For the next few weeks in worship at Calvary, we’re considering some of Jesus’ Kingdom Parables…passages in the New Testament where he compares life in the kingdom of God to everyday events or experiences. Each week a Calvary member will share some thoughts about a picture he or she took for our Modern Kingdom Parables photo gallery, and challenge the congregation to think in new ways about the biblical parable we’re studying.
For me, the kingdom of God is like my string of pearls – a gift of love you never expected to receive, a symbol of all love hopes and dreams for you.
When I was a child my parents showered me with gifts. I’ve wondered if perhaps they were trying to somehow make up for their divorce – giving me everything I could want to compensate for what they felt to be their failure to give me the one thing they feared I really needed. The message of the mounds of presents piled next to my birthday cake or under the Christmas tree seemed to be, “This is the measure of our love for you,” even though it wasn’t and could never be. There aren’t enough material possessions in the world to measure or manifest a love like that, the love of a parent for a child, as true and unconditional as a human can feel.
I learned a brand of Christianity in my youth that used the world “unconditional” to describe God’s love, but what it taught me was this: that my sins were so egregious, and the resulting flaws to my character so ugly, that God could only love me in spite of them.
Under this teaching, the gift of God’s love in Christ becomes one that says, “I wish you were different than you are. I wish you were better. But I love you anyway, I guess, and I’ll sacrifice myself for you in hopes you’ll eventually live up to my expectations.” To be honest, I didn’t like being loved like that. It made me feel manipulated, a little used. I felt guilty all the time, and my discipleship – my Christ-following – grew out of that guilt.
But what if there was a different way, a different teaching? What if you are so wonderful, so beautiful, so fabulously fantastic that God loves you because of who you are, not in spite of it? What if God’s love really is like the love of a parent for a child – where foibles and imperfections fade to insignificance in the shining, sublime light of the little one’s sheer lovable-ness? What if the gift of God’s love in Christ really says, “You are lovable just like you are, right now. It’s not righteousness that I love or some standard of conduct; it’s YOU. I have always loved you and I always will because you’re mine, and I make this sacrifice for you because you’re worth it!”
Danyelle and I had been married over a decade when I finally accepted the truth I’d always known about myself – that God made me transgender, and that transition from man to woman was the path to peace God had set before me. As I set out on that journey, my greatest fear was that it would cost me my partner’s love, or that she would feel compelled to struggle her whole life to live me in spite of who I was.
I should have known better.
Danyelle, who has always been so sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, quickly discerned the truth about my experience, saw God’s hand in it, and became my strongest support and source of deepest strength as I made my transition – and remains so today. Last year at Christmas she took my breath away by giving me this extravagant gift – a string of real pearls. There was no card, just a tag that said, “To Allyson, Love Danyelle,” but the message was clear. With these pearls, my wife was saying to me, “I value you – ALL of you. I don’t love you in spite of who you are, but because of who you are. And so when people hate you for who you are, I will stand up for you. When they attack you, I will defend you. When they deride you, I will sing your praises. I will make whatever sacrifice is asked of me for you, not because I’m compelled to, but because I want to. You’re worth the sacrifice. You mean that much to me.” I am someone’s pearl of great price.
My sister, my brother, YOU are a pearl of great price to God, who gave everything God had for the chance of having you – because you are worth it. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.