I walked up the apartment door, feeling ever so slightly nervous. Was it odd to be picking up someone else's child for church? Would the parents think me pretenious, or in want of making a "project" or "ministry" out of their family? I hoped not, as I lightly knocked at the door and listened to a shuffle of movement from the other side.
I was expecting to see a girl around 9 years old standing at the door. Her name was Desire and she had invited herself along to church with me. It was her idea, she arranged it...and with admiration for her maturity at such a young age, promised I would be there to pick her up come Sunday morning.
I gave Desire a quick nickname after that first encounter, "the mama". Desire has calm brown eyes, a knowing smile and keeps herself very private and carefully hidden from others. I knew that her simple question of church was one not easily asked...and felt an imediate connection to this old soul young woman.
But standing at that door when it opened, was not Desire.
What I experienced instead was that perfect movie moment when the door swings open, apparently on it's own because the party opening it is so short. First confused, I adjusted my gaze towards my feet to find a tiny girl with huge sparkling brown eyes staring up at me. She was no more than 3 years old.
"Hello." I said.
"Hi." The tiny one said matter of factly.
"Um...is Desire or your Mom, here?" I asked, still a little confused.
"I'm all ready!" said the tiny one, flashing a toothless smile.
"Oh, are you coming to church too?" I asked, even more confused.
The tiny girl nodded her head, in a fashion that seems to communicate "well of course". I stooped down, level with those giant dark eyes and held out my hand, "Well, I'm Jenni. What's your name?"
"Lynaya" she whispered.
Desire came running out from her bedroom hopping as she put her bright pink hightop chuck taylors on...casually she said, "This Naya, she's coming with us."
In the months to come I would take Desire and Lynaya, who are sisters to church at Imago Dei Community every Sunday. I never knew exactly how many kids would be waiting to hop in my car as the girls would invite friends and cousins to tag along at will. Their single parent households working long hours or night shifts on the weekends, this became a special time for the kiddos to experience church on more than just holidays. And their mothers, Aunts and Grandma's were always gracious with me, signing permission slips allowing me to take them. My worst fear was always my intentions would be misinterpreted...when truly, these kids found me. Not the other way around.
We were quite the specticle walking into Imago. Largly a young, hipster community (and predominately white)...we stuck out like a sore thumb skipping down the hallways, a frizzy haired white girl with a mini-family of African American kids. It was awkward, at first, for the girls. Their Sunday school classmates would often ask what country they were from or if they were adopted. A perhaps innocent question coming from kids who weren't used to seeing a white "mother" dropping off children who looked nothing like her. That being said, it certainly took time to establish what my relationship was to these children with the many different teachers, kids and staff.
In the end, the girls just called me "Church Lady". Not a 23 year olds idea of an awesome nick name, but I tried to lovingly embrace it.
While many different kids hopped in my car that year, only one girl in addition to Lynaya and Desire stuck around. Alyssia.
Alyssia Holmes is a power house of assertion, talent, elegance and down right feisty-ness. She's a diva friends, in the truest form. Over the years I've watched this girl effortlessly play the ballet dancer, the actress, the theologian, and the drama queen. She has an un-canny intuition and strong presence that can only be God-given. I knew right away, this curly haired princess was not going ANYWHERE, and she was going to shake our little routine right up. Boy did we all need her :)
Thus "the girls" were born.
Out of the chaos huddle of children from all different households showing up for church with a permission slip in hand, came the fabulous three who would stick around for good. Painfully other lovely faces, like Synovia Ramsey, with endless potential...faded away, giving way to the trouble that a difficult home and rough parts of town can bring. This kids break your heart, as eventually you have to let go.
The light at the tunnel is Desire, Alyssia and Lynaya. Who no matter how my life has changed or how long I've known them, still call me and update me on their new address, their new cell number, or the new parent they are living with. They keep me, even when I let them down in my busy busy busy-ness. We've had all sorts of adventures, mostly at the girls suggestion like beach trips, tours of hospitals, lemonade stands to raise money for orphaned children overseas, birthday parties, picnics and dance parties.
Maybe the biggest adventure yet will be my upcoming wedding where they will all three be junior bridesmaids. They've really grown up, much more than any of these photos show and I can't wait to see them all lovely and beautiful standing up there with me.
So thank you girls, you know I love you. Thanks also for trying to teach me to dance, I know it was a failure, but at least we tried :)
A final note:
Debbie Sue Young, you're constant support and love for these girls made it possible for me to continue my relationship with them. Without you, I would have burnt out trying to manage all the car rides alone, and run out of steam when my patience ran thin with a "teenager" comment here and there. These girls have truly seen Christ in you, they ask about you all the time. It will be a sweet reunion at the wedding! Thank you more than I can say friend.