It was going to be a busy morning and I had a ton of things to keep track of. In a few hours I’d be standing before our large congregation, handing out acolyte crosses to our new fourth grade worship leaders and giving out Bibles to our third graders. As our Children’s Minister, I had a litany to lead, a children’s sermon to give, 35 names to call out, a couple of prayers to pray, all while managing a microphone with a headset and carrying a clipboard with two sets of names, each one of which I needed to say perfectly. SO WHY DIDN’T ANY OF MY STUPID DRESSES HAVE POCKETS?
I DON’T CARE IF POCKETS FLARE OUT AND LOOK MESSY.
I DON’T CARE IF THEY MIGHT MAKE MY HIPS LOOK BIG.
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU, DRESS DESIGNERS? WE DON’T LIVE IN DOWNTON ABBEY! WOMEN HAVE THINGS TO DO! WE NEED PLACES TO PUT OUR STUFF!
As I threw hangars around and kicked at my shoes, I caught a vision on myself in the mirror.
Maybe my clothes weren’t really the problem. Maybe I was angry about something else.
Yes. I believe I was.
I think I’ve been angry for a good while, though I’ve worked hard to keep it under the surface.
Thursday, it all spewed out. Literally.
I won’t go into detail for your sake, but let’s just say that when the most precious grandbaby ever came to visit Tuesday night, he gave his LaLa the World’s Worst Stomach Bug, which had hijacked my body by Thursday afternoon. Perfect timing, as I had listened to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that morning as I worked. Then I’d had lunch with a bunch of women ministers and chaplains, where we talked about how Dr. Ford’s words had triggered those around us with their own memories of sexual harassment or abuse.
So yay. I drove home and spent the next 48 hours either flat on my back or throwing up into the toilet. Maybe it was the virus talking- or my sick stomach and exhausted, delirious mind- but as I vomited over and over, I thought to myself that at least it seemed right, given the news. I tried to chuckle to myself that it was like the time I took a broom to a Harry Potter film, or when my brother put on his football helmet to watch a game. I was throwing up in solidarity with the many friends I have who’ve been assaulted. I was throwing up for the times I’ve been harassed and wanted to scream but didn’t, the times I didn’t tell, because I didn’t see what good it would do.
And I was throwing up for Rachel.
I didn’t know Rachel (not her real name) before circumstances put us together. I noticed her bright eyes and her funny laugh and how very nice she was. A week into classes, I came home to find her being wheeled out of our dorm on a stretcher and taken to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. She had taken a bottle full of pills. Her boyfriend had raped her.
As I lay on my back on Thursday, trying to get the room to stop spinning, I remembered Rachel. I remembered the time we were sleeping in the same room and I woke up at 3 am with her face next to mine, ghostly white, her eyes wide, sleepwalking and crying that he was after her, that we had to move furniture in front of the door or he’d break in. I remember seeing him come around. I remember asking her why she wouldn’t file charges. I remember his sneer.
Maybe I was still mad about that.
I was also mad that people I know and love seemed to shrug their shoulders on facebook about Dr. Ford, or even worse. How could Christian people laugh? Had they not seen the research about how women rarely tell? Or the studies on the rarity of false reporting? That experts now say that the rate for false reporting is in the range of 2-8%? When a woman talks, the odds are pretty good that she’s telling the truth. We should at least listen. We should at least investigate well.
Maybe I was also mad because I am so tired of changing my own behavior to protect myself from being assaulted, from carrying a key in my fist at night to avoiding parking garages to looking in my backseat before I get into a car. And even though I want the future to be unlimited for my daughter, I had to teach her these things as well, as everyone does. If Sarah had come to me begging to go to college in downtown Chicago, would I have said, “Go for it!” as I did for Sam? I don’t think I would have, and I’m mad about that.
So I was mad, and a little light headed, as I put on MY ONE DRESS WITH POCKETS that I had just worn the week before, and headed off to church.
It was a good place to go, THANK GOD. (Really, thanks, God.)
Don’t get the wrong idea…I’M STILL MAD. I’ve still had it with this awful broken world, full of abuse and hurt and idiocy, when we lean into our own understandings, when we arm ourselves with our fears and bully each other. I’ve still had it with sexism and racism and ugliness. But God showed me some goodness that’s soothing my heart and at the same time, firing me up. Feeding me. Resting me. Igniting me.
God showed me 19 fourth grade girls and boys who said yes to serving as acolytes, to show up with a partner, put on robes and crosses, and walk down the aisle in front of everybody, signaling the whole crowd that God is in the house. They march in first, because A CHILD WILL LEAD US and they come bearing FIRE and a big heavy Bible so that we can get it through our think heads that this is not a PTA meeting. We’re meeting up with the HOLY, so take off your shoes! And then when worship is done, they march it all out again in front of us, so that we remember that as we get in our cars and go out to lunch- or head home where we’ll eat leftovers and argue about not getting on the computer until the homework is done, Jesus goes with us. He doesn’t relax on the pew with a coffee and turn on the game. He climbs in beside us and rides into that awful broken world with us, whispering to us the message from the sermon that day, that LOVE DRIVES OUT FEAR. And if we’re not careful, FEAR DRIVES OUT LOVE.
God also showed me Riley.
At the beginning of our children’s sermon, I noticed aloud to the kids that we had a nice big group gathered there on the platform, but there was a whole class of children missing. “Look at them smiling,” I said, nodding at the third graders still sitting in the center pew. “It’s because something special is about to happen to them.” And it was. Each of them was about to receive a gift from the church, her own Bible, inscribed with her name. “Do you know what is special about today?” Did they know what made today different?
Riley’s hand shot up. His whole little first grade face lit up. “IT’S SUNDAY!!!!”
Yes! Maybe Sunday is an amazing, radical thing!
It’s SUNDAY and we get to leave our homes and dirty dishes and the dog poop that is still in the back yard because somebody didn’t clean it up like they were supposed to and we drive to a building where we can close our eyes to the darkness of the world and ask God to descend upon us and hold us and revive us and point our eyes to what the world needs. We devote a couple hours to God who loves us no matter who we are or what we’ve done.
But maybe this is not what Riley meant. Maybe Riley meant that Sunday is special because he gets to hang out where people love him and his family, where he gets to eat doughnuts and play ping pong and then hear a story about God who loves him too and will never leave him no matter what. And then he gets to go to worship in a big room that gets filled up with God, with a loud organ with music you can feel in your bones, and a special meal where we basically eat Jesus because we love him so much and want to take his words and love into our bodies right down to our toes. And then, when it’s done, we get to have a Jolly Rancher dessert from Miss Becky’s office, because you can’t have too much joy. That’s good too.
And then God showed me the third graders, and the way they held their new Bibles like it was the Ark of the Covenant, and they were the priests who could touch it if they were really careful. REALLY CAREFUL, because this is God’s word.
From my seat on the platform I watched one of our girls finger her name on the cover. Yes, child, it’s meant for you, this book of sacred stories of normal, broken people, each bad and good, who broke all God’s rules and did some real dumb, dangerous, hurtful things to each other because God couldn’t have all the power. And still God loved them, pursued them, never gave up on them, even to the point of putting on human skin and coming down here on earth to show us how to live. God loved them to the point that they killed him. But even that wouldn’t stop a love like that. Nothing can separate us from the BIG LOVE of God.
Yes, children. You are worth that kind of love.
You are worth God’s love no matter what you’ve done or what others have done to you.
You are worth loving yourself and taking care of yourself.
You are worth justice and kindness and mercy.
You are worth being who God made you to be.
You are also worth anger. Sometimes it’s the only way to holy change.
Thank you for showing me the way.
Oh, and one more thing: you are also worth pockets.
I’m just saying.