I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, where my dad was a deacon and my mom sang in the choir. I remember sitting by myself, drawing with my best friend, or taking a nap in those Louisiana pews. I learned the Bible early – all the stories and the “right” things to say. I made a profession of faith and became baptized at age 8.
I don’t regret it, but I do wonder how. It’s impossible that I knew even a fraction of what I know now. What 8-year old has lived some life?
My story after 42 years is a long, windy road; a series of homecomings, over and over. But it’s my story and it certainly affects how I see things now. It’s real. It’s authentic. And even though I mostly like to live life looking forward, the beauty is in what lies behind – proof of presence, receipts of grace, and sometimes even answers to all the whys.
Because the holidays are always crazy, my small group at Cross Point has decided to do a “virtual” Advent study together. Basically, we read this study on our own time and contribute to the “talk it over” tab with our thoughts. Each week of Advent has a different theme: hope, peace, joy, and — while we’re now in the last week, five days out from Christmas, we’re talking about love.
Here’s what I knew when I was 8 – a verse most everyone has heard at some point (or seen written on poster board at a sporting event): John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world…
At 8 years old, I loved my parents, my cat, pizza, and pancakes. At 42, love is infinitely more complicated.
I’m not sure if I’d ever read 1 John 4:9-11 before, but it gripped me as I read with fresh eyes today:
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. THIS is love: not that WE loved God, but that HE loved us… Dear friend, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”1 John 4:9-11 NIV, emphasis mine
I naturally get a little more introspective this time of year. Starting a new year is obviously the perfect time to reflect on the previous 365 days. This time last year, I was in a lot of pain. My autoimmune reactions kicked into overdrive and it had been at least 10 years prior since I’d felt that kind of pain. I remember sitting on our floor upstairs crying and praying, trying my best to stretch and move. (In my backward thought process, I believe that even if it hurts, at least I’m feeling something.) I assumed the balasana yoga child’s pose position and let everything out.
My words were something along the lines of…
God, I’m not sure I’ll ever feel “normal” again. I’m not sure that I’ll be able to walk without pain. But if this is how it has to be, please let it be for the good of someone else.
Somewhere in the middle of that seasons’ tears and prayers, I heard Dancing on the Waves by We the Kingdom:
Look up and lift your eyesDancing on the Waves by We the Kingdom
The future’s open wide
I have great plans for you
Your past is dead and gone
Your healing has begun
I’m making all things new
At a time where I could barely physically walk, let alone dance, the chorus felt like a promise that energized me with hope. I dare you to believe how much I love you now. Don’t be afraid, I am your strength. We’ll be walking on the water, dancing on the waves.
I don’t often get into theological discussions, but on the rare occasion they do come up, I try to encourage less “cherry-picking” of verses and more contextual understanding. As I’ve studied more this past year, the biggest (and most fun!) surprise has been the realization that the Bible is a love story.
When I read 1 John 4:9-11 this morning, Dancing on the Waves immediately came to mind. I’m not even close to having sorted through this mystery and wonder, but the love I’m reading here – it’s a tangible love I feel. Even more, it’s an invitation to the adventure in what’s to come.