Compline at Little Rock’s Christ Episcopal Church has been my “church away from church” this year. If you’re having trouble connecting with God at your own church, you need to connect with him somewhere. So that’s what I did. And I became one of “those people.”
You know. Those people I’ve never understood. The people who run into church just as it starts and run out as soon as it’s over. That’s never been me. Church has always been the hub of my social life. Of course it’s church, too, but it’s also a place to see friends, catch up, etc. But now I understand “the church runners.” Compline was not social hour for me. It was a place to go away and be with God since I couldn’t find him anywhere else. I figured out how to time my drive from Bryant to downtown so I would be walking in the church’s big red doors just as the Compline bells were ringing. But I didn’t run out as soon as it was over. I waited a bit for the aisle to clear so I would have a straight shot to the door. Then I ran. Except for the priest and his wife who I said “hi” to if I saw them, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. And I definitely didn’t want the church custodian to show up, mop in hand, demanding to know who left the puddle of espresso eyeliner and Maybelline Great Lash mascara on row 7. So I ran in and spent the 15 minutes of Compline soaking in as much God as I could. Then I ran out.
A number of things helped me get through my clinical depression of 2009. Having a place to go like Compline was a significant one. I’m doing a lot better now. And I’m in a new house church that meets on Sunday nights, so Compline is going to have to become a thing of the past. At least for now.
But I had to go back one more time. If you spend enough time asking God for healing and he comes through, you don’t want to be like the nine lepers who went on their way. You want to be like the one who came back. So I that’s what I did. I sat there amid the candlelight and ancient words, trying to focus on my gratitude to God for lifting me out of a darkness that I never want to experience again. But I was distracted. I was hungry. I found myself wanting the choir to sing louder in case my stomach growled. We got to the Lord’s Prayer, which I always recite with the choir—making sure I’m paying attention because the Episcopalians lop off the end of the prayer and I have to make sure I stop reciting in time. But I was still hungry. Just as I was about to get annoyed with myself for not eating before I got there, I realized something. I think God was telling me to eat.
He’s done it before. After Jesus healed the not-dead-but-asleep girl at the end of Mark 5 and Luke 8, he told her caregivers to get her something to eat. And he’s told me to eat before. One other time.
August 10, 1992. The waiting room of the ICU at Anchorage’s Providence Hospital. It was a Monday evening and I hadn’t eaten since breakfast the day before. Chad’s sister Gina had been in a horrible accident that morning and we were keeping vigil at the hospital as she clung to life by a thread. A thread that would slip out of her hand two days later.
Of course there was food at the hospital and restaurants nearby. But I was too traumatized to eat. Every bone in Gina’s face is smashed and she’s in a coma and I’m going to eat? It was unthinkable for me to experience some kind of comfort while Gina lay in such a state, her distraught family and friends around her.
But not eating for a couple of days isn’t so great on your body. I was getting weak and my hands were starting to involuntarily draw up. Sign of a potassium deficiency, I think I heard somewhere. Still, I wouldn’t eat. I sat in the waiting room while the visitors streamed in and out. Then something shook me out of my haze. A man and his wife were standing in front of Chad, who was sitting next to me. I heard, “You need to go take her to eat something.” The man was holding a twenty-dollar bill out to Chad.
I didn’t know this man. But I knew about him. He and his wife and baby were leaving for Russia soon to become missionaries. They were supported by a church in Anchorage—the church where Chad’s family had a number of friends. This man and his wife did not know Gina, but they heard what happened and they came. And now he was holding money out to Chad. Money for me to eat. I knew, by the way they dressed and by their chosen vocation, that twenty dollars was a lot of money to this family. We had money. I could have gone to eat if I wanted to. But the man insisted.
I’ve blocked a lot of memories from those dreadful three days out of my mind. Or at least tucked them away so that I have to work to retrieve them. But the image of this missionary holding a twenty out to my husband is clearly etched in my memory. God was telling me to eat. So I did. Chad took the missionary’s twenty and we went to some restaurant and, surrounded by talking, laughing strangers who were oblivious to the nightmare we were walking around in, I choked down some food. I felt better and stronger and didn’t have a problem eating after that. Which was a good thing, considering what the rest of the week would bring. I’ve never forgotten that man and his wife and what their seemingly simple gesture did for me. I remember his name and by Googling, I’ve found him in the mission field in Ukraine. I pray people are blessing him and his family the way he blessed me that day.
Back to September 2009. In Compline; stomach still growling. God has healed me and now he wants me to eat, the way Jesus healed the girl in Luke 8. So I did. On the way home, I stopped by Jason’s Deli and got a spinach veggie wrap and some black currant tea. I walked into the house with the Jason’s Deli bag and Chad’s eyebrows went up. “God told me to eat,” I said, sitting down at the table.
And this husband of mine who has been so supportive through my ordeal, who never left my side and understood or at least pretended to understand what I was going through...He didn't do anything. He didn't ask how much it cost, or if I thought it was wise to eat out for dinner after we had all eaten out for lunch that day. He didn't roll his eyes. Nothing. I married a good man.
Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Luke 8:55