Over the past few years, Charlie and I will go to church pretty consistently - and then - either someone will get sick or we will have a schedule conflict and we won't go again for several weeks.
(Or several months.)
For the past month - at least since Christmas - we've been going to church every week. But before that, we hadn't been to a service since October. It was when we had gone in October and a new minister was discussing Proposition 8 and Christian views on homosexuality, that Charlie and I were both so agitated that we stopped attending.
But then, it seemed like a whole lot of things happened.
We made the decision to pull our children out of school. I was informed that I needed to return to work full-time in May. We were faced with another opportunity to move. My father's health began to decline, rapidly. My mother was admitted to the hospital for what was thought to be a heart attack. My family began to fall apart at the seams.
I've discussed my religious views before and I've already "confessed" that I don't believe everything that I've read in the Bible. I don't believe everything that I hear during sermons. And although I may not have mentioned it before, I was really turned off to organized religion when I lived in South Carolina during my teenage years. My algebra tutor was a student at Bob Jones University and before we would begin a lesson, he would bow his head in prayer and recite verses from the Bible.
It always made me a little uncomfortable.
Almost as uncomfortable as people who would flat out ask me if I had been saved.
The first time I was asked this question, I didn't know what the person meant and I responded, "Sure. When I was three-years-old, I fell in to the pool and my brother Wally saw me floating face down and pulled me out."
The look of astonishment that I received was almost as bad as when I was having dinner with my Presbyterian friend's family and when her mother reached for my hand to say a blessing, I hesitated for a moment before taking out my well-chewed bubblegum and sticking it in to her extended palm.
Since I lived in the buckle of the Bible Belt, I was frequently asked about my eternal salvation. Eventually, just to avoid the shocked stares and questions, I would answer "Yes, I've been saved." And then if I was feeling particularly daring, I might add, "Praise the Lord!"
But in my heart I didn't feel it.
Not at all.
Not even close.
Still, that didn't stop me from being a part of the church community. If any of the local churches were having a ski trip to the local mountains, I would sign up. Over the course of my teenage years, I went skiing with the Baptists, Catholics, Methodists and Episcopalians.
Yet, I always felt like an outsider.
A total fake, looking in on all of these faithful people.
I'm not completely sure what has happened in me over the past few years. Maybe it was becoming a mother. Or finding a church that really works well for us. But these days, I don't feel like as much of a fake as I once did.
Now, I'm in no way a fundamental religious person. Yet, these days, whenever I go to church and I listen to the message, I am almost instantly transformed in to a better person. Whenever Charlie and I go to church - we are a stronger unit.
We are better parents.
We are more kind, gentle and compassionate people.
(At least for the next 24 hours.)
We are both in agreement that attending church provides us an outline for living a better life. And once a week, we have a full hour together while our children are supervised, to hold hands and listen to good music and an encouraging message. Equally important, we like surrounding ourselves with people who are genuinely kind and are trying to live the best lives that they can.
We don't tithe and we're not members of the church because we're not "there" yet. But we like what church does for us and for our family. So we keep going.
Yesterday, when we went to church, Charlie dropped off the triplets in their classroom and I went to drop off Henry in the nursery. As expected, he threw an absolute fit. When I took a moment to look around, I noticed that there were 10 one-year-olds in the room and only one volunteer baby sitter.
Apparently, three people who were supposed to be there, never showed up. One rogue volunteer babysitter was running between the infant room and the toddler room and she tried to assure me that everything would be fine. They had it covered. But for several moments, I stood debating what to do. Henry was making more noise than the other 10 children, combined.
Do I scrape him off me, jump over his little body and run for the door?
Do I take him in to the cry room so I could still hear the service?
Or do I cut my losses and go home?
And then it was as if the very voice of the Great Almighty whispered in my ear to stay and help.
Even though I'd had an extremely difficult week and really needed to have my spiritual cup refilled, I knew that it was more important for me to be there, sitting on the floor with a room full of toddlers. So I put on a smock and a name tag. And when Charlie came looking for me, I had children other than our own in each of my arms. While Charlie went to hear the sermon, I read stories and blew bubbles. I held babies that were crying and I sniffed out dirty diapers.
And I really enjoyed myself.
Some people can turn to other sources for fulfillment. Maybe they can take a walk in the great outdoors and be inspired by the beauty of nature. Maybe they can write poetry or listen to music or exercise. Or trade stocks.
But I need a little bit more. I'm sure some would argue that I shouldn't be attending a specific church unless I am accepting all of the message. But I think that exact position is what has turned me off to church for so many years, prior.
How could I possibly go if I didn't believe it all?
Nowadays, I just believe that it is important to find a church that you like. And then, go. Listen to the message. Take what you need. Don't be discouraged if you have reservations. With time, you might discover that you are transformed in to an even better version of yourself. I mean, after my first full week of homeschooling and family turmoil, I never would have thought I would have given up a whole hour of quiet time with my husband, to sit with a room full of babies.
I'm sure that counts for something.