I’d leave my house to make sure I would get there as close to the starting time as I possibly could, without being late. As I’d park my car and walk the familiar sidewalk to the front doors, I’d begin to feel nauseous. It was a low-level nausea if my kids were with me, but full-blown sick-to-my-stomach if they weren’t. I’d go in, avoiding as much eye contact as possible, and find my seat in the back. The sadness would fall upon me almost immediately. In that place, I felt so very divorced. Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m divorced. But, if possible, I felt even more divorced when I was there.
It would end and I would bolt, again avoiding eye contact. If my kids were with me, I’d tell them to come out to the car when they were done talking with their friends. And I’d sit and wait in the car, alone. If my kids weren’t with me, I’d simply drive home as soon as I could.
This was my typical Sunday morning experience at my church of nineteen years. This lasted months upon months. And never once did it occur to me that it was not normal to want to cry at church every time you were there. I just thought I had to push through. I just thought it would lift. Or at least, I hoped it would.
To leave was not an option. First of all, I planned to be there until I died (I don’t know where I came up with that). Secondly, we’d already had too much change in our lives. Thirdly, how would I start over, at 42, husband-less, after knowing only one church home for my entire adulthood?
Let me touch on my best guesses as to the why behind my nausea and sadness at this place that I once considered my second home. First, there were memories lurking in every corner. My church and my marriage were inextricably linked…the good parts and the bad parts. Secondly, there were people who disapproved of me. Thirdly, I was no longer involved in any way, after years of being involved in every way. And fourthly, some people – after all that time – still didn’t even know about my situation. One time, very late in my separation, one of the greeters asked me where my better half was. I simply said at home, which was true, and kept walking although my legs felt like they had just fallen off.
I need to state something super-clearly for the record. I think it’s pretty safe to say that I would’ve felt this way at any church that I would have spent my entire marriage in. I am not saying I felt these things because of my specific church; I am saying I felt these things because of my specific circumstances being so bound up in church.
But then the camel’s back broke late last fall, and I just knew I couldn’t stay anymore. This broke my heart in about a thousand pieces, just one more heartbreak that year. I was terrified because I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t know how to do this. I didn’t have a place I was walking towards, any vision of my future; I just knew I couldn’t stay where I had been. Being sad every Sunday morning was not God’s best for me, and I finally grew tired enough of that feeling to do something about it, as scared as I was.
So, I said some goodbyes, made my best friends sign a literal contract that they’d remain my friends even though I was leaving our church, began trying some churches – alone and scared, and found myself in a room one Saturday night with a pastor saying these words to his tribe, pointing to one person after another, “You are welcome here, you are welcome here, you are welcome here. I don’t know what your baggage is, I don’t care what your circumstances are, you are welcome here, you are welcome here, you are welcome here.” That I didn’t curl up in the fetal position in that moment is beyond me. But I think I knew then, that moment, that first night, I had found my new home. And four months later, after an amazing one-hour conversation with the pastor, and meeting the staff, and communion, and yoga class, and sitting in the same spot, and singing cool songs, and hearing words of deep grace over and over, I heard this, “This girl’s cool,” he said to the rest of them, “she’s one of us.” And I am. And I am accepted. And I am not judged. And I am happy. And I never in a million years expected to feel this way again. But I do. And it’s a gift. And it takes my breath away. And I am grateful beyond words.