When my kids left California for the first time a few years ago to go on an amazing family spring-break trip to the great state of Texas, I remember telling them that a new place isn’t just different because it’s named something else, but that the sky looks different, and the light is different, and the air feels different. "Look around you. Really pay attention. The trees, the roads, the ground- you'll be amazed." Well, that's how it was when we got here to Michigan too, except times a thousand. The forests were so dense and green and lush- we had never seen anything like it in our lives. Summer is the brown season in southern California, so to come a place with this much....life in the middle of July was truly incredible to us. And also strange. As beautiful as it is and was, and oh, it really was, what we longed for during that first week was a little bit of the familiar. Something to help us feel like we belonged in this brand new world. That's why when we turned left onto 40th Street on our way to "the white house" (as my son had started calling it) on day two, and I saw that sign, the beautiful little sign that I had seen 100 times already during my days of obsessive google-earth-and-street-viewing that preceded our arrival, my little aching heart jumped into my throat. St. Ann Catholic Church. And a tiny arrow pointing down D Avenue East. "Turn here!" And Tommy obliged.
In case you've not been to church on a Tuesday afternoon, this is what the parking lot looks like. And when you pull up, your future pastor, who is pulling out to go to lunch, will look at your van quizzically, I thought because "who goes to church on a Tuesday afternoon?", but really because he actually knows every single family and the car they drive and was trying to figure out who we were. Then we went in, and there He was. But this time He was a woman with curly red hair. And I imagine a long, flowing skirt, because she always wears long flowing skirts.
To be honest, I can barely remember the details of our conversation because the whole time I just wanted to hug her. Hug her for her sweet smile, for her kind welcome, for remembering my kids' names after only hearing them once. Hug her for loving us before she even knew us. She loaded us up with directories and bulletins and packets and recommendations. We heard about summertime parish events and vacation bible school, which other parishioners had children the same age as ours, who likes to play guitar, and where we ought to go for lunch. She gave us a tour and marveled at our journey and offered us the help of her teenage sons. You were Jesus to us that day, Pat. You lived Jesus in Jesus' house and gave hope to these weary travelers. You filled our hearts with the light of Christ, and we knew we had come home.