I cut my teeth on the back of a pew in a small country church. My siblings did the same. I can take you to the church and show you the teeth marks.
In that church I learned that motives count. Not only should I give, but also I should want to give. I learned that honoring my parents meant more than being good in their presence. I learned the meaning of words I never encountered anywhere else: sanctification, regeneration, propitiation.
I knew from day one I was imperfect but God loved me and Jesus wanted to save me.
Qualities taught to me at home were reinforced inside that little church. Qualities like integrity, patience, and kindness.
God poured His grace down upon me, the little girl who wanted so passionately to be good but knew she would never be perfect.
My mind often wandered during church services. Sometimes I silently reviewed the memory verse I would be asked to recite in Bible class. I looked at pictures in my Bible of blind Samson breaking the pillars of the temple and Moses talking to God in the burning bush.
I studied my fingernails, picked at my cuticles, and passed an occasional note to my sister. I thought about what I would be doing that afternoon. I listened to my grandma singing alto in the pew behind me and tried to copy her.
I fanned myself with a paper fan provided by the Leland Carter Funeral Home. I watched mud daubers whizzing outside the window. I heard baby cousins fussing just a few rows back.
I watched my mother tend to my young siblings. I struggled not to laugh the Sunday my brother held chewing gum in his hand and eventually created a sticky, pink spider web between his fingers.
I tried to pay attention if the preacher wrote things on the chalkboard. I tried to focus as he pointed to places on one of the big Bible maps that stood on an easel near the podium.
Once, in a sermon about the tabernacle the Israelites built on their journey from Egypt to Canaan, the preacher flipped the map pages to one that showed the route they took. And right there, right in the middle of the map’s desert, a mud dauber had built a brown, crusty nest.
The preacher chuckled and said, “Well, there’s the tabernacle right there!” and everyone laughed.
I thought about going to college. I dreamed about someday driving a car, being a teacher, and having babies. I wondered if I was pretty.
I pondered unanswerable questions about whether or not Adam had a belly button and if God could make a box so tiny he couldn’t get into it. I contemplated trying to use faith to move a mountain.
I checked often to make sure my slip strap was not showing. I looked down and reaffirmed that I hated my old black, patent leather shoes.
Sometimes in church, I listened and learned. But, truth be told, much of the time I daydreamed and wondered and contemplated and planned and pondered and imagined and questioned and resolved.
But never once in all those Sundays did I worry that a lunatic with a gun might walk in and blow away my entire family and me.