The scent of autumn was thick in the air as the colorful carpet of leaves swirled to cover the worn dirt path. It was a short walkway, with the stones worn smooth along the edges. I turned back, just to see the faintest imprint of my own footprint.
A three-pointed, bright scarlet leaf trickled down from the sky to cover the tiny bumps in the dirt. I smiled and wiggled my bare toes-happy to be comfortable in pink foam flip-flops. The old abandoned church was my destination, as far away as I had hoped, yet well-hidden from the hustle and bustle of society.
I heard the wind as it kissed the leaves, whispered softly in their ears, reassuring them for the cold season ahead. A laugh nearly sputtered out. I imagined the wind as an esteemed speaker, giving the leaves a graduation speech, helping to lovingly sever the ties of all familiarity as each individual prepared to float into the world to become a part of the bigger picture.
The church was small and well-kept, at least from the outside. The foundation was solid, though the brick walls carried a weathered look to them. When I couldn’t resist another moment, I kicked off my flip-flops and half-sprinted the last few yards to the left corner.
Arms outstretched, I hugged the cool, rough, brown stone. Gently resting my check on one smooth specimen, I took a deep breath of the rich air. The wind blew past the corners, holding a strange bittersweet taste within that invited me to breathe deeper.
What do you think, Fa?
I asked Him and listened, waiting for the answer I knew He would send to me. I pulled back from the church as another colorful swirl of leaves danced past. Tip-toeing barefoot on the fading grass, I followed the seemingly magical whirlwind around the corner and to the backyard.
Wide, flat steps graced the back wall, leading to the roof, another invitation I could not resist. My toes tingled as I stepped onto the tiny, flat, portion of the roof. The remaining three-quarters were sloped and shingled, like a proper mountain shape, giving airs to the lofty steeple at the front.
A quiet tinkle caught my ear and I leaned over one side to see a bell, lopsided, but feebly ringing. I did not stop the smile that overtook my face.
It was perfect.
It’s perfect, Daddy! I gave a celebratory twirl, followed by another deep breath that again, set my toes tingling. I feel so close to you here…I can see you engrained in every vein in these beautiful leaves, I can hear you in the wind and I want to breathe in your very essence to the depths of my soul. I want you closer, Father. So close that I am nothing, but who you want me to be.
Tears of happiness brimmed and spilled over as I shifted to my knees and then stretched out on the smooth, windswept floor. The wonderful silence was broken by the sound of tires on the gravel drive and punctuated by Mami’s anxious calls.
I roused myself enough to scoot to the edge of the roof and whistle. “Steps!” I called down, waving her around to the back.
Fat tears of happiness streamed down her ruddy cheeks as she grabbed me in a monster-sized hug. “Oh bitty!” She snuffled loudly. “This is it, no? This is where the Lord meant for us to be!” She held me awkwardly at arms’ length. “And you were worried, yah?”
I smoothed her face with one shirtsleeve and hugged her back, unable to resist a barefoot bounce. “You were right, Mami.” My toes tingled again. “I think anyone could find Him here, anyone could find themselves here and let Him into their heart. How could they not?”
“With you as an example of His handiwork, Bina, people will see.” A single, golden maple leaf floated down to rest on my shoulder. My adopted mother beamed so brightly, I had to squint. “Oh yes, Bina.” She slung an arm about my shoulders. “The Lord has many wonderful things in store for you, as long as you just listen. Think of the young women who will attend this retreat, once we clean this place up, yah? Young women like you dream for this! Think of how-you barefoot, girl!” The arm dropped. “Bina!” But the mild rebuke was said with a knowing smile.
I grinned. I couldn’t resist.
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