Sunday, May 01, 2011

Sunday Morning Has Broken: My Faith Journey Part 3


When my family moved to the country, we were on God's own little green acre. Dad was happy because he could come home to a garden, outdoor grill, neighbors weren't really too close and he could park his semi in the drive with no complaints. 

My brother was happy because we lived by a crick (creek) and the kid across the road, who was exactly his age, immediately friended him (Facebook's new word.) They spent the summer doing all things 8-year-old boys do. 

I'm not sure about mom, but she did have her own house and she was a country girl at heart, having grown up on a farm. She was driving tractors early in life, taking care of farm animals and she was used to being alone, having been married to my dad for many years. (He was a long-haul trucker.) She seemed happy.

I was 12 and was going to have to ease into this situation. Being the "new" girl comes with all kinds of landmines. And then there was the foreign territory of girl cliques and The Bus. The first few weeks of school were filled with tears for me. Not at school, though. My motto is Never Let Them See You Weep. 

First off, I wore the "wrong" kind of socks. I came home and started crying. Mom packed us up and drove to get me the kind "all the girls" wore. Phew. I wasn't used to the way the classroom was set up and I had no idea what my place was. I was smart in book learning and Bible, but I didn't know anything about recesses where the teacher wasn't leading the activity! No soccer or freeze tag. No all for one and one for all recesses where NO ONE WAS ALLOWED to BE EXCLUDED anymore--no sirreeebob. Girls huddled in cloistered groups around the playground. I never realized the freedom my previous school provided. Freedom from hurt, that is.

But what I took care of was making sure no one called me "Crystal." I had seen the last of that name, or so I thought. None of my family called me that (they called me Crissy) and in my last school I'd been called Crystal. (Granted, this name is on my birth certificate--the name my sainted mother gave me.) I told my teacher, Mr. Rosen, that I was Cris, but at the last minute added an "h" to make it really cool. Everyone just accepted it.It was easy.

I missed going to Sabbath school and I missed our daily Bible lesson. I even signed up for a by-mail Bible study correspondence course so I could study on my own. No one talked about Jesus at school. That was strange to me. There was no opening prayer, prayer before lunch, prayer and benediction at the end of the school day. There were no hymns of praise sung in class with the teacher at the piano. There was no mention of God anywhere. 

To top this all off my dad told my mother no going to the town so much, so while our old school and church were only 20 minutes away, we only went there for doctors' appointments and shopping. I lost all of my friends. Basically I lost my brother, too. He was now playing everyday sun up to sundown with boys in our country mile. Most of the girls I asked to come outside told me, "I have to wash my hair." This was the 1970s and if you had long hair, it did take all day to wash and dry it. Funny thing was, I had long hair, too. I knew when I was being dissed.

                                            

Then, one day someone asked me to come to Sunday school at the little white Christian church across the road. I was starved for hearing the Bible, so I said yes. How bad could it be? I came home and told my mother I was going on Sunday morning to just get her ready for it. The girl who invited me was a cousin to the very young pastor, but she didn't want to go by herself since her family went to church at another denomination in the small town nearby. She wanted to go to the youth group there because of the girls who went to that church. So, off we went on Sunday morning. I walked over and met her at the door.

It was the friendliest place I have ever been to then and now, bar none. The congregation was a mix of elderly, young families and had a group of girls around my age. Besides the pastor's cousin, there were two other girls from my class at school. I think they were just glad to have more people. Most of the families had generations past who started up the church and had built it. And the best part? We heard all about the Bible. The pastor happened to be a graduate of  Christian universities, and he was a history teacher by day. He had no problem teaching deep truths of the Bible to our little youth group. The cousin who had invited me went back to church with her family, but I stayed. I was home, cousins or not.

Old to young, those people accepted me as I was. They were nice to my parents who never came to church with me. They were patient when I asked endless questions about doctrine and Bible teachings. But they were practical Christians, too. When my dad had a trailer on his truck and wanted to stop by to spend the night at home, "the church people" said it was ok for him to park in the large churchyard, even if he never darkened the door. And sometimes that meant that his truck was parked there on Sunday morning. And the girls of that youth group there became my best friends forever. While my parents weren't there when I joined the church and was baptized, all of these people were, and my parents loved them for who they were, too. If anyone ever said anything harsh, it wasn't within my hearing. And I had heard enough harsh words from "Christians" to last another lifetime.

This is where I was encouraged to write, too. One of the young mothers, Karen, had a writing contest. She announced it from the pulpit one Sunday morning and told us to turn in our pieces to her. I don't remember if I was the only one to turn something in, but she read it in front of everyone the next Sunday and gave me a bound book with blank pages for my prize in front of everyone. I was a writer! I considered that a pronouncement in church.

Even though we were few in number, we played baseball in the churchyard, took trips to state parks and horseback riding, gathered to ride together to the Easter pageant, and studied God's Word every week. We ate meals together, sang, lived. My library grew with books we read of the great Christians, and my faith was full.

Years later after I had married and had children of my own, my mother became quite ill in the fall and nearly died during the three weeks she was in the ICU. That same young pastor, still pastoring the small church across the road, but now also a professor at a nearby Christian university, married with children of his own, came to see her. Unknown to us, mom had asked him to do her funeral at that time. She knew she could die and her own church had deserted her. He promised her that he would.

She didn't die until that spring,quietly in her chair one April Sabbath afternoon, not long after hanging up the phone talking to her brother who had been a missionary. I couldn't think of anyone else to do the funeral, so, I called up my mentor and asked him. He told me she had already asked him. I was stunned. She had never gone to church there. But she was also part of that family. He honored her just as if she had been there every Sunday. I will always cherish this Christian family in rural Indiana.

I owe my life to these people.There are many more stories connected to them, woven into the pages of my heart, and this is where my foundation was built on solid Rock. They gently wooed my soul, placed balm on my broken places, loved me with the Jesus-skin-on, practical "love-thy-neighbor"-feet-on-the-ground Christian faith. They weren't perfect and had struggles, as we all do, but never let me catch you saying anything negative about a single one of them! :)

I left the community after I married, but not once in all the years since,seeing and doing many things with Christian communities and ministries, did my heart leave these people. Yes, people let you down. Sometimes people, even Christian people, are condemning or judgmental and cruel. Sometimes you feel unworthy of the love people bestow on you. Living is a strange mix of acceptance and pain and lack of self-worth sometimes. I feel disconnected most days living here. But despite all the pain of moving into that community and the ugly days I endured even in my own family, that church, those people will always be a spiritual balm to my soul. It was a time of heart of the true Church with Christ at the center. At the center of Center Christian Church.


Some of the girls of Center Christian Church  :)







2 comments:

LeAnne Benfield Martin said...

Thank God for Center Christian Church. I love them for loving you.

Cris Warren Miller said...

Thanks for such kind words, LeAnne. It means a lot to me that you would leave a comment, especially one so thoughtful and loving. :)