It was the place that welcomed me when I was lost with no idea what to do with my life. They gave me a job, a place in their community, their hearts, their space.
I worked hard for six years, spending day in and day out in that place. I cried there many, many times, laughed there equally often, and learned more about myself and human nature than I ever expected to learn in a 9-5 administrative assistant position.
I met the most amazing people, some of whom will be my friends for life. I also met some who defy explanation and understanding so complex are their issues and personalities – in a not good way. (Still boggles the mind years later.)
That place was my home away from home for so long that it took me way too long to realize that the dream had become a nightmare, and that I needed to get out.
I stayed on long after realization finally dawned, sticking it out because it was right for my family if not for me. Everything that had been promised, everything I had been led to hope for had long ago been ripped away and all that was left was a stack of shattered dreams, my destroyed self-esteem, and the community that still supported and carried me.
Smiling faces and kind words made it possible to endure the less savory moments of the last couple years. It was tolerable as long as I knew I was connecting with these people, possibly making a difference in their lives. I never stopped believing that these people cared for me, that they’d be happy for me if I ever found a way to leave, that they would remain my community, my extended family.
Friday night I returned to that place after a two year absence, dreading the moment I would be spotted. What would they say, these people who never reached out? Not an email, not a call, and barely a nod in my direction when we’d cross paths in town. Would they act delighted? Would they hug me? Ask me how things were? Or would they still ignore me? Reject me for having turned my back on their place of worship?
I snuck in late, Little L on my hip, wearing her as a disguise, as a shield – look at the blond curls! not at me! Eyes widened as they looked beyond her cuteness and saw me, recognized me. Smiles blossomed, then slight confusion crossed their faces.
I thought I would be hurt either way. I thought I would be sad if they were happy, wondering where they’d been the last two years, but the hurt and anger thawed in my chest as their smiles grew and people nodded silent hellos. The thaw spread as the familiar music washed over me.
My heart was broken there long ago, but it was also filled there at one time. It’s a place of love that was disrupted by some unfortunate people. Voices rose in prayer around me and I sent my own prayer up to the sky.
“Help me be strong enough to forgive. Help me have the wisdom to let bygones be bygones. Help me not spread the blame to the wrong people. Help me find the strength to come home.”
I’m not home yet, but I have my hand on the door and I’m not as scared to push it open as I was last week. It’s a start at least.