We had a sleep-over at our house the other night - five-year-old twins and their ten-year-old sister. As part of the bedtime ritual I let the twins select two books they wanted me to read them. One they selected was Dr. Bryan Chappel's I'll Love You Anyway and Always. It's the story of Katy.
Katy waters the plants in the backyard. Her mother tells her to water all the plants except her father's orchid (Do I hear echoes of Genesis 2:15 - 17?). Katy diligently waters all the other plants and then decides that she'll break the "rules" and water the orchid anyway. She thinks she knows more than her mom. She wants to surprise and please her dad.
The orchid dies because it was watered and the watering was too much. Dad walks in the backyard and spies the dying orchid. (More echoes of Genesis 3:8ff?) He asks, "What happened to my orchid?" Katy knows she's busted so she admits watering the orchid.
Later Katy starts to worry, "Daddy, will you still love me?"
Katy's dad answers (Dr. Chappel has a daughter named Katy.), "Because you disobeyed you and I are both sad. But nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you. I'll love you anyway and always."
The rest of the book goes through Biblical history from Adam and Eve to Noah to Abraham and Sarah to Moses to King David to the birth of God's own Son Jesus. Each page ends on the refrain, "I'll love you anyway and always." Then Katy's dad (as preachers do) goes to preaching. He tells Katy: "Katy, now you know ... why nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you. The way God loves us is the way we should love each other. ... I will love you anyway and always."
Then Katy's little brother Taylor sneaks into her room and eats her chocolate teddy bear. Katy is really mad at Taylor until she remembers what she has learned about God's love from her father's forgiveness for what she did to the orchid. It is then that Katy scoops Taylor up for a big hug and an even bigger assurance of her love, "... I'll love you anyway and always."
Like a tune that runs around and around in my head, that phrase "I'll love you anyway and always" has been making its circle in my head for two days. Only God really, really has that kind of unconditional love that always forgives, but it's the model for the kind of love He wants us to have.
Many, if not most, people we encounter have never known unconditional love either from God or another human. They have been conditioned to believe that they are only loved by their performance so they try harder and harder. Nothing works! They have never heard or understood the Gospel of God's amazing unconditional love. They have never loved or been loved that way.
Jesus said our purpose is to love God first and best and then to model God's love as we show that same unconditional, forgiving, serving love to others! (Mark 12:29-30)
Here's the real deal! Only God loves anyway and always perfectly! Only God can put that kind of "anyway and always" love in our hearts! That's part of God's process of restoration one heart at a time!