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“Service starts at 10:30 A.M. -- Sunday School at 9:30 A.M.”
I read the bulletin’s italicized declaration, printed beneath the church’s lengthy dubbing -- Tecumseh Missionary Baptist Church. Smiling, I perused the short line between the title and the time. Pastor -- Reverend Brian Jones
He was the reason I was here, the reason I had traveled nearly 550 miles in just under six hours. (With one stop nonetheless. And it was for gas, not nature’s calling.) The reason I had left my house at exactly 2:13 this morning. The reason I had tested the limits of my hand-me-down junker, Bonnie, whose trunk I now sat crosslegged upon. In the middle of a parking lot bigger than the church it served in the middle of Nowheresville, Michigan, nonetheless. My former youth minister, the reason for my continued existence, was here…somewhere.
Pondering these thoughts, I stretched back against Bonnie’s clouded rear windshield, taking in the piercing sun of early morning spring. At least that’s the same as back home. Damn sun can still blind you when it’s cold out, I thought to myself. Hmmm…I wonder how much longer…I pulled out my phone, checking the time. One more hour. Sighing with content resignation, my eyes glanced around me and my current location, taking it all in. A few lingering remnants of typical Michigan snowfall clung to various patches of earth, temporarily escaping the sun’s rays of utter destruction. Well I’m jealous. Snow? In April? At least that’s one good reason to move up here…
And believe me; it had to be one of the few. To move an entire family: one Brian Jones, a wife, and three kids under the age of seven, took some ridiculously good reasoning that my youth group had trouble grasping. Brian had been a father figure to many of us, besides being an extremely informed individual of the teaching distinction in religious matters endowed with a fairly large portion of sarcasm and humor. His reason for leaving? For Michigan, of all places? This little church had been pastor-searching, found Brian’s number, given him a ring…one thing led to another and our favored seminary-studying youth pastor had become a genuine Reverend leading his own flock. That wasn’t us. In all honesty, to say we were terminally devastated doesn’t quite begin to cover the grief we felt for his…err…our loss.
“Enjoying the sun?” Jerking my attention from my pleasant revelries, an older male questioned me grinningly, making his way past me (and my undoubtedly awkward position) to the tiny church to my rear. (Hey, it’s not every Sunday a strange teenager parks in the middle of your church parking lot. And then sunbathes…in a hoodie…in April to boot.)
“Yes sir,” I declared back, not shifting my position in the least. (I was comfortable -- it felt good to not be in the same position of the previous six hours.)
Gah…you’re taking forever. Come on Brian…you live right by here. What’s taking so long? Anticipation raced through my thoughts. He, of course, was completely clueless as to my arrival. My former youth minister had absolutely no idea of my feat to come for a visit. And that’s just the way I liked it.
Did I enjoy the element of surprise a little too much? Most likely. Did it really matter at that point in time? Not in the least. Having just turned seventeen and traveled half way across the northern part of the country by myself was much too thrilling to allow thoughts of matters such as safety or danger or other such pish posh to cloud my thoughts.
Ah hah…here we go. A glimpse of sporty, gold minivan flesh flashed across one end of my peripheral, careening past Bonnie’s rear and circling around the back of the church to park.
I leapt deftly from her trunk, making my way slowly across the newly-laden blacktop. This’ll be interesting.
“Stephanie!” A twin chorus of excited Jones children yells greeted me as tiny arms did the same for my temporarily suspended walking units. (i.e. legs) Greeting them heartily, I glanced up, meeting their father’s shockingly blue eyes.
Wow -- the thought shot across his face with merely a moment’s hesitation. Only an eye acute to dissecting facial expressions would’ve caught it and its significance. He had been surprised. I wasn’t supposed to be here, in Tecumseh, Michigan. I belonged back in Louisville, six hours away…but for me to be here now would mean that I had driven…without my parents…for…six hours…how old was I?...The thoughts shot across his sky blue orbs.
Yup, I grinned inwardly. I’m just that insane.
And then the moment passed. As his lips parted into a trademark Brian-smile (just crinkling the already-there wrinkles surrounding his eyes), it was obvious that none of that mattered. I was here - the first of his former youth group to traverse the distance for a visit. And that was that.
“What’s up, crazy?”
Then it was my turn to smile -- at least somebody understood my insanity.