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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Braces, First Kisses, Pretty Daughters...and why it is God loves us so much

This morning I took Morgan to get her braces checked. She had hoped she was getting them off today, but that was not to be. About 3 more months and then she'll be finished. She was really sad that they weren't coming off today...until they showed her the pictures from when we first began this whole process 4 years ago. Dr. Joel Cooper is a genius!
It seems like with my life the way it has been, the only real time I get with her anymore is when I take her to the orthodontist or to school. I have missed some time with her over these past 3 years living from place to place, but I've always been here for her.  Now that I am settling in again here in Nashville, things will be normal soon, but three years is a lot of time lost.
Last week, taking her to school, we talked about how she is doing right now. I asked her about school and her friends and her little brother, you know, small talk. Then I asked her about boys in her class. Was she interested in any of them, did she have a boyfriend? She let out a resigned "No" and then she said "The boys my age are stupid anyway". "Good" I thought..."That will change soon enough but one less day of boy-craziness is fine with me. " I said "Honey don't worry about are so much more mature than them right now, you're 13, there's plenty of time for that stuff" Then she looked at me and said just a little plaintively "But I haven't even had my first kiss yet." I was ready to alternately shout for joy and break down in tears. I was happy to hear that, but sad because of the pressure she must be under and the importance in this culture of the first kiss. I instantly realized this was a critical daddy-moment and I uttered a silent prayer for a wise response. "It will come in time don't kiss someone just to kiss them" was my attempt at wisdom. She said "But all my friends have already had their first kiss" I wanted to cry. Not because the thoughts of my little girl kissing a boy was sad -even though, for me, it is-- but because my daughter is living the very struggles I read about each day on the Internet or in the newspaper. How this world pressures kids into becoming adults way too soon.
Something in the way she said "But I haven't even had my first kiss..." just broke my heart. My little girl is at that stage where a lot of things are painful and awkward. She is a beautiful girl who doesn't see herself that way. She doesn't see herself as ugly -her daddy has made that impossible-- but she wrestles with the doubts that young women this age do. She often tends to be so determined not to go along with the norms for beauty and femininity that she goes 180 degrees the other way. She dresses very different from the "girly girls" in her school. She is artsy and a tremendous singer and artist. She is beautiful but she is afraid to accept it in case she is wrong about her beauty. It's a hard time for her and a hard time for a kid to be coming of age. I hate the messages this world sends. Messages from vapid synthetic stars like Miley Cyrus or pick-a-Kardashian. I wish there were some approachable, visible, young women who truly lived from a biblical world-view but were still "cool". Mostly I wish my daughter wasn't caught in this teenage time period when she is so unsure of herself. I wish I could just sweep her up into my arms and hug her tightly until she was about 20, and ready to face this nonsensical world. I wish I could absorb the blows this world hands out to 13 year old young women. I wish I could make her be 4 years old again.
I love my daughter...anyone who has spent more than 5 minutes with me knows this. But I love her a little more and I linger in our hugs and I kiss her forehead more when she is hurting. When she needs me the most is when I respond in love the most. Isn't that like God?
A friend of mine recently watched as God granted a wonderful dream come true. At a time when she yearned for hope and healing and life..God backed up the dump truck and did what God can do...He poured out His love in an unmistakable way. There was simply NO way my friend could look at what God did, at the timing, the perfection, the path it took to happen, and not say "This was God".  My friend wrestled with God's love and her (and all of our) worthiness of that love. How can God love us as He says He does when we do the things we do? God decided to answer with an exclamation point..." I don't love you because you deserve my love...I love you because you never COULD deserve my love" God loves us a dad loves his children. He especially loves us when we are broken and far from Him. When we awaken in the pig pen and look at our ragged clothing and smell the pig poop on our skin and decide we have fallen so far that even our daddy won't want us now. We are convinced He could never forgive, never heal, never restore, only to discover that this is when He loves us the most. When we need His love so desperately but are so convinced He could never love us again, it is then that we find out he never stopped!
When my daughter is confused and sad and full of doubts and fears, that's when I want to be the best dad I can be. It's not a time for ignoring her or being harsh. That's how God is too. When we are afraid, He answers our fear with His awesome love, because "perfect love throws out all fear".
I don't know where we got this misshapen idea that God only loves us when we don't need Him to. Or that we have to clean ourselves up before he will love us. Or that His love is mercurial and capricious -on one minute, off the next. The truth is that God loves us like a real daddy; without regard for the dirt on our shoes or the sweat on our forehead or the snot running from our nose. He only longs to hold us in His arms, and let us grow quiet until he can hear our heartbeat next to His...
When we come crawling to Him because we are in pain, because our job is gone, or our home is gone, or our spouse just left us. When we are worried because life hasn't graced us with our first kiss yet and we are starting to wonder whether we are as good as all the others who seem to be making out in the hallways while we pass by them on our way to choir...God pounces on us. He runs to us -the great hound of heaven-- and smothers us with love. He loves us as we are, because we are as we are. My failures don't define me, they are the reason God loves me as much as he does.
I'll close with a wonderful story from "The Ragamuffin Gospel" that Brennan Manning quoted. It is a story written in first person by a neurosurgeon who had just operated on a beautiful young woman, removing a tumor from her face...
     "I am standing with the young husband who is impatient as I gently unwrap the heavy gauze bandages from the face and head of his beautiful young wife. He is almost jittery. It has been two weeks since he has seen the whole of her face and he is almost like a groom on his honeymoon. He holds her hand to reassure her. Just two weeks ago she had come to me to remove a tumor on the left side of her face, that threatened her eyesight. The operation was a success and the tumor was benign. I unwrap the final strands of bandage and hold a mirror to her face for the young woman to see. She reaches her hand gently to her face and sees the tiny, almost imperceptible scar. The I watch as her eyes fall sullen and grow moist. Fear spreads across her face as she sees her lips as they sag on one side of her mouth. Her smile is twisted into a clownish pose with one side perfect as before and the other drooping and fallen. She clears her throat and looks at me..."Will it always be like this?" she asks  "Yes..." I begin..."You see I had to clip the nerve when I was removing the tumor and it was a delica..." My voice trailed off because what happened next was beyond words. Her young husband leaned over and took his wife's pretty face in his hands, he smiled and said "I like it...I think it's kind of cute"  then he bent in close and shaped his mouth to fit her twisted clown-lips...and he kissed her deeply.  In that kiss he restored her beauty and told her "see...your kiss still works, and I still like kissing you"
That is what God does for us. He takes off the bandages we have wrapped ourselves in to hide our faults, looks at us, decides He likes us, and then He kisses us squarely on the lips. He does this with a song, or a perfect day on the beach or an unmistakable moment with our children...or in the form of a lost love that returns after half a lifetime and brings with it more happiness than either person dreamed still existed. That is how God responds when we feel like the unlovable, unkissable, awkward kid in the schoolroom. That is how much He loves us. Not because we are perfect and beautiful...but because we are so broken and we need the love of a dad.

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