Unseen Walls

At first, I couldn’t see why I wasn’t fitting in at church, but I could feel it.

My family was thrilled to get a Costco in our part of town, especially my father. Yet walking through the store one weekend after the opening, he was more excited about something else: It had been weeks since his last seizure, and he couldn’t stop talking about it. Then halfway through our shopping trip, we noticed he seemed different. He had a tell—a sign he was about to have a seizure—sometimes smacking his lips or looking off into the distance.

 

Miraculously, we were next to a mattress display when it happened. We helped him sit and eventually lie down while his body tremored on the plastic cover. A woman stopped and offered to pray. My mother dismissed her—we needed to get through the seizure and get him home. But our new Costco companion persisted, suggesting my father’s healing would come only through Jesus Christ.

“It doesn’t work like that,” my mother grumbled as she led my father to the exit.

 

Like most girls, I butted heads with my mother. And as my father’s illnesses progressed, our arguments increased. The two of us, along with my sister, were afraid of losing him. Maybe we even resented him for being sick—for further complicating an already complex life caught between two cultures.

My teenage rebellion was typical—resisting curfew, buying beer with a friend’s fake ID, putting on makeup after I got to school. But I also went to church, just to infuriate my Hindu mom.

For that very reason, I had been “attending” youth group for weeks at the invitation of a friend, though I would never go inside. At first, I’d arrive and then simply sit on the church playground for the duration of the service, waiting for my ride home. But eventually I did start to join the group. I would timidly sing and listen to pastors speak about this Jesus everyone loved so much.

I had been “attending” youth group for weeks at the invitation of a friend, though I would never go inside.

Then one night, it felt as if something inside me ripped open. I burst into tears.

With a wet face and trembling voice, I tried to say I understood I needed to be there. The rest of the night is a blur. A circle formed around me, hands pressed to my back and shoulders as someone said, “Repeat after me.” Another thrust a heavy Bible into my hands.

 

My father’s condition worsened, and I escaped through work, school, and friends. After that, I never slowed down. He passed away my sophomore year of college.

The following Thanksgiving, Ma and I fought for hours about something I’ve forgotten.

That night, I sat in bed feeling overwhelmed—angry the world didn’t grind to a halt when my father died, and desperate for peace. My grief had finally caught up with me. I looked at the chipped ceiling above my bed and prayed half-heartedly, “God, if You’re real, now would be a good time to show up.”

“God, if You’re real, now would be a good time to show up.”

The semester finished well—straight A’s, bills paid, a few tranquil moments with my family. I suspected God had something to do with it. Eager to learn more about Him, I returned to that spot on my bed frequently with the Bible I’d received in high school. I reached out to an old classmate, too, asking if she still went to church, and could I go with her?

I visited her church and several others. But each time, it was the same: I didn’t feel I belonged. The communities didn’t look like me, and surrounded by people who’d attended church all their lives, I felt alone—miles behind on a journey I had just begun.

 

One Sunday, I sat in the back row of a sanctuary, contemplating exiting before the service began. Then the pastor approached and introduced himself—his family was hosting a housewarming party after the service, and he invited me to attend. Skeptical, I took down his address.

I was the first to arrive. I walked in and met a woman in the kitchen—the pastor’s mother. “Do you know how to make mac and cheese?” she asked, handing me a box of dry pasta and a stick of Velveeta.

As everyone else arrived, the pastor’s wife came over and laughed, “You’re so at home in my kitchen! Come over anytime.” And in the following months, I did—sharing meals with them and attending the small group they hosted.

The communities didn’t look like me, and I felt alone—miles behind on a journey I had just begun.

My friends thought I was crazy. As I made an effort to change my lifestyle and prioritize my faith, several took it as a personal challenge to help me see I was on the wrong path—some accused me of joining a cult, while others took bets to see how long I’d last as a Christian. The small house I shared with a roommate was often the center of this group’s partying, which didn’t fit with who I was becoming.

After a few weeks of this, I called my pastor’s wife and asked if I could come over. She offered me a key to her house—“Just in case,” she said. I crashed on their couch regularly, often waking to their daughter climbing onto the cushion, armed with books and toys. “Sunita!” she’d exclaim, “I didn’t know it was a sleepover!”

Sometime later, after many months of receiving such kindnesses, I was making small talk with people from my new church at a “friendsgiving” dinner. Someone mentioned that the holidays are difficult, and a few of us murmured our agreement. It dawned on me that there were three of us in the group who had lost parents or loved ones—all members of a club none of us asked to join.

In the following months the three of us would meet or text one another to check in around holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Eventually, we decided to create a more consistent space to share stories, pray, and remind one another that we are not alone in the grieving process.

On the surface, I didn’t have much in common with this group. Yet in the tangled mess of faith and loss, of continuing to live and make new memories without forgetting, we belonged to each other. And in that, I felt at home.

 

Illustration by Eleni Debo

Related Topics:  Becoming a Christian

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