Even though I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a little girl, I didn’t think He liked me very much. I mean, I knew He loved me because it’s in His job description to extend unconditional compassion to sinners. But for a perfect God like Him to actually delight in a messy girl like me who’d been abandoned by her daddy and sexually abused by others, well that just felt like I was setting the bar too high.
So, I worked really hard at behaving like a good, Christian girl should and always wore a happy face—even when I was dying inside—but I kept the bar really low when it came to being loved well...which is why my dating life was often about as enjoyable as a root canal.
One of my biggest crushes in early adulthood was a lothario I’ll call Absalom for the sake of his anonymity (and he was really fastidious about his hair). Anyway, Ab and I did the post-college, almost-dating thing for over a year, which meant we hung out all the time, practiced safe flirting, attended lots of social gatherings as a couple, and never kissed.
My Worst Date Ever
But things seemed to be taking a turn toward romantic when he asked me out for Valentine’s Day and took me to a very nice restaurant. After the waiter cleared the table and took our dessert order, Ab excused himself for a few minutes then came striding back toward me carrying a large, beautifully-wrapped box and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
I was flustered because I hadn’t brought a gift for him. It’s awkward when you’re in a “plating” (platonic-dating) relationship because things like gift-giving parameters aren’t clear. But he brushed that off with a sly grin and said, “Go ahead, open it!”
So, I carefully peeled the exquisite paper off and opened the box to find a gorgeous, extremely-expensive dress. Now, I was really flustered because not only was it a first for a guy to buy me a dress, but the tag revealed it was two sizes too small.
His eyes got all shiny with excitement when he repeatedly asked me if I liked it and I told him the dress was lovely—albeit too expensive—and that I really appreciated his generosity. He then asked if I wanted to try it on. Of course, I demurred, since we were, after all, in a restaurant. But when he insisted, I had to spill the beans and tell him it wouldn’t fit because it’s too small.
Here’s Where it All Went South
And that’s when he leaned forward and said smoothly and sincerely, “Lisa, I knew it was too small when I bought it. Here’s the deal, there’s a line between cute and beautiful and I think you’re about ten or fifteen pounds away from it. But I really want to fall in love with you so I bought you this dress as an incentive. As soon as you can fit into it, I’m sure we’ll be able to make a go of it.”
The fifty-four-year-old me would’ve had the self-respect to say something along the lines of, “Your loss, Pea-brain,” then walk out of the restaurant and call an Uber. But twenty-three-year old me just sat there feeling my face get hot and wishing I’d ordered a salad as my entree.
What I Wished I Knew Then
Here’s the liberating truth I finally learned about the perfect love God lavishes on us: It’s not up to us! We don’t have to work harder to make it into some elusive “I deserve to be loved” club. When we put our faith in Jesus and receive the accompanying infilling of Holy Spirit, we become full heirs of His divine delight and unmerited favor!
I’m overwhelmed by the redemptive affection of God in my life. He chose my precious adopted daughter Missy—who lost her first mom to AIDS in Haiti and never knew her biological father—as a means of grace to remove the last stubborn roots of the orphan spirit that had been growing in my heart since before I was her age.
And He continues to employ my unlikely, only-by-grace position as a single mom to remind me that despite our proclivity to make huge messes, He is so completely for His kids!
Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy (Psalm 68:5-6a, TLB).
Lisa Harper is an author, Bible teacher and conference speaker, known for her hilarious storytelling and easy-to-relate to anecdotes. Through her books, conferences, and best-selling Bible curriculum, Lisa has ministered the Gospel message to hundreds of thousands worldwide.