God is so good and forgiving, and He reveals His love to us in so many ways. There was a time in my life when I turned away from that goodness and tried to live my own way. Despite my rebellion, God was constantly drawing me back, and I finally repented. But I still struggled with the shame of my actions. I had a hard time forgiving myself, and subconsciously believed that God was a little hesitant to fully forgive and love me again as well. But a time came when I was in a spiritually-saturated environment, full of biblical truth and loving and supportive friends. And God got through to me, because I was finally listening. He spoke to me of forgiveness and never-ending love and belonging. He told me that I could be with Him, and I didn't have to be afraid. He gave me words and images to remember this moment of restoration and His perfect love. He gave me inspiration to write.
Here is the story that came out of that moment:
Beloved, Come Dance
She peeled her face off the concrete alleyway, bits of gravel embedded into her cheek. She blinked her gritty eyes and squinted into the pale light of early morning, trying to bring the world into focus. Beginning to sit up, a wave of nausea roiled in her stomach, making her collapse back onto her face. A headache like an ax cleaving through her skull pounded in her temples. Taking a slow, deep breath, she pushed herself up to her knees; the alleyway whirled around her from the effects of the previous night’s orgy. Come to think of it, she had no clue how she had ended up out here. But that wasn't a first.
Then, all of a sudden, it was coming and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She leaned over and puked her guts out, retching until there was nothing left. She didn't notice that her backpack was beside her until she had quite sufficiently covered it in vomit. Perfect. It probably wasn't disgusting enough already; it needed some fresh vomit to really top it off.
Closing her eyes, she worked up the strength to stand, trying to push away the nausea and aches. She shakily reached down and hoisted her sodden hiking backpack onto her shoulders. The filthy sack contained everything she owned in this world, and to be honest, she should have gotten rid of most of it ages ago, including the bag. Most of the contents were useless garbage - literal garbage. Fast food containers, dirty kleenexes, torn and dirty clothes past the point of wearing. But for various reasons - she couldn't find anywhere to leave her trash when she needed it, she didn't want to leave rotting garbage where everyone could smell it - she had held onto it all. It was a stinking, heavy burden, but it was her life and she had to carry it.
She took another breath, steeling herself, and continued on her aimless journey. The city limits approached and then faded into the distance, and still she kept walking. She stumbled through dry, rocky fields, staggering under the weight of her backpack. The pack seemed to pull down on her more with every step. Dust puffed up around her and stuck to her sweaty body, covering her in a layer of grime. Her sandaled feet scraped against the rocks, and a few times she fell and bashed her shins. But still she kept walking.
She had been walking for months. Over a year now. Carrying her ever-increasing burden with her. It seemed even heavier when she thought of where she had come from. She had a good life before, with people who cared for her. Or at least took care of her. But that life had gotten to be dull, routine. When she had looked at the excitement and adventures waiting for her out in the world, she had wanted that more than anything. So she left. Stupid girl. She knew nothing of the world. It had kicked her until she was down, and then kept on kicking. She tried to convince herself it still had good things to offer, but its intense momentary pleasures didn't begin to compare with the constant, quiet joy she had at home. But she tried not to think of home too often - it made it nearly impossible to carry on. She could never go back. She had angered her family, she was sure of it. They would reject her if she tried to go home. So she chose to struggle through life on her own.
As she stumbled along in her reverie of thought, she failed to notice the giant mud hole in her path. Tripping on a rock, she plunged head first into the mud. She sat in the mud hole, her hair dripping with filthy water. She wanted nothing more than to simply collapse and sob her eyes out until no more tears were left. But she had to be stronger than that. She had to be - The tears came and there was no stopping them. She sobbed and sobbed, letting out all her sadness and frustration in a flood of self-pity. The tears flowed uncontrollably, making tracks down her muddy face. Hours later, she finally ran out of tears, and remained in the mud, utterly hopeless.
Finally she began to look around at her surroundings, and her stomach twisted in a knot when she realized where she was. Beyond the mud hole, a beautiful grassy knoll spread out before her, giving way to a lush forest on one side, and a hill topped with a welcoming castle on the other side. Or at least the castle would have seemed welcoming to anyone else. For her it held a sense of cold judgement - it was her home.
As she gazed at the home she had left, she could see figures moving around outside and inside. Her brothers carousing together and her sisters floating around in beautiful gowns. She yearned to be dressed in one of those gowns again, not for the beauty, but for what they represented. Belonging. Love. Wholeness. But it was pointless to even dream about. She had chosen to leave, disobeying her father, abandoning her family, ignoring their attempts to reach out, and finally cutting all ties. The bonds were severed, she had destroyed that forever. And the life she had been living since going out on her own was despicable. If they knew even half the things she had done, they would never consider letting her come back. They would be repulsed and disgusted. Even glad that she left. No, it was too late to go back. She was looking for love, but this was not the place to find it.
Yet she sat, gazing at the castle, picturing the flowing gowns. She just wanted to be whole again. To wipe the past away. Start again. But the stain ran too deep; the scars were permanent. She tried to push the thought of the dresses from her mind. Yet she sat.
"I have your dress right here."
She jumped. She hadn't heard anyone approaching. Looking up to where the soft voice had come from, she realized who it was and quickly averted her eyes. She couldn't think of anything to say to him. The mud at her feet suddenly became very interesting. What was he doing here? Why was he talking to her? Wait, what was it he had said?
"Daughter." His tender voice brought tears of shame to her eyes. "I have your dress right here."
"Don't call me that," she whispered past the knot of emotion lodged in her throat.
"You are my daughter. I will only ever call you what you are."
She still refused to look up. His voice was so loving, but that didn't match with the picture of his accusing eyes she had in her head. Why was he saying these things? Perhaps he meant to lull her into believing he still loved her and then he was going to hurt her like she had hurt him. Deciding to just get it over with, she turned her face to look at him. She was taken aback at what she saw. Tears in his eyes. He was holding a beautiful pure white gown out to her, pleading with her to accept it.
"Daughter, I love you. I have missed you." His voice was sincere. He was so straightforward, he couldn't possibly be anything but sincere.
She thought she had run out of tears, but they began to fall down her face anew. "You don't know what I've done. I don't deserve your love. You can't - you can't love me anymore."
He smiled kindly down at her. "I think I can decide that for myself."
How was he so calm? And so caring? He should be yelling and screaming at her for running away, for disregarding all he had ever taught her. Making her feel guilty for the pain she had caused him. Telling her to leave, since that was what she wanted. Why did it seem like he had been out here waiting for her to come home all along?
"No, you don't understand," she insisted, growing adamant. "The things I've done...they're too terrible, too disgusting. Unforgivable! You can't imagine - "
"Daughter. Nothing you can do is greater than my love. Don't you understand? You are mine. Nothing you can do will ever change my love for you. You are my daughter, and I love you."
"But...the things I've done..." she protested. His voice was so full of love. She knew he spoke the truth, but she was so hesitant to accept it. She couldn't understand why he still wanted to love her so badly. She didn't deserve it. Didn't he know what a despicable human being she was? "Horrible, unforgivable things! I want you to forgive me, but you can't!"
"I forgive you."
He said it so simply. Like it was nothing groundbreaking, just a mere statement of fact.
"But..." It didn't make sense. It made no sense! How could he forgive her and love her and offer her a home again? Wasn't he afraid she would throw it back in his face again? She had messed up, big time. What if she messed up again?
"Daughter, I forgive you. I love you. I have your dress right here. Come home." His voice was full of pain, not because she had left, but because she would not accept his love now that she was back. He spoke so ardently.
She could feel the walls around her heart crumbling. The walls she had worked so hard to put up. She was scared to let him in. She had accepted what she thought was love before, and had been hurt. So many times. She could feel herself retreating again, pulling away.
"Daughter," he whispered, holding out his hand. This was it. She had to choose now. And then it dawned on her. She saw nothing but truth in him. What was she afraid of? He loved her. He loved her. He loved her. Slowly, she reached out her hand and allowed him to lift her up.
At his touch, all the mud and grime fell away. Her tangled hair smoothed out and the sparkling white gown swirled around her feet. She gasped - she had forgotten what it felt like to be so completely clean. A small smile spread across her face and she hesitantly looked up into his eyes. They were sparkling with excitement, crinkled at the corners with his joyous smile.
Remembering her backpack, she reached down to pick it up and he chuckled, smiling kindly.
"What are you doing?"
"Well...these are my things," she said, slightly baffled.
"Do you want them?"
She paused, taken aback by the question. "These...these are my things," she repeated.
"Do you want them?" he asked again.
This time she stopped, thinking. No, she didn't want them. They weren't really things anymore anyways. It was all just trash, stinking, heavy trash, that she had been longing to get rid of for months. Nothing but a burden of her past.
"No, I don't," she whispered.
He reached down to take it from her, and she snatched it away. "No, you don't have to do that. I can take care of it." She looked around for a garbage bin, or a place to stash it for later. "I'll just take it. You don't need to worry about it."
"I'm not worried about it. I'm worried about you. You've been carrying that for too long. Let me take it for you." His eyes were so full of love and truth, she felt compelled to believe him. The backpack strap slipped from her fingers. He reached down and picked it up...and it was gone. All of it, just gone. A warm feeling of weightlessness spread through her. Finally, she felt free.
"Come rest, beloved." He led her over to the shade of a tree and sat down with her. Sitting down and leaning against him, she realized just how exhausted she was. She had been running for so long. The peace and contentment she felt just sitting here, being with him, was indescribably wonderful.
Now she couldn't keep the smile off her face. She was clean! She was free! She was loved! The excitement and joy she felt was growing, building in her heart. The elation she felt was so overwhelming, she needed to let it out.
"Beloved," he whispered, leaning his head down towards her.
"Yes, father?" she beamed up at him.
He smiled with pleasure. "Beloved, come dance with me." He pointed up to the castle, from where she could now hear melodious strains of music drifting. She jumped up in agreement, and, holding hands, they ran up to the castle together.
Reaching the edge of the dance floor, she suddenly grew nervous. There were so many couples on the dance floor already. And it had been such a long time since she had danced. Many girls were standing around, waiting for dance partners. Her father would want everyone to get out and dance; he wouldn't have that much time for her. She started to move for a place to sit down, to get out of the way and let her father do his duty as host. He grabbed her hand, stopping her.
"Come dance with me." He smiled at her hopefully.
She smiled back, feeling the warmth of being chosen and wanted. He led her out to the dance floor for a spirited dance. They danced the night away together, waltzing, spinning, laughing. She had forgotten how good of a dancer her father was. His motions were effortless and they glided across the dance floor in tandem. It felt so good to dance!
Even after all this, knowing that he loved her and wanted her here, she was still a little afraid. It was so hard to accept love as it was, without a hint of fear of being hurt. She was so hesitant to give her whole heart completely.
"Beloved," he whispered, as he pulled her into a tight embrace. One that made her feel such an assurance of love and safety as she had never felt before. "Beloved, I will never hurt you."
She was whole.
God Speaks Redemption
What God spoke to me during that time is a message that I cling to. When I feel like I've failed once again, when I don't feel good enough to be loved, God reminds me I don't have to earn His love - I just have it.
What about you? Is there a particular word or phrase or verse or image that God has given you that encourages you?