We rushed out of the house that morning, once again late for church. No homemade breakfast filled the stomachs of my family; it was handfuls of cereal and past-ripe bananas in the car on the way. The children fought and I hissed back, cat-like, wild eyed. The coffee in my travel mug sloshed beyond its plastic banks and onto my lap like coal slurry.
My husband couldn’t find his belt so he went without, and a cockeyed bow perched atop my daughter’s head. Still, this was an improvement from the two weeks in a row that we hadn’t even made it this far. We parked the car and filed out, hands reaching low for the little ones. They wanted to go to the nursery, then they didn’t, and back and forth and back again. We’d agreed to let them try sitting in the sanctuary with us, all the while knowing they wouldn’t make it a far as the processional hymn.
Ahead of us on the sidewalk stood a woman, paper thin. She frantically searched an oversized bag that she’d placed on the concrete by her bike, front wheel bent and bearing scars. Her hands shook. Her eyes were dark brown lozenges that did the opposite of soothe. She wasn’t well. As we passed she mumbled toxic nonsense.
Because I have a brother who is schizophrenic I recognize the signs. I know them the way I knew, as a girl, that the little stream would take me to the mighty river, and how I now anticipate a brewing storm. It’s in the marrow of my bones.
I heard the word salvation escape her lips. I tightened my grip on my children’s hands.
Go on into that church, she spat. See if it helps. Pray to your god. It won’t do you a damn bit of good.
I looked back over my shoulder at the woman, now standing in the middle of the road. Other churchgoers, dressed in khakis and pastels, passed her then, eyes fixed straight ahead. My family walked up the church steps as she continued to scream.
What’s wrong with that lady? my four year old asked.
She’s sick. She needs help. It was the best I could do.
We found our seats and before long my three and four year olds were fighting for the prized real estate of their mama’s lap. I took them out, one by one, and delivered them to the nursery where they’d be free to play as children do.
Back upstairs we heard a gospel reading of the stormy sea. Wind whipped the waves where that tiny fishing boat sat, threatening to sink it. The desperate disciples called on Jesus to calm the storm, and he did.
Peace. Be still.
But not without a lesson. I listened to the words and thought of the woman who’d stood screaming in the street. She was desperate for salvation, but not the kind that’s found inside those stained-glass walls. So was I.
When it comes to God, I don’t know what I believe. Some days I’m still a child in the nursery; I build glass houses and throw stones.
Some days I’m the wounded woman, screaming warnings to those who hide their eyes.
When others are hurting, how are we to give them our best? I considered the question. The barbed wire that had wrapped itself around my heart unfurled, and the woman with her mangled wheels found a shady spot to sit, and for a moment, to be still.
Photo Credit: Neal./Flickr