Where Redemption Waits
The arches of my feet stung with excruciating pain as I trudged up the snow-covered pathway – in ¾ inch heels. Oh yeah! There I was hiking up the Niagara Escarpment in the middle of January, sometime after 1 o’clock in the morning – in heels!
“Okay, this is ridiculous! I have to wake up early to sing at church in the morning AND I’m wearing a dress, Cam! I’m wearing a dress – and heels – and it’s like -10 degrees out here! Can we please just turn around and go home? ” I begged.
He took three more giant steps towards a platform that overlooked the city of Burlington and Lake Ontario. Just above the lookout point there was a ten-meter high steel cross that was lit up by a few dozen light bulbs. “Here we are! Just check out the view! Don‘t you think this was worth the trek up here?” he asked as he rubbed up and down my arms in attempt to keep them warm.
I let the silence settle for about one minute before I answered. “Yup, terrific! Can we go now?” He took a deep breath and let out a long exaggerated sigh. “I’m sorry. This wasn’t exactly like I planned. But I really wanted to bring you up here, for a special purpose… I wanted to ask you something” he began as he slowly lowered to one knee…
My heart lurched in my chest. No! No! This wasn’t happening! Not yet! I hadn’t had the chance to tell him! I… I hadn’t even tried to tell him. I was nearly twenty-one years old and we had been dating for exactly one year. He had surprised me by repeating our first date; the Toronto Boat show, dinner at a jazz club and now a midnight stop at the old cross off Centennial Parkway. Everything had been lovely but in the months leading up to this night I had absolutely no inclination that we had gotten this serious. I hadn’t even considered the idea of marriage yet. I wasn’t ready for this decision. I wasn’t ready for this much honesty! And then suddenly before I could stop it, I was sub-consciously dragged back to the darkest, loneliest and most hideous part of my life. A part I had been desperately trying to leave behind…
The lights were off, because I insisted it this way. The air was heavy; he was heavy. And there was that old familiar darkness creeping in through the closed door, up the bed and into my soul. I knew it well. It was simultaneously thrill and dread; victory and defeat. It was the beast that took up residence inside of me, coursing through my veins and hauling my body through the motions. It was master; I was slave. Yeah, I knew it well. We had made acquaintance a long time ago. It had been a constant companion to me. And now, here I was feebly attempting to temporarily satisfy an insatiable desire. I was in a dark smelly apartment, with a guy that I hardly knew, who I wasn’t even remotely attracted to and I was cheating on my boyfriend. I hated myself. I hated that I could not see past the fulfillment of my lust. I hated the fact that sooner or later the beast inside of me always got its way…
“Babe… Did you hear me?” Cam said with a nervous chuckle. My thoughts raced back to the present, to the man on one knee, waiting for an answer. “I… I don’t know what to say.” I finally choked out. Which was of course true. Was I supposed to say “Yes, a thousand times, yes!” and just bury the darkness deep into my past?
It was, after all, definitely in the past. I knew that a lot had changed in six months. But… I guess not enough. Otherwise I would have been able to tell him. So what then? Was I supposed to tell him the whole truth now, after he had gone to all these lengths to create a perfect moment? Would he understand? I had never wanted to hurt him, there was just something wrong with me on a very deep level. It went back as far as I could remember.
Despite the fact that I had grown up in a happy, healthy Christian home, I guess I had figured out at a young age that I was something of a cardinal sinner. I believed with all of my heart that I didn’t truly belong to the “club” that my family met with every Sunday because I wasn’t good. As I got older, this belief only made room for more secrets and addictive behaviours. So I did the only thing I knew, I pretended. I worked so hard to appear holy like everyone else, but inside I knew the truth and it bore heavy on my shoulders. I thought it was safest to keep my secrets to myself, but in truth I desperately needed help… and no one knew how broken I was.
I gulped in the frosty night wind and forced myself to focus on the present. Cam was exactly the type of man that I needed. He challenged me to reach for higher goals and he stood by me while I stumbled towards them. He laughed when I barked (if you catch my drift) and he truly, absolutely loved God. In short he was exactly what I had always wanted… but I wasn’t what I wanted. I swallowed the lump in my throat. Maybe I would still tell him some day. But for now, he would be my resolution. I wasn’t doing anything differently, this was who I was, who I had always been. I just had issues that no one knew about. I would never cheat on him again… surely I could manage that much. I looked him in the eye and I told him yes. I would marry him. I would continue to live this lie. But things would be better. “Yes” was definitely the right answer. He proudly placed a beautiful ring on my finger. I knew it should have been such a perfect moment to be remembered for the rest of our lives but for me it was stained with regret.
The following eight months flew by with wedding preparations and renovations on the condo we had purchased. For the most part I stumbled along with the plans. It was truly the busiest time of my life, which was good because it left little time for me to think. But every so often, on a restless night, I would find myself staring up at the ceiling and desperately wishing for a way out of it all. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to marry Cam. It was more fear that he wouldn’t want to marry me if he knew who I really was and what I had done. This fear choked the excitement right out of me. And as the countdown began the fear only intensified until eventually I didn’t want the celebration anymore, I didn’t want the flowers or the dress or the little white chapel. I just needed to know that Cam loved me for who I really was, a twenty-one year old girl with much more baggage than he knew.
As my resolve settled, I knew that I really loved him. Perhaps I had never really understood love before then. But I loved him enough to let him know the truth, even if it cost me our future together. Even if it meant that all the gifts would have to be returned and that most everyone else who had been invited to the wedding would find out why we had really called it off. Sadly, it wasn’t even until that moment, that I realized the position I had put him in. My secrecy, which had only ever been constructed to protect myself, would actually be wounding someone else deeply. It was time to tell him. But I needed some time alone with God first… I was certain I didn’t possess the wisdom or the strength to do this on my own. What I didn’t realize, was that God had been patiently waiting for me. He planned to do a lot more than just grant me the wisdom and the strength to talk to my fiancé. God was about to change my life.
Over the next few weeks in the early hours of each morning I met with God. In the beginning I was afraid of Him. I put on my “Sunday best” attitude and still did a lot of pretending even though I knew He already knew everything. I’m sure I looked an awful lot like Adam and Eve as they tried to hide behind their fig leaves. But every single day God showed me one thing, and He showed me over and over again in a million different ways. He showed me that He loved me. That even with all of my faults, weaknesses and failures I was like a radiant, holy and beautiful bride to Him. And this love had absolutely nothing to do with my ability to be good or because of any good thing I had ever done in my entire lifetime. It had everything to do with Jesus. Of course, I had grown up in the church, I had head-knowledge of this since I was a kid. But for the first time in my life, my heart and my head were speaking the same language. As each day grew into the next, I started to feel more comfortable to let Him into deeper parts of my soul. He peeled off one layer at a time of the relational walls I had put up between us, until finally, I could feel the arms – HIS arms, which had been holding me all along. There was nothing but love and acceptance there. There is no room for shame in the arms of grace. I was finally whole and assured of a love that would be more than enough for me for the rest of my life.
Finally one day, with the wedding less than one month away I asked Cam to come over. That night, on my living room floor, I told him my entire story. I didn’t know what to expect. I only knew to trust that God would work everything out for His good. Cam didn’t say anything at first. He was like a stone, void of emotion. I could only imagine how difficult this was for him to hear, about a woman he thought he knew well. I finished my story and we just sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he took a deep breath and turned to leave. But not before I saw in his eyes the pain and betrayal that I knew he felt. It would take a miracle to restore our relationship.
He didn’t call the next day. I didn’t know what else to do except pray. I prayed for him unlike any time I had ever before. I reminded myself that God was my source of happiness. My world would not shatter if Cam decided he couldn’t accept my mistakes. I prayed for the healing of his heart and I waited. This went on for another four days. Not a single word was spoken between us. By this time I was starting to lose hope. I was starting to wonder how he would call off the wedding and how I would be able to tell everyone. By the fifth day I had prepared myself for the worst, as best as I knew how. He called me during his lunch break and said he would be by to pick me up when he was done work.
For the first time since we started dating, I was ready when he arrived. Normally I would have found something on the radio and put my feet up on the dash but that day I sat with my hands awkwardly still on my lap. Silence filled the car. I wanted to ask where we were going but I didn’t. Cam had grown up in the area and seemed to know all of the back roads to any destination. We were out in the country somewhere. So, I allowed myself to take in the beautiful Niagara scenery outside of my window.
When the car finally came to a stop I suddenly realized where we were. It was the same conservation area he had brought me to the night he had proposed. I hadn’t recognized it because our first visit had been at night in the dead of winter. Here, now, I sat momentarily transfixed at the kaleidoscope of colours all around me; the rush of the waterfalls to my left and the density of the brush to my right. Directly ahead was the lookout point; and looming large above it all, the old steel cross. Without thinking I broke the silence, “This is incredible. All I remember from that night was darkness and cold. How could I have missed this?” I asked.
“If I remember correctly, you were a little preoccupied with all your complaints about the despicable torture I was putting you through” he replied with a wry smile. I cringed at the memory. He held out his hand to help me over a large fallen tree and he didn’t let go when I had safely crossed over. My heart leapt at the simple gesture that had once been so easy between us.
He sighed and turned to face me. “I wish I could have talked to you earlier. I didn’t want to keep you waiting. I just… didn’t know what to say. Nothing you could have said that night would have surprised me more. I still don’t really know how to handle this.” He absently thumbed circles on the back of my hand as he tried to collect his thoughts. “I haven’t changed my mind about us. If the unconditional part needs to come before the vows, that’s fine. I’ll do whatever it takes.” He said with eyes searching mine. “I just can’t… I’m not very good at the forgiving part. I love you Steph. But I’m still so angry… it’s not going away. And I do trust you. I know it won’t happen again, but I still have all these thoughts coming at me all the time. I’m not strong enough to fight this on my own.” He confessed as he looked away.
I just stood there, shocked. How on earth had this turned into his problem; his guilt? I was the one with the issues. But then suddenly, it hit me – I didn’t have the issues any longer. The guilt and shame had been gone for weeks, since the very day I took it to God. The day I stopped trying to fix it on my own. “Cam! You’re exactly right! You can’t fight it on your own. I tried doing just that every day of my life and that’s basically why we are standing here today. We weren’t created to fix this on our own. We were created to know God’s love. I was always so busy trying to prove that I was worthy of God’s love; trying to make up for all my mistakes… I completely missed the fact that He loved me first. And you know… I think it was when I started to really know His love that I was finally able to love Him back. I stopped doing things out of obligation. It was more like cause and effect, I couldn’t help but love Him. I just wanted to be with Him all the time… kind of like when I fell in love with you.”
Cam just stared at me for a moment and then led me around to the lookout point so we could see the whole picture before us. “I still can’t believe I missed all of this that night, eight months ago.” I said. “It’s so vibrant and alive… maybe my perspectives have changed in more ways than one. I was so focused on the negative before.” I turned to look at him but I was surprised to find that he wasn’t standing beside me anymore. Instead he was behind me and he was kneeling again on one knee. This time it really was perfect. There wasn’t a shadow of guilt to cloud the memory. It was just a moment of love, a moment of worship, a moment on bent knees. I suddenly knew then that redemption had been waiting for me all along and I found it there, where all new life begins… at the foot of a cross.