So, miracles happened last weekend at Steadfast: Youth Encounter 14 🙂
The past month was a blur of preparations, but the victory was well worth the physical, spiritual, and emotional battle. This year, YE season was a whole new experience for me because on top of committing to Praise practices, I also said yes to give the Love Talk (!!!!)
When Miel first asked me to give the talk, I said yes even if I was downright terrified of doing so. I almost said no too because well, #1 Public speaking isn’t really within my comfort zone (yet) and #2 Who am I to be talking about love?!
But I said yes anyway, trusting that God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. For weeks I prayed to be emptied of myself so I could be filled with more of Him. Less of me, more of You. On late nights, I wrote my points in silence praying to hear His voice despite the fear and uncertainty ringing loud in my ears. In the final days, practicing in front of others always made me want to hide but in vulnerability I found His strength. My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me.
And like the faithful God that He is, on that Saturday morning He showed up in me with wisdom and courage I didn’t know I had.
I gave the talk as a 3 part story about:
- How I fell in love,
- How I was found in love,
- How love found its way back into my life, coming full circle with:
- The best kind of love
Starting with a throwback to my childhood, my idea of God back then was Him being an imaginary Big Guy up in the sky. This all changed when I eventually joined the Youth Encounter 8 Weekend when I was 16.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that retreat was the start of something new for me and God—it was the first time that Big Guy in the sky came down and invited me into a personal relationship with Him. (And yes, but little did I know too that He was planting seeds of love in my life then because that retreat was also where I met Marco, who became my boyfriend five years later.)
But long before that love story bloomed, my first love story was about falling in love with God, despite the heartaches and storms that rolled into my life later on.
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. (Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ) I shared this love lesson because well, everybody wants to fall in love! But the truth is, falling in love starts with finding God. It explains why I ended up staying in the Youth, because I found Him in this community. Serving in the Youth over the years made the falling in love/getting to know God phase an easy and natural process for me.
But the staying in love part? I discovered it was a completely different journey that required my constant effort to stay connected even when I couldn’t “feel” His presence in my life. And because I’m just as imperfect as the next person, I eventually fell into a cycle of sin and shame that led to me hiding from God instead of running towards Him.
In college, I got even better at hiding from God by constantly losing myself to busyness, distractions, and a long phase of wild partying. But these things couldn’t fill the God-shaped hole that grew in my heart, nor could they numb the sadness I felt from being in constant battle with my parents over my own recklessness. Throughout these storms, I was still showing up at church, singing praises with a bright smile. But when we’d turn off lights to worship, my prayer would come from a place of brokenness, desperately hoping that God could still love the ugliness I felt inside. The more I lived this double life, the more I felt that nobody could possibly love me.
For a long time, I got used to this kind of life until I finally hit rock bottom. On one occasion, I got hospitalized for alcohol poisoning because I just really went too far in my recklessness this time. My parents were so ashamed of me. And I was so deeply ashamed that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) get myself out of bed for two days. In my darkest and loneliest moment, I found myself in surrender saying, “OK God, I can’t do this by myself anymore. This is me with all my mistakes and failures saying, I need you, God.”
I wish I could tell you that I heard God’s voice in that moment, but there was only silence.
It was then that I knew, in my heart of hearts, that the God I believed in—that Big Guy up in the sky—simply wasn’t real. No. Because in that moment, my God wasn’t up in the sky but right there with me in the lowest of my lows, in the depths of my despair. And it was because He met me at my most unworthy—at my worst—and healed me despite it all, that I am convinced that nothing in all creation can separate me from the love of Christ. (Romans 8)
I wish I could say there was a big turnaround moment for me from then on, but there was only slow healing. But in the uphill battle of gaining back my self-respect and my parents’ trust, I held on to the promise that no sin and no regret could ever make God un-love me. And somehow, Jesus Christ was enough—more than enough.
Because after the storms passed, despite not deserving any of His forgiveness and mercy, I continued to experience His blessings in my life. That’s how I know that despite my unworthiness, God still pursued me. In place of conflict at home, He sowed strengthened love and understanding. In place of mistakes, He gave me wisdom. In place of distractions, He opened new opportunities to serve. In place of loneliness, He allowed a relationship to bloom when I least expected it.
So that’s the story of how I fell in love with God, how I got lost along the way, but God found me at my worst, and brought love back into my life. While I’m still not the perfect daughter, I no longer run from my mistakes, instead I take them to the cross. And though my relationship with Marco is far from perfect, what makes us strong is realizing that our promise to love each other “no matter what” is rooted in nothing less than the original no matter what promised to all of us in this larger love story—the love story Christ wrote for us when He died for us on the cross.
And His love is the best kind of love.
Because no matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, and no matter what you are going through, God loves you with a love steadfast. This truth keeps us anchored in every moment in that:
- God’s love meets you WHERE you are
- God’s love shows you WHO you are
- God’s love shows us HOW to love
- God’s love is WHY we’re free
Because no matter what season you’re in, whether you’re in a dark phase or a new beginning, God loves you and He will meet you where you are. (Romans 8:38) And when you hold on to this unconditional love through storms and seasons, you will find your true identity in His love. Because Your Creator knows you inside out, and He loves you with no filters. (Jer 1:5) The need to prove your worth—to yourself and to the world—falls away when you begin to follow Him. And in following Him, He calls us to love as He does. He shows us how to love each other simply with patience and kindness. (1 Cor 13:4)
But above all, He calls us to live in His freedom, to choose His love story that we’re ALL a part of. This is beautifully summarized in no less than John 3:16:
For God so LOVED the world, He gave us His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal Life.
God so loved this crazy, wild world that He sent Himself as Jesus Christ to meet us at our unworthiness, to seek us out in our humanity. So that whoever, and He said WHOEVER—no matter who they are and what they’ve done—believes in Him will not perish, but will be given a new freedom, a reason to sing, an eternal Life.
And every day, you and I get to be a part of the greatest love story there ever was. All simply because you are His beloved. Thanks, God.
For the rest of the weekend, I sang with thanksgiving in my heart.
Thank You for the words and confidence I was gifted with, for bringing my sister here, for making Praise sound the best that I’ve heard us in years (despite having no tech and having several veteran members away this season) and for giving me this crazy bunch of youth kids I call my second home.
What an honor it is to be His instrument and what a joy it is to lose myself here only to be found in love again, and again and again and again. 🙂