Dark Devotional: Sunday in the Chapel of Split Ends and Hangnails

Dark Devotional: Sunday in the Chapel of Split Ends and Hangnails January 21, 2019



Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive.


Shit, we’re late.

Crap, I need to stop cussing in my head in God’s house.



“C’mon, Jillie.” I tug her hand. “We’re a little late.”

“Late! No! Nonononono!”

Dammit, why can’t I remember not to use that word?

“Shhhh! Jillie, they’re not even up front yet, we’re not technically late, we just—”

“Don’t shush me!”

Eyes turn toward us.

Let us build a house where prophets speak, and words are strong and true,
where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew.


“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jillie. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shush you. Let’s just get to our seat, and then you can play with my bracelet, OK?”

Sliding around the ushers to make our way to the back chapel that doubles as a cry room, one approaches Jillie, holding out a children’s book borrowed from the Lost and Found.

“What’s the matter, sweetie? Would a book help?”

No! He didn’t just—                                                    

“My name’s not sweetie! I’m not candy! My name is Jillie! Don’t call me that!”

“Jillie, he didn’t mean it. Come on, let’s just go sit down. It’s OK, it’s OK, it’s OK…”

I shoot the usher an apologetic look. He shrugs back in apology and confusion. I’m sure he’s successfully soothed dozens, maybe hundreds, of kids that way before.


As we share in Christ the feast that frees us:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

For real with this?

We slide into a pew, me with a death grip on Jillie’s hand so she doesn’t bolt, Laurel sulking behind me. Harry is bringing up the rear, carrying a nearly-comatose Sam and the diaper bag.



“Mom, I don’t want to go.”

“Laurel, we don’t go because we want to. We go because God tells us to.”

“Cindy’s parents don’t make her go.”

“Cindy’s parents are heathens.” It slips out before I think. I don’t actually know Cindy’s parents. I’m just tired of the comparisons. Just tired of defending things I take on faith. Just tired.

“Mom! Mrs. Baker is the nicest person I know! She took us prom dress shopping and bought my lunch when I told her you forgot to give me money! She said-”

“Wait, what? Forgot?! I gave you money!”

Laurel blushes, looks down. “I told her you didn’t give it to me. I didn’t want to tell her I left it on the table at home…”

“Round ‘em up!” Harry announces as he strides through the room. “Don’t want to be la—” he catches himself, “Want to get a move on!”

We exchange glances over Laurel’s head.

Nice catch.

Holy crap, that was close.



Here the outcast and the stranger bear the image of God’s face;
let us bring an end to fear and danger:
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.

Dear Lord, how many verses are we going to sing?

Let us build a house where all are named, their songs and visions heard


So, all of them then. Holy crap.

Harry and I exchange glances over Laurel’s head again. This time our looks are of shared desperation. When was the last time we actually spoke to each other in words?

It’s amazing how language develops from necessity. But there are words for beauty, for pleasure…does that mean those are necessary too? Do we seek or invent or discover anything that we do not somehow need? Is that too self-centered? The whole universe doesn’t revolve around us. But it was made for us, yes? So doesn’t that mean…

Through my fault, through my fault,

Shit. I forgot to pay attention. If anyone’s chest needs beating, it’s mine.

“Mine. Mine. Mine.”

Sam has pushed past Laurel and is tugging on my bracelet. When did he wake up?

Through my most grievous fault

I beat my chest once, and my finger comes away with something sticky and purple. I pray it’s jelly.

“No! Mom said I could have the bracelet! I can have it!”

“Here. Here. Can Sam have the bracelet, and can I give you my ponytail holder?” I strip it out of my ponytail and offer it to Jillie in one motion. My hair falls around my shoulders, with the exception of the five or so strands that got yanked out and are still attached to the elastic.


The commotion is bringing more attention our way. We are in the very back pew of the cry room, but it’s packed with people who are suspiciously dry-eyed. It tends to be filled with families with small children and select older folk who for their own private reasons don’t want to sit with the main Body of Christ. One lady is on crutches, and likely doesn’t want to fumble through the aisles. A middle aged gentleman usually slides in late, dressed in nursing scrubs. Praying for strength before the shift, or for deliverance after? An elderly lady is always back here, and leaves before communion. Esther is her name.

If you don’t stay for Communion, why do you come?

I feel a snap on my fingers and realize Sam is tugging the elastic from my hands. Jillie already took the bracelet from him and is moving it from one wrist to the other, soothing herself with the rhythm.

Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me”

Sam sways and reaches out to stabilize himself on my knee, but I’ve shifted it to turn toward Jillie to rub her back. He misses, falls, screams.

Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb?

Jesus, you are not funny.

Sam is in my lap now, drying tears and snot in my newly-released hair. Harry has been in a heated whisper-debate with Laurel, and is shooting me looks over her head again.

I don’t know what these ones mean.

How do you diagram a sentence in glances?

Laurel gets up to leave.

Rest in God alone, my soul.

“Rest in God alone, my soul.”

I shoot Harry a question mark with my eyes. He leans his head toward the bathrooms, the direction Laurel now stalks.  Of course. The glances, the whispers, the screams from her siblings. I saw her picking her cuticles, her knuckles, her earlobe. It is all too much.

He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.


“Rest in God alone, my soul.”

I realize my knee is bouncing. I hold it down with my hand. Jillie fingers the spot on my wrist where my bracelet had been. There is an indent where the elastic cut in; she likes the indents, the edges.

The fringes. Her occupational therapist called her a “perimeter walker” because she will walk around the outside of a room, next to the wall. Is she using the wall as a guide? Or a shield?


It does not concern me in the least
that I be judged by you or any human tribunal;
I do not even pass judgment on myself


A little girl is turned backward in her pew, watching us. She’s one of the “inside people,” not relegated to the cry room. She’s staring at Jillie, at the way she’s rubbing my wrist and the indents. She tugs on her mother’s suit sleeve and whispers in the delicate ear, visible because the hair is still neatly pinned to the back of her head in a mesmerizing knot, one I’m sure could moor a thousand ships in place. The mother glances over her shoulder at us and whispers something to the girl, who turns around sulkily.

For he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness
and will manifest the motives of our hearts,
and then everyone will receive praise from God.


As we stand to sing our Alleluias I get another glance-message, but I understand this one and nod. It’s been too long. Harry is already holding Sam—when did he go back to Daddy?—and slides over to stand next to Jillie. She moans briefly when I gently pull my indented wrist away, but Harry waggles his bushy eyebrows at her and she giggles loudly.


Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
what you will eat or drink,
or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;


I make my way to the bathroom, avoiding eye contact with the ushers. I don’t want to be offered a picture book or called Sweetie.

Inside the bathroom I can see Laurel’s new shoes under a door of one of the stalls.


“Mom, I can’t.”

“Can you please come out and talk to me?”

I hear a flush that I suspect is more for my benefit than a result of anything actually accomplished in the stall. Laurel shoots me a look as she passes to the sink to wash her hands—no interpretation required.

We head out of the bathroom and for the back doors.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Laurel makes it a few feet out the front door, then folds her arms and stares at the flower bed, alive with bees and butterflies.

“Laurel, what’s wrong?”

She continues staring at the flowers. “Everything! Everything! Everyone stares at us, Mom. We’re freaks! And if they look at me at all they see a fat, ugly beast with a family of freaks!”

She’s grabbing her belly as she yells. We’ve talked so many times about this. In her eyes, her chest is too small, her gut is too big, her legs are too short, and her nose is too long. My beautiful girl. My own flesh.

“Laurel, are you cutting again?”

It’s a constant fear, that she’ll keep hurting herself, slicing her skin, or worse.

“No, mom! I promised I wouldn’t. Can’t I just hate myself without you interfering? Just—“

She cuts off as Esther opens the door to make her way to the parking lot. When the door swings open, I hear the offertory hymn.

We are many parts,
We are all one body


I watch Esther ease herself into her sedan in the handicapped parking section.

What part of the body would willingly remove itself from the rest? Are we sitting in the Chapel of Split Ends and Fingernail Clippings? Are we dry, dead skin just waiting to be exfoliated?

I know that inside bread is becoming flesh, wine is mingling with water and becoming blood.

I reach out and squeeze Laurel’s hand. It’s a risky maneuver; she may flee. But this time she leans in and puts her head on my shoulder. These things will not be fixed in one conversation, one day, maybe not one lifetime.

“Let’s go back in for communion.”

We slide in and kneel. My mind is buzzing, and I feel my own panic attack coming on.

I need to breathe. I need to call her doctor. I need to check on Jillie’s meds. I need to get her signed up for cheerleading. I need to breathe. I need to take my elastic back before Sam swallows it. I need to thank Harry for being so wonderful with the kids, tell him how handsome he is, maybe say it in words for a change. I need to get to the store for dinner. I need to breathe. I need to…

Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word, and my soul shall be healed.”




I am not worthy to receive you, and yet you command it. I am not worthy. Why? I am

The Body of Christ.



The above is a short story submitted by an anonymous contributor.


Image courtesy of Pixabay

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