Marcia Ford claims she's always felt like a "misfit," and for most of her life, she says people have looked at her "funny." Initially, she thought it was because her family was so weird, walking down the sidewalk in a straight line, as they often did. But at the age of ten, when she was away at camp and her family moved without telling her, Ford found herself standing in a room full of strangers who were all looking at her funny. And lo and behold, she wasn't with her family. Unfortunately for Ford, the funny looks continued long after she was "born again" and desperately tries to fit in with other Christians.
In MEMOIR OF A MISFIT, Ford writes what it's like to be a square peg trying to fit into a round hole --- something most of us can relate to, especially within church walls. But what sets Ford apart from the rest of us "misfits" in Christendom is her willingness to stop embracing the impossible ideal of what a Christian is supposed to look, act and feel like and just be...herself. On the way there, though, she runs around in circles, trying everything --- promiscuity, marriage, drugs, alcohol, suicidal thoughts, fundamentalist Christianity, finally chucking all religion --- before eventually coming around, thanks to a couple of Christians showing her unconditional love, to a new faith and realistic understanding of God.
At certain points in her narrative, I felt Ford was sharing too much personal information and it made me a tad uncomfortable. But it works because she writes her tragic tale with so much honesty and tongue-in-cheek wit that it keeps you from getting bogged down in just how sad her story really is. Maybe it's because there's so much to read between the lines.
I thought about Ford's words and my status as a "misfit" as I sat in church last weekend, surrounded by people who all seem to have their act together. Everyone was smiling. Everyone looked so perfect. During the sermon, I actually turned every which way, scanning the crowd to see if I could find someone, anyone not fitting that mold Ford desperately had to break free from before she was able to have an honest and growing relationship with God. I was a hair's breath away from asking the person sitting behind me if she ever questioned anything or if she had any problems. I admit, Ford's book made me wonder how much of myself I had checked at the sanctuary door without noticing before that moment.
Ford's bottom line? Breaking free. And that bottom line serves several purposes: First, to admonish fellow Christians to allow others to discover God loves them, quirks and all. To deny that basic tenet of the Christian faith narrows the Gospel message to one of "fitting in." Her life story echoes Jesus' words in Matthew 9 as he scolds the Pharisees, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick...I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Ford's should serve as encouragement to other misfits in the church --- and all of us fit into that category, really --- to stop contorting ourselves into acceptance. Right now. Her journey of faith hasn't exactly been a straight line, but thankfully, she's forged a path for all of us who love God but have been turned off by the church. She wants us to come back and try again. This time, not looking around, comparing ourselves to others but rather looking up and getting to know God --- the God of misfits.
Reviewed by Diana Keough on January 10, 2003