A Safe Place

Once upon a time, I went to one of the richest, most affluent churches in the city where I lived. It was filled with up-and-coming folks with nice, sharp clothes and straight, white teeth. They had manicured nails and name-brand shoes and shiny cars. I wasn’t any of those things. I was poor, pudgy, and worked jobs that just brushed the top of minimum wage. My clothes were clean, but well-worn—a little faded and kind of shiny around the cuffs and hems. My teeth weren’t straight—on my paycheck, I couldn’t afford dental work. My car squeaked and squealed and had rusty, dull spots. But they invited me to teach a Sunday school class anyway.

I put a lot of work into the Sunday school class I was teaching. I didn’t just sit down on Saturday night and slap together a bunch of verses. I studied and worked on my lesson all week—and tried to live it out, as well. I would ask God what He wanted those students to hear on a Sunday and then would listen, painstakingly writing down His answer.

One Sunday morning, I stood up in front of the class and talked to them about Nehemiah. Nehemiah knew that his people were sitting in the middle of the desert, in a busted down city with broken down walls. And he knew that they weren’t safe there. He knew that without walls, they were sitting ducks for whoever wanted to prey on them. He helped the people rebuild the walls so that they would have a safe place to live. A refuge. A sanctuary.

That Sunday morning, I told my class that God wants us to be like Nehemiah. This world isn’t safe. But if we build our hearts into safe places, then people can come to us to be loved and to feel safe. They will have a refuge and a sanctuary. But I warned my class that many of the people that need safe places may not look like us. They may look different or act different than we do. But that’s okay because we all need and deserve a safe place to go. We all deserve to be loved. We are all the same in the eyes of God.

The next week, I got a phone call, relieving me of my Sunday school teaching duties.

I don’t know many people who haven’t, at some time or another, felt unloved and unimportant. I have felt that way many times in my life. Some of the times I remember most were growing up as the only girl in a neighborhood full of boys and usually ending up playing by myself. Or after I was molested, when I didn’t know how to tell anybody what had happened to me. Or when I was eighteen and was date-raped, only to be told subsequently by someone close to me that I had asked for it. Or when I’ve gone through some of the vast depressions I’ve gone through over thirty-four years. But though I’ve often felt unloved or unimportant, I don’t think I’ve ever actually been completely unloved and unimportant. I really am blessed.

Though I haven’t been unloved, I know what unloved feels like and it has always been my goal not to let the people I love feel that way. When I was in tenth grade, I had a friend at school that I completely adored. She is still one of the sweetest, kindest, most gentle people I have ever known. She was raised in a wonderful home with doting parents. She was raised in a small, close-knit church and community. She was a bit introverted, but she was well-liked among her friends. And to this day, I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about her. Ever. But I was stunned the day she broke down in tears and told me how much she hated herself. I was wishing I was her and she was wishing she was anybody but her!

Oh, I’ve been there. I know me intimately. I know my weaknesses, my areas of selfishness, and my crummy attitudes. There are many days that I don’t want to be me, either!

My friend and I both found safe places to run. But I’ve met so many other people who don’t have safe places to run. They have been unloved and unwanted and unsafe so often, that it’s all they know. When they try to run to God’s people and are told that they can’t come inside the walls—or inside the love—because of how they look or dress or talk or act, the door is being slammed in their faces. Where will their safe place be then? And what will be the penalty for those who slammed the door?

I’ve tried hard over the years to find a safe place to go and I’ve found many doors slammed in my face. When I was on a plane, in January, headed to visit friends in the Pacific Northwest, I asked God where my safe place is to be and He answered, “I am your home.” Over the subsequent weeks and months, the Nehemiah lesson has come back to me and I’ve realized that even as I make my home in Christ and run to Him to love me and to be my safe place, I am to love and be the safe place for all of the people I come into contact with. As I realize this, I find myself slowing down more to ask people how they are and to listen to them. I find myself reaching out more, even to people that I barely know. And I find myself reaching out more to the people I love and saying, “I love you SO much.” Sometimes, it feels awkward. And it may embarrass them or fluster them this moment, but in that moment when they don’t feel safe or loved, my hope is that they’re remember that they are. They are treasured and they have a family—even one that doesn’t share their DNA.

Katie said, “How beautiful it is to watch the unwanted feel loved and important, to watch strangers become family members.”

Amen, Katie. Amen.

This week’s blog post is part of a weekly discussion that some of my friends, my co-facilitator, Jason Stasyszen, and I are having on the fabulous memoir, Kisses from Katie. You don’t have to read the book to join in the discussion—your thoughts are important, feel free to share them! If you have written a response to this chapter, click on over to Jason’s site to find the widget to share it. Thanks for joining us!

About Sarah Salter


  1. How beautiful it is to know His love and to know it has no bounds. May we forever extend love just as He has extended it to us.

  2. Awesome post, Sarah. Thanks! I so agree with you. I think what you are writing about here is what the Gospel is truly supposed to be about!!!

  3. Sarah Salter says:

    Dusty – AMEN!

    Chris – You are completely right! This is totally what the Gospel is supposed to be about. And so that’s the business that I’m supposed to be about. I hope, every day, that it IS what I’m about. Thanks for coming by and sharing!

  4. I got a little preoccupied trying to figure out why your lesson got you “fired” but I do understand your point. It’s an awful feeling to feel unloved and unwanted, but like you said, we do have a refuge and He is our strength–a very present help in times of trouble. It’s a beautiful thing to live in that relationship and not that we’ll never be hurt again, but He does lead us to safe people who can love and bless us in unimaginable ways. Thanks Sarah.

  5. Hi Sarah, I loved this post….if we have no safe place in the church, then where else do we go? And yet I have met far too many people who have felt rejected or out of place, or unwelcome at church…however, we never need to feel like that with our Father, who always has His arms open wide. HE is my safe place, always. I had a dear Aunt who had a supreme gift for always making everyone welcome when they entered the doors of her home. I always hope that I remember her and that some of that has rubbed off on me….Thank you for this wonderful post. Lori

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