#78 Just Four Words, “I Love You, Child.”


Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

In 2011, between high school graduation and moving onto campus at a private university in Louisville, I handed my life over to Jesus during one summer week with my church in Florida. And that made all the difference. I’d known a lot about God from a lifetime of Sunday school, but doubted He could be trusted; I had a thing for expecting everyone to harm me if I let them get close enough. So, choosing Christ would be “all things new”—or it would be nothing new. 

That fall, a few months into my newly-surrendered life, my life fell apart. Not that it was perfect before—but disordered eating and self-loathing were old habits and a well-hidden way of daily life. They were my miserable lot, I assumed, for being myself—however long I lasted. As tradition, my 18th birthday in September brought a visit from my grandpa. He understood me. He just did. He was proud of me, and if I close my eyes I can still see his crinkly, smiling blue eyes, and hear him humming “You are my Sunshine.”

But two weeks later, an afternoon brought a missed call and voicemail. I still hate voicemails. A family friend had accidentally called me instead of my dad. The only words I heard were, “David, I’m real sorry to hear about your dad”… Something, something, “sudden.” … Something, something, “if you need anything, let us know.” My world went dark. I remember making frantic calls to my mom and dad, and making a grief-stricken spectacle of myself on campus main. 

Grandpa. A violent stroke and tiny chance. An early morning drive to North Carolina—but no, he was gone already. Like Grandma four years before. Like Poppy two years before. Something broke in me. I lost it. In the weeks that followed, my barely-managed depression took control. Any efforts to keep college friends ceased; my vision blurred; everything happened to me from a mile away, like people tapping on exhibit glass. I was achingly lonely. I was terribly afraid. Nothing could break into my dark cloud; I couldn’t break out. And the enemy ramped up the old accusations, “No one even sees you and life would be better off without you.” I already believed that; the sharp, new grief made me desperate. Yet, just months before I’d stood on the ocean shore and told God I’d give Him my whole life, if He’d have me. The Bible said He would, so I’d begun reading every day and now kept on, fighting to catch a glimpse of Him—in case life with Him could save me. It’s not hyperbole when I tell you I whispered Isaiah 41:10 under my breath wherever I went those days, over and over: “So do not be afraid, for I Am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I Am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My mighty right hand.”

But fear filled me; dismay wracked my body with sobs when I was alone. I fled to my room whenever class let out, barely interacted with roomie and friends, rarely ate but did so alone, beat my body into submission at the gym with music drowning out the people. Alone. Alone. Alone. Better that way. Safer that way. “Help me, God.” Out of control. But I’ll remember this forever, and my life has turned into a shout of “My Abba is trustworthy,” because of this: Yahweh keeps His promises. He is with us and He holds us. 

I was stumbling to a late-semester exam on medical Latin and Greek roots, no thought in my mind but dully flipping my notecards, when I stepped foot onto the crosswalk between buildings, almost to class. Suddenly—no, a car didn’t hit me—a voice tore through the heaviness drowning me. Four words. While the world just mumbled and roared in the distance, the voice split the static like a trumpet blast, calm and matter-of-fact, softly like a wedding vow. Out of the blue; out of the blackness. I can’t say it was audible. No one else was in sight. But I heard it. I stopped. My cards dropped. And tears filled my eyes. I actually saw the sun shining. My fog cleared the tiniest bit. Rescue. Belonging. Hope. Just four words. “I love you, child.” That wasn’t my study material talking. It wasn’t self-talk (goodness knows I used a cruder vocabulary for myself). No, the Father’s voice broke in like the voice of a friend: I knew it, though that was the first time I’d heard it. “I love you, child.” Each one of those words meant a world within itself to me: All that He is. Loving. Me. His child. He saw me; He sees me. He loved me; He loves me. 

That day on the crosswalk, He began a process of healing wounds and growing courage in me that still carries me through daily life. His love changed me utterly, and changes me still. Simply, I found someone I could trust. Profoundly, His faithfulness meant that my old fear-driven patterns of playing small, starving myself, and putting up walls were not for me anymore (even if the process of laying those down is a marathon and sometimes feels impossible). In the following months and years, He kept calling me to leap out in faith and catching me when I jumped with arms outstretched. I transferred to Asbury University at His nudging, stepped into worship ministry in front of crowds, moved to the Dominican Republic for a summer, worked with middle-school kids, learned to be a leader on campus, and made friends who called out the courage in me and fought for me in prayer. The Father did that. I handed Him my life almost six years ago, and I have to laugh in awe and thanksgiving at the difference Jesus makes in a broken soul (and the way He continues to heal me of daily fear, and calls me “whole”). I stand here a new creation—all things are new.

I cried again writing this, feeling the pang of loss again. Pain is real (and we know that even Jesus wept). But these promises are just as real: The Lord is strong enough to hold you up and hold you together. You will not drown in grief or fear or rejection forever. When you receive His grace, the only thing that will last for eternity is His limitless love. And You are loved. Your hope for healing and freedom is well founded in Christ. Joy comes. In this life. I promise. I pray over these words as I scribble them down, that the Spirit weighs them down with mercy so you believe them now if you don’t already: The God who left heaven for earth to love us in person, who died to give us life, who conquered the grave once and for all, and who still scatters all darkness to shine resurrection light on tear-stained faces… He has loved you forever, and will love you forever, and He can be trusted. He does not rip the rug out from under you. He sees you and calls you by a better name than the painful ones seared onto your heart, by others or yourself. He hears you and He is at work bringing about what is good—that you would know Him and live fully in His love. He is right here, closer than breath, ready to speak if you ask Him (and sometimes if you don’t). 

This isn’t fluff. These aren’t platitudes to tide you over. This is reality. You can lean your whole weight on Christ; He will not give way beneath you. You can show Him everything about you; He will not walk away, but run to you. You can kneel at His feet, and hand over everything you have and all you think you are into His hands; He will not dash you to pieces. He will redeem your life from the pit. He will crown you with gladness, remove your despair. He will sing over you. He is who He says He is and does what He says He’ll do. He is good. The Word promises that. And He lives it out. Life is unpredictable and broken sometimes. Jesus is not. His love for you is sure and it is wholehearted. Take my word for it, sure—please do—but take His word for it. He is good. Draw close to Him. He draws close to you. Trust Him. “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

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