Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know or we don’t know what we’ve been missing, until we experience a thing and realize that’s what we’ve needed.

For the first time in over a year, I went to church to worship in person this morning. I’ve been watching the service online each week and that’s been a beacon of light and hope amidst all the darkness and chaos. Online church offers many things in-person church doesn’t – you get to choose the time you want to listen, you can sit in your jammies and pause if needed, and you have privacy to have a moment or be moved without anyone noticing. But what it doesn’t offer, and that I’d forgotten and perhaps taken for granted, is things like hugs from people who feel like family, prayer in unison with others, and conversation with people with whom you have the most important thing in common.

I was nervous about going into a place with so many people, even though I knew we’d all be wearing masks and social distancing. We’re all vaccinated, but still the thought of being physically close to people again seemed strange and a little scary. I resolved to arrive at the last minute, keep my distance, and leave promptly – and I broke every single one of my own rules.

We arrived early because Audrey and I were excited to go and ready early and trying to decide if it used to take 25 minutes or 35 minutes to get there. We walked into an entry filled with familiar faces, and within two minutes I had hugged someone – not because he hugged me, but because I found myself saying “we’re vaccinated so you’re getting a hug!” And then when the service was over, we stayed around to chat and were among the last to walk out and say our goodbyes on the stairs.

I didn’t want it to end, I was so happy.

It was in the middle of the service that I looked at the pew in front of me and noticed the emoji face etched into the wood. Two eyes and a mouth in a straight line. The emoji that’s not happy or sad. The emoji that’s blah. It’s the one called Neutral Face, and it’s how I didn’t know I’ve been feeling because of the absence of worship with people.

As we sang and talked about counting every blessing, these are the ones that filled my heart and the things I want to remember about this day.

  • When I mentioned the possibility of going to church to Audrey, I thought she would be hesitant because it’s different than what she was used to. But without any hesitation she eagerly asked “Will Mrs. Reesee be there?” I’m thankful for every Sunday School teacher I and my girls have ever had – from Mrs. Nunn and Momma Gloria in my day to Mrs. Wendy and Mrs. Edie and Mrs. Reesee of more recent days. I’m sure they’ve all had moments where they wondered if any of the kids around them were listening, but the impact they have on lives is so great and just beyond measure.
  • I sat next to my Mom and together we prayed The Lord’s Prayer.
  • Pre-COVID I attended the service that had the progressive people – the one with the band instead of a choir. Right now we’re hosting just one service in person, so that service has a mixture of music types to have a little something for everyone. I had forgotten in my years of always singing along with a band what it’s like to hear voices of all different ages and strengths sing together – from the traditional hymn to the modern song, it was just beautiful to hear the voices of the young and the old and everyone in the middle all mixed up together.
  • Audrey wore wedges today – her first “big girl” shoes. Her triumphant and naughty smile when she raised up on tip toes as my Mom leaned down and said “you are not allowed to get taller than me!” was the absolute best.
  • And finally, I want this visual reminder to stick with me. The further I get from spending time with God in the company of His people, the more my face goes from happy to neutral.

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