Jesus was first introduced to me on felt boards with cut-out paper characters. I remember my Sunday school teacher putting up pictures of Jesus, who always wore a white robe with a red or blue sash. He had a brown beard to match his sandals, a welcoming smile, and outstretched hands, like He was ready to give away everything He had.
I remember learning about His miracles – the feeding of the 5,000, the healing of the leper, and raising Lazarus from the dead. He called Zacchaeus down from the tree and walked on water. As a small girl, I looked at the smile of a paper Jesus, in awe of the amazing things He could do. Those old Sunday school felt boards are where our love story began.
He loved on me through most of my childhood. I found His love in tree-climbing, in toes dug deep into ocean sand, and in sitting in the sunshine as the wind wildly blew my hair. It showed up while making pies from scratch with my Grammy and when my mother put pink sponge curlers in my hair. His love was in my Poppy’s laugh. It was in my Uncle “Goolie” when he bounced with me on giant bean bag chairs. Perhaps I felt it the most while sitting on my daddy’s lap, in the comfort and safety of his arms, tucked right under his chin, reminding me that I belonged. So much of His goodness came through the hands of the family that raised me.
Things got serious between us when I was a teenager. The Bible suddenly became interesting and I wanted to learn and study. Our relationship deepened and grew through the reading of His word and the friends He placed in my life who also knew Him. Even amidst losing my brother, my parents’ divorce, and watching my vibrant mother self-destruct to alcoholism and die in her sleep, I reached out for Him. I knew He was good. In Him was the light and life I needed.
We had a rough go of things in my early 20’s. I got angry and didn’t want anything to do with Him. After a major heartbreak, it felt like He had betrayed me. I couldn’t bear the thought of being with anyone who would let me hurt this badly, so I tried to break things off for a while. He gave me my space because I asked Him to, and when I was at my worst, He came to me with grace. He showed me that even though I’d done all I could to push Him away, He had never left my side. I had known Jesus for most of my life, but it wasn’t until I was 24 that I felt deeply known and loved by Him.
For years now, Jesus and I have been like a married couple that goes through cycles of ups and downs. We have close and intimate seasons, and others where I feel like we are missing each other. Sometimes I feel like He is holding out on me. Sometimes I give Him the cold shoulder when He hasn’t come through in the ways I have wanted. I often reach for things and people that aren’t Him, looking for them to fill my heart with what only He can. Netflix, alcohol, and food are chosen when I want to numb out and escape. I clean, organize, and scrub dirty shower floors when I want to feel in control and find order amidst chaos. If I reach for Him first, I always find the peace I’m needing for whatever anxiety or trouble I am facing.
Knowing Jesus is much different now than when we first met on paper.
He has written tragedy, death, betrayal, and loss as deep themes in my story. He has allowed my heart to shatter on more than one occasion, and often times, He asks me to walk through darkness and difficulty. Those times aren’t all joy, but I have learned to trust His heart for me. In the sweetest of life’s moments, He still woos me with sunshine and beach waves. He shows off with sunrises that take my breath away and breezes that pour through the open windows of my home, white sheer curtains dancing wildly inside. I may struggle and wrestle my way through life and faith, but oh, do I love Jesus.
I can still imagine Him wearing a white robe with a red or blue sash. He has a brown beard to match his sandals, a welcoming smile, and outstretched nail-pierced hands that remind me He gave away everything He had.
Deeply rooted in South Texas, Jennifer Stamness is a sunshine-lover, wife and mother to two young boys. She enjoys creating beauty in places like writing, music, decorating and throwing parties. She desires to follow Jesus into the unknown places He invites her to and is thankful for His abundant and amazing grace. Jennifer writes, dreams and shares pieces of her story here.
Thank you for sharing from your heart. It is comforting to know that others wrestle with their faith. “He gave me my space because I asked Him to, and when I was at my worst, He came to me with grace.” So thankful that He promises to never leave us or forsake us – even when we are at our worst. Thank you for writing this. Beautiful, poignant, touching.