As with everything else in life, one never truly gets it until it hits home.

You think you understand that babies will turn your world upside down… and then you finally get one, and you’re still shocked and awed. You think you understand that road accidents devastate families… and then your cousin dies in one, and you cry till your eyes are swollen and your heart literally hurts.

You think you understand how scared and upset you’d be if you found you had a chronic disease. And then your mother gets cancer. And suddenly you cannot breathe.

My mommy has cancer. And not the very nice kind, if there even is such a thing. And the mind and heart, they fumble. The mind starts to shoot a million instructions while the heart starts to crawl under the nearest table and hug its knees, rocking to and fro while whispering, “Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God…”

Yes, my God. Why, my God. How, my God. When, my God.

Wait. Please don’t answer the last question, my God.

And it’s huge, the Big C. There are so many facts, and there are so many things to learn. And then there’s the grief, because it’s there. The coming to terms with dreams put on hold for now. The coming to terms with the painful reminder that you really don’t have the next decade all figured out. That this is the new reality, with all its uncertainty.

And all that is true, and all that I wasn’t prepared for. But the other big C that has blown my mind away has been the church.

I’ve grown up in a church all my life. I speak of the people, not the building. I grew up in a modest two-bedroom home with my mum for most of my life till my twenties… but I’ve also grown up with a church since birth.

This means that I know a few hundred people, easy. And they know me. This means we’ve watched each other get older and stranger and grayer and lovelier and meaner and thinner and fatter and sicker and healthier. For years. This means that they know which schools I’ve gone to, met guys  I’ve dated, mediated between my mom and I when we’ve had fights, admonished me, praised me, attended my wedding, kissed my new baby through gifts and cards, teased my husband, read my blog. I’ve loved individuals, fallen out with individuals, had crushes on individuals, cried on many shoulders, hugged even more. This is my other family. My extended family. I love them as a whole, even when they exasperate me.

Despite knowing this, my return to Singapore has floored me… and renewed my faith in God’s rather crazy scheme of throwing random strangers together and calling them family.

Here’s an example of how church works.

We find out about my mother’s cancer on a Thursday. By Friday, my mother’s care team (cell group) is crying about it, and by Sunday the congregation has prayed for her. In the meantime, a close sister in the faith has been selflessly shuttling my mother back and forth her gazillion tests and appointments, and another has become the media centre. Not that they were the only ones who’d have done so – there’s been a steady queue of volunteers for anything – chaffeuring, cooking, money… Even babysitting Arddun.

And then the cards and the emails and the advice and the visits come pouring in. I’ve actually lost count now. It’s been overwhelming in a goosebump-inducing way.

In the meantime, I’ve been hugged and encouraged, taken out for meals, and reassured over and over that my mother is in good hands because everyone here will love and watch over her. Also, a Chinese whisper starts about my mild mastitis and soon, a myriad of aunties are asking me loudly how my rash is going, and checking with Tony if his diarrhea has cleared yet. Big crowds, eh? Can’t always version-control information. ;)

In the last few years in Canberra, I’ve met individuals who yearn to better understand what God intended the church to be like. And many have thought the answer to lie in smaller groups. Move away from corporate worship! One finds intimacy with God and one another in smaller, more intimate settings.

And yes, that is true. Small groups are very conducive for getting the D&M going. Gut spillage is safer and easier in intimate settings. And I’ll admit that many Christians in big churches tend towards toeing the party line outwardly. The presentation of a spotless, God-fearing facade, etc etc.

But I reckon that even small groups can encourage the building of facades. And big churches can foster intimate fellowship.

As tempting as it is to point at big “corporate” churches as the cause of dispassionate, clinical, checkbox Christianity, I am now reminded that the willingness to engage with one another in a meaningful fashion lies within each of our grasp, no matter how quiet or noisy our environments are.  Because God intended church to be big. I’m not talking local congregation sizes – I’m talking about a church that knows no bounds. Including the churches in Canberra and Wellington Point, I know of at least four congregations that have raised their hands to God in prayer for my mother’s sake. And my mother hasn’t been the only beneficiary – Tony and I came home to find our house cleaned, and homecooked meals in our fridge.

The devil isn’t in the detail. Practical Christianity is.

And thank God He gave us a Big Church to practise.