Living In Love With God: What I've Learned As A Childhood Sweetheart

I met my husband as a fresh-faced thirteen year old wearing old-lady polka-dotted culottes, pantyhose, and white heels after labor day. It was a Friday night and despite a football game invitation from friends, I followed my parents to a gospel meeting (a revival of sorts) at a church across town.

Justin was fifteen, tall, and blue-blue-eyed; I watched out of the corner of my eye as he pushed an elderly woman in a wheelchair to her seat at the front of his church. A friend I hadn’t seen in years sat next to me. She pointed and said, “That’s my brother.”

After worship, my mom cornered he and his friends and invited them to a party she made up on the spot while I stood carefully on the edge of the conversation. I rode home thinking, “Hmm…”

I fell in love with 15 year old Justin during a water balloon game at the party my mom had invented when it became immediately apparent, he and I tossing an already-popped balloon with unfailing gusto, that we were ready-made partners.

Last October marked eighteen years that have come and gone between that moment and this one, and I’m sure, so sure, that it has always, always been love. 

When I type “love” my fingers hesitate, knowing the layered load those four letters carry, saddled with baggage, beautifully heavy and unbearably light. When I say love sometimes I mean admiration. Sometimes I mean chemistry. Sometimes I mean commitment. Often I mean the giving of one’s self described by Paul in I Corinthians. I’ve said before that love is a choice. I think that’s true. And totally false.

But here, in this case, at this pinprick of a moment, what I mean when I talk about love is something like what the Lumineers sing. I mean that over a water balloon I began to belong. Not so much to. But with.

A connection was born. And for eighteen years, I’ve watch it grow and deepen and strengthen. And sometimes wain. 

Nobody believes me when I tell them my husband and I met during the fall of my eighth grade year. 

They’re similarly surprised when they find out I was baptized at nine—that even then I’d been trying to convince my family to let me in the water for two years. I’d fallen in love—puppy love, maybe, but love for sure. I’d decided I belonged with God.

I’ve loved Justin for a long time. I’ve loved God for much longer. 

I’m sharing this today because I want to write a few posts about loving God. And I’m going to frame those posts in light of my relationship with my husband. Because loving God and loving Justin have been surprisingly similar endeavors—long-running, hard and easy, grace-giving and grace-requiring, filling and emptying, joy-soaked and tear-stained endeavors.

The first commandment is this: To love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. 

I read those words on a good day, on a day when the sun is shining and scripture is singing and I’ve seen a double rainbow and I think, “Who needs a commandment to love God?” 

And then some days, tired, confused, overworked, over-scheduled, and hurt, I hear those words and wonder, “How can God command me to love Him?”

In the next few posts I want to talk about how to love God like He promises we can—with a whole-hearted, soul-stretching, single-minded, full-bodied love.