My heart was beating out of my chest. I tried to calm my breathing as I slipped silently out my chair. What am I doing? You need to sit back down. I knew all eyes were on me. Stares, whispers, I could feel the weight of their judgement as I snuck into the isle. I tried to move as quickly as possible, to go undetected, but my feet weighed about a thousand pounds each as I traveled through the quicksand that seemed to lie between my seat and the front. Gasps. Pointing fingers. Raised eyebrows. Judgemental whispers. I knew what I had to do, but quickly found this wasn’t going to be easy as everyone was finding out what I had already known for a long time. I was a fraud. A complete fake. I was not one of them, and now they knew it. It was confirmed. I was sure they had all been talking about it for weeks anyway.
“Did you see Eric’s new girlfriend? Think she’s legit?”
Well now their suspicions were confirmed. I was a phony all along. Going through the motions, trying to fit in, trying to keep something like this from happening. What am I doing? Is it too late to turn back? It was. They’ve seen me. I can almost feel the weight of their disapproval. Scorn like laser beams in my back. I’ve just done something I can’t take back. I’m ruined. Eric will be so mad at me. Will we have to leave this church? No, he knows everyone here. Maybe I’ll be asked to leave. Maybe Eric will break up with me. It’s too late, you can’t go back, they already know.
I will never forget my walk up to the altar the Easter morning in 2007. It probably took all of 10 seconds for me to get up there, but it felt like an eternity. As I knelt down, I remember feeling overwhelmed and confused, but no longer resistant. I bowed my head, not even sure what to say to God. I didn’t even deserve the honor of approaching him. Here I am a sinner, trying to reach a holy God. So undeserving of Him even hearing my cry. Why am I suddenly aware of this? Just yesterday I was doubting His existence, and if He existed I was certainly doubting His goodness.
Tears began to fall, consuming me in emotion I was unprepared for.
I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what to say. I’m just so sorry. I’m not even sure what I’m doing or what I’m sorry for, but God please hear me. I need you! I don’t know why, I don’t understand, but I know I’ve been without you for too long and I need you now. Please hear me, Lord.
By this point I’m sobbing uncontrollably. Unaware of anything around me, was there music? Was someone praying? I think someone’s praying with me, but I don’t know. I just remember suddenly feeling free. Feeling like everything was different. I was different. I felt a weight, almost as if it were a physical burden being lifted from my shoulders. I continued sobbing and asking God what was happening. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I know it’s Eric. He doesn’t hate me. I have actually never felt more loved. Not ever in my entire life has anything felt more confusing but made so much sense. I was vulnerable, exposed, torn apart, and completely whole.
I open my eyes to see Eric next to me, and one of our pastors in front of me. She had been praying with me. There are others too. Praying over me, praying over others who are at the altar too. I wasn’t alone. Everyone seems so genuinely happy for me. They’re crying, hugging me, shaking my hand. I’m not the same. What just happened? Everything is different. How did I get back to my seat? Everything’s surreal.
I was wrong. They never were judging me. I know that now. I guess I’m an expert in projecting my own hurts and fears and insecurities onto them. A defense mechanism that kept me from actually accepting them. How am I seeing this now? Why does everything look the way it did before, but everything’s different?
I feel different. I feel whole. Complete. Happy. I feel new. How is this possible? All of my doubts, they seem so far away now. I feel warm, and loved, accepted. I’m not talking about by the people in church either.
This really is real. I can’t believe it, it’s actually real. They weren’t faking. They weren’t lying. They weren’t just trying to brainwash me. It’s real. And I have it now. Everything’s different. Wonderfully different. Deep down, I know there is no going back.
I know already, in those first moments, that this is just the beginning. And that this will forever be the best day of my whole life. My real birthday.
“Captivated, but no longer bound by chains
Left at an empty grave
The sinner and the sacred resolved” All of Creation – MercyMe