We almost didn’t go to church yesterday morning.

But then we did and left not only emotionally overwhelmed, but also $484.00 richer.

Yes, you read that right. The church handed out checks to everyone who was in attendance. Actually, to paint a more accurate portrait, the checks were lined up in envelopes before the service even began. Alphabetically by last name, sitting on a back table in the sanctuary, awaited an unexpected gift for each of us. First time visitors had envelopes waiting for them as well.

When this was initially announced during the service, the writer-slash-story-teller in me immediately wondered how Archer, the main character in the latest David Baldacci book I’m reading, One Good Deed, would use the money. By Chapter 26, the dude is flat broke having just returned from WWII and desperately trying to turn his life around after being wrongly sent to prison a couple days after surviving the throes of war.

Quickly snapping out of that slightly embarrassing thought process and back to reality, I instead wondered, did they really just say that?

I figured I probably didn’t understand properly, given today was only our third time there. Maybe this was my mistake. I’ve been attending church my entire life (not always reverently) and not once has anything like this ever happened.

Yep, I must have misheard.

Only I didn’t. As I type, I am looking at a personal check made out to me in the amount of $242.00.

Let me pause here and make sure I convey immediately to you that not only is my everyday life in a giant transition right now, but we have been in an agonizingly difficult search for a church home for the last two and a half years.

Yes, yes, I know for some like my daughter and others of her generation, it is an easy and decisive answer of, Nope, I don’t go to church anymore. They are drained, over it, and are going about “church” differently – mostly out of their own self-authored books, from which we traditionally-raised, Def Leppard listening 80’s folks should consider taking a page.

For those of us who have lived, breathed, confessed, loved, lost, and wrestled with the church for decades, not being a part of one is even harder than experiencing all those soul-wrenching things combined. It’s an ongoing, relentless grief and the only antidote has always been seemingly just out of reach for us, even though church buildings abound everywhere in this part of the Midwest.

So, imagine about a month ago when one of my friends suggested we check out a new church. Having been both exhausted and disgruntled by the years-long search, it brings anxiety to both my husband and me when either one of us says to the other, “Hey, I heard about a new church…” We are simultaneously excited(!) and filled with trepidation at the prospect of walking through yet another new set of doors, uncertain of what reception will await “the new people” on the other side.

Please don’t get me started on how ridiculous that is. Don’t get me started about how I always say, “No wonder our millennial kids are leaving the church in droves!” since they feel they are often met with judgment the first time they try to attend – maybe ever, or maybe after a college-hiatus or other transitional life experience. Don’t get me started on how much angst and guilt and despair I’ve personally had over questioning the behavior of certain churches – even when I know with absolute certainty it goes against everything that “Christians” are supposed to be acting like.

And for the love of all things holy, please don’t get me started on how erudite intellectuals have tried to teach me the error of my biblical interpretation ways, alerting me to the fact that I may be misinterpreting what the Bible really says or what Jesus “really meant.”

It does not take a scholar to know Jesus pretty much just meant love.

You don’t need schooling, a 100% accurate understanding of Scripture, or chastising from “smarter” pastors, priests, parents or anyone else. You just need the Cliff Notes: Love others well. Don’t be a selfish jerk. Don’t act like you’re better than your neighbor or look away from them when they need help.

The money each of us received this morning is meant to do exactly that. Again, let me say that my husband and I have sat in that church on a Sunday morning a total of three times. But that was of no concern to the leaders within that church building. They sold a parcel of land which had been gifted to them by a large local business after a redevelopment project. After many months of team discernment and meetings, it was decided to tithe 10% of the profit as part of the “Abundant Love Project” – to be used, per the accompanying letter, as a blessing in this world in a way that “only you, as a unique individual with unique gifts and life experiences can dream up.

No one sitting in the sanctuary this morning was exempt from receiving a monetary gift to help others.

No one sitting in the sanctuary this morning is unloved, unworthy, or doesn’t matter.

But everyone sitting in that sanctuary and everywhere else knows someone who needs to be uniquely reminded of that themselves.

By the time we walked back through the front doors after service, I was certain of two things:

I know who I am going to bless with the money and how I’m going to go about doing it.

And, as if it wasn’t cemented when one of the pastors said, “For those of you with multiple last name households, the checks are all under one last name. Might be the woman’s, might be the man’s … I don’t know, we are not patriarchal here!”  – we have found a new home to call church.

A-FREAKING-MEN.

(And, women).