Ming moved down the line of Eucharist ministers, her pastoral robes swaying gently each time she stopped. “The body of Christ, broken for you,” she said, pressing bread into the outstretched hands of the minister in front of her. Another pastor followed behind her, carrying the cup, the two of them serving communion to the ministers so the ministers could then serve the rest of the congregation. At the far end of the line, Leah dropped her head and stared at her hands. One laid over the other, they formed the shape of a cross, ready to receive the bread, but without realizing, she’d pulled them close against her stomach. She noticed her fingers were curled, ready to close tight, ready to refuse the offering.
Her head jerked up. Ming’s face was next to her own, and Leah could read concern in Ming’s dark eyes, in the expression on her almond-brown face.
Leah’s hands clenched shut. “I can’t, Ming,” she whispered. “I can’t take Communion.”
Ming looked at her a moment longer. Then she slid her arm around Leah’s shoulders and led her away from the others. Inside the small prayer room off the sanctuary, Ming nudged Leah into a chair, and then sat in one herself, pulling it close enough their knees almost touched.
“What is wrong?” Even after years in the U.S., faint traces of accent from her childhood in Cambodia still colored Ming’s voice.
Leah couldn’t meet her eyes. “I got angry with Bree this morning.”
Ming waited. When Leah didn’t say more, she asked, “What happened?”
Leah swallowed. “It was all little things. She didn’t do her homework from two nights ago, took some gum from my purse without asking, left clothes all over her room, and then, when she was supposed to be getting ready for church this morning…” How could she tell Ming what she had said?
Ming said it again. “What happened?”
Leah pressed her fingertips to her temples. “I found her watching television, and I, I… I just snapped.”
Ming let the silence stretch for a moment before she said, “Leah, did you hurt Bree?”
“No, no!” Leah shook her head, fast, then slower. “Not physically, but I said…“ She broke off, then whispered, “It wasn’t just frustration, Ming. There was something deeper, something ugly…” She covered her face.
Ming reached forward and placed both hands on Leah’s smooth blond hair. “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” The familiar words of the prayer for purity washed over Leah, and she breathed deep.
Ming continued with her own words. “Father, you know Leah’s heart better than she does. You know what she needs to see, and you also know exactly how to reveal it to her. Come, Holy Spirit, breathe your life into Leah. Restore the relationship between her and Bree. Strengthen the community you have placed them in. May they truly be your body to each other, Lord Jesus.”
Ming continued praying, but after Bree’s name, Leah didn’t hear her. She saw Bree’s young face in her mind, her rich velvet skin, her cheekbones so wide and round they made soft brown hills under her deep-set eyes.
Bree’s eyes. Leah remembered how they’d grown dark and sad this morning, how she wouldn’t raise them to meet Leah’s eyes, even after Leah, horrified at what she’d said, had told her she was so, so sorry. Bree hadn’t looked at her and hadn’t said a word since. They’d ridden to church in silence, found their seats in silence…
More faces filled Leah’s mind, the faces of the women she and Bree had dubbed the Grandmothers. Three or four of them were sitting right now with Bree out in the sanctuary. She imagined their reactions to what she’d said this morning. They were an amazing group of women. Despite their differences in background and skin color, education and income, they’d worked hard to form community, to love each other as they believed they were meant to. Some had to overcome bitterness from very real hurts; others had to own up to subtle attitudes of superiority and privilege; and they’d all committed to intentional relationship. Leah had admired this in them, and when they invited her to one of their weekly potluck dinners, she’d gone, but it wasn’t until she began fostering Bree that she realized the depth in these women. She wasn’t surprised when they threw her a “child shower,” but their care continued even after. Two Grandmothers taught Leah how to care for Bree’s hair—she suddenly wondered what they’d thought of Bree’s own attempts to style it this morning. Tiny Mrs. Ramos brought a meal over every single week, telling Leah she couldn’t live on frozen food any longer; a child needed home-cooked meals. Another couple grandmothers took turns coming over on the nights Leah worked late so Bree wouldn’t come home to an empty apartment…
Their faces rose up in Leah’s mind. She’d wronged all of them; she’d damaged the work they’d done. She’d hurt Bree most of all, but it didn’t stop there. Leah looked up. Ming, silent now, was sitting back in her chair, watching her.
“Ming, I need to confess to all of them.”
Ming nodded. She didn’t need to ask who. She rose, picked up the basket of bread, and led Leah out of the prayer chapel, behind the line of Eucharist ministers who were already serving the front row of the congregation, to the far side of the small sanctuary, the side where Bree and the Grandmothers were sitting. “Stay there,” Ming told Leah, pointing to an out-of-the-way spot near the wall.
Fear rippled up Leah’s spine. What had seemed so right just a moment before now seemed crazy. Her hands trembled, and she clasped them together, tight, but it didn’t stop the shaking in her heart. Was she really going to tell all those wonderful women the hateful things she’d said? What would they think of her?
Would her place in their community be broken?
She concentrated on taking even breaths as she watched Ming walk to the third row and hold out a hand to Bree, sitting one seat in from the end. Leah saw Ming say something to the Grandmothers sitting nearby. They looked confused at first, but then nodded and rose, gesturing to other Grandmothers nearby. As Ming, Bree, and the Grandmothers approached Leah, she tried to make eye contact with her foster daughter, but Bree kept her head down. Nausea rose in Leah’s gut. She swallowed. “Breathe,” she told herself. “Breathe.”
Ming motioned everyone to circle around Leah and then stepped close herself and again placed a hand on Leah’s head. “May you be filled with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of our God and the fellowship and power of the Holy Spirit.” She melted into the circle, and Leah looked up at all the faces looking back at her. She shut her eyes against them. Too much. How could she expose herself to all these women? Holy Spirit, she prayed, please help me.
A different face filled her mind.
Bree’s face. The one face that had not looked back.
Leah felt something like a hum inside her. She opened her eyes and spoke. “I said some awful things to Bree this morning.” She bit her lip and then continued. “I told Bree I was sorry, but you are our family, and as Ming was praying over me, I felt the Holy Spirit telling me I needed to confess to all of you. You all minister to Bree in ways I can’t, and I don’t want her to feel she has to keep things from you. I want openness.” There was no going back now. Leah breathed deep and let the words tumble out. “I told Bree she would turn out like her mother, and I said some terrible, terrible things about her mother.”
The women’s eyes widened, and a couple of their jaws tightened, but Leah went on. “I said Bree had to be different from her mother, from people like that. I was ugly and proud and superior.” Leah swallowed and looked down. She couldn’t meet their eyes anymore. “I didn’t give her mother dignity and I hurt Bree terribly with what I said about her.”
Leah crossed the circle to where Bree stood next to Ming and squatted down in front of her foster child. “Bree?” Bree looked up. Tears floated in her big eyes, but she looked at Leah. “Bree, I was so wrong this morning, and I am very, very sorry. I’m asking for your forgiveness, but I know that it may take you some time to forgive me, and I understand that. I just want you to know that I know I was wrong.”
Bree ducked her head again, but she held out a hand, and Leah took it.
It was quiet for a moment, and then Ming’s voice rang out. “Most merciful God…”
Other voices joined in, “we confess that we have sinned against you…”
Leah stood, still holding Bree’s hand. Tears clogged her throat, but she mouthed the words. “…in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.” The Grandmothers’ voices were strong around her. “We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.”
They fell silent and Ming alone spoke the next words. “For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”
Around the circle, voices murmured, “Lord, have mercy. Jesus, have mercy.”
Ming stepped in front of Leah, the basket of bread in her hands. She held up a piece and said, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you, Leah. Broken for your brokenness, for all our brokenness, broken to bring all our broken bits together into one Body, whole and complete.”
Leah slipped her hand from Bree’s and crossed it over the other. She felt Ming press the square of bread against her palm. Christ’s body on the cross, broken for her deep, hidden sinfulness, for even the sickness of which she was still unaware. Leah brought her palms to her mouth, took the bread between her lips, tasted it, chewed it, swallowed it, took it into herself.
“Now, Leah,” Ming said, “I want you to serve the bread to your community, your family.” Ming placed the basket in Leah’s hands and looked around at the circle of women.
Leah was startled. She tried to shove the basket back at Ming, but Ming wouldn’t take it. Leah shook her head. “I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can.” It was one of the Grandmothers who spoke, her voice firm. “And we can receive it from you. You did wrong this morning, Leah, but you put it out here in the open in front of us, in front of God. Don’t shrink back now like you’re embarrassed, like you can’t believe you were capable of that. We all are. That’s what we remind ourselves of when we take Communion. Jesus is the only way to healing—for you, for all of us.”
Leah took a deep breath and looked down into Bree’s eyes.
Leah held up a piece of bread from the basket. “This is Christ’s body, broken for me; for you, Bree; for us.”
Bree smiled then and held out her hands.
And Leah pressed the bread into them.