Redeeming Love


Last month I returned to Spain.  I had not traveled for a few months and I was getting restless.   I mistook these feelings of restlessness as a superficial need to satiate the little bug inside that feeds on travel and adventure.  This human weakness might have contributed to this building desire, but I now believe there were more powerful forces at work.

God needed to talk to me.  He needed me to truly stop and listen.   And He, being my creator and God, knows my heart better than anyone else.  He knew that during this particular journey my heart would be most readily available and my ears would be more receptive to His message.   This is often the case when I travel and perhaps why I pursue it so fervently.    I am not usually the type to be silent or still.  My life is always in a constant state of movement and I am very rarely alone.  I flutter from one social gathering to the next.  As a true extrovert, I gain energy from being in the presence of others and have several different groups of friends that appease my need for social interaction.  However, when I travel, I find myself alone for hours on end; at airports,  around cities, parks, beaches, forests, ect.   Don’t get me wrong, I have become quite an expert at finding “stranger friends” to talk to along the way.  These friends are always blessings sent by God to teach me and quench my need for human interaction, but on the whole my travel experiences force me into a mindset of  introspection.  When I travel, I truly slow down.  I truly listen; to myself, to my heart and to my God.  I am silent and still and my heart is in a state of constant gratitude and worship.  This provides the perfect platform for God to teach and mold me.

This particular trip my soul was in perfect communion with God.  I finally began to understand something He has been trying to teach me my whole life.  The completeness of His perfect love.   I have always had a hard time understanding unconditional love.  When people meet me it doesn’t take them long to recognize that I am habitually apologetic…..I’m sorry.   This stems from my unconscious fear of doing something wrong to loose peoples love.  Now multiply that fear by a million and you can understand my inability to understand why a perfect God could love someone as imperfect as me.  I have never truly believed that I was acceptable in His sight.  I believed in the forgiveness I earned from the death of Jesus but I never truly understood the completeness of that forgiveness.  If I am being honest I have always seen God as someone who merely tolerated me.  I could not picture God’s love for me as it is described in the Bible….the kind of love a groom feels for his bride or a father feels for his child.    However on this trip God opened my heart and showed me the power of his amazing grace and redeeming love.

God used several mediums to explain this love to me during this trip to Spain and  proved his love through several blessings.  One powerful tool was the book “Redeeming Love” by Francine Rivers.  I very rarely take books with me when I travel as I don’t often have time for them.  This time I made an exception and I started reading this book on the 5 hour buss ride from Madrid to Granada.  This fictional book is an allegory of the Biblical story of Gomer and Hosea which is in and of itself an allegory of God and His people.  The novel tells the story of a righteous and Godly man who rescues and marries a prostitute.  The prostitute cannot understand his forgiving love and kindness and runs away from him to rejoin a life of prostitution….THREE TIMES!!  Throughout the book it is so evident the love the man has for his wife and how deeply her desertion hurts him.  The reader feels so confused…why would she run away from such perfect and complete love?  Doesn’t she see that He really does love her and that she is the only one who won’t forgive her past and move on?  Why is she wasting her life listening to lies of  her worthlessness while the Author of Truth is screaming promises of love, forgiveness and redemption?    This truly is a powerful novel and I highly recommend it to any woman who sometimes struggles with understanding God’s love.

This book started an amazing dialog between God and myself during my stay in Spain early this April. I, like the woman in the novel, never felt fully accepted by God.  I never believed I deserved God’s love.  However this book helped me understand the foundational and most liberating truth.  I was right.  I don’t deserve God’s love.  I am a sinner and what I deserve is death.  But God loves me anyway!  This is the life changing earth shaking Truth with a capital T!  It is the one that Satan tries so hard to conceal!  He makes us feel inadequate and like we have to earn God’s love….which is impossible and therefore fuels our feelings of inadequacy.   The truth is there is NOTHING we can do to earn it.   It is given freely and completely.  That is the beauty of the gospel.  It has the power to turn a hopeless story of sin and its consequences into a story of perfect and merciful redemption through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

This trip to Spain was truly a love story between me and God.  The entire week I remained in His love and my joy was made complete just as Jesus promises us in John 15: 9.  There were times I thought my heart would explode for the joy and love I felt.  There were times when I could not contain the worship in my soul and I wept.  I wept  in Retiro Park when I realized all of the amazing ways God had taken the hopeless situations of this past year and turned them into demonstrations of His glory and love.  I wept when God used a painting at the Thyssen-bornemisza Art Museum to speak directly and clearly the promises of my future.  I learned how to abide in His Love and God poured His blessings like rain on my life and my soul.  With joy, rather than condemnation, I began to understand what only a truly redeemed sinner can.  In a spirit of continual worship my heart  happily sang  “I don’t deserve this love or these blessings” and God’s quiet, constant and graceful response was the same “I know, but I love you anyway.”

Wandering in Madrid

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 6.22.32 PMMost of my days in Spain were spent aimlessly wandering around the streets of Madrid.  I liked living in a big bustling city.  Everyone always had somewhere to go, see and do….but not me.  I just sat, watched and walked.  I walked from Plaza to Plaza, bistro to bistro, and museo to museo.  I ate more olives (aceitunas) than one could possibly count.  Green olives, red olives, black olives, reddish brown olives and I swear some were even purple….. This olive based diet was not a product of my obsession with this vegetable-fruit (although I do love them), but rather because every café, restaurant, bar or bistro in Madrid supplies its patrons with a deliciously endless plate of complementary olives.  Couple that information with the realization that the wine was quite literally cheaper than a glass of water and you have discovered my daily lunch menu.

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 6.32.02 PMMy first few days in Madrid I explored all of the big tourist spots.  I visited the Plaza Mayor, The Royal Palace, The Opera House, Botanical Gardens, The Soccer Stadium and The Bull Fighting Ring.  But after a week or so I settled down into a routine of exploratory leisure.  I woke up late in the morning, got dressed, walked to the Metro station and started my day in front of the Banco de Madrid.  Here I would get some breakfast, which usually consisted of a chocolate croissant and a café con leche.  I would sit outside and eat it while I watched the businessmen and women hectically go about their day in this bustling city center.   When I was finished with breakfast and people watching I would start my daily stroll through the city.

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 6.37.56 PMI always took the Metro Line 9 and then I always transferred to line 2 at Principe De Vergara station even though there were other stops that were just as easily accessible and direct.  I choose this particular exchange because of a street musician who’s violin filled this station with sounds of Vivaldi , Mozart and Chopin.  Sometimes it saddened me at the number of people who took his presence and talent for granted.  Everyday the same thankless crowd would walk by without a single glance or indication on their daily commute to their busy jobs.  Yet I suppose I was just as guilty.  I justified myself by the fact that I often stood and listened and give him an euro each day.  Yet I did nothing more than wonder what had led him to this life.  Did he know how much joy his notes brought me everyday? Did he know that I organized my daily commute so that I could hear him play?  I wonder if he is still there playing, providing a beautiful and consistent service for those who are too busy to listen or care.  Yet I am sure he will be missed once the station falls silent.

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 7.05.08 PM

My stroll varied each and everyday but generally consisted of the same elements in different variations.  The best route would start at the Peurta del Sol to visit the infamous bear of Madrid Statue.  I did not stay here long because during my tenure in Madrid this plaza had become a makeshift tent city full of thousands of  “angry youths” protesting the Spanish government.  It was a sort of precursor to the Occupy Wall Street movement that would happen a year later in New York.  I could understand their plight.  Spain had a 24% unemployment rate at the time, yet most of these “angry youths” looked pretty content with their jobless career of getting high and making a mess of the beautiful city square.

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 6.30.31 PMI would continue my journey  from the crowded and somewhat shady Puerta de Sol to the Plaza Mayor.  Here I would stop and look at the street artists and visit some local shops.  This ancient City Square is beautiful and full of rich history, yet it is also a tourist trap.  The restaurants surrounding the Plaza are inauthentic and drastically overpriced so I would stroll onward.  I’d get lost in the cobbled stoned back streets of the old city to find a cozy little restaurant off the beaten path.  I would finally find a place away from the expensive tourist restaurants filed with English menus.  And I would sit and eat my free plate of olives and drink my seemingly perfect glass of wine while I journaled, wrote post cards and reflected on a perfect day strolling around the city.

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 6.27.34 PMAfter I had my fill of wine and reflection, I would continue my promenade through the city.  I strolled past the Gran Villa, the Plaza de La Cibeles, the most beautiful palace/ government building in Spain, the triumphant archway of Puerta de Alcala and on to El Parque del Retriro, which is one of the most enchanting and peaceful parks in the world.  I could spend the entire day just in this big city park watching the boats paddle in the pond in front of the Monument to Alfonso the XII.

Screen shot 2013-03-25 at 6.24.12 PMThe best part of my Madrid Wanderings was that I never knew where I was going to end up.  Each and everyday was different and I simply followed all of my whims and fancies.  Inevitably I would stumble upon some festival of some sort either at the park or the Plaza Mayor.  My favorite day was when I happened upon a used book festival.  I spent hours combing through the giant outdoor library.  That is the beauty of an unplanned day, each new café or park or monument becomes a little gift.  You can take the same path the same day for 20 days in a row yet each day has its own little discovery or gift. Each day can be a new adventure if you only allow yourself to open your eyes and truly see the world around you and if you are not afraid of getting a little lost along the way.