It had been nine months.
The span of time in which babies turn from ideas to breathing.
Nine months since I last stepped into a place of worship, bowed my head, and mouthed words with strangers around me on all sides.
Six years since I had bent down on wobbly knees, rubbing them raw on red-colored cushions. A flap of white cloth between my bare knees and the altar.
And I was terrified. I looked around, knew no one.
What am I doing here?
It’s the sort of question I imagine thousands of us ask for any number of reasons: we haul a caravan of rowdy children to the grocery store and wonder why it’s impossible to scan the scribbled list, navigate the aisles and wrestle the children away from the Halloween candy display; we sift through a stack of bills too tall to be ours and wonder what we’ll be doing without next month to make it work; we tuck one ankle behind the other, fold our hands, bow our heads, and wonder whether these strangers in the aisle in front of us are thinking the same thing on a chilly September morning.
For most of my life, church was a place I knew well. My second father who always tucked me into his robe and whispered to be good for my parents this week, don’t cause any trouble now. My mother’s stack of CCD workbooks sliding around in the backseat of her Jeep Cherokee, marked up with the writings of nine-year-olds who just wanted to feel like they belonged.
Like they were ready to stand up with everyone else and march to the front of the altar and bow their heads and accept God into their life.
Like they were not just watching, not the last to be picked for kickball at recess, but maybe not the captain yet either.
I wanted to feel like those nine-year-olds. So I sat and listened and looked around and waited for something that might feel like home.
And I can tell you, because I felt it over and over again, that the scariest thing this world has revealed to me is the truth: that more often than not, things don’t stay the same, but change every single second.
They had changed the responses since I last handed my Sunday to God. And I felt that nervousness, that restless feeling of losing a battle, of failing to be the kind of girl who woke up every weekend and put on her nice clothes and spent hours devoting herself to worship.
It happened when the music started. The same handful of people standing next to the altar, one guy with a guitar, and chords I knew so well.
I felt this warmth of knowing. This warmth of recognizing. That in a world where everything had changed, where I did not know the priest’s name and no one had dared sit next to me, leaving the whole row of chairs to myself, these chords had not. These words had not.
Growing up, I thought we were to whisper, “Thanks, speedy God,” instead of, “Thanks be to God.”
I spent years convinced of this. Now, I know, sometimes He is speedy. Sometimes, He works quickly. In an hour’s time, He quiets your fears.
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