I spent the majority of my first eighteen years at Woodland Baptist Church. For better and for worse, it is the place that has most shaped me into the person I am today. Now that I’m back for six months, every hallway and classroom reminds me of something from my past.
After my half day at kindergarten, I went to Woodland and hung out in the supply closet while my mom worked as preschool director. One particular day I found the colored paper, and my burgeoning creative genius decided to cut them, twist them, and staple them into nonsense shapes. Thrilled by my abstract accomplishments, I gave one to the church secretary, one to the pastor, and one to each of the preschool teachers. Because they were kind, they complimented me. That was a bad move on their part, because I made fifty more.
I was best friends with Amy, the pastor’s daughter. Our relationship was tumultuous because she was pushy and I was an unhappy doormat. She used to hit me when she didn’t get her way, and in a fit of questionable parenting, my mom suggested I “hit her back.” The next time Amy came at me, I stepped behind her and repeatedly hit her back, since apparently, that was the only acceptable place to hit a friend.
Several years later, when we were both in seventh grade, Amy’s dad accepted a position at a church three hours away. During his final sermon, I noticed that Amy wasn’t sitting in her family’s pew. I snuck out and found her in the pastor’s office. We spun in the office chair until we were dizzy enough to tip it over, laughing hysterically until we heard the organ play the benediction hymn. “I’ll miss you,” Amy said. I nodded.
After Amy moved, Jessica left too, and I was the only girl in the eighth grade Sunday School class. Still horribly shy, I sat in silence for an hour every week, until one day Sarah and Rachel burst into our room. My eyes grew wide–these girls were four years older than me and therefore scarily cool. They circled the room to my side, picked me up, and carried me out the door. All the boys stared at me in shock, and I stared back in happy confusion.
I was dropped at the high school girls’ Sunday School door. Wendy, the teacher, greeted me. “We knew you were alone, so we thought we’d kidnap you. Want to join our class a year early?”
Erica chased me down the preschool hallway, and I careened around the corner into the girl’s bathroom. I made a face at her, knowing I was momentarily safe in the no-tag zone.
“Hey, Justin wants to know if you’ll go out with him,” she said.
“I’m supposed to ask you.”
“Oh, um. No? But thanks?”
“Okay. Come on, help me find Kyle.”
“….I don’t want to play anymore.”
It was a Christian Guard night, and I had brought a friend to experience the game that involved sprinting through the blacked-out church in an epic combination of tag and hide and seek.
I was supposed to be a Guard, chasing everyone else, but I pretended I wasn’t so I could quickly show my friend around. We were upstairs by the water fountain when another Guard appeared. “Oh no!” I pretended. “Let’s hide in here!” I made it two feet into the pitch-black classroom before something hit me in the stomach and I flew forward, my face colliding with some other dark horror. “Ugh, just…let’s keep going! I, uh. I think I’m bleeding.”
Michelle turned on the lights, revealing a minefield of chairs. “There’s blood all over your face! And the floor!” she said. We crossed the hall to the bathroom. I let my nose bleed a waterfall into the sink. “Wow,” she said. “Your eyes are really pretty when you’re crying.”
Grown but unwilling to abandon the chaos of the youth group, most of my friends and I graduated from participants to leaders after college. We hosted a 30 Hour Famine, during which we raised money for World Vision and tried to understand what it would be like to live in poverty.
Part of the experience was constructing shelters out of cardboard, tarp, and duct tape. There was one for the boys and one for the girls, and as a conscientious adult, I decided to sleep in front of the doorway so there would be no escapes in search of late-night hanky panky. Just as we were drifting off to sleep, it started to rain.
“Should we go inside?” Lindsay asked.
“No.” I was adamant. “If we’re supposed to experience poverty, then sleeping in the rain is part of the deal.”
Easier said than done, since I was awoken several hours later by water dripping on my face. The seam between two tarps had split directly above my face, and my pillow was rapidly becoming soggy. I strained my ears, but no one else was complaining. They were all so brave! If they could suffer through a wet night, then so could I.
In the morning, sleepless, shivering, and cranky, I crawled out of the weakening structure. “Well, that was miserable,” I said. “Wait. Why is no one else wet?”
Lindsay crawled back inside. “The only place water came in was right above you. If you’d just moved a foot to the right, you would have been fine.”