"I took them up by their arms, but they did not know that I healed them."

"How can I give you up? My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender..."

"For I am God and not a man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath."

I'm back.

For those of you who don't know, I'm currently typing this during a breezy morning up in Muskoka. Breezy mornings have been few and far between - this has been one of the warmest summers that I can remember. Like, you can see the moisture in the air kind of warm. Warm that makes you want to throat punch anyone that talks to you just because they dared to speak. I'm not a grumpy kind of person, but something large and ugly rises up in me when it gets this sweltering. Goodbye, Beth. Hello angry, smelly, average height woman with a tough love attitude.

As I've been here, serving a kick booty team of lady staff, I've been reading again through the book of Hosea. (There's something about the prophets that keeps me coming back - bringing me to my knees and tugging on my heartstrings.)

To put things in perspective, I wrote this in my journal last summer;

"I don't understand, and don't think I ever have, understood the love God has for me fully. I always attach strings. Or I say it in my head while my heart whispers back to me - how could that possibly be?"

I've always been quick to admit that following Jesus is hard, but what I've been realizing more and more in this season is that loving God back is sometimes harder. Saying the phrase "Don't you know God loves you!" is like the bread and butter of camps like the one I'm working at. Whether we use it as a weapon over people's heads, or whether we tenderly speak it to the broken right in front of us, is our choice. I can't even begin to address in my own heart how different the way he loves me is to how I love him. I'm fickle, bitter, demanding, and sullen. He is tender, ever-loving, compassionate, and completely just in his love for me. His love means I will be stretched, grown, and challenged by him. Last summer was my season of coming back to God without a mask and without cliche. This summer, here and now, is my season of falling back in love with God. I have begun to think about the love of God in a more vibrant, radiant, and radical way.

Before I get into that though - let's talk about Hosea. The scope of his story is hopeless at best. Not only is the love of the woman that he makes his wife adulterous - but all around him the love of his people, for their God, is full of adultery as well. Unhidden, unhinged adultery. Not a white lie here and there, not an occasional slip up, nothing that could be explained or justified away. The betrayal of God's people was everywhere. And as the prophet wailed and despaired, we learn that we are in the exact same position - adulterers towards our saviour.
Over, and over, and over, and over.

Amanda Bible Williams writes about the book of Hosea - "it causes me to say things out loud to the Lord that I don’t want to say, and then forces me to stand and listen as He patiently and earnestly says back to me, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”'

Hosea is a lesson in God's love. The kind of love that doesn't get anything back but still gives it all away anyway. The kind of love we so often try to model in our ministries, but flies back in our face because we are in the midst of humanity, not the Holy One. Our love is like us (irresponsible at best) - but God's love for us is nothing that we can replicate. In the words of a seven year old I had the pleasure of talking to about God's love this week, "Wait! This is crazy! I mean, he just gives it to me and gives it to me and gives it to me?" Speak it to your own heart - yes, beloved. He gives it. Because we could never get it for ourselves from anywhere else.

I think that it's my lack of understanding about the real, true, sacrificial, honest-to-goodness-no-strings-attached love of God for his people (and me. ME!) that has kept me in cycles of doubt, insecurity, and shame. It's a common experience in Christian life to be told, and to tell ourselves, that there is some kind of aspect of earning or deserving when it comes to the love of God. It's my growing concern that most people - even serving, God-desiring, bible reading, people - have not fully grasped the hesed ("lovingkindness") that God feels towards his children. My only advice to give is this - go back to your roots. Go back to that vulnerability that the prophet Hosea knew so well. Remember when you were first called. And then let God love you. Quit striving for his approval. Stop assuming that because you aren't getting what you wanted or what you expected that he doesn't love you anymore. When you're at his feet, and ready to give him all you have, he will give it back to you and he won't run out - because he gives it, he gives it, and he gives it.

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