I wrote this a few years ago before I even had begun my blog. I repost it every year to celebrate the best Valentine’s Day I ever had–and there was no romantic love at all!
TWENTY THREE (really, twenty three?) years ago this week, I was a sophomore at Tulane University. A week past Valentine’s Day, I was moping about how un-Valentiney it had been. I was starting to wonder if things would ever change in that department, having never dated anyone. Yes, I’m admitting that. On top of moping about my lack of romantic interests, I was in a slump deeper than I’d felt before. Have you ever had friends but still felt lonely, or done fun things but still felt sad? That’s where I was. I needed something to change, and I wrote and prayed till I had looked at every angle of my life frontwards, backwards, and inside out. Finally, I got to a point where I could put my deepest longing into one little, yet huge word: JOY. I realized it had been incalculably long since I had felt real, honest joy. Joy outdoes happiness, it infiltrates every part of one’s mind and heart and doesn’t stop even if things aren’t going well. The problem was, I didn’t know how or where to find this elusive joy. I kept praying, more earnestly than I ever had in my life. Prayers in my journal, prayers while running, prayers watered with tears.
Around this time, two of my dorm neighbors, who appeared to be very studious, neat, and friendly guys, told me about a group they belonged to when I stopped to chat on my way back to my room. Having grown up attending and enjoying church with my family, their group sounded pretty similar–music, a message, and just a bunch of folks getting together to be friends, hang out, study the Bible, or help in the community. At this point, I worked up all the courage an introverted person can muster, and headed over to the campus chapel on a Friday evening for the next gathering. Walking into a place filled with strangers is one of the most uncomfortable situations I could be in, but I went further in. Friendly faces greeted me, introduced themselves, invited me to sit with them. This was off to a good start. Music has always had a powerful effect on me, whether as a listener or a performer. Students I’d probably passed a thousand times on my way to classes picked up guitars, drumsticks, microphones, and started making the most beautiful music I’d ever heard.
What made that music so beautiful, so profound, wasn’t necessarily their talent in making the music, though they were surely skillful. What made that music penetrate my heart in a new way was the object of their songs. I’ve sung a countless number of songs about God in my life as a church-goer and choir member. My heart was primed that night to truly “get it”, though, for the first time, what it meant to really sing TO God, not just about Him. The words were suddenly personal, like I was singing to someone I’d loved all my life but hadn’t really known. And then, I realized, I had found JOY. It wasn’t going to come from a different situation, or from a good Valentine’s Day. Joy, I realized, in its truest form, could only come from Jesus, and knowing him personally, intimately. I knew that night that he had been trying all my life to tell me how much he loved me and what he had done for me and what he wanted my life to look like.
I’m not sure that any of the others in the chapel that night knew what an important moment that had been for me. Some of them heard about it in the weeks to come as I started reading in the Bible with them more and more about what Jesus taught and did and said. My dorm room stayed the same–a messy roommate who preferred a stuffy and dark room–but I started noticing her kindness more than the closed blinds. I still didn’t have a boyfriend or anything close to one–but I was enjoying the company of my friends more than ever, and also making new, lifelong friends. My family wasn’t going to move back to Connecticut–but I was learning to be content with keeping in touch with my high school friends in other ways than seeing them, and also learning to enjoy the new home my parents and I had in Texas. I was learning that having Jesus truly abiding in my heart didn’t mean that he was going to wave a magic wand to make all the difficult parts of my life go away. No, he has much more to give than magic. He was there to stay, to transform my heart, to make it grow in different directions, to mold me, to turn my mind from focusing on myself and outward to more important things.
This is my “grace story”. I was seeking, and what I found surprised, amazed, and changed me forever. My story is not over; new lines and new plots come up continually. I still cry over things, I still experience fear, confusion, anger, hurt, frustration, laziness, and selfishness. The difference has been that when those things well up in my heart, I know where to turn, who to talk to, how to grow beyond them. Even better, it’s not just about getting past those hangups and dark feelings, it’s about living a free and abundant life–better than I could ever have imagined.
I want Jesus to get top billing in this story, because he is worthy of all my best praise and adoration. In his tender way of loving, though, another gift was given to me that night twenty three years ago: among the dozens of people I met that evening, I also shook hands with a guy who became a friend, then a boyfriend two years later, and who has been my husband since 2001. I’m so glad he was written into my grace story, and that now we can call it “our story”, with many chapters yet to come. All glory to God.
*Special thanks to my parents and all my Tulane IVCF friends, staff workers, and many wise members of a variety of churches. God used you in great ways in my life–may we all keep being available for Him to use in the grace stories of others. I love you all.*