Inspired by a broken heart and a wicked hangover, sorority girl Stephanie May Wilson throws in the towel on the life she’s been living and packs her bags for a pilgrimage across three continents. Like so many great travelers before her, she finds herself and something completely unexpected along the way. Exploding preconceived notions that Christianity is for grandmas and girls with ugly shoes, The Lipstick Gospel is the story of how one girl found God in heartbreak, the Sistine Chapel, and the perfect cappuccino.
“Musei Vaticani” we told the cab driver in our most impressive Italian accents. As we wound through the honking traffic and zooming Vespas, we tried not to notice that we still smelled faintly of beer.
The driver dropped us off a few blocks from the entrance and we were instantly swept up in a crowd of camera-toting foreigners. American tour guides held up signs advertising their services, and we picked a nice looking girl, paid her our money, and ordered yet another cappuccino while we waited for the tour to begin.
On the tour, she whisked us into a world of paintings and God and stories. We listened, fascinated, as she pointed out pieces of art that other tour guides seemed to deem unimportant. But we listened with rapt attention, picturing the artists and popes and stories she described.
“As we walk into the Sistine Chapel,” she explained to us while we waited in line near the entrance to the small room, “I want you to look up and notice something on the ceiling. Look in the very center at Adam and at God. God is reaching out to Adam, His arm fully extended, His muscles straining. Adam, on the other hand, looks like he’s relaxing after a big meal. His arm is limp, and his finger is barely trying. If Adam just reached, he could touch God. But whether he does or not, God is still reaching for him. God will always be reaching for him.”
With that, the door opened and the next wave was ushered in. We shuffled slowly, joining the throngs of international tourists that crowded the small chapel.
I looked up, quieted by the magnificence of the ceiling, and I caught myself wondering why Adam wouldn’t just reach out his hand. If God was reaching out to me, I thought, I’d definitely reach back.
After fully taking in the ceiling, I turned around and caught sight of Michelangelo’s fresco, The Last Judgment. I almost looked away, but then our eyes caught. I was staring straight into the eyes of Jesus, and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest.
Despite the severity of the captured moment, I’d never seen someone so comforting. Jesus’s warm, brown eyes stared back at me, tugging at my heart in an invitation too deep for my ears to hear.
It felt like seeing a best friend after years apart. I was rooted in place, barely able to breathe, my heart pounding. But at the same time I felt like running over and throwing my arms around Him.
For the first time in my entire life, I was overwhelmed by an inexplicable desire to know Jesus and to be known by Him. I just want Him to like me, I thought fervently, and the inner critic who would have mocked a statement like that was suddenly quiet.
It was so sudden, so simple, and so profound—me staring up at this gigantic fresco with my mouth hanging open. I was speechless. Even my thoughts stopped in their tracks. There was no decision, no debate, no lingering questions or doubts or fears.
All I could come up with to say was, “Jesus, I’m in.” And despite the grandeur of the setting, those words fit, and so I repeated them over and over and over in my mind.
I had walked into the Vatican with a million questions. Why Christianity? Should I be a Buddhist instead? What about Hinduism? What is Hinduism exactly? But I left with absolute certainty.
I was in with Jesus, and I wasn’t going to change my mind.
It didn’t occur to me until later that I had met the Son of God while wearing a pub-crawl T-shirt and the slight aroma of stale beer.
That day told me everything I needed to know about the meaning of Christianity, and looking back even now, it still does.
I didn’t hunt God down that day. I hadn’t begged Him to come close to me, and I certainly hadn’t earned anything. I wasn’t on my best behavior, wasn’t wearing my Sunday finest. I wasn’t even sure I’d brushed my teeth, if we’re really being honest. But God didn’t care about all that. He didn’t care what I’d done the night before or any of the other ways I’d screwed up recently. He wasn’t concerned with what I was wearing or even what I smelled like. He didn’t make me jump through hoops, or become super boring first, or attend a certain number of Bible studies before He’d consider my application.
Instead, He came and hung out with me, where I was, how I was, on that day in the Sistine Chapel. He wanted to know me, wanted to love me, wanted to be friends with me, wanted me to get to know Him. And He didn’t require a single thing of me for that to happen.
That’s the miracle of the gospel. God loves us, and He wants to be in our lives, and nothing we do or have done or even do in the future will change that.
Isn’t that crazy?