There were two years in South Africa that were both the worst and most wonderful of my life.

It made it easy to stay home on Sundays and get lost in a book or a TV show instead of a church service. Because there was always this lingering sense of showing up in a place where everyone else seemed to have it together, where everyone else was welcome, and where we just felt lost.

One Sunday night Wanda announced I was going to church. She would keep Jackson, and my dad and I would head to church. Honestly, the only part of that suggestion that was appealing to me was the thought of two whole hours without a demanding, crying infant. I would have gone just about anywhere for that kind of break.

We walked in and the place was packed. At the time my parents’ church was meeting in a high school auditorium. There was the wooden stage in front and the long hall-like room it looked out over. Hundreds of folding chairs lined the place from side to side and the band was already warming up on stage.

I sat down while everyone else around me was excitedly, happily hugging and greeting one another. I sat down and looked at my feet. I sat down lost and completely disassociated from the faith that used to come so naturally to me. I sat down and didn’t feel anything.

And then I looked up and saw Jesus.

I mean, as clearly as the eye of your heart can show you something, I just knew He was up there on that stage standing amidst the ultra-hip band members that had always intimidated me. I realize how wild it sounds, but all I can tell you is what I knew in that moment, what the Spirit showed me deep down in my wildly pounding heart. I couldn’t hardly swallow, the blood was ringing in my ears, and I knew for certain that Jesus was real and that He was looking at me.

He looked into my lonely desperate self and His face broke out into this wild, crazy-happy grin. And then He just leaped right off that stage and came running toward me, sweeping chairs and music stands out of His way, and yelling over and over again, “You came! Oh you came! I’m so HAPPY you came!”

And then He was right there in front of my row grabbing me off my feet and hugging me like a lunatic and jumping and dancing in glee and whooping, “I’m so happy you came. I’m SO glad!” And something hard as lead in my heart cracked and melted into the gut deep assurance that He loved me, just as I was. He loved me, He loved me, He loved me.

Even when I didn’t feel loveable or lovely or loved.

I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget his unbridled excitement that I had come to spend time in His Father’s house. That I had brought my sadness and confusion home. And He didn’t even bother mentioning any of that; He was too thrilled just to be together.

And in that moment none of the questions I had for Him mattered. In that moment there was just the joy of being wanted and the sense of belonging no matter how displaced my circumstances were. And it felt like this

It’s been a while since I thought about that night. But today, during worship at church, it all came back and I stood there with this goofy grin on my face remembering the God who will leap chairs, hymnals and any other baggage between us and Him to get His hands on us and His arms wrapped tight around us.

And I thought there might be someone out there who needed to know that. Someone like me. Someone lost and lonely and desperate for answers. I can’t offer you any of those; I wish I could. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that there is a God who is buck wild about you.

And all you have to do is show up. At church, in the laundry room, locked behind the bathroom door.

Just go ready to meet Him. And let Him do the rest.

When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time!

My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time. Luke 15:20-24.