When You Want to Walk In the Rain

June 13, 2011 | 31 comments

Growing up, I think Sunday mornings were the best mornings of all. We’d teeter dirty breakfast dishes by the kitchen sink and walk out the back door just a few minutes before the church bell rang.

We lived just a block away from the Methodist Church, the place where my faith was born with water and with Word. There, Mom sang Gaither songs with a trio of women, and Paul Fullenworth was the usher, and a lady named LillyLove sat cross-legged in the front row — nodding with certainty about the promise of salvation. I played hangman with Carla, and we’d giggle during Reverend Winter’s sermons about the “ga-race of Gah-wud.” He was from Mississippi, and we never heard anyone talk like that before.

I remember the church-basement potlucks — with thick-sauced lasagna and bowls of fruit suspended in Jello. And I remember the tiny wooden chairs curved around the piano. Hortense told us that Jesus loved us, no matter what. 

But mostly, I remember this: walking to church with my Dad. He was strength and security to me, and I buried my hand in his.

In patent-leather, I tried to keep up with his stride, but I had to take two steps for every one of his. Dad and I would march to his silly rhymes, and my Strawberry Shortcake dress would swing in the morning breeze. And my Daddy made me laugh. 

I told him I wanted to grow big so I could keep step with him.

And then I grew up big. And this Sunday, all I wanted was to wish myself little again.

I still remember what my hand felt like in his. You don’t forget a thing like that.


I’m back in my childhood home this week with the girls, and we’re helping my parents pack up 42 years worth of living. The moving truck comes Wednesday. Most every Sunday since 1969, my parents have taken the one-block walk to church.

But on this — their last Sunday home — it was raining. Hard.

We all piled into the pickup truck to drive to church. 

One hymn in, and I was already crying. We sang from the Methodist hymnal, and my grief was plopping wet drops onto the hymnal pages. I couldn’t squeak out any notes past the lump in my throat. Would I ever worship here again?

Beside me, my girls played hangman. And somehow, even that felt holy.


We ate potluck in the basement, and before we left, I snapped a few photographs of the stained-glass and the girls sitting in the wooden chairs. I found them stacked against the wall in my old Sunday school classroom.

Lydia and church window

Methodist church in Marathon Iowa


Methodist Church marathon Iowa

And then, just like that, it was time to go. But like always, my Mom was the last one out the door. When I was sixteen, this irritated me. Today, I found it somehow comforting — that in this changing landscape of my parents’ life, some things stayed the same.

I told Dad we’d go on ahead.

The girls and I, we walked home in the rain.

A quick note to you, dear hearts: I’ll be here on and off this week. I’m not sure when — or if — I’ll post through the week, as we pack and move and and reminisce and maybe cry just a little, and laugh a bit more. 

by | June 13, 2011 | 31 comments


  1. Sandra Heska King

    Love and hugs to you, friend. Rejoicing with you in the memories. Grieving with you in the changing.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Sandra. I’m glad you’re “here” with me, rejoicing and grieving and listening. It means so much. I’m holding onto these words from Ann Kroeker to me on Facebook this week:

      “I hope you grieve when you need to, laugh when you can, and love through it all. The house would want it that way.”

      Somehow, in the writing, I get to do all those things.

  2. Nancy

    “Beside me, my girls played hangman. And somehow, even that felt holy.” That, my friend, is one beautiful line. Thank you for preserving here the story of this place.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Nancy. It was like seeing a version of my young self, like being little all over again. A surreal moment there in the pew, them being the playful ones and me doing the “shushing.” 🙂

  3. Julie

    Sending hugs and prayers your way this week.

    Relish in the moment…dear friend.


    • dukeslee


      Bless you, dear one. That hug feels good, and those prayers are greatly appreciated. xoxo

  4. kendal

    oh the ouch of memory and change….you capture it well and temper it with hope. lovely post.

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Kendal. And yes, there is hope and promise, and I’m so thankful that I have these tears of sorrow over this childhood home and church. It means that I grew up in a place with fond memories, rather than hurtful ones. A person doesn’t grieve something they didn’t really love.

      Hugs to you, and thank ((YOU)) for stepping into my “ouch” and into my hope. xoxo

  5. Deb Russell

    Oh Jennifer you took me right back home … so many memories in that church. Love the picture of the little white chairs! God be with you and your family this week and always.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Deb,

      I thought of you and your family as I wrote this piece. We were blessed, weren’t we, to grow up there? Do you remember the little wooden birthday cake? I found it on Sunday!

  6. Lyla Lindquist

    We were just talking about you, He and I. That’s about all I can say.

    • dukeslee

      And you know how much this means, Lyla.


  7. Kathy Josephson

    Since I know exactly where you are (physically anyway) while writing this piece I could picture everything…you walking with your family, the church, Hortense and LillyLove. But the pictures, oh the pictures made me cry. I love that church…where I also grew up in and got married in. I remember all the things about it that you do…and more (as I am sure do you). Thank you for taking me back…and hugs and prayers for your family as you all move forward.

    • dukeslee

      So blessed, we were, Kathy. I walked every inch of that church on Sunday. I just wanted to breathe it all in, one more time. I know I can go back any time. I hope I do.

  8. Laura

    What a beautiful church, what a lovely Sunday, what a precious post. Thanks for giving us a peek and sharing your heart.

    • dukeslee

      Hi Laura,

      Thank you. It’s a lovely church, about 100 years old. On this particular Sunday, it was fuller than usual — about 50 people. But some Sundays, there are only a dozen or so.

      It’s a lovely place — a holy place — to worship. I wish I could share it with the whole world. But, I CAN share it here, in this quiet little corner of the World Wide Web.

      Thanks for walking with me a while today, Laura. It means a lot.

  9. Alleluiabelle

    My mamma and daddy are no longer in this world but you took me back…back to a precious time…back when I sat beside my mamma in an old wooden pew in our hometown church. We can walk from our house where we now live to that same church…a church that I grew up in and got married in. I sat in that same pew…three rows back from the front every Sunday beside my mamma. I am the youngest of five children. All seven of us filled a whole church pew. I would snuggle next to her…entwine my arm in hers…hold her hand and trace every line in her palm with my fingers. Oh how I love my mamma and daddy and oh I miss them so.

    Thank you for taking me back there…to that special place of memories tucked sweetly and securely in my heart forever. You brought back sweet tears of love as I read and viewed your pictures.

    I am thinking about you and your family and praying for you all as you help your parents make this transition to a different place. I can feel your heart and know that you are the best daughter ever!

    Love you Jennifer,

    • dukeslee

      So grateful for you stopping, Alleluiabelle! And I am delighted that it stirred up fond memories of arms and fingers entwined. Much love … xoxo

  10. Dawn @ Dawnings

    The Sentimental Sap in me just loves so much about this post: that you are still in touch with your childhood home and church (and even that you had only one!) and also that you get to say goodbye. Much of my past was washed away by Hurricane katrina’s storm surge, and a divorce long before that.

    Savor the bitter and the sweet of it this week. God be with you, three generations strong. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

    • dukeslee

      Thank you, Dawn, for your words here. I cannot imagine having my past washed away, like yours was. It’s hard, even like this, when it’s pretty well planned out. But yours? Oh … I cannot fathom the heartache.

      Thanks for walking with me a spell.

      Love to you.

  11. Dawn @ Dawnings

    Oh yeah, the sentimental sap loves old Methodist churches and walking in the rain, and walking to church, too. 🙂 They were all a part of my past, too.

  12. S. Etole

    My father had long strides, too … and our Father hears your heart as you walk through this.

    • dukeslee

      You make my heart smile, Susan. 🙂

  13. Susan (Runnermom)

    Sweet friend, my heart is full as I read your words. Growing up in our small Methodist church…walking in with Daddy from Sunday school to the back row(just in case Beth and I got chatty!!)…Mama practicing the last hymn on the organ one more time before service began. Since both of my parents are now spending each moment with Jesus, I have not been back to my church. I miss it and the people. They will always be there for me just as your folks will always be there for you. Sending you hugs and prayers in this new season of your life.
    Love you!

  14. Susan DiMickele

    I just can’t go here. It hurts too much. My parents have 42 years of memories. Still hanging on to the house. But it’s getting hard.

    Thanks for letting us walk through this with you.

  15. Dave

    I loved your story about your memories of Sundays.

    Jennifer, make sure you and your parents and siblings tell lots & lots of stories to each other and whomever else is around to listen – particularly your girls and Scott.

    Telling stories is how ‘stuff’ gets shared and memories get made.

    And if you think it’s going to be too emotional to ‘go there’? Go there anyway.

    Memorable stories are a gift – Charis with a capital ‘C.’

  16. Diana Trautwein

    Just. Perfect. What a flood of memories came pouring over me as I read your lovely words. Thank you, Jennifer, for each word and each picture. I, too, grew up (the first 12 years) in an old Methodist church – but it was in downtown LA and about a decade after we moved too far away into the famous ‘valley,’ it was torn down….for a used car lot. I loved that place and the memories are here – just needing a gentle tap to spring to life again. Thanks for that tap today.

  17. Lynda

    Jennifer, you are blessed!

  18. Beth Herring

    this brings back so many memories of my grandparents church. i used to love going there when I was little and the last time i was there was for my granddaddy’s funeral.

    praying for you and your parents this week!

  19. Michelle DeRusha

    Beautiful church, beautiful girls, beautiful words. With you on this hard journey, Jennifer.

  20. Coni Miller

    This was my church growing up. I always thought it was the most beautiful and most unusual church there ever was. The windows are absolutely beautiful and you don’t see the craftsmanship today. Thanks for sharing these pictures, floods of memories come back.


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