I grew up in the church but felt burned by many experiences. Later, I attended a Christian university and while I met a couple of wonderful professors, I came away deeply jaded and determined never to be involved in anything churchy again. “That’s great for them, but I don’t fit in and frankly, I don’t like these people” was my mantra and I felt pretty good about it. Cocky, even.
Several years passed and I began rebuilding my faith, brick by raggedy shaky brick, on my own.
I was with my foster daughter, who is really my bonus daughter for life, at a store she introduced to me called Zara. It’s a fancy chain for people who shower regularly and care what they they look like so I can’t relate, but they had a few nice things including a large turmeric blanket that became my prayer shawl. I’d cover myself in a cocoon that felt like angel wings and just pray and pray in my little bedroom (80% complaints but that’s still prayer).
My spirit felt like it would soar as I rebuilt my connection to the loving God of my childhood. My life began to change and it wasn’t perfect, I was still messy me, but I’m some of those moments under my shawl I could feel the Divine like a heavenly mist in the room (one time I actually saw a fog-like mist- I swear I was stone cold sober-but that’s another story for anther day).
Everything was great and then starting a few weeks ago I felt that unmistakable push. It was time to get out there and find a community. I like to ignore God when I hear things I don’t like so I did. “Sorry I can’t hear you over my impressive solitary prayer life. Anyway you know people isn’t my thing so please stop asking. Didn’t John the Baptist live in the wilderness alone for 30 years? Why can’t I do that? I love proverbial nature. Don’t make me people.”
The idea of finding a community terrified me because not only am I pretty anxious and reclusive, I haven’t had great luck in institutionalized religion. I couldn’t see myself fitting in and being *one of those* prayer hands singing fundies who say things like, “See you at the bible bake sale next Tuesday!”
What if they were all bigots? What if they judged my life? Deep down I was scared of getting hurt again by institutionalized religion.
But like a mosquito in my ear, it wouldn’t go away. It was time to stop not exist in a spiritual vacuum. So I started looking. I looked at one place. Nah. Visited another. Wasn’t feeling it. Gave up for awhile and convinced myself that praying along with YouTube prayers counted as fellowship. Then finally last Friday at 10:30 on a snowy morning walked into a cute little church whose website said they had a weekly women’s group. Sunday morning felt too intimidating so this seemed like a good place to start. I’d check these people out and hopefully they’d disappoint me so I would never have to go back.
The ladies, around seven of them, were all in their golden years of gray hair and various physical ailments and I felt right at home. I impressed them all with my two good legs and volunteered to be the one to go up the stairs and open the locked door to let new people in. I did accidentally lock myself out at one point, but no one laughed at me.
It was there that I met Helen, a woman with bright eyes not a day under 65 who exuded more moxie and wisdom than anyone I’d ever met. After the group was over I got up the courage to ask for her phone number. She gave it to me gladly and I said I’d text her mine. “Oh it’s a landline, honey!” she said laughing.
Fast forward again.
This week was good but hard and the kids challenged me in every way possible. I clashed with work colleagues, gave up smoking, took it up again, and gave it up once more. My Instant Pot wouldn’t stop bullying me and it seems like no matter how much I cleaned and threw things away, there was always a pile of something somewhere.
I was overwhelmed and it’s always in those moments that old wounds start taunting me. I started feeling like if God cared, why was everything so hard? Why have I been through things I’ve been through? Why did God allow X, Y, and Z to do A, B, and C? Wouldn’t a good God protect me better?
Then the big question chopped my mind in half: Does God even love me?
I felt myself begin to spiral. My personal history has taught me that wine relaxes my body but doesn’t soothe my heart and I needed more than a solo prayer session at that moment in my kitchen trying to figure out a dinner I could make in ten minutes.
Helen. Could I call her? I needed to so I did.
“Hello?” Her sweet voice on the line was enough to almost move me to tears. I was worried she wouldn’t remember me or would think it was weird that I called.
“You did the right thing,” she said and I poured out my heart, the messy parts spilling out like broken marbles.
I am a believer and it was a little embarrassing for me to admit that I was struggling.
“Everyone goes through this,” she said in her warm honey voice. She told me about her stormiest nights and the still, small voice that held her together lowest moments. She told me that this world, this life is hard but God promises never to leave us.
“Then why can’t I feel God right now?” I asked her, my pain choking my words.
“God live in spirit. Remember the promises? The stars are there even when we don’t see them.”
As she spoke into my soul, I was soothed. Comforted. Reminded. Hugged.
“I’m just entering my prayer time and I’m going to pray for you all week,” she said and I knew it was true.
The thought of her carving out a minute in her time to remember me made me feel loved and stronger.
“I’ll see you on Friday? Some of us come early so we can talk,” she said.
By the time we hung up, I understood why I’d been pushed and prodded, the stubborn mule I am, to find community. We can’t do this alone. No matter what you believe, we need people who will be there when we slip to hold us even if it’s just over the phone.
It’s a shame you order community with a side of wisdom and love on UberEats but I believe it’s out there for the finding if you look hard enough. If this recluse can do it, maybe you can, too.
I highly suggest a girl gang of senior citizens as these women have seen and been through it all. I talked to my other new trend, Ada, who is 80 for an hour after Helen and she poured me the TEA on her life (long story short: men smh and God is love).
Anyway. This was long but I wanted to share. I hope you guys are doing ok. If you’re not, find a grandma who likes to chat. They know stuff.
Love, Bunmi ❤️🌹