When I was fifteen, I preached a sermon on love. I didn't volunteer to do it. I was singled out as the most viable candidate in my youth group of about nine teenagers who attended the small Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas. Our pastor wanted the youth to provide the Sunday service. The other kids said to me, "You're taking a speech class at school, this will be good practice." Though I felt reluctant to get up in front of the congregation and open my mouth, even then there was a part of me that understood that God yearned to show His love to people. I met with the pastor and he asked me why I'd chosen the topic of love. "What do you plan to say?" There I sat in his office, wearing my bell bottoms and tie-dyed T-Shirt, my hair freshly ironed to keep it straight and sleek. The year was 1970. This man with a PhD in divinity, Dr. Hunt, asking me what I'd say about God's love. Inside I laughed. But I barreled forth in youthful enthusiasm and naivete. "A lot of the time I sense God is with me. I feel as if he whispers words of encouragment to me in school. Helps me pass tests. Helps me be brave. When my boyfriend broke up with me, I felt like He held my hand. I mean, not really, but I just felt better knowing God was in my life. It's sometimes hard to explain, but I know He's there somehow. I am the one that walks away from Him, but I never feel as if when I walk back to HIm that I'm rejected. He welcomes me back. I play the flute in the band at school. I usually don't like the music we have to memorize for marching, but I've been playing this nocturne over and over. The music reminds me of God. His gentleness. His tenderness. The world can be is so ugly, Dr. Hunt. God's love and presnece in my life is sometimes the only thing that makes sense."
Dr. Hunt sat before me, hands clasped under his chin, his pale blue eyes looking directly into mine. He nodded his head and said, "I see that you understand God's love very well. I believe you will provide just what our congregation needs to hear. You go home and put this into writing and come back next week and you can practice what you'll say at the podium." That Sunday, my knees shaking, but my voice clear, I spoke to the people and assured them that God's love never quits, even in the midst of sickness and sorrow, even in the midst of celebration and rejoicing. Wherever they were on their journey, He continued to whisper that He was present and loved them, would help, support and comfort, would sing hallelujahs with them in the good times. Hold their hands.
My view and experience with God has not changed much since I was fifteen. He remains my truest friend now in my senior years. I don't have my flute anymore, but if I did, I'd play that nocturne and think of His kindness toward me. I still wander off the trail in this noisy, painful culture, my back pushed up against a wall at times, but then I hear Him whisper from a wide, open space. "Remember you are my beloved. Come closer. I've missed you."