Something Bigger Than You Can Imagine

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I’m not what most people would consider a “religious” person. In fact, I can count on two hands the number of times I’ve been to church in the two years since my daughter was baptized.

So no, I probably won’t be winning any attendance awards anytime soon.

See, I’ve had issues with organized religion for awhile now, since way back in my middle and high school days when I began to notice that the very people who talked the biggest and sang the loudest and dressed the fanciest and put on the grandest Look-at-what-a-wonderful-Christian-I-am show every Sunday morning were the same people who spent the rest of the week looking down their noses and treating the people they thought were beneath them like garbage. Somehow, I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it, and it made for a lot of uncomfortable Sundays, and feeling like the sermons being preached from the pulpits were hollow and empty.

During college, I had something of a love/hate relationship with religion. Part of my loved the intimacy of the daily chapel services, and I felt a genuine connection with the faculty and staff and students that I’d formed relationships with during my time at Concordia New York. But there was another part of me that just really believed that God had abandoned me, unable to forgive me for all the horrible things I’d done. Losing all hope and faith, and being so miserable when my life was filled with so many blessings was like making a conscious decision to spit in God’s face, and I was convinced that there was only so much of it that He was going to take.

It took a lot of years for me to heal, and to reconnect with my spirituality. Maybe I’m not an every Sunday churchgoer, but my faith is strong. I feel genuinely connected to the universe and believe absolutely in a power greater than myself that connects all of us. I do my best to be a good person, to treat others with dignity and respect, and to leave this world a little better than I found it. Do I fall short? Do I sometimes miss the mark? Absolutely. I’m human, after all. And there is no such thing as perfection.

Yet, even though I’ve never been much of the regular church going type, I do wish sometimes that Steven and I could find a church that we love and feel comfortable in, a church where we can start taking Cadence. I definitely don’t believe that children should be indoctrinated and forced to believe in something, but I do believe it’s important to give them an education and a foundation for belief. I believe it’s important to expose them to different ideas and viewpoints, and give them the freedom to form their own opinions. I don’t care if Cadence decides she doesn’t want to be Lutheran or attend a Lutheran church for the rest of her life. How could I, when I don’t even subscribe to all of the Lutheran beliefs or attend Lutheran services on a regular basis myself? But what I do hope is that Cadence is able to know, without a doubt, that she is part of something much bigger than herself. I think too many people lose sight of that, and I think that many of the problems we face in this world are a direct result of too many people living egocentrically, as if they are the only ones on earth who matter, instead of realizing that they are a very crucial part of something a whole lot bigger than they can imagine.

If you ask me, that is what church should be. It should be a place, like home, that offers security and comfort, a place that you know you are always welcome, a place where you can belong in spite of your differences. It should be a place where you feel a sense of connection, a sense of peace. It should be a place where you feel uplifted, and where you uplift others in return. It should be a place where you can lay down your burdens, where you can learn from your mistakes, and where you can nourish and heal your soul. It should be a place where you can feel, without a doubt, that you are in the presence of something bigger than yourself.

If you ask me, too many churches these days are focused on who can draw the biggest crowds, and do so by pandering to the fast food, MTV, reality show generation with loud music and loud sermons and bright flashing light shows that are dazzling and dizzying and reminiscent of the old circus sideshow acts that used to draw a similar sort of thrill-seeking crowd. Sure, it’s important for churches to have members. Otherwise, they can’t survive. But what’s the point of filling the seats for the big Sunday show when there is no substance to the message? What’s the point of having a service at all when the teachings and the beliefs don’t matter the other six days of the week?

Recently, my good friend Pastor Scott “Money” Geminn and his wife Becca started blogging. (You’ll have to bear with me, “Money” is what I’ve called Scott from our college days together, and I just can’t quite get the hang of calling him anything else). And I’ve been hooked on their blogs since day one. See, Money and I have always had similar views on a lot of things, and ever since he was first called to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, I’ve wished that somehow I could find a way and a means to become a member of his church and arrive every Sunday just in time for service.

Pretty bold words for a girl with an attendance record like mine, don’t you think? But it’s the truth. And if I could find a way to push Lincoln, Nebraska and Glenwood Springs, Colorado just a little closer together on a map, I’d be a very happy girl.

Money is one of those people who would be a spiritual leader whether he was actually standing in front of a pulpit or not. He’s got a light that shines a little brighter than most, and a heart that is happiest when he is serving others. He is kind, gentle, loving, and a bit stubborn at times. He is the sort of man who stands up for what he knows is right, and who can be humble and contrite when he is wrong. He loves to learn, and makes a point to face new experiences and challenges with an open mind and an honest heart. He has a wicked sense of humor and a loud, echoing laugh that is downright infectious. Whether you’re listening to him preach in church on Sunday or wax philosophical about his favorite movies and sports teams, you can’t help but get caught up and carried along by his enthusiasm.

And Money’s wife Becca, though I have yet to actually meet her in person, seems to be the perfect match. They’ve been blogging for just a few short weeks now, and I’m already addicted. They’re definitely worth checking out. Here are a couple recent posts that really got me, and I wanted to share with all of you…

Money’s Blog : A Foolish Way

Becca’s Blog: Eleutheria

If you or any of your family or friends live in, near, or are visiting Glenwood Springs, Holy Cross Lutheran Church is definitely worth a visit. I think you’ll like it there. And be sure to tell Money and Becca hi. 🙂

365 Project – Day 218 – You Get the Ark, I’ll Get the Animals

So, I was going to post this awhile back, but that’s the thing about daily blogs…something interesting happens and one blog topic gets trumped for another. So, when I was thinking today about what to post, I figured it just might be time to share my crazy wedding story. It’s just another episode from what I like to call The Absurdity That Is My Life. Hang on, it’s quite a ride.

Okay, so a bit of background info first.

I moved to New York in 1998. I was fresh out of high school and on my way to study English and Creative Writing at Concordia College. I met Steven my first weekend on campus. He was a senior and was emceeing the entertainment/talent show at Freshman Orientation. He was a total goofball, a drummer, and I fell in love immediately (or at least I had a big fat crush). We became friends almost immediately and hung out in the same circles.

After graduating in 1999, Steven began working in the Admission Office, so we still got to spend quite a bit of time together. We almost got together and starting dating at least a dozen times over the years, but something always got in the way. I was single and he wasn’t. He was single and I had a boyfriend. I had a crazy stalker who told everyone he was my boyfriend. Steven had a crazy ex-girlfriend that always seemed to show up and pick fights when the two of us tried to hang out alone together. It was always something. By the time we finally “officially” started dating in 2003, everyone’s reaction (including mine when he asked me out) was “It’s about damn time.”

We dated for 2 1/2 years before getting engaged. We set a wedding date of July 28, 2007. Our biggest problem planning a wedding was where to get married. Steven’s family lives primarily on the east coast, but mine was spread out across the rest of the country, from Nebraska to Arizona to Colorado to Texas. So, we started to think “destination wedding”.

We shopped around, and then finally decided on The Venetian in Vegas. Planning the wedding totally stressed us out. Both of us would have been perfectly happy with a very small, very simple, laidback affair, but somehow the plans just kept getting more elaborate. Luckily, we had a great wedding planner at The Venetian, so that helped us get through it without becoming totally homicidal.

In the spring of 2007, Steven and I were still living in New York, and Steven was
working in the Admission Office at Concordia as a Counselor and Data Manager. He was also a Residence Counselor, so he lived in an apartment on the first floor of one of the men’s dorms. I’d also worked in the Admission and the Marketing and PR departments for two years after I graduated, but resigned in 2005 to start grad school and teach HS English in the Bronx.

When I left Concordia, I moved into a small studio apartment in Yonkers. The
apartment was actually the basement (they called it “garden level” because it was a walk out basement) of an old 2-story house. It was nice enough, and I actually got a pretty good deal on it because the owners and I had a mutual friend at Concordia.

A cop and his family lived on the main floor just above me. They were a bit of a pain in my butt because they always took my assigned parking spot and I swear they all stomped around on the hardwood floors in their apartment all hours of the day and night with tap shoes on. But tenants on the 2nd floor made up for it all by being the absolute sweetest neighbors anyone could ask for–three nuns. No joke. I always told people that I lived in the safest apartment in New York because I had the law and the Lord in my house.

One morning in 2006, my alarm woke me, and I stepped out of bed and right into a puddle of water.

When I turned on the light, I saw that apparently the rainstorm overnight had flooded the garage and had begun to seep under the door and into my apartment. Luckily, there was no damage done. The water hadn’t reached any of my belongings. My landlords came in and cleaned everything up, and then did some work in the garage and the driveway to help prevent the water backing up again. All seemed well again.

Fast forward to April 2007.

That spring, Steven and I had done a lot of talking about our lives, our upcoming life together, our goals and our options. We both loved New York. We had a great group of friends and Steven’s family nearby. But, we thought that maybe it was time for a change, so we started sending out resumes. Our only stipulation was that we wanted to be near family, so we really had four choices—New York where Steven’s parents lived, Nebraska where my adopted parents lived, Colorado where my birthfather lived, and Arizona where my birthmother lived. At the time, Arizona was hurting for teachers, so I started getting interview requests right away. During Spring Break of 2007, I flew out to Arizona to interview at several schools and see if someone was going to make me an offer good enough for Steven and me to pack up and move.

Two days before I was supposed to return home, Steven called to tell me that some huge storms were coming through, and that it had been raining to beat hell all day. He’d gone over to check my apartment and had noticed a little water coming under the door from the garage again, but not nearly as bad as before. I asked if he would please try to move anything out of the way that he thought might get wet or ruined if it got worse.

But, the rain didn’t stop.

By the third day, when I returned home, towns all over Westchester were reporting floods, and some local roads were virtually impassable. Somehow, my flight landed on time and Steven was able to make it to the airport to pick me up. It took twice as long to get to my apartment though, because of all the flooded roads. When we finally got there, I tried to brace myself for the fact that I might have to deal with another flood clean up, but nothing prepared me for what I actually found when I opened the door.

I stepped down into my apartment to turn on the light, and when I did, I stepped right into a puddle of water deep enough that it splashed and began soaking into my shoe. When I hit the light switch, it took me a minute to even register what I was seeing. Instead of just a little patch of wet carpet near the garage door, my entire apartment, and everything in it, was sitting in a 2-inch deep pool of dirty rainwater.

Luckily, all of the things that really mattered–my photos, heirlooms, important keepsakes–were either packed in Rubbermaid containers or sitting up on shelves where they were safe from the flood. Hell, even all of my clothes and books and school papers managed to survive. I lost every piece of furniture though–my desk, bed, couch, coffee table, bookshelves, etc.–the water destroyed them all. Still unmarried and only a couple years removed from being a poor college student meant that most of my furniture was either secondhand, relatively inexpensive or acquired while curb shopping in the wealthy neighborhoods where perfectly good pieces of furniture were often discarded whenever the homeowners decided to redecorate.

That night and the next few days were a complete blur as Steven and I packed up all of my belongings and hauled ruined furniture out to the curb. The worst part of it was that the rain stopped, but the next few days were oppressively hot and humid, and we were stuck in my wet apartment with no air conditioning. By noon the next day, the wet moldy smell was so overpowering, I could hardly stand to be inside for more than two hours at a time before my head hurt so badly that I had to take a break and get some fresh air. At that point, we just started throwing things into boxes and bins so we could get the hell out of there, stacking it all in Steven’s spare bedroom.

My landlords agreed to let me out of my lease with no penalties. So, just three months from our wedding and our planned move-in date, Steven and I suddenly found ourselves living together in his RC apartment and facing a bit of a dilemma. We figured that most people would understand, but with Concordia being a Lutheran school, we wondered if our predicament might begin to raise a few eyebrows. After all, the school year wasn’t over yet. How could Steven be expected to enforce those all-important rules like Dorm Hours (no girls in the boys’ dorms after 2 a.m. on weekends and midnight on weekdays and vice versa) when he was shacking up with his fiancĂ©? I mean, good Christians don’t have sex or get in any trouble before midnight on the weekdays and 2 a.m. on weekends, everyone knows that. And everyone also knows that rules like Dorm Hours are a foolproof way to keep any shenanigans from happening overnight. So, if one of the RC’s was setting a bad example by living in sin, then how could we expect these young, hormonal college kids to behave? Makes perfect sense, right?

Steven and I considered lying and telling everyone that we’d gotten a marriage license and just gotten hitched by a Justice of the Peace. That way, no one would have anything to complain about. Unfortunately, neither Steven nor I were really good at being dishonest when it comes right down to it, and we would be screwed if someone didn’t believe us and actually asked to see the marriage license.

At that point, we were still unsure about our plans for the next year (stay in New York, move out of state, etc.), so we didn’t want to risk Steven losing his apartment. If nothing else, it would give us a way to be able to save a little bit of money if we decided to stay in New York for awhile. So, we figured we would save ourselves the trouble and just to get the marriage license and go through with it.

One saving grace for us was the fact that Steven’s pastor from his home church was actually going to Vegas with us in July to perform the ceremony. That was the one thing about our Vegas wedding that we both agreed was worth every penny because we actually got to have a very personal, traditional ceremony in a city known for quickie, carbon copy weddings. When we made the decision to go through with the “fake” ceremony, we called Steven’s pastor to see if he would be willing to take care of it for us, instead of us actually having to go to a Justice of the Peace on such short notice. He cleared his afternoon appointments and told us to come right away.

Ironic that it was raining again as Steven and I drove out to Long Island for our bogus wedding. At first, I felt sick to my stomach as we drove, thinking about all the months stressing about wedding plans and the rising cost of our wedding in Vegas, all those plans that suddenly didn’t even matter. I told Steven what I was feeling, and he agreed. It all seemed like such a waste now. But then we got talking about it, about all the stress and the craziness and the BS that we had been putting up with for months as we tried to plan a wedding that was turning into so little of what we actually wanted anymore.

The absurdity of the situation really started to sink in, and we started to laugh at how the Universe had suddenly given us an out. Here, we were going to be able to do it the way we wanted–Steven in a pair of shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, me in a pair of jeans, a tank top and my flowered Docs. Just us and Pastor. No pressure. No stress. No worries about everyone having a good time or getting along.

By the time we arrived at the church, we were actually kind of excited.

Pastor just laughed when we arrived in his office, damp from the rain, smiling like a couple of morons, marriage license in hand.

“So, how do you want to do this?” he asked. “Do you want to step into the sanctuary and having something sort of formal?”

We shook our heads.

“No, nothing formal,” Steven said.

“Yeah, nothing formal,” I agreed. “We’ll save all of that for Vegas. We just want something simple.”

“Well, alright then, let’s do this,” Pastor said, rubbing his hands together. He looked at Steven. “Do you?”

“Well, yeah!” Steven said. “Of course.”

Pastor looked at me. “Do you?”

“Absolutely,” I said, smiling.

Pastor called out loudly, “Ladies? Did you hear that?”

From another room, two voices answered. “Yes we did! Congratulations!”

Pastor smiled. “Congratulations, you’re married!” He signed his name with a flourish on the marriage license, and excused himself to ask his secretary to sign as a witness. Then he shooed us out of his office, told us to go celebrate over dinner and to try to relax a little before we all headed to Vegas in July to do it all over again–next time with suits and dresses and flowers and family and friends and all the stress to go with it.

Steven and I celebrated over hot wings and beer at The Candlelight Inn.

We decided to tell our parents and a few of our closest friends (especially those at the college) about our “fake” wedding, because we knew they were bound to find out anyway. We kept it secret from everyone else though, so they could head to Vegas with us in July still believing they were celebrating a wedding and not a “Renewal of the Vows” which the Venetian ended up calling it because we no longer required their services to obtain a wedding license in the state of Nevada. I only wish they would have given a price break as well, but apparently a renewing your vows costs just as much as making them the first time as far as they are concerned.

Looking back now, I would have been perfectly happy with nothing more than our intimate little “ceremony” in Pastor’s office. Sure, it was amazing to have so many of our friends and family gathered in Sin City for our nuptials, but honestly I could have done without all of the stress and planning and the debt we put ourselves in for it.

So, Steven and I celebrate two anniversaries every year–our super secret anniversary in April, and our public anniversary in July. I still don’t quite know which one to refer to as the “real” one, and which one is the “fake”, but it all makes for a really great (and really long) story.

Today’s 365 Project entry is dedicated to the only man I’ll ever love enough to marry twice. Onto our next adventure!

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