A week in my hometown coming to a close. Dinner with a dear friend. The drive back to where my husband was anxiously awaiting my return so he could play basketball with some of his friends. I took a side road that led up a hill. I knew where I was going and my heart picked up its pace. I pulled my car onto the full parking lot and found an empty space up front. I got out and approached the doors as I had done thousands of times in my life.
The foyer appeared empty. My heart sank a little. I was hoping for something familiar. I peeked around the corner and saw him. I’ve known him forever, this grouchy grandpa I haven’t seen him 3 years. It took him a minute to recognize me, but when he did, the tears welled up in his eyes and he embraced me. He invited me to sit and asked me questions about my life. He told me I remind him of a happy era and that my husband is a good man.
He left to collect the offering, and I slipped into a back room. I saw another familiar face. She stood with both arms in praise to Jesus, and when I touched one arm, she spun around with tears in her eyes and pulled me close.
“You’ve so been on my heart,” she whispered. “Are you okay?” Two years had passed since I saw her last at my mom’s bedside, and yet she still thought about me enough to pray for me after all that time.
The music ended and I went into the sanctuary. I found another friend I have not seen in over a year. One who has recently lost her father. She hugged me over and over again and said, “Isn’t is strange how the words take on a whole new meaning when you’ve lost a parent?”; singing about Jesus raising from the dead means so much more. This one was especially precious to my mom.
I snuck into the room where the highschoolers meet and it was empty, save for one person. A lovely young woman whom I’ve watched grow up. She has been through so much and still serves Jesus with her guitar. With an icecream cone in hand, she made a loud noise and hurried for me.
Outside, I found my youth pastor. As his children ran about celebrating the ice cream cones as well, another pastor came up. He is the pastor who, in his twenties, gave me a chance to lead in worship. I don’t know why he let this shy girl behind a microphone, but he did. Time and time again. Tonight, he encouraged me while his children tried to figure out how to salvage their desserts from the ground . . . It had been a year since I had seen either of them as well.
Then another friend of fifteen years appeared . . . The summer after my mom died, she took me to the movies. She picked me up in a mini-van shortly after giving her skunk-sprayed dog a ride as well. We sat in the theater trying to figure out who smelled worse, all the while crying because the actress on screen spoke of not having a mother . . . Tonight, she told me over and over again how seeing her had made her night, her week, her month. She said, “I don’t need to ask you how you are because I know . . . ” And she was right, even though we have not spoken in person in so very long.
I was so reluctant to get in my car. I wanted to stay for just a little while longer. This was my church for 26 years. I grew up here. So did my mom. She had attended from when it began as a tiny little meeting in a grange hall until it grew to thousands upon thousands of people. I can even close my eyes and remember what it was like when she would walk down these corridors, her heels clicking on cement. She would say, “Hey Tater bugs!”
And oh how I miss that voice. Oh how I miss the way things used to be when I would visit Redding. Oh how I long for the familiar here.
But tonight, I found it. At church.
I know people have all sorts of bad to say about the church, and I know they have great reasons for it. Heck, I can rant with the best of them. But the truth is, God chooses to comfort us through His people. Broken people. Tonight, I went to His people and I was comforted.
I suppose some things do stay the same.