Continued…(click on above link to read part one)
I couldn’t believe where I was that day. Looking around me, the atmosphere in the building and my own personal headspace felt like two separate places where neither was accessible to the other.
I had spent the week in Colorado to work a wedding in a small town. The beauty was easy to capture. The job had been more of a week’s-long get-away that paid a lot of money. The wedding had been the day before – on a Saturday, so I planned to take off right after with my two assistants, back to New York. Yet, here I was, sitting inside a church building despite my commitment to never step foot in another. I hadn’t even realized what day it was until after the service started – Easter Sunday.
No one from the wedding party even lived there in the small town except for the groom’s grandparents, whom I sat next to on the wooden pew. The only reason I had agreed to attend was because the groom’s grandma reminded me so much of my own grandma and I couldn’t find a way to turn down her invitation. I hadn’t spoken to my grandma in years, and I missed her.
The songs they sang that Easter were more than familiar, I remembered their lyrics from years ago. I could see my twin sister, my mom and dad sitting all in a row on the family pew as we routinely did all those years ago. Emotions ran high; the weight of regret nearly choking me.
The songs’ effect on me had turned from covering me with an unsettling feeling of nostalgia to tears pushing hard on my eyes, but I would not cry. I did not believe what the songs said. I hoped the others standing next to me didn’t notice my internal agony.
When I was in high school I began to wonder what was wrong that I didn’t have the same experience as my family members or that of my friends in youth group. I brushed the doubt aside until I got to college and was confronted not a few times about my faith. At first, I tried to say all the right things to defend my beliefs, but I found I couldn’t answer with conviction. If I ever had any faith at all, whatever was there withered away. That distance I had felt from my Christian family and friends grew into a desperate situation. The ache in my heart wouldn’t allow me to keep pretending.
I attempted to talk with my parents, to talk about the holes in I found in Christianity. I was terrified they wouldn’t be able to convince me I was wrong. I hoped deep down that they could set me straight and I could have faith like the rest of them. The outcome was as I had feared. They were solid, immovable in their faith in God, Jesus, the Bible, but I could not see. To my surprise, they didn’t try too hard to convince me I was wrong. I could see both love and pain in their faces, and that was when I knew I had to leave. I would never be who everyone else wanted me to be.
My twin sister was the only one I called from time to time. I was so angry at God for my crisis of faith, but that frustrated me because I had determined to not believe in Him. My family had their faith, and though they never treated me that way, I was the outsider. The pain was nearly unbearable. I chose a separate life.
But that day years later in small-town Colorado, that ordinary Sunday that happened to be Easter, I found myself in church. If I hadn’t been so freaked out, I could have laughed at the absurdity. I heard the same words I had heard throughout my life, but something happened that morning. It might sound strange, but it felt like my dead soul stirred within my chest. The pastor told us that Jesus willingly died a sinner’s death because of His love for us. He pointed out that Jesus could have called for His own deliverance out of that death sentence, but He went to the cross for the joy set before Him – His love for us. This blew my mind. How could I have understood it any other way? Oh, I fought the weeping that was sure to come from the desire to repent and from the joy I felt. I was blind before, but I could see now! The love of God enveloped me in that little church where I sat next to the lady who reminded me so much of my grandma.
I was hesitant to call my grandma because I was so ashamed that I had walked away from our friendship. My selfishness had hurt her, I knew. But she was the one I thought to tell about what had happened to me. I didn’t get to tell her that day.
Three days after I had been awakened to new life, I made the journey I needed to make. I saw my family for the first time in years. The circumstances were heavy. My mom and dad and sister were the same as I left them. I loved them. How I had missed them. There were a lot of tears. We cried for my return, we cried for Grandma.
Grandma had suffered a stroke on the same day I gave my life to Jesus. I had thought of her so much that day. The thought of never telling her I was sorry, never sharing the best news of my life with her, made me ache with regret. But she awoke against the odds, with her family by her side, myself included. Tears on her face and unable to communicate, no one could miss the joy in her eyes as I stood closest to her.
This morning I have a gift for my grandpa who has lived alone now for almost a year. Grandma regained most of her speech over the course of a year. She was so excited about the project I worked on for her. I will give it to Grandpa who knew how much it meant to Grandma. We will bear our grief together.
I presented him with a book of photography that displayed images I’d collected over the last four years since my life was forever changed. I had wanted to photograph church buildings like the one in Colorado that now meant so much to me. Maybe others knew this, but I soon found that many church buildings are not the stunning old stained-glass windowed structures with pews and a steeple one might imagine. Those types are in my book, and they are beautiful to behold, but I also captured the churches that were in office buildings, strip malls, libraries, schools, parks and homes. I traveled overseas and discovered that some who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus sometimes have to secretly and strategically meet together. Though there are no photographs of these churches, I wrote about them in my book.
I had begun by photographing the church buildings, but I discovered the church was the people, and I was more intrigued with the life of the church. I started visiting the churches I photographed. That’s when the content for my book took a slight turn. I began to ask permission ahead of time to photograph the church (the people) in action. There are images of hands raised in worship, tears streaming down faces with eyes closed in prayer, embraces of greeting and comfort, close-ups of worn Bibles with highlights and notes covering every inch of the pages, groups lined up to feed the homeless communities and showing up to volunteer work days at the homes of their brothers and sisters who need help, potlucks, Easter plays, baby dedications, children running around with big smiles.
The last photograph in the book is of me at around four years old asleep in a church pew with my head resting on my grandma’s lap.
The name of my book is Resurrected Life.
And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whose You have sent. John 17:3
Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it rom Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to take it again. this command I have received from my Father. John 10:17, 18
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8
Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. John 11:25