Sunday, February 5
Sunday morning church. There are several stages a person goes through when he’s backsliding. He starts out with good intentions. ‘Yes, I missed the last three Sundays, but it was just circumstances. I’ll get right back.’ But then comes the honeymoon. ‘You know, I get so much more done. I’m more rested. I’m less stressed at work since I have those extra hours.’ But then the shame hits. You lay out so long you can’t bear to face everybody asking you where you’ve been. Eventually that gives way to anger if anybody dares to bring up church in your hearing. I wasn’t to anger yet, but I was definitely entrenched in the shame phase.
How long had it been? Since the summer before I started college. I can remember the first Sunday I didn’t go. I was living with my uncle Nolan then. I stayed with him when I started as an undergraduate until I joined the fraternity, anyway. Most folks without any knowledge of the situation blamed Uncle Nolan for corrupting me. He didn’t go to church either and he divorced his wife. The story was, the young impressionable boy fell under his evil influence and made a shipwreck of his faith.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Nolan is actually a lot like my father. He’s quiet and serious, very dedicated to his work and he dearly loves his family. Including his ex-wife. He drove straight from Knoxville to St. Louis when my mother called him. He never left her side at the services in St. Louis, but when we got to Stinson, he quietly faded away, like a gentleman.
He knew the university inside and out and he knew what it was like to go after a graduate degree in engineering. I owe him a debt I can’t repay for all his help and guidance. In fact, I wish he was in Memphis so he could walk me through my impending divorce.
Anyway, that first Sunday, I woke up right on time. Uncle Nolan was sitting at the kitchen table reading the Sunday paper. I crunched my way through a bowl of cereal, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the clock.
Uncle Nolan never looked up from his newspaper. “No one is going to come and get you for not going to church,” he said.
I flushed with embarrassment. “I didn’t . . . It’s just . . . It’s odd. I’ve done it all my life.”
“And that is one of the stupidest reasons I can think of for going.” He folded up the newspaper and laid it on the table. “Go because you want to go, not because it’s a habit, or because you’re afraid you’ll disappoint someone if you don’t. God sees right through that and He’s not impressed at all.”
“Why don’t you go?”
“Who said I didn’t?”
Everybody. “I don’t know. That’s what folks think.”
“Folks can get some very wrong ideas when left to themselves.”
He was right about that.
The next week, I slept right through the Sunday school hour, and by the third week I felt liberated from the oppressive routine.
This morning, I’d give everything I had to hear my father preach one more time.
It was out of respect for him that I was going. I realize you could argue that if I genuinely respected him, I’d have been going all along. I think that qualifies for Uncle Nolan’s list of dumb reasons to go. I had a few more. My mother needed me to go. My granny wouldn’t stand for me not going. Granny Lucy wouldn’t either. Every relative I had would be there. Except David, but that was a bonus. Finally, the shallowest reason, but honestly one of the most compelling was that Andrea Maddox said she would be there.
I showered and thought about not shaving again. I kind of liked the idea of a beard, admittedly because I knew Stacy despised them. I chickened out and shaved. Not because of Stacy, but because of my granny. I didn’t think she’d go for stubble on a Sunday morning.
I got dressed, but left the suit coat behind. I woke Christopher and changed him, and laid his clothes on the bed. “Daddy knows better than to dress you before breakfast.” He grinned. He knew too.
My mother had tears in her eyes when I walked into the kitchen with Christopher on my arm. I figured Sundays would be difficult for her for a long time, and I don’t doubt that was part of it. She looked at me and smiled. “I had so hoped. I didn’t dare ask, but I had hoped you would go with us this morning.” Now I was ashamed I ever hesitated about going this morning.
I kissed her cheek, and put Christopher in his seat. Granny had a bowl of those wondrous Cheerios ready, and she quickly peeled and sliced an apple for him. “There’s biscuits and gravy on the stove.”
“Granny, I’m going to have to fast when I get back to Memphis.”
“Nonsense. Besides, you could stand to gain a few.” Then she grinned. “It’s not my fault nobody over there can cook.” She crossed her arms and tilted her head sideways. “I wrote out some recipes when you all got married. You ever see them?”
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