don’t believe I’m a Christian anymore. (If we’re being honest, I’ve stopped using that label myself. I much prefer “Jesus Follower” as I attempt to distance myself from the religious organization that supports politicians and political structures that continue to oppress our neighbors.) Church friends think I’ve lost my mind. But I’ve also found a boldness in the Spirit to share truth and love in a way I have not known before, in a way that would have remained unknown to me had I decided to stay tucked into my comfy bubble.

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, this series is for you! Every Monday, we’ll hear from someone who has also struggled to belong. Be sure to subscribe below to get The Scoop so you never miss a post! As a thank you, you’ll receive access to belonging-themed scripture cards and adult coloring pages in the free for you library!

Thanks! I can't wait to connect with you!

Meet April Kolman

April Kolman has been married to Ryan since 2003; they have two amazing kids and a giant black goldendoodle named Sirius. They’re CA natives living in Boise, Idaho, and loving it. April was a K-8 public school teacher before becoming a full time homeschooling mom and writer. Her passion is sharing words about identity, justice, and Jesus. Connect with April on her website, or follow her on instagram and facebook.

*Feature Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

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Sarah K. Butterfield is an author, speaker, and ministry leader who has a heart for empowering women to grow in their faith and be intentional with their time. She and her husband and two boys live in San Diego, where she writes about pursuing a deeper relationship with God in the midst of motherhood.

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