falling in love

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Every great love story has an obstacle which must be overcome.  In my relationship with God, the obstacle has been my sense of obligation and my sense of who I was.  I was the prodigal son, who came home to proclaim myself no longer fit to be a son, but only fit to be a slave.  I accepted the party of welcome, then set about trying to make up for my betrayal of my Father by my servitude.  I became a slave, endeavoring to please my Father.

I was convinced I ought to love God, and yet I thought I was by nature incapable of doing what I ought.  I knew that love acts in certain ways, so I thought I must make myself act in those ways.  I did not understand that love for God would grow naturally.  I did not understand that I was fertile soil in which God had planted His seed of love.  Everything the seed needed to grow was in place.  The seed just required time.

Instead, I thought I was only fit to be a slave.  I held as my mantra the verse, "There is none good, no not one."  When God tried to assure me of His love and to claim me as His Daughter, I basically waved that verse at Him and refused to believe Him.

One day, God told me to go look up that verse.  I went to the computer, opened BibleWorks, and hunted for the verse.  It wasn't in any single translation.  Instead, I found "There is none that doeth good, no not one."  (I am still trying to figure out how I, and my sisters, memorized the verse incorrectly.  Part of me wonders whether God just recently fixed a translation error in all translations, both electronic and printed, by His miraculous power.)

Sometimes, I hear a thought in distinct words, and I know it is God speaking.  Other times, when I am afraid to listen to God because what He is saying is too scarily freeing, too different from everything I have believed, God starts nagging at my thoughts with something that won't go away.  This was one of the times when I was afraid to believe God.  It seemed to good to be true.

The thought that nagged at me is this.  A child gets her father's name as her family name.  The Father's name is my name.  My name is Daughter I Am.  My name is not I Do.  At creation, God declared me very good, and that is who I Am.  Though I may do things that are not good, my name is not I Do, so my essence is unchanged.  I am who I am because I am my Father's Daughter, and He made me very good.

When the rich young ruler came and knelt before Jesus, he called Jesus "good teacher."  Jesus asked him, "Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone."  This passage always bothered me.  Isn't Jesus good?  Didn't the ruler get it right here?  Why is Jesus challenging him?  Was Jesus challenging him to recognize Jesus as God?  Lately, I've begun to wonder.  What if Jesus was also challenging him to consider the tightly held belief that only God is good and man is bad?  What if Jesus was challenging him to consider Genesis 1:31, in which God saw all that He had made and declared it very good?

I think God is asking me whether my family name is I Am or I Do.  He is asking me to choose.  I can choose to keep the name given me by the Father of Lies, or I can accept the name bequeathed to me by my true Father.  It seems too scarily beautiful to believe, but my heart longs to believe.

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I remember the first time I saw my husband, Joshua.  It was my freshman year of college.  He was a junior.  Joshua reminded me of a squirrel.  He came into a room where I was visiting someone, talked for a few minutes, then darted off.  I doubt he even saw me.  Indifference at first sight!

Later, as I noticed other things about him, I became more certain I didn't want to be associated with him.  Joshua was a weird missionary type.  He would walk around campus barefoot, wrapped in a woven shawl from India.  He was friends with other weird missionary types.  When several of those weird missionary types decided to go to the seminary across the street for graduate school, it confirmed to me that I did not want to attend that seminary.

My Grandma, the one who married the red-headed boy, always told me not to tell God “never.”  He would laugh, and that “never” would happen.  Well, I did end up getting a master's degree at that seminary.  I did become friends with Joshua.  Though I argued with God on the matter, I even ended up marrying him, but that is a long story.

Well, in the same way, I knew that God was not the God of my dreams.  I was a Christian.  I would say that I loved God, because I was trying hard to do so, but the spark just wasn't there. I didn't have any theological problem with this.  God wasn't supposed to be what I wanted.  I had heard about people who create their own God according to what they want.  I didn't want to do that.

Instead, I tried to make myself love the God about whom I heard.  He is the God who loved us so much in the past that He gave His Son to die for us.  He is the God who will love us so much in the future that we will have a wonderful life with Him in Heaven.  At present, it doesn't feel like love, but that is because of our sinfulness.  “No discipline is pleasant at the time,” but it's good for you.  The problem is that we are “at the time,” so His love doesn't feel pleasant.  So, despite my effort to love God, I felt terrified of God.

But two years ago, God asked me a question.  We had just moved to our new house near Nairobi.  I was busy getting settled in.  As I was working on laundry, I heard God ask, “What does your heart long for in a Father?”

I did not know what to say.  How could I answer this question?  He was asking me, who is the God of your dreams?  How could I tell Him that He's not it?  But He asked me.  I couldn't be rude and ignore Him.  I focused on the laundry to give myself time to think.  Then I gathered my courage and told Him, “I want a Father who will lead me to obey Him because I love Him, not drive me to obey Him because I'm afraid of Him.”

Immediately, I heard, “What makes you think I'm not like that?”  I was flabbergasted.  My initial response was, “Because of how you act.”  Still, He cared enough to ask me what I longed for, maybe I should actually think about His second question.  What does make me think He's not this God of my dreams?  Maybe my dreams are true!

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I've always liked the story of how my grandparents met.  My grandma, a teacher from Michigan, receives an advertisement in the mail about UVA's summer school.  UVA is still an all-boys school, but women are allowed in for summer classes.  Grandma isn't sure how she was put on UVA's mailing list, but she is looking for something to do with her summer, so why not?

After Grandma arrives at UVA, she hears a lot about the red-headed boy working in the library.  When she goes to the library, Grandpa, the red-headed boy, is working behind the stacks.  Grandpa sees Grandma.  He asks her to play a match stick game.  Later, he walks her back to her room.  That night, Grandma tells her roommate she's met the man she's going to marry.

Grandpa is finished at UVA, but after meeting Grandma, he stays a day or two longer.  When he leaves, they write to each other.  A year or so later, they begin their 62 years of marriage together.

For some people, it works that way.  You meet, and somehow you know!  For others it is quite different.  When you meet, you are certain this is not the person for you.

Well, I knew that God was not for me.  God loved the church, yes, but He only loved this rather insignificant, very unfit member of the church in a generic kind of way.  It's just kind of habitual for Him, nothing special.  The focus of this general love for me was what I could contribute to the church.  He "loved me" for my work.  He gave me His forgiveness so that I could try again to do all the good things I'd failed to do before.  However if I didn't perform, I'd be cut from the team.  I spent all my energy trying to please Him so I could stay in His favor.

In spite of my best efforts, I knew that if God really investigated me my failures would outweigh my successes.  God's forgiveness had failed in me.  I wasn't good enough.

Please understand, it wasn't that I hadn't been told about God's love for me.  I could quote Scripture and tell myself that my perspective was wrong.  I tried to believe He loved me.  However, no matter how many times I tried to tell myself the truth, my heart still didn't believe it.  I only knew it with the hearing of the ears.  I needed the seeing of the eyes.  I didn't need knowledge about God's love; I needed experience of God's love.

As I looked at my life and my heart one day three years ago, I told my husband, "I am such a failure."  Then while I sat and nursed my fourth-born and saw all the chaos that was my house, I turned to God and said, "I am such a failure."  God did not wait for me to finish those words.  While I was still praying, a thought interrupted me, "I don't see that."

I was very surprised.  I remember looking around and thinking something along the lines of, "Well, duh!  Just look around You.  You can't miss it."  But since I thought saying  something like that to God was a bit dangerous (Would a bolt of lightning strike me?), I asked, "What DO you see?"  I heard a voice of infinite tenderness say, "Daughter!"

Right then, this was more than I could believe.  I thought, "I must be making this up."  I basically covered my spiritual ears and refused to listen to another word.  But my hungry heart heard and clung to the word He had already spoken, "He doesn't see failure !  He sees Daughter !"

My first objection to a love relationship between God and me was wrong.  He was interested in me, not in my work.  He wasn't even looking at my work or lack thereof.  He was gazing at me!  And His eyes were full of infinite tenderness.

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Last week , I received a facebook message from my friend Daphne, "Ruth, where is your blog?" She and my friend Wendy have been asking me to write down my dialogue with God. For the past three years (or more, depending on when you start counting) I have been having a conversation with God. Actually, it is more of a courtship, which includes both conversation and shared experiences. You see, three years ago, I told God that if I really looked at my heart, I would have to say that I didn't really love Him. I was serving Him and trying to love Him, but really, I was just plain afraid of Him. At that point, He told me I needed to fall in love with Him.

Falling in love with God happens in just the same way as falling in love with a person. I don't think I realized this at first, but God is a person, or three persons in one. So to fall in love with Him, you spend time together, talking or being silent together, sharing hopes and dreams, playing together, working on a project together or on separate projects side by side, sitting quietly together, walking hand in hand, dancing with each other. I have discovered that you can do all of these things with God.

I remember when I was single and becoming friends with a group of guys, a significant part of my falling in love with my future husband is that of them all, he was the one most interested in my hopes and dreams. The same has been true of God. For a long time, I had the mistaken idea that my hopes and dreams were essentially bad because my heart was "deceitfully wicked above all things." So, when I would talk with God, I would try to share a cleaned up version of my heart. To put it humorously, God and I broke up over this issue. I kept talking to God, telling Him my nice clean thoughts and ideas, but He stopped answering. I was very lonely during that time. I didn't hear His voice again until I finally told Him the truth. Then I found out to my surprise that He didn't consider my hopes and dreams to be bad! He was interested in them, loved them, in fact! It did take a few more years to convince me of that. Notice that I am only now writing them down!

Another significant part of dating and falling in love is getting to know the other person. God has encouraged me to ask Him questions, even the dreaded why question. To really get to know someone, you can't just know what they do, you have to understand why. There is, in fact, a difference between a why of complaint and a why of interest. God wants us to know Him. For some reason, this was easier for me to believe than that God wanted to know me. From reading the book of Job, I learned that it was the one who asked God questions who said He knew God better at the end. My questions are there in my heart, if I don't ask them, they seem to fester and turn into bitterness and resentment. Better to ask. God has shared some pretty amazing things in response.

So now, with Daphne and Wendy encouraging me, I am beginning a blog. This blog will be my story of my courtship with God, but it won't be chronological. I don't think in chronology. I think in relationship, in how that connects to this, and what this means in context of that. I love conversations, because conversation is a series of thoughts related to one another which weave together into a beautiful picture. My conversations with God have become a rich tapestry I am welcoming you to view.