I’ve started to write this post a dozen times in as many days. I’ve looked forward to writing it for a long time, without knowing what these days would look like. This time last year, I didn’t know where my feet would wind up. Bob Goff once said that sometimes, as followers of Jesus, we get to leap before we look. This time last year, I would have put on my best game face and told you I knew what that meant. I thought I knew a lot of things back then. But the reality is that life with Jesus is an endless process of unlearning all those things you thought you knew. It is about finding your place in the tension filled days of being and becoming. Your place is in him. It has always been in him, and it will always be in him, forever and ever amen.
The Wednesday morning ladies are knee deep in the story of Gomer and Hosea. If you’ve ever doubted that scripture should be paired with fine wine, the book of Hosea will be all the convincing that you need. It is all about a man who sets out to marry an unfaithful woman just because he loves her. When she falls head over heels in love with the world and everything but her husband, he goes to find her, naked and ashamed on an auction block, and buys her back. Its a jealous scandal of a love story, and it has my name written all over its pages.
It seems so fitting that we’re studying these scriptures now. For the past 365 days, I’ve been in the woods. I used to romanticize the woods. Whenever a favorite writer of mine would talk about her own woods experience, I would nod along, totally believing that I was right there with her. I thought that just because I was in a hard season, I could name it whatever I liked, and woods was what was in vogue. I coveted the stories of those who seemed to have this whole lost and found thing all figured out, or at least more figured out than I did. But I was wrong. There is nothing romantic about being in the woods. But I’ve learned it is a place for falling in love. And I was only just receiving my own invitation.
“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her. — Hosea 2:14, NIV
The woods is where he gets you alone so he can win you back. The winning back is beautiful and victorious and everything that you just know deep down in your heart it will be, but the same thing is true for the alone part. This is the part that when you pray for it, people tell you to be careful. I never really understood why church folk will tell you to be careful what you pray for, as if God could give anything other than good gifts.
I tell you that to tell you this: I thought that moving to South Carolina would fix me. I thought it would be a fresh start, and that I could effortlessly be whoever I wanted to be. I thought South Carolina was my chance to take the pen and write a better ending.
I didn’t expect that the past year would be one of the loneliest uphill battles. I didn’t know how many times I would raise my fists at heaven and tell him he got it wrong and that we didn’t actually belong here. If we belonged here, it wouldn’t be so hard. If this is where we were supposed to be, then I shouldn’t feel so alone. I would feel seen and wanted and appreciated here if this was my intended destination. But I didn’t actually feel any of those things. Some days, I still don’t.
Yeah, that Bible — I see so much of myself in its pages. I know my lines by heart, a truth that shakes me straight down to my core.
The wilderness is the place where all our idols and identities are wrecked. It is an operating room, and make no mistake, the blade hurts like hell. I had a professor tell me once that the problem with living sacrifices is that we’re always crawling back off the altar, and now I know why that’s true.
He asks do you want identity? Find it in me.
You want peace? Find it in me.
You want beauty? Find it in me.
You want purpose? Find it in me?
You want wholeness? Find it in me.
This love, this wilderness, this healing — it isn’t the tidy kind. It is bloody and dirty and gritty like spending a fortune, a life to buy you back. Even on the days when you never asked to be saved.
Most of the days, it won’t feel like being saved. Most days, it will feel a lot like losing and being lost and there’s an enemy who would love nothing more than for you to believe that grace stops short of the end of your rope.
But it doesn’t.
I don’t know why this love. I surely didn’t earn it. It isn’t the story I would have written for myself, and I know it is far from over. Some days, I feel like the way out of the woods is so close, but then I get turned around again and he winds up saying hey, I’m not finished with you yet.
He is still naming me, still asking me to come home, even if we have to go the long way.