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To Those Who Don't Go To Church

11255850_10153413606096535_1973819579278109975_nYesterday, I took my family to church for the first time in a year.

I sprung it on Joe and Georgie in the morning after I enjoyed my last bite of the crispy pancakes they made me for breakfast.

“Alright, get dressed. It’s Mother’s Day and we are going to church,” I said.

Joe looked confused, but not upset. He showered, put on a collared shirt, and dressed Georgie in this billowy teal dress she usually refuses to wear. I heard him negotiating with her while I was putting on mascara. She got a bag of fruit snacks out of the deal.

We took selfies in the front yard before piling in the car. I posted the photos on Facebook, using the hashtag #HeathensGoToChurch.

We sang hymns and heard about what it means to live like Jesus. We took communion. Georgie scribbled all over the bulletin. I cried a little. An old man with dockers held high on his waist handed me a long-stemmed Mother’s Day rose on our way out.

This is a common Sunday routine for two-thirds of Americans, so you’re probably wondering why I would blog about something so banal. But you see, for us, this is not banal at all.

Most of you know about my complicated history with faith. I’ve been pretty open about my story–my breach from fundamentalism, my questions, and my obnoxious, lingering love for Jesus. When I realized that despite everything, that lingering love was enough to lead me to a pew on Sundays, I assumed Joe was in the same place. (Because the world revolves around me, of course!)

I was so busy talking I didn’t stop to listen. Over the past few years, as I processed things with friends and here on this blog, Joe was retreating inward, and I didn’t even notice. After months of tense Sunday afternoons, it finally clicked. I needed to shut up.

A year ago, I stopped asking him to go to church. He hasn’t been since. And in case you’re wondering… yes, our marriage is better off.

Back to yesterday. After the service, we went to our favorite winery and sipped Sangiovese while Georgie found a girl her age to chase back and fourth in the grass. Joe was buried in his phone much of the time. I asked him what he was doing on his phone, and he got defensive. We ended up getting in a fight, right there at the winery, like the classy couple we are. Our voices were escalating and going down that really icky path of meanness and hyperbole, until he stopped and looked at me with these big sad eyes in a rare moment of vulnerability.

“It’s just… I went to church today… and there are things… under that surface… things… I’m still not ready for,” he said. He held out his palms in a defeated shrug.

I stopped yelling and hugged him close because I understand. I’ve been there, and sometimes I’m there still. (Meanwhile, Georgie had gone over to the parents of her new friend to beg for their table scraps. They fed her part of a ham sandwich and Cheetos. Have I mentioned we are also classy parents?)

Grace is fluid and can take the shape of whatever container we let it. That means it looks different for us depending on our stories or the season we’re in. Joe isn’t ready for church. Maybe he never will be. He reaches out his palms in exasperation, and grace fills them, right where he is, because that’s what grace does. It doesn’t wait for us to have our theology down pat, for us to fill a church pew, for us to get all our religious baggage sorted out. Grace doesn’t care about any of that.

If you’re like Joe right now, and you’re not ready, don’t listen to the people who tell you you’re wrong. Just put out your palms… Or maybe a giant bucket.

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3 Comments

  1. Amanda Mendez on May 12, 2015 at 7:14 am

    Carly! So many emotions when I read your posts. I know the 20yr old (I think, can’t remember or ages) version of you and Joe and always love seeing your journey on the web. I still care for both of you so much and know you are an awesome husband and wife team and amazing parents! I can’t help but quote Journey, “don’t stop believing!” Haha, although I know you haven’t, I just can’t help but have fun when I try and get mushy with you. 😉
    Love, Amanda

    • Carly Gelsinger on May 12, 2015 at 10:34 am

      So funny Amanda, because whenever I hear 80s rock I think of you. Jos and I have changed a lot but we carry the same nerdy essence you remember. 🙂 Thanks for your kind words and thank you for reading!

  2. Susie Klein on May 12, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Enjoyed this post a lot. Have been in a similar place and returned to church recently after 3 years away. Before stepping away I spent 25 yrs in fulltime ministry. But I miss community so…

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