Part 1 ~ Our Church: Golgotha
Sundays were my favorite. Early in the morning, before the sun rose, Father knocked on my bedroom door. I dressed quickly in the pre-dawn dimness, and we drove to church together, just us two. A quick stop for the customary chocolate crème pie from a gas station, and then we would be at Golgotha*, pulling into the empty lot before anyone else arrived for church.
Father ran the bus ministry. In that morning stillness, I snuggled into an extra coat of his to protect my church dress, and ‘helped’ him check the fluids and tire pressure on the old school bus. When I was a young child, I rode with him off to the shelters to pick up all of the homeless who were willing to submit to a sermon for a chance at a hearty lunch and a shower. Later, after we met John and his wife Mary*, that would change and I would be left at the church alone in the morning stillness, usually ending up in the mysterious choir loft, suspended high above the sanctuary.
I loved Golgotha. I know now that it was unique – a charismatic Lutheran church. That never happens. But it did. As a child, I only knew that it was a wonderful church. We sang hymns and praise music. I was an altar-child and carried the taper lights and the cross up the center aisle at the beginning of the service, along with most of my age-mates. We wore long robes and sang in the choir, and took communion every Sunday. We kept to the yearly order of readings, but we also had regular altar calls and a praise dance troupe. I could have been happy there forever, and I think Father would have been as well, but Mother wanted more.
Mother always wanted more. She was very spiritual. I was her only child, and I was going to be spiritual also. So, as it turned out, I became two very different children in one body. With Mother, I was introspective and thoughtful, focused intently on the things of the spirit. We discussed allegory and C.S. Lewis, and the angels who walked among men in Tolkien’s mythos. We listened to scriptures on tape constantly. Everything had a spiritual meaning, from the lady bagging our groceries to the “God Bless” from the bank teller. We related our dreams to each other every morning, and interpreted them. I was especially adept at interpretation, keeping a close watch on what Mother approved of and what worried her.
With Father, I was a tomboy. He had wanted a son, so very badly. It was even reflected in my name. “Mike!” he’d call, “Come help me with this engine!” I wore jeans and tucked my ponytail into the back of my shirt so it wouldn’t tangle in the machinery I sweated over. I got dirty and oily, and loved every minute of it. I wasn’t a son, but my Father loved me just as much, as long as I acted the part. And I truly wasn’t acting. It was much more fun to be outside puttering over a tractor than inside teasing meanings from a single verse of scripture with Mother.
Sundays were my favorite. I dressed the part of a perfect girl, in lacy long dresses and black stockings, and then buried myself in Father’s coat. The collar rose higher than my ears, and I always kept my hair tucked underneath. The coat fell long, it extended almost to my ankles! and far over my hands – he would have to roll and roll and roll the sleeves to see my tiny hands poking out the gaping ends. Thus protected, we inspected that bus minutely. I treasured our time together, alone in the dim morning, and I knew that Father did also.
But one morning, John was there. He walked over to us, shaking Father’s hand and introducing himself. I had seen him on previous Sundays, with his beautiful wife and their children. He looked just like Jesus, and much like my own Father, with his full dark beard and his twinkling eyes. It was his eyes which reminded me of Jesus – they were rich deep brown. Father’s eyes were like my own, a pale blue like sea ice.
That morning was the beginning of the end. Father and John stood talking for a while, and I leaned against him, not really listening until I heard my name. “So,” John said, “does your son work in the office during the service? I’ve never seen him before.”
“Son?” Father laughed. “Mike’s a girl, John,” he grinned. “And just as good as any boy could be,” he swung me up and I smiled at the man. “Introduce yourself to the man, Mike!”
Sure of myself, and my place in the world, I did so – “Hello Mister John, my name is Mike.”
But he wasn’t so sure. He didn’t even take the hand I stuck confidently out to shake. He shook his head instead. “Is that really your name?” he asked in a chiding voice. “What is your real name?”
“Mike!” I said, indignant that I wasn’t believed. “Short for Michal, from the Bible. But I really am Mike,” I insisted. “I was named after Father’s best friend.”
At that, John let up. He finally shook my hand, and forced a laugh. In a joking manner, he turned back to Father, “With a daughter so spirited, I can see why she’s out here!”
I decided then and there, as much as he looked like Jesus, I did not like Mister John. I think the feeling was mutual.
*Names of places and people (including my own) have been changed to keep the peace. My mother and brother, along with other friends of the family, remain in patriarchal churches and homeschooling organizations, and I wish to tell my story without forcing anyone else to face condemnation and shame in their church homes. The particulars regarding my name are also true, I have simply substituted another name.
Next time – Church-Hopping with Mother: The Truth Revealed