–by Mary Helen Darah
PUBLICATION DATE: June 5, 2018
I come from a long line of churchgoers, but don’t let that fool you. None of my family’s halos are blinding. Like the majority of people in my life, we are works in progress. Thankfully, one fact holds true in most places of worship. If you appear at their doorstep as a disheveled mess, holding the hand of your kid with ADD/HD, they not only let you in, but offer you a doughnut and a beverage between services. Lately, I have been finding my time in the pew too quiet for my liking. Surprisingly, I long for a little chaos instead of moments of reflective serenity.
It’s funny; the things that mortify you as a young adult can end up being the things you miss. My sibling and I would play “paper, rock, scissors” to see who would have to sit next to my Gram at church. Gram, who I now believe to be the source of my offspring’s ADD/HD, was a perpetual “jiggler.” If the constant wiggling of her left foot wasn’t enough to make you take the Lord’s name in vain, her continuous fiddling with her over-sized necklaces and unwrapping of her stash of candy would.
Gram was also a genetically challenged whisperer. She would loudly inquire what verse we were on while singing a hymn. We pretended not to know so she wouldn’t sing. Unfortunately, this led to her glancing around at her fellow parishioners and making random observations on subjects ranging from the nervous tick of the man sitting in front of us to her belief that the woman two rows up needed ‘more skirt or less body.’
The younger generation
I know I shouldn’t judge especially since my brother Jim and I were anything but angels. I believe Jim will be remembered for decking the choirboy behind him after numerous failed attempts of “using his words.” He could not get him to cease flicking the back of his neck and stepping on his robe. At least the moment provided a visual for the lyrics “fall down before the cross” that the rest of the good little cherubs were singing.
He also embarrassed me EVERY time I served as an altar girl. I would stoically walk down the center aisle with my lit candle that would be used to light the altar candles. As I walked past him, he would blow out my one source of light needed to complete my task. I am also far from sinless. Some of my most heated games of Uno were played with my childhood friend and fellow candle lighter during the sermon in the room behind the altar. Once we got into an intense match and neglected our responsibility of handing the collection plates to the clergy. I received the “evil eyeball” from an adult choir member when I sheepishly emerged from the back room and returned to my chair by the choir. I could tell from his “you’ll be sitting with Satan” judgmental look that he was going to rat me out to my parents. Fortunately, a periodical that looked anything but “holy” slipped out of his hymnal and onto the floor. We locked eyes. We quickly realized that we were in the midst of an ecclesiastical “Vegas moment.”
I wish I could tell you the next generation found religion in restrained normalcy but sadly you cannot escape trickle down DNA. Why is it the child with the holiest name proved to be the most challenging in a worship environment? Truly, how does one solve a problem like Maria? The church hired a director of children’s education that was tragically born without a sense of humor, especially when dealing with my youngest. I was often on the receiving end of many an “I see we think Maria’s soccer game is more important than being on time” or the ever memorable “How nice to see all of you with a tan.” Loosely translated, “you’ll get crispy where you’re headed for bailing on church.” What really caused her lips to suck back into her face was my child’s participation in the Christmas pageant. I still ponder how two of my children could perfectly deliver four sentences full of words such as “frankincense” and “myrrh” while the other screwed up one word; “HARK.”
I believe the defining moment that landed us a permanent place on the “prayer list” happened when Maria marched up to the aisle for children’s time and plopped herself right next to the man in black she assumed was in charge. In an ear-splitting voice she yelled “Mom! Mama!” I tried to stay composed and mouthed “What?!” She responded with a deafening inquiry “Is this guy G-d?”
Church is far, far too peaceful now that my kids have grown. I actually have to listen to the sermon instead of sneaking in a “Barney big girl panties check” during Maria’s “I don’t like wearing underwear” stage. One thing I constantly thank “the Guy” for is the blessing that, even though my pew is temporarily empty, my heart is full from being surrounded by unconditional support and a congregation that continues to welcome the “frazzled” into its flock.