It is April 18th. I have survived my first busy season (and six glorious months in Philly). God is ever so faithful.
I look at the number on my phone and contemplate briefly whether I should pick up; I stall my conversation with Carolyn and swipe after three more seconds of contemplation – “hey ma, you’re back home?” My ma says hello (she sounds unusually happy) and says they’re not back home yet, that they’re still in Vegas and come back tomorrow night. She asks if I’m home; pretty standard. I tell her I am and ask her what’s up.
“Can you find a good chinese restaurant on strip street (?) for us to eat at?”
“You want me to find you a chinese restaurant in vegas for you to eat at.”
“It has to be on the strip.”
“…you…what…google it?? (here Carolyn guffaws in the kitchen and offers a humorous, “Yelp!”)…fine, lemme grab my laptop.”
I peruse Yelp for a solid ten minutes trying to find a decent authentic chinese restaurant on S Las Vegas Blvd and chuckle silently to myself. At the very least, my parents acknowledge my skill in finding good eats enough that they want me to find them food while I’m 2.5 thousand miles away and for some reason, it makes me feel a million times closer to them than I actually am. I hang up and stare at the phone with a strange sort of ache in my heart and realize three seconds later – I miss her.
“Do you think once you’ve found a group of people who you can call family…no, not just family, but home – do you think once you leave, that you’d find another place where you feel the same way? Or can there only be one?”
I ask Stone in a curious (and in what I think is a laid-back) manner but it is desperation that prompts me to ask the question. Six months I’ve been here and still, I do not feel there is anyone I can pick up the phone and call and cry to within the city. I don’t know what I want him to tell me – I only have more and more questions hidden beneath the first one. If it is possible, then why do I still not feel close to the people I call family here? If it is not possible, then why did I leave home to come here, only to feel alone?
A cookie ice cream sandwich is set in front of me with one candle stuck smack dab in the vanilla flavored middle indicating my birthday. I am so terribly confused and somewhat frightened at one point as I deliriously wonder if I have to prove that it is my birthday (in which case I’d be in a ton of trouble because it is in fact not.) It isn’t until halfway through the happy birthday chorus that I realize that they are celebrating my baptism – the day I was reborn and brought into the family of God as an official daughter of the King. I look at the people at the table around me and feel full – in spirit, stomach, and heart; I am not alone.
I sit criss cross applesauce on the steps of the art museum and lean my head on Melanie’s shoulder; she rests her head gently against mine. Dan stands a few meters in front, his back to us; David lays down on the steps beside me. I consider how long I have known the each of them, the total of which all three lengths of time barely add up to a year. As we sit, stand, and lie silently in the warm night and look at the lights that adorn the city, I realize we are all still strangers.
“But, I love them so much already,” I think to myself and then decide not to ponder the thought any further in favor of thanking the Lord for bringing such a strange company together on such a night to fill me with such illuminating peace.
Orange and blue; two colors smack dab in the middle of the notes – it takes me a couple of seconds to register them and then another .5 for me to burst into tears. I feel so incredibly loved in that moment that my heart physically aches because I know to love a person so much requires monumental effort – to the point that it’s painful. I think about Jesus and the cross, His ultimate show of affection for us, and grieve. How it must hurt Him so deeply that He bled on the cross and still, I callously turn my heart away from Him every day. “I will never be able to love you enough,” I cry.
“I know. I love you regardless.”
Stone gets emotional as he tries to explain how hard it is for him to understand why Jesus loves us. “It doesn’t make sense,” I supply and he agrees incredulously, complete with emphatic hand motions and wide seeking eyes. I share his frustration – I want to understand why. I don’t get it. Why do you love me, Jesus? Why?
But, He tells me, “Stop asking me ‘why? how?’ You’re not going to understand by sitting and thinking through the theology and mechanics of my love – you’re going to understand by experiencing it and doing it yourself so go and love. You know what I want you to do; go and do it. Go and love my people.”
Why must I know why He loves me? Isn’t the fact that He loves me enough?
“You’re wasting your life,” Pastor Dwight says, almost as a casual afterthought, during his prayer for the congregation. I feel the sting of his words and the accompanying stinging of tears as I start to berate myself for living a maddeningly comfortable life, for not being accountable to myself and the goals I set after coming back from Urbana, for the quiet times I slept through and the homeless that I passed by hurriedly in the streets. But, Pastor Dwight continues to pray God’s grace over us and I look up after the corporate “amen” unable to curb the smile on my face. Excitement and anticipation.
I’m never going to be able to love the Lord enough. I’m never going to be able to do enough. By His standards of righteousness, I fall laughably short. But, none of that matters because Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. Help me understand, Father. To obey you, not out of fear or guilt or shame, but simply because you love me. Simply because of your overwhelming love in the filling up of my heart – would it pour out of me in the abundance I’ve been given onto whoever and wherever you will it. Teach me to love because you loved first. Teach me to walk out upon the waters. Show me how faithful you are despite my unfaithfulness. I want more.
“I knew everything in my head but to feel it in my heart – that was all on God. No matter how hard I tried, none of my own works could get my heart to understand. It was by God’s grace alone that my heart finally believed that He loves me, that I am a sinner, that He is good.”
When Jinsol speaks, I hear the Lord speaking to me through her experiences and walk of life, her expression of faith so similar to mine. By God’s grace alone am I standing here. By God’s grace alone am I able to have faith. By God’s grace alone can I say with a genuine and pure heart – thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus, thank you, Jesus.
It’s all on You, God – I give you all the praise. Forever for your name.
Excitement and anticipation – these are the emotions that occupy a good part of my days. The Lord is at work and I cannot wait to be a part of it.