I was on the phone with my mom, listening to her reminisce. “At church you always sat with me on the women’s side and Eugene (my older brother by two years) sat with Dad on the men’s side. Then one Sunday your dad said, ‘I’d like to have Aleta sit with me today.’ But then I won’t have anyone with me,” I told him. And his response was, ‘Someday you’ll have them all the time.’” (He was referring to the ravages Hodgkin’s disease had left on his body.)
Mom’s thoughts continued, “I think he just wanted that experience of having you, his little girl, sit with him. He might also have wanted to ensure that you remember him.”
A hazy memory-photo flashed through my mind and I interrupted her thoughts. “Did we go to Yellow Creek Church that Sunday?”
She paused for a second, “Yeah, church was at Yellow Creek that Sunday,”
I smiled to myself. Another memory confirmed. Although I don’t remember sitting with my dad, I do have this obscure photo-memory of being surrounded by a sea of men sitting on gray church pews. Those are the pews at Yellow Creek Church: gray painted, box-like benches that only come up to the middle of an adult’s back. Blossers, the only other Old Order Mennonite church building in Indiana at that time, has more comfortable pews that are stained dark brown. They curve up past the mid-back into a thick swirl at the top.
Old Order Mennonite communities build churches as their population increases and then they alternate services between the church buildings. That way everyone gets the opportunity to attend a church closer to their house on alternating Sundays. It’s a welcome break when you clip-clop to church in a horse and buggy. Once a community expands even more they hold services at each church house every Sunday. It’s their version of having one large building with an eight o’clock and a ten fifteen service.
The fact that this hazy photo filled with gray church pews had been confirmed helped, in my mind, to give authenticity to the others still waiting for confirmation.
My mom continued with her reminiscing, “Dad said that as everyone knelt to pray he was surprised when you also knelt down beside him, leaned your arms on the bench, folded your hands and bowed your head like the grown-ups. He hadn’t thought about teaching Eugene that.”
I can picture my mom in church leaning down and whispering: Her large hands enveloping my small ones. “Fold your hands like this.” Gently folding my fingers, she places them on the bench in front of me. “Then close your eyes and bow your head so you can pray.” I imagine myself peeking up at how she was doing it and following suit. It’s how she lives her life: demonstrating godliness through the little everyday occasions.
I grew up envisioning God as love. The love of my mother teaching me how to live. The love of my dad’s cherishing embrace. The connection between our view of God and our parents is a powerful subconscious force within our minds and lives. I thank God for placing these memory-photos inside of my heart as a little child.