“Until God’s love is enough, nothing else will be.” A Confident Heart pg 55
My earliest memories revolve around church. I loved the smell of the hymnals, the plush carpet on the floor and the big cross that hung on the wall over the baptistery. The echo of my voice when I would run into the sanctuary early on a Sunday morning always made me feel small, but powerful, and quickly brought me to reverence for the God I was there to worship. I can remember even as a very young girl sitting on the pew with our entire family – grandparents, parents, brother, aunts, uncles and assorted other family. We would crowd in and listen to the sermon of our pastor. Somehow, I always wound up between my mom and my grandmother, which was okay with me, because mom always had a pen and paper and Mabel (my grandmother) always had gum – perfect combination to keep a young girl quiet in church.
But often, I didn’t need those distractions because there was no place else I’d rather be. I loved the singing, the preaching and the invitation. It often seemed otherworldly and important in a way that I didn’t understand back then. I just knew that when I went there, I felt good inside and the fact that there were great stories just made it that much better. Sunday school, Training Union (as we called it back then), Sword drills, GAs (Girls Ambassadors) they all encouraged me to understand this God person that everyone talked about.
I was eleven years old and at Vacation Bible School when it happened. I accepted Jesus into my heart as my Lord and Savior. In my innocence the only thing I knew was that I just didn’t want to go to Hell and that’s what our preacher assured us would happen if we died without having given our lives to God. For all my teenage years, I went to church every week, participated in my church youth group and attended every event my small Southern Baptist Church had. Looking back, I’m not sure if I went because I was on fire for God, or because there was some cute boy there I wanted to see. Either way, my need got me to church and kept me there, at least until I was 22.
But, at age 22, I walked away from God and for the next few years tried to live my life as if He didn’t exist, without His guidance and without Him as my cornerstone. I could recount for you all the mistakes I made and how I allowed sex and alcohol to fill the void that was in my heart, but I know that those actions have been forgiven, and that talking about them here serves no purpose. It was during these years, though, that I moved from my hometown of Laurel, Mississippi to Leesburg, Florida where I met and married my husband. (You’ll hear that story later.) It was a productive time, but I always knew there was something missing from my life. After we got married and had children, I moved in and out of church because I knew I wanted my boys raised in the church as I was, but for a long time, it just didn’t stick. I wasn’t committed, my husband wasn’t committed, and Satan was having a field day with our marriage. I knew something was missing, I just didn’t know what. I was busy being married, finishing school, having babies and starting a career. Things were going fine so I convinced myself that I didn’t really need God. I also had married someone who didn’t have the same affinity to church and to God that I did, so that made it difficult as well.
All that changed on June 5, 1995. My daddy had a stroke and was in the hospital four hours away. As we drove to where he was, I began desperately to pray that God would spare him. I called everyone I knew who was a believer and asked them to pray as well. But, as I reached his bedside, I knew that he was not going to recover and I felt totally and completely lost. For the first time in a very long time, I cried out to my Heavenly Father. And, God heard me. Even though I had not found time or made time for Him in many years, He heard my cry and He wrapped His arms around me. I heard Him speak to me saying “I’m right here. Right where I’ve always been, waiting for you to come home.” In that instant I knew that I might have lost my earthly father, but my Heavenly Father, my Abba, was never going to leave me. That’s a God thing. He waits and we return.
Since that day, things have been very different with God and me. I can’t say it’s been perfect, I am human after all, but as Renee Swope says in A Confident Heart, “Whatever you have done, or will do, God still love you and He forgives you.” (pg. 126)
That’s what God’s love is all about and it is the only love story I need. He meets us where we are and He never lets us go. He is patient and kind and He waits, like any gentleman would, for us to come to Him. He never forces himself on us, He never says I told you so and He is always proud of us, maybe not for an action we’ve taken, but because we are his chosen and He loves us unconditionally. His word tells us in Lamentations 3:22 – 25:
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him. (NIV)
I am so honored to know that God loves me this much. And, like the writer of Lamentations, I wait for him. This is one love story that will never end.