By: Erin Smith
In my elementary school years, I spent a lot of time in church. I had children’s choir rehearsals on Tuesdays, the occasional bible study on Wednesdays (if my father was teaching), praise dance rehearsals on Saturdays, and then service on Sundays. Not to mention that I became a Junior usher at the age of 11 and recited Easter and Christmas speeches at Sunday school every year. My favorite memories of being involved in the church would have to be playing around during praise dance on Saturdays. When we were small enough, my friends and I would crawl under the pews during water breaks knowing that the adults couldn’t come down there to get us even if they wanted to. I also got to dance in the group with my sisters which was always fun too because we all got to do something that we loved and were good at together. When the summer hit and the choir and praise dance team were on hiatus, my involvement didn’t cease. I would also go to church school conventions to participate in their Bible Bowl competitions and I went to Vacation Bible School even though it would always fall on my birthday. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t like insanely religious or anything. If anything, I was just a kid being a kid and enjoying my childhood with the people I grew up with.
Suddenly, everything in my church started to change and it wasn’t the same anymore. The children’s choir disbanded even after many efforts by people like my own mother to save it and the praise dance team also ended too. There were attempts to revive praise dancing, but it was hardly organized and was never quite the same. Next thing I knew, I stopped seeing a lot of my friends that made me want to be there. A lot of them left because the activities for children began to die out and they still wanted their kids to be involved. After watching everything I had ever known die, I wasn’t as motivated to go to services. I was still a junior usher, but the number of kid ushers like me got smaller and smaller over time. Without things to do for kids, I was pretty much forced to view religion from an adult perspective (especially with children’s church dying out too) which was something I wasn’t ready for.
Because I was so young, I don’t think my faith and religion was something I thought about too much. I went to church, guarded the sanctuary doors with white gloves, sang the songs, listened to the sermons, and then went home. Other than praying if you needed something or over food during the holidays and at restaurants, I didn’t think there was much more to it than that. I didn’t question or think much of it because it was routine. However, after the sudden death of my aunt going into my freshman year of high school, I started having some questions. My family was too grief-stricken to go out of the house much let alone church. We knew everybody knew what happened and just couldn’t deal with it at that time, especially with the death of my grandmother just 91 days prior. From my perspective, every time I was in a church, it was for a funeral. I went through questions of faith that a lot of people do after the passing of a loved one. Why would God do this? I thought He loved us? And stuff like that—standard.
I didn’t lose a huge ton of faith until I woke up to the news that my father had a stroke last July. When my mother and I got to the hospital in Peoria, he was unresponsive and would be for maybe another day or two. Doctors were telling my mother to think about signing a DNR and everything right in front of me…I was only 16 years old. He was awake and speaking a few days later and for that I was grateful, God was there after all. The tube was out of his throat and everything even though he still got a little confused at times. A day later, he coded 3 times at the hands of some CNA whose name I still remember to this day. The doctors pulled us into some sort of family room to discuss our “options” and what my father’s “wishes” would’ve been. Everyone in the room started praying frantically, but I can only remember my eyes being wide open. My father pulled through luckily, but there are still permanent effects from that day that I still can’t wrap my head around. I was going into my senior year of high school and everything was just crashing down. How were people praying?
For a while after that, I didn’t have a desire to go to church. I wasn’t sure where my beliefs stood because I wasn’t the most faithful, but I was also angry. If I’m being completely honest, I still am angry about everything. My dad spent 11 months of my senior year in the hospital and I can’t say that we went to church more than twice during that time. Between back and forth hospital visits and the avoidance of sympathy, attention, and questions, we just didn’t go. I was just fine with that because I was upset with God. Even with my beliefs being so heavily tested, I just knew that if God was there, He hurt me more than I was willing to look past. In my mind, how could I go into a church and praise someone that made me furious just at thought of them? Whenever my family would pray, I clenched my jaw because we were on our knees begging God to heal my father’s body as if he wasn’t the one to make it be that way.
Lately, something in me has changed though and I’m not quite sure what it is. Sometimes, I still find myself listening to Gospel music because it gives me hope and brings me comfort. They are songs that I either grew up listening to in the car, cleaning up on those dreadful Saturday mornings when I couldn’t play possum or praise dancing. Those songs are my childhood and something that without realizing it, I was running back to. This week, something kept pressing my heart to go to church. I tried to ignore it, but every day it would be in my head more and more to the point that I gave in and found an AME church near me in Champaign. While I couldn’t attend because I accidentally overslept after a hectic Saturday, I still intended to go which is a big step for me. My church clothes and shoes are still laid out on my chair and the bus directions to get there are still on my phone so that I can try again next Sunday. And it’s not like I’m forcing myself either, I was actually excited to go and put it on my desk calendar.
I believe that everyone should have something to believe in, even if it’s not religion, to keep us going as people. Without faith, there’s nothing to keep us going and hopeful. As I’m on the road to emotional recovery from such a traumatic time in my life that continues, I need something to motivate me to stay on track and not give up. While there’s a lot that has changed with my father, there is still a lot that I should be thankful for that I didn’t see before like the fact that he is alive for example. The journey to restoring my faith will be a long one but I know that if my father can still pray and thank God even after all he’s been through and still is going through, I can give it a try again to. If I can’t for myself, then I will certainly try for him.