Sunday, May 16, 2010

Karen on My Mind

At some point or another along the way, Karen had come to the church where I served as Youth Minister. I did not know her. Had never seen her. But her name was on the roll, so I went to visit her in her home. And what an eye-opening visit it was. Karen was from a family that didn't have much in the way of stuff. They lived in a run-down house. Karen wore old clothes. She seemed rather embarrassed about the conditions in which she lived. And while she managed in school, I don't think she was making any honor rolls. On a scale of 1-10, her self-image must have registered at about a negative 5. While I had no evidence, my hunch was that there may have been some kind of abuse going on in the family.

Anyway, I invited Karen to church. I could tell she was a girl who needed Jesus and needed friends. And I was of the opinion that she could find both through the church's youth ministry. I was able to tell her about Jesus, and she accepted Christ even though she found it hard to believe that someone like Jesus could love someone like her. I introduced her to the youth group. Some of the kids knew her through school. It was all a very uncomfortable mess. In a room full of beauty queens, Karen stood out as the great exception. In a room full of "who's who" types, Karen stood out as the great exception. In a room of high fashion, Karen stood out as the great exception. She felt intimidated by them, I think. She couldn't connect with them. They wouldn't connect with her. I don't think that they intended to be mean; they just couldn't find a way to connect with her, and they didn't try very hard either. I even went personally to some kids and said, "Please sit by Karen. Please talk to Karen. Please try to include Karen in your group." But it just didn't happen. She only felt more and more uncomfortable. And eventually she dropped out. I hung with her as best I could, but to the best of my knowledge, she finished high school, moved out, and I lost track of her.

Several years later, I heard from her. "Where are you?" I asked. "I'd like to come see you." She said she was in the psychiatric ward of the county hospital. I went to see her. And once again I thought, "Here's a girl who needs Jesus and who needs Christian friends." But she wasn't about to try the church again. She tried once, had the door slammed in her face, politely slammed, but slammed nonetheless. This is what she said, "I tried the church once, and there's just no place there for someone like me." The church had a chance to redeem Karen from a terrible life, and by shutting her out of the fellowship, the church let her go. And now, I don't even know if she's dead or alive.

I share this story because I’ve been preaching a series of sermons on relationships, and I can’t help but think again of Karen—a girl who had no strong and healthy connections with anyone. I can’t imagine how lonely she must have felt every day of her life and twice on Sunday. I can’t help but wonder how many Karens we cross paths with in the church and in the world. And I can’t help but wonder what a difference it might make if we would notice them, speak to them, include them. This is not easy work. Having been burned more times than they can count and having so little confidence in themselves, the Karens of the world are rarely going to meet you halfway. At least at first, you might have to put forth most, if not all, of the effort. Could I encourage you to do just that? Could I encourage you not to give up but to hang in there and keep building a bridge of friendship even when you feel like you’re getting no where? Karens don’t believe in themselves; will you believe in them? Will you love them like Jesus and to Jesus? The Karens of the world are worth it. God loves them. Jesus died for them. And the church needs them.

You know what I hope for? I hope that someday the phone rings and that Karen is on the other end: “John, I just wanted you to know that I’m better, that I found my way back to Christ and to the church. Thank you for loving me and believing in me when I could do neither one of those things for myself. Thank you for pointing me to Jesus and the church all those years ago. For the first time in my life I think I’m going to be okay.” I would love to receive such a call, but I’m not holding my breath.

Here’s what I’m doing instead: I’m keeping my eyes peeled and my soul sensitive to the next Karen that crosses my path. And when she or he does, I’ll try all over again. The way I figure it, we all pretty much look like Karen to God, and yet He pursues us, loves us, and at great sacrifice reaches out to the likes of us. If God did that for me, it becomes my privilege (dare I say duty) to do that for others. Like I said, this is no easy task and successes may be few and far between. But maybe the success is in the loving and the trying and the reaching and the knowing that if we reach even one, the angels will dance, heaven will sing, and Jesus will clap His hands for joy because a lost one has been found and a stray has come home. Read the gospels and you’ll see that Jesus loved and sought the Karens of this world. He's still doing the same thing, but now He wants to love and seek them through you and me, and He wants us to make room for them in our circles of fellowship. I’m game. Will you join me?


  1. Wow what a story there are so many people like that I see it all the time It could have been me at one time

  2. You're right. We all need to keep our eyes open for opportunities.

  3. John,I love this story -- with all the pain and agony we suffer over the Karen's, they spur us on to be authentic with others like her we meet. While praying that someday Karen may experience God's rich mercy, I pray that in His mercy He will open our eyes. Thanks!


  4. Hi John, Thanks for this gentle reminder and I think God won't be real happy with any of us until we can look at the least of us and think "sister" or "brother".

  5. Hello, i read your story. Karen is my sister.
    your story brings back many painful memories.
    she and i are very close, i pray for her all the time. thank you for writing this blog. i will keep these things in mind. Lord bless you and your family. Patricia.

  6. John, you say it so well! I was a "Karen" growing up and often times feel like I owe it to all the other "Karens" out there to believe in them the way so many believed in me. I LOVE this reminder and I know that God is smiling down as this story touches so many, to SAVE so many.

    Jennifer M

  7. John,

    I was one of those "Karens" in my childhood - and part of my adult life. Hopefully, reading this will make at least one person more accepting of the "Karens" in this world.
    That said, my sister, Brenda, and I (who have been estranged for our whole lives) just found each other a week ago today on, thanks to the help of a blogger friend of hers in Oregon.
    Brenda was probably somewhat of a "Karen," too. She told me she doesn't even believe God exists, due to all the bad things that are allowed to happen to innocent children. I would like for her to read your blog, but I'm scared I'll lose contact with her forever if I try to push her. If you have any ideas or suggestions, I'd appreciate them. I've already told her I know I wouldn't even be alive if it weren't for God.
    I'm going to put the link to her blogs "Finding My Sister" and "Still Searching for Siblings" here, if you want to read it:

    Please keep us in your prayers; we are still trying to find our younger siblings. One of her two cats, Bonnie, just disappeared from their 8' fenced back yard a couple of weeks ago, too, and that's hurt her even more. I'm praying for Bonnie's safe return, and hoping it would give her some faith that God IS up there.
    May God bless you and your family always. Hope your brother is doing better.
    Have a safe, healthy and blessed Memorial Day weekend.

    Sandy (& George)

    P.S.We're enjoying living in Conway, but we miss you and FBC. Thank you for always being there for us when we needed you.