Laurel Thomas

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The Love that Counts

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I buried my face in the blooms of snow-white peonies. Soft petals tickled my tender four-year old face. Their fragrance filled my senses. I picked the biggest blossom and separated each petal one by one, plucking, pulling and tossing into the wind.

They scattered like water lilies on the spring grass. I chose one more, then another and another. Sweet breezes warmed my face and blew white ribbons like confetti far into the neighboring yards.

Immersed in my work, it surprised me to look up and see my grandmother. Petals littered the grass around an almost stripped bush. Remaining blossoms looked like survivors of a hail storm.

She was the official family gardener and the reason our backyard looked like the Garden of Eden. My four-year old self hadn’t meant to take Eve’s place, with a stripped peony stalk instead of gnawed apple in hand.

Shreds of isolated blossoms stared up at me with an accusing glare. My grandmother’s eyes darkened and her face flushed a deep purple. At that moment, it was me or the prize peony bush. Which would she choose?

I don’t remember the punishment, although I’d built a good case for at least a pop on the behind. Maybe, after a few minutes to breathe, she remembered I was four. And that I was worth more than her beloved peonies. Or at least I hoped.

My mom was going through the fight of her life. There were three of us children, all under the age of seven. Our grandparents stepped in as a refuge, opening their home and their hearts.  They embraced a hurting daughter without shame and enfolded three little kids from the crushing blows of collateral damage.

I was accident-prone, so that meant a few trips to the emergency room. My grandfather took me to school and taught me to tell time while I sat on his lap and fingered the smooth crystal of his pocket watch. My grandmother issued out hugs with liquid doses of B vitamins. I still remember that taste.

Most of all, they loved. Like the loving-kindness of the Lord that goes far beyond what is required. We shared cookies and milk with cousins around the bay kitchen window. Grandpa cooled watermelon beside the old wringer washing machine in the basement.

Since that time, I’ve learned about two kinds of love. The first is love based on contract. I do something for you, you do something for me and we’re good. Until that equation falls apart.

What I’ve been learning for the past 38 years is covenant love. Covenant love is based on a promise. I’ll love you through thick and thin, when I feel like it and when I don’t. Because I’ve committed my life to you.

The contractual kind of love is based in poverty. I don’t have enough to give when it gets hard. I’ve run out of the love that makes sense. Worst of all, as I measure out my limited portion, I offer it only to the deserving.

It’s taken me awhile to learn the largeness of God’s love. It stretches beyond my abilities, yet propels me into a freedom I didn’t think was possible.

As children, we were loved when we couldn’t give much in return. What we had to offer was lots of messes and noise. And a little shed blood from time to time.

But what an investment our grandparents made in us. It wasn’t a contractual deal. It was covenant love. A love that didn’t measure what it gave with careful precision, making sure nothing extra leaked out.

And it paid off in ways they never saw on earth. They didn’t see the reward in our children, their great-grandchildren. They didn’t know that their sacrificial love opened a door to embrace the love of our Savior.

So here’s to the journey. Love’s harvest is sweet. We look forward to its strength to mold and make us, our generations and the world we inhabit.

Shalom in the River,

Laurel Thomas