So there I was one day, a long, long time ago, pushing my then 2-year old little girl in a cart out of one of those mega shopping stores we all love to hate. I was feeling quite proud of myself as I managed to make it out of there with only ONE bag and some red velvet cupcakes MMMM. I’m certain the cupcakes distracted me from all the impulse items and helped me overlook the fact that I was sure to be RIGHT back in there within the next few days for something I’d forgotten, which always seems to be the case. As I made my way through the parking lot, I heard someone say, “Excuse me, sir, have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” DOH! It was a parking lot Jesus pusher! I could see the young man with his crisp white shirt and his black tie carrying a backpack loaded with what was sure to be the Word of the Lord. Doing my best dodge-and-weave I went into full-on squat-walk mode. I’m 5’10”, imagine the visual for a second. I must have been a sight because my baby girl even started to laugh at me. “Haha! Mommy silly!” Wait! Where did I park the car? Oh, this was NO time to be lost in a parking lot. Should I run back in? Hide behind someone else’s car? I was going to be cornered—no, trapped! There was sure to be more than one also. Don’t they come in a pair?! For a split second I thought to myself, “God is trying to fix me. I’m a heathen. It’s a SIGN!” Aha!! The car! Sign schmign, I’m out!! Hallelujah! In one fell swoop, I grabbed my baby girl, my purse, bag and cupcakes and slid safely into my car. “WHEW! That was close!” I said. “WHEW! Yeahhhhh, close!” I hear echo from the backseat. Yeah we did it, baby girl! On the ride home I was in complete schizophrenic, self-examination mode and the voices in my head played out a little something like this:
What are you afraid of? Uh, getting stuck in the parking lot, forced into a conversation I didn’t want to have, duh!
Don’t you love Jesus? Of course I do! I’m offended by the question!
What kind of example are you setting for your daughter? Oh shut up, she’s still in diapers!
Diapers!! GAH! I knew I was forgetting something! There was no way in HELL I was getting back out of this car. JEEEESUS!! I mean….DAMN?! Ugh! Oops.
The weeks that lie ahead kept drudging up the same type of conversation in my head. Round and round we’d go. ‘Heather A’ and ‘Heather B’ in an intellectual debate of Biblical proportions…literally. Then Catholic guilt set in. Since I was raised around the Catholic church, this came naturally to me—I got this. But I had shed that a long time ago when I found a wonderful Christian church in my hometown, one that welcomed me with loving arms when I was spiritually broken. In fact, I felt so filled with joy and inspiration that despite my Catholic baptism as an infant, I jumped into the baptismal pool, took a spiritual ‘dip’ and professed my love and dedication to the Lord in front of the whole congregation. Wow! I never ever could have seen that one coming, but I felt renewed and lifted. It was a bright light in an otherwise dark moment of my life. Ahh, peace at last.
Fast forward a few years, a marriage, a stepson, an out-of-state move into military life, 2 miscarriages and 2 babies later, I found myself in a whole new world. For a long while, I was too busy, too overwhelmed and too over-protective of my kids to mess with church (I thought). I’m not leaving my babies in the care of people I don’t know, even if it is church! HMPF! I was a self-proclaimed heathen, after all. Meh~!
Off and on throughout the years though, I’d hear a quiet whisper trying to pull me back to the comfort of a nice church, so when I received an invitation for my son to attend Vacation Bible School one summer, the inner-monologue began again:
Well, he is getting older so you don’t feel as over-protective as you once did, right? That’s true but maybe you’re just worn out you’re jumping at the first “break” that comes your way. Motherhood FAIL!!
He might like it? He might hate it and cry the WHOLE entire time he’s there and no one will be able to soothe him. You are abandoning your child. “Mother of the Year.”
There will be kids there is own age that he can play with. That will be good! Oh yeah? What if there’s a little shitass there and he’s mean to him? How can you choke that little shitass if you’re not there?
Oh for God’s sake Heather, seriously!
Well, for God’s sake or my own, I decided to override the voices in my head and send him. Just this one time I decided I would throw caution to the wind and I was going to just send him and pray it would all work out. So I did and he didn’t like it…he LOVED it! He was so excited to go every day and I was excited to let him. As the service at the end of the week approached, I was all but ready for the “recruiting church service.” Heck, I might like it so much I could rise up and join! I had visions of a women’s group and fellowship with other grown people…GROWN PEOPLE!?! My husband deployed so often that I only ever saw grown people at the grocery store and we all know how that went. Oh, it could be fun. I nearly wept at the thought of adult interaction. There will be fun things for the kids to do and…and…potlucks…oh, and CAKE! Everyone knows southern ladies love to bake. Yesss, yess, yesss!!!!
I was starving not just physically but spiritually.
As I got to the church, I could hear the music as soon as I got out of my car. It sounded pretty good! It wasn’t the old organy-type church music, this was church MUSIC; drums, guitars, keyboards. They were jammin! Haaaay…wazzup!?? I was excited already.
When I walked in I was greeted with smiles and handshakes. Everyone was very, very nice. They weren’t hounding me with a million questions, just good people. The youth group was standing up clapping and singing to church music. I wondered what planet I had landed on really. There were teenagers that were enjoying church? Whaaaa? The entire service was really very nice and I enjoyed all of it….then the pastor got up to speak and ruined everything for me.
First he showed a video, a symbolic tale of a man stuck in the bottom of a well and several different gentlemen offering to help the poor fella out of the well. Each one would offer a possible resolution to help him but to no avail, except the last one. You see, the pastor explained that each of those men represented a different religion and then he proceeded to call them out, one by one; Judaism, Buddhism, Muslim, etc., and the only one able to rescue the man from the well was the man of the Christian faith. The pastor proceeded to go on stating that the Christian faith was superior to all others, that if you weren’t Christian you were going to hell and that it was our job as faithful Christians to save everyone from eternal damnation. WELL! I looked around thinking, HOLY CRAP, this guy is going to cause an uproar…but no, he didn’t. In fact, all I saw were smiles, nods and even an ‘amen’ or two. No. Way. I was SO shocked. I have Jewish family members! I don’t want my child to be taught part of his family is going to hell!? And Buddhism? But…but I love Goldie Hawn! What in the epic fuck did I just walk into?
Oh no, this would never do. Never once did any church I went to at home ever call out another religion as being a gateway to hell. Look, I understand what the Bible says about non-believers as well what the Christian faith says about accepting Jesus as the Lord and Savior but are scare tactics the best way gain followers? Does a congregation grow by condemning other religions, Biblical finger pointing and judgment? Shouldn’t we lead by example? Love our neighbors? Judge not and whatnot? Demonstrate a way of life that makes others want to emulate it? To ‘get a little taste of that,’ so to speak? Church bullying, for real? That may work for some people I guess, but certainly not me! I just walked in the door and already I have a job to save all non-Christians from eternal hellfire?! This was too much pressure. I DIDN’T SIGN UP FOR THIS!!! No, no, no. All of a sudden I felt hot, claustrophobic, and sick at my stomach. I didn’t want to be a veritable Jesus salesperson, “Step right up, get your salvation right here, folks on SUNDAY, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!” I don’t want to be like the parking lot panderer I avoided a few days before. I just wanted some adult conversation with good people that didn’t judge others and maybe, no definitely, some cake. Just LET ME EAT CAKE!
Needless to say, I left that church at the end of the service and haven’t been back—to that one. I was saddened by the fact that many people never return to church after an experience like that one or will never know at all how wonderful it can be, but I’m proud to say that since then I have had some great experiences with different churches and I have met some amazing people with beautiful souls, friends that I will have for the rest of my life. They’re not perfect, cookie-cutter Christians, none of us are. They’re just good people that carry themselves in such a way that I gravitated to them. I wanted to mirror their happy spirits and the love they had for all people of every faith. I missed it and wanted that for myself again. Oh, and cake! I definitely wanted some cake.