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The Wedding Dance
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By Gil Clelland - Pastor at Sanctuary London

Miriam closed her eyes, raised her hands to heaven, and the water washed over her. Four friends, each with a bucket of warm water, poured the water as I asked her the questions that people following Jesus have been asked for two thousand years.

"Do you Miriam, accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?"
"Yes."
"Do you want to follow Him in the waters of baptism?"
"Yes."
"Then, I baptize you Miriam, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
Holy hugs followed. We greeted and shared prayers and hugged some more. This, Miriam's wedding day, was also her baptism day. She had wanted to take this day, of all days, to honour where God had taken her, how God had shaped her, and share that amazing grace with her friends and family. She wanted to be “pure” for her husband. So, both Miriam and her future husband were baptized...and a half hour later, were married! A great beaming smile grew across Miriam's face. And somewhere in the back of the sanctuary, a warmth came over Ken and Joan that they had not experienced in years.

Ken found me later. A man of great warmth and joy - but from one look at his face, he also knew great pain. Joan and Ken walked over with their adopted daughter, Joanne. Joanne has autism. She could smile but could not speak. This trio stood before me. Smiling. They knew something I didn't and were about to share...

"We adopted Miriam as a young girl. She had FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome). We raised her to follow God and love the church. But it wasn't easy. She rebelled. We tried. We loved...and by her sixteenth birthday, she was gone. To the streets...the reserves. We heard rumours and none of them were good. We had to let her go..." This obviously hurt Ken the most. I think he recalled all those sleepless nights. Waiting. Wondering. Insides being ripped in two. All those seemingly unanswered prayers. He remembered crying out to God - Hold onto my daughter, please. So, he stopped to compose himself. He looked Joan in the eye like they had done so many times in their marriage. He received strength in her love...and he continued.

"But God never let her go." Here, the love for his daughter met the reality of the moment and he stopped again. "God led her to you guys, this community, and you. Miriam speaks very highly of you. She loves this place. She feels accepted here. And she has learned to walk with God again." He looked Joan in the eyes again. "We just wanted to say 'Thank-you'."

Miriam wandered over to our conversation. She addressed Ken directly. "Papa, the band is ready. Can you come and dance with me?" And Ken was whisked away.

We don't get that much at Sanctuary. We rarely meet the 'past.' We hear all about it. Our friends on the streets share a lot of their past with us. Sometimes, their stories are full of pain from home. And sometimes, like Miriam, home was great, but choices led them down a different path for a while.

Later that night, Ken's words resounded with me. His words echoed. They were a life lesson for me. For each of the friends I meet and never hear from again. For each person I wanted to love more, teach more, learn from, and welcome...but they left. I have to let them go...but God never lets them go.