Baby Step: a tentative act or measure that is the first stage in a long or challenging process
I took a baby step. I took the very first step on my journey back to building my relationship with Jesus again. I signed my girls up for VBS. It did take me three times of filling out the form, exiting out of the form, then going back in and filling it out again before I finally actually submitted their registration, but I did it. This baby step induced a massive amount of anxiety in me. The anxiety is not about the girls going to VBS. They’re totally okay with it. The anxiety and actual baby step is going to the place where the VBS is at, my home church. The church Rhea and I called our church family. The church where Rhea and I sat side-by-side, Sunday after Sunday, praising Jesus and learning of His teachings together. The church that held me up and never left my side as my life was pulled out from under me. The church that taught my daughters who Jesus is. The church that houses some of my favorite women of faith that I call my friends. The church that has my pastor that spoke of my husband and prayed over him and my family at his funeral services. The same church and people that I walked away from as my relationship with Jesus changed.
Last night was the actual first night of VBS. I spent about an hour, prior to leaving, battling with myself. “It’s going to be okay. I can do this. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be uncomfortable. AND I can do this.” Then 10 minutes later, “Why are you doing this? This is too hard. You walked away from them, they would be crazy to welcome you back.” Then I would teeter back the other way, “No, I know these people. They aren’t like that. It is going to be okay.” By the time I actually left the house with the girls I was already emotionally drained from the battle within me. We did somehow make it out the door, and we started down the familiar 30-minute drive we use to drive every Sunday, and I fought back tears the entire way.
I purposefully parked a little ways from the church so I could brace myself before actually seeing people, and the distance also meant that I couldn’t run and make a fast get away. This stuff is hard. I’m going to want to run away sometimes. I just knew that last night I had to actually do the hard stuff. I had to put myself out there. I had to take the baby step. I don’t think my car door could have been any heavier as I opened it to step out onto the pavement. Each step up the walk I felt so much weight and shame piling up on my shoulders. I was literally willing myself to put one foot in front of the other. The first eyes that met mine as we moved closer to the front doors of the church were none other than Pastor Rusty. He turned from the conversation he was participating in, walked straight up to me with wide-open arms. (Pastor Rusty is kind of a hugger.) He pulled me in and said, “It is so good to see you, we love you, and we’ve missed you.”
We continued on up the walk and he led us to registration. When I actually took my first step into the church, I was flooded with waves of emotions and memories and anguish. I felt as though I could not breathe and my heart was actually aching. The girls were answering the questions at registration, making sure they were in the correct group, and I was simply nodding my head and leading them to where they needed to be. I tried to speak when I was spoken to, but I was struggling to focus on what was happening in front of me. There was so much going on inside my heart and head at the same time that I couldn’t even think clearly. I was telling myself – breathe, walk, don’t cry, breathe, walk, don’t cry. I needed to get the girls where they needed to be so I could get out of the actual church. I got them to their group leader and bee-lined it for the door. I needed air and space. I heaved myself back towards the car and stopped myself halfway down the walk. I put down my things on the redbrick landscape wall that sets outside of a neighboring small town museum. I was shaking, confused, and barely hanging on. I was seconds away from a full-blown anxiety attack. I had to coach myself. “Slow down, Leah, and just breathe for a second.” I started a grounding technique my counselor taught me and have used many times before.
I closed my eyes. What are three things I can hear? I hear music from inside the church. I hear laughter and talking of the people standing in front of the church. I hear a car door close. What are three things I can touch? I feel the roughness and ridges of the brick wall. I feel a slight breeze on my skin. I feel the leather of my shoes. I opened my eyes. What are three things I can see? I see honeybees buzzing from flower to flower. I see words on the window of the museum. I see purple flowers with fuzzy black centers.
Thankfully, I was breathing slower and had calmed down enough that the shaking in my hands had stopped. There have been times that I’ve had to complete the technique 3-4 times before I am calm enough to stop.
My only plan going into this night was to not completely lose it. Not the most detailed plan I’ve ever had, but it was the best I could come up with. I almost completely blew that plan.
Everything that had happened so far, felt like it had been hours. Nope…20 minutes. I still had another 2+ hours to go, and I wasn’t leaving the church, because I needed to be close to my girls, more so for me than for them. And, I couldn’t go in the church (just figured that one out the hard way). So I quickly drafted a plan B. I went to the car, grabbed my water and my iPad and walked back up to the church. I was going to read outside on the sitting ledge at the front of the church. I could totally handle that.
You know that saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Yeah…I’m fairly certain his sides were hurting from laughing at my plans all night. I sat, pulled up my book on my iPad and started reading. Not five minutes after sitting down, Pastor Rusty sits right down beside me. It started out with just catching up, small talk, work talk, the girls, etc. I knew the hard stuff was coming, and it did. But, when it finally came to that part of the conversation, the words just flew out of my mouth before I even could really think about what I was saying. It’s like the words couldn’t wait to get out, and this finally felt like the right person and the right place to say it. There’s this thing about Pastor Rusty, he is just so sincere and compassionate when he listens and talks to you, that it just feels okay to say the hard stuff. So I did. I told him where I was at, how I feel let down, how I feel like I trusted and leaned and had my whole faith and hope in Jesus and then it felt like He didn’t do what I needed Him to do. And Pastor Rusty nodded his head and said, “I get that. I don’t know what it feels like to go through what you have gone through.” He didn’t judge me or make me feel like I shouldn’t feel that way. He validated my feelings and my hurt. I felt cared for and loved. We talked about where I was at with church. I explained that I’ve been to 8 churches in 2 years and just don’t feel at home anywhere. None of them feel right. And then he asked, “What are they missing?” No one has ever asked me that before. I just looked at him, tears streaming down my face, and said “…Rhea.” And again, he nodded his head and just let me sit with that for a bit.
There’s a reason why I chose to do the hard stuff last night. There’s a reason why I didn’t run away. I needed this. I needed to say these words out loud and hear them and still feel loved by the person I told them to after saying them. I got that last night. The weight is still heavy. My shame of walking away from my church is still there. My heart is still broken. I’m still mad at Jesus. All of that stuff is still there. But, I feel like I know where to start mending it now.
Pastor Rusty discussed with me about different things that churches have to offer. He told me that he thinks our church is one that offers hospitality, but to put my focus on the word within the word hospitality, and that is hospital. Our church is a place that works like a hospital. It’s going to be my hospital. This church is going to help me heal and gain strength and trust Jesus again. It may not be where I end up long term, but it feels like a good place to start. It feels more like home. Rhea still isn’t here, but he was here with me. That’s going to have to be close enough for now.
I’m going to have to take it slow, and take baby steps. Problem #1 to address: how to actually be in the church for longer periods of time than just 5 minutes without going into an anxiety attack. I have a feeling this is going to need some help from my counselor. This is going to be a rough ride, and Lord knows it is not going to be pretty sometimes. I know I’m going to push back and fight along the way. I know I’m going to run away sometimes and fall apart. It’s going to be okay. I’m going to breathe. I’m going to keep moving forward. I’m probably going to cry a lot. And, I’m going to heal.