Etta James.

I’ll never forget the first time I met Jesus. I was just seventeen and he was maybe two thousand and six-ish, to say he was “several years my senior,” would be a monumental understatement. I don’t remember what he was wearing, he’s usually pretty incognito these days, but I wore a grey dress, black boots, and likely a considerable smattering of eyeliner. They say that a “woman who changes her hair is about to change her life,” and that day, in desperate need of change, my brilliant parents let me take the day off school to get my once long, curly hair cut into a short, sharp bob with a fringe that I painstakingly straightened for the occasion. Anyone who has seen my hair in it’s natural state will understand that it being tamed is a mircale, akin no-less to the great Five Loaves and Two Fish feast of BC-something-or-rather and that Water to Wine slight of hand; but, it was my first time going to church, ever, so I figured perhaps a little effort wouldn’t go astray.

My friends drove me there and after getting everything stolen out of my blue, fake-leather handbag save for a small baggie of drugs (I can only assume it was Christians who did the deed based on this evidence!) I listened to a man named James Murray from a church in Sydney, Australia speak about life, God, and that sort of light-hearted guff. I had never felt so out of place – helping out ushering at a church of “happy clappy’s,” thinking about how truly bizzare it was that I, for some reason unbeknownst to myself at the time, had asked if I could “maybe go along to one of those youth things,” my friends attended on Friday evenings. I don’t remember a great deal from the service, the drummer was a babe, the girl who ran the ushering team had a cool American accent and a sweet band that my friends had teenage crushes on played… but I do recall everyone being kind to me, and they all sang these songs that, although a touch repeatitive, I had an itch to clap along to.

At aproximatley nine-thirty PM on Friday the 11th of August, 2006; it happened. I raised my hand during something referred to as an “alter call,” and  traversed the no-mans land of grey carpet and “what the fuck am I doing?” from my seat towards the alter, and  towards Christ, clutching my friend Michaela’s hand tightly as though I were blind, and she was leading me through a very dark and tangled forest.

He looked at me as though he’d never seen anyone more incredible in his life.

In what I saw as a lost and useless teenager with no dreams or aspirations, Jesus saw the most beautiful girl in the universe, full of potential, promise, and hope. Jesus liked my baby fat. He liked my verging-on-Robert-Smith eyeliner, and thought it was kind of cute that I bothered to straighten my frizzy hair, even though he actually thinks my curls are fantastic. Jesus didn’t give two shits that before age 17 I had been privy to a couple of pregnancy scares, smoked more than a chiminey and had slept with more guys than most women I speak to in their twenties have touched with a ten-foot pole (no phalic puns intended). Jesus didn’t even give one shit, Jesus was just stoked to be around me, and around me he was as he watched me cry big salty Robert Smith esq tears, staining my chubby cheeks pale grey, and my grey dress a deeper shade of charcoal.

(As an aside: churches of the modern world, would giving out waterproof mascara and tissues in the welcome packs really be such an ask? Lets be relevant guys.)

I was shocked. None of my family are Christians, nor were any of my closests friends. I didn’t know what a “New Testament,” was – although I assumed it was probably a jazzed-up and slightly racier version of the “old,” one, but all of a sudden I had a New Testament, with an almost laughably serene cover of a meadow, in my hands. I didn’t know what a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” was either – but apparently I had picked up one of those too! I left Christian Life Church in Mt Eden, Auckland speechless and tired… and was we drove up the steep driveway in my friends Mum’s teal chariot, I reached into my tacky blue purse, pulled out the small bag of marajuana that those Christian thieves (see John 10:10 you looters!) had side-stepped… and tossed it on to the driveway in the night. Thinking about it now, that was perhaps the first time as a young adult I can recall feeling “free.” Thinking about it now, leaving a bag of pot on a driveway of a church next to Auckland’s largest prison? Probably not a well thought out decision, incontestably liberating though – that’s for sure.

Down the rabbit hole I went, and though I have looked back, and continue to look back as often as the weeks roll ’round, further still I travel on this “walk with God,” that all those Christians talked about that night. I talk to God every day, often in my journal, I used to read my bible a lot – lately I have read it little and if you were to ask me what my “personal relationship with Jesus,” is like today, I would say that it is honest. When I am angry at God, he’s the first person I’m talking to about it. When I am amazed by God, he’s the first person I shout praises to when I roll down the windows. When I look at my Bible and wonder if it’s all just nonsense, and note how similar we REALLY DO LOOK to apes – God is the first person I ask about how the hell he came up with primates as an animal group. Try as I might to ignore him, in these last five and a half years, roughly 2101 days,  the Lord Jesus Christ has become my default way of thinking.

But for the last year, to the week in fact according to my chronic journaling, I have felt so completley ashamed of this Christ. I remember the date, it was on a date actually; I was eating Japanese noodle soup with a boy who I felt I had to tell I was a “C-C-C-Christian,” before things progressed in any direction. Hoping to God, quite literally, that something about faith or religion would surface during conversation somewhere between the miso and the udon so I could effortlessly slide an “oh yeah I actually believe that the world was created in seven days by a God who neither you nor I can really prove exists and I believe that this un-dead Jew called Jesus who is essentially a zombie when you think about it is the cornerstone of that faith,” into the conversation. So when he started talking about philosophy (because I only date guys who discuss philosophy in semi-romantic situations… kidding) – I pounced.

It went a little like this…

Boy: “Yeah so I’ve been reading Nietzche and he thinks blah blah…”
Me: “Oh yeah, well from a Christian point of view…”

From my Christian point of view in that moment, I noticed he had stopped eating. In fact, from my view point… I could see his jaw had dropped and he was looking at me as though he was seated opposite a ninja bible-basher, masquerading in a nice dress with red lipstick. He went pale, sat up straight, and  immediately began to tell me how ridiculous he thought my beliefs were, which was shortly followed by a sheepish confession that he just wanted to sleep with me anyway. From Christ who looked at me with all my faults and failures in Auckland, and simply saw someone who he couldn’t wait to get closer to – to a boy in a noodle shop in Footscray who looked at me with disgust and couldn’t wait to get further away from? I hadn’t felt as alienated since the time I was told I was being demoted from the Lemon spelling group of primary school to the Orange spelling group. Both wounds, remain fresh.

I never asked Christ to love me, he just did, and does. He loves me when I do kind things for people, and he loves me when I just want to punch people in the face so I can steal their seat on the train. He loves me when I tell people how great they are at life, and he loves me when I’ve just said the “c-word,” infront of a child (only ever by accident though kiddies!). But I did, at that time, wish this boy would like me… and he didn’t. He saw the one thing that I think is the best thing about me – and judged me for it; and since that day of judgement last year, I have felt tongue tied and ashamed about the one thing I have no real reason to be silent or ashamed about. The best thing about me is Jesus, because without knowing Jesus… I wouldn’t be able to do anything well with consistency. I wouldn’t be able to turn the other cheek, be patient, forgive, administer grace where needed (which, the more I look, seems to be everywhere) and  I certainly wouldn’t be capable of loving in the way that I try to. I have wished often in the last year that I could be awesome without having to “refer up,” as the they say – without having to ascribe that awesomeness to a very Awesome, capital “A”, God. I know people who seem to be able to do it, my family and some of my very closest friends blow me away and humble me completely with how spectacularly they love without knowing Christ. But, me? I need God to do it. And more than I need him… I actually want him.

I have had a gigantic year since that noodle soup date. I have been more mind blown by God’s goodness and, in the last few months, been more down-right confused by his mysteriousness than I have in a long time. But 365 days and a few thousand words later – ashamed I am no more. (Go back, re-read that in the voice of Yoda, “ahamed I am no more,” I certainly did.) I cannot be ashamed of the one person/ Spirit/ zombie/ thing who gives me such unfailing hope.

I went to church last Sunday, my first time in months, and as I sat in the pew sandwiched between two friends resting my feet on an oil heated pipe I remembered something C.S. Lewis once said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else,” and as I listened to a young woman speak about love and looked up at the old glass windows which were framing a cool starlit night, that quote kept resurfacing. I believe in Jesus not simply for I see his goodness and love in the people I live with, take the train to work with, get coffee from, in those who collect our garbage, and who sit on Elizabeth Street with cardboard signs and empty Mc Donalds cups collecting coins… but because in the last five years Christ’s love has become the lens with which I view these incredible human beings. I believe in him not just because I have seen his love displayed, but because that love he has shown me in these last five years has been strong enough to revolutionise my entire way of viewing the world for the better; and to deny that, for me at least, would be infinitely more ridiculous than admitting it.

I have been rugged up in bed on this fresh Autumn morning for over an hour now with an Atlantic Oceans worth of tea, and Etta James’ indescribable rendition of “At Last,” on repeat. And as she sings and the violins sway as they play, and the breeze in Eastern Melbourne rustles dry leaves on branches I still swoon and buckle at the knees in a dizzy haze as though I was hearing it for the first time. It tugs on all the right heart-strings, and stirrs up every memory from these first few years I have spent with the first great love of my life, as I gaze wistfully out my window like a besotted, and trackpanted, Jane Austen character… because I will never forget being seventeen, and feeling as though at last my love had come along.

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