Breakfast & the Battlefield

“C’mon were going out to breakfast,” Phoebe said. It was the last day I was staying with her family in the middle of nowhere central Illinois.

“But the kids, Alex?”

Phoebe shook her head and waved her hand. “They’ll be fine.”

We drove into town and ended up at an old haunt, a mom and pop diner. I had totally forgot this place exsisted. Phoebe was still reconstructing her life, as her and Alex’s legal separation ended. The bump Phoebe sported was proof their seperation wasn’t as seperate as the legal papers say they were. It was unplanned, but Phoebe and her prophetic gift knew this was in the cards years ago. 

“I hope I’m making the right decision by letting him come back. He’s changed, he’s good to me, the kids, he’s making amends, but I worry he’ll cheat again,” her voice trailed off as she gazed longingly at my mimosa.

I made the wrong decision by ordering huervos rancheros in a small farming town restaurant run by white people: it was an uncooked flour tortilla with scrambled eggs topped with tomato sauce. I was jealous of Phoebe’s breakfast of eggs, toast, and hashbrowns and her ability of getting pregnant with birth control.

“You have to go by the fruit they produce, but nothing is ever guaranteed,” I said. She knew I was fully supportive of her decision, to stay or go. If I were her, I’d have left and not looked back, but it was not for me to decide.

“How did we get here, Simonne? Why is marriage so damn hard?”

The weight of her words hit me like a sack of flour dropped out of the sky. I thought about my own heart wrenching struggles in my marriage and how it changed me and ultimately us. I thought about my friend who divorced a parasitic narcissist with an abusive streak a mile wide dressed up as a good Christian man. I thought of my other friend who appears to have the perfect marriage from my distant view, wondering if they found the secret that has elduded us, or if they’re as effed as we are and hide it better with their megakilowatt smiles.

“No one said it would be this hard,” I said barely above a whisper. “Problems, sure, thats life. But this – all this – why had no one warned us?”

“I don’t know, someone should have said something. I just never knew it would be this hard.”

I scoffed at those empty platitudes we shove on brides to be: never go to bed angry, laugh together everyday, put Jesus in the center and everything will be fine. Sometimes going to bed angry is better than having the same arugument an octive higher and an hour later. There are times when laughing is on the list below cleaning the grout in the kitchen after a long and tiring day: not happening. Jesus said He would be with us, not that bad times would be avoided by obedience and prayer. I doubt the second time Paul was shipwrecked, did he think, “Wow I must really be doing something wrong.” America with her prosperity gospel of smooth sailing and happy clappy Christians: gag me with a place setting.

Yet here we were.

We ate in silence. We both were fighters, women who followed after Jesus, and loved our husbands. We ate like we were gearing up for battle.

As we left the restaurant and headed back to the house, I reflected how on how Alex’s adultery changed Phoebe: she became less dependent on Alex and more dependent on God. Old Phoebe would have fretted over the kids and Alex for breakfast, but now she left him to be a father. Maybe something good came out of this mess.

I recently learned they’re moving to the east coast and will be within driving distance from me. They’ve decided to hit the reset button on their marriage by moving away from the cataclysmic damage. I’m excited to see where the Lord leads them in this new season.

And my heart is so full that I have a another Christian soldier so close to my heart and my city once again.

The Prequel to Heaven

“Grandma Beth died,” my husband informed me. She was the widowed mother of a relative – I had never met her – but one of her cookie recipes was a staple in my kitchen.

“Oh no, what happened?”

“It was all very unexpected. The crazy part is when her daughter found her, they say she had been dead on the kitchen floor for almost four days.”

I blinked. Holy cow. That’s how I’m supposed to go. Statisticlly, someday I’ll be a childless widow who will be found when the neighbors complain about the smell of my decomposing corpse. But this woman? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. She lived in the same town her entire life, birthed five kids (one of which still lived in town), had a score of grandchildren, friendships, and connections – and yet she died alone and no one knew for days. Not to say having someone there could have prevented her death – but I wish her story didn’t end like that. I thought those things only happened to us introverts without kids type.

Sometimes death comes without warning and you don’t have time to assemble your nearest and dearest around you as you cross over to the other side. 

Since getting our living will and last testament notarized earlier this year, I’m much more aware of death – perhaps more so than when I worked in the ER. It’s personal now and not just something that happens to other people or something to worry about someday. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen 65 years from now. I’m prepared either way.

My friend Ruth and I joked that we’d move in together when we were old ladies, á la Golden Girls. With my older husband and her single status, who would care for us and watch out for us in our twilight years? Neither of us have children.

It’s no longer a joke. It’s a jump plan. 

When the days come where living alone is too difficult to navigate, we’re becoming the Golden Girls and taking care of each other by living under the same roof. Even if Ruth marries and has kids and my husband lives to see 100, there will be room in my home and life to care for friends. All the Golden Girls had kids, yet they still needed each other in the day to day. The ability to live in community is so important and I don’t think that changes as we age. If anything, it exacerbates the need for connection. The ability to check in and and care for friends is paramount. Who knows what kind of world we’ll be living in when our hair is silver; I’ve already decided how I am going to live, come what may.

A lot of it will probably consist of sitting on the back porch sipping tea, musing over a Bible verse that has been read 1,000 times over the course of our lives, but today it has a new meaning. We’ll celebrate holidays and birthdays – we’ll be that house that is always open to anyone who needs a family.

I’ve already started living into these rhythms. We’ve hosted all sorts of people throughout the years – from a wayward Kiwi making her way back home to a sweet German tourist to a gay pastor to hurricane refugees without shelter – not to mention last year, my house seemed to be the spot for friends to process a divorce; I was happy to share my space for healing.

My guest room is always ready. You never know who the Lord will send your way in a moment’s notice.

Someday, my doors will propped open for friends who are recast as family when our lives wane into the sunset years. Instead of coming over for the afternoon, they may become permanent fixtures as we figure out this growing older thing together.

God willing, no one in my circle will die alone.

I won’t have kids, grandkids, or great-grandkids. I’ll have to rely on my friends to support me as well. We’re all in this together: might as well set out another chair and deal you in when you’re ready.

So the Past Walks into a Bar…

I waited for her on the quad of our alma mater.

I arrived first, feeling nervous. It had been well over 10 years since we last spoke heart to heart. How much had changed? Would it be all surface level banter? Would I tell her of my struggles and open my heart to her, like the old days? Or would she be a stranger, far too removed to share that old bond of friendship?

My old college roommate – a long lost best friend and a woman I once considered a sister – was meeting me for dinner.

“Simonne!” Out of no where, she sprinted up to me and gave me the biggest hug, nearly knocking me over. Deborah hadn’t aged a day, in fact, she seemed locked in time at 25, despite being almost 40. Her long blonde hair and shining blue eyes looked more of a college student than a married mother of three who had a corner office and her own secretary.

10+ years might as well have been a few weeks for all the difference it made.

We chatted with animation as we made our way to a local college hangout joint for dinner. I forgot how easy it was to talk to her and how she listened so intently.

No sooner had we gotten our food and we were already diving into the nitty gritty of our lives.

“I got an IUD and its been wonderful,” said Deborah. Then she chuckled, “Look at us, we’ve hung out all of a half hour and we’re already talking about birth control.”

It was quite reminiscent of our college chats. “Well, we decided to go the infertility route, and so far, that’s worked pretty well for us,” I deadpanned.

Our eyes locked and then we both burst out laughing. It was the first time I could genuinely laugh in the face of my childlessness. Once we stopped laughing, she touched my hand with sad eyes. “I’m so sorry that’s part of your story. What happened?” The whole unedited saga came out. 

She was silent, nodding as I finished my story. “Five years ago, huh? That was right about the time my marriage impolded.” It was my turn to listen with wide eyes. “We were almost destroyed, but counseling saved us. We’ve been a great team ever since.”

I shook my head in disbelief. What upset me the most was that we were both struggling with big issues and didn’t lean on each other because we lost touch. 

We left the restaurant and wandered around campus. We both are diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and empaths: I’m an Enneagram 9, she’s a 2. I told her how much her words of encouragement had an effect on me after college, by calling me out on my friends with benefits situation.

“Wow, I sounded like such a dick, I’m so sorry,” she apologized.

“No, it came from a place of love, you called me out on my bullshit,” I said. “I needed to hear those those words.”

She signed. “It still sounded harsh. But yeah…I could use a Deborah in my life now.”

I nodded. “Everyone needs a Deborah.”

I confessed I thought I was too clingy when we were roommates, constantly chatting with her at all hours about the boys I got myself tangled up with.

“Oh Simonne,” she said, “we were kids, we were just trying to figure life out. I never saw you as clingy or a burden. I always thought I was the bad roommate because I hardly cleaned and had stuff everywhere.”

I laughed. “I have no memory of you being a bad roommate or leaving a mess.”

It was so cathartic.

We stopped in at our old bar and it was still 2003 in there. We grabbed our drinks and we talked about the old days. I told her I lost touch with the boys of college, she mentioned my ex-boyfriend’s wife looks like a carbon copy of me; I found that quite amusing. She talked about her kids (“This doesn’t bother you?” “Nope, not one bit, keep going.”) and how she ran into one of our old mutual friends from the parties we hosted, and I told her about my writing.

A couple hours later, she had to go home. I was so sad to see her go. A part of me felt like we’d walk back to our old apartment and everything would be as it was. But it wasn’t. We were older and wiser; you couldn’t hide our battle scars since our days as students or the fact we had become more of our own. She was still the same old Deborah, but now she had this quiet widsom about her that wasn’t there before. Her confidence was obvious: it wasn’t hidden away like it was in college. I wonder what she would say about me.

Deborah stated that she is terrible at keeping in touch. I’m determined not to lose contact with her, now that we are caught up on each other’s lives. She is too beautiful of a soul to be lost to time again. Like Phoebe, Ruth, Madge, and Rebeka, they are the women I want by my side as I grow older.

If you have a Deborah in your life and too many years have gotten between you, reach out. A friendship may sail back into the harbor. Or it may not, but it’s well worth finding out.

Make Like a Plant and Leave

The hashtag #exvangelical is comprised of people who have left Christianity and some who are still Christian but don’t believe the Americanized gospel flavor we’ve all been seasoned with. Every time I see this hashtag, I think of David. He’s the reason I came to Christ, yet I don’t think he’d walk into a church today.

David was an outcast in high school and had no sense of self. I’m not even sure how we became friends. He had a crush on me, but I ensured we’d never leave the friend zone.

David went to a Christian conference and came back saved. I mean saved. Instead of being “on fire,” as they say in the Southern Baptist circles, this kid was his own little forest fire – slightly out of control and too hot to get close to. I remember telling him as an apathetic Catholic that it was great he found Jesus in his life (didn’t seem like a bad thing, really), but he needed to start acting like a normal person again. After a couple of weeks, he returned to normal David mode, but this Jesus thing stuck. I got curious about all this and ended up at a youth game night at church. This was the beginning of my story with following Jesus.

David had a vision from God on the bus home once. I was part of that vision, where God told David that He would take care of me. David shepherded me in my new faith and our friendship grew closer because of it. He wanted to become a pastor. Even our classmates nicknamed him “Rev” as he was never without his Bible and sometimes overstepped his boundaries with calling out someone else’s sin. “Simonne,” he’d say, drawing out the “onn” part. “What are you doing? You know where that can lead,” after I told him about making out with my boyfriend in the woods. I filtered most of that because I didn’t want his wisdom bestowed upon me. We were all virgins, True Love Waits was part of our church curriculum, and our drink of choice was Mt. Dew. Still, Rev David wanted to make sure we were living pure God-honoring lives. He was a one man inquisition.

I vaguely remember when it started. “I asked Pastor about it and he shut me down,” a dejected David shared with me. “He actually yelled at me, saying something about just accepting it on faith.” David wanted more information on the supernatural part of the gospel – demons, ghosts – stuff like that. Apparently at this church, questioning too deeply meant you didn’t believe correctly, didn’t have enough faith, or were trying to circumvent the pillars of the SBC. David was upset his questions were continually dismissed with some glossed-over church verbiage.

We left for college. David went to an ultra conservative Christian one. While there, he met Jessie, a preacher’s kid. They fell in love so hard it caused them to drop out of college and get married the summer after freshman year. Jessie was a few weeks pregnant when they walked down the aisle. I found this out at the rehearsal dinner.

Their marriage was tumultuous. They attended church here and there and then not at all. Jessie forbade me from contacting David. She had what I can only describe as a mental illness and two more kids later, she abandoned the family by hopping on a Greyhound bus to Pennsylvania to meet some guy she met in an internet chatroom. Once it was all figured out and the missing person report was trashed, David filed for divorce. The judge granted him full legal custody. Thank God.

David married again. Some years ago, David apologized for severing our friendship because of his ex-wife. I stepped away because I naively thought their marriage was more important than our friendship; now I would view it as a sign of abuse. I hoped it would restart our friendship, but it didn’t. The last time we spoke David wasn’t the guy I remembered. He had a faraway look in his eye and we only small talked for five minutes before he had to go.

On his social media profile, it says “Ask me” under religion. I’d like to someday.

Most Southern Baptists would just say he was never saved to begin with if he’s fallen this far away. I disagree. I believed his faith was real. Was David just a seed that fell on those rocky places? Was he all leaves and stem and no root? Did the church ever amend the soil for him? I don’t know. But I wonder: will he be reseeded? Will anyone water him? Is there anyone in his life with a big old bucket of spiritual compost?

I’ve always wanted to reach out to him, see how he’s doing, but I’m afraid that season of friendship had sailed. I don’t have that kind of access anymore. Decades later, I’ve changed, he’s changed – is there any common ground left, outside of the distant past?

I wonder if he considers himself an exvangelical. Does he read his Bible? Does he pray? Have his children grown up knowing the Lord? I can only speculate, but I think the answer is no.

I’m leaving the door open to the possibilities, praying once again Jesus will connect our lives.

Take It to the Lord in Prayer

I was caulking a bathroom window during a recent remodel when out of no where, I heard that voice in my head.

“You need to pray for Ruth’s future in this coming year.”

Wait, what?

I love how the Lord really does meet you where you are in the moment when the focus is elsewhere. I am amused how when I’m walking during my contemplation devotional time, He largely remains silent, yet when I’m in the middle of something mundane – like caulking a window – He decides to pipe up.

I paused caulking as I took in the gravity of all this. Alright, I can do that. I wasn’t sure what I was praying for, as her life was in a state of flux, but it always comes around to the same thing: that she would seek the Lord’s guidance and that whichever path she should take would be lit by His guiding light.

You can’t miss those lighted walkways.

I must confess that I haven’t always been consistent about it, but today, it hit me that it needs to be a priority.

  “Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms, He’ll take and shield thee,
  Thou wilt find a solace there” (J. Scriven)

Our church is contemplating another quest for leading the community to Jesus. The idea has been floated as an abstract thought, but it is moving closer into the realm of strong possibility. I did some investigative research about it and already went into the mode of “We could do X and I’ll take charge of it!”

My pastor smiled. “That’s all well and good, Simonne. You can start by praying.”

I wasn’t prepared for his response, but I should have been. I nodded. Of course. It’s not a done deal, there are moving parts and a lot of unknowns. A lot of ground has to be covered first, it might not even happen!

Since becoming a student of contemplative prayer, I’m more about doing than sitting back and praying – I was the opposite in my proper American Christian don’t-get-too-close-to-the-action conservative days.

I need to strike a balance. Action and prayer. Prayer and action. One shouldn’t supersede the other, but they should go together in concert.

Like salt and caramel. Or cream cheese icing and red velvet cake.

It restarts today.

Madge

Magdalena Sapphire Victoria Josephina.

She had a strong enough personality to carry such a huge name, but was down to earth enough to be simply Madge. Like Ruth, this friendship was suppose to fizzle out, but the Lord had other plans. Madge had a Type A personality that made most Type A’s take a step back. I am meek and mild when standing next to Madge. She would mistake my quiet demeanor for weakness. I’d spend the next 20 years proving her wrong.

We were partners at a summer job. It went great, as long as Madge called the shots. We attended the same university and only hung out once, as she shunned college life outside of class. After college, she lived near-by and we’d bond over our young professional lives. Madge moved to Europe; myself and another friend met up with her for a European adventure that I struggled to get through – Madge and the friend ran the show.

Despite our friendship, Madge and I were cut from very different cloths. We’re quite opposite in almost everything. I’m not sure how we stayed friends, but the Lord had plans for us.

Madge moved back to the USA and landed a few hours drive away. A familiar face on the east coast, we began to lean on each other for support. Those personality defects that were opposite of our own? They were what was needed in our own lives.

We fill the voids the other one has.

I do have a lot of Type B personality traits, sometimes I don’t speak up when I should and my fear of rocking the boat has put me at a disadvantage at times. No worries, I have Madge, who is more than willing to call me out on my avoidance.

Madge called me once when a loved one was amitted to a psychiatric ward, completely in tears and not coping well. I drove to see her that weekend to comfort her and be there.

I called her when things got rocky in my marriage: and when she stayed with us for a weekend, Madge confirmed it wasn’t in my imagination and I needed to say/do something about it right this very minute. She takes the time to ask me the hard questions and doesn’t let me get away with, “Oh, it’s fine.” She loves hard and her brutal honesty is needed in my life.

Madge’s house was my hurricane evacuation plan, and she was very upset we chose to stay. The constant text and phone calls of “Your life is in danger, get your butts and your cats’ butts up here” were a par for the course. Even though she comes across tough as nails, Madge cares a lot and will do anything to help someone else.

She had a rough year of changes and I made her a quilt for her birthday. She loved it.

I got a card from her not long ago, thanking me for our friendship over the years. Despite our stark differences, when we get together, we have great conversations and it’s always a good time. We help each other be the best person we can possibly be.

I’ll keep her calm and she can kick my butt out of complacency.

The Table

“Oh, what a beautiful table!”

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People often say this as they enter my kitchen.

While it is a nice piece, it’s nothing special; it was purchased from a big box furniture store in 2010 with the intention of it staying around for awhile. The solid maple table came complete with 6 chairs to match, a soft white cloth seat gave it elegance and comfort.

My husband and I are a lot of things, but formal dining room people are not one of them. Even when we had a formal dining room, our only table graced the lesser breakfast nook. In our old house, the leaf stayed out most of the time so it was circular, unless we were expecting a big crowd. Here at the Dovecote, the leaf is a permanent fixture. Not only do we not have the room to store the leaf, but I like to keep our table ready for company. It fills the kitchen space nicely.

This table has lived life with us. We bought and sold a house around it: what began as an informational meeting with a realtor ended with signatures on the final offer. We’ve hosted a gay pastor, a rommate, high strung Midwesterners, and complete strangers – not to mention friends – over meals. It’s held game nights, feasts of epic proportions (usually when my husband was cooking), an art studio, and planning meetings.

If this table could talk, it would tell you a lot of things. It would tell you the only time my husband and I cried together was around this table over infertility.

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Those gouges? Proof I can’t do it all by myself: that leaf is heavier than it looks and when I tried to put it in myself, I scarred the table pretty hard. There is a heat stain is from my rendition of Grandma’s German Stuffing during Thanksgiving 2016. And those light scratches over the heat stain? Me, again, with fine steel wool trying to remove the heat stain. It only made it worse. It seems to have fadded over time and I’m thankful for that.

 

paint smudge

The occasional bit of paint you see is from my husband’s hobby of painting on canvas. He sometimes uses a table easel for small projects and while he uses dropclothes, a few reminders of his art remain. Nonetheless, I have a huge olive green tablecloth that graces the table for dinner parties and other formal events: it covers everything beautifully. All her scars are hidden.

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I wanted a centerpiece that was simple yet pretty. My sister surprised me with this piece a few Christmases ago. It’s meant for candles, but the votives got stuck and full of dust. The seashells offer a bit of the beach and give it longevity. It’s perfect.

The part that bothers me most are the cloth seats.

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They’re white, which means they show everything: dirt, dust, cat hair, and spills. I’ve tried to keep them white as possible to no avail. Even a steam cleaner doesnt work. The next step is to use a light bleach solution, as soon as I get around to doing that. My husband and I are hard on textiles, yet I refuse to make guests to sit on covers. They are meant to be used and used they will be. 

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This is our table. This is our life. It’s messy and we dont pretend for it to be anything other than that. Although its hard to live into when your husband says something completely stupid or unnecessary, guests worry about rings from the glass on the table (I don’t care and they eventually fade), and the smudges can’t be cleaned off no matter how hard I scrub. I will still host friends, family, and strangers, welcoming them into my home to share life together, to be that light of Christ in their lives.

And that’s all of life: feasts, cryfests, scars that won’t heal, and laughter.

My Testimony

I was born into a mixed marriage: my father was Catholic, my mother was Lutheran. When my mom married my dad in a Catholic church, she agreed to raise her children in the Catholic traditions, a decision she later regretted. I was baptized into Catholicism when I was less than a month old.

My dad took my sister and I to church every Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning – Mom only came on Christmas or Easter. It was just something we did. I did the whole First Confession bit, donned a pretty white dress for my First Communion, and had oil placed on my forehead at 8th grade Confirmation.

I spent my childhood in CCD: Continuing Catholic Development. In short, it was Sunday School on Wednesday nights for an hour. I received my first Bible in 6th grade and it was then we learned how to look up passages – not that we ever read from it. The most productive thing I did in CCD was make an angel Christmas tree ornament out of pasta noodles. I still have it. It was basically an uncontrolled free for all, except one year when our class was ran by Mr. Danforth: in addition to knowing my father, he ran the class like a drill sergeant with new recruits. No one dared to breathe too loudly, let alone act out.

Once in high school, I sort of continued to go to church with my dad, but was out of the CCD mess. In the meantime, I became friends with David. He had this enormous crush on me at one point, but we were firmly planted in the friend zone. David was a sensitive soul who battled bouts of depression – at one point I reported him to the counselor because he talked about killing himself. Nonetheless, our friendship continued. We had a mutual friend in our grade, who’s dad was a pastor of a well known Southern Baptist church in town. The fall of our sophomore year, David went to a youth retreat with the church; David came back a changed man.

In the Baptist church, there is a phrase for what David was: on fire for the Lord. I disagreed: he was engulfed and exploding! “On fire” just seemed too watered down for what David was experiencing. David had accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and was not shy about proclaiming this fact from the rooftops. Always the introvert, I told him that it was great he found God and he gave his life to Him, but he needed to come down a few pegs and stop acting like a crazy person.

After a few weeks, David settled down in his newfound faith. While he was very eager to share with anyone who would listen, the roaring flames died down to a nice camp sized fire. “Our youth group is having a game night tonight, you should come check it out,” David said to me one day at school. “Okay,” I said.  I was curious about this new and improved lifestyle for David, who seemed to grow confidence and charisma overnight. I knew most of the kids there, as we all went to the same school. And, I had never been to a Southern Baptist church before.  How different could it be from the Catholics?

I showed up for the game night and had a lot of fun with the youth. I met Phil, an adult who was the youth leader, and he seemed like a pretty down to earth guy. Towards the end, Phil got everyone’s attention, they were going to say a quick prayer before everyone left. I thought it was weird they didn’t do the sign of the cross. He ended the prayer with one of those, “With every eye closed and head bowed, raise your hand if you’ve accepted Jesus into your heart.” Without thinking, I raised my hand. I had never heard that phrase before: Jesus in your heart? Well, I was Catholic! I was baptized, oiled, confessed, communed, all those things! Jesus in my heart? Sure! Why not? Whatever that meant.

It was in that moment something clicked. Jesus in your heart. Jesus in your heart. The phrase wouldn’t leave me alone. I finally asked David what that all meant and got a sermon for an answer. And I didn’t mind. He explained the path to salvation, confessing your sin directly to God, repenting – turning away – from that sin, and living your life for the benefit of God. Without Jesus in your heart, when you died, you would go to hell. This whole concept seemed revolutionary to me – I had never heard any of this in all the years I attended Catholic Church. Was this really true?

And so, I did what any young budding scientist would do: I researched. Next time we went to the mall, I picked up a Bible. It was a NIV and marbled blue, but it looked like a huge paperback book (David suggested the NIV flavor). I had never read the Bible before.  Of course, the Catholics followed the Bible, but how did I know that? I had no idea what was in there outside of the Christmas and Easter stories. I don’t remember what I read first — something in the New Testament, like John — but I do remember climbing into a tree that overlooked the river in town and reading parts of Isaiah. It was my first stab at a quiet time with the Lord.

The letters of Paul really stood out to me. I’d ask David questions and if he didn’t know, he’d find out and tell me. I started showing up more at the youth group on Tuesday nights, much to my mother’s chagrin. She was afraid of me becoming Baptist, which meant to her no make up, no dancing, no playing cards, long skirts, and I’d be on of those “holy rolling Bible thumpers.” I assured her I wasn’t going to be a holy roller and the pastor’s son played cards and went to school dances. My dad wasn’t too pleased either, but he didn’t seem to care one way or the other.

I finally attended a Sunday morning at this church with David and was shocked (shocked!) at how everyone talked to each other before the service. As a Catholic, when you were in church, you were silent! It was a culture shock. I knew none of the songs. No one kneeled. The shaking of hands and greeting was personal, unlike the cold “peace be with you” muttered for 10 seconds at the Catholic Church. I could take communion there, and I thought it a bit silly they used grape juice and they brought communion to you! It was beautiful. It was so different.

During this time, my parents marriage, which had been strained since the beginning of time, started to show signs of more strain. With my new church, I’m not sure if I gave my mom strength or if she was really afraid of me becoming “one of those Baptists,” so she suggested we start attending the Lutheran Church together. I was all about this Protestant stuff. I agreed. The Lutheran Church for me was a cross between the Catholics and Baptists, leaning more towards Baptists with their down to earth message, but leaning towards the Catholics with tradition. I really enjoyed the services there. It was the first time I had ever done anything remotely religious with my mom. And thus our family was divided: 2 protestants, 2 Catholics – my sister still attended Mass with my dad.

My dad said something one night about how he didn’t like me going to this Baptist church. I told him no. I was going to stick with it – it preached the message of Jesus, same as what he believed, it was just slightly different. I then said something to the degree of I don’t think I’d raise my children Catholic. He got really angry and yelled something I can’t recall. I walked away and hid in my room. I never disobeyed my dad to his face before. He got the last line, however. He banged on my bedroom door until I opened it and he screamed, “It’s your fault if your mom and I divorce. You divided this family by going to another church. This. Is. All. Your. Fault.” He stalked off, leaving me at the door, bewildered. My mom said nothing. I was 16.

I knew even then that I was not responsible for the unravelling of my parents marriage. I knew that was between them. Nonetheless, those words stung like freezing rain on naked skin. I had to get out. “I’m going for a quick run,” I said through tears as I ran out the door. I did not take a coat for the cold midwestern winter night I ran into and I didn’t care. I ran as fast and as hard as I could to the end of our street, bawling, trying to make sense of all this Jesus and family stuff in my head. One thing was clear: I wasn’t going to turn my back on Jesus. While I hadn’t given my life to him, like David did, I certainly wasn’t about to go back to what I was before with the Catholic church. I had come too far and read too much of the Bible for that. I also absolved, before God that night, with my lungs burning from the freezing air, that I would never punish my children for choosing a different religion than me. The pain was too real and too raw to inflict on someone I loved.

My dad didn’t speak to me again for almost 2 weeks. I chose Jesus over family. For a people pleaser like myself, that was huge. The Holy Spirit had begun Its work in my life.

I spent the rest of the spring and early summer continuing my research. I was attending Sunday morning services quite regularly now, also going on Sunday nights and Tuesdays for the youth group. In addition to reading the Bible, I joined a Bible study on Thursday nights. It was entitled “Experiencing God” and had a workbook with friends from the youth group. I learned so much about God’s character by using this Bible study and reading the scriptures. It was led by a strange couple at church who didn’t have children and eventually left under weird circumstances, but they provided the space for exploring my spiritual journey, and introduced me to journalling; for that I am forever grateful.

As time went on, David kept on me about accepting Christ. “I am not there yet,” I said. If I was going to make a commitment to Him, which appeared to be the biggest decision of my life, I wanted to make sure I was making the right decision for the right reasons with the right information. This did not appear to be something I could gracefully exit if it did not work for me. David warned me of a being a fence sitter, and the scripture that spurred me towards a decision was Revelation 3:16: “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth.” Yikes! I needed to make a decision. And stick with it.

My family’s yearly trip to my cousin’s cottage on the shores of Lake Huron in Michigan gave me the perfect backdrop. While I was there, I fully committed my life, heart, and everything to the Lord. No reservations, no “buts.” It felt great. I have always said there was not a “moment in time” where I came to decision like so many other people’s stories go. For me, following Jesus was like a six month download, slowly creeping toward finality.  It finished in July 1998 with no memory of the day or time.

Through this, my focus in life became Christ. No longer was I living for myself or pleasing my parents: I was living for God. It also helped my depression, as I took all of that to Him and laid it as His feet. Although I never responded to an alter call, my heart was there. Soon thereafter, I wanted to be baptized by immersion. When I spoke to the pastor about it, he said he needed my parents’ permission since I was under 18. I declined. I did not have the strength to tell them and I didn’t want to fight about the subject. And so, before I left for college – at 18 – I was dunked in the church that saved my soul.

My parents still have no idea I was baptized twice.


Last month marked 20 years of walking with the Lord. I feel like I should be more mature by now in the faith than what I am.

With all the cultural changes that occurred in this century, I no longer attend a Southern Baptist church. I have always considered myself a “non-denominational” Christian since accepting Christ. I will be forever in debt to the Southern Baptists for introducing me to sweet tea and Christ. Since moving away from the SBC several years ago, I attended a mainline Christian mega-church and found a home among Methodists. I am not Methodist: I nearly lost consciousness leafing through the Table of Contents in the Book of Discipline. I’m vaguely aware of John Wesley. The message of Christ has always trumped the semantics of denomination for me.

This disillusioned Catholic became a follower of Christ by relationships with other believers who showed love and acceptance, spurring me on towards Christ. And I still hold that truth.

No one is going to come to Christ through arguments on social media, being handed a track, or showing up to the right place in the right clothes and saying the right things. It’s difficult for me to engage others with my introverted nature, as I completely suck at apologetics and hide when everyone shakes hands at church, but I am trying. Chances are you’ll have a glass of wine on my porch with me.

Also, if you come to my church, I’m the awkward person you’ll encounter. Fair warning.

Rebeka

Rebeka and I met in the 5th grade, after my best friend at the time said she was cool and should hang out with us. I was always leery about newcomers, but my friend’s assessment was spot on: Rebeka and I hit it off instantly. She was a complete geek, wicked smart, too cool to let anything get under her skin, and had a crazy sense of fashion. In a word, she was awesome.

We both had terrible hair through middle school and in high school, we came into more of our own. Our friendship bond grew the most in high school – we did practically everything together. Rebeka hosted parties that still live on in infamy in her parents’ basement. They included great music, snack food, games of pool, a plethora of inside jokes, and an entire room painted for blacklight use. I should also mention we were straight edge: these parties were filled with Mountain Dew. Alcohol wasn’t on our radar.

Our lives would diverge on different paths, yet we stayed friends. When I became a Christian junior year, Rebeka stood as a hardline agnostic. “If that’s what you feel you need to do, then you gotta do it,” she said after I told her of my conversion. She never put limits on people or gave me grief over Christ. Rebeka cared deeply for her friends (even though she acted all cool like she didn’t) and always let people be who they really were around her. I think that’s why she’s always had people gravitate towards her: Rebeka was a safe harbor.

College is when things got interesting. She visited me at my college dorm (our colleges were a state apart) and ended up dating my boyfriend’s roommate. I’ll never forget the time I was walking to my dorm bathroom and she came strolling out. “What are you doing here?” “I’m here with M. Sorry, I forgot to tell you I was coming.” Classic Rebeka. I did manage to get her to my favorite coffee shop on campus to catch up on life.

The bottom dropped out when they broke up and it was messy. M took it extremely hard. About a month later, Rebeka called me on the phone. “Um, we have to talk about somethings,” she said slowly. “There’s kinda a big reason I left M.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. I, uh, kinda started dating my roommate. I’m gay.”

My eyebrows jumped off my forehand. Gay? Rebeka? She’s always dated guys and there was no indication of anything other than straight.

“Are we still friends?” I could hear the fear in her voice. “I’ve already told everyone else. I told you last because, well, you’re a Christian, and I thought you’d stop speaking to me.”

“Oh wow, Rebeka, no, we’re still friends and I will never stop speaking to you. This changes nothing between us.”

And so, our friendship continued on.

I gushed to her after I met my husband – she later told me she knew he was the one from my phone call. Rebeka brought her underage and possibly schizophrenic girlfriend to my wedding – her safe harbor ways often brought in the crazy ones too. Rebeka eventually settled down with a nice girl and the last time they visited me in North Carolina, I sensed their relationship was in its death keel. I was right.

And then there was Chris. “She’s really cool, you gotta keep this one,” I said to Rebeka discretely after I met her for the first time. Rebeka eventually married Chris after years of dating and I claim Chris as my sister-in-law. Rebeka often talked about moving down to my neck of the woods – she fell in love with the area like I did. After years of her saying “maybe someday,” her and Chris finally made the move a few years ago.

So, I live 1,000 miles away from home, but my best friend since 5th grade lives on the other side of town. How about that!

We always get together for Christmas morning, campfires, game nights, and true to form, she still hosts parties that live in infamy with better food (we’re talking gourmet) and we graduated from Mountain Dew to alcohol.

I haven’t heard from her in a few months. We run in different circles, yet I always try to keep up with her. Chris suffers from extreme social anxiety, so I think a lot of interaction is limited, which I totally understand.

Right now, I’m waiting to hear back from her. I’ve invited them down for some wine and cheese via voicemail. I hope she’s able to make it. Despite all the changes we’ve weathered, it’s nice to connect with someone who has known you since the beginning. We differ on many aspects of life, but the last time we hung out, we chatted for almost 3 hours straight.

Rebeka and I will be friends to the very end. No matter what.

A Tale of 2 Phone Calls

Lately, I keep getting woken up by the past.

Tale #1
Rrrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

My phone was blowing up on vibrate.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrrttt.

It was 6am. No one ever calls with good news at 6am.

Rrrrttt. Rrrrttt.

I opened one eye, my brain still foggy from the dream of a machine at work that looked like it was destroyed by a tornado. I glanced at my phone. 2 missed calls and a few text messages from Phoebe. “I need to get away. I need to think. Alex is still with the girl. Can I come to your house today? Do you have plans?”

Whoa. This just got serious. “Give me a minute to wake up and I’ll call,” I texted back. Five minutes later, I’m pacing in the backyard, talking with Phoebe. She was surprisingly calm when I spoke with her, despite the fact she had caught her husband with another woman a few days earlier.

Phoebe flipped the script and left on the lam – Alex’s modus operandi. She disappeared without an explanation, en route to the airport for my house. I sent her a picture of my credit card so she could book her plane tickets without detection, promising to write me a check when she landed. A few hours later, I picked her up at the airport. Ironically, I had cleaned the entire house the day prior for no reason. “The Lord knew,” she said. This is also why I keep my guest room in a constant state of readiness. You never know who the Lord will send your way with a moment’s notice.

Phoebe looked the same, as if 12 years hadn’t slipped by, and we picked up right where we left off. We spent time at the beach, ate good food, sipped wine, and discussed her situation extensively. For 3 days I watched her oscillate between a confident Christian woman who was going to contact a divorce attorney to a puddle of sadness and despair, longing for her marriage to made whole again. I was glad to share my home with her, thankful that she was eating and sleeping – something she hadn’t done much of since the blow up.

An ending has yet to be written. But that dream though: all of us work in the same health care department, and I wonder if that shattered machine in the dream means what I think it does. So much prayer. So much.


Tale #2
The other morning I woke up to a group message from the old church I attended in college. They’re hosting a homecoming for the youth group – the whole lot of us were invited for a picnic. Everyone was replying – people I hadn’t thought about in years appeared on my phone – even Jacob and Hannah are attending. This ought to be interesting.

A private message from Ruth was there too – the reception is one week after we were suppose to go on one of our epic adventures – and we decided to table the adventure in favor of the meet-up. Over the years, we had mused about “getting the band back together” and what it would be like to do a reunion. And now, we have that chance. We’ve booked a hotel room and we are each other’s date for the “bring your family” event. She’s like a sister, so it works. My husband had a gig anyway.

I am ecstatic to be back in my college town, especially with Ruth, to walk down memory lane together, in addition to making new memories. My only concern is that John’s last post was in my college town and I could run into him, if he’s still there. We haven’t stayed in contact and I have no desire to change that status. Nonetheless, I am really looking forward to seeing everyone again and hopefully making some new friendship connections with the old church crew.


These sort of things usually come in 3’s, so I’m a bit pensive of the next way the past will pop into my present.

Come what may.

A fissure in time seems unlikely.

Right?