Monday, January 20, 2014

Cockroaches and Contraband

This week, I want to share parts of my faith journey with you. In light of recent events, it seems apt for a time such a this. So stay tuned as I tell you about how a girl finds God. Or at least, how this girl did. (Although I cannot guarantee it was not the other way around.)

Not long ago, I wrote about my preschool experience. It's a story that bears repeating simply because it truly is one of the foundations on which my faith is built. The story goes like this...

We didn't go to church, but we were still a "good family," as we called such things back then. And all children from "good families" went to preschool. And all preschools were Christian. Which is how I found myself at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church preschool, in a large, open rec room with not enough light and far too many cockroaches. There was a piano, though. That almost redeemed it. 

Every time I went to the potty in this big, scary place, the cockroaches stared back at me as I lifted my dress. Because good girls from good families wore dresses to good Christian preschool. (Ok, there was a time in my life I loved the dress.) My second-most vivid memory of two years of preschool are these very cockroaches in this very place. Third, and not to be ignored, was my best friend Beverly, who just stopped coming one day. They said she had leukemia, something nobody knew much about in the 1980s, and that I would never see her again. I still remember my friend.

But my most vivid memory is a snapshot of a whole five seconds in all of two years - the day we walked around the whole big church (it's not that big as an adult. As a child, it was huge) and saw all the rooms with all their different purposes. The teacher got us all to hush real quiet, the way teachers do, and we stood in silence as she opened these two glowing, mysteriously illuminated for such a dark church, doors, revealing a high-gloss, all-wood room that just shone with light. The only light in the whole building, at least the way my eyes remember it. The air didn't have that musty church smell; it was somehow cleaner. And you know what? In this pristine place, not. one. cockroach. It was marvelous. I don't know how they did it.

I was about to ask questions when the teacher put her finger to her mouth. Don't talk, she said. This place is holy. (Whatever holy meant.) I started to protest, and she put her finger to her mouth again. I crept closer to the door, wanting to get a better look, and when I was almost there, teacher stopped me again. Don't go in, she said. We can't go in. This place is holy.

Whatever holy meant.

Oh, I ached with questions! But my little mind only fathomed two things: this...whatever this was...was holy. And I...for all that I was...was not. This would always be a place separate from me. I wondered if I would ever get in the door.

The other early story of faith comes from a simple book. A hard cover book with a blue cover, on which was painted a friendly-looking fellow surrounded by happy children. He appeared to be telling a story. 

Now, this was not my book. This was my brother's book, and my brother was, well, rather selfish about his things. I never really saw him reading it, but heaven forbid I try to touch it. That was his book, and he wasn't shy about letting me know. The closest look I got at the cover told me this was titled "The Children's Illustrated Bible" or something like that, which meant it had more pictures inside - maybe of the friendly-looking fellow! Ok, ok...I was really hoping it would be animals or maybe camels. Yes, it looked like a camel book!

But the very fact that I could not have that book made me want it all the more. The more questions I asked about it, the more I was simply told, "That's John's book." That was the only answer I got. And I snuck into John's room looking for it. And I tried a few times to take a peek. And I wanted more than anything to figure out that book. I'm about to turn 29 years old, and I'll be honest - I never saw a single page. Not. One.

It was obviously special; I kind of always knew that even if I didn’t understand why. It wasn’t jealousy – it’s not that it was special because it was John’s. Rather, I got the idea that because it was special, it was given to John. Which only made me want it more because I wanted to be special, too. Whatever was special about it, I wanted it to make me special.

And that's where my faith journey begins - trying to figure out what holy means and looking for something to make me special. Unknowing questions and untouchable treasures. A cockroach-infested preschool with an other-worldly secret space and a little blue book I never read.

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