I Thought I Wanted That Old Time Religion
There I was sitting on a Puerto Rican beach. The sky was blue, the waves were high, and the breeze was plentiful. Everything was perfect, and I was sitting there with tears streaming down my face. The beach chair next to me was empty, and it wasn’t supposed to be. None of this was as we planned it, and all I could do was pray a lot and cry a little in the midst of paradise. I’d been praying for old time religion, the kind I witnessed in my grandparents, parents and many of their friends. I got what I prayed for, but no one bothered to tell me that old time religion doesn’t come easy and it’s not cheap either. It will cost you, and often the price you pay is pain.
About a year and a half ago, I felt this tug on my heart. I was going through a lot and so were those closest to me. My dad was in the hospital and many of my friends had loved ones going through health and personal issues. I’m fortunate that I was raised in the church and I considered my foundation in faith to be strong, but I wanted more in my relationship with God. So, I asked God to take me to the next level. What I didn’t bargain for was what likely led those elders to old-time religion – loss, heartbreak, betrayal, distress, death, pain and more. I’m not implying that everyone’s next level relationship comes with any of these things, but sometimes those are the only wake-up calls we’ll answer.
A friend once told me that he didn’t grow until he was down to a few dollars in the bank with twenty days to go until his next paycheck. A parent shared that she had nearly depleted her savings to help a child who was far from wanting help. For others, it may be a longing desire to have a loving relationship with an emotionally distant parent or loved one. My moment was learning that someone I trusted with my life didn’t trust me the same way. It’s a gut punch when someone whom you see the best in returns it with the possibility of the worst in you. It hurt, and it was just what I needed. I value people, relationships and friendships. I work hard to earn trust and respect others, so it makes perfect sense that losing people whether it be through death or circumstance would get my attention. Even that heart-bruising was necessary. When family or loved ones wound you, it makes you stronger and able to brush off when co-workers, acquaintances or even strangers try to hurt you. Those are like mosquito bites in the grand scheme of things, and they are mere distractions that deserve little to no attention.
Over the course of a few months, some family members and friends passed away, relationships changed, and people I care about were in pain. Enter the deeper relationship I petitioned for. There I was, the woman who prides herself on not crying easily, leaking all over the house. I cried when I prayed. I cried when I read the Bible. I cried when prayers were answered. And I laughed at myself while I cried because I asked for all of this. God has a sense of humor, and His plan to get you on the path He’s designed for you has more plot twists than a Lifetime movie on steroids.
This past year has been one of growth in faith, emotional intelligence and maturity. I’m grateful for 2017 with all its bumps, cuts, scrapes and bruises. And, if you think you have some super holy I-can-do-no-wrong woman on the other end of this blog, think again. I’m a wretch in all forms of the word. Wretch-ish, wretchful, wretch-like, wretch-bound, you name it. I’m a hot mess, and imperfect. I’m human and fully aware of my human nature. I love a good party, heck, I throw a good party. When trap or Miami-bass music comes on, I’m the first one on the floor. Eight out of ten of my parenting decisions are good. Grace covers the other two. I enjoy a cussin’ out, and it still tickles me when I witness one. I sometimes feel doubt, if only for a few minutes. As my grandmother would say when I was a wee one, if left to my own devices, I can get into some devilment. I’m unworthy, and I know just how awful I am. I believe when we realize how terrible we are, it opens the door even wider for God to use your brokenness for His good. One of my closest and deeply spiritual friends told me that perfect acting people scare him and should be watched closely. We laugh about it, but I get what he’s saying. Old time religion doesn’t make you perfect, it makes you consistent in pursuit of perfection.
We considered several islands before settling on Puerto Rico, mainly for the five-star resort accommodations for the price. We were excited. We joined a conference call on Thursday night to discuss the particulars, and because we were traveling together, we planned to join another conference call on Saturday to make our online payments together. The trip was booked. Two of us loved the beach but preferred hanging by the pool. The other two loved the sand and planned to spend the entire day on the beach with sand between our toes. By Sunday afternoon, our party of four was a party of three. One of us, my beloved sorority sister Elle Richardson, died suddenly and it happened to be on her birthday. She convinced us not to purchase trip insurance because we were most definitely going, no excuses. Two months later, we went and so did she, but in our hearts instead of walking alongside us. As I sat there with the sand between my toes and my beach buddy in my heart, I reflected and prayed. This was not the plan we had in mind, but Old Time Religion steps in when your plan doesn’t go as planned.
I’m grateful for every moment this year had to offer. Through it all, I’m a better mom, daughter and friend. I received what I prayed for in the most unexpected ways, and it has been a beautiful journey. Happy New Year, and may you enjoy the ride that 2018 is sure to bring.
This blog is dedicated to my beautiful linesister Sherry "Elle" Richardson. Your star shines brightly, my dear. We miss you every day, Shuga Mama!