She came in the back of the room after introductions. No one knew her name. She sat quickly not making eye contact with any but keeping a smile on her face to look like she belonged. She didn’t. Or so she thought. She glanced nervously at her shoes wondering if the polish she used to cover the wears would still match under the fluorescent lights. Close enough. The man at the front of the room appeared friendly in a comfortable kind of way. Like seeing hotdogs in an Asian food market, he was a familiar face in a foreign land. She didn’t know him, but she knew his type. She wondered about the others, but fear kept her from looking.
She pulled at the hem of her dress wishing the soft brown cotton skirt won the battle of which-to-choose. It was much longer. She let out a slow and quiet sigh so as not to bring attention to herself and tried to concentrate enough to listen. One drop of sweat made its way in a slow lazy trail down her back. She swallowed wishing for water. Her tongue felt like sandpaper.
In her stillness, she remembered the conversation again. It haunted her until she made her mind up to come here.
“Where will she go?”
“She said she can stay in her house for the next couple of weeks. It’ll take her that long to pack everything. Then she is going to move in with her mother.”
“My heart is breaking. Those poor kids. Losing your dad is bad enough, but leaving your friends and moving schools on top of it is awful.”
“I know. Do you think there is something we can do?”
“I’m not sure. I’m going by to see her this afternoon. I’ll ask.”
“Do you want to pray?”
She stayed and listened to their prayer. They left not long after, but she stayed frozen in her spot.
That morning she passed a neighbor who casually waved. A well-meaning co-worker smiled and patted her on the back. Her boss reminded her to check the schedule, and she saw he cut her hours. Everyone knew, but no one cared. She had slipped into the bathroom and locked the door. She leaned against the wall and sighed. Her resolve broke, and she slid. She eyeballed the floor through tears not yet shed realizing she was about to be seated on it. She could almost hear her mother’s better-than attitude, “Don’t touch anything in a public restroom.” Partly in defiance and partly because she just didn’t care, she slid down that wall until she sat on the floor. For a second she paused waiting to see if she combusted or if any other horrible thing happened instantaneously from the monstrous germs with which she shared the floor. Nothing. Her eyes closed. And she cried. And cried.
In desperation, she tossed, “God, does anybody care about anybody but themselves? If so, I’d like to see one!” And then she went to lunch.
She had been drawn to them when she walked in. The lunch crowd had not yet landed so open tables were everywhere. But she chose the one closest to these women. Something about them. They never even looked up. They were engrossed in conversation as she sat, her back to them in the very next booth.
Something about the way they sat there, comfortable in their own skin made her wish to join them. They didn’t glance around to see who was coming or going. The way they poured into each other suggested the waters of friendship ran deep. She leaned back to better hear their prayer, not eating, not breathing deeply. Soaking in each and every word. Oh, that someone would pray like that over her.
They left soon after the prayer. She watched them leave and walk into the parking lot. And hope drove off in a Honda.
Her food was cold. She didn’t care. She didn’t know. Her body fed itself, arms and mouth moving in synchronization. Lift. Chew. Lift. Chew. Standing to leave, she slung her purse on her arm and gathered her trash. Anxious to be alone, she scurried to her car, got in, and shut the door. She glanced over her shoulder. Heart racing, she swallowed and opened her mouth to speak. Nothing came out. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She tried again. “God?”
She never really believed in God, but then again she didn’t not believe in Him either. So she never really expected for Him to actually answer her. When she asked Him if he could show her caring people, it was a rhetorical question, like “Am I the only person on this highway that knows how to drive?” She never imagined He would reply. But He did. She saw caring over curly fries and diet coke.
“God? I’m not sure if you can hear me. If you can, honk the horn on my car.” She waited for all of three seconds, “Okay, so you don’t have to honk the horn, but anyways, I need some help. And seeing how I think you are in the business of helping people. Could you help me? I know that you– I mean I think I know– I mean– did you send those two ladies for me to see?”
She paused as if waiting for Him to answer, and then continued. “God, I don’t think I can take much more. Nothing seems to be going right for me.” She held her tears in check, afraid if she let them go they wouldn’t stop. “Well, I guess you already know what happened. It’s just not fair. I don’t care what anyone says; I’m not better off now.” Feeling the anger start as a tight ball in her middle and climbing up to almost choke her, she took a deep breath.
“I’ll tell you what. I’ll go to church if you’ll just send one person to let me know it’s going to be okay. Okay?”
“Oh, what am I even thinking? This is crazy,” she mumbled to herself, jerking herself out of a hope-filled state. She dug through chewing gum wrappers and coupons to find her keys. As soon as her hand felt the cold metal of the key ring, she jerked it from her purse sending her wallet flying, dumping all her business cards, credit cards, and a little bit of cash all on the floor board of her car. Too angry to pick them up, she slammed the key in the ignition and peeled out of the parking lot. She gunned the gas not caring about $3.58 a gallon. As soon her car hit third gear, the light turned red, and she slammed on the brakes.
Of course, she thought and glanced at the clock, I’m going to be late for my shift. Her fingers anxiously tapped the steering wheel as she stared at the light and began to wonder why it was even red. The streets were deserted. She waited. And stared, until her eyes fell on a big LED billboard just as it changed.
Looking for a place to call home?
CHRIST CALVARY CHAPEL
Sunday Services 9:30 and 11:00 a.m.
44 W. Pike Blvd.
Her heart stopped in her chest and then raced. She wondered if she was having a panic attack. She stretched across the seat reaching for a scrap of paper and a pen. Keeping one eye on the traffic light she riffled through the scramble of purse contents on the floorboard. Jotting down the church information on the back of her doctor’s appointment card, she convinced herself all of this was coincidence. Nevertheless, she double-checked every detail with the sign before it changed again.
Sunday morning, she awoke before the alarm clock went off. I’m not going. I mean why should I go? Well, what if none of this was a coincidence. What if He is real? Hello? God, did you hear that? She stayed in bed having a one-sided conversation in her head until the alarm bleared. She jumped up and got in the shower.
Thirty minutes later she was drinking a Coke and eating stale crackers in the car on the way to the church. The church was easy to find. She’d seen it before just never paid it much attention. Last Christmas people were dressed like Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds standing out in front of this church in a homemade stable with a spotlight. She wondered why anyone would stand out in the cold by choice.
Before she could dust the crumbs off of her lap, a man greeted her in the parking lot. He startled her actually; she was so caught up in her thoughts.
“Good morning, and welcome to Christ Calvary. My name is Herb. Can I help you find where you’re going?”
“Umm,” she stammered not knowing what to say. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was doing there or where she was supposed to go. What was she going to say to him? Hey, I think God asked me to come. Do you know where I can find Him?
“I’m not really sure where I’m supposed to go.”
“Well, this is the Bible study hour. After that we’ll have a chapel service. Can I show you to a Bible study class?”
“Sure,” she managed, wondering again what in the world she was doing there.
“I’m sorry,” Herb chatted amiably, “I don’t think I caught your name.”
“Oh,” she kept getting caught off guard. “Hello” she thrust her hand out, “My name is…Amber.”
To be continued…