So about 25 years ago, on a weekend out of town with my husband and friends, I attended a church service. I had decided I didn’t believe in God when I was about 12, since it seemed clear to me that a loving God wouldn’t permit the kind of suffering that was so evident all around me. But I was feeling some peer pressure that morning and went with the flow.
It was in December and the service started with familiar Christmas songs that I had loved as a child. For some unimaginable reason, I started crying and couldn’t stop. Horribly embarrassed, I got up and went to stand in the back of the room, tears streaming down my face, oblivious to whatever was happening on the platform. At a certain point, I had a vivid image of my heart barricaded behind barb wire and burglar bars, and I felt a pressing invitation to let down those defenses and open my heart. The instant that I took that frightening risk, I had a life-changing, world shattering vision of Jesus, as tall as the vaulted worship space, dressed in flowing white robes, with his arms outstretched in welcoming.
In my stunned state, I somehow realized that there was a call from the platform to come forward for prayer. I went forward and repeated the prayer, but my heart and mind were completely overwhelmed with the sudden understanding that Jesus knew everything about me, the good, the bad and the ugly, and only felt compassion and sorrow for the hurts I had experienced, even the ones I had caused myself. I was flooded with the knowledge that I was deeply and unconditionally loved. (For days afterwards, I would lay in bed hugging myself and saying “I am loved, I am loved!”)
I stumbled back to my friends at the end of the service, but didn’t say anything to anyone, even my husband. Everything that I thought I knew about my life and the world was instantly turned upside down. Feeling dazed and shaken to my core, I needed time to process this discovery that Jesus is a real supernatural being of immense power and glory, but even more surprising, of inexplicable love for us.