Those baptized had varied stories to tell. A beautiful young woman who had gone through religious motions as a child, attending church but never connecting with God until she was rocked with an eating disorder, brought to the depths, and then found recovery, acceptance, and hope through Christ. A father, mother, and eleven-year-old daughter who want to be a family that lives for the Lord. A man who, in his own words, had lived a hard life and done everything wrong, but who had found forgiveness and a fresh start through Jesus. A ten year old who was ready to step out in faith on her own.
I looked across the room during the service. The woman sitting beside me who's a brilliant researcher at the university. The single mother behind me who brings her young daughters every week. The large family in front who I never can remember exactly how many children they have. The elderly man who watches from afar.
We all have our own stories about how God has intersected our lives.
My eyes came to rest on one young man. He looked so familiar, but I couldn't place why. I nudged my husband who had been thinking the same thing. In an instant when the man turned his face, it came to us both. Sixteen years ago when I was 20-years-old, I had briefly interned in a high school eleventh grade English classroom. He had been one of the students in that class.
It was his eyes I remembered. You don't forget eyes like his: one part remarkably handsome, another part rock-hard like he'd be the first to throw a punch during a bar fight.
Joel remembered him because years ago they both had shown up at the golf course at the same time and had played a few rounds together. (All things golf-related are uncannily seared in Joel's memory.)
We talked to him after the service. He briefly filled in the gaps of the past decade and a half. He, too, had lived hard, spending fourteen months in rehab, but now he was clean, sober, and holding down a good job. More than that, he was a new man. He had come to church to see his older brother get baptized, overjoyed that his brother was finding the same freedom he had found in the Lord.
A few days have passed, yet when I think about this night, tears still well up. What a ragtag group of people. Young and old. Wildly errant and straight and narrow. PhD's and high school drop-outs. Brand new and well established. On the surface, it seems like nothing would connect us, yet our lives have all been changed by God.
I think of the stories that were told: stories of brokenness, great personal failure, deep disappointment. Stories of hard circumstances that were brought on by bad choices or byproducts from the universal challenges of life. But then in each story there was a turning point, a pivot when the momentum shifted, a but then or an and yet.
But then I heard about Jesus. And yet God got a hold of me!
God still pursues people. I know. I didn't grow up in a Christian home, but I was fifteen when I made a choice to follow Christ. In the years that have passed, I've watched God continually pursue me, asking me to yield control, to hand him the pieces of broken dreams, to trust him with my abilities, with my children, with my future. He asks me to believe -- both in thought and action -- that He (the God who died and rose again for me) is capable of handling the affairs of my life, both small and large.
I daresay that if you're reading this, God is pursuing you, too.
There are decisions I have regretted in life. Following Jesus has never been one of them. It sounds painful. Scary, even. Death to self? Letting go. Relinquishing control. Surrender.
But then God fills the emptiness and heals the broken places. And yet God turns the greatest weaknesses -- those hang-ups, those bad choices, those moments of which we're most ashamed -- and He turns them into stories of recovery and deliverance and relatability for others who have traveled those roads, too.
But then. And yet. These words have come into my life narrative so many times. They are words that make all the difference.
It's my prayer today that these words will find their way into your life story, too, whatever page you are on right now.
I've never ended a blog post this way, but it's impressed on my heart to share that you can contact me directly with any questions, prayer requests, or thoughts. Just visit the contact tab up top and shoot me a message. I'd be most happy to connect with you.