On Sunday, when the first weak rays of sun peaked through the blinds, I was out for a run on the beach. This was typically how I started my day, so long as I didn't have to teach any morning classes at the college. Luckily, in summer, I had nothing to worry about.
Typically, this was therapeutic for me: My run was one place where I could be alone. As much as I loved my family, there was too much at home for me to worry about. My husband's business; who knew where Gabby was most of the time; making sure Saxon kept his grades up; Harper.
Harper belonged to a category all her own. What with her medical bills and supplies and insulin and warfarin and hearing aids… Quite frankly, there was hardly a moment of peace. She was one of the best things that had happened to me, but Doctor Amelia was not underestimating what life with my daughter would truly be like.
After a while of my jog on the beach, I returned home for church. If anything could keep me sane, it was one of Pastor Gabriel's sermons. Hunting down one of my Bibles, I went up the stairs, knocked on the girls' door, and walked in to assure that they were awake.
Immediately, Gabriella shrieked, covering herself with a shirt. "Hello, ever heard of knocking?"
"Apparently you haven't, since I did," I said back. Harper was slipping on a pair of Oxfords in the corner. "Get ready for church."
"Hello?" Gabby said again. "What am I doing, going to the moon?"
"Well, right now, you're holding a camisole against your chest."
"Get ready," I said again, going out the door and down the hall to Saxon's room. I knew there was no hope that he was awake, so I walked in. He was definitely asleep—I found him lying on his stomach, shirtless, his cheek flat against the pillow. One of his arms dangled inches above the ground. He had kicked his blankets to his knees, revealing that he had slept in just his boxers.
"Saxon, get up," I said.
He groaned in reply, grabbing his pillow and pulling it over his head.
"Saxon Caine Sherbrook, it is time for church. Get up." I knew if he didn't stir in front of me, he would not be awake in time for service. "Sax, I know you can hear me."
"Go away," he moaned.
"Go bother Dad for a change." He turned on his side, still dead to the world.
Sighing, I crossed the room and opened his blinds. By now, the sun had risen, and he was facing the window, so his eyes flew open. He sat up, blinking in surprise. "What the hell was that for?"
Pursing my lips, I started for the door again, but stopped. "Sax, for the last time, stop sleeping in your underwear."
"You let Dad do it," he countered.
"Saxon, stop being difficult. It is time to get up. Now move it." Before he could argue again, I turned sharply on my heel and left the room.
Waking up Saxon for anything was a chore; it had been since he was about eleven. For as active as he was, I did not know any human being that liked to sleep as much as he did. There could have been a tidal wave or an earthquake and he wouldn't move out of bed.
As I came to the landing, Gabby met me there in a tight red dress. My eyes nearly popped out of my head. "Is this too risqué for church?"
"Absolutely," I said.
Before she could finish, I peered past her to where Harper and Immanuel sat at the table. "Harper, have you checked your blood sugar?"
Her silence answered my question.
"Harper, how often do I have to tell you—"
Saxon had appeared on the stairs behind me with a shirt on (but, unfortunately, no pants); walking around me, he said, in a snobby tone, "She hasn't even started eating yet, Mom." Gabby disappeared up the stairs, which presumably was to go change.
"Saxon, this is none of your business…"
"It's my twin sister, of course it's my business," he said, sitting in a chair and sliding Harper her meter across the table. "Hey, Mom, what if I got a tattoo—"
"No, let me finish!" I sighed, but held my tongue regardless. "What if I got a tattoo that says 'my sister is sweet', then, like, 'diabetes' underneath?"
"You lost me at 'tattoo'," I said. Harper's meter beeped. "What is it?"
"I'm fine, Mom," she said, holding it up for me to see. The number on the screen was 143. "I plan on having a carb free breakfast, anyway."
"Do you want to even consider correcting?" The look on her face said it all. "Well, at least take your Lantus," I said. When she didn't respond, I said to Immanuel, "Her Lantus."
He stood, announcing, "Time to shoot up."
"That's what I could get," Saxon announced. "On my shoulder blade—'my sister shoots up', on top of Medic Alert snake underneath, yeah?"
"Right below the 'I hate Mom' tattoo," I said, as Immanuel returned to the table with Harper's Lantus.
"No. That one will go on my ankle." Harper laughed across the table. I grimaced; what kid should be laughing when she's about to get a shot?
Gabby returned wearing a G-rated pink dress. "Is this okay?" she asked. She did not look or sound happy.
"Perfect," I told her.
"I look Amish!"
"You do not!"
Very obvious tension fell over the room, which was quickly broken. "I think I'm going to write a book of my life and call it, 'The Amish and the Diabetic'," Saxon said.
"Or, 'The Amish Turner'," Harper suggested.
"She does not look Amish," I said, finally sitting down.
"Yeah, Gabby," Saxon said. "If you were Amish, you wouldn't be glued to your cell phone all the time."
"I am not glued to my cell phone all the time!" Gabby snapped defensively.
"So how many text messages have you sent to Stephanie this morning?"
"That's enough," I said. "Enough," I repeated when Gabby opened her mouth to counter. "We are leaving tomorrow for our vacation, and I want to have a good time, as a family."
"Oh, we will," Saxon promised. "Don't you know that hugging a big sweaty guy in a mouse costume brings families together?"
"You're a comedian," Immanuel said. "Really, Sax, you're hilarious." Saxon beamed, a look of pride spread over his face.
The rest of breakfast passed uneventfully. After brushing my teeth and giving myself the once over in the mirror, the five of us were in the car on our way to church. The church was like a second family to me.
It had actually brought Immanuel and I together in college. He had lived in South Carolina his entire life, but had never been to Charleston. Suddenly, he lived there, interested in law while I majored in biology. We had finite math class together, at which point he noticed my cross necklace and asked if I knew of any churches in town. I brought him to First Christian, where anyone of faith was accepted with open arms.
Immanuel, who was raised Catholic and baptized just weeks after birth, converted some time in high school to Protestantism. Though at home the transition was rough, ultimately his parents accepted him. When I asked why he converted and why his parents were less than thrilled, since Catholicism and Protestantism were basically the same in essence, he said that he had studied the teachings of the Catholic Church, and that they didn't always compare to what should be the Holy Book—in other words, the Bible.
Soon after he started attending First Christian, we started dating. As my parents and brother also attended the church at the time, they all gave us their blessing. After graduation, at which point Immanuel was due to start at law school, he asked me to marry him. I accepted right away, though my girlfriends advised against it. They felt that since I had a religious upbringing and thus never dated, I was getting ahead of myself. Some even thought since it was so sudden that it was an abusive situation. As that was untrue, I knew what I wanted: I was in love with him.
We were married on September 1st the following year in the church. After about three and a half years of trying for children, Gabriella Faye was born on May the fifth, a year after Immanuel graduated and right before he opened his own law firm. Two years later, on June the twenty-first, our twins were born, and we knew that our little family was complete. All three of them were baptized as infants, and from the time Saxon and Harper were born, I had been through five different pastors. Pastor Gabriel had been there for three years and he had been my favorite of the five.
When we arrived at church that morning, the kids immediately went to the children's ministry. Gabriella had a job in the Sunday school for preschool aged children. Every Sunday, she came home with stories of the preschoolers, occasionally with a new drawing in hand—a present from one of the children to 'Miss Ella'.
Immanuel and I walked into the church silently. In the doorway to the sanctuary stood Pastor Gabriel, who shook hands with people as they came in and greeted them with a bright smile on his face.
"Peace be with you," Pastor Gabriel said as I passed him, trying to shake my hands.
"Mmm," I said back indifferently.
"Is something wrong, Dana?" he asked. "I know I may not be in much of a position to ask, but…"
"Oh, it's nothing," I said, trying my best to smile. I ignored Immanuel as he passed and went to find somewhere to sit. "Peace be with you, Pastor."
"How are Harper and Saxon? I heard their birthday just passed on Thursday."
The frown quickly came back. "Yes, they're sixteen now. They're…doing well."
"Harper, how is she?"
"Fine. A bit rebellious"—wasn't that the truth—"but she's fine. Taking care of herself well." A bit too well, perhaps.
"Something is bothering you, isn't it, Dana?" he asked.
"No, I'm fine, really," I said, starting to feel awkward from the fact that I still hadn't moved from the doorway of the sanctuary. No one else had come in yet, so I wasn't blocking anyone's way, but the service was about to start and I didn't want to disrupt anyone by standing outside of the service with the Pastor.
"Why don't you and I talk about it when you return from your vacation?" he asked. "Will you be able to attend our next Bible study on Thursday?"
The church had biweekly Bible studies on Thursdays; fortunately for me, the factor that it was every other week had allowed me to avoid conflict with the kids' birthday, which had just been the Thursday prior.
"I don't think so, unfortunately. I think we're staying until Friday. I'd really love to, but my children come first."
"I understand." He smiled at me. "Peace be with you."
I walked into the sanctuary, searching for Immanuel. I finally found him sitting on a near empty pew. "Why don't we go join everyone?" I asked, sliding next to him.
"We're already sitting now," he said. I shook my head.
"I swear, sometimes you are so difficult," I said.
"Dana, Jesus is a personal thing." Thus began the tirade he gave me every week when I tried to reason with him. "Well, not so much a thing, but you understand. Even in the same church, not everyone is going to worship him the same way. It's a very personal relationship with our Savior, because…" And on and on and on he went.
Finally, Pastor Gabriel came in and greeted the congregation. I let out a sigh in relief—I was not looking for another lecture from my husband. "Good morning, Charleston!" he said in his booming voice. The entire congregation began to applaud him. "Please thank our worship team as we begin our service this morning!"
The worship team, which was basically a church band who led us in song, began to sing one of my favorite gospel songs—Today is the Day. The entire church was welcome to sing along with them, and they did: "Today is the day You have made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. Today is the day You have made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. I'm not worried about tomorrow; I'm trusting in what You say. Today is the day."
At one point, in a break in singing, Pastor Gabriel announced, "Let's all take a moment and say 'hello' to all of our Charleston family."
This was a common practice; after the first song but before the actual service, we were to go around and say 'hello' and 'peace be with you' to pretty much anyone we saw. I said hello and greeted a few people as per usual, but in all honesty, my mind was elsewhere.
The worship team sang two more songs—Mighty to Save and One Way Jesus—and then we started with Pastor Gabriel's sermon.
"This week, we will have Youth Group as normal on Thursday, along with our biweekly Bible study. After the service today, we'll be serving lunch, and next week we will be doing our community service project, making box lunches for the less fortunate. I'd like to wish a very happy sixteenth birthday to the Sherbrook twins, Saxon and Harper! Happy sixteen years, Sherbrooks!" The congregation began to clap, and though I was happy that the pastor remembered their birthday, though he did his best to announce everyone's, it brought back the heavy weight on my heart.
"Dysfunctional families," he started. I cringed; another load onto the already heavy one that I bore. "There are so many different ideas and emotions that come to mind upon hearing these words. For some of us, we are brought back to our own families, to the challenges we face in our daily lives, to the people that are there when we leave this sanctuary and return to the roof over our heads.
"Regardless of what we think or feel, or how we were brought up, none of us were raised in a perfect family. None of us will ever belong to a family that is absolutely perfect, because we were all shaped in God's image. His idea of what we should be as a person may differ from what we feel is right. But no matter what we look like, no matter our backgrounds or the color of our skin or even the language that we may speak, we are all created in His image, and we are all a part of the family that he has created, the family we will acquire when we finally walk with the Lord, our God.
"My prayer for us is that we grow to appreciate the way we are crafted by God's own hands, that we are all sinners but He still loves us and sacrificed his only Son for us, that we are all a part of a dysfunctional family of our own."
This was met with a few 'amen's', but I sat there, wondering how on Earth this would be the week that he had a sermon on dysfunctional families. If anyone knew what that was like, it was Immanuel and I. He sat stiff next to me, not saying a word. Obviously, from his posture, he was feeling the exact same thing that I was.
But I was suddenly panic stricken when Pastor Gabriel turned to Scripture for his sermon:
"We are reminded of Exodus 20:12, in which we are told, 'Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.'"
My stomach tightened into knots at those words. Would Harper's actions be considered dishonor against Immanuel and me? Possibly. If suing your parents wasn't dishonor, what was?
At the end of the sermon, Pastor Gabriel told us to rise once again so that the Worship Team could perform one more song—God of This City.
Due in part to the sermon of the day, I made a mental note to take up Pastor Gabriel's advice. Perhaps I wouldn't be able to attend Bible Study, but I could always call him and have him come talk to me about the situation? It would put my mind more at ease.
The Worship Team, which was basically a band of some of the church goers who lead us in song, were definitely a determining factor in this decision. Not only did I love gospel music because of my religion, but because of the deeply personal messages in the lyrics. Some of the lyrics of God of This City stuck in my mind for years to come after that day: "Greater things are yet to come and greater things are still to be done here."
No words had ever rang truer.
I HAD A THREE DAY WEEKEND AND I DIDN'T DO ANY OF MY HOMEWORK WAHHHH. So I'm going to do some of it now and hope for the best tomorrow u_u I HATE A.P. BECAUSE OF ALL THE HOMEWORK EVEN THOUGH I ACTUALLY DIDN'T HAVE THAT MUCH A.P. HOMEWORK THIS WEEKEND. Back to this, though. I'm actually getting really excited about this because the document is now officially the third of the length of an actual book :D So yay!