I remember walking out of the church one late summer evening, while the sky was streaked with colors of tangerine and magenta. The sun hit my face just right, enough to warm the cheeks from hours of air-conditioning. I remember peace – the feeling that God loved me and that everything would be okay. For a moment, I was not a child of a broken home. I was not broken or misunderstood. I belonged.
I remember the first time I walked into the quiet church, lights off in every room except the bathroom and kitchen. I could smell brownies baking in the fellowship hall kitchen. I was scared to go in because it was a room of girls. Would they be kind? That was the day I met Kristen, who spoke of love and generosity. She taught us about inner beauty. Strength. Benevolence.
I remember notes she would write in her perfect cursive, just the right amount of flourish, on paper with roses around the border. She would write the words, “you are beautiful.” I think it may have been the first time I had truly ever heard that.
One summer day, we sat in a circle on a drive under the awning while it rained all around. We talked about nursing homes and the elderly, of loving others unselfishly. We made plans to visit them and talk to them of their lives.
I remember learning about God in those early days, about someone who loved me, broken pieces and all. A kid who thought too much, afraid of her own shadow. A kid who thought that no one would ever love her, that girls would always pick on her, and boys would always ignore her. A kid who talked of things too uncomfortable, too perceptive for her age. Too poor. Unchurched.
Those years, I was taught of a God whom I have not seen in a church often. There were no boundaries, no limitations on love or acceptance. There was no hierarchy of privilege versus poverty. We were taught to give. Love. Search. Question.
I know that what I saw was most likely different than what they could see, but when I drive down an Oklahoma road in the summer, or see a sunset, or drink a glass of strawberry lemonade, I think of that first summer. I think of Kristen, who still listens with her whole heart, who accepts unconditionally. I think of her doe eyes that link themselves to you and feel every joy and pain you have. She was like an older sister — teaching me how to grow without growing up.
Those are a few moments I remember.