After what felt like a long night of no sleep, tossing and turning and silent tears, my eyes wearily opened to the soft glow of morning. Today, my sister and I were going home. Just thinking about it, the 8 hour drive ahead of us was less than exciting on the back end of our journey. As i lay in bed, with swirling thoughts that i could barely make sense of, only one emotion kept rising in me.
I didn’t want to leave.
How could i walk away from such a deeply wonderful week of bleeding life and joy all over the streets of Nashville only to return to a pattern of work, sleep and daily routine? My heart was soaring here and i wasn’t ready to stop being the melody. it always seemed like i was the harmony to life and for one incredibly short week it was as though my actions and words were written into the very lyrical center of the piece ….i didn’t want the song to end.
however, i also knew that there was much to be done before we could leave and as i had attempted doing the entire week, i wanted to leave with a final blessing and act of love. so i nudged my sister and forced her to open her eyes (i could tell she was exhausted also from our adventures) and as long as i knew she was actually awake, i could deal with fully getting her out of bed later. i crawled from under the cozy blankets myself and quietly made my way to the bathroom, if Mary and Jordan were still resting and enjoying conversation with each other, i didn’t want them to feel obligated to get up on my account. moments later, with a flourish of the door i was dressed and ready to finish the packing process. (it’s amazing how much the contents of a single suitcase can explode in a week’s time over the span of an average apartment). sharply, i prodded my sister once more just to make sure she hadn’t drifted back off. “mmhphmf” i heard from somewhere near her pillow. “up!” i commanded “we have shenanigans to accomplish before we leave.” that got her attention. sitting up slowly, i could see that she was grinning. the two of us together managed to come up with a pretty wonderful plot indeed…and Mary was clueless.
breakfast was eaten, clothes were haphazardly crammed into suitcase corners and i looked at Mary, “i think we’re ready to head to the mall now. Val sure is excited…you know how she gets with shopping!” my plan was fully working and my sister was playing along well….she wanted a Nashville shirt and it was an absolutely perfect guise for our plan.
as we glided into a parking spot at this large expanse of department stores and shops, i guided the conversation to a place where we could reveal what had been making us both grin for the past 20 minutes.
“Val and i have been plotting…”
“yeah and…” i waited for my sister to grab Mary’s other elbow, “we’ve decided.”
my sister exclaimed, unable to hold it in any longer,
“WE’RE TAKING YOU SHOPPING!!!”
and as i immediately saw the panicked look of comprehension on Mary’s face i added,
“and we’re paying”
We didn’t allow any protests, only a quick strut into the our first store where i named off my specific checklist of items that were “needed”…it had been two years and do you know how many birthdays and Christmases and “hey i was thinking of you so i got you this” moments i had missed? in my mind, this was long overdue and i wasn’t going to let anything change my mind. this was my final gift to give.
store after store, style after style, we weeded through sale rack after sale rack in order to find a slew of items that fit well and flattered even more. time after time when the question would arise with raised brow, “are you sure about this?” i would look straight into eyes full of hesitation and fear and reply assuredly, “yes. completely sure.”
and then after a quick lunch, and intentional hydration, the three of us trekked back to our car laden down with bags. the exhaustion from the week was really starting to hit me and i knew i would need intense caffeination to make it home awake.
if there was one specific “lesson” i would say i learned in that short yet lengthy week, it would be the lesson of loving people. it is incredibly hard. and i learned that most of the time i suck at it….but i also learned that i have a tenacity to keep loving. i thank God that He has taught me the few things about love that i know. i know that love is patient and love is kind. early on in the week, i posed the question, “what is your love language” and when i received an immediate answer i was mostly surprised she knew because a lot of people don’t. however, once she explained to me what impacts her the most, i became incredibly intentional about my actions. i learned in a week that it’s possible to be terrified of hurting someone and love them still. i learned that fear did not need to hold me back from loving–being hurt only fueled my desire to love deeper and more fiercely. for the first time since i could remember, i was able to be myself in a way that hadn’t been unlocked in my heart yet…and i have brought that back with me. a certain kind of fear has broken in me that can only be explained by the freedom you can know when you love someone as deeply as say, a sibling, or a parent, or i would even hazard a guess at how a parent loves a child… how you can love someone so deeply that you let them love you back. even when you believe you don’t deserve it. even when you can’t begin to comprehend why they are still sticking around after all of these years of your crap… even when letting them love you in dark places is more difficult than loving them.
what i learned most importantly was that the choice to let someone else love you, to abandon fears of places where you “can’t” be loved, is the most sure way to love that other person. if you surrender yourself to the truth that you ARE worth love, well, then nothing can hold you back from loving in freedom.
all of these things were swirling through my mind and my heart as our car slowly exited the apartment complex that i had come to know almost as well as my own home. my sister took the first shift of driving which meant that i was forced to listen to random Swedish pop music and boy bands and tween girl music that i thought i would never have to hear after junior high. we made several stops during this time and at each location i visited it felt like i was truly seeing and feeling everything for the first time, as though my senses were heightened and superior to anything i had ever known. it was mildly disconcerting but i didn’t take much note of it– i was far too lost in my head, talking to God to keep myself breathing when it felt like my heart was a hundred miles in our rear-view.
finally, after what seemed like a lifetime later, my sister decided on a location to stop and fill up the gas tank…and switch drivers. “i’m really tired and i don’t think i should drive until i’ve had a nap” she nervously admitted. i wasn’t even slightly bothered by this and as i cracked open my favorite energy drink, i knew exactly what cd i wanted to listen to. not even 10 minutes later, my sister had faded completely and was fully asleep (as much as you can relax in a cramped car going 70 down the highway) and i was blaring my favorite worship album, trying to praise God because i knew if i didn’t, i would start crying and that couldn’t be a good thing. slowly but surely i made it through several tracks with an aching, but joyful heart, but these songs were making me sleepy in their familiarity so i decided to switch out discs and play something i didn’t know at all.
i settled on the mix CD Mary had created for me, surely she picked songs i would enjoy? i had only briefly heard a couple of them a few days before as we left the Tennessee mountains, but nothing really stuck out to me. i was ready now to engage my mind in something completely new to me and what better playlist to choose from than one my best friend had personal picked out for me. i popped the mix into the stereo and began flipping through tracks. first one…no, too mellow, i needed something more engaging..next! nope. nope. nope. nope. eventually i stopped somewhere in the middle of the list and gave up trying to find something super heavy…all the songs seemed to be about the same– melodic and not altogether too intense. hmm… what to do? as i pondered my options, i decided to just let the disc play on and really concentrate on the lyrics as if i was trying to learn the songs by heart– that’s the best way to absorb music to your soul anyway.
while the miles sped on beneath me, the music began to swirl around me. a track of symphonic proportions confused me and then i heard a vocal timbre i was familiar with..but who was the artist? i was SO SURE that i knew the group but i could not put my finger on it. the lyrics pounded on and i gave up trying to guess, instead i really listened.
“come undone, surrender is stronger, i don’t need to be the hero tonight,
we all want love, we all want honour, nobody wants to pay the asking price”
hmm…deep. it resonated well within me and began a conversation with God i didn’t even know i needed to have… surrender and honesty about certain things He had been speaking to me all week long. i knew He was asking me to take a break from social media and to take a break from my long distance friendships that i worked tirelessly to maintain. i couldn’t understand why He would ask this of me right after i was leaving such a beautiful week…but i knew surrender was the correct decision. so i did.
next came an incredibly stunning track by a band i recognized immediately. i was completely surprised that it was an unfamiliar song since Lifehouse had long been a favorite of mine from my teen years. as the song penetrated my heart it was as if Mary herself was speaking the lyrics to me. i realized that strong emotions were rising within me and after 45 straight minutes of deep honesty with God, i wasn’t going to stop anything now. raw and real. why not i was as alone as i was going to be for quite a few hours. while the song finished its final echoing notes, i heard softly again the plea, “come to Me and i will give you rest” i blinked a few times rather quickly and took a deep breath. the next song had already begun. by this point, we were nearing Indianapolis and i was unsure if i would need help navigating, so i glanced at my gps and decided i should be fine. it seemed to be a different route than on the way down, but there was construction ahead and i was not going to deviate from a secure path in the dark while my sister was asleep so i contended with the traffic pattern and became one of many cars on a highway in Indiana. little did i know that i was about to lose it because the most haunting song had just begun singing.
“you’re not guilty anymore, you’re not broken anymore, you’re not filthy anymore,
I love you, mercy is yours.”
the only fully accurate way i can describe what happened to me at that moment is the phrase “ugly crying” because that is what occurred. all at once it was all too real to me. the long nights of sobbing to God, begging for mercy, asking for love, asking to come alive, desperate pleas from a deeply wounded heart that was afraid of the rebuke of a Master she did not understand… they were all being wiped away. healed. He was healing me. and as i cried and my whole body shook while i clung to the steering wheel for dear life, truths i had long hoped for became real in my heart and in my mind. rather rapidly, the song entered into the bridge and i could scarce breathe. my eyes must have been huge…. Jesus was talking to me. speaking directly to my heart. filling me so much with His love for me that i could not even gasp for breath:
“You are spotless
You are holy
You are faultless
You are whole
You are righteous
You are blameless
You are pardoned
You are mine”
undone is not even half accurate for what happened to me. loved is much more real.
…and it wasn’t even over yet.
the cd started over and for the first time (even though i had passed it by at least twice) i actually HEARD the first track on the album…and i started crying all over again.
Mary had chosen the song, “Shelter” by Jars of Clay in which one of the strongest lyrics repeatedly proclaims, “in the shelter of each other, we will live, we will live” and my eyes were opened. that was why this week had been so deep. why everything was so much more vibrant, why love was so incredibly real and tangible to me. i was willing to live in the shelter of a friend. to not try and carry it all on my own even though there were a couple nights that were very hard, and even though there was more than once that difficult words had to be spoken out loud, even in fear it must be done…but always…ALWAYS these moments and broken times and empty, aching, hollow fears were filled with one thing and one thing only: grace.
that was the shelter i had been seeking. the solace i could scarcely hope was one i could claim as my own. not only was it love i so long struggled with, but it was speaking grace in areas of my life that contained so much insecurity. believing grace. most importantly, trusting grace.
but there was shelter. and it found me.
So if you take a bruised and timid, deep-woods loving Wisconsin girl who has been running from grace her whole life, throw her into a week filled with love encounters of an unnatural kind and you find she will shed the robes of fear and filthiness she had so long clung to as identity. You will also find a renewed hope in her heart to love. To breathe free. She doesn’t mind the song anymore, in fact she sings it in her heart now. She is still healing, but she is free.
“If we can make it through the storm
And become who we were before
Promise me we’ll never look back
The worst is far behind us now
We’ll make it out of here somehow
Meet me in the aftermath”