What I said yes to was a Good Friday event and a reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus. We drove to the address listed on the invitation and parked our cars along a residential street. We then walked for what felt like a long distance down a winding drive and eventually ended up in a wooded backyard where the event took place.

And I kept writing. About my anger. My shame. My broken heart. And about my fear that my anger and lack of forgiveness would keep me from the love of Jesus that I knew just barely enough of to know I desperately wanted more.

Once nearly everyone had left, I folded up that index card as many times as I could and placed it in the bucket. And despite the fact that it was entirely illegible, my hands shook as I let the card go. They shook from fear of even the slightest possibility that someone would find that card and discover me as the hateful and angry person I really was. I desperately didn’t want to be discovered, but nor did I want to carry around that 4×6” admission of my brokenness. So, I left it behind instead.

As the backyard grew quiet and still with only a few people milling about I finally started my way down the long, wooded path towards the street. By this time, the private road was completely abandoned and I, thankfully, walked alone.

Until I couldn’t walk any further.

Despite my best effort and practice, desperate sobs started to escape. The heaviness of it all—the secret shame and the anger and the pretending— all felt like too much to bear and I stepped off the pavement and fell to my knees at the edge of the woods that lined the road.

With my head in my hands, I wept. I’m not sure for how long. I wept, perhaps for the first time since the cracks started to emerge many years before. I wept for myself and my family and for the broken hearts that I thought could never, ever be whole and trusting again. I wept for the Great Love I’d heard rumblings of but thought I couldn’t access because of my own anger and brokenness.

I never heard anyone approach me. Surely, if I had, I would have hurriedly wiped away my tears and pretended I had dropped something. But suddenly, in the midst of my weeping, I felt an arm reach across my hunched shoulders. I was too ashamed to show myself but too broken to move away. So, with my face still buried in my hands, I leaned into whoever had their arm around me. And when I did, they supported my weight in a full embrace. I kept crying until I finally managed to catch my breath, still not knowing who this person that held me was, but I think assuming it was one of my friends with whom I had come.

With my face still buried in my hands, I said between sobs, “How can I possibly ever be forgiven when I know I can’t ever forgive?”

As I continued to cry, there was silence. The silence confirmed what I had already suspected: I couldn’t be. I was too broken. Too angry. Too far gone.

There was something sobering about this confirmation and I stopped crying and just quietly continued to hold my hands over my face.

And then, punctuating the verdict of silence, I heard the two words in response to my question, that changed me forever:

“You are.”

I was startled to hear a man’s voice and took my hands off my face and opened my eyes to see Jesus himself. Actual, literal, Jesus, you guys. Or at least the guy that played him in the program that night. Jesus, still dressed in a costume-y, tattered, white sheet and strappy leather sandals.

As I looked up and we made eye contact, he said it again:

“You are.”

You are.

You are.

You are.

You are forgiven.

You are enough.

You are worthy of good things and of Great Love.

Not if.

Not when.

Not someday. No conditions. No exceptions. No fine print. Not should be. Not would be. Not could be.

Just . . . “You are.”

In that moment of utter brokenness, he didn’t feel the need to go into an exegetical lesson on my misguided reading of Mathew 6:15 or hand me a pamphlet on how to earn Great Love. He didn’t teach me how to say the right thing or urge me to clean up my mess. He didn’t tell me about all my “potential” and how I really was made for more than being a sobbing, snotty pile on the side of the road

He just held an angry, broken, scared 16-year-old with dirty knees and a splotchy, red, mascara streaked face and said over and over again

“You are.”