Our foundations in life can differ. Every person has a different layer of bedrock that builds them up and defines their childhood. Sometimes these foundations are cracked with small weeds blossoming due to neglect or circumstance. Sometimes they sway when the storms of life rage. For me, my foundation was molded by beige walls, green carpet and brown brick of our home church.
It’s all still there, so close I can almost taste it. The smells. The sounds. The people. I feel as though I could literally reach out my hand and touch what is not there. The ring cookies after a long morning at Vacation Bible School, the smell of stale coffee and gold curtains that cover the baptistry. The 15-passenger van trips to children’s camp, the Bible school drills where I first learned the addictive nature of competition, the skinned knees, the forever cooler than me youth group, the hurricane shelters, the endless stream of wedding and baby showers with grocery store sheet cakes, the altar calls and the tears. They all ground me in a place where I simultaneously grew up and continue to stay grounded in a life-long chase to recreate those feelings.
As I sit today, in our church we now call home, the smell of fresher coffee and too much cologne surround me as I see so much the same, yet different. Conversations float above my head that mirror conversations I heard at 8 or 9 years old as I desperately wanted to leave while my parents spoke to each and every person as if they were running for the 1997 Louisiana Baptist Homecoming Court.
I watch the smiles from the choir loft as the amateur singers take very seriously their role as chorus leaders. The men, who in your day-to-day at work may seem cold and distant, professional or disconnected, come here genuine and effusive in their praise. The women who will kick-down-the-door in prayer on your behalf.
I watch a baptism, and am reminded of the evolution of this holy act in my lifetime. The stories of my parents being baptized in creeks and lakes, my own childhood baptism in a dusty bathtub hidden behind those gold, gaudy curtains that were pulled and held back by the most prestigious of deacons, to the glitz and glamour and the production of what is 21st century churches.
I cry during every church service. I remember my mother’s tears nearly every Sunday of my youth, and I often wondered how anyone could be so sad all the time. But through my adult lens of life now, I now know that it’s not just sadness, it’s heaviness, it’s joy, it’s worry, it’s pain, it’s grief, it’s exhaustion. It’s all the ingredients of the roux of life that darkens as we are stirred and warmed and aged.
The church isn’t perfect. As I grow in my own life and faith, I see the church’s own cracks and peeled paint that mar the beauty of what God designed. But what I long for my daughters to experience is the same sense of belonging, the same sturdiness, the same pursuit of a holy God. Generations have been here before and I pray generations are still to come.
The church has been everything to me, and to my life. Even now as I’ve embarked on my own mini deconstruction of what is my faith, what is religion and what is the true nature of God, I will never be able to shake the connection to these roots. These memories run through my veins, just like the blood of Jesus in the hymns of old.
This foundation taught me humility, that grocery store sheet cakes can be just as delicious and loving as 6-tier masterpieces; that tiny engagement rings bought at Walmart carry as much love and devotion as any diamond; that meal trains, visitors in the hospital and Christmas caroling at nursing homes are holy acts of service; that mosquito-bitten, sunburned, homesick and sweaty days in the woods at camp create a more resilient life.
When I feel most disconnected, most unmoored, most sad, I feel pulled to the nostalgia of the church walls. I dare not make the structure or building of the church my idol, but just as the roots of the pine trees that surround it, this church foundation reminds me that I’m part of something bigger, deeper and wider than me, something as deep and wide as the love of Christ.