In 1974, our family moved from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs. Our new house was a yellow split-level on London Lane in Southboro. The house next door was bright blue and there lived the family Barlass. Peggy was the youngest of four kids and lucky for me, we were in the same grade. We became best friends.
Peggy was the first Catholic I ever remember meeting. Sometimes, on the weekends, she’d spend the night at my house or I’d spend the night at hers. We’d play into the wee hours of the morning, and then we’d crawl into our sleeping bags and say our prayers and drift off to sleep.
Peggy, the little Catholic and Jennifer, the little Nazarene, both praying to the same Jesus.
Sign of the Cross
When Peggy finished praying, she’d make the sign of the cross. That holy symbol of Jesus and His triumph over death. I started wanting to cross myself, but I couldn’t because I was Nazarene.
That same year in the mountain town at the base of Pikes Peak, Peggy Barlass celebrated her First Communion. I can still see her dress hanging from the curtain rod in her room. The sun streaming through her lavender Priscilla curtains, streaming through the white and the lace. Light and shadows dancing across her French provincial furniture. Peggy had it all. Even a little pair of orange skis unceremoniously sitting atop her dresser. And a Waterpik and a crucifix. I loved that dying Jesus stretched out and soldered to a cross.
We left Colorado in 1976 and moved to West Texas where my dad pastored the Kermit Church of the Nazarene. The town was filled with illegal Mexican immigrants, most of whom were Catholic. I went door-to-door with my father every Saturday, knocking on the broken down bungalows of the Permian Basin. We invited the Mexicans to church and a lot of them came or sent their kids anyway. Some of them even joined including Sandra Rodriguez, a tall girl in my 4th grade class.
One day, I walked home from school with her and as we passed by the Catholic church she explained to me that she was both Catholic and Nazarene. Which, if you’re in 10-years-old and it’s 1977, and your parents don’t speak English is totally possible.
Generation X is one of the last generations to grow up with the big department store catalogs. We always had three including Sears and Montgomery Ward, which sold First Communion dresses. I drooled over the pages of the little girls dressed up to look like little brides. I wanted one of those outfits so bad if for no other reason that to play dress-up and pretend I was getting married. Mostly, I wanted to have a First Communion like Jenny had in 1978. I wanted that day on the calendar to mark my journey as a follower of Jesus Christ. I wanted the veil and the wine and the party. But, my dad would have none of that. And, who could blame him? He was a Nazarene minister.
Still, I was left to wonder why my First Communion wasn’t more special. Why was it such a non event? ‘Twas a passing sip of grape juice and a tiny square cracker and we called it day. The crackers, by the way, came in a box from the now-defunct Nazarene Publishing House. Sometimes, after church I’d sneak into my father’s study and nab a few wondering all the while how the Body of Christ ended up in a little box.
My journey in the Catholic faith has been a long road and I’ve walked slower than most, and I’m not there yet, and who knows if I ever will be. But, that is a post for another day. A post about how much I miss the little Nazarene churches of my childhood. The old parishioners and their farms. The Fousts from Havana, Kansas and The Browns from East Texas. I miss the brown eggs they brought us. The raw milk they served. The mason jars filled with pickled fruit.
These people were part of my Christian heritage. They believed in holiness and prayed for me all the time. How could I leave that behind? And, yet, it’s not really there anymore. They’re all gone just like all the hymns that nobody sings anymore. They’re half the reason I’m sane and saved, and even though I sang all 450 of them 10,000 times each I’m starting to forget them. Those hymns that were grafted into me. Me, a wild olive. They were the moon and I was the tide and they accelerated me toward God.
From the Book of Romans:
But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.…”
My husband Robert is Catholic and my children are all being raised Catholic. I attend Mass with them every week. This is the church of his childhood, so very different from mine.
Earlier this month we celebrated my youngest daughter’s First Communion. We spent a lot of time preparing for it including having a special dress made. We also spent a lot of time talking about the mystery of it all.
- How did Christ’s sacrifice on the cross bring salvation to the world?
- What does it mean to receive spiritual food?
- What does it mean to be united with Christ?
- Why do we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus?
I had a very specific dress in my for Bridgette and knew I’d never find anything like it in a store. So, I called a local fabric store to see if they could refer me to a seamstress. They told me about a new woman in town, B., who specialized in vintage clothing. They insisted she was perfect for this project, so I called her.
Unbelievably, B. is a recent convert to Catholicism. She made the exact dress I wanted, no questions asked, and our meeting felt like Providence. And, what is Providence anyway? The simple guidance and foreseeing care of God over His children on earth.
I am forever grateful to B. for her work and her witness to me during the making of my little girl’s dress.
As we prepared for Bridgette’s First Communion I started to draw parallels between it and the spiritual warfare we all face in this broken, busted up world. I realized the reason the white dress, veil and crown meant so much to me is because my own battles have been so brutal. What will Bridgy face in life? Who can say? I prepared for her First Communion and believe in her salvation, which was preceded by the following confession, so beautiful:
Oh my God,
I am sorry for my sins with all my heart.
In choosing to do wrong
And failing to do good,
I have sinned against you
whom I should love above all things.
I firmly intend, with your help,
to do penance,
to sin no more,
and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.
Our Savior Jesus Christ
suffered and died for us.
In His name, my God, have mercy. Amen.
My child has been welcomed at the Lord’s table for the first time and her life will never, ever be the same.
If you think it’s weird for a Protestant mom to spend so much time preparing for and celebrating her daughter’s First Communion, well, then, you’re probably right. You can pin a weird button on me the next time you see me.
All I did for Bridgy’s First Communion was to help prepare her for the spiritual battles she will face in life. I have only just begun to teach her about these things.
From the Book of Ephesians:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Her dress may have been soft and white, but the real battle dress – the one that really matters – will help her stand against evil and “the wiles of the devil.”
Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6)
Less than 12 hours before Bridgette’s First Communion, our family faced a terrible ordeal on top of a potentially deadly illness. Even now, I can hardly believe what we were going through just a few hours before Bridgette was welcomed to the Lord’s table.
We wrestle not against flesh and blood, friends, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. I look forward to sharing more along these lines in a follow-up post next week. I’ll also be posting pictures of Sweet Bridgy’s First Communion.
How To Prepare For Battle
In the Book of Revelation, John depicts the saints offering our prayers to God, so I want to leave you with the Prayer To Saint Michael. This is just one way we can prepare for battle.
Prayer to Saint Michael
Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against
the wickedness and
snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him,
we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.