Sunday, July 12, 2015

Church


Church. The face with many masks, at least in my lifetime.

It once represented a fun place to make arts and crafts, somehow creatively connected to scripture. Certificate awards that could be be framed or put in a scrapbook showing the success of learning the books of the Bible. Little snacks and Dixie cups with red Kool-Aid. It smelled like Play Doh, glue and paint and sounded like Jesus Loves Me This I Know. I loved having angel wings strapped on my tiny back, lined in sparkly tinsel, just like the wire halo on a stick hanging over my head. Older people stood in front of the church wearing matching robe-like gowns, holding hardback hymnal books and singing off key. My Nanny sang along loudly and I couldn’t tell if it sounded good or bad. The best part was when the preacher said for the kids to come forward. We sat criss-cross-applesauce on the carpet and listened to a Bible story he had tried to recreate in our novice language. Sometimes we even got a little prize, like a piece of candy.

When my parents divorced, church became a special holiday event. A place we went with my Daddy on Christmas, Easter and the Homecoming week. All of a sudden, going up front to sit criss-cross-applesause seemed like the dumbest, most embarrassing thing. The red-faced preteens would shake their heads in refusal as their parents (who think they’ll stay kids forever) motion them to go forward. Oh, the horror. But every now and then there would be a little toddler who was scared and needed a lap: Our hall pass to still be cool, but still get to sit in on a time giving us a refreshing, memorable glimpse of our quickly passing childhood. Criss-cross-applesause, Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy … I miss them …

I found my way back into church near the end of my high school years. Looking back at what I did and how I lived then, I’m not sure how that happened … church and me uniting, but it did. Even more confusing and hard to explain is: in spite of being in my na├»ve youth and living carefree, my comprehension about my faith surpassed where it has been since then. I didn’t totally get wiser as I got older.

However, once I met my Prince Charming, fell in love and began my happily ever after married life, going to church became part of our world. Having a church family was our reality. My handsome husband was now one of the people wearing a choir robe and I was the beaming young wife and mother, sitting in the second row of pews … surrounded by my husband’s extended family, which basically made up the entire congregation. I dressed my little baby in frilly dresses and matching bows and watched the glowing great grandparents pass her around. My mind can instantly pull the photograph memories of her in her christening gown, me holding her, and both families posed for the proud family photo; all of us standing at the alter, of course. A repeat of that happened with my second daughter also. Every memory exactly the same, including the same christening gown … oh, but minus one great grandparent. Though my husband had all four of his, I only had one left by this time; however, she had passed away during the pregnancy. Other than that, it was all the same.

My memory of that church is much like the one of my childhood. It was Cumberland Presbyterian, and mine was Methodist, but many things were the same. It was an older church, containing primarily older people, it was small, they said The Apostle’s Creed, people wore choir robes and the kids came forward to sit criss-cross-applesause on the carpet while the preacher scaled his message back in a kiddie style fashion. Though I was now a parent, I still found I would often get more out of that little sermon than his big one …

My husband and I eventually left the little family church in search of connecting deeper on a spiritual level. Leaving the family fellowship was hard, but proved to be a powerful transformation. This is when I planted my feet in church. I was home. We were home. No matter how difficult the struggles of marriage or parenting, we always seemed to reconnect after an hour under that roof. During this time, my heart and brain connected church as one with my marriage and family. It’s as though they melted together. Church/God/Marriage/Family became one in the same, which is what I think is actually supposed to happen … but now I think that it may not?

Then, it happened.

I was 34. My oldest daughter was 12 and youngest was 8. We went from a family of four to a family of three. Granted, it didn’t happen quickly, it was a slow fade, ending after many, many failed counseling attempts over about a two year period of time. Five different ones, to be exact. Not five sessions, five counselors.

I tried continuing to go to church and taking the girls. Most of it remains a painful fog. I could no longer hear the sermon over the blaring sights of families. Whole families. They were living my life while I was living someone else’s. Husbands escorting their wives through the door. Wives nestled under husbands’ protective arm, listening to the inspiring message. I was a zebra in a field of horses. Marriage was strong because of church and church was strengthened because two became one and then united with the church … Since I had clearly, unknowingly connected church with marriage and family, I had a new struggle.

So, I took a break from church, but still took my kids.

I dropped them off.

I get how wrong that is, but I also have some bit of admiration for myself as I was gasping for air, yet still trying to tread water for my kids. As lame as it sounds, I remember what it took for me to simply do that. I was a duck, looking calm and floating across the water; yet underneath the feet are paddling like hell.

“Church” at this time became going to a Christian counselor and me praying with my girls. For quite a while, I prayed with my children before eating, before going to sleep, and if something profound ever happened. Hopefully, this tradition lasted long enough that they will remember Mama praying with them. Surely, that will be a positive memory that matters. I hope …

As my girls became older teenagers, I continued my painful effort of trying to force myself back into the church habit. They have watched me get ready, with the best intentions, and if we made it, we were often late. They’ve heard me voice my intentions of waking up early for church. Sometimes they would mention it at some point Sunday morning, as I was still in my pajamas, and sometimes I just saw them think it.

Somewhere along the way (in about a five year time span), three people in my close circle got sick … and then, died. Two were female friends I have known all of my life and one was a nine year old boy. All three taken by cancer. Sure, death had entered my life before this, but it was along the lines of grandparents, older people, or people who weren’t in my close, daily circle. Or possibly, they died before the time when I thought I and/or MY prayers were so incredibly grandiose …

By the time the last three died, I suppose I thought I had a hotline to God. With total and complete focus mixed with an intentional effort of thinking, praying and physically doing any and every single thing possible, God would be convinced because I genuinely tried as hard as any one person could try.

It didn’t work. They all still died anyway.

I’m still not sure what the secret is, or IF there even is a secret. I’m also now not sure which is worse; dying, or being left here to navigate through what appears to be a scary place with diminishing glimpses of safety … in every sense of the word.

I’m also not sure about prayer, which is it’s own ‘sad’ since that was the last thread of my “church.” I’m sure that I no longer do it the same as I once did. Like, I do not pray for someone to live because I now think our days are already numbered and no person’s prayer has the power to change that. However, I am 100% certain that if a day comes when the life and death of one of my children is in question … I will certainly/surely discard that belief and once again begin praying, begging and every other thing desperate people do. Sad, but highly likely. For the most part, I keep my prayers safe, asking for things such as strength and peace. I live in a constant state of fear and worry, especially about losing one of my kids, or anyone else I love, for that matter. It’s a sin, or at least wrong, to worry and have fear. I know that, but I still do it.

Over the last decade especially, I adopted what felt like a safe concept. I began spiritually and emotionally relying on people who were seemingly in a better, safer place than me. Instead of solely going to God in prayer (because I’m no longer sure we are speaking the same language) I have been using people as the bridge. Still not leaving God, Jesus, my faith … but just trying a new approach because I don’t seem to have what it takes.

This seemingly worked well for several years. Within the last year, it stopped working.

Looking back, I have relied on several people, putting them all on quite the pedestal. They earned their statuses in various ways. Some have greatly suffered and still seem to remain strong. I assume they have something I lack, so I stay close. Others have power and intellect far beyond any I have or will ever know. They are surely a safe umbrella to hide under, especially since they are highly respected …

Anyway, one by one, each pedestal has been knocked out from under the person. It’s not a pedestal the world/everyone can see, it’s just the one I placed under them …

 

So, here I am. Standing as alone as alone can get, and somehow I’m supposed to guide two young women into adulthood while simultaneously trying not to go completely crazy. As fate would have it, the world has seemingly became as unstable as my little world. Looking around is not helping. It seems that a mass mindset of “I need to be heard and agreed with” is sweeping the universe. We are demanding that we have an entitled “right,” but cannot seem to notice that won’t work because we want everyone to be equal, and if the next person disagrees, they have rights too … however, my right/belief is right, and even if it infringes on your rights/beliefs, deal with it. Somehow, it is someone’s right for others to have their rights be overlooked, but none of us know who.

It is all a game now. In spite of what REALLY is right, now the game is to find loop holes, and make it the “new” “right.” Now, everyone can get first place and the crown, because it will be wrong to allow feelings to get hurt; creating debates such as this:

A child pays for two expensive seats at a concert for her sister’s birthday and takes her younger sister. After paying for both seats with her own money, she discovers that the lady next to them is larger than her seat and physically occupies the space covering her seat plus one and a half more … that would be the two seats she purchased for her and her sister. One would think the child who worked and saved her money would have a strong defense, but because we cannot discriminate or hurt feelings of one who is different physically, she must lose her right to the seats she paid for and reserved.

Granted, I’m ALL about not hurting anyone’s feelings and being overly sensitive and compassionate to other’s physical differences, but clearly this is a lose/lose situation for both. The child and the person who is larger than the provided seat. Surely, places will soon be forced to provide wider seats at the same price because a bigger person should not be made to pay for two seats? But for now, they cannot be made to move, though the child who paid for a seat she cannot use is inadvertently made to move. There’s no solution and we all know better than to say anything. Personally, I don’t think one person should have to pay more than the next person for any reason, but I also don’t think someone who paid should have to surrender their seat … and it would be a waste of space and expense to make all seats larger (this goes on for days.)

Cheers to an equal rights world, except for those who don’t drink.

 

Back to my Church thoughts …

Things feel unstable. Obviously, nothing here is stable enough to cling to or trust. I can understand how and why people question God, the Bible, church and such. Not to say I agree, but it fits into that category I was told by a wise person and have passed on: “You can’t understand how divorce happens until you get married, and child abuse until you have a child. Not to say you will do either, just to say you will see how they can happen.”

To each their own, but everyone must find an anchor. One may think God is the imaginary Daddy in the sky, so I’ve heard, but who is another to take away and steal the sometimes last and only thing one has, hope. If one choses to take that away, with nothing to give in it’s place, I’m thinking it’s worth ignoring. And besides, I’m pretty certain if one believes there’s nothing more … that will likely be true for him/her, at least to some degree … So, for the non-believer, I guess we can all agree there is some level of “right,” at least for him. Not to mention, the people claiming God is not real often blame Him, therefore, inadvertently acknowledging Him. And I’ll be the first to agree that the Bible is confusing and contradictory. Like, we are to love and give to the homeless/needy; yet, we are told to beware of those being manipulative. That’s casting our pearls among the feet of swine. So, are we helping? Or are we being an enabler? Similar to being told to accept ones behavior due to depression or other disorder, but ignoring the fact of the truth, which is: that concept can make a person responsible for another, and that’s not right either. Boundaries getting blurred.

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This past Tuesday, I left home to pick up my daughter from college. Everything was perfectly normal and fine until the bottom un-expectantly fell out of the sky. Then, huge gusts of wind became forces moving my car while I was driving. In a panic, due to the fact that I already have severe storm anxiety, I pulled over into the nearest place. It was a church parking lot near my house. Though it has been sitting there for 22 years, I had no idea what it was called or the denomination.

I noticed an area that was kind of underground, but didn’t have a roof. It was the exact size of my little car with rock walls that were slightly taller than my car. I was nestled in this small entrance to the church, and I think the sign said, “Office entrance,” but I’m not sure. As I sat there, I could see the storm raging all around me, but not actually affecting me since my car and I were in our hiding spot. Surely if there are cameras, someone will know I mean no harm and am simply taking cover … and it’s a church … so they are supposed to be all about helping people in need … and I’m in need …

I waited until the storm passed and slowly backed out of my safe spot, glancing back in a “what just happened” kind of way. Ironically, the storm must have been heading south, the direction I was driving. Within a matter of minutes, I was back in the middle of it, and we traveled all of the way to my destination together, very slowly. Just me and the storm; which by this time, was representing God and seemed far less scary.

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I sat in the back row of a new-to-me church today, by myself. Not in a sad way, just in a curious, “Let’s see what this is like,” way. There weren’t many people in the congregation, but it didn’t seem empty or dismal in the least. The energy was solid and happy, and I enjoyed the music as well as the sermon. I assumed everyone could relate to the pastor when he said, “Maybe you are looking for that one thing …” and other questions I felt were strangely specific to me, but maybe not …

I stayed until the end, something I don’t always do. Right at the end, in spite of the sanctuary noise, everyone jumped at a different loud noise. Confused looks questioning, “WHAT was that?”

There was no sign of rain when we entered the church, but a storm had approached out of nowhere. Very odd … Especially since that was how I was originally brought to that church. In some way, today my ears and brain heard thunder as the voice of authority, of God. Both commanding and comforting. It was the biggest, most powerful present force. We all acknowledged it, as no one could deny the obvious ... It was cool to be calmed by something I consider scary.

Several people approached me with intriguing smiles after the service ended. I could tell I radiated “outsider.” This morning, I thought nothing of the horizontal braids lined across the sides of my head. I’ve never worn my hair like that, but my friend’s 13 year old adopted daughter from Haiti had clearly given me a distinct first impression.

The pastor quickly walked to me with a smile, becoming the third person to ask how I came to visit the church. So, for the third time, I said, “Well, I sought shelter from a storm right outside there (pointing) earlier this week and I sat here until it passed, then, after I had been here so long, I thought … maybe I might visit this church. So, here I am. It made me do this (turning my head with wide eyes) when the crashes of thunder happened, that’s for sure.”

Each time, my explanation made an awkward silence that was awkwardly comfortable.

 

All of a sudden, I didn’t feel like a passenger in a plane with no pilot. Not because of the pastor, just because. Between all of our shocked looks regarding my unique way of arriving to their church, there was simply no explanation but the good ole “brought here by God.” Again, maybe so, maybe not. But today was the first of a seven week sermon and I think I’d like to hear the rest of them …

 

Kasi

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