Editor’s Note: This is a post I originally penned in 2015 when my family was regularly attending Life Mission Church. I found it sitting in the “unpublished drafts” folder on my blog. We have moved on to a new church family, but I will never forget this.
On Sunday mornings, I look forward to seeing something that’s not a part of our church’s formal sermon. A few weeks ago I accidentally stumbled upon a regular lesson in real love – a wordless demonstration that brings me as much satisfaction every weekend as sitting with my children and listening to God’s word.
Our family sits in the same row every Sunday at 11 a.m. You can find us stage left, in the high seats, three or four rows from the back wall. This is where we’ve chosen to sit since last spring when our friends invited us to try their church and my daughter was saved that first morning we shared together. So in that respect, our seats have a special meaning to us.
The same is somewhat true of others around us. While they might not have the same deep affection for where they watch the proceedings, many of the people around us find their way to the same seats or thereabouts every Sunday. An unofficial seating chart like this makes it easier to people watch and develop some familiarity with those around you.
Bare-armed and loaded down with backpacks, the boys were crossing the park when I saw them. Behind them their dark tracks were pressed deeply in grass still glistening with frost. Almost every morning, I see them. The three brothers leave the house next door, cross into the street outside my front window. And then I see them again, passing by while driving my own kids to school. This particular morning in early April, though, the cold had not yet relinquished its hold on the spring. When I drove by them, crossing through the neighborhood park, they had the look of a small band of wanderers left alone to find their way on the path to somewhere – or something. Unprepared. Unaware of the dangers. I started to make a judgment on their parents for letting them leave the house sleeveless on such a cold day, but before that happened, I had another thought: Was I really any more prepared for my life?
The oldest among them, John, is 12, and he was leading the group into the wind gusts. They were moving slowly, but I had a feeling that had less to do with the bitter cold and their pink skin than it did a reluctance to reach where they were going. Over the last two years, I’ve talked to John more times than I have his parents. I’ve learned he is not only the oldest child and mentor to his younger brothers, but also the head of household – the most responsible person who lives in their house. Usually dressed in black jeans and a black T-shirt, his hair is shaggy, and not in a stylish way. His hair is the sort of shaggy that shows a boy whose parents aren’t concerned about his looks – the ends jagged and hanging, wild, at angles just above his shoulder. His parents work alternating shifts at our town’s Wal-Mart. The mother, days. The father, nights. That leaves John as the father and mother, of sorts, to two boys. To my surprise, there have been moments when he’s displayed intellect and kindness beyond his years. One night, for example, I gave the younger boys some leftover pork to feed to their dogs. They brought the plate back to me a few minutes later, clean, and told me John had washed it. For a boy whose parents haven’t focused much attention on him and haven’t schooled him in the art of manners, his courtesy was surprising.