I have a story.
I was born in sin. Unwanted, unloved, unpitied. They left me where I fell from the birth canal. They weren’t careless – they were very purposeful to ignore my helpless cries. I choked feeble little breaths, lying in my own blood, covered in filth. No one even bothered to cut my umbilical cord, to sever me from my gestation and consider me alive. No one even acknowledged me. I was simply left. Vulnerable. Naked. Alone. Good for nothing, wanted by no one but death.
But there was someone who heard my weak squalling. He saw me, flailing, gasping each pitiful breath as I waited for the last, but he didn’t turn away from that bedraggled, nearly lifeless mess like everyone else. He hoped for me. He pulled me out of the cold mud and blood. He warmed me next to his heart. He held me gently in his big hands, fed me, wiped my tears, rocked me in the long night hours, patiently. He walked with me, holding my chubby trusting hand as I took my first faltering steps. I learned to ask him when I needed anything, running to him to share every fear, every question, every joy of discovery. So I grew. Years passed. Like a plant, thriving in rich soil, well watered, sheltered from storms, I grew healthy. My body matured. My hair grew long. My skin tanned, my smooth face was unlined by worry, my laughter was free. But I was still innocent.
It was around that time, one day, that his son noticed me. My heart still races when I think of how he looked at me as I ran past one afternoon. He caught me by the hand and never once acted like he wanted to let go after that. He wanted to be with me. He bought me gifts, jewelry, beautiful clothes, he walked with me, laughed with me, he wooed me. He made me feel beautiful, like I was his most precious treasure. When he looked at me with those intense eyes, so full of passion and hope, I wanted to be every bit the desirable princess he made me feel like I was to him. He was a gentleman to a fault, wise, and clearly prepared to take care of me far into my old age. And he was great with kids. Really, he was the perfect guy. Finally, he popped the question, and of course I said yes. After that I sported a beautiful rock on my finger. And everybody knew we were an item. We planned the perfect wedding, lots of guests, lots of food. He got me into an exclusive spa where I could get pampered from head to toe in preparation for the big day. He even bought me the most gorgeous dress. We even got our marriage license and made it official as we neared the wedding. I felt like a queen.
Unfortunately, I started acting like one. A drama queen, that is. I started acting maybe a bit pretentious. All those beautiful gifts, the jewelry, the lovely clothes, they garnered me a lot of attention. From other men. I started to really like the attention I got when I wore them. I’d find excuses to go out without him. The flattery and flirting were playful. At first. But I waded in deeper and deeper. He knew. I know he knew. I saw the pleading look in his eyes when I made up some new excuse not to spend the evening with him. Even then, he was a gentleman. He’d clasp my hand as he always had, but it was I who would pull away. I hated myself for the deception, but I always justified it. He wanted me to be happy, right?
Those men, they flattered, but they didn’t woo me like he did. In fact, it was the opposite. I found myself chasing after them. I lost my innocence. No, I gave it away. Eventually, I even paid others to take it. Fool that I was, I confused that brief thrill of a moment with real love, as if I had never known what love really was. But I had. Sometimes, in the bitter dark night, I’d walk lonely streets knowing I was missing something. But I didn’t try to remember the father who had loved me to life when I was left for dead. I didn’t try to remember his son, that wonderful, strong, sweet man who had treated me like his most precious treasure. I was in too deep. I got pregnant, several times. I got rid of them. I was no better than my birth parents in that. Worse – because I had been saved from that very death. But by now, I had a reputation of being always available. I maintained it better than any other girl I knew.
It always happens eventually. It finally happened to me, though I was blindsided when it came. When they came. One morning, as I lay stretched out enticingly in the warm sun, a whole group of men from my past appeared. Men I’d lied to, cheated on, men whose marriages I had helped destroy, they didn’t come hungry for anything I could give. They were only hungry for revenge. Justice. And they took it. Violently. They pulled me from my house, ripped me out of my fancy clothes, hit me, hurt me, and then paraded me past all my neighbors. I saw the faces of all the other girls who had been like me. I had learned some of my trade and tricks from them. But I had surpassed them – and now as I passed them in shame, I hung my head at their judgment. It was deserved.
I was as naked and dirty as the day I had been born. But this day, the whole world noticed me. A brazen reputation like mine doesn’t hide. It wasn’t made to. Unfortunately. My captors forced me to walk many streets filled with jeering people. My feet ached. I was bleeding. I wished I could just go numb. But my heart felt every insult. My shoulders felt the weight of my condemnation. I winced as they pushed me roughly along – up great stone steps, into an austere courtroom.
Those who led me halted only when we got to the front. The room was crowded, but there was a spotlight on the hard floor before the judge. They stood me there, then stepped back. I was alone.
I didn’t look up as voice after voice called out accusations. They listed the lives I’d destroyed, the relationships and innocent children. It wasn’t until the judge issued the verdict that I looked up in surprise. It wasn’t the ruling that made me catch my breath. I was undeniably guilty. But I recognized the magistrate’s voice.
It was my father.
I was standing before the man who’d saved me from death as a helpless infant. Now here I was, once again naked and helpless. My father looked at me with his deep dark eyes. “I am not here to save you this time. Justice must be served. You deserve to die.” The gavel in his big hand came down with finality.
The sound echoed through the great room. Men rushed forward and grabbed my shackled arms. They started to drag me roughly away. “Stop!” A commanding voice called from somewhere near the judge. “What do you want?” Men sneered at the man who had spoken. “She burned you worse than the rest of us. You wanna be the one to pull the trigger?” I couldn’t see through the pressing mob, but I guessed whom they referred to. “Let her go.” His voice was loud, but calm and sure.
“But her sentence is death!” The mob was hungry for blood.
“I will take her place.” I looked up in surprise. Could such a thing happen? Even if it could, why would anyone die in the place of a rotten traitor like me? And of all people, especially him?
The riotous crowd parted slightly. I caught sight of my first love. He looked older. But he looked at me with the same piercing gaze I remembered from so long ago. My heart skipped a beat.
“She broke every promise!” Another man drove the point home. He snatched up the marriage license I had once signed from where it lay amidst a pile of evidence against me.
“But I never broke mine.” He continued to look straight at me as he walked over. Only when he stood next to me did he tear his gaze away, looking up at the judge. “I will serve her sentence. I want my wife back.”
The crowd surged forward. They caught him up, and for a moment I saw him suspended above by angry fists before being pulled down mercilessly. The blood-lust of the frenzied mob was terrifying. But it was efficient. Within minutes, they began to fall back. The noise abated. Their work was done. Lying on the floor was a mangled lifeless body. “Let them through!” someone called from a side door. A couple official-looking men pushed through with thin-lipped determination. They knelt on either side of the bloody form. One pulled out some medical equipment and listened for heartbeats and pulse. The other grasped a sharp knife. With a sudden jab, he gashed a hole into the side of the upper abdomen. I gasped, but the lifeless form didn’t twitch. They looked at each other after several minutes and nodded. “Dead.” They pronounced, though we needed no confirmation. It was clear.
The judge looked down at the papers in front of him. The courtroom was completely silent as he scanned the documents. I held my breath. He raised the paper where my verdict and sentence had been written. Stamped across the bottom, in bold, red letters, were the words, “Paid in Full.”
“The law is satisfied.” The magistrate continued. “Remove her chains. She is free.”
In that moment, a clap of thunder shook the building. There was an audible gasp from the crowd as we all glanced toward the windows. But the thunder hadn’t come from the clouds. It was in the room. In fact, it seemed to come from the form on the floor. Again, we heard a deep rumble as we watched, incredulous. The man’s chest had risen and fallen in a breath. Impossible! The rumble died away as his breathing became regular. He sat up. Slowly he stood to his feet. There was blood everywhere. We could see scars were forming on his forehead, his arms, his side. But he was alive. He scanned the room and his eyes came to rest, once again, on me. He smiled. Triumphant.
I felt faint as hands grabbed my wrists and the fetters that chafed them were removed. Shame washed over me as my husband draped a big warm blanket over my body. He pulled me into an embrace. I buried my face in his broad shoulder and wept like I never had before. I felt him scoop me up and carry me, joyful and victorious, out of the long courtroom and into the sunlight. It was an amazing day. It is an amazing love.
That is my amazing story.
I took it loosely from Ezekiel 16. It was a hard one to write. I do not like to personalize every passage of the Bible that I read. I want to just claim the pleasant ones and gloss over the ugly parts. It isn’t fun to play the fool, to walk in the steps of a traitor. I don’t like sappy romance novels, though I can certainly appreciate Cinderella stories. Still it is uncomfortable to feel like an ugly stepsister. But I’m pretty sure that every word of my Bible was written so that I would take it personally. So today I tried.
And wow. He really loves me. The fairy tale is true.
So weep with me. Rejoice with me. Be amazed. It’s not just words on paper. It’s real. And consider yourself invited to the wedding, because we are still planning the celebration. It’s gonna be one heck of a party.
I hope you can make it.