Some days, it is hard to believe this story actually happened. I was young and so, so very naive. I had no idea loving people would be controversial. I didn’t. I had no idea where the journey would lead or how much it would cost. In life, in health, in dreams, in faith, in pain, in almost everything. But I would do it over again 1000 times in a heartbeat.
After I wrote Love Has a Face, the very first book review I ever got as a published author was a scathing 1 star diatribe that basically called me a heretic for believing in a “social gospel” where the world could be changed by loving our neighbor.
How scandalous of me. To believe in the power of love. To believe Jesus actually meant what He said. Who knew love could be a four-lettered word?
In my first year in South Sudan, I spent more than my fair share of time weeping with grieving families who had their lives torn apart by war. I have seen war and its ravages first hand. One in six women died in childbirth. One doctor for half a million people. Hunger, trauma, oppression. A peace written on paper but not yet on hearts.
One day our neighbors brought us a baby whom we didn’t know at the time was dying. We cared for her and got her the best medical care available, but she was already in sepsis. When Azeezah died barely 2 days later, I remember sitting in the dirt with her grandma and we wept together. I believe love is stronger than death, but in my sleep-deprived, grieving state, I could not have imagined what was actually unfolding around me.
Several months later, I had been asked to give military training to soldiers on how to fight with weapons of love. We spent the day just outside their barracks talking about hard, brave things like grace and forgiveness and mercy. Towering men were often unable to hold tears back as they experienced the love of God for themselves often for the first time. At the end of the workshop, everyone who participated got to add their thoughts and critiques and opinions. In a tribal culture, every voice has value.
One of the last men to speak was the father of the little baby I had buried months before. He stood with tears in his eyes and poured out his heart.
“The first day I brought my daughter to this woman I had heard of, she welcomed her and took her in her arms. She hugged her and kissed her. Often we do not even show such affection to our own children. And here this woman comes from so far away. She gives up everything to come and suffer with us and show such love to a people who are not her own.”
He went on to recount in detail our many hours of sitting in the hospital. He recalled my crying with them in the dirt at the funeral. He charged the gathering: “I have never seen love like this anywhere from anyone before. These people do not preach anything other than what they live. Listen to them.”
Then this father who had lost everything looked into my eyes with all the intensity of heaven and spoke nothing less than a commission: “Take this message of love all over this nation. Love is the only thing that will save my people.”
God’s love is not about what we deserve. Religion is about what we deserve. God is about what we believe. And if we believe in Him we must believe in love because love is the very essence of Who He is. Love that always wins. Love that never fails.
When I was six years old, I had a Wonder Woman outfit and I dreamed about saving the world from the bad guys. I wasn’t sure back then who exactly the bad guys were, but I was going to vanquish them. Wonder Woman was my favorite superhero (because duh, obviously she would be- girl power, hello). I wanted to help people like she did when I grew up. I wanted to fight for those who could not fight for themselves.
Today, mom and I went to go see the movie. It was fitting, as my mom was the one that made sure I had my Wonder Woman gear growing up. Mom made sure that I believed it wasn’t just about a costume, it was about a call and, that yes I could indeed change the world. Mom believed in me long before I believed in me. Moms are super heroes.
I expected a good movie. I didn’t expect a 2.5 hour long visual manifesto that splashed my heart on the screen. I expected good special effects. I had no idea I would leave radically encouraged and reminded of promises over my life I’m still believing for, dreams I’m still walking out. I expected action, not to have my heart activated and challenged by a movie that in all its fiction has more truth, more understanding of the true heart of love than the majority of sermons and messages I have heard put together.
And my inner six year old was very stoked that Wonder Woman shared a version of my first name. In the closing monologue, Diana talks about love being the only thing that can save the world. As she spoke, all of the sudden I was hearing Azeezah’s father years ago in the middle of a war zone: “Love is the only thing that will save my people.”
As I drove home from the theater, it hit me. I got to run to the front lines of war that war would be stopped by Love. Azeezah’s father and Diana Prince (aka Wonder Woman) are right. Only Love is strong enough to stare death and hate and fear in the face and win.
Religion rails about what is deserved. But beloved, Jesus isn’t about what is deserved.
It isn’t about being right and winning a debate or forcing a doctrinal position.
It is about one thing and one thing only: LOVE.
Other-centered, self-giving, face-to-face, messy, costly, controversial, comfort-zone crushing, four-lettered, freedom-wielding, fierce, brave, fiery L-O-V-E.
Only Love wins. Only Love can save. That’s what real super heroes are made of. And if you haven’t seen Wonder Woman, seriously… go see the movie.
PS If you want an actual hard copy of Love Has a Face, you might want to nab one from Amazon now because when they are gone, they are going out of print.