"and you don't remember..."--Mariah Carey
Because when I'm up front singing and trying to minister, trying to be in the Spirit, hands raised, eyes closed...and I lower them and open my eyes and I see you? My heart drops into my thighs. When I see you, I think of the many nights we stayed up until there was sun, the movies we went to see, the late dinners, the early breakfasts, the games we played. I think of our heart-to-hearts, when you took my hand and said "Ashleigh, just talk to me. I'm right here." I think of how you spelled my name right in the first text you sent me; I think of the night after a year had gone by when you said that even with your horrible memory, for some reason you remembered every single detail of the day you met me and told me everything about that moment, even what I was wearing. And even with my laundry list of priors, you were the first man I really talked to, the first man that invited me to be real, the first man that looked me in my eyes and truly listened to the words coming out of my mouth. The first man I trusted for real, the first man whose word felt like bond. I think that's why in so many ways I felt like you tricked me, but then again, it's more likely I tricked myself.
And all of this is why I'm asking you if you might find another place to pretend to worship once every two months?
Because when I see you now, I think of the many ways you twisted me, both literally and figuratively. I think of showers in your apartment; I think of fully-clothed conversations in restaurants where I clearly explained what our physical relationship meant to me, what it meant in my relationship with God, and I think of moments where you told me you understood and that I could trust you. And then, inevitably, I think of your selfishness; I think of your disrespect. I think of your maliciousness and your immaturity, unintentional or not. And I feel disgusted with myself. When you walk in, I feel like I have to repent again, every Sunday...and God says I'm forgiven. I asked for forgiveness a long time ago, and it was granted. And yet, every time I see you I'm reminded. And all this during an altar call.
And so, I ask if you might stop letting the devil use you and find another place to pretend to worship once every two months?
Because every time you walk into the sanctuary, the enemy has a small victory. I'm just keeping it real--in the name of Jesus. I'm a new creation, and my mind has been transformed; but the recesses of my heart, where you poured all those shiny words and false hopes like pancake batter...they're still mush. And when we were done, you left holes, sagging and dripping, larger and far more porous than you found them. God came and filled those in. And yet somehow I feel that same old sucker punch when you come swanning into the sanctuary like you're doing everybody a favor by getting to church just in time for the sermon.
I was there first; I should get custody of this place. I can't and don't want to bogard Jesus; but I can bogard my church, right? I shouldn't have to worry about being confronted with my bad choices and checkered past there, right? Or maybe I should. As I type that, I'm giving God a cautious and respectful side-eye.
You've been coming for almost two years--once every two months anyhow--and you haven't joined. Does that mean you don't love it? Because I do. There are so many other churches in LA. There are so many other places for you to go. And I used to want you to get that Word... But now I think: can I send you CDs? Transcripts, something? Do you have to show up?
And then I dare to wonder why God hasn’t brought the man that's really going to love me. Could it be because I'm still hung up on the one that didn’t?
I don't know. All I know is when I was with you, you had a bond and relationship with God that really attracted me to you. You had daily devotions; even with your crazy work schedule, you read your Bible every day. You inspired me. I had left the old me on the altar just before I met you, and I was ready to be new with you. Oh, the irony.
Picture it: the night I decided was the night, you were in the shower, and I found your devotions notebook right behind your side of your bed, propped up against the wall. And I admit, I opened it. And I read your notes, your scriptures, your thoughts and meditations, and I was so surprised and impressed. Wow, he really does read the Bible, I thought. He's not just saying that! Imagine. And outwardly, it was clear that God was moving in your life something crazy. And now, fast forward and He's really, really moved. What you came here to do has been made so real for you; He's done huge things in your life. This town is small and the business is even smaller. I know everything, every victory, and I'm so happy for you, baby, truly. You appear to have the world.
So, since you have the world, can I have my church?
Seeing you makes me think of what I gave you just because you loved Him, what I trusted you with because I trusted that He was guiding your path. Because let's be real: a sista was a little lukewarm, a little naïve about what exactly dedication to God truly meant, a little still stuck in her piping hot flesh even though she was walking around in a newly saved, reborn, and rededicated temple. And she made you wait six whole months, remember? And she wanted to trust you, and she wanted to feel like it was right and like it was okay. But it wasn't okay. What she gave you didn't have the best ROI when all the many waves of dust settled, and even though God forgave her, she still had to pay the price. She still got set back; she still got disciplined. She still had to deal with the fallout of her disobedience--but you didn't. Not in the same way.
I never told you but that last time, before we ended things, I was actually on my way to your house that evening. I didn't get sick, and I wasn't tired. What really happened was that I was sitting at the stoplight at Manchester and Sepulveda--and the light was green, but I just didn't feel quite right. And God said "open your Bible right now." And it was on my backseat, and for once, I didn't question Him, I just did it. And oddly, or not so oddly knowing the God we serve, I opened right to Jeremiah 15, a scripture I'd obviously read but hadn't truly ingested. And God said, "Who will have pity on you...who will mourn for you? Who will stop to ask how you are? You have rejected me...you keep on backsliding. So I will lay hands on you and destroy you. I can no longer show compassion." I was terrified. And I turned my car around, and the sex--mind-blowing as it was--was over. (Except for that one time the following September when I tried to bamboozle myself into believing double-backs didn't count....but God knows I always learn the hard way. No pun intended. )
I know I was the best you ever had. I know that. It was the best for both of us. It went down so easy, and it tasted amazing. That connection, that feeling, that intensity. I remember getting up on Sunday mornings, fresh from a long night of getting it in with you, and going to church and praising God for you, and your dick. The unmitigated gall of me. The deception was just so damn deep.
And now. I'm asking you if you could find another place to pretend to worship once every two months?
Because I'm in that house every Sunday, seeking His face, trying to be a part of the body, trying to be a part of the solution, and you, you are still a part of the problem. My problem. I don't know about the larger problem; I just know that when I open my eyes and lower my hands and see you, I see something that's not God, or just not god-ly. Maybe that's wrong to say, but for me, that's what you represent. A decision that altered the course of my life, however small in measure. You haven't tried to represent anything else for a long time. At the heart of it, you're not my old love. You are just a man I used to spend time with, one who has seen me fully naked, and with whom I have done things that would make the Kardashians blush. Yes, you were that man once. Yeah, I loved you.
Of course, I had low expectations when we met that beautiful, sunny Sunday morning in March. But I was comforted and disarmed by your Midwestern flavor, fresh off the boat, wearing a real live suit and holding a real live Bible, waiting for a ride to a real live church. All those low expectations turned to slush and washed away when you leaned down and kissed me for the first time, three and a half years ago now on that unusually humid April LA night. Me in my sister's purple sweater and the skinny jeans I can no longer fit, my still-favorite cowboy boots on as I sat on the edge of your bed. I felt something shift and lock into place, like you were my missing puzzle piece, or the key that turned my lock. I left that evening knowing that even though I would fight it, I was going to give you my heart. I went home and told my sister that I'd met the man who would be my husband. That single, sweet, simple kiss, up to this very second in time, was so amazing it opened up a whole new world in which I felt so close to God. I felt like Love was real. I had never experienced anything remotely like it before. And I just knew that despite my marathon sprints from Love, it had found me. I knew in that moment I would never be the same. And I never was.
But neither were we, after all was said and done. We barely speak now, and when we do, it always devolves into something regrettably ugly; and even though I've forgiven you and pray you've forgiven me, sometimes I find it hard to look at you without wanting to slap your face. God forgive me. I never questioned your relationship with God after we were done, because I never doubted your love and your faith. But now I wonder if you even love God with the same vigor. I won't explore the evidence, but keeping it one hundred: can your prayer life be that deep when your behavior is straight from hell?
There was a time when I was moved by you. But I am no longer moved. You messed with my resolve, you messed with my head, and now you're messing with my worship.
And we can't have that.
So, I'm gonna pray on this. And I'm gonna ask God to bind this spirit of contention and cast it out. That's what my spirit says to do. But my flesh. Sweet Jesus, my flesh wants to know if you could find another place to pretend to worship every two months.
I would be eternally grateful.