we are all the lost sheep (a letter to preston)

Some of you know that last year, my friend Preston and I started pondering theology out loud in letters. He writes on Tuesdays, I write on Thursdays, and we wander through Gossip Girl and workloads and grace and mystery and espresso. Won’t you join us? You can read his last letter to me here.

Dear Preston,

It was the warmth of the night as I walked to my car that got me. It’s late September now, the month winding its way to a close, and the nights are usually cool, crisped with fall. But we were supposed to get rain, and so there was a warm wind rushing past me as I trudged, three bags and three inch heels, towards my car alone in the parking lot.

It was warm, and the air had that late summer sweetness to it as I breathed in, and out. And I paused for a second. Just a second – put my bags down and closed my eyes and took a deep breath of that sweet oxygen – and that fragile wall, those bits of glass I had glued together to protect my heart through smiling and being overwhelmed and getting fifteen emails in ten minutes – that fragile wall crumpled.

It is in these moments that I get a step closer to understanding why God blessed us with physicality, with bodies that cry and hyperventilate and crumple in the front seat of the car in the empty parking lot. He gives them to us so that we can recognize when we are in need. If we always stayed lovely, perfectly calm and collected, if we didn’t feel aches in muscles or turn red from tears and sweat, I wonder if we would be able to recognize how deeply we are in need. Our bodies keep us humble.

As I drove home, I finally, finally prayed what I couldn’t pray before this humbling moment of warm wind and just a second to catch my breath: Jesus I know I’m supposed to believe you love me, even if it aches and is lonely. I know you have me here in this place and I have to trust when it’s the desert and when it’s silence. But I need you to say it again. Will you tell me again that you love me? I can’t hear you anymore. I can’t believe it. 

The words hovered in the car as I drove, silent, expectant. I thought it, over and over, Will you tell me again? 

And He spoke.

“I will leave 99 to find you.”

More silence.

And oh, the grace of what followed. “Hilary, you belong to me. I will always leave 99 to find you. And I will hold you in my arms stretched out on this cross if you were the only one to ever live. Because I love you. Because I love you, I will always come find you. I will never lose you, Hilary. Because I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. And I will always come find you.”

Whoever we are, wherever we are? We are that one sheep. This is the miracle of grace: it doesn’t matter if you grew up in the church or became a believer yesterday. It doesn’t matter if you pray ten times a day or only once, or none at all, or where you live or who you marry or if you have children or if you volunteer at a soup kitchen.

We are all the lost sheep. We are all the one running into the fence, into the wolf, hungry and afraid and trembling before the world. We are the one sheep that He chases after. Each one of us is loved so mysteriously and extravagantly that He comes looking for us and does not rest until He finds us and holds us and brings us home, rejoicing.

Maybe this can make us more joyful when we meet others returning: because in every moment He pours out love and blessing on a brother or sister we can realize that we are all the lost sheep, brought home again by grace. Maybe we can stop being the older, accusing brother in the story, the 99 jealous sheep, when we realize that we are all that lavishly loved.

We are all the lost sheep.

He loses no one.

Love, and grace upon grace be poured out for you this week from the Good Shepherd,
hilary

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