The thing is, I’ve been through all this before. About 8 years ago, my life flipped upside down. (If you’ve been following the “What Writing Means to Me” series, you’ll know my most recent post in that series began to cover this.) Out of one paradigm-shattering experience—that of reading a book—I began a life journey that still hasn’t finished and I guess could be classified under the ornate, kaleidoscopic umbrella of what I’ve now termed “falling into love.”
About two years into this journey, my then-husband and I moved to the beach to be nearer the fire academy he had to complete for his fire school program. We were in need of a church, and some good friends suggested Rock Harbor. At the time, Rock Harbor was a church about three years old, had about 2,000 regular attenders, and was under the leadership of its founding pastor. Now, six years later, its membership climbs upwards of 5,000 every Sunday, spread out over seven distinct and vibrant services, has moved to a team leadership model, and has finally inhabited a building it can, and does, call home—a chock-a-block-style warehouse in one industrial neighborhood of Costa Mesa, California, the insides of which were gutted and completely redesigned in vintage urban style by the skilled and artistic hands of Rock Harbor’s very own volunteers.
Then as now, the truth of attending that church was the same: in order to find community, you have to do more than show up on Sundays. So we joined a life group that met on Wednesday nights in someone’s home. At the first meeting, I was dismayed to find people ranging in age from 20 to 50, to find well-seasoned parents and brand-newly-weds, to find singles as often as I found couples married upwards of 15 years. Having been used to groups that clustered around the “life phase” model—college-agers meeting with other college-agers, new-marrieds meeting with other new-marrieds, and so on—this was quite an adjustment of style, and I wasn’t sure I would like it.
But I’m really glad God opened me up to “doing life” with that whole host of folks. It was exactly what I needed right then, when I was starting this long process of unlearning how to perform in order to receive life from the vantage point of grace. That diverse and eclectic group of weekly company helped me see that human beings are, in fact, brilliantly stunning. That they are unique and they are soulful. That they are bizarre and they are funny. That they are caring and suffering and kind and forgiving, too. And that they are, each and every one, learning to walk this journey home. Just like me.
This experience of weekly life with that small group is where God began showing me how to love people right where they are—to let them be themselves, because their selves engender wonder. To listen to their stories and their struggles and their joys, because these lay bare the truest mirrors of their souls, souls that are wrapped in tender sleeves of skin that won’t be born in any other form again, ever.
This is a big part of what “falling into love” really means, I think. Not that I’m an expert on loving people the way God loves them, of course, but I’ve found there’s a certain grace extended—a grace that’s born of heaven, I believe—when we allow others the space and freedom to be exactly where they are, right now, in this very moment. A grace unburdened by expectation. A love that delights in the brilliance of that person’s beauty, which is the beauty of the Lord shining in and out of them. They are, in fact, the image of God made flesh, and dwelling among us.
Finally, when it comes to God offering us this kind of love, we get love in its highest form, perfected and rained down from on high. This love encompasses our entire being whether we know it does this or not, every moment of every day of every year of our lives. And this love waits quietly, patiently, givingly, for us to fall backward into its extravagant, billowing pillow once we have given up trying to achieve some other cheap form of a high somewhere else. And that’s what I’m learning to do right now.