It's vacation time. Our trek across the fruited plain includes a Saturday night stop in the heartland, where we awaken to hunt down an eight o'clock Mass and a diner for breakfast.
We don't know the way from the hotel to the nearest Catholic church, and when we find it, Mass has started and we're late. They're on the first reading.
We stand in the back and wait to slip, unnoticed, into a pew. Of course, this is physically impossible. There are six of us wearing travel clothes and flip flops. Our sheepish faces say, “You don't know us but we're The Late Family. We don't really belong here. You'll never see us again so please forgive the disturbance.”
We slide into an empty pew as the congregation sings the responsorial psalm. As the second reading begins, we focus our attention on the woman at the lectionary, but also on the ornate ceilings and beautiful frescos painted high above our heads.
And then, my Stalker strikes. That's right, Stalker. I'm being stalked by a small child who distracts my every Heavenly thought by talking, screaming, crying, and fussing through virtually any religious service I attend.
And here I am on vacation, just passing through Ohio. And she's standing on the kneeler behind me, squealing “Wummer duckie! Wummer duckie!” over and over and over again. Her Cheerios litter the floor and bounce under my pew. When I stand up, I will crush them and later, track them up the center aisle. She's good, and she knows it.
My Stalker has cast a spell over the adults in her family. They think the sound of her new vocabulary bouncing off the frescoed ceiling is engaging. Amazing. Really cute. They're consumed with the extraordinary fun of whispering “rubber ducky” and hearing her parroted reply, decibels louder and sweeter: “Wummer duckie!” They smile and snuggle and coo. Apparently, they think they're alone in this building.
I'm fuming. My eyes roll upward, my shoulders tense, and my breathing converts to the controlled sighs of The Truly Honked Off.
And then, I hear God's call.
Actually, it was my mother, on my cell phone, which I never would have dreamed in a million years I had left on, while traveling across country, and why is she calling me at 8:20 on a Sunday morning? I'm flustered beyond belief. Where is the damn phone? Buried in my purse under the wallet, the lipstick, someone's asthma inhaler, my sunglasses, which are now caught on the phone, which if I don't grab just right I will not silence but answer, and she'll probably call back thinking we were disconnected before I have a chance to disable the “key guard” feature, enable the “silent” mode and then turn it off without hearing that annoying, “da-da-dah-dah-dah” song.
Yes, it was God. Disguised as my mother on a cell phone. Calling to remind me that the fussy baby once was mine. Calling to flash a mental image of my own kids crying in church, before they could respond to the words “stop crying.” Calling to reminisce about longing to stay in the Sanctuary and not pace the vestibule, where the acoustics are bad and the air is cold. Calling to say, “Hey you! Mrs. Late Family! Lighten up! Those people are showered and dressed and they got here before you did! And you should know how hard that was to accomplish!” Boy, did He have a lot to say in that one little call.
Most of the time when God calls it's subtle. I need that gift of discernment to even know it was He and for sure to understand what the heck He wants. This time, however, I was on His speed dial.
Okay, so I wish He would also call my Stalker's parents and explain the concept of bailing until after the homily so the congregation can concentrate. But I guess, as usual, that's His call, not mine.
(Marybeth Hicks is a writer and author of the features “then again.” and “A View from the Pew.” A wife of 17 years and mother of four children from second grade to sophomore year, she uses her columns to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families and the communities we share. Marybeth began her writing career more than 20 years ago in the Reagan White House. She also has worked in marketing and public relations positions in corporate and agency settings. Mostly, she spends a lot of time in her mini-van, where the real work of parenting actually happens. Learn more about Marybeth and her column at www.marybethhicks.com.)