Iím going to die.
I never thought this would happen. Iíve got to get out of here. Weight presses down like lead on my chest. Iím drowning and no one knows it.
Hundreds of people are all around me. My friends. Even my enemies. Everyone will have a front row seat. Will they notice? Will they even care?
I bite the inside of my lip, wanting to scream. To make them all understand. The words stifle within my throat, unable to escape. My lungs burn, about to burst.
God. Please. I donít want to die like this.
The weight pushes even harder. I struggle against it. To fight the pressure. To throw the burden off my chest.
I canít break free.
Blackness swims at the edges of my vision. Lurking, threatening. Sliding nearer. Closing like a curtain on my life.
Small raindrops of despair snake down the contours of my face. The dark veil begins to close.
A voice whispers in the distance. The sound is muffled, distorted. The words die before reaching my ears, torn apart by their difficult passage. Filtered into lonely letters, the message becomes a meaningless alphabet soup.
My hope is dying, drowning in the dark flood of my own failure. Guilt and shame drip onto my soul, a toxic I.V. spreading poison through my body. My eyes slide shut as the pool of darkness spreads. Pulls me under.
It is finished.
The voice still calls.
Every nerve strains to hear the words. I am lost in the black. There is nothing left but the voice. I cling to the sounds. The letters form into syllables, the syllables into words, the words into sentences. Understanding dawns. I can finally hear their meaning.
No. Thatís not right.
The realization slams me like a brick between the eyes. Iíve always heard the message. This time is different. This timeÖIím listening. My failure becomes clear. The depth of my depravity has created a chasm too great to bridge. I could never cross it.
Eyes rimmed with tears, I stare at the front of the sanctuary. My wife stands there. Julieís face is more incandescent than the brightest bulb. Smiling. Happy. She hugs the pastor, her soaked baptism gown drenching his suit. He doesnít seem to notice. She turns, looks for me. Waves.
Julieís smile plunges like a dagger into the blackness of my heart. Why did she ask me to come to church with her? To see this? To rub her happiness in my face? Doesnít she know how that makes me feel? Seeing it all makes my own failure more visible.
Julie radiates while I suffocate. I could never be like her. Ever. Not with the things Iíve done. She doesnít know my heart. She couldnít love me if she did.
My head drops. I cover my face with my hands. Rivers of grief seep between my fingers. So much for a God of love. There is only separation. Isolation. Death in the darkness. Oh God, how can you have done this to me?
A hand settles on my shoulder. Light. Soft.
I rub my face on my shirt. The cloth wipes away the tears. It can only reach the ones on the outside.
I look up into Julieís face. She kneels beside me.
I try to speak. Fail.
ďCome up with me,Ē she says.
I shake my head. She wouldnít ask if she knew the truth.
The voice calls.
Julie slips her hand over mine. Pulls. My shame tugs back. I want to tear my hand away. Canít.
The voice calls. Pleads.
I feel the eyes of a hundred people watching and want to slither away. Hide. My muscles rebel and lift me upwards.
The voice still calls. Crying, I answer.
I stand, forcing my head up through my guilt, rising above the drowning black sea. Air rushes into my lungs. I gulp the sweet oxygen.
Across the unbridgeable chasm of separation lies a wooden cross. I stare at the streaks of blood.
Oh, God! How could I have done this to you?
The voice calls me.
Gripping Julieís hand, knees weak, I take one step. Then another. An ocean of blackness drains with each footstep.
The pastor leads across the stage. Down into the baptistry. Swirling water rises around my legs. Up to my waist.
For the first time, Iím not afraid. A smile tugs at the corner of my mouth.
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