I knew that my heart had grown cold in spite of the summer's heat, but I wasn't quite prepared for the realization that it had actually frozen solid. I knew I had grown a little bit (more) cynical over the last few months but I wasn't quite prepared for how deep it actually went. For almost six months, I waited in that rental house in Oregon. I counted on my fingers and marked days on the calendar until I was able to return home to Utah, to a community we loved and adored... that felt like home. In October, our business season ended. We packed our bags and filled our boxes and our little family moved just a bit further east, back home to the house with the red door. It felt so good to see the old, banged-up hardwood floors and big bay windows.
I was home. I couldn't wait to see everyone.
We walked up to the new building on Sunday morning... the church had grown since we left and I was painfully reminded of how much we missed due to our absence. There were so many faces I didn't recognize and oh, the babies. There were so many new babies, new crawlers, new toddlers. The place was teeming with little hands and squeals. I hold tiny hands and tend to the squeals all day in my own home, but the sounds felt foreign. The children who were just crawling when we left were now up and walking and I could hear their words of "Mama" and "Dada" and "Juice" and "Please" and I just clutched my Rowan who stood silent in the crowd and I tried not to cry.
We checked him into childcare and left him screaming and reaching for the door. It was going to be a rough adjustment for him, too.
I walked to the ballroom.
We met in a ballroom now, instead of the old theater. Chairs neatly placed in rows, a small stage with a screen and the band and the microphones all prepped. I was handed a bulletin. We have bulletins now? I scan the crowd and see familiar faces and make small talk with most of them. "How was the summer?" they ask. "Happy to be back?" I nod and my packaged answer comes out before I even realize my mouth is moving. "Yeah, it was really busy. Long days, but we played on the river a lot and enjoyed the sun. Glad to be home though. Feels good to be back in the city." They nod and warmly grab the top of my arm and say "Good to have you back!" as their body is already turned to the next person. I shuffled along.
Everyone was crowded around the back corner and it took me a while to see why. The coffee station. Good to know some things haven't changed.
I caught sight of Mike and he excitedly asked about the book. We laughed over the mutual understanding of pouring ourselves into our creativity and how it feels like it sucks your soul dry after a while. I asked him about his travels & photo projects and he told me how all of his editing deadlines seem to arrive on the same day. I nodded with empathy, having missed two of my own that week. It felt so nice to talk about something other than the move home. Something other than the fact that I felt very far from home that morning.
The band started to play and I made my way to Erik, who found two seats on the right side of the room. I put my things down and gripped my coffee mug. My insides were all twisted and I felt nervous. Why? "It's just church," I told myself inwardly, trying to get my blood pressure down. "It's just church," I thought silently again.
The words on the screen cued us to start singing. I couldn't bring myself to do it. I felt fake & forced and I closed my eyes. Why is this so hard? I know I've been out of the practice of going to church for a few months, but this is the fourth year we've done this, and re-entry has never been this difficult.
The opening worship set ended and Rory came up to lead the congregation in guided prayer and I silently pull out my phone to check the latest BCS rankings. Prayer ended, the offering bags are passed and I feel myself start to check out. Kyle begins to preach and for the first time, I found myself tuning him out. I was deep into my own comfortable place of numbness and it felt better & more familiar than paying attention. I blinked after a long stretch of staring at my propped-up feet and rub my eyes. The band started to play again. Did I really miss his whole sermon?
I stood quiet, watched everyone else in the room worship & take communion. Erik gave me a nudge and we stood to move into the communion line. I'm going through the motions and I question for a second... should I take it? I do, and Erik holds me close and he whispers prayers into my ear as we hold the bread in our hands. I try to follow but I whisper my own silent prayers. God, don't let it always be like this.
In our Scriptures and in Christian culture, we talk a lot about producing good fruit... being "fertile soil" for the goodness of God, allowing Him to transform us so our actions would be those of the Kingdom. Lasting. True. Good. I want that... I want to be that.
There's a hard truth about going back to church after a long time away... I don't feel like fertile soil or good earth anymore. I feel like the desert and the only thing I can manage to produce are dry-mouthed yawns and heavy doses of apathy. I'm working on it, trying to get back into the swing of community and intentional relationships. I'm working my way back into study and prayer. I feel pretty stretched right now. Uncomfortable and unworthy and foreign.
But, I'm trying.
And that's the truth, too.