[All photos from Unsplash]
“Is this your house?” I say slipping off my Chuck Taylors, and resting them near the pile of shoes that has formed in the tile entryway.
“No,” you say, “It’s my parent’s house… they’re letting me crash here so I can save up to buy my own place.”
“Cool. Nice sweater, by the way,” I say.
“You like it?” you say. I nod and smile: your sweater is grey wool with red and blue snowflakes covering your upper chest and shoulders. You look like you’ve walked out of a Swedish Christmas catalog from the ’80s.
You smile proudly. “I just found it today at a thrift store. Three bucks for this!” you say, pointing at your chest.
“Great find,” I say. “I like to go thrifting myself.”
“Well, you’ve got to check out the Goodwills around here…” you say as someone calls you from the living room. You turn your head, and then look back at me—“I’ve got to check on that. Just head on into the living room whenever you’re ready. Put your coat anywhere,” you say, already walking away.
“Thanks,” I say.
I hang my coat on the stair railing, just above my shoes, and then follow you into the kitchen and then around the corner and into a room filled with people. Most are standing, but a few are seated in the dining chairs that line the perimeter.
I sit next to a girl with blonde hair past her shoulders. She’s talking to someone on her left, but when I sit down, she turns toward me and smiles.
“Hi,” I say, “I’m Liz.””
“I’m Susanna,” she says. I hold out my hand and she shakes it.
“Nice to meet you,” I say. She smiles. “So, um,” I stutter, “I’m pretty new in town, and it’s my first time here, so what’s this all about?”
“To be honest, it’s only my second time here,” she says, “so I’m still figuring it out myself.”
“Oh, okay,” I say. “Chad told me about this group. Do you know Chad?”
“No, I don’t think I’ve met Chad yet,” she says.
“Red hair?” I say. She shakes her head. I say, “Actually I don’t know him that well myself. I just met him last Friday, but he said I could meet some people here since I hardly know anybody in town – I just know my relatives.”
“So, what brought you here?” she asks.
“That’s a long story,” I say, and then I hear someone talking above the other voices, and I turn to see who it is, and it’s you. You’re sitting in the center of the room on a wooden stool, one leg crossed over the other.
“Oh, I think we’re starting,” I say to Susanna and motion toward you.
Then you say, “Thanks. It’s time to get this party started, people. Now, pull out your bibles, will ya? Thanks for coming tonight. We have a few new faces,” and here you motion toward my side of the room, “So stay afterward to get acquainted. Tonight, we’re going to continue our group storytelling and we’ll hear how Anthony met Jesus and then we’ll pray for him as a group. So, Anthony, you’re up!”
Anthony, a tough-looking Hispanic guy, concedes a half-smile. He begins: brought up in a home with two messed up parents, his mom left his dad when he was real young and then married his step-dad, they both had issues and then they met Jesus and changed. But he rebelled anyway all through high school and college — drugs, alcohol, etcetera —— and all the awhile, he was battling extreme anxiety.
He says, “It’s hard to explain, but all the drugs and alcohol, and probably my family, too, they made me so anxious. I mean, I was having anxiety attacks every hour or more. Playing my guitar helped fight them off, so this one night, when I could feel an attack coming, I grabbed my guitar and started to strum. I tried to sing, but instead I began hyperventilating. I was losing control. I prayed, ‘Help me!’ in my mind, and then, I felt someone come up behind me and physically hugged me tight until the attack passed. I thought it was one of my roommates home from class, it was so real, but I was alone in my dorm room. And then I knew, without a doubt, that it was Jesus, that he was real, and that I had to follow him. I started sobbing when I realized that. From that moment on, I did not touch drugs ever again.”
I shiver and look around. People are nodding.
“Yeah, I think it must have been my mom’s prayers,” Anthony says, laughing. “Yeah. Anyway, that’s it. Ever since I’ve been a new man. Right, Kristina?” He pokes a blonde sitting next to him, who giggles. (She’s as tiny as an Anthropologie model, of course.)
You say, “Well, thanks, man, for sharing that.”
“No problem,” Anthony says.
“Well,” you say to the group, “Let’s pray over Anthony.”
A few people stand up and sit on the carpet near Anthony’s chair, placing their hands on his shoulders, knees, and back. Why not? I think, so I too leave my seat and sit on the floor near him, resting my hand on Anthony’s left sock.
You start the praying off, thanking God for Anthony, for saving him and for his new life in God. I open my eyes and look at you. You are praying with your eyes closed, and your hand is on Anthony’s right shoulder, and your eyebrows are dancing up and down with your words. I smile.
A few more people pray, and then, when the room has gone silent, you say, “Amen.” We lift our heads and you say, “Okay, I guess we can get to the main attraction. As you all know, last weekend a bunch of us went on our annual prayer and fasting retreat to ask God for direction for this group of ours. After our time, we feel like God wants us to study the gospel of Mark together. So for the next month, we’re going to read the whole book together every week and fast before the study. Then we can talk about what we’ve learned in our reading and break our fast at Denny’s after bible study.”
You continue: “But we don’t want this group only to be about head-learning or about doing something extra-spiritual to please God or convince Him to give us Christian brownie points. What we’re going for is a chance to experience God first-hand. We want to become better friends with Jesus. We want to know God for ourselves.”
I remember the day before, how I had spent an hour face down on my grandmother’s carpet, in the basement of my aunt and uncle’s house, weeping. I talked to God in my mind, telling God about the deep hole in my gut that follows me every day, telling God that no one cares if I live here, telling God that I want to go home to Chicago.
Inaudibly, I felt God speak to me: “I want to show you who I am,” God said. I did not know what to make of God’s answer until now.
You continue, explaining a passage from the gospel of Mark, the calming of the storm. You read Mark 4:40: “And Jesus said to his disciples…
You pause and look around. Then you say, “How often are we like these disciples, losing sight of who Jesus in the middle of the storm? But He was there the whole time and all along, he had the power to calm the sea. Even at the end of this section, the disciples ask each other, ‘Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ And, of course, they missed the whole point. The whole time, it was about Jesus, about believing and trusting him, the one who was there the whole time, sitting right next to them – it wasn’t about the storm at all.”
This is part of my serial publications of scenes from my in-progress falling-in-love memoir, about the anguished, beautiful, and spiritual way that my husband and I met, fell in love, and married.
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