Brave enough to love

I watch the leftover sunshine leave its mark in the sky behind the wings of the plane—and wish I could just leave without any ache. 

I wish I didn’t wish to see him every minute of the day. And I wish I didn’t miss his tiny hand holding my thumb. 

The more people I love, the more I’m terrified that I do. 

I find things in my apartment to throw out, give away because I’d like to need nothing. Only the essentials. 

If you possess nothing, you can’t lose as much. 

“I bet he told you to go to emerg and you didn’t want to listen because you want to do everything yourself.” He looks me in the eye. He’s known me far too long, too well. Pushed his way back in when I was stand-offish. 

I see her as I scroll through memes and other people’s memories, her post on self-reliance. Independence. It’s highly praised. Another friend tells me she has trouble being independent. 

But independence is my crutch.

Because it’s much easier to push away than to lean in close. It’s easier to sit alone than to lean my head on his shoulder. It’s easier to delete a text than to send one. To listen than to share. To know others than to be known. 

When she tells me she loves me, I know it’s deliberate. And difficult to admit. 

Like it must have been difficult when He deliberately made Himself nothing. 

When He said “not my will but yours” to give us something better. 

“How do you know if you love someone?” I ask him way past midnight on a Saturday night, sitting in the corner of the kitchen like old times. 

What he says makes me cry quietly in the bathroom later, trying to push fear back. 

Fear keeps me selfish, closed off. Self protective. 

I ask her to pray that I’d have deeper intimacy with God. Perfect love casts out fear, but I am perfectly afraid to love Him. Afraid of the cost. 

Afraid of dependence. 

“Even resting in Him feels like work to me,” I tell the group. Apathy is easier. 

I watch the leftover sunshine leave its mark in my rearview mirror on the drive home–and want to be brave enough to leave with the ache, to lean into loving Him.

I text them when I get home with the little bit of courage I have because dependence is only for those brave enough to choose it. 

I tell them I want Him. I need Him. 

And with dependence comes something better. 

Love without fear. 

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

When warm winds blow again

“There’s nothing new, so don’t ask,” she laughs. 

Sometimes life is just getting up, starting work, eating dinner, going to bed. And doing it again.

Weeks pass, filled with insignificant moments. I don’t bother to write about them. 

Months pass of the mundane Monday to Friday hum-drum. 

Life is painfully ordinary. 

Until it’s not. 

Until it’s just painful. 

Until I’m standing in the kitchen without motivation to do anything, say anything. All I can think about is how this piece of writing will break his family’s heart.

Until I’m sitting right where I got her text that he’s gone. I just met him two weeks before and now I’ll never see him again.

I move to a city near the mountains and they tell me they can’t believe I’ve never heard about Chinooks. They can’t believe I’ve never felt the warm sun after the great winds blow down the Rockies into the flat prairie lands below. 

A break in the winter. A taste of warmer weather. 

“I think we can trust God,” I tell her in the middle of the worst day of her month. “If He’s God, things are not as they appear to us always.” 

What seems worldwide only has a twenty mile radius. 

The winter winds rage, but the Chinook winds still come. 

The clouds break. 

Pain turns into a dull ache. 

And fear grows grey, is forgotten. 

“Let’s do this day everyday,” he says of our lazy Sunday afternoon, fishing by the river. 

Of course, we can’t. 

But we will today. We’ll let this day be what it is. A break in the storm. A pause to the winter. 

The sun, an electric charge of courage. 

Until it’s not. 

Until I’m standing in the kitchen without motivation to do anything.

Except to remember this ordinary day, fishing by the river.

And how they always come around again.

Maybe with older connections, wiser eyes. Lonely hearts. Shaking hands. 

But the great winds come around again. 

And the sun shines above the storm clouds. 

And God is at work–far beyond. 

God is. 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9       

He sees me there

“It is hard to feel like you belong in the world sometimes,” she tells me. 

We’re both missing home–or what we think of when we think of home. The house where we grew up. The entire family, sitting around the dinner table.

We know that if we do go home, it won’t be the way we remember it. Family members will be missing. Sisters will have to leave earlier than usual to put the kids to bed. The lights will be brighter, more energy efficient. Not the soft, warm yellow lights we remember as children.

But I still call Mom on a Friday night, just to be sure of home. Just to be sure there is still a place where I am known at my worst and loved. 

Where I don’t need to explain myself. 

Like he tries to explain to me how he spent the afternoon at their graves and I wonder what it’s like to lose two women you love in one lifetime. 

Like she tries to explain how she’s navigating the loneliness of a new relationship, how the deepest connections you have can amplify the disconnection you can’t express.

I remember when she was my roommate, hearing her slip out of our room before sunrise and watching her walk the flat field outside our window. A lone shadow against the rising red sun sun. 

Sometimes there are things that only God can guide us through. 

I knew her, and Who she walked with every morning in the field outside our window. They were conversations she could never share with me, as close as we were.

On a Sunday morning, he talks about Peter, his failure. Three times over. The loneliness of that. 

I have my own failures. Three times over that Sunday. 

“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.’” Luke 22:61

The Lord looked right at him. 

That’s what I think about as I sit alone on my couch on a Sunday night. 

The Lord looks right at me. 

For Peter, it was painful to be seen on the path of denial. 

For her, it’s the path of homesickness.

For him, it’s grief. 

Sometimes it’s terrifying. Sometimes, strengthening. 

But all the time, He sees us there. 

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Psalm 139: 7-8

Lord of the cobwebs too

There are moments you remember as significant–as if you’re on the brink of something.

Like when I sat in my carseat in the back and prayed for real for the first time. 

And when I first stepped in her office door, declaring I’d be as honest as possible. 

Or in the backseat of a rental car in Iceland when it clicked that God still loved me even though I needed help. 

And last year, when I lay on the grass and watched the sunlight peek through the leaves overhead, listening to the same song over and over and over. My Defender. 

Like a war cry. 

And it was as clear as a Sunday morning in May.

“You said it’s stuck with you–God as Defender?” We’re climbing mountains on a Saturday when she asks me about it. 

It makes me think of the old log cabin in the bush at the back of the farm, the door torn off its hinges. You’d have to check the doorframe as you stepped inside to make sure no dead coons were going to fall from the rafters and land on your head. 

Dilapidated. 

“What blows my mind is that He defends me.” I tell her when we’re halfway up the mountain. “I’d get it if He were defending something beautiful.”

It makes me think of the castle we ran through as kids. I remember the crisp dining room, set up as if the people who lived there hadn’t died a hundred years ago. The ropes protecting it from tourists like us. 

Stately.

“Whenever I wake in the morning, the one thing I’m always sure of is you,” he tells me on a Tuesday evening. There’s nothing I could do that would make him love me less, he says. The feeling of his words gets in my throat. 

Like it gets in my throat when I lie on the grass and listen to the same song over and over and over. My Defender. 

Because I’m the dilapidated cabin.

But He goes to war for me. 

Not because my hinges are intact and my rooms are stately. But because He is Lord of the cobwebs too. 

And I belong to Him.

The antidote

“To love is to be vulnerable,” she says. 

I feel it in my bones. In between the lines of arguments in the family group chat. 

I feel it when I visit her in the retirement residence and she grabs my hand.

I feel it, the older he gets and the more I call him, depend on him. Get used to his stories.

When I text him first. 

When I say “I miss you.” 

We were eleven when I told her every single secret I had. 

And then I turn fifteen and I’m hiding in the backseat of my parent’s car as she walks home, without me. 

And ten years later, he breaks up with me in the corner of the cafe. And I tell her I’d rather not date again.

If I’m not careful, I hide vulnerability in the bottom drawer like the summer’s worn-out clothes. 

And I’m twenty-seven, standing in the church at half-past eleven when I think about Him hanging on the cross in His bare skin. 

The most vulnerable act. 

“I feel myself allowing the distance to grow between us,” I tell her. Like a good friend, she tells me to soften. To reach out. 

Because what if He didn’t? 

And perhaps the reason I’m struggling to be vulnerable is because I am avoiding the act of worship more often than I should. 

Because that’s easier. Easier not to relinquish control. Not to acknowledge my need for Him. Not to hold my plans with open hands. 

But if you don’t live with open hands, it’s hard to live with open arms. Open heart. 

“Love is the antidote to fear,” she texts the three of us on a Wednesday morning.

And I’m twenty-seven, standing in the church at half-past eleven when I think about Him hanging on the cross in His bare skin.

A vulnerability so terrifying that Fear cannot bear the sight of it. 

A love so bold that Fear trembles in the face of it. 

Fear of loss. Fear of rejection. 

Cowering in the bold face of vulnerability. Of Perfect Love. 

And that’s the image I have in my mind when she calls me on a Friday night and tells me we might as well talk it out.

Because we’re choosing a new way.

A vulnerable way.

The way of the cross.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Without caution

I remember Dad sitting on the front porch, watching the rain blow across the fields during that first storm after the tornado. I wanted to join him, but the thunder was loud and the wind was relentless against the tarp that was covering what was left of the dining room. 

And I was secretly terrified. 

Like I’m too scared to call her and tell her the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I rehearse it in my head. I write it down. And three months pass. 

But my desire for comfort wittles at the edges of a friendship. “I should’ve talked to you earlier,” I finally tell her.

And I know there are other people I need to call. There are storms I need to face.

But I’ll choose a beat-up house over his safe company on the front porch if it means I can stay dry. 

It’s almost imperceptible the way I stop caring. When she texts me to pray, I try to pray with as little passion and feeling as possible. 

To avoid emotion during the motions of caring.

“The last time I surrendered everything to the Lord, He answered me.” She tells me with hope in her eyes, but I see it as a cautionary tale. 

He answers.

My fear is not a reflection of Him, but my ability to trust Him. 

Like my neglect to call her is not a reflection of our friendship, but my ability to trust it. 

I remember it clearly, him sitting on the front porch. It was the way he faced the storm. “Not without risk,” he tells me, years later. It’s still his motto after two natural disasters take the roofs off his properties. 

All worthwhile things are risky.

And I remember this when he picks me up for dinner. 

When I take a deep breath and call her back. 

When I pray without caution. 

“And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27

The friend who laughs

I told her once, she’s the one I laugh with. I’ve laughed with her through the years–at birthday parties and barnyard hide-and-seek, at paintball wars and wedding dances. 

And we laugh around the dinner table on a Sunday night. Her laugh has grown slower, more certain with age. 

And it comes again in softer tones as we dice vegetables and I tell her I’m a hopeless cook. And we agree we’re both hopeless if we compare ourselves to our mothers. “Sometimes,” I say, “I feel like I don’t bring anything to the table, literally. I don’t do anything.” 

I’ve watched them in weeks past, the way she knows how to respond to her friends in crisis. How she can step in and babysit a house full of kids. How he can build a house for them. 

“Sometimes, it’s not about what you do for people, Kate. It’s about being there for them.” She pours a glass of water. 

And it’s funny the things you remember, the things people never did. How she didn’t tell me things would be okay, but sat with me and rubbed my back until my shoulders stopped shaking. How she didn’t ignore my call at midnight. 

When we first started having dinner every week, I wondered what we’d have to talk about. And sometimes there was nothing. But he’d tell me often. “I hate to eat alone.” And I grew fond of our silence. 

And maybe it’s not about what you bring to the table, it’s just about showing up there. In whatever way you can.

Like He showed up to the table for the very Last Supper. 

Like He showed up at Lazarus grave–and wept. And they wondered why He didn’t do more. 

Before I turn 27, she sends me pictures from the hospital after his motorcycle crash–and it sticks with me. The impact of one moment.

And the impact you can have in a moment. 

Because I can barely remember what we talked about the night I couldn’t think straight, but I remember his straightforward style and that it mattered he was there. The friend who is not afraid to call me out. 

I can barely remember what we ate on a Sunday night as we sat around the table together. But I remember her laugh and that it mattered she was there. The friend who laughs. 

I tell her that it’s been a year of unbearable honesty before God. “I’ve stopped being afraid to pray about my doubts.” 

And I’ve started being able to move forward. To a truer, more real relationship.

I’ve started showing up at His feet. 

So I can show up with her at dinner on a Sunday night. 

And she can see me for who I am.

Not for what I do.

But for what He is doing in me. 

Nostalgia and new glasses

On the day of giving thanks, I kick up leaves by the river–and memories with them.

The one where the turkey didn’t thaw in time and we didn’t know half the guests who came. But we laughed a lot on the living room floor and forgot about grumpy professors and essay deadlines.

Or the one when they were both healthy, sending winks my way. And he fell asleep, full of turkey, as I played him all my favourite tunes on the piano. 

The past seems easier to frame with gratitude. To filter through forgetfulness–and lose memory of raw-turkey anxiety and hurtful words between hugs. 

On the day of giving thanks, I live in nostalgia in the morning. “It doesn’t feel like Thanksgiving,” she texts me. I agree.

But nostalgia is a short-term feeling, a yearning for the past.

And joy, the yearning for the unobtained–the hidden Future, desires not yet fulfilled. 

I was barely a tween when I put on glasses for the first time and traced the crisp lines of the trees in the front yard. 

And on the day of giving thanks, I don’t want to live in the past or the future. 

I want to live in gratitude. 

Because gratitude is the lens for the present. To filter the moment–and see things the way they really are. 

Not in the yellowing light of nostalgia or the grey shadow of the unknown. 

But in broad daylight. 

She comes into my apartment and starts cutting chicken on the countertop. “This is the smallest party I’ve ever had,” she says. We laugh. 

And it’s a beautiful Thanksgiving because it is the way it is.

Not as I expected.

And not as I’ll remember. 

I close my eyes when she plays the piano and give thanks. 

To the Giver of all good gifts. 

And He gives the moment back and the lens to see it with. 

Christ over Christianese

Crickets rehearse. And summer nights slip away as I spend too many of them sitting on rooftops and cliff’s edges, hearing has-been Christian kids trying to make sense of the Jesus they’ve read about–even met–and the sixteen books they were told to read about purity rings. 

“I’m not a Christian because of that,” I tell her. “I’m a Christan in spite of it.” 

And maybe sixteen books is an exaggeration, but it’s the first summer I’m willing to admit that some of my Christianity has gotten in the way of my love for Christ. 

And maybe the ‘what-would-Jesus-do’ generation has cared more about what other people are doing or not doing and has stopped asking what He’d really do–for the vulnerable and the people who sit in the back pew or don’t sit in any pew.

What He’d like to do through us. 

“I’ve stopped keeping track of the distance I run or hike or walk,” she tells me and it sticks with me for years as I track every kilometer. Count steps. 

She tells me it takes the joy out of it. Calculating accomplishment. 

Another friend sends me a text. “I tend to evaluate God’s love for me based on my performance.” 

And my Christian performance takes the joy out of loving Christ. 

“What it comes down to,” she says. “Is if you believe that Jesus died and rose again.” 

The bare bones. 

And I’m glad to hear that it doesn’t come down to who to vote for or if you drink beer or not.

And maybe it’s okay to doubt North American Christian culture and cling to Christ. Maybe the Nazarene would. 

Maybe it’s okay to step away from fear. To engage with doubt. 

Because that is a way to engage with faith. Like the faith heroes in the hall of fame. 

Like Sarah who laughed at the words of God–and now she’s listed. And I wonder if churches would list her? 

And there’s a place for doubting Christians and sinful Christians–for Thomas and King David.

And there’s a place for a little more grace. And a little more space for looking at Jesus. And less at ourselves–and our shame or our choice to swear less. 

The summer slips away and the nights grow longer and I find myself, lying on the last of the green grass and listening to songs about how He defends me.

And being more okay with how uncomfortable that makes me feel. More okay with accepting grace. And less okay with earning it. 

And maybe that’s what a real relationship is? A real relationship with the risen Christ. 

Requires no performance. 

Without reservation

“I’m so glad I have a daughter,” she holds me close. 

Her arms are home. 

But a week later, I unpack in my quiet apartment and I’m not sure if I was home or if this is home or if home will ever feel like home again. 

“Can you pray that I know the Lord loves me?” I ask her. I can’t think of anything else that matters. 

I lie on the grass and watch the evening light filter through the leaves overhead while I filter through the summer. The regrets. The blessings. The difficult texts I sent and received. The silence on the other end. The excitement in her voice when she told me the news. The disappointment in his voice when I told him the truth. 

I lie on the grass on a Monday night and I wonder how to broach the subject to Him. 

“Come as you are,” she had said to me over burgers and fries a few weeks earlier. “You don’t have to be clean first.” Silly religion gets in the way of vulnerability.

So, I sit on the grass and let time slip away. “Do you love me?” 

And her song comes through my earbuds and shakes me to my soul. Love like this. 

Funny how I often blushed, sitting in the back row at church, when we sang about His reckless love. 

Because the problem is not knowing whether He loves me, but having the courage to believe it. 

“You deserve to know yourself,” he tells me before summer. 

And that means seeing how I’m built and seeing how I’m broken and being able to live with that. 

Because He built me and sees how I’m broken and makes me fully alive.

And maybe knowing myself is discovering how He knows me. 

How He sees me.

How He lifts my head.

And for once on a Monday night, the sun shines brightly through the leaves overhead and the shame and regret and confusion from a summer I’ve just lived is not the truest, clearest thing. 

For once, I meet His gaze. Because looking away is not believing Him. Not really knowing Him.

How He loves me with abundance. And without exaggeration. 

“Do not be afraid,” I must tell myself every day. Because it takes courage to look in the eyes of Someone who knows you. And to see love–unreserved. 

“But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3