Mandy suddenly realized her mild, nervous leg shaking had become quite vigorous as those around her searched for the source of the minor earthquake in their wooden pew. She shuffled her legs and then tossed the left over the right trying not to cross the invisible line that separated her from a complete stranger sitting two inches away.
She re-focused her attention on the handsome woman at the podium brushing tears from her eyes and struggling to finish the script that lay bare her life journey.
"Before I met Christ, I was lost in every sense of the word. After inviting Him into my life, I have found peace and joy that I had never known," said the woman as she concluded the heart-felt testimony. The congregation erupted in applause as she gathered herself and her papers, and returned to her seat.
Mandy exhaled as quietly as she could and stared blankly at the now vacant podium. If she had to listen to one more Christian proclaim the peace and joy of God, Mandy thought she'd just disintegrate on the spot. What was this joy that everyone kept talking about and why hadn't God provided any of it to her?
She had long accepted the chaos of her 25-year old life but thought that the church might, just might, offer a break from her troubles. But she had thought wrong. After several weeks of church-going, depression was pressing in and hopelessness was coming along for the dreadful, familiar ride.
Mandy tiptoed over the paraphernalia that lined the impossibly narrow pathway out of the pew as the choir sang its final worship song. Ignoring friendly greetings from various volunteers, Mandy once again headed out of the church carrying as many burdens as she had wearily hauled in an hour earlier.
"This is it," she mumbled under her breath pushing through the doors. "I'm never coming back. This thing called church; it just doesn't work for me!" She settled the argument in her head once and for all.
Mandy jumped in her car and hung her head in pure defeat. "God, if you are there, please help me to find joy," she begged. Tears welled up in her eyes, dropping at will onto her lap.
Her accidental prayer was suddenly interrupted as a family discussing breakfast plans loudly loaded into the van parked next to her. Mandy's automatic response was to avoid eye contact at all costs. However, this time, her eyes were inexplicably drawn towards the family as if by a magnetic force. The chatter had subsided and, much to her horror, they were all looking straight at her.
The middle-aged woman who took her place in the passenger seat opened her window and motioned for Mandy to do the same. Hesitantly, Mandy put her finger on the button to release the window from its set position. As the airtight seal of the closed window was broken, a blast of fresh, sweet air rushed in to fill the stuffy car that was nearly suffocating her in the summer heat.
"Are you ok?" asked the woman who was now trying desperately to recognize this poor girl with red, puffy eyes. "Do you need some help?"
"No, no, I'm fine," said Mandy with the surprisingly steady and cheerful voice that always came to her rescue in such times.
"OK, then. Hey, are you new here?" she asked.
"Sort of -- I mean, I've been coming for a few weeks," replied Mandy.
"I'm Laura, what's your name?" she inquired.
"Welcome to our church, Mandy. I'll be looking for you next week. We sit in the 2nd row from the front, on the left side, every week. And, then it's off to IHOP for pancakes. I hope you'll join us," the woman said intently over her now distracted kids fighting in the back seat.
"I'm not sure I can make it next week," said Mandy.
"OK, well, the next time you're here, come find us, ok?" said Laura.
"OK, will do," said Mandy as a small smile blossomed on her flushed face.
As the van pulled away, Mandy decided that she would come back next week. With that decision, a glimmer of hope rekindled in her heart. She drove out of the church parking lot and onto the freeway with a growing sense of optimism. Soon the wind began fiercely blowing her hair in a million directions. As Mandy reached down to close her window, she decided it felt better to just leave it open.
Sherrie is a believer in Jesus Christ, a wife, a mother and a freelance writer. She resides with her family on the island of Oahu in Hawaii, where she was born and raised.