I distinctly remember Sundays during my childhood. A two story home sat on what seemed like a mountain of a hill in between the sixteenth green and our dock on Lake Oconee within Reynolds Plantation. I loved that house. The back porch sprawled the entire length of the home to meet a double set of stairs, ending with the path that led all the way to the water. There was a flower box under the kitchen window, the black and white wallpaper my mother had chosen was visible right past the violet pansies.
And Sundays had their rituals. I would wake up to Dave Matthews, creeping in volume as the chorus of ‘Warehouse’ started to build. My bedroom was adjacent to the living space and the screened-in porch, all of which had doors open to the barely crisp Georgia weather. My father had golf on mute, and I could smell the black pepper being mixed into the Zing Zang as the familiar clank of a mixing spoon intertwined with ice cubes as they were stirred around a solo cup (far before the world of Tervis Tumblers.) A cheers between my parents would ensue as we watched Payne Stewart tap it in for a win. Dad would start on brunch, making the best cheese grits that have ever graced your southern lips. Sundays were ours.
The first time I recall attending church was around the age of ten with a friend at First Methodist in downtown Greensboro. I liked singing along when I knew some of the words, and there were kids there that I knew from my small private school. I came back a few times for some youth nights and would catch a ride from kids in our neighborhood.
My family didn’t attend church regularly. My grandmother attended a Catholic church in France and I could remember her telling me about the cane they would put behind her back and in-between her arms to make her sit up straight. She also was taught that it was rude to swallow. I’ve probably seen my grandmother drink 1,000 cups of coffee. Not one gulp yet. Somehow I related that to religion at a young age, and well, that didn’t seem like a whole lot of fun to me so I didn’t inquire any further.
When she came to America with my grandfather, she let my mom choose where she wanted to attend church, not wanting to force Catholicism on her. And I’m very appreciative. With absolutely no offense to the denomination, I have recently attended two Catholic funerals. Didn’t. Understand. A word.
My mom decided she would become an Episcopalian, going through confirmation and all of the formalities. My dad, raised Southern Baptist, was one of those that grew up in the church. My grandparents never missed a Sunday, nor drank a sip of alcohol, even though parts of their glassware set (including gold rimmed coupe glasses) are in my cabinets today. I guess they figured it was part of the set and therefore a necessity, either way, they are being put to good use now.
I never asked my parents why we didn’t attend church growing up, but they were there to answer some questions I had. I remember asking my dad about creation, and after some thought, he wrote me a letter regarding Genesis. I can’t recall most of it, but I liked giraffes when I was little and he described to me how God created the giraffes and how Adam called them by name. And while questions continued to be answered, I continued to take myself to church, catching rides with friends into town.
I caught glimpses of God throughout my childhood, but didn’t get what I recently heard referred to as a ‘garden glimpse’ (thanks Beth) until high school. What is a garden glimpse? Those moments that you just stop. Those times where you think, ‘ok. There is absolutely no way that God doesn’t exist.’ Those moments that you are so surrounded by astounding beauty that you have no other explanation than a creator with a wild imagination – ebbing and flowing with grand design.
My first garden glimpse was day five of Young Life camp in Colorado. I had spent three days on a bus, half of which was inhabited by people that I didn’t exactly care for due to rival high schools, lacrosse and competitive cheerleading that we took wayyy too seriously. At night we would drive and during the day we would stop in states on our route. I remember getting out and trying to track down a Cracker Barrel because it’s the only place that had sweet tea to the west of Tennessee, all the while asking people we passed what state we were actually residing in at the moment.
We arrived to a valley in Colorado that was the most picturesque place I had seen in my fifteen years of life. It was surrounded by mountains, with horses to the left, a lake to the right, and a huge group of people that seemed very excited to greet a big bus of stinky high schoolers they had never seen before.
It was in this place that after a talk on the gospel, I went out to sit under the stars. I talked to the Lord that night and asked Him questions that I didn’t know to ask until now. He answered me with two back to back shooting stars across the black sky. I didn’t need any more than that. My heart had never felt so full, nor complete until that moment. It was my garden glimpse.
Since that time in Colorado, my relationship with the Lord has been an uphill climb. I faced the same problems as any one else in high school. I continued to take myself to church on Sundays, this time with my Young Life leaders, but there was no lack of drama and peer pressure along the way. When I reached my freshman year of college, our town lost seven beautiful students in a beach house fire. When I came home for fall break, I learned that my father no longer lived in our home. My parents had separated since I left. I transferred to Clemson for a semester to be closer to home, and when transferring back to the College of Charleston, I lost the majority of the class credits I had received. I went through a loss of friendship in my junior year, followed by student loans that were now my responsibility. I took twenty four credit hours that spring semester to finish school early.
College was a blur of confusion and questioning who I was, and honestly, where God was. I knew that I still believed He was around, I just felt like He and I were not on the same GPS guidance. I was starting to have a hard time remembering His goodness was separate from brokenness of the world around me.
By the time I returned back home it was 2014 – I was twenty five and had been gone for eight years. School for three, and then working for four. But I found myself back here, craving that same garden glimpse I had in high school. I knew that He had never left my side, but at this point there was very little of me left, and I needed Him to give me a bear hug and carry me for a hot second.
So I came back to the church that I took myself to in high school. I walked down the aisles, slightly self conscious of being there alone, and seeing those faces I hadn’t seen in so long. But when I sat down and planted my feet on the floor, I knew I was on holy ground. I was home. But He wasn’t quite done with that hill climb. Just when I thought that my trials had come to an end, He knew that I could withstand more.
Three years would come with blessings and more confusion. First, an amazing husband that due to our love of mayonnaise, unlocking our phones with the same four digit code, and the fact that I love him more and more every day, I know was meant for only me. A man that would cherish me and continue to help shape our spirituality. Then, our struggles with infertility that would lead to hope in a pregnancy and end with a heartbreaking miscarriage. Followed by more waiting. And attempts to plan our lives and make sense of it all that would only lead to more confusion.
It took me twelve years to look back on all of this. To know that the journey is always going to be uphill because the Lord is anxious to lead me towards higher ground. I can look back now and see the dots He was connecting, the relationships that were formed or failed, the times that I had clenched fists wondering why. He was shaping me to become the person I am, yet I am far from the person He wants me to be. We’re still getting there, but I can say now that I am more in love with Him than I have ever been and that part I can see as clear as those shooting stars on that night in Colorado.
On Sunday, I will be baptized at Grace Church Downtown at the 11:15am service. His love is a true and steadfast inward reality that has brought on this outward expression of my heart. I am deeply loved. I am unendingly pursued. And I share with you now that I am His today and forever more until He returns, or calls me home.
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” -Jeremiah 29:11