(To read this story from the beginning, start here)
I moved to Northern California in the fall of 2003. I was still broken, afraid and without a clear direction. But I had a purpose. I was hell-bent on changing my life and I knew it was a life or death decision.
I craved love, community and the ability to trust again. I should mention that once you’ve allowed yourself to be labeled a victim it’s easy to continue to live out of that. But I began to seek out people who would walk through the pain with me without judgment or trying to “fix me”. This wasn’t easy, especially in a church setting. There are WAY too many celebrate recovery programs, counseling services and the like that focus on the destructive behaviors of the person, not on the root cause. My lifestyle wasn’t the problem. My anger was. It took awhile to find a group of people who were open and willing to journey alongside me.
The following is what I slowly learned over the next 7 years.
If your enemies can make you hate them, then they have won. The choice between love and hate can be incredibly easy and…it can be extremely difficult at other times. I remember leaving New York and leaving Orange County and feeling like the choice was easy. All of these people and places had failed me. I wanted more. I had asked for more. I had given more to them and it wasn’t reciprocated.
Love can be painful — and the truest love often is. It is sacrificial, humble and long-suffering. And, ultimately, love is a choice. Our culture has taught us that love depends solely on how we’re feeling about someone, and once those feelings fade away, you should move on to the next person. But as we can see through the biblical example of God’s relationship with Israel, committed love is based on sticking to our promises. I realize now that I have to wake up every day and make the choice to love those around me and allow them to love me back. I’m going to freely admit that that’s not always easy. I love my family and friends but some days I don’t like them.
A large part of my spiritual journey and growth over the last few years has been getting back to my true identity in Christ. Allowing Him to love me and learning to love myself. Only then am I truly able to love others, regardless of what they may say or do. As I look back on my life I can easily count all the people who have disappointed me. But when I have to come to terms with how many people I’ve hurt and disappointed, it deeply saddens me. I have seen an immeasurable amount of grace and love throughout my life, no matter what I did or said.
What I’m finding is that I have set up barriers between myself and other people without even realizing it sometimes. Placed myself in a relationship of opposition. Waged unconscious wars in my heart against them. The challenge is to recognize when I am doing it. It is a tendency in myself that I must be vigilant of. I have to remember that. Bell Hooks writes, that “when we choose to love we choose to move against fear – against alienation and separation … To live our lives based on the principles of the love ethic, we have to be courageous.” What we feed will grow. If we continually “feed” our feelings of hate we will live a life controlled by fear and bitterness, if we feed on love and faith we will live a life in love and in faith.
Love truly is boundless. If you don’t believe that yet, email me and I’ll write you a long list proving that it is! Love is forgiving those that have wronged you, embracing those that seem unlovable, trusting again after you have no logical reason to, encouraging people in the midst of their suffering and rejoicing when God’s work is tangibly seen in others’ lives. Friends, if I can choose to love again, then you can as well. Regardless what your story is, no matter how broken you may feel, make the choice to love.
I can finally say that I am willing to love people the way that God does. I now see them how He sees them. It’s the only way I was later able to exchange letters with my mom’s father, stand in a room again with the man who abused me, embrace the church leaders who failed me and forgive the man who killed my mother.
Love knows no bounds. And in the end, love always wins.
(to read what happened after this story go here)