Audrey and I went to our old church- the one I last attended on July 4th, 2010- two days before you would drown.
I haven’t been able to go back for various reasons, and haven’t really gone to church much since you died. A friend took us to the city to Redeemer a few times, and I tried out a really terrible church last Sunday- felt like I’d been sucked into the 1970’s in West Virginia- very strange. So, Audrey’s been asking to go to her “old church,” that’s what she calls it. Even though she was about 20 months the last time we went together, she still remembers the “ooola oops” they had in the gym and basically associates “church” with the playground at the school where this one meets. I may be doing a bad job overall with her Christian teaching since the other day she said her food was yucky but kept eating it and when I asked her why she was eating it if it was yucky, she replied, “Because Jesus died.”
I was nervous driving there. It was a huge step. Dan had played piano on the worship team up on the stage and he would wave and smile at Audrey. If he wasn’t up there, he’d be holding her, dancing around to the music so I could have a break. I was hoping by going back there I might reinforce any memories of Dan she has there in that building.
It felt almost normal when I first got there. We waved to the fishees in the fish tank in the hall. I declined the church bulletin on the way in as I always do. I sat down in the last row in the back of the huge auditorium on a folding chair- Audrey sat next to me. I was surprised by one thing- the church has gotten a lot emptier- who knows why- churches go through seasons, or maybe everyone was just late. I was kind of relieved.
Of course, probably 5-10 people I know there did come over, pat my shoulder, or give me a hug and say that it was good to see me there.
I dismissed them as quickly as I could without seeming rude. It was important to me that they not think I was “healed” or “coming back to God” and I’d just been angry before. It’s nothing that simple at all.
Audrey wanted to sit up on my lap and strained to see the stage: “I see appa…” she said quietly. “No, no, remember appa died- I tell her sadly but matter-of-factly (which I hate). “That person looks like appa,” she insists. I’m not sure who she’s referring to but there are a few Asian guys up there so I’m afraid she’s forgotten you or that she is just so hopeful that you will be there. I think she really thought that Dan- I think she really thought you might be there because you often went to church early and then we met you there. A part of me felt sick, like I’d played some cruel trick on her taking her there.
Shortly after we went to the nursery classroom where we both stayed the rest of the time. She ate snack, played with play dough, and got stickers. That’s pretty much what they do there. I chatted with a few of the moms. The super smiley children’s ministry woman came and told me it was so good to see me there.
One thing I was struck by immediately when I went into the service in the beginning was the need I used to have to manufacture some “feeling” when in church. I looked around and at least I imagined some people were doing that. How hard, I thought, it is to touch a greater reality when your life is just comfortable. You have to make an effort. Suffering- suffering leads you straight there- it’s like once you learn how real death is, you also learn how real a God could be, if he’s there at least. Any shelter, protection, or buffer you have from everyday life that prevents you from truly “seeing” or connecting to the larger reality- is gone in suffering. You are naked…exposed…like raw nerve endings walking about. It’s just so painful I can see why many of us want to put on something hard like bitterness to cover ourselves up again. What’s the other choice? I guess putting on humility- smallness, hope and wisdom. Not sure how to get there yet though- I’m still walking around with just those nerves exposed.
On the way home, in the car, Audrey said to me, “I wish appa could’ve come to sunday school with me.” She’s been saying things like this a lot more lately. She is recognizing the loss that will follow her all of her life. What can I say? I do too, I do too…my familiar reply.
This brought tears to my eyes…I can just picture her there expecting to see her dad on the stage and it truly breaks my heart for her, and for you. I will be thinking of you both and sending hugs your way tonight.
Julia…I know this was another big and painful thing to do. I am still in awe of your strength and courage through all if this. It amazes me. It was so good to see you on Sunday (whether or not at church0…just good to see you.