As I walked between the pews toward the beautiful stained-glass window, my eight-year-old mind was racing. I want to love God. My smiling pastor hugged me. After the song ended, he announced that I had made a profession of faith.
I thought, A profession of what?
But, I just smiled.
He asked the congregation to say “I” if they agreed for me to be baptized and become a member.
What did I sign up for?
Again, I smiled.
The sweet people excitedly shouted, “I.”
And, just like that … I was in.
Over the next five years, I was a model church-goer. I received awards for perfect attendance. I played the piano, as the people sang along each week. I remember learning about Jonah and that big ole’ fish, but I had no idea of its importance. I lived up to everyone’s expectations.
Eventually, though, I saw fighting between church leaders. I was hurt by them. I expected perfection, but discovered flaws. They were hypocritical and judgmental. So, I quit.
During college, I had a friend invite me to church. I thought, I’ve done the church thing and it doesn’t work. I didn’t go.
I was broken. And lonely. Despite all the parties and bar-hopping with friends, I was so lonely. Decision after bad decision, my life started to unravel.
Then, I met a young man at a grocery store. He was different – genuine, kind and accepting. We became friends. I worked up the courage to tell him about all my mistakes. Calmly, he responded, “You’re human. We all make mistakes. God still loves you.”
Those words changed me. Several days later, I was sitting at work in a quiet file room. The puzzle pieces were put together, I finally saw the whole picture.
That man who died on the cross loves me unconditionally. He was nailed to the cross on Good Friday, He rose from the dead three days later. Easter has new meaning!! The one who loves me unconditionally is waiting for me in heaven!
I prayed to myself, Jesus I want to know you. I’m sorry for my mistakes. Please live in my heart forever, I never want to go back to my old life.
A couple years later, I was baptized in a backyard swimming pool. That was sixteen years ago.
I still make mistakes every day. Life remains messy. But, I know Jesus! He gives me strength. No matter what, I am always loved and never alone. He is forever. The eraser of mistakes and giver of grace. He is hope and freedom!
My eyes were opened. We all need to love with grace. I shouldn’t expect perfection from church leaders, only God is perfect. We’re human and flawed. Only Jesus can change a life.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.” Matthew 11:28 (The Message)
Oh, and that boy in the grocery store … I married him!