Below is a new excerpt of the story:
This may not come as a surprise to a lot of you, and I would probably never say this to Ma because she'd feel that God had answered her prayer and that I was beginning to fully become one with the Lord, but God knows things, and He knows when to share those things with us. Some days, I have gone to church and the message is completely lost on me; however, Ma always leaves the church feeling as if service was a one-on-one conversation between her and God. I wanted that, too, and the moment Reverend Bryant came to the podium in his cream-colored suit after worship and offerings, lifted his eyes to us, and just about whispered into the mike, "God wanted me to tell you something this morning. You are loved, and you are special," an itch formed in my right palm.
Sweat had already begun to bead on Reverend Bryant's brow as his short, stomp-jumper self snatched the mike from the small stand on the pulpit so that he could walk the stage, come close to us so that we could see just how serious he was when he relayed his message for today.
Reverend Bryant, or Rev as I liked to call him from time to time, was a man short in stature, but big in life. For a while, I had stepped out of the church and sampled other churches and denominations, much to the disappointment of Ma, but every time, I came back to Reverend Bryant because he wasn't fake. Sure, he wore nice suits, had a nice home, and led a usually quiet but respectable congregation; however, he was also the man who wore overalls on Saturdays and went fishing with my dad and other men in the town, could cause back flipping in his church just from the calm, smooth tones of his voice, and could scream his love for the Lord with so much fervor that you left the church shook for at least a day as the spirit revved all through you.
I lifted a Bible to my chest with my left hand, and, with my right hand I rubbed my chest.
"I know," Reverend Bryant said, leaning against his pulpit, "that there are some of you out there this morning who don't believe a word out my mouth." His walnut-colored face glistened with sweat, and he wiped at his brow with what was probably one of his great-grandmother's handmade handkerchiefs. He never preached without one in his left pant pocket. "You out there thinking, how am I special."
I nodded as I continued to rub. That's true, I thought. I mean at the most, I'm average. I'm not sure what makes a person special, let alone me.
Reverend Bryant came close to the edge of the stage and pointed out into the crowd at no one in particular. "You out there," he began, his voice rising as he repeated full of guttural emotion, "you out there thinking ya ugly or ya dumb or ya fat. Anything negative you can find to say, you say it."
I chewed the inside of my cheek. Danni scooted closer to me and nudged me. I didn't turn toward her.
"Aren't you?" he asked, his eyebrow raised, his voice secretive as if waiting for us to confess. "Be truthful."
The burn in my belly and chest churned, scorching organs and flesh. I don't think I'm fat, God. I know that. You see all, so surely You've seen my hips, as--butt, and gut lately. Not pretty. I come from a family where butterball is a term of endearment, where my granddaddy used to call me his fat, little girl or dumpling, all meant to be taken sweetly, I know, but still reaffirmed BIG as in DIFFERENT. Now, when I'm even bigger than I was as a kid, I'm in a world where I'm not the chosen one because of my size. Hel…Heck, I'm not chosen for anything. I'm not trying to find negative, God. It's right there in my mirror, everyday.
"But God," Reverend paused as Nate the organist struck a chord, "God wants you to know that you are special. How do I, I, a mere servant of God, know that? Jeremiah 1:5. God tells you that before you were even formed in the womb," Nate tickled the keys to a rising tremble, "He knew you."
"Yes," Ma whispered.
Ms. Abigail Dentz, one of the few white women in the congregation and our local hollering woman, stood from her seat in the first pew and raised her hand. "Preach it, Reverend," she shouted. Twenty years ago, that would have been funny, but now, it was second nature to see Mrs. Dentz live in the spirit. After dealing with a husband who was living in pure-adulterated sin and a daughter who caused a stir in the church because she was living in and decided to jump out of the closet, I guess Mrs. Dentz deserved her dedication to the Word because it was the only stable thing she owned.
Reverend raised his hand to Ms. Dentz, and said, "Before you were born, God says He set you apart." Reverend bounced slightly on the balls of his feet as Nate riffed. "God planned for you." Another organ riff as Reverend reached out to the congregation. "He wanted someone just like you in this world, for without you, the world as God saw it would not be complete."
My head rocked back as if a bat had slammed against my forehead.
Danni's hand slid atop my left one. She squeezed it. "You okay?" she asked.
The first tears leaked from my right eye. "I'm fine," I whispered, but I thought, How did You set me apart, God? What did You see in me that would become special? I wish You would tell me. Show me. Something. Why did You plan for me?
"You may feel discouraged some times," Reverend said before heading back to the pulpit. He put the mike back on the stand and gripped the pulpit. "You may feel inadequate." The tickling of the organ keys matched the movement in my chest. "You may think that no one in this world loves you or will ever love you, but I'm here today to tell you that isn't so, for nothing can separate you from God's love."
"Nothing," Ma said, and I could tell she's crying because her shout was muffled by a snotty nose.
Others' chants of affirmation almost flooded out the burn in me.
Show me how to not be discouraged.
Reverend touched his chest and closed his moist eyes. "When your troubles and pains and sadnesses get the best of you, remember Philippians 1:6, be confident in knowing that He who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Amen."
I rubbed at the ache in my chest. God, I'll tell you. I'll tell you right now how I feel. I don't want to hurt anymore. I don't want to be sad. I don't want to be a walking zombie. I don't want this damn pain in my leg, or the shortness of breath, or the stares from the people, or the inadequacies I feel about myself. I just don't know how to fix any of it. I don't know how to not be this way.