She Used Church Words and I Used Curse Words...
"You said 'I love you' first, but I knew I loved you first." I can still remember hearing those words a few hours after I was engaged to the woman I believed I would spend the rest of my life with. We were still in the giggling phase where we had called a few people, reminded one person not to post to social media before we did, and still hadn't seen anyone we knew face to face.
The first time I met Hannah Ford I was sitting in a coffee shop reading a book on the Canons of Dort. The chapter I was reading at the moment was on the dreaded "L" of 'TULIP'. At this point in my life I was wrestling with being singles a Christian and in the south, but was resigned that I must be one of the chosen few who may have been given the 'gift' of singleness. The gift that feels a lot like getting new underwear at Christmas while watching your brother play his new Nintendo 64. We all know new underwear is good, but it just doesn't feel that way on Christmas.
As I was sitting there with an open book this cute girl asked what I was reading. We laughed often that our first conversation was over an hour long and about the doctrine of Limited Atonement, or Direct Atonement as we both prefer to say. We both assumed that this would be a story grandkids would roll their eyes at and theology nerds at the church we dreamed of planting would laugh about over beer.
After that we both ended up 'randomly' always sitting next to each other at the bar in the coffee shop, sitting for hours on end and never getting any real work done. I knew I liked her then, enough for my pops to pick up on it and make my face turn as red as a ripe tomato when he mentioned her name. But there were things she was trying to wrestle through in a way that honored Jesus. We both said often after we got together that if everyone we knew acted like Jesus we would have started dating months before we did, but that's life. None of us live in bubbles where everyone looks like Jesus. And if you think you do then I'm willing to bet those people smell a lot more like Judas.
But we kept talking, and texting, and playing cards at the coffee shop. Then one day she invited me to the Alabama State Fair. I though that she was saying that she was ready to move forward, or that the things she was trying to work through allowed her to do so with a clear conscious...only to later find out that she had invited everyone she bumped into and I was the only one to show up. So I met her at the gate. Her and all her siblings minus one. We got our tickets and walked around, watching her siblings get on the rides while she stayed with her feet firmly on the ground. It was only later she told me that she had gone each year and couldn't remember the last time she had gotten on a ride. But that year she did. We swung around Montgomery in metal chairs that probably didn't met up to code, but maybe that's why the fair moves around so much...to avoid the people who would tell them to fix the rides that rattle. But then again, maybe the rattle of the rides is what makes it worth going. But I digress...
While we swung around the air I told her that I was into her. I told her that I liked her and of my embarrassment that I though this was a cute date. I thought I would see her smile, but that was the first time I ever saw her cry.
All she could tell me was that I wouldn't like her if I knew her. That she was someone a 'godly man' would never be interested in, and that I would be better off liking someone else. She was sure that if I knew the worst of her I would walk away and never look back. Little did she know that she would be the one to leave and I would never be able to look past her.
A year before I met Hannah she had never kissed anyone. But I was her second kiss. A few months before we met she had fling that would be allowed in PG-13 movies. She didn't sleep with him, she died a virgin. But she had her fun. She never did it again, ran into the arms of Jesus the next day and not too long after that confessed to people she trusted. And in those days that followed she believed Jesus had forgiven her. But as she told me months after we had been dating, she grew up with the belief that God wouldn't truly forgive her unless she confessed her sins to her earthly father.
So swinging around Montgomery, 50 feet in the air I began to laugh. It would have made an awkward picture if the person behind up turned around. She was in tears and I had a smile as big as a Batman villain. Yet I can still hear her telling me, more than once, that this conversation was the only time she didn't hate me using that 4-letter word I use more than my momma likes me to.
She told me every reason why she was unworthy. She made it clear that if I was looking for a godly girl she wasn't it. "I'm not sure what you're done. But I assure you I've done worst and you already know that. Hell, you read my book and still want to be on a swing with me. Have you asked Jesus to forgive you for whatever you did?" "Yes." "Have you confessed to people you trust?" "Yea." "Does Jesus say you're forgiven completely?"
"Yea." "Does Jesus say you're clean?" "Yea." "Does Jesus say you're pure?"
"Does Jesus say you're holy?" "Yea." "Then who the fuck am I to disagree with Jesus..?"
Little did I know that though I got onto that ride with a crush on this girl she got off, in her words, in love with me. She later told me that was the first time in her life she actually experienced grace. She knew about it as a theological concept, but never experienced it personally.
Though she told me all that had happened in regards to that night that caused her shame, she only told me after I put a ring on her finger that there was a moment in her life that caused her more shame. And it was that moment that caused her to believe what she said on that swing all those months ago. She did eventually confess the way she was raised to believe she had to. And it was in that moment that she felt such shame to make her believe she was 'unworthy'. A label that she did not put on herself, but one that was spoken over her...one that she wrestled with in tears the entire time we had together. After she sinned she felt the conviction of the Spirit. The same conviction I've felt, and same conviction you're felt too (if you know Jesus). The conviction that cuts to the heart but makes you run to Jesus. And yet in confessing to someone that she believed would lavish her with gospel, she was handed the type of law and legalism that had people pat themselves on the back for giving Judas a bag of silver.
Looking back I'm so happy that ride at the fair was the start of our love. The start was grace. The start was Gospel. And there were more than enough times between that day and her last that each of us needed both. We learned to speak honestly to each other. We shared Scripture with each other. We read devotions together. We shared songs. We sang hymns. She got angry used church words and I got angry and used other word. After that we learned to love and forgive. We shared our victories, and celebrated together. And we shared ours sins, and ran to Jesus together...sometimes more quickly than others. We laughed together when life led us there, and it did often. We repented when we sinned against each other. And we wept together when the sins of the people we loved wounded one, or both of us, deeply. Which happened more than it should have. But that's life I guess...
She's been gone six months now.
And I'm left with that question I asked her... I have told myself every reason why I'm unworthy. I have told myself every reason why I should just spiral out of control. I have told myself every reason I should be outside of His grace. I have told myself every reason He shouldn't love me, because those are the reasons I don't love myself. But then I see her face on that swing and I remember the question..."who the fuck am I to disagree with Jesus..?"