It’s been years since I’ve been to church, but I arrived two hours early this Sunday, sitting in my car, thinking back to mistakes made a lifetime ago. Smooth leather seats cradle my body and a custom steering wheel gives way perfectly beneath manicured fingers, which grip and squeeze as I wait. “Lexus,” I shake my head, thinking back to the beat up Chevy I had in high school. Rusted bumpers, dented body, tacky orange paint job, and engine noise like a coughing Harley, “Layla” was a pass-a-long from my dad, and already old when I got her. She may not have been pretty to look at, but Layla started even on the coldest mornings and never left me stranded. She was a teenage boy’s dream, my first set of wheels and the only car I ever named.
Layla remained the light of my seventeen-year-old world until I met an outgoing photographer while working on the school newspaper. Julia was her name and my heart raced at the sight of her. A talented shutterbug with college plans, her face reflected the colors of autumn—flowing auburn hair, mahogany eyes, and skin rich in amber hues like late-turning leaves.
Layla carried Julia and I on our first date, which soon became a series of dates. It was so easy being together. So natural. Within months, we fell in love … or so it seemed. Forever. Eternity. Our sweet whispers of commitment were shattered with just two words. “I’m pregnant.”
Sitting now in my Lexus, I recall the day my son was born. And the day he was given away, adopted by a couple—mature enough, financially stable enough—ready to be parents. It felt like a monumental failure, but I buried those emotions beneath plans for my future. Life went on for me. I graduated and attended college, but Julia and I were through, our hearts crippled by a memory of something beautiful becoming a constant reminder of loss. Being together became secondary, taking a back seat to the shadow of what we’d created and given up … ending us. But despite our distance and the years, we were forever bound—by a child, grief and shame.
“Layla,” I say aloud, thinking more of an era with a girl and a lost son than an old car. The church’s parking lot fills and church members enter the large facility. “It’s time.”
After a lively worship and announcements, a young pastor steps out before the auditorium of thousands. He is confident, friendly, clean and casual in sweater and slacks, and begins to preach, the passion of God evident in every burrowing turn of phrase, every cast of his arm, every flash of his eyes. I’ve never seen such life. He carries the congregation on a journey of truth with the rise and fall of his voice and the power of the Spirit, helping all within earshot to stand tall in whom we were created to be.
There is a light in the pastor. He seems the kind of man that even before his death, those around him would celebrate his legacy of life. A great yet humble man. A godly man. I sit and listen as words of hope pour from him, reaching into a heart I thought had gone cold. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” He speaks of love and forgiveness of sins through Jesus, giving an invitation to the crowd.
I did not come to church today to meet God, but I find myself rising, going forward. Compelled. Filled with excitement I cannot explain.
I stand at the altar with hundreds of others, seeking the promise of salvation with a thumping heart and raw emotion bubbling up from the depths of my wounded soul. The young pastor finds me and lays his hand on my shoulder. “I’m Donny,” he smiles.
“Kent,” I manage through tears. “Nice to meet you.”
He prays with me and my load is lightened as decades of guilt and regret fall away, unearthing a new creation. Wrapping me in an enthusiastic embrace, Donny laughs. “God bless you, brother. Welcome to the family!”
Looking at this young man, I am moved by the mercy of God, who wanted me despite the unworthiness I felt. I met a savior today—Jesus. But, as I said, I did not come to meet God, I came to meet Donny, the pastor … my son.
[Reference: Matthew 11:28]
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