Thursday. Waco. She pressed her palms flat into the edge of the table and leaned forward, searching my eyes for a second. “You really scared me.” It’s matter of fact, but I feel guilty. Until she looks a second longer “but I think you’re going to be okay.”. I’m glad someone thinks so, and it feels like grace.
And it’s a month ago, and I am sitting across a different table looking at a different face. “I’m not sure I really believe there is grace for me anymore. Or at least there won’t be again. Ever again.” And my jaw is set and I’m too deeply sad for tears. Too deeply guilty about the brokenness. Wondering if I could possibly have stopped it.
But there is grace. This moment, across this slightly sticky table with her searching my eyes, is grace. Here, it is easy to feel it. It seeps into the soles of my bare feet as I make my way across parking lots in the dark. It is grace to be here again. To have air in my lungs. Like I do pretty often, I trace the scar. It’s grace.
We keep asking people the same question. “How do you know you love God?” (it’s the question I couldn’t quite figure out how to ask all summer). And getting different answers. That it isn’t about that. That God loving us is enough. That you feel it. That you make yourself do it.
I think about love, and it blooms immediately in my chest, sweeter and warmer than the drink in my hand. It is the children that, in such great grace, I got to see and hold and talk to this week. If I have ever loved at all, it is these kids. I think about the way this love is fierce and brave and undeniable. How it makes me strong. I think about the love I have for this city, and for these people sitting around this table. But mostly I think about these kids who taught me so much about love. It feels differently than the way I feel about God. It worries me. Is it sin to wish He had made other arrangements?
And the response comes frankly over the top of his pumpkin ale as whiskey warms in my chest, “You know because you keep His commandments. It isn’t complicated.” For a half a second I want to punch him in the face (maybe for longer than that).
And, almost shouting, I tell him that it’s been hell. I ask him, and I’m a centimeter from tears, if it still counts when I’m miserable about it, when the commands have destroyed me. When I’m broken and aching and at the point of giving up. Does it count then? (it feels so different from the love I know. It can’t be love. I’m obeying but it’s awful) Is this feeble stumbling along the path in the dark still somehow an act of love?
They nod, the whole little cluster of them. Like it’s obvious. With so much grace it could break your heart. Like maybe they understand more than I give them credit for. “Yeah” he tells me “It counts”.
Later they laugh and think I’m exaggerating, or maybe just tipsy, as I slam my hands down and explain how excited I am to hear that song on Sunday. They laugh because it’s me, and I get excited easily.
But it’s a month ago, and I’m in the fetal position. I’ve chosen to sit in this for one more night. And the tears run through my body like dry heaves, and I swear a little between them and wonder what I’m doing wrong. Wonder why I can’t shake this. And the latest argument is branded on my brain, and I’m wondering what on earth God was possibly thinking, sending me here. And an inch from my ear the play count on the song hits 26 and I hear the words one more time, keep going one more time:
“Lord I find you in the seeking. Lord I find you in the doubt. And to know You is to love You, and to know so little else. I need You.”
This song could save your life. And it’s grace to sing it between the tears alone in the dark. It’s grace to sing it in a room full of people you love.
Maybe this is loving God. To do both. This absolutely broken state of affairs where I hated everything, but I knew I couldn’t turn away. This absolutely beautiful moment when God showed me that love never left me, and I was never condemned. I know that at the end of the day, this is what’s holding me together and I cannot let go. Maybe it’s simple like getting back in the car at the end of a trip that’s so beautiful and limping home. But going. Still going.
And this morning Boggus said it so beautifully. “God is also saving you from your feeble efforts at righteousness.” And I cried quiet tears as we took communion because it’s grace. It’s all grace (I said I would never see it again, but it never left). The depression, the hurt, the loneliness…it happened. And the guilt isn’t about what I did or didn’t do. The healing isn’t. Instead it’s about God who gave me grace to keep going. To keep loving him crookedly, achingly. The grace to drive away from Rebecca’s house knowing that this is obedience. Hearing their voices still echoing in my ears. “It’s enough”.
I hope you have people in your life who give you grace. People who pray for you on Sundays and sit up late with you on hard nights. Who know the parts you edit, or the parts you don’t say. Who see the ways you are trying to hold onto God and remind you that you are loving Him, even now. But if you don’t, consider this me staring you down over the top of your beverage of choice and telling you it counts. Telling you that loving God doesn’t always feel like fire and joy and enthusiasm. Telling you that the obedience when you’re torn apart is still obedience, and that 1 John says that obedience is how we love Him. That it brings us into the light whether or not our eyes are open enough to see it.
And if you’re not obedient. If you’re running. Consider this me giving you the kind of hug that spins a little in its fierceness and looking you in the eyes, telling you like Becky did for me once “you are ready and you can do this and you are brave and I love you. And then the two of us can climb into the car and drive, go on to the place God is bringing us. Together. Because there’s grace.
And you’ll live to sing the song in a room full of love again.