Sitting on the countertop, legs crossed one over the other, I thought to myself, “Maybe I am a pushover. Maybe I am too easily swayed.” The thought tumbled back and forth my head. I switched positions. Snaked my Converse between the metal handles of the cabinets below me. “Maybe I just knew what I wanted. Or what I was afraid to want but knew I needed.”
It makes no difference really. The truth of the matter is this: I didn’t let God back into my life in a church. It wasn’t with my hands pressed against a Bible. It was in the car. A 1999 green CRV if you want to picture it in your head. I loved that car more than anything and, when it got totaled, it was devastating to see it go. Like losing a best friend who always managed to hold all your junk and changes of clothes and CD collection and stray cups of coffee in one place. But I just remember being in the car one night and hearing a song on the radio. I’d never heard it before. And every inch of that song— the words that came pushing through the speakers to get to me— drove me to tears and started me talking to the ceiling of the car, as if it were a telephone and God was on the other side.
Maybe I want to come back. Maybe I just don’t want to be alone. I don’t really know. I don’t really want a rulebook. Maybe I just want to know how to make my life matter. Could you show me that? Are you there, God?
It was in that song, in the first two lines, that I felt everything like I’d never felt it before.
“He is jealous for me / loves like a hurricane, I am the tree.”
I’ve never loved something more than those two lines. I’d heard of the God who was a dictator. I heard of the God who was a ruler and much like my high school principal. I’d heard of the fluffy God who could maybe grant you everything you wanted. That God then proceeded to make no sense when faced with the truth: people you love die. Boys you love leave you. Bad things happen to good people. Life hurts.
But this sort of God? The kind of God that could get jealous for me? I knew jealousy. I knew the power of that feeling. I guess I was just at a point in my life where I never thought anyone would get jealous for me. Thinking God might get jealous for me, that was powerful. And that was all I really needed to know. I just wanted to believe there might be the kind of God who had no problem just saying, “Hey, I want all of you. Not the scraps of you. Not whatever is leftover after you let other people play tag sale with your heart. I want everything you’ve got. Your good. Your bad. Your ugly. Don’t you change a thing. Come to me, just as you are.”
I told the girl, the one sitting across from me on the countertop, that it only ever took that song lyric and the anticipation that God would want me that badly to be able to say, “I’m all in. I’m all in if you’re all in.”
She asked if I knew the background of the song. I didn’t. The next thing I know, I am clutching her iPhone watching a YouTube video featuring a man named John Mark McMillan. He’s the one who wrote that song. It’s called “How He Loves.” The whole song is really perfect. It’s the type of song you kind of wish could grow arms and legs and talk to you like people do because, oh my goodness, there’d be so much to say to that song.
In the video he is on stage. You can’t see his fingers but you know he is keeping the slow steady tune of a guitar while he talks to the crowd. He tells what I imagine is probably a couple thousand people that he once had a best friend named Stephen Coffey. And it was Stephen Coffey who once prayed out loud in a church meeting, “I would give my life if it would shake the youth of this nation.” The next day, Stephen Coffey died in a car accident. And it was only because his best friend John didn’t know how to do much more than try to have a conversation with God that this song was written.
I try to picture what Mark was feeling when he got down on his knees and tried to talk to God but my heart doesn’t even know how to get that place. Maybe you’ve stood in that chasm before though. I’ve only seen the smaller scales of asking God the bigger questions, “Why? Why do you let things like this happen? How can they be for the better and the good?” It makes no sense. Then again, a lot of life makes no sense.
But it was the death of Mark’s best friend that would stir the words of that song “How He Loves” and manage to shake millions upon hearing it. I mean, millions. I’m just one of the plenty who managed to come tumbling back to God because of those words. I have John Mark McMillan and Stephen Coffey to thank.
After the video was over I handed the iPhone back to my friend. I couldn’t help but look at things differently after watching that clip. I mean, I am probably already the more morbid one in all my friend groups but I was sitting there and I couldn’t shake the feeling inside of me that just kept saying on repeat, “All of this is so temporary. And your problems are so small. And people lose the people they love every single day. And what is there to speak for your life if you are gone tomorrow?”
That could happen. Really, it could. I might not be here. You might not be here. We never know. It’s a strange gamble. But I want to make it count. I so badly want to make it count. It’s a story like Stephen’s— his life a sacrifice for the millions who would come to commune with God because of his best friend’s grief— that make me realize this whole life will never be about the answers we think we need to find. It’s not about the planners we fill. It is not about whether we get asked on that date of if we get chosen for that love story. It can’t be about those things— it has to be about something bigger. Don’t you think?
It’s bigger than the ladders you learn to climb. It’s bigger than the acceptance you think you need to gain. It’s bigger than the latest product. Or the ways in which this world tries to barter with us for happiness. I mean, it’s bigger than you. And your loneliness. And all the ways you manage to kick yourself down and breathless before breakfast. That’s probably the hardest and most refreshing lesson you will ever learn: life has very little to do with you. You get to show up. You get to make moves. You get to touch lives. But no, you don’t become the starring role. And you don’t get the guarantee of having more time. And yes, that is terrifying. But urgency is beautiful, especially when you come to the spot inside of yourself that speaks the truthiest truth of all truths: life is about people. And thankfully, there is no shortage of those. So what do you want to give to the people who surround you? And how do you want to show up?
I’ll probably never write a checklist or a numbered list regarding what I think life is all about.
There’d only ever be one number on the list and one box to mark off: Love. That’s it. That’s all. We’re all just soldiers in this one constant battle called “Love.” And “love harder.” And “love faster.” And so instead of making more lists to convince myself a good life is all about the number of times I make it to the gym or the amount of green and leafy things I manage to consume, I only ever try to do one thing. It’ll sound crazy but I try to imagine myself and my best friend, sitting on my bed just the way we always did when we were still in college. We’d sit there for hours— indian-style with mugs of Lipton tea between our hands. The white lights would sprawl around the room like ivy and we liked to pretend that time would keep standing still for us. I like to imagine she and I coming back to one another— years after all of this growing up stuff is over— and finally getting to sit back down on the bed to talk about life. How it was to us. Where we stumbled. Where we grew. And I try to think to myself: When you get to your best friend at the end of all of this, what kind of stories do you want to tell her? That’s the secret to how I step out and try to live my best daily: I think about the kind of life I want to tell my best friend about one day when we are old and grey and I want to make her real proud.
I don’t think she’ll want to know about the calories. She won’t care for a second about the boys I handed my phone number off to (okay, maybe a little). She’ll just want to know the answers to the good stuff: did you love? Did you serve? Were you willing to give your whole life just so it might shake the existence of someone else?
I just hope the answer to all her questions is yes. You have no idea how badly I want the answer to be yes.
Since some Mondays are worse than Sallie Mae, I created a little breakfast club/secret society to help kick Mondays off right. You are reading me right. Every Monday. Me. You. We roll out via email and your morning brew. I promise to meet you with only the good stuff. Highly recommended for movers, shakers, and original gangsters. No rules. You feeling me, boo?