Extravagant, Covenant Love

September 4, 2016 No Comments »
Extravagant, Covenant Love

By Laurel Thomas

It was a superb setup in my grandmother’s garden. I was 4 years old and playing outside when the parable of love unfolded. Not that I understood it at the time. Memories often linger with their lesson though, waiting for the right time to teach.

Peony Blooms

I’d buried my face in the blooms of snow-white peonies. Soft petals brushed me with their fragrance. Picking a blossom, I separated each petal one by one, plucking, pulling, and tossing into the wind. I chose one more, then another and another. Sweet breezes warmed my face and blew white ribbons like confetti 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 her backyard looked like the Garden of Eden. I hadn’t meant to take Eve’s place, with a stripped peony stalk instead of gnawed fruit in hand. Shreds of isolated blossoms stared up at me with an accusing glare. 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. Maybe, after a few minutes to breathe, she remembered I was 4. And that I was worth more than her beloved peonies.

At the time Mom was going through the fight of her life. My dad’s alcoholism had been like a putrid swamp that seeped into our family and destroyed its fiber. Instead of getting better, his addiction only grew. When our lives were in danger, she packed us up and left—and with a broken heart cried out to God. 

Her decision had taken years to make. To leave the husband she’d committed her life to felt wrong. But alcoholism had plundered the man she’d married and had threatened to destroy the rest of us. Facing a precipice of divorce with three small children, she had to trust that God’s love would hold us.

And it did. God intervened with the safety net of our grandparents’ arms. Like the Lord, they embraced their hurting daughter with love that showed up at just the right time. It was the love of God and the love of his well-placed people working hand in hand.

Covenant Love

Since then, 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. The contractual kind of love is based on a mentality of not enough. I don’t have enough to give when it gets hard. I 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.

Covenant love doesn’t wait for everything to be clean and nice to arrive on the scene. It’s more like the Lone Ranger riding in when a cry is heard. God, who sees the heart when we can’t, isn’t moved by what we look like. Or by how much hurt has marred us. Covenant love is a divine appointment, wrapped in the unexpected. We could miss it. But he never does.

The story of Rahab in the book of Joshua is a picture of covenant love. Rahab’s name meant insolent and fierce. The worship of gods dominating Jericho, her home, was so perverse, it required children on its blood-thirsty altars. Its depravity targeted the innocent and defenseless. Even the land tried to vomit it out (Leviticus 18:21, 24-28).

Joshua sent two spies to check out the city. They went to an inn built into the city walls where as an innkeeper and prostitute, Rahab had access to information from all over the region. 

God visited Rahab that day in the form of two of his servants. Like my grandparents, their presence signaled an opportunity to realign in a shifting time. Those men didn’t know they were acting as God’s arms of deliverance. But Rahab did.

She’d followed the news about the Israelites with interest. The stories had swept through the area like wildfire. This God of the Hebrews defended his people. He’d opened the sea so they could cross to safety, then swallowed the enemy who’d pursued them.

Rahab acknowledged the spies’ God as God in heaven above and earth below (Joshua 2:11). She trusted in the mercies of a God she’d never known, but risked her life to embrace. Rahab could have chosen to erect walls around her heart, like the towering stone that surrounded her city. But she didn’t. Before it had even been written, she was living out Psalm 113:7, 8: “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people.” Somewhere along the way, Rahab decided to make the leap, taking her family along.

Extravagant Love

Although my mother was the farthest thing from a prostitute, her story reminded me of Rahab’s. For both women, hope in God’s unfailing love looked puny compared to the danger on the horizon. But it proved stronger than any chains. God’s love saved Rahab and her family. It rewrote her story. It did the same for mine.

My grandparents modeled covenant love to their daughter who’d been caught in a web she couldn’t break free of alone. They didn’t offer should haves, could haves, or what ifs. They gave love and lots of it.

My grandfather made hot cereal layered in butter and sugar and took me to school on cold winter mornings. Grandmother handed out doses of liquid vitamins and taught me a ravenous love for books. I was safe, even while my family was being torn apart.

They didn’t measure their love with careful precision, making sure nothing extra leaked out. And their choice for extravagant love paid off in ways they never saw on earth. They didn’t get to see when I made the decision to make Jesus Christ as my Savior. Or witness how his goodness streamed into the lives of our children, their great-grandchildren.

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

My mom, grandparents, and Rahab are part of an elite company. Their actions demonstrated that God doesn’t just hear our cry—he responds with a giant leap, hurdling over the impossible to protect, deliver, and carry us into a new beginning. He takes the very walls that hurt built and transforms them into a door of hope.

The Lord loves to rewrite stories. And to use us as his pen. My humanity may scream, “Not enough!” But he’s the one who turns my not enough into more than enough. When I make the step of faith to love with his abundance, mine won’t be the only story he’ll rewrite. There may be a Rahab waiting in a dark place, ready for the way out.

Laurel Thomas is a freelance writer from Edmond, Oklahoma.

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