The day that Jesus came

I wrote this recently for someone who asked me to tell them what happened when I became a Christian, what was it like, that change, and why. It’s short, because brevity was what was called for there, although I now wish I’d saved a longer version to share here with you now. I hope you enjoy it. And please, if you feel like it, share your own stories here too. 

If I knew one thing at sixteen it was that I was sick of being alone. My whole self hurt, and what hurt the deepest was isolation. I didn’t want to pretend that I was okay any more. I was far from okay, and I needed someone to hear me.

A friend took me to see a Camp Counsellor, who asked me to say a prayer I didn’t understand. I repeated something after her, asking Jesus to be the boss of me and telling God I was sorry for the stuff I’d done wrong. She smiled, as if everything was okay now. I shut my eyes against the disappointment and wondered why I should be sorry.

Something did change, but I felt worse, not better. The next day I woke to feel the dark deadweight wreck of my life resting on me like a coat I couldn’t shake off. I bawled snotty tears and let words tumble out from inside of me, a measly offering to a God I didn’t know cared, of all the aloneness I carried, and how sorry I was for for every stupid thing I’d done. I felt ashamed, and it terrified me.

Then the miracle happened.

Suddenly in front of me I saw a vision of a sky dark with clouds, and a cross, and there was a man in white robes reaching out to me. It was Him, Jesus, with me.

I stretched out my arms and told him He could have it all, my stupid sodden mess of a life, that if He wanted me I would be His, and, just like that, He took it. I didn’t feel it any more. I didn’t feel the shame in my mind, the hurt or the aloneness or the darkness or the fear. Where there had been just me, now there was me and Him, and nothing else mattered. Now I was found. Now I was wanted. Now I was rescued. Now I was loved.

The presence of Jesus stayed with me that day and the next, the way you sense someone’s presence in a room even with your eyes closed, and through that day and the next the relief spread tangibly throughout my body. I told my friend and she got out her Bible and showed me Matthew 28:20, and it was there for me, in black and white, a promise written that I could claim as mine: Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Now as an adult, if I know one thing, it’s that no matter what my circumstances tell me I’m never alone, and when darkness looms and threatens there, still, is Jesus.

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Just Because You Can’t See It…

We were in church when he said it, which made it a hundred times worse. Well, not church exactly, but the fabulous little art/craft/secondhand shop connected to my mum’s church, and filled with steel-wool haired ladies bustling around trying to sell us padded coat hangers and antique electric jugs. And, to make matters worse, he’s got the most piercing, piping little voice you’ve ever heard. The kid has a natural stage voice, and can cut through a crowd in a second to make himself heard without even trying.

He’s only four, in his defense, and his big brother had recently lost yet another tooth, so the tooth fairy had made an appearance, she of the shady past and hazy details; she of the “what do YOU believe?” status, showing our kind of reluctance to tell either the truth or the lie to a kid so young. And that may be it, it may be the reason why he said it, because he’s a logical kind of kid and he needs to know black from white, true from TV, and it’s his way of questioning, these bald statements of un-faith in a tone that suggests he’s really fifty and explaining things to his four year old self.

I’m not sure any more why he said, where the conversation stemmed from, even though it was only last week. All I remember is this piercing little voice singing out over the prints of Byzantine icons and small wooden crucifixes, “But Jesus isn’t real…”

We jumped on him with our best theological arguments, all of us, even his brother and sister. “Yes he is!” “He’s just invisible.” “It’s like the wind. Just because you can’t see the wind doesn’t mean it isn’t there. God’s like that too.”

I find it hard with that one. If I tell him Jesus lives in my heart he thinks Jesus is small. And Jesus died on the cross some 2,000 years ago, so what’s he doing in my heart anyway? And if he’s in MY heart, how can he be in anyone else’s? So we explain the Trinity as God in Heaven who has a body but whom we can’t see, Jesus is Heaven who has a body and came to earth, also whom we can’t see, and the Holy Spirit, who doesn’t have a body, who’s the presence of God with us here. He doesn’t really get it. Who would? Theologians with years more experience than me still can’t fully explain the Trinity, or how all three can be one. Why would my four year old understand it either?

But it bothers me sometimes, the times I worry about whether I’m failing my child or my church for not giving him the most complete religious education I can. I try my precious best. I love him for all I’m worth and I pray every night that the reality of the presence of God that I’ve experienced so deeply and so transformatively will one day seep into his consciousness. I think, deep down, he knows that presence. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he probably knows nothing else but that feeling of peace and love. Fortunately. What am I saying? This is a GOOD thing.

I’m trying to quell the guilt. It’s not helpful. And if I believe (as I do) in a God who is big enough to create the universe and create man in his image, then I must believe that God is also big enough to correct my mistakes when I ask him to.

I don’t worry that much. Not anywhere nearly as much as I pray. And play. And bake.

Ohhhh baking. School holidays and new kitchens make for some serious baking going on in our house, and, thanks to my joyous new oven, the baking is gooooooood. I made a pumpkin streusel coffee cake (or, if you prefer, a pumpkin streusel diet Dr. Pepper cake) the other day, from an American recipe I gleaned from my American friend, Sharon. It’s delicious, a total favourite for all our kids, and with very good reason. We sat down at the table with our cake and our jigsaw puzzles and my four year old looked up at me and said “Who made this cake?”

I looked at him, puzzled. “We made it, just now. You licked the beaters, remember?”

“No, who taught us who to make it?”

“You mean who gave us the recipe? It’s from Sharon in America.”

“Ohhhh.” He took a bite, and said in that same slightly patronising voice, like he’s fifty years old and explaining it to his four year old self,

“But Sharon isn’t real, is she.”

Oh son. Just because you can’t see…

Raising cats and compost

A few years ago my next door neighbour’s cat died. Her name was Lucy, and she was a short-haired calico. The cat, that is, not my next-door neighbour.

My daughter was four. She was sad, because our cat had died barely a year before, and this time my daughter had a new arsenal of knowledge under her belt: she insisted that I go round to my next door neighbour’s house and pray for the revival of the cat.

Ummm…

Because God can do anything, Mummy. Don’t you believe that?

Well, yes, I do believe that. And yes, I believe that the power of God can raise people – and even cats – from the dead, and that if we have that power living in us then yes, we too can see cats raised from the dead. We’re big on faith, our family.

But…ummm…

Now I’m not ashamed of my faith. Hell, we had our family photo plastered across a double-page spread of the paper as a representation of a Christian Family In An Age of Declining Faith! But still, going to visit my non-Christian next-door-neighbour in post-Christian Australia to tell him God’s going to raise his cat from the dead…ummmm…

Some things just need to stay dead. And that’s OKAY.

I’m remembering this today, because there’s something else that died a few years ago – eighteen years ago to be exact – and by now it’d be pretty darn smelly if it were to get up and start wandering round the grass again, and that’s exactly what it’s threatening to do. It’s a dream I used to have. Something I loved. Something I used to believe in. Something that died, and I grieved, and allowed new dreams to grow from the compost of what used to be.

Except now the new dream is wilting, its last bright petals shriveled and dancing to the dirt, to be swallowed by the compost, and suddenly I see that the compost that birthed it is stirring to life again, and is wanting to walk. This has happened before, with something else. It hurt. A lot. Some things need to stay dead.

But when I look back at that time, with the Something Else, the dead thing that walked, no matter how much it hurt at the time, I’m a better person, a happier person, because of it. Yes, it was smelly. And pretty ugly at first, but it grew into something beautiful. It grew into me.

I’m sad for the wilting dream, and, smelly though it may be, I’m just a bit excited about the walking compost in my heart. I’m glad there’s a time for resurrection.

My next-door-neighbor moved out a few years ago, and all that’s left of him is a memory, and a scrawled note on the bottom of the fence that I can see from the kitchen window. It says “Lucy Girl”, and it marks the place where the little calico cat is buried. There’s a beagle in the garden now, and much mud and compost. I’m hoping that the beagle doesn’t turn into a digger – things could get interesting (and smelly). But a pertinent reminder: even now, in God’s universe, it’s never too late.