Frantic and breathless, I jumped from the old Suburban and ran for the church. Without air conditioning or even a headliner in the big, blue beast, the ambient temperature increased to create an oven on wheels. Drenched in sweat and wild eyed, I flung open the two glass doors of the church.
The foyer was dark and cool. The smell of gourmet coffee wafted from the cafe bar to my right. A guitar and happy singing could be heard coming from somewhere deep in the bowels of the building. But, no one was to be seen.
I don’t remember what R had said or done or threatened. I just remember I was scared to death, and I needed prayer. I needed money. I needed safety. I needed my health and strength back. I needed people to step in and act as a surrogate family for my children. I needed wood for the winter. I needed so many things. But, in that moment I just needed prayer.
Relief washed over me as the church secretary appeared from the corridor of offices.
“M! I need someone to pray with me!” I recall blurting out. No pleasantries. Just a desperate plea.
Without stopping, she handed me a yellow Post It pad and a pen and instructed me, “Write your request down and leave it there. I’ll see that someone gets it.” With that she disappeared into the sanctuary. And, I was left alone, sweaty, scared, disheveled, and longing for someone to touch my hand and pray WITH me.
There were countless of those moments until we left. We visited church after church and received similar dismissals. One church was generous and came alongside us in friendship, but an elder there was harsh and condemning of my martial status. He left the children and me feeling rejected, like dirty outsiders merely granted the grace to sit among them. No matter how warm the rest of the congregation was we couldn’t sit under his stern eye, so we left there, too.
We unknowingly visited the home church of the supervisor at the vistation center. I had great difficulty singing praise songs right next to the woman who accepted gifts from our abuser and snapped at my children when she was contractually bound to remain neutral while supervising his visits.
I knew my kids needed a church. But, where? I was okay at that point. I’ve been a part of the most incredible Bible study group for almost a year and a half. Those four women have become my life lines, my prayer warriors, my closest confidantes, my material support, and my fun gang. We share wine and concerts and dinner and tears. They’ve brought me back to truly living. My poor children had nothing like this though.
Oh God, where? We’ve been to nearly every church in town!
I did what was easiest. And, hardest. I went back to where we started.
The pastor, afterall, baptized my two youngest sons. He was there, really there, for me when my dad died. He performed the memorial service and drove 45 minutes to the internment without reimbursement. He defended me when my brother–a non church going non Christian–showed up at my church to convince my pastor to condemn me and lead me in the direction my brother desired. He and his wife laid hands on me and prayed for my physical healing.
We just had so many unmet needs. We were so incredibly needy and lost in those early days. We needed church members to come alongside us daily in some huge ways, and they didn’t. They attended luncheons and sang happy praise music while we floundered. So, we were hurt and angry, and we went searching.
Our first Sunday back the kids went off to their class and my young teen went upstairs with the kids his age while I enjoyed to the sermon. A few weeks later they all spent the week at Vacation Bible School, E as a helper, having a blast with their friends and the adults who were old, familiar faces to them. After one fun filled morning of Bible stories, games, water fights, and treats, the children piled into my car, and J exclaimed, “They’re nicer now!”
But, they’re not.
They’re always were nice.
They haven’t changed.
Our greatest needs now are for fellowship, friendship, housing, wood for this winter, and child care while I work. That’s it.
The refrigerator is full.
I have a big pile of bills to pay, but I also have jobs lined up and a waiting list of potential clients.
I have a new, dependable car.
We have clothes and furniture.
The divorce is final, which gives us a legal reprieve for now. The constant threat exists that R will get mad and fight over custody or reduce the child support, but for now I have no reason to set foot in that corrupt courthouse.
We have a house coming.
We’re working through the remaining problems.
We aren’t quite so needy anymore. What we do need from the church, they are very capable of supplying–fellowship.
This past Wednesday a family from church took E up north with them on a fun day trip. He needs their grandson’s friendship. Need met.
While we found our solace during those dark early days in A Cry For Justice and Give Her Wings, and I am GRATEFUL for them, I still believe the local church body should have been there. They are great at potlucks and parties, but they suck at “bearing one another’s burdens.” That pressure simply can’t rest solely on the pastor’s shoulders. We’re all a part of this.
“They’re nicer now! ” J exclaimed.
I responded, “They’ve always been nice! They didn’t change. We did. We’re better now, stronger now, so we can enjoy them. But, let that be a lesson to us because we know what it feels like. When you see a sad little boy or girl come to Sunday school, go sit in the shade with them. Don’t run off to play with the other kids and leave them behind.”
I’d love to say those words to the grown ups in our local churches, “When you see a sad man or woman, go sit in the dark, lonely place with them. Don’t run off to a potluck or singalong to have fun, leaving them behind, alone in their sorrow and cares.”