Pay close attention. Don’t move. I stared until a halo formed around the Pastor’s head. His palms were cold against me. Any second now.
The halo grew to encompass my vision. He’s here.
Something flickered behind my eye, and my head jerked back against my neck. My eyes turned to the cross. Let Him have you. Release yourself.
My vision trembled along the cross section; the dark wood formed a defining line. I am with God. I am with Him, my thought chanted.
My vision tunneled by a bright light and the point along the wooden cross blipped out of existence. I was with Him.
But then again, I was still there. I wiggled my big toe. It sent a distinct message back to my brain. I never left. People reported a blackout before falling to the floor, jittering bodies and jabbering mouths, jumping Christian jelly beans. No need to doubt. I pressed my eyes closed tight and hoped for the blackout before I let myself fall back into the elder sisters’ arms. I tried to block any sensation, but I felt their hands, along my ribs, lower me softly to the ground. The carpet was thin on the baseboard by the alter. I tried to conjure the light, push a blank film across my mind, but I couldn’t stop my thought. Was this really God?
I struggled against my doubt. I thought of a sunrise, the distance from the star, and our perfect position for life. Created in His image. I was created in His image. I urged my faith. The sisters knelt down beside me and put their fingers in jars of oil to trace the line of my jaw. They rubbed the muscles in my face to loosen my tongue. I opened my mouth.
My tongue sat as a bulky, wet mound as I tried to give myself to God. I thought of His hands along my face and the tenderness He’d exude. My tongue would jabber in ecstasy. None of me, I thought, Not my tongue. And then, I let the gibberish wash across my mind and through my mouth, a bad mixture of baby babble and basic salutations from Spanish class.
I was thirteen.
I locked myself in my bedroom, and turned the lamp to shine on my face in the mirror. I opened my mouth as I had done before and watched as my tongue started to flicker, and I let the nonsense take me.
Deep down under the garbled gargle of my brainwash, a little curious girl with messy red hair peered over the kitchen counter.
I was a young poor Christian girl in a new school with older kids, bad boys, and flashy dressers. I tried to stay in the shadows. I hid my Bible on the bottom shelf of my locker, but the guilt of my shame grew to the pit of my stomach until I took out the book and carried it to my study hall. I wanted to be Christ-like. I slid the Bible out of my backpack
but hid the cover behind my notebook, and I read the secret words. My nerves gripped to scream that everyone in the room was watching. But, really, no one cared. No one seemed to notice me.
I wore baggy Christian t-shirts that proclaimed my faith. I sat in the corners and tucked my books against my chest but let the colorful lines show around the edges. A rough boy in my science class pointed me out from the other kids. My eyes darted across the room to the teacher. “Why do you always wear those shirts?” He demanded.
Spit pooled along his eager gums. My mind raced for a smart defense, something that would lead to God’s glory. All I knew was how to talk of God. My stomach grew around my chest and pushed my heart out in a visible thunder. I wanted to keep his gaze but my face sunk to the floor.
“Because she likes them, that’s why?” my cousin’s voice blurted out behind me in my defense.
I wanted to say something. “I believe in God,” I said in a whisper, but he didn’t hear me. My head warmed as the blood rose in my embarrassment. My cousin flipped her blonde hair over her shoulder. The boy turned away. I sunk my face back into my school books.
When I was thirteen, I used God to ease my shame. My life revolved around avoiding embarrassment and the anxiety that came with it.. I think I wore that t-shirt less frequently until it disappeared from my wardrobe, just in case.
Every night, I gave my devotion in small mummers behind my closed door. His message to me was, “Wait.” So I waited.
I met my friend under the giant oaks. She giggled and twisted; her hair in a flutter, about a boy, she said, we’d meet. Unaware of the date and having nowhere else to go, I was urged to stick around.
He was a dark haired boy; a bad boy, he wore black t-shirts. His mouth pulled back in a knowing smirk, his lips in an alluring sneer. He knew the devil, my nerves turned in assumption.
We sat in a line along the roots in the ground, the hard bark against our backs. We watched the clouds between the trees until patterned scales formed in our skin. We thought to rub them away, we sat in a train, and then, his hands fell on my shoulders.
I tried to talk of God, but, he turned my attempts in jests. His banter spiked my attention. He was the backward image of my charisma toward God. His passion about nothing. Nothingness, and something.
We walked through trees and over worn paths to the rocky ledge. He offered me a cigarette, and I declined by my devotion.
There was a bad man behind a godly mask. He took my devotion in his lies. I believed until I heard the truth. And, God let it happen.
I dreamed of you until I was a woman. Then, I left the dream for childishness.
Across an empty bar with low lit orange lights, I saw the dark haired boy. He came to me with a smile and offered me the smoke. I put behind my notions of God and took the boy’s offer. He beamed to me from our connection and never left my side.
So, I ask you know, “Who is God?” I’ve always wanted Him to be pure love.
The boy behind those devilish eyes caught me by surprise. I took him with me and claimed my love for nothing but our lives.
Audra and Mike were married in 2009 and had a baby boy named Charlie. They're sure to live happily ever after. Audra is a grad student, a reformed charismatic and the best mommy she can be.