Whatever Idiotic Way We Can

I always thought I came to Jesus on May 11.

It was Mother’s Day 1975. I was eleven.

That’s what the baptismal certificate says, anyway.

The Saturday night before, I called my parents into my bedroom. They sat on either side and my scrawny legs hung off the side of my twin bed with the wadded up blankets because I didn’t then, and do not now, find much use in straightening sheets that would just mess up again. I told them I knew it was time. I cried.

I’d seen it done. You were supposed to cry.

::

They asked good questions like good parents do, the same questions a dozen different ways like a standardized test smokes out the con, making sure I didn’t just have a mind to follow lemmings off a cliff. They probed to see if it was really now, offering to wait for a better time, perhaps for summer camp. But I knew the tank at the front of the church beckoned with its tepid water week after week, whether anyone cared to dip their sinful toes in it or not. And like the eunuch with Philip on the desert road to Gaza, it made sense to say “Look, here is water.”

So I did.

I slipped into a waiting pool that seemed the centerpiece of a quiet sanctuary that sat strangely parallel to roaring highway. The water pressed against my head and plugged my ears, replacing my relief at the cleansing with the drumming that wanted to say the water was prepared for someone else.

In the end, I came to Jesus not really knowing how I got there.

Just weeks before, I rode home from the neighborhood Superette, hoping the cold can of grape Shasta tucked between my chin and my chest didn’t fly out into traffic while I pedaled and bounced along on my tan three-speed from J C Penney’s. I begged Jesus to delay his imminent return just a little longer. Please.

What I knew troubled me. What I didn’t know haunted me.

::

I could recite you the terms of the Gospel in four-part harmony. I caught on easily enough to the why of my need. But the waters muddied around the how grace comes down part. I lacked sufficient behavioral currency to buy me even a tattered bag of mercy. So please, Jesus, don’t come back until I can be good enough to pray that prayer and take that walk and plunge my filthy neck into the water.

The older I get the more I don’t know when I came to Jesus. I suspect it was long before I skulked down the aisle and stepped in the water. It was probably before I sat on the bed with my parents, hiccuping tears over my sinful estate. Even before I drank the grape Shasta and asked him to tarry for my stubborn sake.

I’ve  just never known what I was doing.

I still don’t.

Some days I think I’m still coming, that I haven’t made it quite to the front row of pews. Other days I’m not sure I’ve even left my seat.

I’m still reading Buechner, you know? He always has a way of making me rethink what I already thought I knew and get a little more comfortable with the things I still don’t.

::

And if he is the truth and the life, we will find it out soon enough for ourselves, you can be sure of that, if we want to find it out, if we are willing to draw near in whatever idiotic way we can, all our reservations and doubts notwithstanding, because little by little we find out then that to be where he is, to go where he goes, to see through eyes and work with hands like his, is to feel like ourselves at last, is to become more fully ourselves at last and fully each other’s at last, and to become finally more even than that: to become fully his at last. ^

No matter the idiotic ways I go about looking for him, Jesus always steps out in front of my bike. I’ve noticed, though, that he seems to prefer the Shasta cola.

::

Photo: train tracks to I don't know where
^ Buechner, Frederick. "The Sign by the Highway." The Hungering Dark. 
New York: Seabury, 1969. 68. Print.

24 responses

  1. Yes, that’s right: “No matter the idiotic ways I go about looking for him, Jesus always steps out in front of my bike.” How can we ever remember when we first came to Him, when He’s been standing right there in front of us the whole time.

    One doesn’t remember when something called oxygen first entered our lungs. (Are babies idiots?) But we learn to understand it, at least a little more, as time goes along.

    2011/12/28 at 10:44 PM

    • He seeks us out, Matthew. He does. So our idiotic ways of getting to him don’t undo us in the end. How could I ever believe it was something I did, and did right?

      2011/12/29 at 11:54 AM

  2. well, cola preferences aside, no matter what fool facade I’ve chosen (be it tough rebel chick or later… and probably worse… sweet, perfect Christian wife and mother) I’ve made myself sick either way by focusing on what I look like to others, rather than looking at him… standing right in front of me the whole time with everything I’ve ever needed… holding out a can of living water…. .

    Some days I think I’m still coming, that I haven’t made it quite to the front row of pews. Other days I’m not sure I’ve even left my seat.

    yep.

    2011/12/28 at 11:38 PM

    • I believe I’ll be needing pictures of the Tough Rebel Chick Pat. Would I recognize her?

      Always standing there, with everything — everything! — we’ve ever needed.

      (Shasta had water too?)

      2011/12/29 at 11:56 AM

      • well… it was sparkling club soda, I think… but it got all the stains out of her 70s disco garb. I’m not even sure I would recognize her anymore… (Thank God.) =)

        2011/12/30 at 1:37 AM

  3. my currency isn’t worth a dime.

    2011/12/28 at 11:49 PM

    • Mine either, Nance, and yet I still keep trying to save my righteous pennies.

      Worthless.

      2011/12/29 at 11:57 AM

  4. I made that lonely descent into the tepid baptismal pool twice, not having been sure I had done it right the first time. I couldn’t remember if I had actually prayed the words when I had been led in the sinner’s pray. I wasn’t sure if I had come to Jesus in the right way, and I prayed often for the Lord to tarry His return. For years I was so afraid, and all along He was drawing me near in love.

    And if you had any idea how much of my newspaper delivery profits got squandered on grape pop . . .

    2011/12/29 at 7:57 AM

    • Where, Nancy? Where did we ever get the idea that it was something that we did, right, wrong or otherwise? That even though Jesus took the Cross for us, it still depended, in some cosmically bizarre way, on our ability to say the right words, bathe in the right water, have the right sincerity of heart?

      Grape was the very, very best. (That very day may have been the one where I was cited by the bike cop for riding in the street instead of on the sidewalk, all because I didn’t want my pop to get shaken too much going up and down over the curbs…)

      2011/12/29 at 12:00 PM

  5. Love it, Lyla. I wonder if I anyone ever really “comes to Jesus,” or if at some point He just enables us to open our eyes and see that He is there? Reading your story made me remember the day when I was nine – the whole family was at Ontario Bible Conference on, appropriately enough, Lake Ontario in NY. The preacher said “come to the altar and get saved or burn in hell forever!” Well, my mama didn’t raise no fools, so I went to the altar. And I bought fire insurance. But many years later, after being dunked in very similar tepid water at 10, when I was 30 years old and crying out to a God I knew must be there somewhere, I heard a song by Don Francisco called “He’s Alive” while I was driving around the wilds of Redfield, NY. Suddenly I “saw” Jesus, standing there before me with His arms held open wide, just like the song said, and I knew He’d been there all along, just waiting to hold me! It’s taken many years, and will probably continue until I stand before Him, but gradually I have become more and more aware of His presence here beside me, holding me close to His loving heart.

    2011/12/29 at 9:46 AM

    • Perhaps one day, we just open our eyes (or he opens them for us?) and we see him. Imagine that. What a beautiful thing he permitted you to see!

      2011/12/29 at 12:01 PM

  6. Being a spiritual mutt myself (baptized 3 times and reaffirmed once-it’s a long sorted story trust me) I absolutely know (the only thing I do know absolutely) that I’m beggar poor at Mercy’s door.

    Love this post…love the way your write…love the way your heart beats for Him.

    2011/12/29 at 9:59 AM

    • That’s what mercy’s all about, isn’t it? When did anyone ever have enough to pay for it?

      And yet… good heavens, how I try.

      I’m so glad he takes in idiots.

      2011/12/29 at 12:03 PM

  7. I came to Jesus with a grade school friend behind the gym. She doesn’t remember, but I sure do. At least I count that as my come-to-Jesus moment. I took myself down to a nearby church and got baptized while I was in nursing school. But I don’t know if I knew what I was doing.

    I still don’t most of the time.

    2011/12/29 at 10:43 AM

    • God bless that grade school friend.

      Will we ever really know, Sandy? Seems at times I think I know. I can look back and remember times when I really believed I understood. And now, I know I didn’t. Didn’t understand a lick.

      Still don’t. But he lets all us idiots hang out together, and I’m so glad you’re at my table.

      2011/12/29 at 12:04 PM

  8. It’s encouraging to know that when we are clueless, He isn’t. And when we are lost, He isn’t.

    2011/12/29 at 8:11 PM

    • Susan, I’m so clueless that I’d think it were funny if not so sad. 😉 But no, he’s not. He always knows what I need and, thankfully, he always knows where I am.

      2011/12/29 at 10:40 PM

  9. Wow, Lyla. This about sums up my faith journey – “Whatever idiotic way I can.” The good news, I think, is that Jesus knows about my idiocy, and puts up with it. He lets me bump into a lot of things along the way.

    I really loved your writing here, Lyla. So well done.

    2011/12/30 at 6:18 AM

    • I feel that way too, Brad. I think Jesus must have a soft spot for idiots like me. 😉

      2011/12/30 at 9:50 AM

  10. All that “supposed to”…
    Every Christian around me had a date pinpointed. I didn’t, but wanted one, like them. I remember something very good happening that day I first read about inseparable love at the end of Romans 8—but I never remembered the exact date! You’re supposed to have an exact date!

    2011/12/30 at 9:40 AM

    • I can tell you that date, Monica. But I don’t buy it. 😉 I think we flatter ourselves to say it “happened” on xx/yy/zzzz because it marks our doing, not his. His work in me began long before, continues long after. Because if it comes down to that date, mercy, I still don’t think I did it right! 🙂

      2011/12/30 at 9:47 AM

  11. Salvation is a process. There are many important moments, not just one. And as we come into greater understandings, at different points on our journey, it feels like we are saved again.

    P.S. So many good writing details in this piece! That’s the key, you know.

    2011/12/30 at 3:12 PM

  12. I just love this so much. That is all. I just do. Yes. And amen. And aren’t we all idiots? And aren’t we al beloved? Thanks, Lyla.

    2011/12/30 at 5:27 PM

  13. Wow, Lyla. I was going through my Reader tonight, and dropped by your feed first. (Not only because it is in the As, but because I wondered what God has been doing over here. 🙂 )

    I’m really, really glad I didn’t miss this one.

    Yes, indeed — “in whatever idiotic way we can.” I still don’t really understand what it means to come to Jesus. Was it when I was baptized two months after my birth? Was it when I was confirmed? Was it those 50 times I said the sinner’s prayer, giving my life to Christ? Perhaps the answers is D) All of the above.

    Or, as my Anna says, “We don’t come to Jesus, because he is already ‘at’ us.”

    2012/01/02 at 9:29 PM

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