The Rose

10:05 PM

           It was freshman year in college. All of the freshman dorms came together for a big rally in the gym. Each of the floors from the boys’ dormitories would do a presentation/dance to try to impress each of the floors from the girls’ dorm. The emotions were high as the freshies screamed and cheered like the high school cheerleaders that at heart they still were. Nervous homeschooler that I was, I glanced about me in a sort of startled bewilderment, desperately trying to figure out what all the fuss was about. At last the turn for our floor came and the boys from our “brother floor” (Christian Universities do have a way of exercising the good old gag reflex sometimes), ushered us out onto the floor of the gym. Romantic music was turned on and all of a sudden dozens of boys rushing came rushing at us with pink roses in hand. It was the beginning of the school year but by the end of freshman week all the pre-term relationships had begun. I found myself standing there surrounded by a blur of boys and pink and suddenly realized that there wasn’t one amongst them that would pick me, that would even want to pick me. It was every teenage girl’s worst nightmare: standing in the middle of a gymnasium with hundreds of people watching you practically get trampled as desperate mobs of hormonal teenage boys swamp you in an attempt to get to the prettier girls. Eventually a nice, rather round older guy who I’m pretty sure had a girlfriend came up and gave me a pity rose. Now I can see it was very sweet of him at the time it just stung my wounded pride.
Up till that time I had grown up almost in a garden of naivety. I was protected from much of the world’s cruelty by loving parents and a Christian environment, and of course, all that home schooling ;). It was the first time in my life that I realized that love was not a given, that you had to be found in some way deserving of it. It may seem silly but something in me broke that night. A part of me stopped in time watching other people receive roses and affection while I was pushed out of the way. I hardened my heart in an effort never to feel the pain of rejection so startlingly clearly again.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from C.S. Lewis. He says, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
It took me four years to realize what I had done after that night. Sitting in Pastor Derek’s office as he prayed for me my very last day of my internship in Ireland, he remarked that even the way I sat was completely emotionless. No one knew who I was. I had created so many walls around my heart that I couldn’t break them down anymore nor see through them to find a way of escape. My body had continued to do its daily routine, my face registering shock, surprise, happiness, or pleasure but never fear, anger, hate, or displeasure, heaven forbid. Behind this resilient mask of tranquility, lived a girl deeply in despair that no one would ever love her, that there was something fatally flawed within her, making her unlovable. It was there that the lies stemmed. “If you were prettier it would have been possible for you to be loved but as you are….well, some things are just not meant to be.” “You’re loud. No one likes loud girls. Maybe if you didn’t laugh so much….if your hair was blonde too, if you stopped eating, if you were like the other girls… and on and on and on.” This never-ending parade of lies has been a constant fixture in my mind since goodness knows when. They say that Satan’s best lies carry a semblance of truth. I am loud, can’t deny it. I could say I wish I weren’t, but I don’t need a microphone to hit the back row of a theatre which I’m a little proud of. No, I’m not like the other girls. I do love hanging with the boys sometimes, most of the time and if I’m honest if I died my hair blonde I’d look like a sea sick frog with a raging case of hepatitis. Some things are just best left to be. I bet you carry these lies within you too. Most likely they’re different than mine and maybe they didn’t spring from a painful freshman year experience. Maybe for you they started the first time you were hushed at the dinner table and told to be seen and not heard or when you realized you weren’t athletic enough for the soccer team, smart enough for the math club, or showed up talent less at the talent show. Your lies may be different than mine but I can bet the result is the same. You see someone else better than you, more loved than you and you change everything about yourself to attain that which you do not have. Brennan Manning, speaking about the birth of a Pharisee, sets this moment in time to perfection. “Suppose a child has never experienced any love from her parents. One day she meets another little girl whose parents shower her with affection. The first says to herself: “I want to be loved like that, too. I have never experienced it, but I’m going to earn the love of my mother and father by my good behavior.” So to gain the affection of her parents, she brushes her teeth, makes her bed, smiles, minds her p’s and q’s, never pouts or cries, never expresses a need, and conceals negative feelings. This is the way of pharisees. They follow the law impeccably in order to induce God’s love. The initiative is theirs. Their image of God necessarily locks them into a theology of works.”

     We create for ourselves a new image because our Creator didn’t do well enough the first time. “God created man in His own image and man returned the favor.” It’s an idol. It’s made of stone and soon you are too. Maybe it wasn’t you in the beginning but it soon becomes a soul chiseled fact. In our image and success driven society, sorting through and finding out who a person really is becomes an almost impossible endeavor. After my pastor inadvertently, or perhaps not, revealed to me a side of myself that I had never truly faced, I became almost comatose. I literally went home, faced a mirror and didn’t move for a night and a day. When I got up, I was a completely different person. I felt as if I had escaped a long captivity. That was the beginning of a new life for me, a life of freedom. “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” It is said that you have to let God look at every area of your life and as He looks at those hidden things, His gaze brings not only perspective to that which lacked, but daylight and hope to the dark corners which held only rottenness and death. That’s grace. It’s a gift freely given. He doesn’t force Himself into your life for my Jesus is a gentleman of the truly highest order. But He stands. And He waits. And one day, perhaps for no particular reason at all, you’ll open the door and find Him standing there with a pink rose in His hand waiting for you to accept it.

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