Tuesday, July 11, 2017

"my first love..."



"You are still my first love,
You're my guiding light
You're with me in the fire
You lead me through the night..."


Last week I returned from a love-affirming trip to California, where I had the honor of marrying two beautiful men, and visiting with my sister and her family.

The drive out had been an exercise in refuting the evidence of the senses. Thirty hours in the car, and all of them spent in prayer. First, because I loved having that time to commune with God. And second, because I was facing a very painful physical situation. Not going, was not an option. So prayer became the only path to getting there. By the day of the wedding, I was pain-free -- but that is another story.

This post is about my return trip -- another thirty hours in the car. And although this thirty hours was not what I'd  expected, it was so filled to the brim - with love and prayer - that it was even more beautiful than I could have imagined. All week, I have loved listening to Chris Tomlin's "My First Love." It perfectly keynotes this experience.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  This story begins on a foggy Monday in San Francisco.

As I drove away from my sister's home that morning, I was completely free of the pain that had kept me awake - and in focused prayer - for the entire drive out only days earlier. My heart was filled with humble gratitude -- for what I'd learned about my love for God, and God's love for me.  During those agonizing hours alone in the car, I'd lived my resolve to completely trust in His care. 


But now, I was looking forward to a peaceful drive home. I was thinking about the scenery I'd actually be able to enjoy this time around, about the sidetrips I was hoping to make in little towns along the way, and the music I was going to be able to sing along to. For just a moment, I indulged in a sigh of relief, after what had felt like a long siege.

Once over the Golden Gate Bridge, I parted with my sister, her husband, and their sweet dogs - Mollie and Bear. I felt confident about my trip strategy, and I had my heart set on an early evening stop in the small mountain town of Truckee where I would grab a light dinner before sunset. 


Leaving Truckee - as the sky turned from blue, to salmon, to lavender - I was a bit surprised that I had yet to fill the car with music. But the silence had been such good company.  And I knew I had a long night of driving ahead. James Taylor, Carly Simon, Linda Ronstadt, and others would get their due as I navigated the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake under a star-studded sky.

Heading through Reno, my heart was overflowing. I recounted with gratitude, all that I'd witness of God's healing/transforming love that weekend. It had been such a beautiful time of devotion to friendship and family. I felt so blessed.

Just after I saw Reno fading in my rearview mirror, traffic came to a sudden stop. No warning, no signage, just stopped. I knew I was heading into the "wilderness" phase of my drive -- hours and hours of empty landscape from Reno to Salt Lake City with very few towns in between. I needed to do it in the dark, as the daytime temperatures had been hovering between 105 and 110 degrees across the desert that week. I had my fuel stops planned, and I knew where the best rest areas were for pulling over and napping. But my schedule was dependent on doing this portion of the drive during the cooler night hours.

After about 45 minutes of sitting at a stand still -- with only a handful of cars coming in the other direction on Interstate 80 -- a car finally pulled onto the medium and told us that there was a wildfire raging in the foothills, and that it had jumped the interstate. We were being turned around and sent back to Reno for a detour.

Heading back towards Reno, I started feeling unsettled and shaken. I knew the detour would take me completely off schedule. Besides that, I would be on a two-lane highway in the middle of the night -- a highway known as the "loneliest highway in America," -- no kidding. But, if that was where I was being taken, I would go there. All plans of listening to my favorite Pandora playlist evaporated. I was committed to a night of silence -- and prayer.

About an hour into the detour, Something told me, "take that left hand turn." So I did -- obediently. My GPS guide went a bit ballistic, so I turned her off. Now, it really was, just me and God. 


 I knew I had gone about an hour south, and then an hour east. Heading north again, I knew I would likely reconnect with the Interstate. This seemed like a tangential, but logical, plan.  Since I would be alone in the middle of the night, the Interstate seemed like the better option.

But when I reached I-80 it was almost apocalyptical. I drove through the tiny side-of-the-highway town, and followed the signs to the on ramp. The town felt deserted, and when I pulled onto the Interstate, it was absolutely empty of cars and trucks. Driving east, I realized I was the only vehicle traveling on either side of the road. Suddenly, I was engulfed in smoke. But the Voice told me to keep driving. So I did.

On my right and left, I saw rivers of flame flowing through canyons and racing down the hillside towards the interstate. "Keep driving," the Voice kept repeating, "I am with you in the flames." So I did. Mile-after-mile of dense smoke, empty highway, flames visible through intermittent breaks in the ash-filled night air. Flames that crested the hillsides to the north and south. And every once in a while, there would be a clearing above --  where stars were cradled in a bowl of midnight sky.

I was not afraid. I knew the truth -- that beyond all that smoke,  there was a clear night sky. I knew that I was not alone. Just as I had not been alone on the drive out -- when pain tried to suck any sense of peace from my experience.  I knew that I was not a fragile mortal, alone in the car driving across the Great Basin. I was with the One I loved. I was with the One who loved me even more than my husband, my children, and my community. I was with my first love -- God.  I was clear about one thing.  I only knew how to love anyone -- including my loved ones -- because of this first Love.

So, I listened the way one listens to their first love. I listened to my Beloved tell me about Him. About His love for creation. About His beautiful universe. About His love for me.  About His love for the couple I'd married earlier that week.  About His love for our children, my sister's work, my friends, the geo-political world I'd been so concerned about all winter and spring.

I'd always loved taking road trips with those I loved -- boyfriend, finance', husband, girlfriends -- and eventually, with my daughters. I loved listening to them tell stories about their lives. I loved asking things like, "when you hear this song, what is the first memory that comes to mind," or "what are your dreams, your hopes, your plans."

But that night, I listened to God with the same eager intimacy -- with a sweet sense of being alone together in the dark on an empty highway with the one I loved -- with my first love.

In the book of Revelation, John admonishes the church at Ephesus saying:


"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience...
and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee,
because thou hast left thy first love..."
 

I smiled thinking of this verse that night. It had always been one of my favorite passages in Scripture. I just loved it, but I didn't know that I always knew what it felt like -- really felt like -- to know God as my "first love."  That night, I felt it. 


 On the drive out, the pain had demanded that I needed to turn to God -- to know Him -- in order to simply get through the night. But this was different.  This was love. 
There was a sweet intimacy to our time together in the wilderness of the Great Basin, with wildfires raging around us. Right there, in the car, we were quietly, intimately, peacefully in oneness -- amid the smoke, and the darkness, and the emptiness of that lonely highway.

Sometime during the night - after I seemed to have driven well-beyond the fires - I pulled into a rest area.  I hoped to take a short nap before the sun came up, and the temperatures in the desert rose. I curled into the backseat and felt so tenderly held by my "first love." However, when I awoke in the cloying heat, I was feeling very ill.  But it just didn't matter -- I knew I was going to be fine. I was with my Love. I pulled back onto the highway, letting only His voice speak to me, and tell me what I felt. 


Seventeen hours later I pulled into our driveway. It had been such a sweet, holy journey.  After I turned off the engine, I just sat there in the silence "for the space of half an hour." [Revelation 8:1] It had been the most beautiful road trip of my life.

I will never forget this time with my first love -- my always, and forever, and eternal  -- first love.


offered with gratitude -- and with Love,


Kate

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