Today is a very special day to me, because one year ago today, I met Jesus. No, not in a salvation-experience kind of way, but in a face-to-face kind of way. And it changed my life.
One night in late March or early April of 2010, something prompted me to pray, "Jesus, I know I will see You and see Your face and feel Your arms around me one day. But if there is any way at all for me to feel your arms embrace me and to see Your face on this side of Heaven, then please let me!" As soon as I prayed it, I thought to myself that it was the most ridiculous thing to pray. I didn't think I had any faith for that prayer to be answered, and I promptly forgot about it within a couple of days.
Fast forward from that point 3 weeks. I was on a vacation in Gatlinburg with just Preston. It was wonderful. One afternoon, we went to see "The Miracle" at the Miracle Theater in Pigeon Forge. It's a live musical stage-production of the life of Christ - told in part from Lucifer's (Satan's) perspective. (That may sound hokey, but trust me, it's not.) It was SO powerful. One of the things that struck me throughout the whole show was the guy who played Jesus seemed SO much like Jesus. It seemed to be more than just excellent acting. It was like an anointing was on him. The light and the love that radiated from that man was just...incredible! I kept thinking, "Man, I sure would like to meet him. Just to see what he's like out of character." Well, at the intermission, they announced that the cast would be in the lobby after the show. I was excited - and nervous for some reason.
So after the show, which was in and of itself such an inspiring and faith-building experience, Preston and I head out to the lobby to meet the cast. We met Judas, Nicodemus, the Pharisees, an angel, but then there was Jesus. There was a line to see him. I was the last one in the line. I was really nervous, so nervous that I almost decided not to meet him. And I wasn't sure why I was so nervous. The elderly lady in front of me asked him how he played Jesus so well. He replied that he prayed every time that he could empty himself and let the Holy Spirit just completely fill him and flow out of him. She asked for a hug, which he gladly gave. It was a really sweet interaction to watch. When I saw her ask for a hug, though, I thought, "Ah! Maybe I could ask for a hug too! But do I have the nerve? I mean, I'm a complete stranger to this guy, and I'm not good at hugging the guys I do know in my life, much less strangers." But, ultimately I knew that if I didn't ask for the hug, I would regret it.
Then, it was my turn. He smiled and said hi, and I asked if I could please have a hug. He gave a gentle laugh and said sure. (all of this was so like Jesus.) He came around the little podium that they had him stand behind to sign CDs and things, and gave me a firm, but gentle hug. As his arms wrapped around me, and I felt his robe against my face, I remembered my "ridiculous" prayer from 3 weeks ago, and I knew that God was giving me my hearts' desire. He was saying "yes" to my prayer in that very moment. As he released me, I looked up into his face, and told him about my prayer and how God had just used him to answer that prayer. He got tears in his eyes, smiled even bigger, and hugged me again - and held me for a few moments while he prayed for me! It was the most incredible experience of my life! There was no doubt in my mind that God had orchestrated that moment, and the Holy Spirit had so filled that man (David M. Sanborn. Google him), that he was like Jesus to me. It was a holy moment that changed me forever.
I left there shaking, crying, and laughing. I could not believe what had just happened. I had just seen Jesus. I was overwhelmed by the realization of how much God loved me to have done that for me. As an intercessor, I'm used to seeing Jesus move in response to prayers about other people. But to answer a prayer that was just for me was so intimate and so loving. So extravagant.
"Meeting Jesus" changed me. It made me see Jesus in a much more personal way. It made my prayer time with Him that much sweeter. He truly became my Companion as I desired to walk with Him. I started learning how to really die to myself, which included laying down some things that were very precious to me - like the prayer ministry I was leading for our worship ministry's leadership. I also started recognizing Jesus in other people better. I can't think of a better way to encourage someone than by telling them, "You remind me of Jesus."
And of course, here we are a year later, and I'm dealing with my brother's death through the truth that I have of how much Jesus loves me. Ironically, Rusty was one of the first people I told about my "meeting Jesus" experience. I had no idea that less than a year later, he would really be meeting Jesus. In fact, one night right after Rusty died, I was putting my daughter to bed, and she asked me to sing her favorite song, "Jesus Loves Me". As I sang the chorus, I could feel Jesus' arms wrapped around me once again, holding me, as if He were singing it over me. I recognize now that one of the reasons He gave me that moment, was to prepare me for this season of grief and loss. I cherish that precious truth that Jesus loves me, more than I can fathom. His grace IS sufficient for me. He is my All in all. He is my shield and my portion forever.