A place from your past or childhood, one that you’re fond of, is destroyed. Write it a memorial.
Daily Prompt: Ode to a Playground
I couldn’t believe it when I heard it on the news. I must have misunderstood what was said. Surely the church of my childhood… the church that held such happy memories for me… the church where I first came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior couldn’t have burned. I hadn’t been there since I was around fifteen or sixteen years old, but I always had such fond memories of it.
I remember the first Sunday I attended Gethsemane United Methodist Church, in Reliance, MD as though it were yesterday. The day before, some stranger and his wife came to visit my mother and father, and invited my sister and me to ride on a church bus to this church. I couldn’t believe my parents said yes! They didn’t even know these people, and they had agreed to let them take my sister and me on this bus.
Although I was only around ten or eleven at the time, I had a vivid imagination, and I was very distrustful of people and their motives. I was certain these seemingly nice people were going to get my sister and me on that bus, then kidnap and murder us. The whole ride to church, as the bus would stop and pick up more and more children along the way, Mr. W. stood at the front of the bus, singing songs about Jesus and laughing and smiling. It was really a lot of fun, but I wasn’t about to let my guard down. I didn’t trust these strangers, not one little bit.
I was surprised and relieved when we reached the church, but I was still suspicious. “They probably brought us here in case our parents call to check up on them,” I thought to myself. “They’re probably going to kill us on the way home from church.” Praise God, they obviously didn’t kill any of us, or I wouldn’t be sitting here writing my story for you. Nevertheless, when we were safely delivered to our house that afternoon, after enjoying Sunday School, church and snacks afterward, I continued to be suspicious of them. Perhaps their plan was to win our parents’ confidence, and then, after several months, they would kill us. I remember, I was so distrustful, that I imagined different scenarios of our kidnapping and murder, and I would daydream, imagining different ways in which we might escape.
Eventually, over the months, I began to let my guard down and trust these people, who seemed to genuinely love us and care for us. I couldn’t believe that they really cared for me… my sister, yes, because she was cute and sweet and everything that I wasn’t. I remember how I hung out with some of the tougher girls, those who at the tender young age of twelve or thirteen had already had many boyfriends — and some of their boyfriends were actually men, not boys. I remember that I envied those girls, because they were so much prettier than me, attracting grown men!
As I reflect on these memories now, I am grateful to the Lord for guarding and protecting me, at a time in my life when I was so vulnerable and needy. I remember cursing and swearing with one of the girls, and going behind the community house to smoke cigarettes, because I so wanted to be cool and fit in… and be liked by the boys. I tried to act tough like one of the other girls in particular, whose name, like mine, was Cheryl, and I would be so disrespectful, because I needed to be accepted by someone… And there on that church bus, was Mr. and Mrs. W., who continually showered their love on me.
No matter how bad or disrespectful I was, they treated me with love. I can remember Mrs. W. looking up at me one time, when I had behaved so terribly, with such a look of unguarded love on her face, that it left me feeling ashamed… She acted like she really loved me, but how could that be? At home, when I was bad, my own parents cursed me and called me stupid, dumb@$$, worthless… But here, at church, when I really behaved terribly, Mrs. W. still acted like she loved me. When I misbehaved, she didn’t act like she was angry with me at all… Instead, she looked at me with her pretty, expressive brown eyes that looked as though she was hurt and ready to cry, and continued to love me.
I didn’t understand these church people, but I admired them and loved them, and I wanted to be like them. I remember one Sunday in church, when I was around twelve or thirteen years old, the minister preached a message, and I was compelled to move forward toward the altar, while the hymn, Just As I Am, was being sung by the congregation. There, at that wooden altar, with the red velvet cushions, I knelt on my knees, and asked Jesus to come into my heart and save me and deliver me from evil.
That afternoon, I couldn’t wait to get off the church bus and share the good news with my parents. I remember running into the house and breathlessly telling my mom that I was born again. That really irritated her, and she told me that if I was going to start acting religious like Mr. and Mrs. W., she wasn’t going to let me go to that church anymore. I was devastated. Mr. and Mrs. W. were good, loving people. Why shouldn’t I be like them? I didn’t talk about Jesus to my mom and dad until many, many years later, when I was a grown woman.
I have such fond memories of Gethsemane United Methodist Church, in Reliance, MD, and although the fire completely destroyed the church on May 11, 1998, my memories of it remain intact. A couple of years later, the church was rebuilt, not on the same site as the original structure, but across the street from it. The new church is quite lovely, and although it is a brick structure, it bears no resemblance to the original. Nor does it invoke the same feelings that the original one did.
I pray that the people in this new Gethsemane will impact the lives of men, women and children as the people from the old one changed my life. To the old structure, I reluctantly bid a fond farewell.
Cheryl A. Showers