I’m attempting to organize notes in my binder, because it’s that time of year - the end of the semester - when my notes, my heart, and my head all feel scattered, and where do you put the stuff that doesn’t seem to have a place? I'm reaching to put some scattered notes in the back pocket of my binder, and something else catches my eye: a drawing, which has “God’s love!” written in the middle of sky, with two stick figures drawn lower down on the page, standing on grass. The back of the page has hearts drawn on it, with the family’s names all written inside of the hearts - and my name is written as part of the family heart, as though assumed I am actually a part of the family.
And it is this drawing that has me pausing from croissant crumbs, marketing notes, and my one-track mind - currently focused on graduation and leaving - to talk about something different. Some place that’s different.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the church that sits on Middletown Road, but my favourite way is when I drive there from Jarvis. It’s a 40 minute drive that features winding, back roads with minimal stop lights almost the whole way there, with a roundabout close to the end for good measure. The middle of the drive is the good part - long roads with no other cars to be seen. There are hilly roads as I drive along wide open fields, and next to me is probably a thermos of coffee with too much sugar in it that I’ve probably already spilled somehow.
On the best days, the sky is cloudless, the windows are down, and the music is up for the drive; on the worst days, there’s a surprise patch of black ice on the road and you end up in a ditch.
Either way, the church that sits on Middletown Road - with its green carpet, speckled with various coloured flecks - is my favourite place in the whole wide world.
It’s not the decor of the place that takes my breath away, although the church does have a tendency for cool art installations that really offset the uniqueness of the aforementioned carpet. It looks like a standard, rural church: there’s a sanctuary, some nurseries and classrooms, a fellowship hall, a council room, some storage rooms, and a kitchen. No stained glass windows. No cushions on the church pews. It’s standard.
But whenever I walk in - whether I’m all alone or whether I’m walking out of the sanctuary to grab coffee after the service - it feels comfortable, and safe in a sacred way. It just feels like home.
I didn’t grow up like the other families that I passed peppermints to in church, or like the kids whose last names started with the same first initial as mine. There weren’t a lot of other families in church or school who just had their mom sitting with them in the church pew, just their mom attending the school Christmas program. I say that a lot because for a long time, my family situation felt very weird and not understandable. Most days I didn’t understand what was happening with my family - how was any one else supposed to understand?
And what this church on Middletown Road could have done was not take the time to sit down and understand it. They could have made us feel even weird: not accepted and not welcome. But they didn’t do that. They just made space for us, a comfortable and safe space, where we could feel safe and loved.
It’s a Sunday afternoon, and I’m sipping on a homemade tea latte: there’s vanilla syrup with steamed milk and steeped earl grey tea, a London Fog in a mug that’s branded “I kinda like you a lot”, which makes me giggle. I’m not at the physical house I call home, but I’m somewhere that feels like home, talking about my fears of the future over crackers, cheese, and kielbasa. The phone rings, and it’s the family that lives just down the road, telling us that we should all come over, but especially Hannah, because she needs to hear a funny story.
So we head down the road into another small town, where we enter the house and find that there is a space set for us at the lunch table, with insistence that we eat some mashed potatoes while we listen to the story.
The story made me chuckle, made the corners of my mouth and eyes perk up, but what really made my heart soar was being in this place, with these special people, laughing so hard at the thought of intergenerational dating and listening intently to stories of encounters with Jesus.
As I’m driving home, my stomach has the feeling you get when you drive away from an afternoon where you laughed so hard, but also had real conversations amidst the giggle fits & you are feeling so thankful that you get to live this little life of yours, even though it’s different than you expected: softer around the edges you expected to be more angular, harder in areas where you expected it to be smoother, filled with a unique and delightful cast of characters.
Last month, a friend of mine said, “You know, I think half of friendship these days is just showing up when you say you're going to show up.” I’ve been playing those words over in my head, rolling them around, continually thinking about them, because it is so true. Half of friendship these days is just showing up, when you say you’re going to - and even further, even when you need someone to just be there.
I’m the type of person who likes to fully show up when I have all of the answers and when all of my stuff is figured out, because that way, no one has to know that I actually don’t have it all together or figured out. That makes showing up very difficult, because of the aforementioned not having it together or having anything figured out.
But I think back to the idea that love and friendship requires showing up, and I think about that church on Middletown Road - but more importantly, the people who fill that church on Middletown Road - and I think about how they showed up for me and my family, time and time again, even when I didn’t want them to, even when I didn’t deserve the kind of deep love they were showing me.
When I went through a breakup I was really devastated about, I sat on a back porch with my hands wrapped around a mug of tea, crying to them while really trying to have it together, to be strong, to not be mad or upset. They sat and listened to my tears, and they told me I could be mad or upset with the situation. I didn’t have to have it all together.
When I struggled with the idea of staying in one place, of listening to and obeying God when I heard the whisper to stay, when I only spoke of feet in terms of running away, they reminded me feet were meant for activities other than running.
When I literally spun my car into the ditch, they came, helped me out, and let me drive their van home because I was scared to drive mine. When I metaphorically spun my life into the ditch, they came, helped me out, and believed in me when I was too scared to believe in myself.
When I was younger, they played pranks on me, telling me that we were eating octopus for lunch - when in reality, it was shake and bake chicken - and making me bring my own eggs and bacon to a breakfast fundraiser. They taught me about fun, about joy, about loving to put smiles on others faces.
When my world kind of crumbled around me and my fifteen year old self was unsure of how she going to make it through all the shit that was happening, they sat and listened while I cried on the phone. They had me over for dinner and let me hang with their children. They let me come to their house because I didn’t want to go to Jarvis but I didn’t want to be alone.They listened to me crying in a greenhouse about how I was pretty sure my mom was forgetting about me because of her boyfriend, and they lovingly assured me that belief was a lie.
When an ex-boyfriend wrote on my Facebook wall, they somehow saw it, asked me about it, and then went back to like the post, like the creepers they are.
When I had questions about God’s good plans for my life - amidst a lot of really crappy things - they stood steady, answering them, giving me insight into Jesus that I hadn’t had before.
When we needed male father figures, they stepped up and showed us what fathers look like. What healthy relationships look like. And then they also would check in to make sure we weren’t giving our mom too hard of a time.
When I come for a visit - no matter how quick - there is a stick figure drawing waiting for me, with my name written on it in the handwriting of a young girl who is still learning to spell.
When I talk about how I am learning how to be quiet, they guffaw and collectively tell me that is not true.
They are Sunday night bonfires after church, where the sun sets and the marshmallows are burned, but the conversation is slow and easy. They are Honduras truck rides, where their giggles and conversations make my heart feel all kinds of joy. They are fun quotes that are texted to my phone at least twice a week, sharing a story from where they are that makes me feel home and at peace in a bustling city, or texts that ask how I’m really doing, wondering whether I need some Calvary time. They are the candies you pass in church in that spot between the congregational prayer and the sermon, that shock of sweet that helps you focus through the next 30 minutes. They are potluck dinners, which truly are the best kind of dinners. They are extra mashed potatoes at fancy fundraising dinners, found and shared with me, which I actually think is the definition of true love. They are constant and steady, loving me deeply when I am feeling scattered and forever showing me what Jesus’ love looks like in action.
I think for a long time, I thought I was incapable of loving deeply, and one day I would magically develop that capability for the great love of my life, the person I’d grow old with and spend the rest of my life with. But these days, as I flip through stick figure drawings and text messages and journal entires and photos - I’m realizing that this rag-tag community I’m a part of is probably one of the great loves of my life. And I know this will shift, and grow, and change. But I’m so thankful that God placed me in that church on Middletown Road sixteen years ago, because I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all those people, all those laughs, and all those conversations over coffee, tea, tears, and snacks.
So this is a big long post to say the church on Middletown Road & the people inside of it are the collection of people I love deeply. They are my extended family. And the church on Middletown Road is home.