And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Throughout my life, I can’t say that I’ve gotten along very well with churches. I don’t know that I can say that I’ve gotten along with God or with the Universe or with a Higher Power either, as I’ve never been quite sure who or what that is. Basically, I see myself as a seeker – someone who believes there’s something, but isn’t quite sure of who or what or what the purpose is.

I was raised Catholic. I refused to be confirmed. When I married for the first time, my husband was Catholic too, and he insisted we go to the same church as his parents, and then we had to show up for mass because his mother took attendance. After my kids’ First Communions, I flat-out quit. By then, I was working a job six days a week; Sunday was my day off. I was not going to wake up early. It wasn’t the only reason I walked away from the Catholic church. But it was one I could say out loud.

In 1997, postcards showed up in my mailbox, promoting a church that was starting up nearby, a church that claimed to deal with “real life”. At first, I threw the postcards away, but as they kept coming, I became intrigued. I went to the church’s opening…and then I attended for the next two years. The postcards and my experience caused me to write my short story, Shiny Wet, which appeared first in Standard, and then in Bellowing Ark. I stayed with the church through my separation and divorce. Michael began to attend with me. When we decided to get married, we asked the pastor to perform the ceremony. We were told no, because my reason for leaving my first husband wasn’t adultery. I walked out of church that day, stunned, and I never went back.

Then came another church where I thought we’d found a home. Until they wanted to move baby Olivia into the 1 – 3 year old room when she reached her first birthday. It was already clear that Olivia wasn’t following the usual path and I protested, saying she wasn’t ready, but they refused to see her – they only saw her age. Again, I walked out, and again, I never looked back.

Since then, no church. And of course, there’s been these last two years. My assault the day after the 2016 election. Olivia’s bullying. Michael’s job loss. And job loss. And job loss. And my breast cancer. Lots of anger. Lots of sadness.

And yet so much support and encouragement and community! As I fought with anger, I also grappled with faith. Not losing it – but finding it, much to my surprise. The assault led me to write Today’s Moment, which put a system in place that would ultimately help me through the worst two years of my life. Yes, I had breast cancer. But I also survived it. At least, so far.

As Christmas approached, I began feeling an odd pull. I hate Christmas. But I wanted to put up a tree and get out ornaments we hadn’t seen in years. So I did. While shopping for the tree, I was drawn to nativity sets. I went back later and bought a very simple one – just the holy family and a donkey. And then, in dreams, I saw a Christmas Eve church service.

The postcard church – the one who wouldn’t marry me and Michael – well, that same pastor reached out to me via Facebook when my breast cancer diagnosis came out. His wife, he said, dealt with breast cancer too. And he offered their support and encouragement. At the time, I acknowledged it, but refused. Remember, lots of anger. Lots of sadness.

But still, that odd pull.

In one of my classes a few weeks before Christmas, I talked about being rejected for the wedding ceremony, and how that same pastor reached out to me years later. One of my students said, “Even pastors make mistakes, Kathie. Maybe he knows it.”

I thought about that for a while. And then I reached out to him, asking when the church’s Christmas Eve service would be, and if he’d be the one officiating. On Christmas Eve, I entered a church for the first time in 16 years.

Why? That odd pull. I felt the need to say thank you. I wanted to push away the insurmountable anger over what happened to say thank you for what didn’t happen. Thank you for still being alive. Just like I felt the need to publicly write the Today’s Moments, I felt the need to formally say thank you. In a church.

Olivia came with me. When we sat down, there was a young boy to my left, sitting between me and his mother. From his behavior, it didn’t take me long to recognize the hallmarks of autism. Partway into the service, we were encouraged to look to the person we came with and wish them a Merry Christmas. I turned to Olivia, but then I felt a tug on my left sleeve. This young boy looked directly at me, right at me, level and straightforward, with the most glorious gray-green eyes. His mother was trying to get his attention, but he looked right at me and he said, “I’m happy you’re here.”

I held his gaze as steady as my teary eyes could and I said, “And I’m happy you’re here. Merry Christmas.”

Later, when we all lit candles to sing Silent Night, he insisted I light my candle from his. As I sang, I looked around the church at all the fiery flickering light. Then I looked at my own candle and I did what I came there to do.

I said thank you. In a church.

That little boy was happy I was there. And I was happy too.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.    

(By the way – tomorrow there will be a bonus Moment – I will post the short story, Shiny Wet, that I mentioned in this essay. Watch for it.)   

“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.” – John F. Kennedy

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