I Love You Despite

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel up to Northern Arizona with eight rowdy high school girls so that they could hear the greatest love story ever told. My roommate dropped me off at our departure location and I was oddly distraught, playing back in my mind all of the things I should have packed, hoping that none of it was forgotten. For the record, I didn’t forget anything and was heavily over prepared (literally).

YoungLife camps are full of fun activities and beautiful scenery. They make such a wonderful testament to show that following Jesus is not a snore, and his creations are beautiful beyond measure. At a place like that, it is difficult to doubt the existence of an almighty creator. From the star-freckled sky to the cool crisp air and mature forest, He created this Earth to reflect the detail and precision that goes in to sculpting each and every one of us.

After hearing about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, my co-leader, Jessica and I asked the girls, “What does Jesus dying on the cross mean for you?” Each girl carefully and thoughtfully answered our question. It was truly moving to listen to their hearts speak words they would not have had just 48 hours before. After the last girl answered and threw the “talking stick” tissue pack back to Jessica and I they asked that we answered the question as well. What does Jesus dying on the cross mean to me? It’s a loaded question; a question I’ve surprisingly never been asked before.

Jesus dying on the cross for my sins to be forgiven means unconditional love. It means relentless love. I grew up in a Christian home, so naturally the whole “Jesus loves you” stuff has always been a part of my life. I hate that I put it that way, but that is really what it was for me for a long time–just a routine. Go to church on Sundays. Recap the sermon with my parents at brunch. Momma sings me worship songs before bed. Youth group on Wednesday night. Dad sends me texts with bible verses in them.

I thought life was perfect and I thought I was perfect until I let sinful desires rip the pen out of my hand. It didn’t need an editor for the words it would write on my life. I did something I could never take back, and I vividly remember standing at church the next Sunday during worship crying as we sang “Beautiful Things” by Gungor. Plump, warm tears trailed down my face and into the corners of my mouth. It was a taste I was familiar with. I hated that I had become so accustomed to the salty flavor of regret. I was beginning to fold into myself, letting the dark voice in the background get louder and louder with every syllable. The sanctuary where our church services took place was always wintery crisp but suddenly I felt my body warming, the tears ceasing. Hugs have always been how I feel the most love, and in that moment I had never been more reassured that The Lord was wrapping himself around me, whispering repeatedly in my ear, “I love you anyways. I love you still. I love you despite.”

Jesus dying on the cross was an outward proclamation of his inward promise. He will love us no matter how ugly our decisions are. No matter who we hand the pen of our lives to. He experienced the ultimate death that so we might experience the ultimate life. It’s a love that doesn’t settle for being lukewarm. It is intentional, relentless, and unconditional.

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