Chapter 9 – Hello Jennifer


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A Desire So Strong

Chapter 9 – Hello Jennifer


Marie showered and pampered herself with her lotions and oils and then devoted her time to putting together an outfit for the luncheon. She was excited to see her dear friend of twenty one years and looked forward to the lobster tail she would soon devour. As always, she was filled with joy to know that God would be joining them, and she wanted to look just right. As she prepared for the day, she thought about her friend.
          Marie had relocated to Virginia twenty two years earlier, arriving there by way of Maryland and North Carolina. She’d left North Carolina for Maryland at the age of sixteen with her oldest child, Montrell, and her husband, Dwight. Frequent moves were to be expected in army life, but Marie was glad to have a chance to taste something other than country living. She found that she quite liked the city life.
          After two years of duty in Maryland, Dwight received duty orders for Germany. Because his stay in Germany would be shortened if she didn’t go with him, the two decided that Marie would stay in the States. This didn’t sadden her much. In fact, she looked forward to a break from some of the less pleasant parts of her relationship with Dwight.
          When Marie called to tell her parents, they eagerly extended an invitation to her and their first grandchild. Having left home so young, she hardly knew her family and was starting to get excited about going home and reconnecting with them. The closer the time for her to leave came, the more excited
Marie got.
          Moving day was a blur. Had Marie not seen it with her own eyes, she wouldn’t have believed that an entire apartment could be packed and moved so quickly. All that remained was a small suitcase that held a weeks’ worth of clothes for her and Montrell. When the movers were gone, Marie walked through each empty room lingering for just a minute to remember parts of her life spent there. Some memories she enjoyed more than others. Satisfied that she felt closure, she picked up the suit case and headed out to the car. Dwight was already there stuffing the rest of his duffle bag into the trunk.
          There was little conversation between Marie and Dwight for most of the drive from Maryland to North Carolina. It was Montrell, nestled snuggly in his car seat, who seemed to being enjoy the trip most of all. He played with some of his favorite toys and chatted away to himself. Marie recognized a few of the words, but most of what he babbled could be interpreted only by God. She smiled at the little boy in the back seat, enjoying his own little world.
          Five hours later, Dwight pulled the car into the drive way. Marie’s mother and a few of her siblings approached to greet them. Stepping out of the car, Marie inhaled the fresh country air. Ah—there is no place like home she thought.
Marie, Montrell, and Dwight spent the next thirty days together visiting their families and old friends before Dwight’s departure for Germany. Neither Marie nor Dwight talked much about his leaving, but both quietly sensed that the marriage had reached its end.
          When Dwight’s last day arrived, he said his goodbyes to Montrell as he rocked him to sleep. He’d tucked the baby snuggly between the sheets and kissed his forehead before heading towards the front door. Marie could feel her husband’s sadness. Little was said on the ride to the bus terminal which ended only in a wave goodbye once Dwight had boarded the bus. Marie watched as the bus pulled away, feeling only a little saddened herself.
          Dwight wrote to Marie often and once even sent her a package full of fancy perfumes from Paris. She wondered if there wasn’t hope for their marriage after all. Maybe time away from each other will do us good she thought. With these thoughts in mind, she wrote to Dwight faithfully although she’d have been the first to admit that she wasn’t surprised to get Dwight’s request for a divorce after only five months away. Thinking about their time together in Maryland gave Marie little need for deliberation, and she filed for the divorce the next day. Four weeks later when Dwight remarried, Marie wished him the best.
          At first, Marie believed that going back to North Carolina had been a mistake. During those first years in North Carolina, she experienced hardships that lead her to compare her condition to that of the Hebrews and the biblical account of their stay in Egypt—a place of bondage. She even started referring to her own town as Egypt.
          When the Hebrews’ forefathers first entered Egypt, it was a place of beauty and peace, freedom and prosperity. They were welcomed by the king and lived harmoniously among his people. And God increased their population as he’d promised. But when the king died, so too did the harmony in Egypt. The king’s successor, threatened by the growing number of Hebrews, feared they would take control of his kingdom. Lead by his insecurity and fear, the king enslaved the Hebrews in the yoke of oppression and cruel treatment. They were looked down upon and demeaned. They were beaten, whipped, and killed. But because the Hebrews had faith in God, He sent Moses to free them.
          Like the Hebrews, Marie viewed her move to North Carolina as a move to freedom, peace, and prosperity. She’d been married and given birth to a child—she considered herself grown. What she found though, was that she had a lot more growing to do. After a few years in her Egypt, Marie found herself a mother for the second time, struggling as a single parent. And like the Hebrews, Marie was treated as if her only value was that of service to others. She was regularly used for the personal, financial, and physical gain of others. Speaking up against this treatment brought her only arguments and loneliness.
          But Marie never blamed others for her situation. She knew that many of her struggles were brought on by ill-advised choices she’d made for herself. During some of her trying times, Marie fell down and laid in self-pity and depression when she should have picked herself up and persevered. She’d staggered drunk on the wines of fornication and adultery when she should have been sober and chaste. She’d crawled when she should have stood. She remained silent when she should have spoken up for her herself. She’d complained when she should have been thankful for what she had. She’d lied instead of telling the truth. She’d participated in acts of mischief when she should have turned away and fled. In hindsight she realized that she had been timid and a coward and that she’d contributed to her own bondage rather than the freedom she once envisioned.
          But through these struggles, Marie grew and learned. She finally figured out that having the freedom to choose friends didn’t mean that she needed to befriend everybody nor that she needed to become a slave to anyone. And not all of the lessons Marie learned came from hardships—she experienced joyful times and learned from them as well.
          Getting to know her family again brought Marie great joy. She also relished the freedom she had to live her life the way she chose, out of the control of a jealous husband—even if that meant that sometimes she had to face challenges. Single parenting, for instance, wasn’t an easy experience for Marie, but her son and new baby girl brought her strength in the midst of her bondage. For them she was grateful.
          The greatest joy that her Egypt brought her was her reuniting with the God of her youth. Like with the Hebrews, God sent a minister of salvation—Marie’s sister Ann—who ministered to her the love and Word of God. Eventually,
Marie heeded the call, and her union with God brought about great change in her life. Her attitude and behavior improved, and she gained a better understanding of life and her position in life. She knew that her reunion with God was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Despite the joy she found in her children and her new found joy in God, Marie prayed often about leaving her Egypt. Like with the Hebrews, God delivered her. She moved to Virginia where she started work immediately in a sewing company making baseball caps for two dollars and fifteen cents an hour. Having two children to clothe and feed as well as a house to pay for, Marie knew she needed to trust God to provide and drew strength and encouragement from the many promises and testimonies of God’s provisions recorded in the bible. One of her most loved testimonies was the biblical account of the prophet Elijah.
          When God punished the inhabitants of Gilead for their sinful ways, He brought a drought upon them. To protect Elijah, His faithful servant, He sent him to the Brook Cherith where He promised to provide Elijah with food and water.
God commanded the ravens to bring Elijah bread and meat, and Elijah drank water from the brook. When the brook dried up, God sent Elijah to Zarephath, where He commanded a widow there to provide for Elijah. Always, God provided for
          And like God provided for Elijah, He provided for Marie. Now she understood why one of His names was Jehovah-Jireh—it meant “the Lord will provide.” And not only did He provide physically for Marie, but for every test and trial, for every high and low, He revealed the greatness of His capacities. In this, Marie grew closer to her God.
          Marie’s love of God was no secret—everyone in the company knew. Most of her conversations were centered on Him. She often could be heard singing His praises. She regularly could be found reading her bible or other books about Him. Many times she’d been overheard sharing the Word of God with her co-workers. And on a few occasions, she was seen in the rest room giving Him praise and thanks.
          Although Marie’s friend Laura understood her relationship with God, most of the others didn’t pay her much attention. The few who did would call her a God fanatic in hushed whispers as she’d walk by. This never bothered Marie though.
In fact, it only made her smile at them more.
          Laura’s sister was different from the rest. Jennifer Joyce Williams was her full name, but everyone called her Jen. She wanted to become a Christian and had asked her sister Laura for help. This seemed natural to Marie—Laura was a professing Christian, attended church faithfully, sang in the choir, and was an usher in the house of God—so she was quite surprised when Laura came to her admitting that she didn’t know how to help her sister.
          “Marie, will you help my sister to become a Christian?” she’d asked.
          “Ask her if I can meet with her right after work this afternoon at her house. If that’s convenient for her, tell her that I’ll be there at 5:00. I’ll need her address and phone number though.”
          When Laura had gone, Marie felt grief come over her—a tear welled up in her eye and fell to her skirt. She was pained to learn that Laura didn’t know how to help her sister become a Christian. Assuring words came to her from the Lord who shared her pain and concern. He promised to discuss the situation with her later. Comforted by His words, she asked,“Lord, what will you have me say to Jennifer?”
          The Lord responded with a summary of a passage she’d read in the book of Acts. It was a story about an Ethiopian eunuch who had gone to Jerusalem to worship and the disciple Philip the Lord sent him. On the Ethiopian’s return from worshipping in Jerusalem, he stopped to read scripture from the prophet Isaiah who told of the slaying of the Lamb of God. But although he read, he did not understand. Knowing the man’s struggle to understand the truth and seeing the sincerity of his heart, the Lord sent him the disciple Philip to be his guide.
          Reading from Chapter 53 of Isaiah, Philip explained the suffering of Christ and taught the scripture with authority and the convincing power of the Holy Ghost. The Ethiopian was enlightened and came to understand that it was Jesus about whom the prophet had spoken of years prior to His arrival. Believing the prophecy and that Jesus Christ was not only the son of God but also the sacrificial lamb sent to take away the sins of the world, the Ethiopian asked to be baptized. Philip baptized him in a nearby pond.
          Marie meditated on the scripture on and off while she worked for the rest of the afternoon. She thanked the Lord for sharing His Word and prayed that He would help her guide Jen the way He intended.
          Marie clocked out from work at exactly three thirty and headed home to refresh herself before her meeting with Jen. She was glad that her brother George had gone to Maryland for a few days and didn’t need his car. He’d been staying with Marie for a few months and always tried to repay the favor as much as he could. She was grateful for that today. It wasn’t so much that Marie didn’t have money to take the bus, because she actually liked the fifteen minute walk to work each day, but today she felt like she needed a little extra time.
          Marie tried to reassure herself. “Why am I nervous? I’ve done this kind of ministering before.” She was always sharing the goodness of God where she could and had helped a few to come to Him for both forgiveness of sins and to experience a new way of life. I’m sure the nervousness is due to the excitement of sharing the good news about Jesus, she thought.
          After popping over to her neighbors to check on her children, Marie went inside to pray. When she felt ready, she freshened up, grabbed her bible, and made her way outside. She waved good-bye to the children and her neighbor, grateful to have someone to help her watch her children. Laura’s directions were great, and Marie found Jen’s house without any trouble.
          Before even getting out of the car, Marie felt the weight of the apartment complex. Its spiritual wickedness lay heavy on her heart. People stood around piles of beer bottles and cigarette butts. Marie walked under a stairwell to Jen’s door and knocked several times. As she stood waiting for Jen to come to the door, she caught a glimpse of a man urinating in the corner of the stairwell. She felt herself growing angry. It wasn’t so much that he was urinating in a public place or even that he had no respect for himself or people’s homes but rather that he was doing it in front of children playing on the stairs. It saddened Marie to see that the children were unaffected. For a moment, she thought she might get sick, but Jen’s greeting distracted her.
          “Hi, Marie; Thanks so much for coming.”
          Jen opened the door wide for Marie, and she went in, taking the seat offered to her. In obvious contrast to the outside, Jen’s apartment was fresh and clean. She had decorated in various shades of blue, giving the apartment a warm and inviting feeling.
          “So how are you other than happier than a pig in mud to be off work?” Marie asked through a cheeky grin.
          “I’m good Marie. Make yourself at home. Can I offer you a drink or anything?”
          “Maybe a little later Jen—thanks.”
          Marie pulled off her shoes. Jen chuckled.
          “You said for me to make myself at home, and that’s what I’m doing. Don’t play,” Marie said laughing. “This is my way of testing to see if people say that just to be saying it or if they say it because they mean it. Don’t make me get up and go in the kitchen and start cooking and thangs to make myself at home.”
          When Jen finally stopped laughing she said, “Well I didn’t expect all of that when I said make yourself at home. I guess I better know what I’m saying when I say it huh?”
          “For real girl, especially when you say it to me because Om gonna tell you something—I can shock a nerve.”
          “I see,” Jen said laughing.
          “So Jen, tell me a little about yourself”
          “What do you want to know?”
          “Whatever you want me to know,” Marie said warmly.
          Jen sat in silence for a bit, searching for what she wanted to share. Marie understood the silence. She’d done the same herself before. Giving Jen time to think, Marie took in her features. Her complexion was medium tan, and with her hair pulled back in a ponytail, Marie could see high cheek bones. She noticed perspiration on Jen’s nose, but almost as if Jen could read her mind, she patted her nose with a tissue and dried herself off. Her eyes were a beautiful shade of brown that danced when she laughed. What captured Marie’s attention most about Jen was her smile. It spoke of her gentle, sensitive, and loving nature. It spoke of her sincerity and generosity in the face of a world which had shown her little kindness. At five five and a hundred and thirty-five pounds soaking wet, Jen was simply beautiful. Marie wondered why she hadn’t really noticed Jen before.
          Clearing her throat, Jen broke the silence and began telling Marie a little about herself. She was twenty four years old and single. She had one child—a son, Ricky, who was five years old. Jen never married Ricky’s father, and presently, the man had almost no contact with his son. Her mother and her six siblings all lived within minutes of each other just up the street. Her father, who never was married to her mother, lived in the same city, but she had little contact with him. When Jen told Marie about her grandmother, she smiled a warm deep smile that showed Marie the love she had for her mother’s mother.
          “I used to go to church with granny a lot when I was younger,” Jennifer said showing that telling smile. “After granny passed away, I didn’t get to church as much, and once I thought myself to be grown, I stopped going, period.” Jen sighed and grew silent for a moment. Marie interpreted this as an expression of grief for the great loss she experienced in the passing of her dearly loved grandmother.
          Clearing her throat, Jennifer continued sharing. “I graduated from high school but didn’t further my education. I’d gotten a job while still in high school and simply stayed with the job after graduation. I’ve never did a lot of socializing.
I’m pretty much a private person. As for friends—what in this world are they?” she asked smiling. “I’ve started attending church again after so many years of not going. I started, um, maybe about two months ago. That’s about it,” she said sighing.
          “Tell me a little about church Jen and why you’re attending.”
          “Well Marie, church is singing and dancing, reading the bible, talking about the Bishop, and singing and dancing. As you can tell, I really enjoy the singing and dancing part—the band is good with the horns and all. It’s something to do. You know?”
          “Does this church have bible study nights and prayer nights, and if so, do you attend?
          “There are bible study nights which are pretty much like Sunday morning service and prayer is done on the same night. We pray for the Bishop. The church hosts lots of activities and does a lot of fund raisers. They want to build a new church—the biggest one in the city—so there are a lot of raffles and bake sells and yard sales and fund-raising dinners.
          “Jennifer, tell me about the people there.”
          “The women wear the nicest clothes. It’s like a fashion show. There are a lot of people my age, but there are right many older ones too. They seem like nice people, and some of them will speak to me.”
          Marie began to feel quite uncomfortable inside—a mixture of anger and sadness. She hoped it didn’t show on the outside.
          “What are you being taught about Jesus? What do you know about Jesus?” Marie sighed. “And Sweetie, please don’t tell me ‘He’s all right.’”
          Jennifer looked at Marie questionably, pausing for a minute or two searching for what to say. “Well,” she began, “Jesus was a great man—the son of God who came to the earth to do good work. He died for our sins and went back to heaven and then gave us good people like the Bishop who pray for us and make sure we come to church and work in the church and do what the Bishop tells us to do.”
That Jennifer had strayed from talking about Jesus to talking about the Bishop was not lost on Marie, but she let Jennifer continues uninterrupted.
          “The Bishop is not actually at the church; he sends letters, so I’ve never seen him. He has a lot of churches, you know. We sing songs about the Bishop, we pray to God in the name of the Bishop, and we always thank God for giving us the Bishop. We pray a lot for the Bishop because he’s too busy to pray for himself. Because God gave the Bishop to us, we take care of him and his family. We raise a lot of money for him, and I’m told that when he does come to the church, it’s so full that folk be on the outside waiting just to look at him. When the band is playing and the people are dancing, you should hear how they be thanking the Bishop. It makes you feel real good, you know?” Jennifer said, her voice trailing off.
          Marie felt the presence of God on her with great intensity and recognized that the atmosphere in Jennifer’s living room had changed. Remembering Philip and the eunuch, she said, “Jennifer, I’m going to share some things with you. Do you mind if I stand for a minute?” Marie asked, already out of her seat, rubbing her face with her hands. “That’s right, it’s fine because I’m at home,” she said in her own defense for not waiting for Jennifer’s permission.
          Starting at the biblical account of the creation of man and continuing on from there in detail, Marie explained to Jennifer God’s relationship with man. She walked Jennifer through the biblical account of the fall of man and the introduction of sin to the world. From there, Marie explained the turbulence and rebellion of man demonstrated in man’s continual acts of sin and God’s response in constant outreach offering His plan of salvation. Marie spoke of Chapter 53 of Isaiah and the prophecy of Jesus’ suffering for our sins—the same prophecy on which Philip spoke to the Ethiopian eunuch from the Book of Acts. When she was finished, Marie took her seat.
          Jennifer sat silently in her chair.
          “Everything that you just heard can be found in the bible,” Marie said smiling. God did not inspire man to write the bible because He nor man had anything else to do. The bible was given to man as an inspiration for many reasons, and although you may not understand many of those reasons right now, let me share a few with you that I think you can relate to.”
          Without waiting for a response, Marie continued. “One of the reasons that God gave us the bible is because He wanted us to know about Him. He wanted us to know his true character. And to do this, He needed to show us mortal man’s beginning with Him and the truth about this world’s present state. This is why the fall of man was recorded and the story about the tempter who deceived Eve is shared. Another reason that God gave us the bible is so that He could show us His plan for man’s redemption. That is why after receiving the redemptive work of Christ, the bible provides guidance and instructions for attaining a Christ-like life. You see Jennifer, that’s why it’s so important that we read our bibles, meditate upon what we read, and make the given instructions applicable to our own lives.”
          Jennifer nodded her head, acknowledging that she understood what Marie was saying, but Marie was more interested in the look on Jennifer’s face than the motion of her head. It was the look of a hungry man who’d tasted food again after being a long time without. It touched Marie’s heart, and she prayed silently to God asking for help to feed Jennifer’s hungry soul.
          “From my experience and in my opinion,” Marie continued, “of all the books ever written in this world, the most important of them all is the bible. It is the resource for those of us who want to know about the Lord. It is filled with history and brings to life the people about whom the scriptures are written, but more importantly, through those depicted in the bible, the works, the heart, the character, and the attributes of God are visible.”
          When Jennifer finally spoke, all she said was, “I understand.”
          “Good Beloved,” Marie said smiling. Now, what I’d like to do is talk about some of the histories found in the New Testament of the bible. The things I share can be found from Matthew through Acts. If you don’t mind and with the help of our imaginations, I’d like to bring you on a trip to some of the places discussed in the bible. We’ll become participants in those past events, some of which you already may know and some of which you know nothing about. Is this all right?”
          “Sounds like fun,” Jennifer said nodding her assent.
          “Travelling is fun,” Marie agreed before adding, “and very educational. There is much to learn through such travels. Let’s begin.”
          They began their travels with the birth of Jesus. There in a stable, the stench of urine and manure burned their noses. They watched in silence as Joseph wrapped the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes and placed Him in a feed trough where only hours before the master’s animals had devoured their slop leaving nothing but crumbs of decay and drying saliva.
          When they next saw Jesus, he was but twelve yet already at the temple teaching his elders the meaning of biblical scriptures. When Jesus was thirty, they witnessed his baptism by John the Baptist and watched as the Holy Ghost descended from heaven in the likeness of a dove and rested upon Jesus as he came up from the baptismal water. They travelled with Jesus, led by the Holy Ghost, into the wilderness to fast and to be tempted by Satan. Sitting with Jesus on the mount of temptation, they marveled at how He defeated every temptation with the weapon of scripture, the Word of God. After forty days and nights of fasting and temptation, angels came to minister unto Jesus. Out of respect, Marie and Jennifer moved on to give Jesus space and privacy.
          Standing up to stretch, Marie lifted her arms and rolled her shoulders backwards in small circles. Catching the expression on Jennifer’s face, Marie laughed out loud.
          “Is this the end of our trip?” Jennifer asked, verbalizing what her expression already had conveyed.
          “Oh no,” Marie answered laughing. “Sometimes on long trips we get a little stiff. I just want to loosen up a bit.”
          “Oh,” Jennifer said sighing. “Can I get you something to drink now?”
          “Sure. Can I call you Jen?”
          “Being that this seems to be your house Marie, call me what you want.” Jennifer said with sincerity.
          “Okay then Jen, I’ll take that drink now. Got any Pepsi?”
          Jen swiveled on her heels and headed off to the kitchen with determination. Marie was hopeful that she would respond with her drink of choice. Jen’s humor had left Marie with a strong smile on her face and gratitude toward God for allowing Jen to be so relaxed in her presence. Thank you Lord for making history and the scriptures come alive in this place today she thought. I’m enjoying the way you’ve chosen for us to minister to Jen. This is cool Lord.
          “It is, isn’t it?” He replied. Marie gave a knowing smile as Jen returned with a large glass of iced Pepsi—just the way Marie loved it.
“Thank you so much for coming to visit with me this evening,” Jen said handing off the drink to Marie.
          Marie felt a tug on her heart—she knew that Jen was sincere and that she’d been doing some thinking of her own while she was along in that kitchen. “You’re kindly welcome Jen. Thanks for inviting us.”
          Jen’s quizzical expression asked, “Us?” but Marie only sipped her Pepsi and moved on with their journey. They caught up with Jesus again and walked with Him in intervals listening to Him teach the ways of God’s Kingdom and perform miracles. They lied in the dirt with the adulteress and watched as Jesus saved her from being stoned to death for her sin. They rejoiced with the woman who touched Jesus’ hem and was healed of the disease infecting her body, no longer ostracized by the town’s people. They stood with the Pharisees as Jesus rebuked them for their false appearances—putting on airs of righteousness while inwardly full of the stench and decay of corrupt hearts and minds. They observed the passion of Jesus as He ridded the temple of God of those who had dared make it a den of thieves.
          Marie took Jen to the last supper where Jesus ate the Passover Feast with His disciples—they exited with Judas on his way to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. They stood among the Roman guards armed with staves and swords as they captured Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where He had been praying. Marie and Jen grieved when they witnessed His harsh treatment. They caught up with Peter, and with him followed the guards from a distance as they led Jesus to the
Palace to be judged by those who despised and rejected him. They stood with Peter as he warmed himself by a fire and to those who claimed he knew Jesus denied three times that he knew Him. Following Jesus into the palace, Marie and Jen stood among the false witnesses who lied about Jesus, hoping He would be found guilty of sin. They stood among those who mocked, slapped, and spit on Jesus because He was proclaimed to be the son of God.
          Marie and Jen stood among the crowd that cried, “Crucify him,” when Pilate asked what fate should befall Him. They watched helplessly as Jesus was beaten and forced to carry His own cross to the place of His crucifixion. They winced as they watched the Roman soldiers nail Him to the cross and thrust a sword in His side. Standing with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, Marie and Jen beheld Jesus’ suffering. They listened as Jesus spoke His final words: “It is finished. Father into thy hands I command my Spirit.” They wept as they saw His head bow and life leave His body.
          When Marie stopped talking, she looked long and hard at Jen. She was silent, but her eyes spoke loudly of her ravenous and parched soul. Oh, how the tears fell. When she had finished drying her tears, she looked to Marie for guidance. What now? She said through a shrug. Marie smiled softly. Sitting on the edge of the chair, she folded her hands, resting her elbows on her knees. She was filled and felt as if she could weep like a baby.
          The Lord urged Marie on, so she continued. “I heard a preacher one day at a funeral,” she began. “He started his eulogy by saying, ‘When people exit this life through the back door . . . ‘ I was bothered by that, Jen. You see, death is the front door, the entrance to life, and we all have to enter that door one day. And when we do, we will be ushered to a holding place where we will await our final destination, a destination determined by a choice made now in this present life. That choice Jen is whether or not we choose to make our entrance into life with Jesus, the good life He has promised us, or make an entrance into torment with separation from Jesus.”
          “Let me say this Jen. On the cross where Jesus hung, bled, suffered, and died, there on that cross hung with Him the sins of every man, woman, and child—those who have come before us and those who will come after us. On that cross, hung idolatry, adultery, deception, theft, and murder. There hung hatred, backbiting, and gossip. Jealousy, envy, and covetousness hung there too, along with depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and violence. Spousal abuse, child abuse, elderly abuse, and abuse of authority hung with Jesus. Manipulation, molestation, and rape hung there right along with fornication, pornography, homosexuality, bestiality, necrophilia, polygamy, and pre-marital sex. These sins and more clung to Jesus, gripping Him as one holding on for dear life.”
          “Because these sins are on this cross attached to Him, and the power of these sins keep us separated from God, we can’t stand here gazing up at this cross embracing it, caressing it, and stroking it. We’ve got to move on because to stand here makes us still alive to all that is on the cross gripping Him. Clinging to a crossed Christ means holding on to a sinful life. It was because Jesus came to this earth through the channels of mortal man and was flesh and blood just like we are that he was depicted as a sinner. But really he was a sinless virgin in both words and deeds, and for that reason, He was the perfect sacrifice for us.”
          “Okay Marie,” Jen started as she shifted in her seat. “I understand most of what you’re saying, but I’m confused about having to leave the cross and move on. Where else is there to go? Jesus has died. Doesn’t that end everything?” Jen seem quite perplexed. Marie smiled.
          “You know you’re killing me with that smile Marie,” Jen said with a chuckle.
          Marie laughed. “All right Jen,” she said through sips of her soda, “move with me.”
          Again Marie led their travels. They stood at the place where Jesus was crucified and watched as Joseph took Jesus from the cross. They knew that Joseph, a council member, was also a secret disciple of Jesus, so they were not surprised to see him using extra care to remove the nails from Jesus’ body and to cleanse the wound in His side. Despite Joseph’s cleansing of Jesus, the sins that gripped Jesus remained.
          “How can this be Marie?”
          “Just wait to see what happens, Jen. Just wait. Just wait.”
          As instructed, Jen waited. She waited, and she watched. Marie watched too as the body of Jesus was rubbed with oils and perfumes and dressed in a burial shroud. They watched as His head was wrapped with a napkin and His body was laid in the tomb and as it was sealed with a massive boulder. They watched. And then they waited.
          Hearing a sound, they turned to see Mary Magdalene, a devoted follower of Jesus. They followed her as, with hurried strides, she made her way to Jesus’ tomb where she found sleeping guards at the entrance of an open tomb. Mary looked inside the tomb only briefly then turned away and hurried off to tell Peter and the other disciples what she’d seen. When the disciples arrived at Jesus’ tomb, they realized that what Mary had told them was true, and inside the empty tomb they found only the burial shroud and napkin from Jesus’ head. Oh, how the disciples rejoiced knowing that Jesus had risen. Marie and Jen rejoiced with them.
          Marie stopped talking and stood again to stretch her legs—she felt like she’d been sitting for days. Jen’s frown gave away her concern that the trip was over. Sensing this and knowing that she was concerned about the clinging sins,
Marie tossed her a bone, all the while holding back a smile.
          “What’s wrong Jen?”
          Jen shifted in her seat. “I’m as happy as the disciples about Jesus not being in the tomb, but where are the sins?”
          Even though she had been trying hard to hold it in, Marie’s smile escaped. “Where are you now in our travels?” she asked taking her seat again.
          “You know exactly where I am,” Jen said with a chuckle. “I’m standing here in this tomb about to follow Peter and the disciples, right? They’re gonna show us what happened to the clinging sins aren’t they?”
          “Hold on Jen. I need to explain something before we continue, so let me start the ending of our trip like this: Jen turns to follow the disciples out of the tomb. Marie stops her by touching her arm.”
          Marie got out of her seat and touched Jen on the arm. “My reason for touching you is because every part of our travels has been true except that you and I have not physically been present at all of these events. Even so, we’ve been guilty of the sins and acts we’ve seen throughout our travels—even those clinging to Jesus.”
          “I understand,” Jen said thoughtfully.
          “Good. Then for the next few minutes of our travels, it’s just gonna be me and you girl,” Marie said playfully. “Stay close. Jen turned to follow the disciples out of the tomb, but Marie touched her arm to stop her, bringing their gazes to the tomb floor. There, in the dirt, Jen saw the lifeless sins that had once gripped Jesus. There in the dirt laid the shredded sins, put to death by the resurrection of Jesus, and trampled on by the feet of the disciples who soon would proclaim freedom from the power of those sins through Jesus Christ the Lord. It is finished, the end.”          Marie stopped talking and sat back in her seat. She looked intently into Jen’s face, a face aglow with sparkling eyes which reminded Marie of the lyrics to an old song: “I once was blind, but now I see.”
          “I’ve never taken a trip like this before Marie. I’ve been on marijuana trips and alcohol trips but never a bible trip.” Jen laughed lightly. “I want a life with Jesus, Marie, a life in Jesus. I want to travel with Him continuously in my life. I want to walk in the freedom He died for.”
          Marie squealed like a child on Christmas morning. She was so excited and couldn’t get her words out quickly enough. She told Jen how she would lead her in the prayer of repentance to God. She explained that Jen would actually be apologizing to God for the wrongs she’d committed against Him.
          “Oh, my,” Jen exclaimed, “given all the wrong I’ve done in my life, we’ll be here apologizing for the rest of my life.”
          “Girl wouldn’t we all. Trust me—God knows those wrongs. But believe this; simply telling God that we’re sorry for our wrongs covers every one of those sins.”
          Marie went on to explain that once Jen acknowledged that she was a sinner and apologized to God, she could then ask Jesus into her life. As Marie and Jen knelt down to pray together, Marie began the prayer. Jen acknowledged her status as a sinner to God, apologized to Him for her sins, and asked the Lord to forgive her. She confessed to God that she believed in Jesus and all that she’d learned about Him and His work, especially how He’d died on the cross for her sins. She asked Jesus to enter her heart, her mind, and every aspect of her life. Jen gave Him permission to be her Lord, to govern her, to teach her, to train her, and to change her. Before rising from her knees, she thanked God with every ounce of her being.
          After Marie finished praising God herself, she addressed Jen. “I cannot tell you, my sister, where you are to fellowship as far as church is concerned. I will not tell you to find a bible-believing church because you are still a baby and don’t have that knowledge just yet. I simply will tell you that wherever the Spirit of God directs you, go and you will know the Spirit of God. I will extend to you an invitation to fellowship where the Lord currently has guided me. No matter your decision, I extend to you my services of bible study and prayer here at your home should you desire. I encourage you to read your bible, especially the first four books of the New Testament, so that you can learn more about this Jesus whom you’ve invited into the vessel that houses your heart, your mind, and your spirit. If you write down any questions you have during your readings, I will answer them for you when we meet. My dear sister, welcome into the family of God.”
          Jen thanked Marie, thanked Marie, and thanked Marie. Marie instructed her to direct her praise and thanksgiving to their God. They talked a little more before Marie finally stood to leave. At Jen’s door, the two women embraced.
          On the drive home, Marie felt the presence of God with such great fierceness that she pulled to the side of the road out of harm’s way and let the presence of God engulf her.
          “Jen was sincere in her heart Marie,” the Lord said to her. “Thank you for allowing me to use you in the birth of this new baby. Your time with Jen will be much, Marie, because I want you to walk with her like you have walked with me. She will be a friend for life.”
          Marie already was filled with deep emotions because of what God had her share with Jen, but those emotions were heightened by Jen’s acceptance of Jesus. Now God was stirring her emotions all the more with both His presence and words. Marie wanted to cry, to sing, to shout, and to run. She searched herself to find the right words to express to God all that she was feeling, but nothing seemed adequate to express the depth of her gratitude. She managed only to utter a thank you to her God.
          After Marie sat a few more minutes in silence on the roadside, she felt the presence of God lift from her. She knew that He understood her lack of words. Although she finally started the car and headed home, her heart and mind stayed with God and His greatness. She marveled at how He drew in the souls of men.
          Marie was still floating when she knocked on her neighbor’s door to pick up the children. After Marie’s neighbor convinced her to let the children spend the night, Marie floated the rest of the way up the stairs and into the tub. Perfumed bubbles made their way to her nose—she inhaled deeply. The water pouring from the faucet landed in the tub in rhythmic splashes—Marie felt herself starting to relax. She was ready to lose herself in the rapture of the soothing waters.
          Thoughts of Jen eased into Marie’s mind. She thought about Jen’s rebirth and the need to make plans for new-convert bible studies. Then she thought about how Jen’s sister Laura felt unable to lead Jen to Christ. Dear Lord, she thought, how many more professing saints are unable to do the same? Is it because they feel it’s the pastor’s job? Maybe they think they should leave it up to the deacons, the missionaries, the teachers, or the Evangelists? Where is the passion for Jesus?
Where is the evidence of our great love for Him and the desire for everyone in the world to know and experience Him?
          “Yes, Lord?”
          “Have you ever heard of religion?”
          “Yes, Lord”
          “What do you know about religion, Marie?
          “That it stinks, Lord. That’s what.”
          “Are you angry, Marie?”
          “Kind of think so, Lord. Am I in trouble?”
          “Be angry, Marie, but sin not. Let’s talk about it so you won’t get crazy in your heart. Why are you angry?”
          “If Jen was on her deathbed and needed to get things right with you so she could reign with Christ and have eternal life, she’d be out of luck because no one seems to know how to help people find their way. If the pastor’s aren’t teaching people how to help others make their peace and be reconciled to you Lord, what are they teaching? And what is to become of all the condemned souls?”
          “This is why we have to discuss your anger. Who says the pastors aren’t teaching? Why can’t it be that the people aren’t receiving? Too much emphasis is put on the work of pastors. They can’t make people do any more than I will make a person do. The clergy can preach nineteen months of Sundays on soul winning, witnessing, expansion of the Kingdom, and the depopulation of hell, but if the people receive it only in their minds and not in their hearts, nothing is done. That which is in the hearts of men is that which they will do.”
          God continued, “There are people who have a passion for the building called the church but no passion for the head of the church. Sometimes with folks it’s all about the building and nothing about me. Many will participate in the activities going on in the building, thinking they’re gaining merits with me, thinking I’m elated about the work they’re doing. In all honesty though, Marie, I’m really not. Beloved, if a floor never got swept in the building, it wouldn’t affect me in the way that a dirty heart, a dirty mind, or a dirty soul would bother me. You follow me Marie?”
          “Yes, Lord” “Dear child, people are more afraid of what I think or feel about a wood, cement, or brick building than they are about what I see and know about the shabby spirits, shabby minds, shabby hearts, and shabby lives of those professing to be my children.”
          “Are you angry, Lord?”
          “It’s a rather touchy subject, Marie.”
          “Yes, Marie?”
          “We tear your nerves up don’t we?” Marie asked with a raised brow and a smirk.
          “Ooops. Yes, Lord?
          “I don’t have nerves—I have emotions.” The two howled with laughter.
          Marie helped Jen begin her walk with God, and Marie could see her spiritual understanding grow like wild grass. Her sincerity in learning about God was breathtaking. Her love for the Word of God was awesome. And during this time, not only did their fellowship blossom, but their friendship blossomed as well—the love they shared for one another was powerful. Marie watched the continual transformations in her life. Jen even began to keep a journal with God sharing only the things he’d allow. Hours upon hours of Jen and Marie’s fellowship was spent on the phones discussing the Word and works of God. They shared personal experiences and trials drawing both strength and encouragement one from the other. Oh the many restaurants they’d closed being the last ones in them with bibles spread on the tables. Even at their job people noticed Jen’s transformation.
          Co-workers could be heard saying things like, “We can tell you’ve been hanging out with that Marie because you talk about the same things she does,” or “There she goes, laughing and acting up like Marie.” Clearly, not everyone was excited about the work God was doing in Jen’s life. Laura even distanced herself from her sister.
          That people were treating Jen differently hurt her, and she expressed her concerns to Marie on more than one occasion. Marie encouraged her friend to take her concerns to the God of comfort and understanding, the one who was more than able to give her the peace and strength she needed for such times. And God did give her strength and peace to persevere through her challenges. What a fellowship, what a joy divine.

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