church. photo by Floyd B. Bariscale

Return to Hilltop Church

I remembered Mara’s Hilltop church in all its faded glory.

The imposing gray Romanesque façade rising above the busy, dirty street—the broad, shallow steps leading up to the impressive portico and a trio of wooden doors —the pigeons flying out of the unused bell tower—the terraced grounds bordered on all sides by wrought-iron fencing—it was familiar and alien to me at the same time. I wondered at Mara—would she not have liked to attend a smaller church—maybe like Zuri’s? I could not account for why she chose to drive all the way to the inner city to Hilltop church full of people and a sea of faces, when there were smaller churches—of her denomination too—much closer to home. But I figured Mara’s subconscious thing for cathedral-like places of worship was a remnant of her shameful Catholic past.

It was raining and crowded in the portico, so I could not wait for Tony outside, and as Mara and I shared an umbrella, I had no choice but to follow her up the steps and into the church.

There were greeters at the door and at the lobby. They were the deaconesses. They wore name badges on their sober navy-blue suit ensemble. All of them wore flat shoes, flesh-toned nylons, and the hem of their pencil skirts fell below the knee. They greeted me warmly and handed me a church bulletin.

I’d not been shot down—yet.

Despite myself, I glanced around me curiously, stealing glances at people’s faces seeking out any familiar features while I waited around for Mara to finish speaking with this or that church sister. Once she was done, she looked at me, and I could see she was surprised that I was still sticking around, “Where is your friend?”

I had not seen him, “I don’t know. Maybe he is running late.”

“Sabbath school is about to start.”

“Can I wait for him here? I’ll join you once he gets here.”

“Don’t you want to go with the young people?”

I bristled at the thought, “Do I have to?”

“No. But there’s only older people where I’m at.”

“I don’t mind,” I shrugged, thinking back to the Monday night study group—they were all old.

“As you wish, then. Fifth pew from the front, left side.” Mara said, as if I could forget the spot we’d sat at for years. There we’d sat when, decked in our best, we had first come to this church–back then father had been holding my hand as well as Mara’s. There we endured the pity and inquisitiveness of our brethren some years later when Mara and I came in by ourselves with scandal trailing behind us. There I’d writhed and suffered agonies pretending that life was OK and growing increasingly angry at seeing Mara’s enormous efforts to keep up the act. All this, and Mara still wanted to know why I had left the church? I shook my head, and tried to clear my mind of things from the past. I was trying to give myself a second chance. I had to let things go…right?

So we parted; Mara went in through the doors to the sanctuary and I went to the far left, to a little hidden bench next to a fake palm tree where I could see the people who stepped in through the main door. I sat and I waited and waited for Tony to arrive.

But he didn’t come.

 

Part 20 – If You Only Knew

Advertisements

Getting Ready

I got up very early Saturday morning to find that it was raining.

No matter. Off I went to the restroom. I brushed my teeth, ran a brush through my hair and jumped in the shower. Once I’d washed my hair I reached for the soap—there was none.

Dripping wet as I was I stepped out and looked for a bar soap behind the mirror—there was none. Not even hand soap. Oh, well. Shampoo is just another liquid soap, right? I stepped back into the shower and yelped as I slipped and landed on the tile floor with a painful smack.

Sh—Ow!!

I stayed on the shower floor a few seconds with rivulets of water running down my body. There, in the heel of my foot, was stuck the thin remnant of a bar of soap. The nasty little culprit had camouflaged against the white tile. I peeled it from my foot and threw it in the toilet bowl before making a gigantic effort to get back on my feet. Somehow I felt much heavier than my full 250 pounds, and it felt like my knee had sustained some serious strain. But I could not blame anyone but myself for this blunder—this was my restroom and my shower. No one else but me would have dropped that tiny little piece of soap that made me slip and fall.

Once I was done showering I carefully stepped out, dried myself, and went to my room to change. I didn’t bother with the hair except blow-drying it and pulling it up in its habitual pony tail. No makeup either. I knew the rules.

As I pulled on my boots, a thought came into my head, and I hurried to pull out my coat. Phone, phone, phone…

I tried to go down the stairs quickly but my knee protested. Just as well. Had it not ached so, I would have laughed at Mara’s face when she saw me come down dressed and ready. I swear, she almost fell from sheer amazement.

“Ready?” she asked, recovering quickly enough

“Just a phone call,”

She arched a brow. Obviously she wanted to know who I was gonna call, but decided against asking. She turned and got the car keys, “There’s toast and jam out. Drink some milk too. I’ll see you in the car. Hurry.”

“Thanks,” I answered as I dialed a number into the phone keypad.

The phone rang three times before he answered it, “Hello?”

“Uh. Hi. Tony?”

“Yeah.”

“This is Tanya.”

“I know. What’s up, kiddo?”

“Um…” I fidgeted with the phone cord, “You’re coming, right? Just wanted to check…”

“Yeah. I’m still getting ready.” His voice sounded a tad deeper than usual, and I wondered at what stage of “ready” he was at. Had I just woken him up? The thought made me crazy anxious.

“Ok. You got the address, right?”

“Uh-huh. Hey,” He paused, “You ok?”

“Yeah. Just…I’m a little nervous.”

“Nervous?”

“I told you, right? I haven’t been there for at least two years…”

“I know. But you want to go this time around, don’t you?”

“Yeah. No…I mean, I wish I could be heading to Zuri’s instead…But it’s all the same, right? Zuri said it’s the same God…”

He chuckled, “I know, you told me.”

I felt stupid. Why was I babbling? “So I’ll see you then?”

“Yep.”

“Ok.”

“Alright, bye,”

“Bye—Oh! And Tony?”

“Yeah?”

I looked at the phone cord in my hand. I had looped and twisted it round my hand in an impossible number of coils, “Thanks”

I heard the smile in his voice, “No problem, kiddo”

I hung up and ran out to the car as fast as my aching knee let me.

I was going to church.

 

Part 19 of If You Only Knew

Prayers

“I thought you wouldn’t come”

“Long story.” He said, removing his jacket.

“You don’t have to sit with me, you know.”

“I want to. Besides, you don’t have a partner yet” He said, and asked me to scoot over a bit more.

As I didn’t want to make a huge issue about this business anymore, I said nothing, merely moved and made him more room. After the welcoming remarks and repeating the invitation to pray in groups for the sake of the newcomer, all thoughts turned to prayer again—and far away from me.

“That was close.” I said out loud, greatly relieved.

Tony said nothing. He simply glanced at the others and took in the soft murmur of prayer. “Everybody’s praying.” He whispered, “Do you want to go first, or do you want me to start?”

“What?”

“Pray.” He leaned in my direction, bowed his head and closed his eyes. I realized he meant it as an order, not as an answer to my question.

I began to protest “I don’t—I…”

He began, interrupting my protests, “Jesus Christ. I know you are alive and you reign in heaven. I pray for strength and deliverance from the devil and his fiery darts. I ask for courage to do what’s right, and I claim the power of your cleansing blood to purify me. Forgive me . . . ”

He paused here for a protracted time. I, who had kept my eyes open looking this way and that, now began studying his face with growing unease. His brow was furrowed, and his chin was sunk low on his chest. Fortunately he didn’t cry. He rallied himself and continued on, “And I also pray for my friend Tanya. We all come from different places and backgrounds, so I don’t know what troubles her. Please give her the power of your Holy Spirit to resist temptation. In your name I pray, Amen.”

“Amen” I said, unwittingly—and felt silly at catching myself doing it. But I was glad that he was done. I sat back in my couch and expected him to do the same, but Tony kept his attitude of prayer. He kept it so long that it was just plain weird…

“Tony. It’s ok… you can sit back now. We just wait until the others are done”

“Your turn” He said with his eyes still closed

“I don’t pray. I can’t. You don’t know I—”

“Just do it. If not for you, pray for me. I need it.”

The duration of my inner debate was not long—but it felt like it. It was so—so—awkward. How could I pray for Tony? And what for? I never even prayed for myself since that fiasco back when I’d asked for a miracle (a fat lot of good it did me)—and longer still before that. And why was the prayer time longer—much longer—than it usually took?

Tony kept his head bowed, as if waiting for me to start

I sighed loudly.

“Fine,”

Where to start?

I closed my eyes, and remembered way back when my grandmother had taught me to pray, which was peculiar—because I could not remember much from infancy.

Fold you hands like this. Yes, like that. Very good. Now bow your little head. Close your little eyes. That’s it. Now repeat after me . . . “Our Father in heaven…”

“Our Father in heaven,”

Hallowed be thy name,

“. . . Hallowed be thy name,”

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. . .

“. . . Thy kingdom come, thy will be done . . . ”

Nothing more came. That was all I remembered, though I strove to recall the rest of the words, but I couldn’t.

What could I do?

God, what can I say?

I grasped for words, but I literally had nothing—nothingto say aside of my usual litany of incoherent rebellion.

I was on my own now.

“God. I have nothing…much to say to you . . .  just . . . ” I sighed deeply once more and continued this most difficult task, “Please . . . just listen to the prayers of the people here . . . Listen to them . . . And I pray for Tony here too, who is suffering. Amen”

“Amen” Tony repeated, and then sat back.

But I wasn’t looking at Tony now. Tony, the study group, the church, the whole city block was now a thousand miles away from me.

Because my heart and my mind were millions of light years away. Prayer had awoken the fierce and gnawing pain of loss and now all my bones and joints, my muscles, my innards, my fat, and even my overstretched skin ached as if cold, damp, sorrow had taken possession of me. And that feeling was exactly like that day—years ago—when I had told God that he and I were through.

And how sad, how cold, how vast, friendless, and empty the world had seemed, the day I’d lost my faith in prayer–that day that Grandma died.

 

part 14 of If You Only Knew

Gift of Prophecy – Sabbath School Discussion

Garden Grove SDA – Young Adult Sabbath School
28 Fundamental Beliefs – #18 The Gift of Prophecy
April 12, 2014
Duration ~ 50min (Adaptable to 40 min.)

Icebreakers

Please state your name and answer the following question.

Q1:      If you had access to a time-traveling Delorean for just ONE round trip, would you travel to the future or to the past—and where?

            FYI most people will want to go to the past—surprising, isn’t it?

It is within our human nature to want to know what is going to happen to us and to our world. That is why the FB we will be discussing today is really important for us. Fundamental Belief #18 deals with the Gift of Prophecy and its role in our lives, especially as we approach the end times.

Prayer

Intro – Definition of Prophecy

Q2:      What is prophecy? / How would you define “Prophecy”? / What is another word or synonym that could be used instead of “Prophecy”?

Continue reading

Yes It Matters

I didn’t see that guy again until maybe some three weeks later.

I was sitting in the back, sketching on my binder, when he came in and sat on the pew across the aisle from mine. The same one he’d been at that first time. When he caught me looking curiously at him through the gloom he got up and took a seat next to me.

“Tony. You?”

I stupidly blurted out my real name, “Tanya”

“Nice to meet you, Tanya,” he said chuckling softly.

He looked younger when he smiled. I now estimated him to be no more than twenty-one. Somehow, I had the feeling that I’d seen or known him before–did he remind me of my older brother? I took his hand and shook it. “Nice to meet you too”

“Why are you sitting here—all the way at the back?”

I bristled, “Why are you sitting here?”

“I don’t know anybody.”

“Same here,” I lied

We didn’t talk for a while. As the service went on I got used to having another person sitting next to me, so I sat back on my usual spectator attitude. Tony, however, was an active participant. He sang when they sang, kneeled when they kneeled. He didn’t cry like before, though, which was a relief.

“Tanya” he suddenly whispered as the pastor rose to give his sermon, “do you know of any Bible studies or catechism or classes or whatever to become baptized?”

I was in a spot. How would I know what Zuri’s church did?

“I don’t know.”

“Well aren’t you baptized?”

“No. This isn’t even my church”

“Oh.” He looked decidedly disappointed, “Nevermind, then.”

I thought about what I said next for a full fifteen minutes. Should I? Should I not? Oh well.

“There’s a Small Groups study here on Monday nights… If you are interested. The people there can answer your questions.”

“Monday? What time?”

“Six”

“No what time it ends?”

“Around eight. They have food afterwards”

“Count me in, then”

When the church lights flickered on at the end of the service, we shook hands again.

“Will you be there?”

I shrugged, thinking of my situation, “Does it matter?”

“Well I want to make sure I know at least somebody.”

“Yeah. I’ll be there,” I said, pondering the real question of how could I not be there?

He saluted me as he turned to go, “See you then.”

 

part 12 of If You Only Knew

Coming in From the Rain

I did not enjoy Wednesday prayer meetings. But since the church was vast and only the front was lighted up, it was easy for someone like me who sat at the back pew, to walk out and wander about. Unfortunately, when it rained hard I was forced to remain indoors.

So it was one rainy evening that another person joined me at the back pews. It was a twenty-something-year-old guy so drenched from the rain his shoes made squelching noises when he walked. He behaved peculiarly. During prayer time he hugged his damp form, rocked softly, and cried, emitting shaky high-pitched wails at times. When the small group of singers took the stage and began leading out the hymns he got on his feet, lifted his arms and continued saying stuff as he sang along and wailed betimes.

I felt uncomfortable. Almost scared. But before I could move and join Zuri at the front pew, the meeting was done, the church lights flickered on, and we stood facing each other for a short beat.

Deep-set eyes under dark, thick eyebrows. Sharp-featured. Short. Incredibly thin and pale.

I opened my mouth to say some inane apology, but he blinked, and fairly ran to get out of there.

 

part 11 of If You Only Knew

The Long road Back

Long Road Back

I sat listless on my pink couch.

“Tanya’s Couch”, they’d begun calling it.

Figures…

It was so ugly, old, and repellent. The stuffing was coming out and it had questionable stains. It even smelled funny—no wonder they named such an object after me.

I sighed.

I had argued with Zuri in the car, and said some nasty things. Now I was only tired. So very tired.

Too tired to care anymore.

Too tired to make an effort and lie to Zuri

Too tired to fight with God.

I just stopped struggling.

With the acceptance that I was nothing short of a disgusting dumb animal—intelligent, but an animal nonetheless—I had given in to life and all it threw at me. I escaped my drab existence as often as I could, each time hoping I would never return. And when I wasn’t away, I was only . . . tired.

I continued going to the meetings. What’s more, I even talked a bit. I didn’t sit in their circle—oh no. But I participated from my seat in the couch.

True, I began by making questions meant to stir discord within the group and aim resentment at me. But they considered my questions seriously, which was actually kind of funny. In time, as they neither looked shocked or annoyed by what I brought up, I shut up. Or on rare occasions I actually asked questions in earnest.

But not often.

And during testimonies and prayer requests I told Zuri that if she could pray for my Cousin Eva’s health I was sure my prayer request would be more likely to be answered, because I thought I was already far beyond the reach of God.

And yet, I never imagined that giving up the struggle was the beginning of my healing, and the first step of many in the long road back to Him.

 

part 10 of If You Only Knew