If My People

When we finally went in to church, I took my usual seat in the back, and Zuri went on and took her seat at one of the front pews. A person sitting some eight pews in front of me turned and looked back. It was Tony. He looked strange—was he growing a beard? He looked much older. He smiled through the gloom of the church, and motioned me to join him there.

I waved back and smiled. And while a great part of me wanted to desperately cast away the melancholia induced by solemn talk I’d had in the car with Zuri, I shook my head and stayed where I was.

Zuri had told me to ask God what my purpose in life was.

But how to ask?

And how to know what his will was?

First of all, how could I dare? How could I draw to the altar and bend my knees in prayer, and ask God to guide me with the full knowledge that just today I’d hidden a stash of benzos I’d bought with money I’d stolen from Mara?

I contemplated my life, such as it was. It was distasteful. There was nothing to be proud of. Not even my GPA. The past I hated, and the future I dreaded.

The worship leaders got up on stage and began singing their simple songs.

I’d always listened, with detachment born out of scorn for the simple music. But for the first time I saw and heard it for the heartfelt music that it really was.

I closed my eyes, and bowed my head, hearing intently every single word of the song the others were singing. I’d heard this song before… or, rather, the words of the song. It was from the Bible… we’d read it in the study group—How did it go?

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

I shivered, and hugged myself.

Not again…I thought, believing I’d feel sick as I had the last time I’d prayed with Tony. But it was different. Something like hope replaced the inner desolate void that had existed before when just the thought of prayer alone had made me feel nauseous and sick with grief. And instead of feeling cold I began to feel almost warm.

I don’t know how it happened, but I dropped to my knees. Hot tears streamed down my face, and I began sobbing. Softly at first, and then I had much ado to hold myself together and not draw attention. But it was ineffective. Dimly I felt someone come to my side. Zuri was rocking me in her arms. Soothing me, and praying for me.

Oh, God.

I’ve tried so many times . . . you know I have.

But I can’t draw close to you because I’m a thief, a liar, a drug addict, I question my sexual orientation, I drink, and I watch porn in my computer.

I’m really sick.

Detestable.

A monster.

A blemish in creation, and nothing short of death can put an end to the mess that I am. I wanna die and be lost in oblivion. And yet, I’m begging you. Don’t turn me away. Please don’t give up on me just yet. You listened once to me—twice, with the Terry thing—Can you do it again? Please?

If I’m going to die, then I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to be afraid of you, or of life, or of death. I want to make things right, and be right with you. So please save me . . .

Help me . . .

 

Part 18 of If You Only Knew

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Coming in From the Rain

I did not enjoy Wednesday prayer meetings. But since the church was vast and only the front was lighted up, it was easy for someone like me who sat at the back pew, to walk out and wander about. Unfortunately, when it rained hard I was forced to remain indoors.

So it was one rainy evening that another person joined me at the back pews. It was a twenty-something-year-old guy so drenched from the rain his shoes made squelching noises when he walked. He behaved peculiarly. During prayer time he hugged his damp form, rocked softly, and cried, emitting shaky high-pitched wails at times. When the small group of singers took the stage and began leading out the hymns he got on his feet, lifted his arms and continued saying stuff as he sang along and wailed betimes.

I felt uncomfortable. Almost scared. But before I could move and join Zuri at the front pew, the meeting was done, the church lights flickered on, and we stood facing each other for a short beat.

Deep-set eyes under dark, thick eyebrows. Sharp-featured. Short. Incredibly thin and pale.

I opened my mouth to say some inane apology, but he blinked, and fairly ran to get out of there.

 

part 11 of If You Only Knew