When I was a very little girl, we lived next door to a small church, and my parents were two of the best practicing Christians I've ever had the privilege of knowing. They were not much for organized religion; I did not grow up with family prayers and family scripture study and hymnals in the home. But they wanted me to know about God, and they took me to church when I was tiny, and once I knew the way and could be trusted to walk down my sidewalk and around the grapevine hedge that divided the properties and into Sunday School, I was sent to church with a nickel knotted into a corner of my handkerchief.
Easter meant eggs and a modest basket of candy and a new dress for church. And a hat. I grew up in the 50's and 60's, when Jackie Kennedy wore pillboxes, and ladies wore white gloves to church on Sunday, and every little girl had an Easter bonnet.
We moved to Boise the summer I was eight, and Mom looked for a church for me to attend. Boise was booming, at least in part because of the missile crisis, and there were more people who wanted to go to church than there were church buildings available. So for a few weeks I met with a small congregation in the chapel of a mausoleum. It was a big city, and I was a stranger. The adults were reasonably friendly, and the kids were rude, what I've learned to call "tacky" since moving to Texas. After about a month and a half, I had had enough. And I told my folks that I didn't want to go to church there any more, because I didn't like the people.
My mother explained how difficult it was to find a church that taught about Jesus without also teaching religious bigotry. She did not want me to grow up outwardly religious and privately hateful. The church at the mausoleum was the best we could do at that place and in that time. She respected both my intelligence and my feelings, and I never went back.
Fast forward half a dozen years. I was now fourteen, and my hormones were raging, long before there was any visible manifestation. [Let me digress and say that if I make it through this month without a visit from the Red Fairy, I will officially be in menopause, and I will be delighted. This whole winding-down process has been infinitely less painful than the starting-up process and all its attendant drama.] I was also feeling the first stirrings of a longing to reconnect with God. I tried to read the Bible and got nowhere. The only verse that stayed stuck in my mind was John 3:16. I wrote it out in longhand and taped it to my wall.
Two years later, I had a best friend and a small circle of girlfriends, one of whom was Quaker. We started going to church with her. I sewed my own Easter dresses for three years. No hats; it was the late 60's, and we were way too cool for hats and white gloves. I loved the people in that congregation; they were warm and welcoming. And the music was lovely. It was always my favorite part. [I grew up with Mahalia Jackson and Anita Bryant singing the old gospel standards. And when "Oh Happy Day" came out, Mom bought it and we just about wore it out.]
In the summer, they would have traveling preachers come for what had to be the most reverent and loving and respectful revivals in existence. I was drawn to walk to the front and make a public profession of faith, but something kept me sitting in my pew every time. Perhaps it was my parents' example of non-joining; perhaps it was a desire not to make a commitment I wasn't sure I could keep. I just remember sitting there, feeling torn between my longing to know God better and my reluctance to be a hypocrite or an incompetent who couldn't finish what she'd started.
I loved that church and those people so much that that is where I chose to be married to my first husband. Good people, salt of the earth as my father would have said.
I went off to college and fell in love with a Catholic boy and started taking their conversion classes. He and I dated a few months, and I didn't finish the classes, though I learned enough doctrine that my already high opinion of the church increased. I have worshipped in parish churches where the Spirit was so strong, because of the faith and the prayers of the parishioners.
The world appeared to win for the next few years. I had my parents' and my sister's good examples to follow, and I had the Golden Rule, and still I was stumbling and flailing about, because I had no bedrock of faith on which to base my choices. I was unprepared for how deeply wounding the breakup of my first marriage would be, even though I was the one who wanted out. But that pain proved to be a blessing, because I think it was the only thing that could have humbled me sufficiently that I would allow God to come in and start putting the broken pieces back together.
It's been more than 30 years, and it still startles me to think of myself as "one of those religious people". I love living here in the Bible Belt, surrounded by others who love God as much as I do and try to do His will, as I try to. I love being able to talk about God's working in my life with several of my co-workers, or asking my friends to pray for me or with me. I love seeing a new church go up, even if we differ on doctrine, because people who understand what they believe and implement it in daily life are a blessing to their neighbors. God will sort out the details later, in my opinion.
Easter when the girls were little started out like the Easters I had known. I have a picture of Firstborn and Secondborn in the Easter dresses which I had made for them. After Middlest came along, our brief period of relative prosperity ended, and there were no more Easter dresses, let alone matching ones. I had neither the resources nor the time. By the time there were five little blessings chez nous, Easter was a dozen eggs dyed, which we devilled and ate for lunch after church, and a bag of jellybeans and maybe some peeps, and if it were a particularly good year, half-price chocolate bunnies bought at 11:30 the night before. When they were between 15 and 4, Easter was two bags of holiday M&M's carefully divided by color, according to their "family color" [having a family color made it easier to know whose cup was sitting on top of the piano, and whose plate was peeking out under a bed], and woe be unto us if one of them got so much as one M&M more than a sibling. I got to eat the orphan/surplus M&M's.
Last year was BittyBit's first real Easter; they hid plastic eggs in the back yard, andh we had to frisk them for fire ants before letting her open them. I've done nothing traditional this year to celebrate Easter, but I suspect that church today will be rather more meaningful than some Easters past. The past twelve months have been brutal in many respects, and I am particularly grateful for the Atonement, not only for my personal sins of omission and commission, but for how it covers the sins against me and mine, the aches and pains and illnesses, and the petty irritations of life.
May you have a blessed and peaceful and joyful Easter.
- Four years into widowhood, after one year of incredible happiness and nearly 14 years of single blessedness. Have given up perfect manicures and pretty hands in order to resume playing the soprano recorder and to see if I can figure out how to play bluegrass banjo. Singing in the shower. Still really, *really* love to knit!