Selling, losing and finding Jesus

Recently I attended my first Christian conference. It was in a work capacity, as ‘exhibitor’ mission spot. There was my first error. Trying to put God into my ‘working life’ box.

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Interesting signage on building in Tasmania. Thanks to sparklingadventures.com

From media conferences, to trade shows that span 42,000 square metres, 500 exhibitors and 50,000 attendees, I was riding high on event management muscle memory. Comparatively, this was a weekend of 1500 attendees with eight other mission exhibitors in attendance. How hard could it be? There was my second error. Pride.

It ought not have been hard at all. Yet I forgot God doesn’t fit in any box. Plus as soon as you get complacent, the Horned Mother Trucker (HMT) likes to come out and have some tempting fun.

My mistake was treating it commercially. Whilst I have a ‘sell ice to eskimos’ capacity, there was something I shuddered over in regards to selling Jesus.

You see, it wasn’t any old corporate, secular conference. It was Christian. With great preachers speaking to youth from all over Australia, who would take the opportunity to either reaffirm their faith in G&J or embrace them for the first time. The weekend was set to be a powerful display of light overcoming darkness. Of course the HMT was going to object.

But I was in work mode. Too busy getting stuff done. So that sneaky HMT tried the back door. Whilst I was focused on work, he pressed buttons to do with my pre-Christian, personal walk. And, boy, didn’t he do it well.

As I’ve blogged before, I spent a great deal of time in the new-age, motivational space. The thought-creation, positive thinking, rune-reading, angel-card dealing, crystal-gazing, alien-channelling, reiki-healing, sage-burning space.

I failed dismally at new-age. I could never thought-create perfectly enough and got sick of all the self it encouraged me to aspire to. Oh, the courses I attended. You can go broke fixing yourself. Then I added some eastern philosophies on non-attachment. Big mistake. We are joyful, relational beings and trying so hard not to feel left me depressed and sick.

The joy of G&J is how they accepted me, exhausted by all by new-age and yogic wanderings, and replaced it with a lighter yoke. It doesn’t mean I don’t have a new-age hangover though. Which is what the HMT so cleverly exploited.

Today, put me in a stadium with anyone on stage and I will deconstruct the timing, the tone of voice, the music and language used. If the speaker says x, if the band plays y, then z will happen. I will doubt, question and push-back against anything and anyone trying to manipulate my limbic brain.

The first morning of the conference I awoke with two lines of a song on repeat in my head: Calvary covers it all. My sin and shame, don’t count anymore. “What are You sending me that for?” I wondered. “I know that about you and Jesus already!”

God was throwing me something to hold onto. He knew what was coming up.

That night, in a packed venue of 1500 people, 100+ youth re-affirmed or made their choice for G&J, just as I had done 18 months before during my own personal response to His call.

Yet rather than joy, it shoved me straight back to memories of new-age/motivation/ change your thoughts, change your life stadium messaging. Recall, I’ve not done ‘big stage’ church before. To date my G&J experiences have been small to medium venues and personal. Intensely personal.

So in the horned mother trucker surfed on a doubting vitriol of lava. “Is this real? Or just mood music, good lighting and a clever call to action that’s messing with their limbics? Maybe it isn’t God and Jesus at all,” the HMT whispered.

HMT is always going to get us through pride. My prideful weak spot is my communications skills and PR abilities. “You can deconstruct what you’re hearing,” the HMT continued. “Go on. I’m sure you can pick this apart as an engagement exercise. Spot the smoke and mirrors that are being employed to encourage people to think and feel a certain way.”

At a time when I ought to have been sharing in the joy of all these people getting to know G&J – after all, haven’t I experienced the truth and beauty of that new relationship? – I was irrationally pissed.

I have listened to plenty of sermons in the past without wanting to analyse and deconstruct them for hidden manipulation and agendas. Yet put me in far larger venue with screens, music and lighting and there I was, ready to bundle G, J and scripture in with my new-age hangover and scorn the experience.

The Smart-Alec Pastor (SAP) was also in attendance. In my blackness I suggested he could get a gig as a studio audience warm-up pastor channelling Anthony Robbins. I’m amazed he didn’t pin me down, start some sort of exorcism prayer and submerge me in holy water there and then.

I went to bed that night still black. And G&J awoke me again with the same lyrics. Calvary covers it all. My sin and shame, don’t count anymore.

I wish I could write that the lightbulb went on immediately. But the black lifted to grey as I reached out and G&J filtered back through my morning prayer. “I’m being gnarly and ungracious and I don’t know why,” I told them. “I don’t understand why You are pushing that lyric at me. So I’ll do my best to sit with this and pay attention. I’d appreciate Your help.”

It is no God-incidence that I sat in two sessions that day where the first preacher reminded me how songs and lyrics deliver us a two-way vertical moment with God. Calvary covers it all. My sin and shame, don’t count anymore.

My shame at being seduced into thinking new-age was a way to God. Faced now with what I know to be true in His gift to me in His son, it is a poor and awful comparison.

Then the second preacher cut though the stage show, musicians and videos to talk about the small church at Colossae that grew with faith and purpose without the need for fancy stagecraft and mod cons.

And my grey heart cleared.

I sat in awe-full tears through the rest of his sermon.

G&J don’t need mood lighting. They simply need our ears to listen and our hearts to open. For me to stay faithful. Even when – especially when – the HMT is pushing my buttons.

No dry spells or struggles? Don’t believe you.

Anyone look around their church and think they’re the only one doing it tough in their faith walk? Watched a charismatic preacher ‘in the groove’ and haven’t left inspired but flat because, dear God, it feels like tumbleweed in my soul at the moment?images-3.jpg

The hymns start and everyone around is doing the clap, the sway, the hands in the air downloading the holy spirit like it’s on super-speed broadband and me….me? Well, God, my faith has got so much lactic acid pressing down right now I can barely lift a finger to turn a bible page.

The SAP calls it time in the desert. A testing drought. When you’re going through a dry spell, turning up to church is more than necessary, it’s essential. Trouble is, unless you are really clear about the space you are in, it can be more isolating than uplifting. It’s like a depressive being told to cheer up and get over it.

I’m naturally a fairly optimistic person. I have been hugely blessed with a fast faith metabolism. I sort of dive in, try some freestyle, get bored with the synchronised stuff, throw myself at a few big waves, and then attempt to float in the shallows with God at the end of it all. Recently, a new Christian friend prayed for me quite beautifully, during which she thanked God for my amazing faith. Was she nuts? My faith isn’t amazing. It’s quirky, a little off-kilter, and beset and bedevilled just like anyone else’s.

Take the other day. I was done. Slanging at God that I was ready to get my Sundays back. I was muttering around the house like I was pursuing my own, personal Spanish Inquisition.

At such times, his ‘n’ her prayer is a massive blessing. Big T and I are new to praying together as a couple. We stall like learners at the lights most often, with good intentions sliding away in the busyness of life. Yet when we are praying together, life reflects a better order. Putting God and time for prayer first delivers a better order? Well, duh.

So with me slanging and stumbling around the desert, barely able to vocalise to my husband my own arid confusion, it was a great blessing to have Big T pray for us as a family and for me as his wife.  I couldn’t gather the mental wherewithal to even stutter the Lord’s Prayer. So Big T especially prayed to God for me to receive clarity. As he closed, I added a feeble ‘Amen’ and fell asleep. Bah humbug.

Once again, God has to be glorified and thanked because, let’s be frank, if someone treated me the way I’d ranted at God last week? I’d likely have punched them. Or, at the very least, turned my back, deleted them from my phone, and dismissed them as a whiny so and so who was being incredibly ungrateful.

Yet He doesn’t. Nor does Jesus. Nor the Holy Spirit that resides within and prods me with prevenient grace whenever I spit the dummy.

The following day, God delivered me a series of beautiful, bespoke gifts. The totally humbling part was I hadn’t even said, “I’m sorry.”

I would have done – eventually. Yet He still sweetly answered Big T’s prayers for clarity on my behalf and reminded me – again – just how patient He is, how much love He is willing to pour out, how much He glories in me – all of us – being back in the fold. There was I behaving like a tough, gnarly bit of mutton and He’s ensuring I remember the lamb.

I can’t ever get over those times when I’m sooo frustrated and stomping off ready to be all secular and independent…. and God slings an arm around me and says, “Hang on, look what I’ve got here for you.”

So I walked up the main street of a busy Sydney suburb in grateful tears getting odd looks. Thank you, God. I’m so sorry I was slanging and petulantly stomping yesterday saying I couldn’t be bothered to pray or read the bible. I’ll return to trusting whatever You are up to and slug down the grace like an irishman on Guinness… Just wow.

The SAP, of course, in his supportive pastoral way had a good laugh at my antics. “Did that whole, ‘I freaked out a day too early’ thing, didn’t you?” he chortled. Smart alec.

Yet something even funnier and humbling happened, that shows how ridiculously we can behave in our relationship with God. As soon as the SAP suggested I’d freaked out a day too early, my immediate response was this:

Blame God. He wired me for a million miles an hour. What does He expect? Oops. Sorry God, I will try harder to slow my processing speed at such future junctures.

Which then left me giggling at my imagination of Jesus shaking his head at me saying, “No, Phil, no, no. You don’t get to tell God to keep up.”

Yet the beautiful thing is, God gets me. He knows I know, deep down, that I can never keep up. And that my mostly optimistic, cheeky, quirky and somewhat off-kilter faith is my way of trying to keep Him entertained. Most days I begin with praying, “So, God, what can I do today to make you smile?”

Sometimes it is slapstick. Other times I may even take a step closer to emulating a Jesus moment.

Either way, at speed or faltering, forward is forward. Whether it is through a lush field strewn with wildflowers or across dry desert, God tells me He’s there, He’s got me, and to just keep aiming forward.

Prayer. It’s allowed. Aloud.

Prayer was always something I was happy doing on my own. My isolated quiet time with G&J. Or the ‘led’ prayer in church, where I’d listen in, add my own prayers into any allocated ‘fill in the blanks yourself’ pauses, and add my “Amen” along with the congregation. images-2.jpg

Then, just over a year ago, I joined an existing growth group in the church. A mix of different-aged Christians, most of whom I’d term UHT (at this Christian thing a long, longer life than I) who meet weekly to do a more intensive unpacking of the Bible. If I wanted to grow my relationship with G&J, this was a natural progression.

I had sat myself next to an older women in church one Sunday, who’d helped hugely in my getting to grips with the histrocity of Jesus (being a history teacher herself), when the pastor on stage mentioned extra bible study. I whispered I thought I may need some of that, but with other commitments only one evening worked, and TA DA, she said: “That’s when my group meets, would you like to come along?”

Perhaps I was naive. Maybe G&J were ROTFL in heaven, hooting. God knows me well enough to know that my first step in learning is literal (read, research) then experiential (ponder, write about it, apply it, then return to ponder and write as I grow). God TOTALLY knew my literal understanding of a Bible Study group was just that. And that I also  assumed that ‘growth group’ was some sexy, marketing-derived name to make it sound more appealing out in the congregation target market than bible study.

Of course, growth group is a perfect descriptor. Yes, I unpacked more about God’s word as I attended each week. But you do more than study the bible in a growth group. You connect. You share. You pray. Out loud.

Out loud. In front of people. They are all fantastically lovely people but let me write it again: out loud. In a sort of free form manner based on notes you have taken as people share prayer points. My inner introvert was sweating.

Now, my UHT Christian readers may wonder what the big deal is. But when you are a newbie, the out loud thing is fairly confronting. In a small group, I was uncomfortably aware that it was really noticeable if I didn’t join in. Then my brain starting ticking with daft questions: what if two of you start up at the same time? Is there some prayer etiquette when that happens, do you give way to the left or something? Plus if we miss prayer points off the list, does the last person do some massive wrap-up just to make sure everyone is covered?

I love praying, I do. It’s an intimate opportunity to open up your heart, hopes, worries, sorrows. What I had to learn was the power of group prayer. That as Matthew 18:20 tells me, where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them and there is something beautiful in that, no matter how it tested my introverted heart.

So I grew. Rather than letting my naturally introverted, ‘don’t let anything come out my mouth before it’s fully formed in my brain,’ inclination takeover, I had to lean in. It gave me more insights into how the holy spirit whispers into my heart. It doesn’t matter that it is stumbling and ineloquent (a challenge for this writer who likes to craft and polish). I simply have to breath out, listen and hear the words that I’m gifted with.

As Jesus reminded me the other day: “I never said to make the light. Just to be the light.”

Urgent, evangelise. With Salt (& Tequila).

“It’s liver cancer.”

“How long?”

“Six months without treatment. 18 months with.”

As she dashed tears from her eyes, I swept this valiant 42-year-old woman into a hug. “I’m so sorry,” I told her, adding some slightly bluer language under my breath for good measure.

Yet like a neon question mark flashing at the back of my brain, there was only this: ‘What does she believe? And how do I ask without sounding like an awful end of days prepper?’

Through business circles, I had known her for years. Not closely, not until the start of 2015 when we ‘just clicked’ as members of the same networking group. We discovered a similar outlook on life. Offered complementary business services. Wicked senses of humour. Some shared emotional baggage that we unpacked over wine as only new friends on discovery can, laughing at each other with a gentleness that said, yes; I understand that screwed up bit of you too.

She was the coolest of cool friends, yet without ego or notion of how beautiful or cool she really was.

“I’m not telling many people about my diagnosis because I want my business to go on as normal,” she told me. “But I’ve seen what you post on Facebook and I see you have faith. I feel ok about it. I’ve enjoyed my life. There’s nothing else I really want to do. I’ve always tried to treat others how I would like to be treated myself. But I don’t believe anything comes next.”

Really God and Jesus? Really?

After six plus years of knowing her around the business traps, we properly connect in the year she is given a terminal cancer diagnosis; her without any belief or faith about what comes after death, and me a scant 18 months after becoming a Christian?

There are no Godincidences.

But, really? Pressure much?

For anyone who doesn’t understand why some Christians behave like shiny-suited TV evangelists, it’s because Jesus said some serious stuff in the Bible about what happens when we die.

“The only way to the Father is through me,” he told his disciples. “The promise of eternal life, the resurrection, the free gift of grace comes only if you are willing to lay down your life and follow me.” (I’m paraphrasing).

If not? Well, it’s not pretty. Too many Christians like to gloss over it, playing safe in the more new-agey pools of God being nothing but love.

Who can blame them? Hellfire Bible-thumping religion has done G&J a huge disservice. In reaction, the pendulum has swung the other way in today’s world of free choice, self-service and freedom.

Standing up and saying, “Well, actually, I do believe that God calls us to account when we die,” is not welcome. Too often the fire ‘n’ brimstone hangover of being called to account overshadows the good news of that Jesus fella.

The good news that through the grace of Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection, I can stand in front of God as a child in front of her loving Father, and receive forgiveness and an eternal gift of life.

But here’s the kicker: you’ve got to get to know and accept Jesus first.

As I sat in front of my friend, reeling from the news of her cancer diagnosis, listening to her dismiss her Roman Catholic schooling (heavy on the guilt and wrong doing) and what she’d heard from her brother-in-law pastor (I know, I know, the irony), the true punch in my solar plexus was this:

‘She can’t die without sorting out where she stands with God and Jesus. But, on the face of it, she’s lived a good life. She has an amazing moral code and value system. How do I explain that none of that matters? That compared to Jesus on the cross, because of our very distance from God, we are all broken and needing saving? No matter the amount of our virtue and strength of moral fibre.’

I cried a lot that night. And prayed. I visualised the Holy Spirit (HS) firing through that liver of hers so often it was more lighthouse than vital organ in my prayers. I had one of those slanging, bargaining type conversations with God: “Quick zap of the HS and all will be well. I’ve got my prayer warriors on it too. I know You can hear us. She knows we are all praying. C’mon, what better way to prove You exist than a miracle cure?”

I don’t believe slapping people round the head with G&J gets them closer to understanding. Yet the urgency was horrible. Even more as her treatment failed. It got to the point that if another well-meaning Christian had asked, “Has she said the Jesus prayer yet?” I may well have reached over and ripped out their throat in a very unchristian manner. When one of them asked, quite seriously, “Do you think you’ve done enough?” my tongue bled from my biting it. To ask me, tripping around in my flawed way, if I’d done enough, dismissed God’s sovereignty and my friend’s heart. Whilst it was ultimately down to God and her, not me, it still made me feel like hell. I couldn’t make her become a Christian.

So what could I do? I prayed (as did others) and kept on being the sort of Christian I am: irreverent, flawed, and prone to explaining G&J in my own quirky way. It is less theological college, checklist ‘shiny’ and more sweary, eye-rolling ‘I know, I can’t quite believe I’m a Christian either,” reality.

When Jesus told his early followers to be like salt – let their faith stand out, be a well-flavoured advertisement for Christianity – I’m sure he didn’t expect me to pair it with tequila slammers. By my being the least expected ‘type’ of Christian person (ie: not religious), I pray daily that Jesus can be seen in his true light. Which is all I wished for my friend.

So when she asked what I believed, I said God doesn’t promise me a pain-free this life, but he promises me an eternal next one. Told her, no, her cancer wasn’t punishment for wanting to die during her own brush with depression years before.

I said, simply, how we live in a broken world. That we are all more flawed than we  images-1.jpgcould ever believe, yet more loved by Jesus and God than we could ever dare imagine. And that heaven was way, way better. How I dearly wanted to see her when I got there, so could she please get with the resurrection program that Jesus offers. Plus, when my time is up here on earth, could she start lining up the margaritas for my arrival.

Sadly, the doctors were wrong. My friend died just four months after her diagnosis. We didn’t do any shiny ‘I give my life to Jesus’ prayers. But in those four months she humbled me by reading all my blogs and asking questions. She came along to church – which was a touch and go first visit  – but she came back to sing carols with a passion and hold my hand as she did so. She even whispered that I ought not be frustrated by her experience back at church, “because you made sure you explained it afterwards. I get it.” I don’t think she understood just how much she taught me about God and Jesus as I tried to show them to her. Is still teaching me.

In the final week of her life, as she drifted in and out of consciousness I asked how she and God were doing. “He’s really helping me,” she whispered. I went back most days to sit next to the bed and, when the opportunities arose, read her Psalms and gospel verses. “Beautiful,” she whispered over Psalm 121, my voice breaking at verse 8.

Being a Christian is tough. Being a Christian in the hospital room of someone who is dying, surrounded by her friends and family, who may or may not share your faith, is tougher. They needed their own time with her; who was I – more of an outsider with what may have appeared to be a lesser friendship/business connection – to keep turning up at her bedside?

Back to salt: how could I not? On the first night she was admitted, she had whispered to me: “I don’t want to die.” So even if she – and her other friends and family – did not share my faith and hope in Jesus, perhaps they could find some solace in mine. Sometimes it felt like I was sharing him across eggshells. Like sending John 14:27 to her husband – who at the time may have felt least able to let his heart be untroubled – and carefully adding: “Sometimes it’s like tasting nails…but sometimes there is comfort.”

The last afternoon, her barely conscious, a shadow of the woman admitted eight days before, I said one final prayer to this lover of all things bright and beautiful. “You know, I think Jesus is standing right in front of you now, holding out the most amazing technicolour coat. All you have to do is reach forward, take it, and let him wrap you in it.” Her hand under mine gave the faintest of flexes. She died early the next morning. New Year’s Day.

But the tribe of shiny Christians asking about her ‘doing’ the Jesus prayer scared me. I spent the hours after her death proclaiming God’s sovereignty on one hand, and then whispering how I’d love to know He’d got her on the other. “Just a sign,” I implored. “Just so I know. Please.”

What happened next is how I describe God’s personal love for us all. He didn’t have to offer me comfort. He is sovereign and my exhibiting control freakery over the outcome of His conversations with my dying friend totally disses His sovereign bit. Who am I to be asking, “how did You and she go?”

Yet that day, on the drive south of Sydney to grieve on a less-populated beach with waves and my surfboard, every car I passed seemed to have either a fish sticker on the back or a crucifix swinging from its rear-view mirror. I coughed and hiccupped and saline snot-monstered my hope: “Is that the sign? Or am I imagining things? I’m so sorry God. You know how I need it up emblazoned on a billboard so I don’t miss it.”

At the last minute, I changed my mind over the beach I was going to. As I pulled into the car park, the beachside meeting room boasted this red sign:

Beachposter

Praise God for His graciousness. I imagined Him asking, “Now, dear heart, is that literally a big enough sign for you?” I sighed, cried some more, smiled and recalled, Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. – Hebrews 11:1

I have faith He has her. Which means, along with no more pain, sorrow or hurt, I have confidence she’s going to have a margarita waiting in heaven with my name on it.

Not because of anything I’ve done, not because of works, not because I deserve a lemon, salty, triple-sec, tequila cocktail for facilitating an introduction between God and my friend. But because of His love and Jesus’ grace I get to see her again.

Amen.

Dear Lord, I regret…nothing?

The interesting thing about coming to G&J in my 40s is the somewhat colourful history I shoved in front of the high-pressure gurney of grace. imgres-1.jpg

As I commented to the SAP, at least I am under no illusions as to what my son and daughter could get up to. His reply: “Well, perhaps. But if they grow up in a church’s youth ministry with great leaders around them, they might walk a different path.”

It was interesting observing my initial (prideful?) internal response. It was along the lines of: But all that messy and colourful history created someone I’m actually quite fond of. Taught me a lot about life, human relations and gave me the excellent fine motor skills to create a roll your own…umm..swiss cake. Cough…

I don’t intend to glamourise here. Certain sections of my teens and early 20s, but for the grace of God and my character wiring to be (relatively) responsible and in charge, could have caused me to a) screw up my exams b) get kicked out of school or c) be splattered across the road from choosing to ride pillion behind less than responsible fast motorcycle riders.

Was I hurting others? Not by chosen malice, but by sheer age and selfishness. Did I hurt myself? Yes (emotionally) and No, not much, (physically). Did I hurt God? Absolutely.

To hold him as Abba, as a Daddy who paces the floors when his daughter is out until all hours, who would seek to drag disrespectful young men away by the scruff of their neck..then yes, I hurt Him terribly. Each time I dragged on the battered motorcycle jacket to drink Red Stripe with Rastafarians, or used His gifts of caustic dry wit and irreverent humour to test out my attractiveness to the opposite gender, walking a dangerous, sexualised line between flirtation and verbal insult… then yes.

I would have seared Him. My name that He had written on His palm would have itched and burnt. Yet I didn’t comprehend why. It wasn’t because of thundering anger, fire and brimstone, ‘Thou Shalt NOT go out wearing THAT, Young Lady!’ retribution. But because of love.  “She knows not what she does, Dad,” is a line I imagine Jesus whispering regularly on my behalf.

So do I regret? Today I do make an excellent swiss roulade sponge, so perhaps not all. But do I repent? Yes. I reflect back with contrition. God whispered more for for me in my heart, singing a watermark onto my soul. So I regret every day I didn’t return home. Just like Prodigal, I am overjoyed that, despite my flaws – in fact, because of them – He continues to open His arms wide and welcome me in.

 

What did I do to deserve this, God?

Almost a year ago I sat amongst a group of Christian women, some of whom I would describe as UHT (long, longer Christian life), others just as green and newish as I. We had gathered together over a few weeks to watch the Christianity Explored series, which is essentially an introduction to Jesus, the gospel and grace 101. Whilst I27f82b712677284206c5645e19d68067 originally chose to attend in order to offer my journalist-head some proof, the reality was sitting upon me uncomfortably.

We had reached the point of the crucifixion, Jesus’ exhale “it is finished”,  the temple curtain ripping, of blood, tears and a humiliating public death full of mockery and rivers of spit. The leader of the group asked how it made us feel, Jesus dying on the cross for us. 

I was uncomfortable as hell with the idea. I sat there under no illusions of any sort of self-worthiness. I didn’t feel worthy of someone dying for me, for goodness sake. Die for someone else who deserves it, Jesus, but not me.

I’ve spoken to addicts who, full of shame and self-loathing, were literally delighted in Jesus’ generosity. Feeling broken and unloveable, the unconditional love poured out on them by God – His giving His only son – gave them a sense of worth and esteem that quite literally replaced the need to fill up their inner emptiness with alcohol.

I was less delighted. I recall leaving that evening, driving away and having to pull over due to the tears blinding my vision. They weren’t tears of relief. They were hot, angry, bewildered and irritated. “I didn’t ask You to do this,” I recall firing furiously at the sky. “Now what am I supposed to do with it?”

I suspect, back in the early days, if the SAP was asked for one adjective to describe my coming to Jesus, he would use the word “confronted”. Not because of who Jesus was, but because of what I was and what I didn’t do. For me, Jesus’ gift of love was confronting and uncomfortable.

Love was something I had reason to be cautious of. In my history, love was something I’d learnt to control before it lashed in and tore. My personal thunder road was littered with relationships that, as soon as the magic ‘I love you’ was uttered, I’d exit, rarely gracefully, most often messily, leaving confused suitors behind. Sometimes it descended into restraining orders and, in one memorable case, a young man used a car key to gouge my initials into his hand whilst threatening suicide on a climbing weekend in Snowden. Through it all, I’d wonder at what madness gripped them. I seriously wasn’t worth that much emotional pain. Mata Hari I am not. 

So my experience of love was rarely patient and kind; it was bitter, blackmailing, unforgiving and a wasteland of harsh words. I lived in a hedgehog ball, seeking love and redemption on one hand whilst rolling myself up on another. In my darkest relationship moments, I hurt before I was hurt first.

So Jesus dying for me pressed uncomfortably. Not least because, by the time I’d decided to figure this God and Jesus business out, I was 100% certain I’d therapied all those wounds. Yet there I was again, ridiculously confronted by being loved so much that God would give His son to die for me. Poised to run from the ultimate ‘I love you’ because, oh my God, it’s me. Don’t you know the mess that I make, God? Did you not see what I did to that poor, bewildered man-child on Snowdon? And then there was….  and what about…. and.. I am not a good bet, God. It’s a miracle (and lots of great therapy) I made it to the altar and 20 years with Big T.

Nor did Jesus die cleanly in a way my head and heart could sanitise. It was the equivalent, in my view, of a public beating, dismembering, stuffing the body parts into a suitcase, throwing it into the nearest river, capturing it on video and sharing it on social media to millions of views. This wasn’t gouged initials in a love heart on the back of someone’s hand and frayed climbing rope. It was more, much more – because there were no strings attached.

God gave His son for me before I was born. As God whispered eternity on my heart and sang over me in my mother’s womb, it was already finished. I didn’t have to do anything but trust that this ridiculous, radical, crazy love was for me, all of me. That it would never hurt, wound or blackmail. That it was the most perfect love I could never imagine, yet in a way had always been looking for.

What did I do to deserve this, God? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the miracle.

C’mon, is being saved from sin and getting glorious eternal life so bad?

A few short months after my Liptoning, a UHT Christian (someone who has been a Christian for a long, longer life than I) warned me that the honeymoon period would wear off.

If you’ve read my earlier blogs, you’ll know how taken aback I was by all the joy that kept bubbling up as I cautiously got to know God and Jesus. The feeling of anticipation I would awake with daily in my stomach. It was like a split personality disorder. My before Christ (BC) secular self would lie there wondering, “ooh, what’s planned today that I’m so excited about?” Then my AC side would go, “Yay, I get to spend more time getting to know G&J.” images At which point my BC split personality would roll her eyes at such happy clappiness and attempt to batten all this joyful oddness down. Which was like shoving Disney’s Genie back in the lamp. No way G&J were getting crammed back into a small lamp. Let your light shine and all that…

So I was surprised to be warned that this feeling of delight would fade. Was that the reason why I wasn’t meeting more Christians with the same joy bubbling over? Did it wear off? Would this astounding ‘zing’ feeling disappear overnight and leave me acting like Marvin from The Hitch Hikers Guide To The Galaxy?

Just lately I have been noticing a dourness on the edge of my faith. The technicolour was greying. Was this the macular degeneration of joy I’d been warned about? I tried to pinpoint why and realised I had spent an unusual amount of time with some seriously serious Christians. On missions. Saving souls. Which is indeed serious stuff. But each ‘Thank God’, each faithful gratitude expressed for a miracle, didn’t rumble with the joy. It rumbled with important seriousness. And so I, almost unconsciously, packed away my joy in order to be more grave and ‘Godly’.

I ended the honeymoon. Not God. He was still waiting for me to come back to the beach, drink Pina Coladas and walk in the rain. Return to the crazy teenage ‘somersaulting stomach’ love that marked the start of all this, no matter how embarrassing I found it at the time.  I missed it. Missed Him.

A few months back I read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love.  As Chan puts it: ‘The God of the universe — the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and e-minor — loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs, and try not to cuss.’

Chan writes the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts — it’s falling in love with God. ‘Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.’

It’s true. I fell head over heels, I wanted to hang out with the object of my affection all the time. I was Madonna ‘True Blue’ giggly and ‘Crazy For You’ all at the same time. And while plenty of people talk about the honeymoon part of a marriage ending as you grow as a couple, I really don’t think God and Jesus want us to grow with them into joyless matrimony.

Look at what He did. Everlasting, eternal love. Radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love.

And there it is. I think the joy gets lost because too often Christians get caught up in the self-sacrificial nature of what God did for us in Jesus. I mean, that’s a serious gift, right? So, mistakenly, we confuse sacrifice that is the willing, loving, giving of our hearts to God with the sacrifice that is serious, enduring loss. But Jesus died so we may have life. It’s not loss, it’s gain.

It’s a gift to be taken seriously, yes, but no need to be all serious about it. I don’t think God measures the level of our love for Him by how seriously we behave in regards to what He gifted us. Whenever a Christian nods seriously and says, “You know, Jesus died for you,” I think the response ought to be a grinning “I know! How amazing and astounding is that? AND he resurrected. Fantastic!” Stop getting stuck and serious around the death bit, and focus on the three days after.

God’s crazy love can make us all amazing and astounding too, remember, because He gifted a bit of Him into us when He did it. You simply have to accept the amount of love poured out on you, the gift of heaven promised you, and, oh my God, please enjoy it. Smile with it, shine with it, dance in the rain with it and drink Pina Coladas.

It’s a great thing, falling in love every day.

Footnote: a big thank you to Tim MacBride over at Coffee With The King who has just started a great series about Luke 7 34-50 on precisely this. There are no Godincidences that his blog appeared in my feed just as I was pondering faith, joy and honeymoons.