I’ve been trying to write this story for weeks. In those weeks, I’ve learned two things. One: much as I’ve tried, there is no way to tell this story without sounding fucking crazy. And two: I experience it all over again anytime I so much as think about it.
Despite my distaste for religion and distrust of the church – the very organization that’s so wronged my family – I’ve been attending a Monday evening young adult’s service for months. I originally agreed to go with a friend so she wouldn’t have to go alone (heaven forbid) but when she bailed, I still went. This service is held at the church my sister attends – a church I think very little of – and she and her husband often lead worship.
I thought I knew my sister well up until that first night; but as I finally saw her in all her glory, I realized I’d been a fool.
This was not typical worship, where wannabe musicians fuel their egos and a congregation competes for the best Christian performance, no. This was something else. To witness my sister worshiping is to know, with absolute certainty, that something good and real is happening within her. She is generous enough to let it pour out of her mouth and into our desperately hungry hearts. And so I kept returning by myself.
One day, after spending Christmas with a good friend and engaging in a surprisingly honest conversation about God, our struggles and hope, I found myself praying. What I’d been doing before then can hardly be called prayer; I’d been yelling (and cursing) at God. But this time, armed with my friend’s encouragement, I asked God for a message. Nothing vague or confusing, but rather something undeniable to show me He was real and He loved me. Then, as was advised, I gave Him a deadline. I asked for His reply no later than the following evening, which was (conveniently) Monday night.
I went into service that Monday believing this was going to be it; I was going to get a message from God. Instead, I received a big, giant, God-sized middle finger in the face.
First of all, some other people lead worship that night and it sucked; I felt nothing. Then, after the speaker gave a few prophetic words, which were most definitely not meant for me, she went on to speak about walking in faith through disappointment. HA! I left that night in a dark cloud. “Fine! Fuck you, too!” I shouted on my drive home.
The following week I did not want to go. I felt tired and irritated and it seemed pointless. My friend (the same one who originally bailed on me) once again convinced me to accompany her. There was a brief moment, sitting in my car, where I took a breath and thought aloud, I still choose you… you dick.
Worship began and in all my irritation, I could not focus. It didn’t help that my friend was putting on the most perfect performance I’d ever seen. But instead of writing her off as a total phony (because I really have no way to know one way or the other) I decided to sit my ass down and try to ignore her. I took off my boots and sat cross-legged in my seat. I closed my eyes, controlled my breathing, put all other people out of my mind, and just listened. And in my meditative state, weird shit started to happen.
It started with a very strong tingling traveling up my spine, causing me to gasp upon reaching my neck. Then I was bombarded with thoughts of my niece. I had not naturally reached for these thoughts; they were put there quite forcefully.
I saw her running toward me, smiling, arms open wide. I saw her laughing and jumping on the couch. I saw us dancing together with Taylor Swift’s Shake it off on repeat. I remembered dancing with her in my arms when she became tired but insisted on continuing. I saw her throwing a tantrum, scrunching up her face and stomping around. I remembered the effort it took not to laugh.
Then I began to feel it – a love I didn’t know existed, let alone that I was capable of. I thought of how when my niece misbehaves or rebels, I somehow love her even more. And in that moment, as I became completely overwhelmed by love, I felt an undeniable THIS IS HOW I LOVE YOU. Then my sister started to sing Taylor Swift’s Shake it off and I dissolved into tears.
My tears quickly turned to laughter as I realized I was crying to a Taylor Swift song. Then I opened my eyes, remembered where I was and wiped away the evidence. All around me people were flailing about, completely unaware I’d just had a breakthrough.
Since then, I’ve been walking around on shaky legs, trying to adapt to a reality that obliterates much of what I thought to be true. I’ve only been able to tell portions of this story to two people: my sister and my therapist. Both times I kept it short because I started crying all over again. Hell, I’m crying again right now. Apparently God loves me. Holy shit.