“And so faith, hope, love abide [faith-conviction and belief respecting man’s relation to God and divine things; hope- joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation; love- true affection for God and man, growing out of God’s love for and in us], these three; but the greatest of these is love.” -1 Corinthians 13:13
For the majority of my life, despite hearing probably hundreds of sermons on love, I viewed myself as unlovable, as an outcast. When I was in seventh grade, I usually faked sick to get out of going to church. When I did attend, I hid in the small Sunday school room drawing pictures during “Meet and Greet” until the message began. Then, I would crawl out and find a seat close enough to someone that it looked like I had friends, but not close enough that I would be looked at strangely. One day, I braved moving closer to the 7th grade girls. They wore name-brand skirts and went to private Christian schools costing more than most universities. I wore homemade dresses and was essentially homeschooled. I nervously asked, “May I sit there?”… the answer? “Oh, sorry. This seat is reserved.” An answer like that is devastating to an insecure thirteen-year-old. I think I found a seat in the back. But, slowly, the concept of a God that loved, extended grace, and cared began to feel foreign and exclusive, for girls that could reserve seats.
As the years passed, I grew more and more isolated, confused, and bitter, hiding behind various masks with different people and circumstances. Eventually, I stopped the replaced self-loathing with self-confidence. I began a quest to love other people selflessly and did lots of youth and children’s ministry work. The problem was that I still didn’t know I was loved. I felt that by loving others I would feel more loved. While helping others is extremely rewarding, the fact is that the work is tiresome, difficult, and impossible to sustain without knowing true love. It’s like having only seven puzzle pieces to a 150-piece puzzle. I couldn’t keep going on my own. I loved the idea of a life for God, but didn’t like nor understand the idea of total sacrifice. Despite trying to put God’s love in a box that I could nicely pull out when I wanted, the void and craving for love was still there… I still shouted, “Do you love me?”
One night, I embraced the lies and casually threw away all truth. I failed miserably by all Christian standards and morals that my parents and church had engrained in me is true. But it was that night along with the culmination of a hundred other significant failures, that I realized how utterly needy and weak I really was. God’s truth overcame me and I wept for days finally understanding a simple truth: I am loved, completely and unconditionally loved. Christ’s love, mercy, and freedom is everything. I am still imperfect and make a good share of mistakes, but now I am loved and it makes ALL the difference to me. My heart does not love out of perceived goodness, but out of a burning fire and desire to grow closer to my Creator. Everyday, I am renewed, clinging to His promise, His forgiveness…. His absolute love.
I photographed these kids who were standing on a wall peeking in a window to see a class where we were working with a group of village students in Lombok. They were hungry to be noticed and see what was happening in the classroom. Like all of us, hungry. I pray that you don’t stand on the wall begging to be loved… come inside. God’s love is greater; it covers all and will flip your life upside down.