“Do not be discouraged.”
Needing some downtime to process my bad mood, I shuffled over to Starbucks and ordered a decaf latte. I savored the warm cup in my hands as I slowly sipped the coffee. I’ve felt these feeling before. They are the fingerprints from past hurts—the pain of not being seen or heard, or respected. “What do I do God?” I prayed.
“Just breathe,” He answered.
“But my heart is aching,” I said. “Don’t I need to do something?”
“Close your eyes. Just breathe.”
Amid the hustle and bustle of a busy Starbucks, I closed my eyes. I took in a slow breath. I exhaled. I took in another, and another until my shoulders relaxed. My body let go of the tension it had been holding onto.
“Feel better?” God asked.
I opened my eyes. “I’m more relaxed, but what about this sorrow?”
“You can give that to me,” God answered gently.
“What does that even mean?” I said, somewhat defensively. “It’s not like I can put it in a box and hand it over to you.”
God replied with a great deal of patience in His voice, “You give me your hurt by letting go of the need to control others. You let my love for you be enough.”
“I’ll try,” I said.
“One more thing, Sparrow. Forgive,” God reminded me.
I swallowed the last of my coffee and left the table. I pushed open the door and walked back home holding God’s hand. It was enough.
Love keeps no record of wrongs.
~1 Corinthians 13:5
Holding my two-week-old granddaughter in my arms, I remembered how precious my own babies were. I used to look down upon their tiny bodies and marvel at their perfection. I know I was a good mom, but I was also a broken person. My heart ached for all the paths that I wandered down that took me away from who God intended for me to be.
“I loved you anyway,” God whispered as tears came to my eyes.
“What?” I asked.
“I knew you’d break my heart, but I loved you anyway,” God said gently.
“Oh God, you did?” I could barely get the words out.
“Of course. You’re mine. How can I not love my creation?” He answered.
“I’m so sorry for all of my mistakes.”
“I know you are. I’ve forgotten them. I wish you could forget them too,” God said softly.
“Thank you, God,” I whispered. I gazed down upon my sleeping granddaughter, my heart so full of love for her. I thought of God’s love for us— a love I can only appreciate, never fully fathom.
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Hot tears sprang to my eyes and anger boiled in my veins—someone I trusted had betrayed me. “You made loving others look so easy, ” I cried out to Jesus. “How did you not smite Judas, and Peter, and all of those who mocked you and then killed you?” I pushed open the door with a little too much force, sending it slapping against the cottage wall.
“Come, walk with me,” Jesus invited, His pace slow and measured. “I knew they were doing the best that they could,” Jesus said. “You can’t expect anyone to do more than they can do.” He stopped and pointed to the feral cats playing in the garden. “You don’t expect them to act tame, do you?” He asked.
“Of course not. They weren’t socialized when they were kittens,” I explained.
“It’s the same with people. They are who they are because of their experiences in life,” He replied. “Forgive, Sparrow. Reach out to your friend with love. Help them carry the burdens that make them so fearful that they hurt others and themselves.”
I thought of how Jesus bore our burden of sin on His back as He walked to the cross— all the way into death. “You carried us,” I whispered. My tears of pain now turning to tears of gratitude.
“When you carry another, you carry yourself. You carry God,” He replied.
We turned back toward the cottage, the hurt and anger now drained from my body. A gentle wind blowing down from the mountains played through my hair, making me laugh. Jesus smiled and patted me on the back. I smiled in return, my heart too full for words.
God is merciful and forgiving.
The deer were here again last night, soundlessly dining on the zinnias. Afterward, they lay down in them, flattening out the once tall, proud plants. I want to feel angry but cannot muster the emotion. I know the deer are hungry, and I, the foolish city girl, planted a smorgasbord for them. I lifted the wounded branches out of the soil and placed them on the compost bin.
“You’re learning how to be a country girl,” God said to me.
“Apparently, there is a lot to learn,” I replied and smiled.
“Experience is the best teacher,” He said.
I nodded in agreement.
“Next year you’ll plant deer-resistant flowers.” I nodded again.
“If only life’s missteps were as easy to correct as replanting a flower garden,” I said.
“Oh, but they are! You’ve got grace and forgiveness to help you,” God said warmly.
“You make it sound so simple.”
“It is simple!” He said. “Just as you felt compassion for the hungry deer, I feel compassion for all of my children. I know they are going to make mistakes.”
“But you love us anyway, don’t you?” It was more of a statement than it was a question.
“Of course I do,” God said. “Just like I love my hungry deer.”
I looked out over the garden and felt connected to all of God’s creation; all of us learning as we go.
They ridiculed and mocked him.
At the local cafe, my friend and I enjoyed a cup of coffee as we talked about a woman we both know. In my opinion, our mutual friend had been making poor life choices. I was extremely frustrated with her latest decision and I said a few things that I probably wouldn’t have said if she had been sitting there with us. Afterward, I drove home, winding my way up to my cottage. The trees that lined the road were ablaze with fiery red and orange leaves—filling my heart with joy.
“Sparrow,” God said as I slowed down for a hairpin curve.
“Yes, God?” I answered.
“Remember the soldiers who mocked Jesus?” He asked.
“Of course. They were terrible men,” I said.
“They didn’t know the truth about Jesus,” He explained. “You don’t know the truth about your friend. You don’t know the fear that drives her.”
My joy instantly vanished, an uneasiness now rising up inside of me.
“Am I like the soldiers who mocked Jesus?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.
“Everyone has the capability to be judgemental and cruel. But I hope that next time you’ll extend compassion instead.”
I slowed down the car again as a deer ran across the road. How careful I was to avoid hitting her, yet with my words, I had run over a friend. “I’m sorry, God,” I said. “I’ll remember the soldiers the next time I want to share my negative opinions about someone. I’ll remember that I don’t know the truth, and I’ll do my best to feel compassion instead of judgment.”
A gust of wind picked up a pile of leaves and sent them somersaulting across the road ahead of me. I watched them swirl and dance in the air. I felt God’s forgiveness wash over my heart. “Thank you, Father,” I whispered. “Thank you.”
“It’s the most important work you’ll ever do,” God said to me as I weeded my flower garden.
“Pulling out dandelions?” I asked, incredulous.
“No,” God laughed. “Seeking the barriers to love and dismantling them. Like every baby that comes into my world, you were born with a whole heart. But as people wounded you, you learned to fear. You learned to protect yourself by putting others down, or worse, vilifying or demonizing them. You stopped seeing them as my precious children.”
“How do I heal my wounded heart?” I asked.
“Forgiveness, humility, and helping others,” God said.
I thought about my family and friends that annoy me—their difference in opinions and perceptions—and I wondered how I might turn towards them, instead of pulling away, or worse, not listening to them at all. And I realized that God was asking me to not only do the obvious work of not hating or harming others; He was asking me to work on the subtle, almost imperceptible feelings and opinions—the judgements—that barricade me from loving fully.
Our journey here is all about learning how to heal our wounded hearts so that we can love fully; so that we can take a whole heart home.