I love the church in Denver City. It's been a year since I was last there, which is much much much too long, but unfortunately it will probably be another year before I make the trip there again. :'(
In the midst of all hugging (I'm all hugged up for about three months), greeting, talking, and just plain having fun, I heard the same sentence over and over again: "We're glad to have you home again, Susan."
Denver City is not my home, at least not in the usual sense; I've never lived there. I've spent lots of Sundays, lots of Friday nights, and a few weekends there in the past 14 years, but my address has never ended in 79323. I've always been a visitor.
But it feels like home. I've played "big sister" to a lot of kids there, and babysat a few more. I've encouraged Bible bowlers and cleaned up after potlucks. I've stamped things, addressed things, cleaned things, and carried things in various venues throughout the building. I've visited old people and sung in the nursing home. I've cheered at football games when I didn't have a clue what was happening, and given up free Saturdays to watch band competitions. I've played with children and dogs, sometimes at the same time. :)
And I enjoyed doing most of it. But every frustrating moment, short night of sleep, and sore muscle has been more than repaid in the love and encouragement that I have received in return. When my group moved on and another group moved in, I should have been forgotten; after all, Denver City has had about 100 other students since I was there. But they still all say "Welcome home" when they see me, and I would happily do it all over again in an instant.
On Sunday morning, Chad & I sat with a little widow who we always stop by to see when we are in town (the last time, I had to borrow a car during a Bible bowl competition in order to go visit). It never fails that I am delighted to see her, and she always seems happy to see me. And here's the reason why:
I'm not exaggerating when I say I should have been forgotten after one semester. AIM students get maybe eight Sundays at any one church, and when the church has 200 members and you spend most of your time with the teens, it's hard to get any sort of relationship with most people. And, to add another difficulty, we were supposed to sit with different people every week.
I sat with a sweet little couple one week, the Tuckers, and enjoyed it so much that I got permission to sit with them every week. They told me stories about their grandkids, and oohed and aaahed over every story of aim life (whether they were actually interested or not). On the last Sunday I spend in Denver City before leaving for Scotland, Mr. Tucker gave me this little rocking chair that he had made. I took it across the ocean with me and it was a happy tie to this little church that I had loved for a while.
When I returned, I got to go to Denver City again, this time as an assistant to a new group of aimers. The first Sunday, I made a beeline to the Tuckers, except the family was down to one; Mr. Tucker had passed away while I was in Scotland.
So I told Mrs. Tucker that I still had this little rocking chair, and how much it had brightened my days to see it sitting in my cabinet in Glasgow. She may not have remembered me right away, but when she heard that I had kept this precious piece of wood that so clearly displayed her husband's skill, her face lit up and she invited me to lunch on the spot. And I've spent a few afternoons in her house, admiring all the things Mr. Tucker made, looking at photo albums, and hearing more grandkid stories.
Mrs. Tucker is not long for this world; no one lives forever. And her health, she tells me, is on the decline. But this past Sunday, we sat beside her, as I did week after week just a few years ago.
I was at home.