The wooden church pew is as firm and back-numbing as I remember from my last visit four years ago. I try to glance around the tiny congregation without meeting anyone's gaze. I tell myself I am just curious to know if there has been much changeover.
My ever-present accuser mocks me. You know who you're really looking for. And what will you do if you see them? Huh?
I duck my head and pretend to concentrate on the bulletin. My fingers tremble.
Beside me, my sister Karen pats her snoozing baby's back and smiles greetings to late arrivals. I watch my sister kiss her son's wispy hair and envy her.
Why are you here? You walked away ages ago. Why did you let your sister talk you into coming?
A gray-headed woman, her hair neatly coiffed into loose curls, stops beside our pew. She half-embraces my sister. “Why, Karen dear, what are you doing sitting way back here?”
She's going to notice you. She's going to remember. There will be all sorts of awkward questions.
Then she squints at me. A startled gasp escapes her lips before she covers it with a faked cough.
“Is that who I think it is?” Her voice drips with insincerity. I set my face into a frozen smile and nod before turning my gaze back to the bulletin.
“It's good to see you back where you belong, Evie.” Her words stab me in my abdomen and wrench upward to my throat, bringing a wave of nausea with the thrust.
Where you belong? Ha! Not here, that's for sure.
I pretend I did not hear. Mrs. Atmore sniffs and hobbles down the aisle to the pew where her family has always sat.
The service begins as though it was postponed for Mrs. Atmore's arrival.
Some things never change. Did you think it would be any different?
I fidget through most of the worship songs. I can not sing those words after all these years. If I sing, I will cry. I must be strong, not weak and vulnerable. If I have learned one lesson over these years, it is that.
The visiting evangelist accepts the microphone from Pastor Garland. He closes his eyes and pauses.
“You must understand I don't normally begin like this.”
The atmosphere in the sanctuary changes. The assembled congregants draw in a collective breath as if waiting for a miraculous sign to appear. The silence lengthens and the evangelist appears to listen to something no one else can perceive.
The stale air in the room prickles as if with an electric current. My accuser hisses and writhes within my mind, beckoning my attention. But my focus is on the evangelist.
“The Holy Spirit is moving among you tonight. Someone here needs healing.”
I have seen this before. In the months before I left the church, I begged the Lord to speak through our pastor and call me forward to be healed but He never answered. Every call was for someone else. I stopped waiting.
“It's a deep wound, one kept open by a spirit of offense over the words and actions of others. A scab has formed but it has kept bitterness and poison inside.”
Don't say it! my accuser shrieks.
“There is someone here who lost a child several years ago.”
I narrow my eyes at Karen and jab her with an angry elbow. Her eyes widen. She shakes her head to deny my unspoken accusation. The baby in her arms stirs, places a tiny fist to his mouth, and returns to sleep.
I whisper furiously. “If I knew you were going to do this, I wouldn't have come.”
The evangelist continued. “The Lord wants to remove the scab and rid you of your poison.”
I breathe heavily, my chest heaving with the sorrow I thought I had buried. Losing track of everyone but the man in front, I wrestle with my emotions.
“You need to come forward. Your healing can not begin until you humble yourself to receive it.”
My legs wobble when I stand. I pause, undecided whether to walk up that aisle or flee. Too late, I realize my rustling movement has attracted the attention of every eye in the congregation.
Something deep within wells up and spills over. My feet carry me forward. I barely can see the evangelist through the tears but it does not matter. My Savior is waiting to heal me.
John 5:5-6 One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (English Standard Version-emphasis by author)
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