I've finally found another "Carol."
Let me explain ... when I was fresh out of college, ambitious and invincible, I accepted a teaching job at a school in Southern California -- sight unseen. I picked up and moved to a place where I didn't know a soul except my estranged ex-boyfriend (who, inconveniently broke up with me a week AFTER I signed the contract for said job).
I should have known better than to accept a job with an employer whose only experience with me was a 20-minute phone interview. I can only imagine my mother's trepidation as I drove away that humid, August day.
Needless to say, I experienced a lot of heartache, distress and homesickness during my 18-month stint as a high school English teacher in Southern California.
I also found out that "family" is up to personal definition.
When I was sick of being lonely, I sought out a local church where I hoped to attend worship services, sing in the choir and make some friends.
It was there I met Carol and found my "Trinity Family."
I had been attending Sunday morning worship for several weeks when I decided to show up out of the blue for choir practice. When I arrived at the church that evening, a side door was propped open, a window of light in the dark night. I peaked through the open door to the fellowship hall and saw a group of people gathered on folding chairs around a piano.
It didn't look like the formal choir I'd heard perform during worship, and they looked as though they were near the end of rehearsal, not just beginning.
I backed out of the door, preparing to leave, sure that I had gotten the rehearsal time wrong.
That was when Carol called out to me, "Hey, are you here to sing?"
I thought about saying no and going quietly on my way. I didn't know anyone, and they appeared to be a close knit group.
Seeming to sense my hesitation, Carol called out again "Well, come on in then, you can sit right here next to me," as she started rearranging the chairs and placing an empty chair next to her in the row.
When I walked timidly to the group and joined in singing, I had no idea the wonderful family of friends I would join. I found out later that I had stumbled upon the rehearsal for the contemporary service music leaders. Later, we traveled into the sanctuary where the formal choir rehearsal would begin, and I returned week after week.
Carol was the pastor's wife. Over the next months she, Pastor Brad and the many others I'd meet would become my surrogate family, inviting me to join in their celebrations and being present for my many ups and downs.
She always had a smile and a kind word. She remembered me and missed me when I was gone. She was mischievous, always making light of formalities with a whispered comment or joke.
The highlight of my week was meeting for "family dinner" at Carl's Junior with the other song leaders and their families before rehearsal. Pastor Brad and Carol would joke that I was their adopted daughter.
Being invited made all the difference.
It has been nine years since my California adventure ended, and my life is different in nearly every respect. Carol and Pastor Brad have moved on to a church on the coast and an entirely new set of challenges. Trinity has spent the last few years trying to connect with the immediate community with open doors and open minds.
Yet it seems I have met another "Carol."
My husband and I recently joined our local community church, where we are trying to establish roots for ourselves and our children. We have met many wonderful, friendly people who we see throughout the community at various activities and events.
And it was there I met Monica. After being introduced by a mutual friend, Monica has remembered my name and my children each time I run into her. She greets me with a kind "Hello" and a warm smile even when I didn't recognize her at first.
She, too, has that laid-back attitude, and puts people before formalities at every opportunity.
As I navigate the newness of routines and events at our church, someone recognizes me and says "hello." Someone goes out of her way to acknowledge and get to know me.
And I swear I can see Carol smiling at me.
welcoming me into the family,
and I belong.