I sobbed out the words as I lay across my bed.
For the previous two months I had been attending mass in hopes of finding some solace and some recognition of holy. I never expected to become Catholic. I didn't expect to convert anyone from Catholicism. I was simply tired of the loud music and the entertainment mindset that seemed to run the churches we had attended the last five years. They were so busy trying to be relevant to the culture that they had become irreverent in their idea of righteousness, so for two months I attended mass where the quiet was solace and the reverence made sense. Then someone referred to me as an outsider, and maybe he meant it as a joke, but he was right. I was an outsider, and I was done.
I wasn't looking for the perfect sermon or the perfect theology or the perfect church. I am not naïve enough to believe such things exist. I was looking for a home, for a place where we could do life with folks, a place where we love the people there and they love us back, a place where we really belong. And I was done looking.
The truth is Sundays have been hard since my husband left and my mom died. I was raised that Sundays are about family, and when I was little, we always went to my grandparents' after church for a big meal. When I got married, my husband and I would go to church and come home, eat pizza or burgers, watch sports, take a nap, go to small group if it was that night, and end the day watching a movie together. When the kids came along, we modified, but Sundays were always about our family and the people we knew at church who joined us for lunch or dinner or attended the small group we were in. Sundays were a type of anchor, a place to belong. No matter what happened during the weekend, Sunday was coming, and you were always safe and always wanted there.
That was long gone.
My parents have both passed on. My marriage ended, and despite trying, the kids and I have not found a church where we feel like family. I've yet to find a small group for singles (and I just cannot do a women's group that focuses on being a better wife or better mother of small kids or a couple's group that focuses on marriage). The kids didn't make friends in the youth. We tried. Invited folks over, offered to host a bonfire and cookout, opened our doors to adult or youth Bible studies but were always told no, and...after five years I finally quit trying, stared into the early morning darkness, and told God I was done. I was done believing in the fairy tale that people with no place to belong could find one if they really tried. I was done believing that I could rebuild the life I really wanted, which included a family beyond the kids and me, even if it wasn't a biological one. I was done. And I was done with Sunday.
And I prayed the craziest prayer. I told the Lord I didn't expect Him to send the cavalry or for anyone to show up at my door. I didn't really expect anything, but my heart was crushed, and He was the only one I knew to really tell, and honestly, I needed Him to do something about Sundays.
The funny thing about God is I pray crazy prayers and He sends crazy answers.
That night my friend Parker called, and I ended up crying into the phone and telling her about Sundays and how hard they are and how I miss my parents, especially my mom, right now, and she said the absolute stupidest thing. She said, "Jerri, you know the weird thing about journeys? They lead you to the most unexpected places."
I was silent because I had no clue what that had to do with anything until she said, "Like my journey. I thought my journey was just to go home, but no. Instead, it has lead me right to the door of this lady's house in the middle of nowhere. Well, not really 'nowhere' but way out of my way."
Then it hit me, "Parker, are you at my door?"
She started to laugh and said, "Yeah, so get off the phone and let me in."
We stood in the doorway while we hugged and I cried. Sometimes God really does send someone right to your door. Sometimes He sends someone who lives two hours away to drive an extra two hours out of the way from her road trip because you need the cavalry.
She ended up staying late, and she told me about her church where she had moved in August. The one that gave her the refrigerator, that offered to help her move, that offered furniture when she was ready, that had adopted her and taken her in as family. I wasn't jealous. I am truly happy for her, but I told the Lord honestly, I would love to experience a church like that. But it is two hours away, and I felt awkward about just showing up, but if Parker ever invited me, I was going to make the drive.
When Parker left last Sunday, the core issue wasn't better, but it really did feel wondrous to know God cared so much that He sent someone on a major detour to plop them at my front door.
This week I prayed about a church, and the kids and I decided to visit one in the area. There were two that caught my eye, both of which had active youth and young adults, and while their women's groups are all about marriage, mothering, and Beth Moore, I was willing to give them a chance.
Then the annoying trick or treat-er came by.
Our porch light was off, a sign we didn't have candy, but they rang the doorbell anyway. We ignored. They rang it again. We ignored. Then they started knocking. Then they started playing with the door handle. That is when I marched to the door, demanded to know who it was, and looked out the peephole. There stood Parker, not in Halloween attire, just standing there on my front porch smiling big.
When I opened the door and asked why she was there, she said, "Because I'm supposed to invite you to church tomorrow."
Yes. She had again driven a few hours to show up at my door. And she was inviting the kids and me to church.
How does one say no to that?
So this morning as the sky started to light up, we piled into the truck and headed to church...two hours away.
We arrived in time for Sunday School, and the lesson was week two of the series, "What It Means to Be a Christian". Last week was on repentance, real repentance, not just showing up at church or saying we are sorry because we are afraid we won't get what we want if we don't, but honest to goodness, realize you are wrong and start following Jesus repentance. This week was about good works because if someone repents, they act like it.
Then there was a time of fellowship with coffee and yummies and a whole lot of talking and hugs and sit and get to know you. My daughter said she couldn't remember the last time she felt so wholly welcome at a church. Me either.
When that was finished, we moved to the sanctuary where we took a seat and were handed a bulletin, and I froze. The verse the Lord has been putting in front of me repeatedly this week graced the front of the bulletin.
Then at one point during the week I realized the greatest desire of my heart was simply to delight Him. I know it sounds so Christian-ese, and I can't say that is always my greatest desire, but this week it has been, and I wondered, "In what do you take delight?" I studied different things this week, and I had a better idea of what the verse meant. When He placed the verse in front of me again, I had to smile.
The service as nearly two hours long. Yes. Nearly two hours, and it was a wonderful two hours. We sang beautiful songs of worship. We prayed. We read the Word as a congregation. We worshipped--really worshipped, not just sang and clapped our hands or jumped up and down and waved our arms to really loud music from a band--and prayed some more. The sermon was about cheap seats and the cost of Christ.
The entire experience was beautiful and worshipful, and it felt holy. If you've ever felt holy, you know what I mean. If you haven't, I would have had you there today.
My favorite part, though, was communion. The pastor said, "It's the Lord's table, not a Methodist table, but before we share in the sacrament, we are going to take a moment because you don't want to take this if you aren't worthy and therefore bring judgment on yourself, so seek the Holy Spirit and ask Him if you are worthy. If you aren't, pray and get things right."
How many pastors actually talk about righteousness as a way of living and worthiness to partake of Christ?
Then when we were served the sacrament, we were given the bread and the wine and offered time at the altar to pray before we ate and drank. I had to wait because the altar was filled with people praying with bread and wine in hand.
The most overwhelming part to me, though, was the richness of God's pleasure and enjoyment that I felt. I could feel Him enjoying the service, enjoying these people. I could feel His delight that filled the worship, not just the emotional music time but worship in the form of reverence and holiness of the whole service. I just sat and took it in--took HIM in.
After the service, I went to the pastor to tell him how much I had enjoyed today, which I couldn't really do because I really had no words, and he hugged me and said to come back any time. We started to turn our different ways when he turned around, touched my arm, and looked at me with sparkling eyes. "Love you."
And I knew. It wasn't the pastor speaking those words. It was the Lord speaking those words. His love dripped heavy in the gift of that church to me and my family.
After church, we headed over to Parker's where we ate Kentucky Fried Chicken on a picnic blanket on the floor because she still doesn't have her furniture moved and drank sweet tea out of crystal glasses. Then the kids went upstairs to play while Parker and I lay on the floor and talked about all kinds of things the Lord was doing and revealing to us, and we worshipped right there on the tile, and it was good worship.
Then, the kids and I drove the two hours home and talked about the perfect Sunday, the wonder of being welcome, the conviction of righteousness, and the beauty of it all. Even my teenage daughter said, "Mom, it was worth the way early wakeup for this."
Yes. Yes, it was, and while it is too far away to be our church home, it gave hope to my heart, a heart that wasn't just done with Sunday. It was done with hoping. It was done with believing the fairy tale. It was simply done.
But God...God is crazy in the ways He lets you know He's not done, and He wraps up these incredible gifts in packages that look like a Methodist church two hours away with invitations that look like an unexpected guest at the front door of your house, and He puts right in front of you the very thing you think doesn't even exist so you again believe He can do the crazy and all things are possible and in all of it, the most amazing part of it, is when He stops, looks you right in the eyes, and says,
And, today I feel so wildly loved.
Today is an amazing Sunday.