When things ended with S., I was done. In every way.
So much doubt. So much questioning. Why, God? I teetered back and forth between, ‘I’m too picky’ and ‘What is wrong with me?’ Was I always destined to fail at this? Would things never work out? Maybe I had the ‘gift’ that nobody wanted. Ordinarily, that would have scared me to death, but I was too broken to care.
For the second time in my life, I felt like I was falling into a black hole.
To escape reality for a while, I went to Florida to visit my sister. I needed a change of scenery. Something. We went to church that Sunday, and a woman from Africa was the guest speaker. She told about how she had been engaged, and her fiance wanted to do ministry in a very difficult area in Africa. It was called the ‘missionary’s graveyard.’ Her fiance was relentless in feeling called to go. He did. And it was true. He was killed there.
She went on to say how angry she was at God for a while, and her challenge to us was asking if we were willing to cash it all in. Give it all up to follow Christ. Hold nothing back.
And that was the day I gave it all up. Finally, I was done fighting with God. I was waving the white flag. I was done trying to find my own way, to live my own life, to accomplish my own dreams. I was cashing it all in. I went up to the altar to pray, with my hands held palms-up, tears coming down my face. I was done fighting God.
When I came home, God began doing some deep things below the surface of my heart. The next few months consisted of a lot of digging into hidden, darker places. And it started with me finally being honest with myself. I don’t know how it escaped me, but I was oblivious to the concept of ‘self-awareness.’
There was a period of time when I kept hearing the story from John 21 over and over and OVER again. ‘Peter, do you love Me?’ ‘Of course I do, Jesus.’ ‘Peter, do you love Me?’ ‘Yes, Jesus, I love You.’ ‘Peter, do you love Me?’ ‘Jesus, just what are you saying?’
Well, you can insert my name in the conversation, and that is pretty much how it went down. When I finally slowed down enough to answer honestly, I was horrified to discover that no, I didn’t. I served Him. I obeyed Him. I feared Him. I honored Him. But loved Him? In the way you really, really LOVE someone and love everything about him? No.
And I was broken by that reality. For years and years, I prided myself on being a good Christian, following God, being in ministry – and I couldn’t even keep the first commandment.
In tears on my apartment floor, I couldn’t even pray. I was so, so sorry. I felt awful. Humiliated. But instead of punishment and chastisement, which I was expecting, I felt an enormous wave of Jesus’ love for me. Even at one of my worst moments. Him comforting me. Even though I had wretchedly failed Him. And right there, a tiny seed of love for Him was planted in my heart.
For the next 10 months, He brought to life the verse, ‘It’s not that we loved Him, but that He loved us.’ I realized that I had never really experienced His love for myself, and therein was my problem. But He loves first. He makes the first move. Our love is only a response to His. So, instead of trying to love Him, which would have been my usual course of action (and which you can’t do, by the way), I just opened my heart to receive His love and let Him love me instead. And love began to grow.
In the next months, He was as close to me as He has ever been. I was on this journey of falling into His love, and it was like nothing I had ever known. So sweet and tender. So real in so many ways. It was tangible to me. It was everywhere.
By the time the summer came, my old restlessness was coming back. I had loved it when it was just me and Jesus, but, well….
I sensed Jesus saying to my heart, ‘Katie, just give Me the summer. Give Me two months.’ I didn’t know what that meant, but He had won my trust by this point. ‘Ok, Jesus. The summer is yours.’
I had no game plan, no course of Bible study, no agenda. It was all on Him. As it turned out, I had started to read the book Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers – a modernized version of the book of Hosea. And the opening verse in the novel was from Hosea 2:
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope…
“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness”
And those words sang out to me like a love song. They were written to me, and I knew what Jesus was after. This. This kind of relationship. This kind of intimacy. This kind of love. All my dead ends, all my frustration, all of it – leading me to that moment in time. That passage became my anthem that summer.
I remember that, in July, after my sister’s wedding in Vegas, I took a plane and hopped over to California. It had always been a dream of mine to drive the coast, and I was finally just going to do it. I had no agenda, no game plan, no itinerary. I had some friends to see along the way, but really, this trip was just me and Jesus.
And to be honest, it was almost magical. I can’t describe it with words, but the wonder, the joy, the awe I felt. I felt He was showing me the world for the first time. I had never experienced that in my life -and I never have since. It was like a honeymoon. It was perfect.
I don’t really think if I have ever been that happy or content or peaceful as I was on that trip. As I was that summer. I was totally hedged-in in this special, secret place with Him. I finally felt like my heart was free from all that sludge that was decades in the making. Decades of heartache, from A-Z (almost quite literally), faded in the distance behind me.
And that summer, He won my heart.
[Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt]