He’s Happy

{Friends who have midwifed this child with us, a Stella update is coming …and it’s so good. Keep telling the story!}

Underneath their skin, my children carry a more pronounced version of the rest of us.

They spin, fast, on their bikes and climb tall trees and squeal when the woodpecker finds his lunch on our back-porch feeder. They play dress up and build forts and get their fingernails dirty even when they aren’t out in the dirt. They are kids. Normal kids.

But they have been weathered by life, and without the social sophistication which age produces, when their rusty parts creak underneath the painted-over exterior, they don’t know to hide them.

We bleed in our house. Some days, often. Behind little tike squeals and unquenchable life-zeal are stories that have produced a question over their lives.

And they were brought to us, waiting on an answer.

One wrestled her way through her younger life believing that her strength was her greatest attribute. She entered our semi-quiet, unsuspecting world, with that same street-feistiness. Children who have to fight for their lives, raised by parents who are fighting for their own, get branded with competition: me versus the world around me. Every day was a win or lose, for her, not a day to be lived.

She used her strength to hide the question that hung over her life: what did He really think about her?

Because her story had given her reason to question.

I was tucking her in, this child who didn’t know how to cuddle until she found us, and, on this night, she was soft. Tender. Supple. All evidence of her new skin.

“How does God feel when He sees you?” I prodded, remembering that her answer to a similar question from months earlier was one telling word: bad. She’d hid behind her hands, then, when she’d said it, as if she didn’t want to feel the pain any more deeply of the words she already believed.

(The child who lives under shame falsely sees Him as shame’s instigator. If she can’t meet her own standards, she certainly couldn’t meet His, right?)

Except, this time, her answer had changed. She beamed behind her words that sums up the story of our year.

“He’s happy.”

This theological treatise from my seven year-old, who wasn’t exactly a saint that day, said it all.

What distinguishes a daughter from an orphan is that she knows her Daddy’s un-bending delight.

This orphan crisis has infected corners of the earth, far and near — and it has its marks in my heart. Do I know how He sees me on my very worst days?

He and I, we work when I am in stride. When my life is in order and I’m meeting needs and their faces are sun-kissed with joy, I bask, too, in His delight. When the corners are swept and the laundry is done and I’ve loved well, even against push-back, He revels in me.

But my understanding of Him is only as reaching as I perceive His delighted eyes towards me.

What is His expression when I’ve failed? Not the obvious failure — I know how to take that to Him. But how does He see me when I’m averaging a “C-“? When the children are cranky and I’ve snapped at Nate and my heart feels groggy. How does He see me when I’ve lingered too long on another’s thoughts about me, when I’ve dreamed about hurling words towards the one who hurt me, when I spent my precious morning hours bearing up under accusations of self?

When the back-drop of my life feels like a nearly-undetectable drizzle, what is His expression, then?

When I expect my response towards myself to be His response towards me –distant, because why wouldn’t He distance Himself from me, in this state? — I live static. Stale. I relegate Him to be a stoic and disappointed father, and myself, merely an orphan struggling under His watch.

But if that moment could be exchanged — the week that I’m grumpy or the day where I’ve failed (oh-so-subtle) or even the hour that I’m inhaling accusations about myself — for a seat at His feet, I might just know growth.

Because it’s here that He shines.

It’s here that His love rises up, separate, from what our weak definitions say of it. It’s here that I get an angle on His face that may mean the next time I’m in this moment, it’s different, because I’m sharing this space with gritty glory.

We are changed in our C- moments when we allow ourselves to see how He sees us, there.

The God we so subtly receive as angry and distant, is instead far-reaching and radiant, still, when He stares into our dirt.

He is the One who peers through one hundred of my daughter’s faults to find His fingerprint and He calls forth that very mark of Himself from her. He looks into my mess — because isn’t all of what we spin in this life, really, a mess compared to the standard of His glory? — and He enjoys me.*

God doesn’t just love me on my worst days. He likes me.

He doesn’t look past my sin, He looks through it, to find the buried “yes” in my heart.

It’s awkward to think about a God who loves like this, because we don’t love like this. Human love is contractual, an understood give-and-take. But His love, it’s unnatural.

She’d heard it from us hundreds of different ways, in dozens of different phrases, before she received Him, for herself — in her own words — as the God who looks, happy, at her.

And let me tell you, my girl is standing taller these days. Love is spilling up and over from her, because who can stop a child who knows that He is happy with her? That orphan-mark stands no chance under that expression.

(If you want them to change the world, tell them what He feels when He sees them.)

When my weak-kneed minutes get won by His expression towards me in the midst of them, what kind of life might I live? My orphan-mark stands no chance under this expression.

Intellectual acknowledgment of His face towards me is not enough.

I have to see it.

Father, open my eyes to see the truth of Your Word stretched out over my life. Let me see You like she sees you.

 

*If you’re like me, I had to study this out. Years of false understandings of God were calcified, almost unmoving, against these new notions of Him that Scripture introduced. Praying, speaking, writing, singing these Words over my understanding began to pave a way. Thus, for your continued pursuit: Psalm 18:16-19 | Zephaniah 3:17 | Exodus 34:6 | Micah 7:18 | Romans 2:4 | Psalm 103:10,14 | Isaiah 62:4 | Psalm 147:11 | Ephesians 2:4,5
Photos compliments of Mandie Joy. This girl has also set us up on instagram. Friends, it took several sittings for me to know exactly what that means and I still don’t quite get it … except, that you can now find updates and useful graphics on Instagram @everybitterthingissweet. We have just started rolling out S-T-R-E-N-G-T-H-E-N images — letter by letter, how cool! Mandie keeps me in the 21st century.
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