Our First Annual Pilgrimage to Virginia
Saturday 9: Copacabana

Redemption Sunday

About 18 years ago, in 1996 I suppose, my friend Beth Degler invited me to go to church with her.

I was a recovering Christian Scientist at the time, still reeling from having read C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and ultimately leaving the church in which I was raised. Beth asked me a half-dozen times before I finally agreed to go with her.

{Side note: Beth was my T.A. for Chemical Oceanography, and she was also the caretaker for Marc, the quadriplegic man who I ended up taking over from her and who I'm still friends with to this day. Marc and I stopped being friends with Beth after she got really strange, but he's still like a big brother to me, and I continued going to the church she'd introduced to me. Later, Beth died in a car crash, which is a sad way to end this side note, but there you go.}

The church I found myself attending was the Miami Vineyard Church, and they were a small group of people who met in a school cafetorium. 

Fast-forward through my leaving Miami to move to Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, for my Ph.D. work, during which time I hopped around to various churches before finding myself at "home" in Pinellas Community Church...

... continue past my marrying Rob and moving to Panama City Beach, where we found out we were going to have Baby Girl Chloë not much later, and decided to go to a financial advisor who invited us to his Methodist church, which we loved...

... onward through our brief 4-month life in Guam, while I carried twins Robby and Jack, and during which time I don't remember if we ever got to go to a church throughout that period of turmoil...

... and sprint past our ten years in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where we first went to the Vineyard Community Church on Easter Sunday, the day we brought Jacky home from the NICU. I'll never forget showing up, having just lost one of my identical twin sons a month earlier, and being seated behind a couple carrying matching pink carseats with matching pink-clad baby girls...


To say I have attended "a few" churches would not be an understatement.

We moved back here to Miami almost exactly a year ago; we're just shy of a couple of weeks now. In the intervening time, I'm unhappy to admit, the only time we went to any kind of church service was one night when we were seeking desperate help from a food pantry and they invited us to come out to their block party. They gave us all kinds of food, including a giant frozen turkey, and a backpack full of school supplies for all three of our children. We vowed to go back.

And yet, we never did. I have no idea why. Lack of gratitude certainly wasn't the reason. One very real reason may be that we just have had our hands full with Rob's prolonged illness this past year, though that isn't a very good one. Another reason is that because of that illness, and all the many, many hospital runs that it has involved, the kids' and our sleep schedules are all screwy. Lately it has gotten even worse. So no one is awake at the right time, and I'll be darned if all three kids are awake at the same time as I am, which makes doing school SO complicated...! But, I digress.

So Friday night and all day Saturday, into early Sunday morning, I felt myself on the Depressive end of this wonderful (not) Bipolar Disorder. I hate that part. The mania, I don't mind; I welcome it. I get stuff done when I'm manic! But depression is about as awesome as you'd think. 

And I was sinking. Deeper, lower, quickly, into that hole.

Sunday morning, it was pretty abysmal inside my head, and I had one clear, motivating thought: GET TO CHURCH.

I decided to look up my old church online and see when and where they were having services. And at the appointed time of 10 AM, I was darkening their doorstep with no clear idea of what I expected to get out of the service.

Eighteen years later, a lot had changed: no longer in a school cafetorium, the church now had its own slick and polished sanctuary with a bold, beautiful sign out front, a parking lot full of cars watched over by a police officer, and a lobby full of people crowding around the free coffee and mountain of doughnuts. The service, once very shabby-chic (for lack of a better term popping forth into my mind), was now also slick and polished, from the pastor's delivery to the audio-visual accompaniments. The worship team, slick and polished. The décor, slick and polished. The pace of things... you get the picture.

One thing that had not changed was the pastor. Kevin Fischer was still The Guy up there, and he had always been an amazing deliverer of The Word. When I heard the topic, part 5 in a series called, "It's Time" regarding their upcoming move to yet another new, bigger location and the funds that they would need to accomplish that, well... I truly thought I'd probably lose interest and get nothing out of the service. I figured, well, that's okay, I'll just get my feet wet and come back strong and ready to go next weekend.


I went up to Pastor Fish, as he was called back in '96 and '97 at least, before the service to re-introduce myself to him and tell him how I'd come to his church. Of course, I knew he wouldn't recognize or remember me, though he did recall Beth, but he was interested in my story nonetheless. He was smiling and friendly, and he made my tense self feel welcome and at ease.

During the message, Pastor Fish asked those of us who had been there during the cafetorium days to stand up and be recognized. So, reluctantly, shyly, I stood. People who had never seen me before that day but knew each other well were visibly surprised when I did, I could tell, and several came up to meet me after the service.

At some point, and I can't even recall exactly what moment, something deep in my heart changed. In a service ostensibly about building a new church home and fundraising, I heard the deeper message that I was meant to hear: a seed was planted in me. I had been harboring some bad feelings about myself, and I felt them lifted along with the overwhelming knowledge that God forgave me. Forgiveness is a powerful thing; I was hurt and angry, and I, in turn, was able to forgive the cause of that.

I went up to Pastor Kevin after the service, and he smiled in newfound recognition of me. He was talking to another chap when I appeared, and he happily introduced me and told of my background with the Miami Vineyard. I told him of the uplifting feeling that overcame me during the service, and I shared that I was now "HOME." And then I cried. Just a little, but it's important, since my heavily-medicated state often disallows for such tears.

I told the pastor that not only did I feel like I had come home, but I wanted to get involved when they moved to the new church home in a few weeks. I didn't know how, but I told him to use me however he needed me. I wanted to serve. And, though our finances are nothing to be bragging about, I put in a meager offering with a pledge to contribute more to their building fund over the next two years. It's not a ton, not even a full tithe, but it felt right. I feel good about it.

I left church on Sunday feeling brand-new. I felt forgiven, I felt redeemed, I felt... happy. I have a great life here, I have a wonderful husband and amazing children, and I am blessed beyond my wildest dreams. I'm thankful. I'm so thankful.

Thanks for stopping by; have a great day!