Several months ago I quit church. Plain and simple I just quit going. I could tell about the reasons why; tell you about the hypocrisy I saw, about the hurts and disappointments by those I expected more from, about the Sunday charade I wanted no part of (I would not be that Christian). I could point my finger and explain but the explaining would be excuses. Smoke and mirrors. The fact of the matter is it was me. The quitting began and ended with me. But this isn’t a story about quitting or endings. It’s a story about beginnings. Beginning Again. And again.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV)
17 years ago I found a pair of black-speckled yellow eyes revealing themselves against a black kitten who sat in a black puddle. Scared and cowering she thought she was unseen hiding there under the leaky motorcycle. But my eyes found hers and I scooped her up. Then my heart found hers.
Boo was “my girl” from that day on. Not only did she follow me from room to room, spot to spot, always landing on my lap, she also followed me from Illinois to Missouri to Wisconsin. She followed me through a tumultuous marriage, the implosion of the subsequent relationship. She followed me through the sickness, the drinking, the healing. She followed me right on through the years, always landing right on my lap.
If an animal and human ever were close in spirit, we were. And more. She knew my every mood and followed those along as well. When I was happy her tail lazily swished side to side. When I was still she slept though she kept two slit eyes on me. When I cried she cried, mewed, buried her nose in my hair and tugged at the strands. I’d scoop her up and console her, which consoled me. She was the only unconditional, consistent thing in my life for all those years. Then one day a few weeks ago she was gone.
Simply gone. She left and never came back. I searched and searched, called her name til I cried, even drove around at midnight hoping to find those two black-speckled yellow eyes shining back at me. But nothing. She simply up and left.
And I was alone.
During my church-less time I found myself lonely, hollow. Searching for a fill for the void. I found that “little girl lost” nipping at my heels, following me, a shadow even in the darkness- the nothing-dark. To fill the void and silence her I turned to my fail-proof: men. Men and sex and instant gratification. Being wanted. Accepted.
Til morning. Or merely a few hours later. Soon they’d go as well. The men came and went so quickly, so often I felt I should at least find a fifty on my bedside table on their way out. I felt used. I felt lonelier once they left. I felt ashamed.
Thoughts of drinking danced around my mind. They did a waltz, a limbo, then down-right stomped on my skull. “Fill you. Do it. Drink and be filled. Forget.” The rhythm of the chant was nearly maddening.
I tried reading, but couldn’t comprehend. I tried writing, but the words wouldn’t come. I tried making art but only made muddy color. I tried hanging with friends and still I was hollow. My hollowness was infinite, yet it expanded still.
I thought of church. I thought of prayer. But between booze and men, between bitterness and the blasphemy I feared, I kept still. Frozen. I kept stuck.
Then Boo. The leaving. Again. Perhaps merely a silly weird-eyed cat, but her leaving grew, blurred with and melded in to every leaving before. All the alone-ness came hurling back and hit me square between the eyes. Hit dead center the bulls-eye of my heart.
And once again I got angry with God, cursed Him, demanded answers. Why wasn’t I good enough for something as simple as a finicky feline? Why save me from so much only to keep me alone? Why did He insist on my alone-ness?
In the midst of that heart-torn tirade thoughts infiltrated. Memories. Words. His words.
I remembered “come”.
I remembered “speak”.
I remembered “mine”.
I remembered first finding Him and the relationship, the one-on-one, just He and I. I remembered church wasn’t about them or him or her or the doings or the goings-on. It was about stopping by a friend’s house, my best friend, and saying Hi, how are you? I was thinking of you and all you’ve done for me. I just wanted to say ‘thank you’.
I remembered Him asking me to speak, but keeping silent, keeping my words and my story- His story- bottled up because letting it out would reveal too much. Because revealing would mean facing and facing would mean feeling. I did all I could not to feel.
I remembered the only peace I’d ever known. I remembered the only filling-up that lasted. A filling-up so full there is no room for alone-ness.
I remembered that I was His, bought and paid for. Signed, sealed and delivered. No refunds and no exchanges. No going back and no do-overs. A flower can’t unbloom.
And in the midst of the remembering I realized that, for some of us, He must strip us bare- so bare, so utterly naked that there’s nothing left but Him.
I realized that some of us are stubborn; stubborn as a finicky cat. We like things our way, on our terms, at our pace.
But our way takes us in circles, chasing our tails, chasing circles around a mountain, the same mountain, over and over and over again. It’s insanity, as the saying goes; doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results. I’ve been around that mountain so often I’ve got it memorized. I’d like a new view. I’m tired of tasting my own tail.
Whatever happened to Boo I’ll never know. What I do know is her leaving brought me home. In some way- His way- losing her found me. And Him. Again. And this moment here, speaking.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:9 (NIV)