Today’s post is my response to the Red Dress Club’s Remembe(red) prompt: Take us back to an embarrassing moment in your life.
As I walked down the isle, my face was beet red.
I knew that I was flushed – my ears were so hot that they were burning.
It was my first experience with that feeling, a strange combination of embarrassment and bewilderment. Something akin to shame, but not quite.
I didn’t feel guilty. I didn’t feel that I had committed this egregious error of which I was being accused. Which somehow made it all that much worse.
I knew that my pregnant stomach was clearly visible through my dress, and no matter how hard I tried to hunch or stoop over, there was no denying it. So I smiled and held my head high and I tried my hardest to ignore their looks as I walked past each row of disapproving congregants.
He was waiting for me there, at the pulpit and he was smiling. Always smiling.
Just as he smiled when he came to my house the day before and told me that the church Elders were struggling with whether or not to accept my application for membership into the church, given that I was pregnant and had no plans to marry the baby’s father.
He always smiled. I knew it came from a good place, a place of love and acceptance but somehow it made it harder to meet his eyes.
He smiled as he told me that marrying him was the right thing to do in God’s eyes, regardless of his drug addiction or his fondness for the missionary’s 15 year old daughter.
He smiled as he told me that he would support me and fight for me, regardless of which decision I ultimately made. And he did.
He fought hard enough that I was accepted as a member of the church; regardless of my pregnant belly, regardless of my unwed mother status in a Southern Baptist Church, regardless of the entire church turning against me. He fought hard enough that I was accepted – whether they liked it or not.
So I walked up that isle to take my communion in my new church for the first time, and I felt their eyes burning through me, watching, judging, mocking me.
I was not ashamed. I didn’t get pregnant by myself. I wanted to marry him – I loved him. But I couldn’t control his life decisions, I couldn’t control his mental illness – I couldn’t control anything but my own decisions for myself and our unborn child. And I knew, even then, as a stupid 18 year old girl, that marrying him would be the biggest mistake of my life.
So I was not ashamed. But I was embarrassed. Humiliated. I avoided eye contact with his parents as I walked past – I kept my eyes on the Pastor and I walked at a slow and steady pace, refusing to rush through the process because this meant something to me – even if practically the entire church was against it.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever gone through, fighting to become a member of a church that did not want me. That feeling of humiliation never left – they never stopped looking at me in that certain way. Even after they threw me a baby shower, even after my daughter was born, even after they came to see me in the hospital – they never stopped looking down at me.
When I left the church shortly after my daughter was born and the Pastor came to see me, he didn’t even try to talk me into coming back. He understood.