I’ve been doing a bit of soul-searching lately.
It got serious, actually, when I took an extended trip to southern Italy, a trip that had me setting foot in churches more times in a month than I have in the past ten years.
What struck me the most about visiting so many chiese and duomi was the way that each one depicted Jesus in remarkably different ways. Some chose to focus on him in his heavenly splendor as the risen Son of God. Some centered their reminders on the gruesome suffering that he endured on the cross. But it was the churches that reminded me of the humanity of Jesus and his life here on Earth, a life where he experienced what it is to love as a human and to lose as a human and to suffer as a human. Those visits reached into my soul farther than any of the rest.
And now I’m home and not going to church yet again because so much of my past life made me go and for all the wrong reasons, and I don’t want to go for the wrong reasons. I want to go because I want to go. Because there is a segment of me that really, really believes that all this could be real.
Not because it’s completely logical.
Not because it’s easy.
But because I have had one too many experiences that tell my soul that there is Someone behind that Mozart requiem. Or Someone in that story that sends my heart into a thousand pieces for its truths about the shattering beauty of the human heart.
Or Someone who I can talk to in Kohl’s department store.
Yesterday I was shopping for a new pair of jeans at Kohl’s. Not a pleasant task, to be sure, as I am a girl of petite stature but not petite build, and I was rushing because I had to pick up my husband who was most likely going to be getting out of work early. Thank the stars I found not one but TWO pairs of jeans faster than I had ever thought possible for someone like me, and so I was moving at a rather casual pace as I proceeded to the cashier station. So casual, in fact, that I had the time to notice the older gentleman I was passing and that he wore a Navy ball cap with a ship’s insignia. The U.S.S. Thomas, I believe.
Over the past few months I have taken up the habit of thanking veterans for their service when I see them. I firmly believe that, regardless of what you think about the state of the world and those who are in power of it, the men and women who serve in our military, now more than ever, are deserving of our gratefulness for all that they do in their voluntary job to protect us as fellow citizens. And so, as I passed this gentleman, I looked him in the face and said, “Thank you for your service.”
He stopped, then smiled and thanked me in return. For a second we just looked at each other, than I asked him when he was in, and he told me, and then I shared with him when my own father was serving and that he had served on the U.S.S. Little Rock. We chatted for another minute or two about the difference in the Navy’s capabilities then versus now, and then, worried that I was going to be late for my husband, I thanked him again for his service.
And he replied:
“You are welcome.”
And as I turned to walk away, he added:
“You were worth it.”
I started. I gasped. I laughed for joy. Then I bolted for the cashier station, fighting the enormous lump in my throat and the tears that were starting to come; I couldn’t tell whether from the shock of love I felt or the realization of the amount of sacrifice he had endured so willingly—for ME.
His words rang in my ears as I checked out with my two insipid pairs of jeans.
They rattled in my brain as I drove to pick my husband up from work.
They haunted me all afternoon and tied themselves into a huge knot around my heart, refusing to be forgotten. Something in them was resonating with me deeply, and it wasn’t until I realized what time of year it was that it all came to bear.
It’s Christmas. The holiday that is celebrated for the birth of Jesus. Jesus who, it is taught in the Christian faith, is God who came to Earth as a human and lived our incredibly odd and beautiful and intensely painful human life so that he could, somehow, become the sacrifice that was necessary to pay for all the stupidly evil and self-centered things that we humans do so that He could spend time with us forever and ever and ever.
Because we are worth it.
No matter how badly we have each become our own distinct version of the picture of Dorian Gray.
No matter how harshly we reject.
No matter how much it costs to win us.
We, somehow, are worth it.
THAT makes me believe in God.
I have given my heart and soul to relationships that only used me for what I could give.
And, yet, to have Someone continually seek me out over years of rejection — through music, through dance, through my dog, through the shocking beauty of nature, through death, through art, through the magnanimous hearts of other human beings — never giving up, never rejecting me in return. Always reminding me that He is there. Waiting. Patiently excusing all my anger and irrationality and ignorance and doubt.