Church, is where I would be sitting right now if it were any Sunday from 2012 to 2016. But here I sit, staring at the time, desperate to be free of my reflexive guilt. The shame of fallen expectations, mine and theirs. It’s always about us, and the all-consuming narcissism of acceptance seeking.
Church, the place where I was baptized so long ago. I don’t remember it. Should I? How could I? I’m pretty sure I was a baby. I don’t remember being given a choice. Seventh Day Adventist, so I’m told. Bits and pieces, fragments of memories, as told by my Mom. She says I was a vegetarian for the first two years of my life. A phrase oozing with utter contempt for my Dad. It was his rules and the churches by which she was meant to live. She could never forgive him his double-standards. She says he ate meat while we ate like rabbits. I wonder, does it matter?
Snapping Gum and Sunday Naps
Church, down a bumpy brick road, at the end of the path, and to the left. A lifetime away from the farmhouse on Brokensword Rd. A white panel house of God. Mamaw and Papaw in their Sunday best, happily herding a gaggle of geese into the pew. Mamaw on the left, and Papaw on the right – bookends to the bitter end. Gaping, giggling, and gregarious grandkids stuffed in-between.
Mamaw passing out the Juicy Fruit and Double Mint, never without enough for everyone. Popping her tiny piece of sugar through the entire service. I used to wait for those moments. The subtle sound of popping gum still turns my cheeks up; a flashing reminder of a time of peace. I never understood it, I never even questioned it, I just accepted the moment for what it was. Quiet refuge. A serendipitous gift. A moment of calm. Only interrupted by the subtle sorrow of my Papaw’s snores. I sign of exhaustion, deemed as disrespect. I wonder now if his Sunday naps weren’t simply a gift of the Holy Spirit. A moment of pause.
Church, where I found refuge as a teenager. An invitation from a friend. A church event; it was the Saturday before Easter, I believe. An opportunity to spend time with my friend, a fleeting moment, or so I thought. But there I was, once again seeking, but never seeing. Without hesitation, the church became my escape. A boy, nearly a man; gorgeous blue eyes and a winning smile. It didn’t take much, I don’t even remember how it happened, but for the briefest of moments, we were a couple. And then we weren’t.
Sunday mornings passing notes, leaning in, and tuning out. I wasn’t there to hear the pastor. I wasn’t there for God. Sunday evenings spent the same. The hours in-between spent either as a collective whole, the youth hanging out and passing time, or secretly hidden away. Wrapped in the arms of the boy who consumed me. Who made me feel loved, though now I realize he simply made me feel wanted. That raw hunger of young lust is intoxicatingly devastating.
Church, where I learned about hypocrisy and double-standards. Where I felt safe until I didn’t. Where I saw truth beneath the dark undercurrent of lies and deceit. Where words and actions do not always line up to God’s; excused by “we’re only human.” A place where I could laugh, and pretend, and have fun, but no more. Judgment and scorn thrown like daggers at anything real or true.
Where I found myself running to the altar. A victim of assault, desperate to seek shelter. Setting aside my shame and confusion, my fear and hesitation, placing myself at the altar of God. My expectations left me shattered. A broken soul left hollow and abandoned, there on the floor. I wasn’t there to speak to God. God couldn’t help me, he never did. I wanted to feel the hands of His people. I wanted to be enveloped in love and compassion. I needed to feel that people could be good. But I felt none of that, instead, I felt the cold discomfort of isolation.
Church, a place I avoided for years, nearly ten in whole. I wasn’t avoiding God, I was avoiding fakeness of fellowship. My hunger was always there, and clearly, He was calling me. I asked a friend, said I felt the pull of God in my life, and she responded. I remember my nervousness, my fear of being judged or shunned. Would I wear the right clothes? Would I say the right thing? Should it matter? I have never forgotten my feelings as I walked through the sanctuary doors. A rush of a complete agreement; a subtle awareness that I was home.
There was no doubt, I was home, and I was moving in. For years, through some of the darkest of my life, I committed myself to church. I was a quiet soul who kept her head down and tried to go unnoticed. I didn’t reach out, and I didn’t get involved. I made pleasantries when required, but mostly I focused on my time with God. I knew I was where I was meant to be, even if I didn’t know why. My time as a new Christian was a beautiful journey.
Sadly expectation crept in and ruined everything.
To be continued….
Photo by Isak Dalsfelt