Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chapter 17

17.  Understanding Redemptive Love
While it is true that many changes had begun in my life and in my heart, I still wanted to find a way to have fun yet still honor the Lord.  I guessed that I could still go out to listen to good music at a restaurant or bar, or perhaps even go dancing at a club as long as I didn’t drink too much alcohol and flirt.  When I arrived back in California my girl friend and I went to a place where there was a DJ and had some fun just dancing.  But soon our fun was ruined because one of the other patrons there decided we wanted to dance with him.  We let him dance near us for a while but when he put his hands on my hips and got too close to me, I shoved him away with all the strength I had. In anticipation of a problem, I saw several huge guys stand up around the club, watching to see if this man would retaliate against me. Fortunately for him, he backed away from us. Still, our night of fun girl-time was ruined and we left immediately for home.  I have realized since then that I can indeed have fun and honor the Lord, even while dancing, but it has taken me quite a long time to figure out the proper ways to present myself and the fun I’d like to have.

I looked forward to the promise Mario had made me earlier in the month.  My friend and her mother helped me do my makeup and hair the night Mario came to pick me up.  I had brought with me a royal blue cocktail dress, empire waist with sparkles on top and silky skirt on bottom. I would be lying if I said it was a proper skirt length but my goodness, I looked GOOD in it. I was so nervous about going out with my friend, who had quickly become my best friend, and yet had no idea why. For heaven's sake, I couldn't even eat a bowl of Kraft macaroni and cheese and that's saying something there.

“What in the world is my problem?” I asked the ladies.  They just giggled and shrugged their shoulders.  When Mario knocked on the door I took a deep breath, smoothed my skirt and opened the door.  Stepping back to look at me, Mario shook his head and gave a surprised whistle.  Immediately feeling fantastic about everything and smiling at him, I turned to wave at my friends.  Winking at me, they closed the door behind me and I was off on my first date in about eight months.

Mario took me to a place in Fresno, a popular blues spot where some of his cronies would be playing that evening and where I ate calamari for the first time ever.  I was amazed when we walked in and the band members shouted out Mario’s name.  They were still setting up and as he greeted them one by one I realized he must be something special.  These guys were all in their 40’s and 50’s yet they treated him as an equal.  After our appetizers were served, I found out exactly why.  The band leader called Mario up to play and sing with them as a special guest.  The little crowd gathered there went nuts.  I had heard Mario play and sing before but not like that.  He was in his element and it was amazing.  When he came to sit back down with me, I noticed all the other ladies in the place looking at him a little differently, sending flirtatious looks and comments his way.  
I was astonished at the jealous feelings that came over me.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “what’s going on here?”  I decided I was just being over-protective of him and made up my mind to thoroughly enjoy this evening with my best buddy. And when Mario took me home that night, I slept wonderfully.

A few days later all the full-time teams met again at the ministry office and loaded our bags and selves back onto our buses.  We went up to the summer rehearsal camp for a bit, each full-time team practicing alone and also with the summer teams.  Then off we headed for our summer tour.  That June through August 1997 would take us through the western United States and up through Canada to the Northwest Territories.  I had never been to see that part of our country before and I knew it was going to be beautiful.  

I was still playing the keyboards and very much enjoyed being a part of the little orchestra.  Some of our teammates had been moved to summer teams and our bus was hosting a slightly smaller group of people.  But we were a family and were learning how to navigate through our individual quirks, occasional disagreements and felt very blessed to have so much talent in one spot.  God seemed to have truly appointed each of us to be there for that specific time.

My health was definitely much better than it had been overseas but I still dealt with the core issues that fear was causing.  From time to time I experienced bouts of emotional distress and of course, there was still the bothersome gastric nonsense.  The ministry time was sweet and precious that summer.  The Lord spoke through me to a group of teenage girls in Seattle, Washington about anorexia and I was able to pray with some of them.  I met several women who were involved in ungodly relationships or who felt unworthy to be loved either by man or by God.  He caused me to use my experiences to minister to them and in so doing further my own personal healing.

I remember one particular evening in the Northwest Territories.  We were in a tiny little church and during the rehearsal I’d had a disagreement with one of the other girls.  Something about I didn’t like her attitude toward me and she didn’t like my tone of voice toward her.  Ridiculous and petty but quite human and kind of normal for being stuck on a bus together.  My heart was still broken about many things.  I was constantly reliving the choices I had made in my recent past, feeling great guilt and condemnation.  Leigh and Nicole had prayed with me and encouraged me as much as they could but I still needed a special touch from the Lord.  It was one of those nights when I had nothing left to give and was feeling spiritually exhausted.  I cried out to the Lord during the prayer time portion of the concert instead of going out to pray with the others.  “Father, Abba, I cry out to You tonight,” I quietly cried.  “I ask You to help me feel Your presence, to accept Your forgiveness and to understand the depth of Your love for me.” Tears streamed down my cheeks as I waited for His presence to overwhelm me.

Putting my hands over my face, as I sought the Lord I felt someone wrap arms around me.  After a moment of letting myself feel loved, I peeked between my fingers expecting to see Leigh there. But there was no one near.  No one was touching me yet I felt physically surrounded by arms of strength, forgiveness and love.  Breathing deeply, I closed my eyes and for once just accepted God’s peace.  I let His love and the knowledge of His redemption pour through my heart and mind, cleaning out all the left-over cobwebs and ugly corners.  

That night I dreamed that I jumped off a cliff into a churning ocean.  The hopelessness and despair sucked me down, down, down into the depths.  But as I looked up at the waning light I felt a sudden shift and a change in direction.  Instead of getting further away from the light, I was literally hurtling toward it.   Soon I was spewed out of the depths, the cold desperate waves and was lying breathless on the shore.  The sensation woke me up and I believed that I had finally been washed clean and had a new life, a new heart for the Lord.

I wish I could say that everyone noticed a change in me immediately but unfortunately that is not the case.  Humans change slowly but as long as we are willing, God makes all things good both for us and through us.  As the days passed I realized that I still felt unworthy in many ways but that the good work He had begun would one day be completed (Philippians 1:6).  Fear still had its hold in my heart but I knew now that when I ran to God, He had all the tools I needed to fight it.  He was already preparing a way to victory for me even then.

The friendships I made that summer on the road have lasted and I cherish each one.  I became even closer to Leigh, Nicole and Mario.  One morning in late July, deep into the Northwest Territories, I opened my eyes and had a sudden realization.  “Oh my goodness.  I’m in love with Mario.”  Never in a million years would I have ever suspected that I harbored those feelings.  Sure, I loved the attention he gave me and I was jealous and protective of him.  But surely that didn’t mean love.  Yet that morning, I knew with all my heart that I’d fallen for a Godly, talented, beautiful man.  I was so excited to get ready and get to that bus to share my "aha" moment with him. Yet when I told him of my newfound feelings later that day in a private moment, he was not too excited.  His exact words were, "Oh Man!" Undeterred I asked him why.  He said, “it’s not that I don’t love you.  But I’m a team leader and you just broke all the rules by telling me this.  Have you told our director?”  I laughed and with a very high degree of attitude said, "no but you can tell the director anything you like. He already thinks I'm a slut."

Frustrated, Mario did tell our director who was absolutely furious.  He told Mario to avoid me at all costs, since I was probably just playing with his emotions and would drop him when the tour was over.  When I heard that I was so angry and it nearly undid all the things I had only recently learned about God.  I was already feeling unworthy of receiving love from a man of God based on past decisions I’d made.  I shared those thoughts with Mario and he went home after one of our concerts to pray for me. The next morning on the bus he took me aside and simply replied, “Angel, if God can forgive you then who am I?  I am not bigger and better than God to decide not to forgive you.”  And that was when I fully understood what redemptive love truly meant.  That Jesus didn’t die for everyone except me, He died even for me.  He paid a price that I was completely unable to pay so that I could be forgiven, loved and free (Hebrews 10:10). Nothing I could do would change that or make Him love me more. His love is not based on my performance or perfect facade but rather on the fact that I desperately need a Savior.

My director and I agreed to sit down and have a chat.  I shared my heart with him, this time telling him the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I held nothing back, explaining that although my passive behavior and thoughtless flirting had led another male teammate to believe I had a romantic interest in him I had no such interest.  I reminded him that Mario and I had become good friends and that I was just as surprised as either of them that I felt so strongly for Mario. I told him that I appreciated his concern and I was willing to submit to his instruction if he was willing to seek the Lord for further direction.  Since the summer tour was ending in one week we agreed to meet again in a few weeks, after praying separately about the issue, just before the fall ministry began to discuss the matter further.

Meanwhile, Mario and I decided that instead of taking a full 2 week break at home, I would come back early to California again so that we could spend some quality time together.  Each August before the break, all the teams would come together and perform a Homecoming concert, giving all the California supporters and families a chance to see the ministry up close.  Afterward, many of us would get together at hotels, at restaurants or in homes to visit with each other before flights home the next morning.  Mario and I went out to eat with a bunch of our friends and then took off for some time alone.  He drove me around town showing me his old hang-outs, old houses, his school.  We stayed up very late and he took me back to the hotel so I could pack up my things. Unfortunately, we had stayed up so late I wasn't able to get any sleep and left about an hour later than I should have for my flight.  Driving me to the airport as quickly as he could, we talked and talked, making our plans for my early return.

I nervously watched the clock as we drove to Fresno from Visalia and I knew I would barely make it in time for my flight, if at all. Now, I'm usually a very timely person but as the previous chapters indicated when I'm in love, I can't seem to tell time at all and am always late. Whether for curfew or, apparently, for a flight. As soon as I hit the doors of the terminal, I dropped every bag but one and quickly kissing Mario, ran for the security check while yelling back for him to UPS my bags to me. I had pre-printed my boarding pass and squeezed through security just in time to see my airplane pulling away from the jetway. I MISSED MY FLIGHT! Though I'm heartily amused today looking back at it, at the time I was mortified. How on earth would my parents feel about me missing a flight because of a boy when they used to ground me for being late for curfew? It mattered not to me that I was 20 years old. I felt like a schoolgirl again caught doing something wrong.  

So, I went back to the airline desk at the front and found Mario just sitting there with my luggage all around him. Apparently he knew I wouldn't make the flight and patiently decided to wait until I knew it too. Surprised that he was still there, I melted into his arms and cried like that little schoolgirl. Patting my head and reassuring me, he helped me gather my things and we transferred my missed flight to another ticket for the next flight out. Then he stood next to me as I called my parents to tell them of the travel changes. Funny but they didn't respond badly at all. All that worry for nothing. As usual. He then took me to lunch and got me safely on the next flight out to Michigan. What a man!

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