There was a point in time many years ago in which I very consciously made a decision to do something I knew to be wrong. In fact, I was praying to God just before I got out of the car, "Please help me not do this thing."
The skies didn't darken, lightning didn't rend the air, and the earth didn't open up and swallow me. So I did it.
I recently reassured a friend, "Compartmentalization is a perfectly valid coping strategy."
I mentally left God in the parking lot that day. Later I would call it "God-in-a-box," this idea that I could summon Him like a genie, and put him back in a hiding place where He couldn't see me while I was living out my rebellions.
A half-dozen years would pass before my life would be renewed. With loving Christian guidance, I brought the dark places into the light, and experienced a time of healing, spiritual growth -- and hopefully spiritual maturity and insight.
Back then I had begun working for a firm in Nashville, and during my daily commute I prayed, listened to worship music and the sermons of thoughtful preachers.
My old mini-van might have glowed a little as it plodded to Nashville and back each day, so anointed was the time I spent in loud conversations (and song!) with God.
A few weeks ago, I spoke of having received two messages from God in the form of photos.
I remember a little swab of chemicals that my dad would rub over the Polariods that came from his camera when I was a girl. We'd line them up on the kitchen table and wait and watch. In time the picture would become clear.
I termed one of those God-photos a Polariod because the message developed over the course of ten days of driving.
Keep in mind, my chains were gone, I'd been set free. Not puffed up pride really, but I was proud of how 'together' my thinking had become.
That morning, right in the middle of belting out a praise song, the picture came to mind for the first time.
My spirit deflated, and I instantly began to ask forgiveness (again). The picture disappeared.
The next day, and the day after that, the picture reappeared, I repented, and the picture left, until day four when I got my wits about me. "Okay God, what are you trying to show me here?"
I knew His nature was not one of condemnation, but it took me a few days to recover from my old ways of thinking long enough to stand on what I knew as truth.
An understanding has grown in me lately to the extent that I think I could almost peel back the corner between this realm and the next, and peer over the edge.
It's almost that simple, but it's also a scary thought: I don't have to 'do' quite so much as I thought. I just have to lay down some stuff (So long, Self!), to love and allow myself to be loved.
My two pictures seem to frame moments in time in which I'm allowed to not only see beyond the moment, but feel what He felt and thought about me.
Some folks are like I was, they cart around this bag-o-shame. We can intellectually grasp the idea that God could forgive the little guilts, the white lies, perhaps the indiscretions.
Shame is made of heavier stuff than guilt, though. Surely there must be some sins that God, air-quotes "forgives" -- but are so big that I must carry this bag around so neither of us ever forgets my wrongness.
So in the picture there I was, smack dab in the middle of The Worst Thing I Ever Did.
"I'll be right back," I had said to him outside.
But sitting right there in the room next to me was Jesus. I felt ashamed; Holy Him, watching me.
Then I looked at His face -- and saw it was full of love.
It was not a joyful face, mind you. There He was, despising the sin, knowing the consequences I would bear for years -- but without question, loving me.
All my learning and knowledge up to that point were good and solid things, like the gold cross I wore around my neck.
But that day the cross became real. The "Good News" wasn't about a deity professing to love a vast universe of Sinners.
It was about Tracy in that Worst Thing moment and all the other good and bad moments before and after.
He saw my face in Gethsemane. He saw it at Calvary too, and He thought, "That Tracy. I love her this much."
He saw you too, beloved.