Valentines Day can really suck sometimes. For many single people it feels like a cruel, taunting voice telling you you’re not enough. And although it’s been nearly a decade since I’ve been single, I remember the feeling.
Ten years ago, a few months before we’d met, my Sweet Kelley was a single mom with a 3 year old. I was a lost, sad, divorced 26 year old with nothing to my name but an old guitar and some clothes. It was not the pinnacle of life and love for either of us. Valentines Day SUCKED! Everywhere I went it seemed like a sea of people with someone special on their arm. Sharing gifts. Having drinks. Going home and having sex.
I was so pissed at Valentines Day.
How did everything go wrong? What’s wrong with me? I was pretty sure there were answers to both of those questions. I went home and started dealing. The problem for sure set most of its weight on my shoulders, which was a tough realization, but it made me really examine some stuff in my life. This examination was good. It didn’t help Valentines Day not suck, but it set me up for something pretty darn special.
The problem? I was selfish. Impatient. Scared to be vulnerable. Scared to be honest. Afraid of being abandoned. So I hid. I hid my ugly stuff from the people who loved me. And because of this I could never form anything meaningful. I had trouble with authority. I had a broken relationship with my parents. I couldn’t keep my crap together. I was trying to be who I thought they expected me to be. It was tough wearing that mask all the time. I desperately wanted to be known but I knew that if they knew the real me, they’d tell me what I feared… you’re not enough.
I had often wondered if this is what God thought of me. How many times could I screw up before he was just done with dealing with me? I didn’t have trouble believing he loved me. But I couldn’t wrap my mind around the thought that he LIKED me. As I was driving to work one day, it hit me… he has welcomed me into his family in spite of my flaws. He accepts me as his son. But I think I used to view God’s love for me more like pity. I wondered if maybe John 3:16 should have said, “God took pity on the world and he huffed and begrudgingly sent his son to rescue the screw ups since they obviously can’t get it together…” This led to years of clawing for God’s approval, the approval of authority figures, the approval of peers. But on that ride to work I was shaken by the thought that God LIKES me. He looks at me through the lens of what Christ has done and he approves. Now, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t inspire me to shake off old patterns and form new ways of thinking about things. But, I couldn’t get over this new revelation that God likes me. I’d spent 26 years in church, accepted Christ at seven, answered the call into ministry at thirteen, entered the ministry at eighteen. I knew the Gospel story. But I didn’t get it – the Good News; the Too-Good-to-Be-True News that says, “God loves you. God likes you. You belong to him. And nothing changes that.” Holy smack. I was floored.
A few months later I met Kelley. We spent lots of time at a coffee shop talking about this new way of seeing people (including ourselves). We talked about ways to care for people; people in our circles and people we hadn’t met yet. And what I discovered through these conversations was that if you can stop worrying about hiding the things you think people will run from and try your darnedest to see people how God sees them, nobody really cares about your scars and flaws. In fact, those things you try to hide become strangely endearing.
I started falling in love with Kelley through these conversations. I like to think she did too. She teaches me a lot about what God’s love is like. At one point early in our relationship I was having a bad day. Grumpy. Tired. Hungry. Probably sexually frustrated. Just not a pretty cocktail. Up to this point, if ever I was angry or frustrated or pissed about something, I shoved it down and put on the mask that life was dandy. It was ugly to be angry and therefore should not be on display. But she saw right through my mask and said something that still wrecks me. She looked at me and said, “It’s okay to be grouchy. Just say you’re in a bad mood. It’s okay.”
What the frick?!?! It’s okay?!?! It’s okay?!?! It’s can’t be okay… Could it be okay? Did she really say it’s okay?
I probably looked stoned. I’m not sure how long I let those words float around in my head before I spoke again. I’m not even sure what I said next. But I remember that my shoulders relaxed. My jaw relaxed. My breathing slowed. The knots in my stomach unravelled. My heart was at peace. This was a new feeling. I could be upset and it was okay to show it?
My Sweet Kelley has always done this for me. She makes it okay to not be okay. She set something free in my heart that day. I wish I could say that I’m as good to her as she is to me. Sadly, it’s not even close. She loves me in ways I didn’t even think were possible. She sets me free from my charades. Anything valuable in me is only visible because she took the time bring it to the surface when all I wanted to do was hide.
Love is hard work. It’s painful sometimes. Love is exhilarating and exhausting. Love is enriching and yet will empty you. And if you let it, love will overwhelm you.
But that’s right where I want to be.