I grew up in church. It was a Southern Baptist church; the pews were wooden with fabric cushion. The hymnals were blue, and they were sporadically placed along the backs of each pew in attached wooden shelves. There were little pencils in little holes next to bigger little holes that were there to hold your communion cup. There were cards for first-time guests to fill out, and there were envelopes for tithing.
Church was a place we just automatically went. My great-grandparents and/or grandparents generally took me along with them on Wednesday nights. First we would go eat at either K&W or the O’Henry Grill, and then I would go to the Youth service while they went in “big church”. I remember being shy in youth group because I was so little in comparison to the “big” kids.
I remember years before that attending Vacation Bible School and making crafts out of popsicle sticks and coloring pictures with Bible verses written on them. I remember being in a play as a 7-year-old and thinking I was the coolest kid on the planet because I was acting. I remember around this same time, singing a solo on Sunday morning and being terrified when the time came in the music for me to start, and instead of singing I ran straight off the stage and into my cousin Sissy’s lap as tears rolled down my cheeks. I remember lots of softball games on Friday nights watching my dad play. I remember covered dish lunches in the Fellowship Hall and that I always had to find what Mama Dot or Granny brought because I knew it was likely one of my favorites. I remember laying across Mama Dot’s lap during the church sermon and getting some of the best back scratches the world’s ever known. I remember being baptized by Pastor Bud and even remember what I wore that day.
I have lots of memories of church growing up, but none of them really include much about God. As I grew into an adult, I drifted away from the familiar place church offered me and my family. I found myself choosing sleep over sermons on Sunday mornings, often to nurse a hangover or just catch up from being exhausted. People in the church “family” started to ask questions. Gossip set in. My parents (finally) divorced. My life fell apart… and church didn’t make the cut for what was important to me at that time.
As I went off to college, not much changed. I made good grades, held sometimes two jobs at a time while taking a full-load of courses at NC State. I made some great friends – some of whom are my very dearest friends today – but church and God wasn’t something that was talked about much in my circle of friends. If it was, I don’t remember. Which only tells me it wasn’t impactful if it did indeed happen.
Almost a year to the day after I graduated from college in December 2006, I went on the first date with my husband. We had known each other since 1994 but never dated throughout high school. Our first date turned into moving in together, which turned into engagement and marriage and 2 beautiful daughters. But at first, church wasn’t something we did together. It wasn’t something we did apart. It wasn’t anything that we even talked about — at first.
We would go to church with my grandparents for the Easter service once in a while, and I recall attending his niece’s christening about 7 years ago. But we didn’t have a church that we attended regularly and we didn’t spend a great deal of time talking about our plans to change that. We were content in our lives with what we had and what we were doing and who we spent our time with. We didn’t pray. We didn’t talk about God. We just lived our lives.
It wasn’t until this past Fall that I made the connection. I decided to read a book called The Power of Now that was a turning-point in my life. This book talked about being present in each moment that we are living and breathing, and to actually pay attention to each breath that we take; it was a reminder to “stop and smell the roses” sometimes. This book was so much more for me than I can even begin to describe here… I remember not being able to put it down, and I had not read a book from start to finish in almost a decade. I remember wanting to tell everyone about it, and I tried. But I quickly learned that it was not something everyone wanted to hear. Not everyone wants to hear about a riveting self-help book that I read. Have you lost your mind, Candice? was the translation of the look on their faces when I shared it with some friends and loved ones. But that’s just the thing, I felt just the opposite: almost as if I had found my mind. Or at least myself.
I have been visiting an incredible hot yoga studio for about a year now and was able to relate to the points the author made about paying attention to your breath. Each time I would go to yoga after reading this book, I found myself channeling deeper into my awareness of my breath, and it became easier each time. I started noticing my breathing while at home sitting on the couch or cooking dinner. I started to notice when I had found my innermost feelings of peace and stillness. I noticed and embraced the quiet in my mind and in my body. I was thankful for the yoga teachers I have been led by in my practice as of late who have reminded me to just breathe.
I realized that the feeling I felt of warmth and white: that was God. And it was then that I began to connect the dots between my version of universe God and church God. I realized that they were one in the same. I realized that the inner stillness I had found and recently tapped into was God within me. I started to literally see things differently, with more color, and with more appreciation of the beauty within everything around me. Once a lens that only reflected black and white images, I now see so much color.
Toward the end of last year, we visited a new church and my heart was open to accept everything that it had to offer. I found my inner stillness and peace and tears streamed down my face as my sweet friend poured her heart out through song on the stage. The walls were black, the lights were dark and the spirit of God was in that room. I was so moved. I was inspired to keep digging within to find God within me, and I am happy to say we’ve been back several Sunday mornings since this fist visit and not much has changed. Same tears. Same stillness and peace. Same good music that makes me cry every.single.time.
This week marks the one-year-anniversary of my return to work after maternity leave when Everly was born. Only one year ago I was in such a different place spiritually and emotionally. I couldn’t (wouldn’t) even engage in conversation with you about God. I didn’t want to. I was going through the motions to earn a paycheck and daydreamed about what life would be like in another version of it. I looked happy, but I wasn’t. I knew there was so much more to be gained but couldn’t put my finger on what it was.
Today I am happy to tell you that I fully accept that I am nothing without God. He is at work within me and I rest my case in arguing that I have a better way to do this. I am at full mercy of letting go of fear and worry and anxiety in order to live fulfilled and am in awe of what God has planned for me. I start each day with personal time devoted to my relationship with God and appreciate the difference it has made in my life.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
I hope and pray that I may always be able to stay mindful of something as simple as breathing. I pray that I can teach my girls to slow down and enjoy life each day rather than being busy in the process. May you find the color in your world and see it brightly. Namaste. And, Amen.