I love you. All of you.

That’s right.

I love you.

I love you so much it actually hurts, sometimes.

My heart aches because I can’t speak to you as loudly as I want to, or you’ll run away.

I can’t reach your heart. I can’t make you hear me.

My quiet pleading. My careful leading. I can’t make you notice.

I don’t know what to do. I feel so helpless, sometimes.

See, when I was 15 I was ruled by sweepingly-emotional, full-blast teen angst that couldn’t be tamed. My heart belonged to lyricists I’d never met, most dead from drug overdoses or suicides, singing me lullabies of lies each night. My headphones, mix tapes and CDs–my only trusted friends; my parents–my enemies; and my friends–all that mattered. I lived for myself. My own wants and needs, which I felt were rarely met. My own pleasure and happiness, which eluded me for two desperate years.  I just wanted more. I wanted better. I wanted meaning. I wanted truth. I wanted peace.

I’d never known meaning. I didn’t know what truth was. The only peace I’d encountered in those years had been momentary. So I went searching. I tested out Buddhist ideas. I was AOL Chat buddies with a girl in New York City whose family was part of the Jain faith, so I tried that on for awhile. It was the late 90’s, so of course I dabbled in Wicca. I tried on Athiesm. Agnosticism. When Godlessness failed me, I tried on the Christianity of my Lutheran youth. I found the children’s Bible my godfather and uncle Mike had given me at my infant baptism. I read the King James Version of the creation story in Genesis. As a first step toward meaning, truth, and peace, I decided that I would just turn my eyes toward the God I grew up with and see what happened. Almost like a test. I didn’t know much about Him except what I’d heard in church–“God’s gave his one and only son Jesus to die on the cross to save us from our sins.” I had no idea what that meant, whether it even happened, why it had to happen and if it had anything to do with me. It was just what they said in church. A historic event with no significance to my life. Why did I need saving?

What I didn’t realize yet was that I did need saving. Desperately. From things that had overtaken me and prevented me from seeing clearly–Selfishness. Hatred (of self, mainly). When I looked at myself, I had absolutely no worth whatsoever. I saw myself as garbage. Throwaway. Worthless. No one would miss me if I were gone. While I hated on myself hard, I was desperate for love. For acceptance. For worth. Where I lived emotionally and mentally during that time in my life broke God’s heart. I know this now, but then–I couldn’t see past my feelings. I was in too much pain and the untruths I’d clutched to for so long kept me bound in the darkest of places. I was far from God…but he was never far from me.

As I took a tiny step toward the God I knew of as a child, I could’ve never guessed where my life would lead. First, my friend group fell apart. Next, I did something I would’ve never had the courage to do without the urging of a special friend–I tried out for musical theatre at school and ended up getting a brand new circle of friends through that experience. I was invited to camp with my area’s Young Life chapter that Summer, where I heard the story of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins for the 100th time in my life.

I was in a much lighter place by then. My clothes were less black. My friendships were fresh and affirming. My smile was more frequent. This time, when I heard that story of Jesus’ death, the person speaking said something I’d never heard before. She said, “When Jesus agreed to be prosecuted, punished and killed, he thought of you. He had your name on his lips. He had your face in his mind when he closed his eyes. He loved you so much. He was willing to go through it all just for you.” My eyes welled up and I sobbed. I went outside of the meeting area, laid on the bright green grass, stared up at the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds. Tears streamed down the sides of my face into my ears. My heart was full of love. I loved Jesus. I loved him back. And I overflowed with it. I talked to him for the first time in years. I spent the rest of the day crying over the fact that I’d waited so long to see Him, to run to Him, to notice Him, to feel His love.

I had worth.

I knew truth.

I found meaning.

I felt peace.

That was 2000. Fourteen years later, I still have those things. Worth, truth, meaning and peace. And none of it has to do with me. It’s all Him.

 

So here I reach the main point of this post.

God loved me so much that he gave his only son to die, for me, Andrea, with his heart full of love beyond my human comprehension.

I am filled with that love, I feel it toward my God and it spills over to everyone I meet.

I love you. Yes, you. And for as much as that four-letter word gets thrown around these days–I don’t love you like I love white wine in the Summer. I love you like family. Because you are.

If you’ve made it this far into this post and you aren’t into church, or if you don’t believe God exists at all, or if you think Jesus’ death was merely a historical event without relevance for any of our present day trials and tribulations–I’m grateful you’ve spent this time listening to my story. And I want to talk to you specifically, right now.

I love you the most. My love for you is the most intense.

When I hear you say that you don’t believe in God,

that all of this is happenstance,

that we’re on our own,

that life sucks then you die,

that there’s no plan for our lives,

that you’d rather do your own thing,

that you don’t see a need for a savior,

that you’re perfectly fine as you are,

that you don’t need to grow in faith at a church because your God is the forest, your hunting rifle, your guitar, your garden, your children, your family or your job,

that you’re humanist/athiest/agnostic/your own brand of religion,

that you’re just not interested in talking about God,

 

my heart aches.

 

Not because I think you’re wrong. Not because my allegiance appears to lie with an institution you’ve shunned like a political party. Not because I’m worried you’re going to Hell or you’re doing it all wrong.

My heart aches because of the peace. the relief. the lightness. the guidance. the comfort. the assurance. the surprises. the joy. the blessings. the solidarity. the truth. the meaning. all I’ve ever searched for. 

 

I found it.

And I want it for you, too.

So my heart aches.

 

I want you to feel this. Place your hand on my heart and feel it beating hard and passionate. Look in my eyes and see no remnants of the pain and desperation of my youth. Place your hands on my cheeks and feel the tears I once strained for, flowing freely, spurred by joy and not sadness.

Life’s not a cakewalk. In fact, it’s harder with Jesus in it. But it’s worth it. Because without Him, it’s all about me. And I know what life lived for myself feels like. And I believe that for everyone, life lived for yourself will eventually come up empty. Teen or tween, grandma or great-grandpa. This is true. I know it, because I lived it.

I love you.

So much it hurts.

I promise there’s more.

There’s better.

Real truth.

 

There’s peace.

Give Him a chance. Just look toward Him and see if He’s there. You don’t have to clean up. You don’t even have to believe. Just walk toward Him.

For me?

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Where else can you go?

John 6:68 (NLT)
60Many of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?”
61Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, Does this offend you? 62Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? 63The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But some of you do not believe me.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.) 65Then he said, “That is why I said that people can’t come to me unless the Father gives them to me.”
66At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him. 67Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
68Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.
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