Two adults, five kids, ten hymnals, a dozen fruit snacks, a million crayons and crumpled bulletins litter the back right corner of the church each Sunday. Most days, we are lucky to hear two paragraphs of the sermon and sing a few verses between army-crawling toddlers and sibling spats over who gets to play with the best toys in the “quiet bag”. We are outmatched, out-numbered, and out of patience by the benediction. Every now and then, when the thoughts of “What’s the point of doing this?” creep back into my head, my eyes with lock with at least one pair of knowing eyes that have seen this Sunday morning mayhem since day one.
Nine years ago, I sat in those very same pews, heartbroken. That week I had learned that my prayers of being a mother for the first time had been answered, but not in the way I had so desperately hoped. Twins; I would forever love in my heart but never hold in my arms. During prayers, one of the women in the church leaned over and said “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” I managed a thank you but doubted how people I didn’t even know would be able rescue me from the waves of grief crashing over me. At the end of the service, I asked God to part a different sea; the crowd of elderly people in front of me taking their sweet time in wishing pastor a great week and who knows what else, so I could just. get. out. of that church. His answer? “Nope, not today.”
Suddenly, the overly spritely music director sprang from between a couple of super slow-moving congregants and said “Hey! How about you join us for bell choir on Monday nights?! Actually, I have a spot picked out for you already. We have some open bells at one of the back benches. Okay, we’ll see you next week!” Then she was gone as quickly as she had appeared. If we had been at a local watering hole and not in a sanctuary, I would have hollered “Heck no!” (yes, that’s the spiffied up version). However, since I wasn’t going to be busy painting a nursery and it was clear I didn’t have much of a choice, I was able to muster an underwhelming “Okay.”
Monday night arrives. As I drag my feet up the back steps, I thought, “I’ll just go this once, I’ll be REALLY bad and then they will just forget to tell me when we practice again.” The more steps I climbed, the louder the laughter and high spirited chatter echoed down the balcony staircase. If I hadn’t known any better, it sounded like they had raided the communion cabinet and were half-way through a case of Mogen and David. I peaked my head around the corner of the organ and they spotted me. “CHRISTY! We’re so glad you’re here! Here’s your bells. You’re by Vicki, please make sure you two behave yourselves.” (If you ever get the chance to meet Vicki, you would know that this is a valid concern). Alas, no Mogen and David in this balcony; these chicks were just happy to be around each other.
If you’re wondering what the crowd was like, there were a couple members who were within a decade of my birthday. From there, a majority were around my parents age. Though I didn’t have much in common outside of the church walls, their kindness, their understanding smiles, and most assuredly their prayers that they had already spoken for me before I arrived laid the groundwork for the blessings about to unfold.
Through divine intervention, I was in the back row and the bells there were large but didn’t have many notes during the hymns. *Thank you, Jesus.* I also sent up a prayer of thanksgiving for the years of musical servitude in piano lessons my parents had required growing up. I was able to read music and it prevented me from completely looking like a fool. Surprisingly, they asked me to come back the next week. And the next. And the next. We played during weekly service, accompanied the choir during holidays, and even had a couple community concerts. I learned to play the bells but also found out that I had met a group of women that nurtured my soul.
The following year, we were able to celebrate a new bell choir member. Although he was too young to play, his carseat fit nicely under the bell bench and the sweet melodies often lulled him to sleep. The ladies had even thrown me a surprise shower, made our much prayed-for son little hooded towels and ensured that I had plenty of sleepers that had “zippers and NO snaps”. Which, by the way, is this is one of the greatest parenting pieces of advice I have ever received.
The years started to go by quickly and the sweet babe under the bench was now launching stuffed animals off the front of the balcony. I took new jobs, began driving further for my commutes and eventually chose to “retire” from my illustrious bell career. The little boy, who is not so little anymore, still likes to wave at those ladies during the children’s lesson and they have played at most of his sibling’s baptisms. The woman who leaned into my sorrowful pew almost a decade ago was right, they took care of me.
Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. 1 Peter 5:5
He knew that I didn’t need just a friend that day, but a group of women that could guide me through an incredibly painful time in my life. What I needed was their wisdom, love, and understanding as many of them had cleared the emotional hurdles I was struggling to overcome.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
All those those years ago, I was wrong in thinking He was telling me “No.” It turns out that what he was really telling me was “Not yet.” In His time, a set of twins, sweet little girls, were added to our family. If you are struggling with His plan, know that you are not alone. Hold on, sometimes what He has in store is greater than what you can imagine.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. James 4:8
Nowadays, we can attend worship online and we can pull up the Bible on our smartphones. I can listen to preachers on podcasts and even get drive-thru ashes in the comfort of my own vehicle during Lent. While I admit I was attending out of obligation that day, I never would have received the comfort and the support of those wonderful women had I not been physically present in the pew. If you haven’t visited your home pews for a while, they are waiting for you. Or, if you are ever in the area, we can clear out some of the powdered goldfish crackers and coloring books to make a place in the pew for you too.