I slip in to a rear pew at the last minute, searching the rows ahead for Tina, without success. Ironic that, for the first time in years, church is not merely camouflage for me, and Tina is not by my side.
"Lord the light of Your love is shining" (Once I thought I knew what love was.)
"In the midst of the darkness, shining;" (Yeah, darkness is about all I know now.)
"Jesus, Light of the world, shine upon us," (Light--ouch!)
Set us free by the truth You now bring us..." (Set free by truth?)
As I watched Tina glide down the isle on her father's arm, I had been so certain that marriage would vanquish, once and for all, the monster within. And it did--for a while.
"Search me, try me, consume all my darkness." (Is it possible for it to be consumed?)
Everything was wonderful until some time after Dana was born. Tina was busy with her, and I was striving to prove myself at work by putting in extra hours. As I was away more, Tina grew increasingly frustrated at my absence. Without conscious thought, I began coping with the stress the way I had for years. Before long, being in church was most uncomfortable, but I needed the protective coloration to maintain some vestige of respect in Tina's eyes.
My attention shifts back to the screen as the song changes.
"How deep the Father's love for us," (A father's love--not something I know much about... Ugh, Father's Day, on top of everything else.)
"To make a wretch His treasure." (The wretch part is easy... It's the treasure part that I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around.)
We had gone to church when I was young, but we hadn't been for years before my father left. Mom insisted that we return after that, and I was just about to assert my independence from youth group during my senior year, when Tina showed up. In four years I had never cleaned my act up enough to consider myself Christian material, knowing that God was not fooled by my outer propriety. But Tina was worth going through the motions for.
I sit automatically, and pass the offering plate.
In the months after we married, I had started to believe that it wasn't just motions anymore--that I was actually getting a handle on the "walking the talk" thing. But it was just a delusion borne on the euphoria of a new groom.
"Please open your Bibles to Luke chapter fifteen, starting at verse eleven. 'Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons."'"
Yeah, prodigal, that's me...
"Some of you have never done the kinds of things that the younger son did, but that doesn't exempt you from the need for grace. Some of you are all too keenly aware of being coated in the swine's muck." (He got that right.)
"Some of you had great earthly examples of a loving father, but some of you did not grow up with your father in your life, or you could only hope to do enough, some day, to earn his approval, never feeling his love for simply being his son or daughter."
The lump in my throat makes it hard to breathe. Crying is not an option... Did I cry that day when I came in from my first day in eighth grade and found his note? "I have found a woman and her son who are actually worth my time. You will never see me again." I remember lying to Mom and telling her that I tore it up and flushed it, only saying that he said he was leaving and not coming back. Why I kept it and tormented myself with it, I'll never know.
"God will NEVER abandon you, or stop loving you, no matter what you do."
Has Tina abandoned me? She has good cause. By the time I heard her gasp behind me late Friday night, it was too late to close the window on the computer. The look of utter betrayal before she turned without another word and bundled Dana and Eva in to the car sent razor blades through my heart. It was no longer only God who knew.
"Change my heart, O God..." My feet are taking me toward the altar... The dam can no longer hold... The pastor prays with me, then I look up to see Tina, dressed in white, on her father's arm, gliding toward me...
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