I remember being young, maybe seven. I remember standing in the center of a group of the neighborhood kids. They were circled around me, running and skipping. Pointing and taunting.
I don't remember how it started. I don't remember if I'd provoked it somehow. I don't remember why those particular words hurt as much as they did.
I do remember hot anger and shame burning my face. I remember violence screaming in my limbs. But all I could do was run away. Run away as fast as my legs would carry me.
And I vowed that no one would know. No one would know that words hurt worse than any stick I'd ever been hit with or any stone I'd ever tripped over.
I ran in the door of my childhood home, suddenly safe inside its orange brick walls. My mother came around the corner, and she asked, "Nick, are you okay?"
The dam burst. Suddenly, I was sadness and sobbing.
I don't know what it is about the voice of one who loves you like that, the voice of family, but hearing the concern and empathy in the voice of my mother or of my father has always prompted this same response. Still does.
This has been a difficult week.
It's been a week filled with disappointment, with raw moments and long silences. Once again, I vowed that no one would know. That's where I was when I walked in the doors of my church the other night, preparing for the first of our weekend services. Before arriving I'd been sure to stuff it all down, deep as I could, making sure the cork was as tight as it could be.
I hadn't been there more than a minute before two good friends looked me in the eye and asked, "How are you?"
And suddenly, it was as if I were seven years old again. I crumbled as reality erupted with indomitable force. I was shocked by the suddenness of it, and I was shocked by how familiar it felt.
At first I was embarrassed. Not until later did I realize just how significant that moment was. It had been like hearing the voice of my parents, hearing the voice of those who love me, the voice of family.
I have always believed that the church should be family, but I don't think I ever expected the simile to so tangibly approximate reality. This is what the Church should be. It should be the place where difficult weeks can air themselves out. It should be the place where we are most loved and where reality erupts with regularity. It should be, and it can be. I've seen it.