My Dad used to drive me back to boarding school bellowing the most ridiculous made up song, a jolly song about going back to the boarding house. The song was purposefully jolly because my heart was not and it did work to make me smile only until I spotted the boarding house looming in the distance. I remember those journeys, at seven years old sitting in the front with the seat belt crossed over my left cheek (no booster seats in those days). I would inhale the smell from the seatbelt, trying to mentally stockpile every last homely scent I could before dormitory life. The seat belt always smelt of my Mum’s perfume.
A little over a decade later I watched my Dad’s chest rise, fall and rise with his final raspy breath. The ground went from beneath me, shock suspended me in mid air, a never before heard groan erupted from my inner most being, the pressure of grief forced the tears. My legs had broken into a run and when I was found, I was called back in to say goodbye. The curtain was drawn around us. He was gone but there was a glow in the room, a gentle warm, comforting glow. I’d been visiting my Dad in the cold, clinical hospice ward for weeks, there had been nothing warm or cosy about that building. I concluded this strange warmth was just what happened when people died, it was maybe how they said goodbye.
Sixteen years later I met Jesus. I was at home on the landing stood facing at roughly a thirty degree angle to a chest of drawers. I was asking God how do I stay close to Him. The reason I was asking this was because it had just been the most spiritually eventful weekend of my life; I’d been baptised with fire, and witnessed a love like I never knew – powerful thunderous, cool, gentle, ferocious fire. I’d met with the source of love, love Himself and just like I recognised my Mum’s perfume on the seatbelt, I now recognised that the warmth at my Dad’s deathbed wasn’t my Dad but the loving, gentle presence of my Heavenly Father. I had also had the wind of the Spirit powerfully blow into me blasting my eyes and ears open and instantly filling me with truth, instant understanding about things I’d never known before. The once old, dusty, impossible to understand bible became alive, one whole love letter that now made sense, every word illuminated my spirit. I saw in the spirit realm – more real than everything we see with our natural eye, I saw the things that go on behind the veil. So after all these things happened I was longing to stay in the fire – to stay in God’s presence, so I was praying “God how do I stay close to you?” And the instant I asked this Jesus appeared in front of me with such joy and laughter, and the instant I responded “Jesus!” He was gone and everything began bursting into sense. My experience meeting Jesus was very similar to the two on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:31
“Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.”
So I’m standing by my chest of drawers in shock, wonder, delight, amazement and with the fullness of joy. It was Jesus all along! Everything, even the most precious people and things in my life just paled into insignificance, every part of me began to ache to be with Jesus, I wanted to leave earth and be in heaven immediately. I saw my whole life laid out and instantly recognised where Jesus had been during it. The poem “Footprints” I’d had on a bookmark when I was a child at boarding school suddenly made sense. He’d been with me the whole time, I’d just never recognised Him. His fragrance had been left all over my life. The amount of love notes God had left me that I’d dismissed or ignored, I was simply too blind to see! Even through my wild years of devouring every earthly offering to try to fill my emotional, physical and spiritual desires, in my drunkenness, my drug induced highs and comedowns, my immense pride and uncontrollable lust of the flesh, wherever I was, whatever state I was in, He’d always been knocking on the door of my heart. I had always thought I was the one who was trying to find the answers or to work out what this life was all about but now it had become clear as day that He was the one who was chasing me, my whole life.
I was brought up in a Christian religious setting, Church every Sunday and Christian schools, all those droning services, chapel, assemblies and RE lessons, but I had never understood the cross or even had anyone explain it directly to me or even explain who Jesus is. I knew Jesus was a big deal but didn’t know why. My parents were religious church goers and they never once spoke to me or told me about Jesus (let that sink in – they went to church without fail every week!). I actually first heard the gospel watching “Jesus of Nazareth” on a VHS tape that someone had left at our home. At five years old I remember watching the crucifixion scene and I saw there was something more going on than the violence and bloodshed, I didn’t understand fully but somewhere in my heart at that really young age, I responded deeply because tears began to stream down my face. But it was only in meeting Jesus that instantly I knew Him to be God, His authority and power can not be denied. The light of His presence instantly revealed in me an understanding of the cross, His light had exposed the extent of my sin, the absolute rottenness and filth so permeated and deep at the core of my being. Sin that wasn’t able be broken down or even written as list, sin so beastly and all consuming which had felt completely natural to me and which I had absolutely no control over. Here I was, stood in Holy light and like Isaiah 6:5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” And just like Paul in Romans 7:4 “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” And just like “Amazing Grace” that goes “a wretch like me”, “I was blind but now I see”. I stood with my rottenness exposed by pure holiness but remained covered in love, the consuming fire of love, grace freely poured out over me, all because Jesus died for us at the cross. I understood the enormity of of my sin and the enormity of what He’d done to set me free and I was overcome with great joy and thankfulness.
And since that day I’ve been shouting His name from the rooftops and telling anyone who’ll listen. Jesus is here with you! He loves you. You are continually on his mind. There is no condemnation in His voice. Turn around and step freely into the full fragrance of His glory.
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”