As we stumbled in out of the cold, clomping in like noisy snow-covered Clydesdales, the bells ringing in disapproval of our tardiness, I felt tense. I hadn’t wanted to attend mass this morning, let alone get out of bed before noon. My belly feels tighter and heavier today, my back is burning, and quite honestly, I didn’t want to expend the energy it takes to get a shower these days .
Great reasons to ignore God, right?
Some pregnant days are better than others, and after three straight nights of very little sleep and mucho discomfort, the last thing I felt was holy.
Yet in we trudged, my daughter’s unbrushed, mangled hair and my bad, bad attitude leading the way. The second we sat down, I could feel all eyes upon us. Not because we were late, but because of the kids. Our congregation consists of mostly older folks who genuinely enjoy seeing little ones at mass. They never bat an eye when a baby cries or a small voice speaks out of turn: “Why is Jesus sleeping up there?”
They don’t even mind when my toddler announces, loudly, “I just tooted! Did you hear it?!”
Unfortunately, I don’t see what the other church-goers see. I see a brother poised and waiting to snatch his sister’s blankie the second she is vulnerable. I see temper tantrums of epic proportions on the horizon. I see a little boy who refuses to stand for the opening hymn. I see my feet swell beneath me. I see my patient husband’s jaw tighten as he runs interference between an energetic child and the kneeler.
And then I see them.
A very young couple with a newborn baby girl slides in a few pews away. Even after our late arrival! I make note of the…unorthodox outfit the mother is wearing: skin-tight pink jeggings, a see-through polka dot blouse, and what appears to be a sweater vest made from the kind of silver and white tinsel normally reserved for Christmas trees. The vest is a smidge too short, and her tattoo and I have a stare-off.
Not that I have any business judging a tramp stamp.
This new mom’s kinky hair, still wet from the shower, is piled haphazardly on top of her head, and while she wears no make-up, her nose ring glistens when she tilts her head just so. Her boyfriend (there are no signs of wedding bands; I’ve checked) doesn’t take his eyes off of their baby girl who, for now, is content in the warm cocoon of her car seat.
As I’m wondering why I’m so intrigued with the couple, I realize our priest is telling a story. It’s about a student who doesn’t have much money, but is consistent in attending religious services in his college town. He goes to different churches, celebrates different faiths, and one day, chooses to hit up a super conservative church despite wearing raggedy clothes and no shoes. As the boy enters the doors of the church, it is quickly apparent that there isn’t an empty seat in the place. No biggie; he saunters up to the very front and takes a seat right on the floor in front of the pulpit.
People see him. But they don’t see him.
Murmurs of disapproval and “Ohmygod, Becky, do you believe THIS?” fill the air, and the pastor stops preaching when he sees one of the oldest and most respected members of the congregation, a Deacon, coming toward the pulpit.
The old man’s cane clickity-clacks on the bare floor, and parishioners hold their breath, bracing for what they believe will be a stern but necessary request for the college boy to please exit the church.
Instead, the elderly Deacon gently places his cane on the floor and lowers himself to sit beside the boy everyone assumed would be asked to leave.
The Deacon saw the boy.
“You will never remember what I was going to preach about today, but you will never forget this,” the pastor gestured to the young and old duo seated together on the hard, cold floor.
My priest ended with a prayer and I was left sitting there in disbelief.
He didn’t see me, but He saw me.
I was ashamed for noticing the young mother’s outfit before giving her mad props for coming to church at all. It was snowing at a pretty good clip and endlessly cold, but she and her wet hair and her bundled baby came to serve the Lord and I was judging her pink pants. I, who didn’t want to get out of bed an hour ago, who incessantly preaches tolerance and acceptance, and who forbids an unkind word to pass my children’s lips, let an aching back and a bad night’s sleep impact my character. My behavior. I was the person I never wanted to become all because I was in a bad mood.
Karma. God. Mother Mary.
I get it. Thank you. Receive my prayers for forgiveness and of gratitude, as the shot to the crotch you rightfully delivered was warranted and, though it stung, made me a better person today.