By Courtney Veasey
Director of Women’s Academic Programs
Not long after the announcement of their engagement earlier this year, my dear friends Mike and Jaclyn called to ask if I would do them the honor of being a bridesmaid in their wedding. The ceremony would take place in the summer, and would be held at a location in Mike’s hometown. Sounds like a fairly standard invitation, right? Yes, all except that Mike’s hometown is located on the island of Maui, Hawaii!
Maui, Hawaii…this island’s exotic name alone makes it sound like an expensive destination…and it is! However, I enthusiastically agreed to check on prices and see if I could make it work. After months of ticket searching, money saving, and praying, all I can tell you is that the Lord opened a ridiculously amazing door for me and a friend to make this trip happen, take part in the wedding, and also have a few extra days for vacation on the island.
After much anticipation, the time for departure finally came in early July, and the days that followed proved to hold an unforgettable adventure in America’s beloved 50th state. Upon arrival, we who had travelled from the mainland were welcomed by Mike’s family with hearty “Alohas!,” big hugs, and days of wonderfully prepared Hawaiian cuisine. Feelings of jet lag were soon overcome by the joyous energy which being with good friends produces. On the actual wedding day, the girls were dressed in deep royal blue t-lengths, the guys in khaki pants and faded orange shirts with a Hawaiian pattern in the fabric, and the bride in brilliant white. Hawaiian musicians ushered in the outdoor processional with ukuleles and guitars, and with family and friends behind them, and nearby mountains standing tall in front of them, the couple embarked upon one of life’s greatest journeys by saying, “I do.”
The wedding and the days leading up to it, were only the beginning of a series of treasured moments and experiences I would have during my visit to Maui. Much like how the facets of a diamond reflect difference colors when the stone is turned, each beach I visited there offered a unique view of the Pacific, as well as demonstrated the gambit of temperaments which this ocean can have. Vintage silhouettes of swaying Hawaiian palm trees were set against layers of purple, pink and blue that streaked across the sky and melted along the beach at the start and close of each day. Mountains, beaches, waterfalls, surfing, hiking, exotic flowers, wild sea turtles, luaus, coconuts, world class spas, exceptional food…Maui boasted of having it all (except snakes, Hawaii does not have snakes which is even more amazing)!
Needless to say, the phrase, “wow!” kept uncontrollably coming out of my mouth with each new sight and experience. It was literally as if I had not progressed past a kindergarten vocabulary level of terms which one could use to describe amazement, but that’s all I could come up with, just “wow,” at every turn. But never once during my tour of Maui did any encounter invoke this expression in me as much one particular instance did during one of my daily Bible reading times.
When I had first arrived, I inquired of the Lord as to what He would have me read while on vacation. I felt like I heard in response, “Read your favorites.” And so for most of the week I hung out in four chapters of the New Testament of which I am particularly fond, John 14-17.
Just before bed one night, I was reading through the beloved phrases found in John 15 which teach of Jesus being the true vine, His Father the vinedresser, and us as branches which must remain in this vine. In verses 1-8, Jesus instructs that His disciples must remain in Him and His words must remain in them to be fruitful. But then in v 9, He adds a real stunner to the equation. There He says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.”
Though I have read this passage and verse many times before, there in my Maui condo, the Holy Spirit prompted me to think differently about these words. I began to consider all of the entities which Jesus could have instructed His disciples to abide in…He could have said, “Abide in My will,” or “Abide in My power.” He could have slid the word “perfection,” or “blessings,” into that slot. And yet He said, “Abide in My love.” As this thought resonated with me, I closed my eyes to ponder it more, and the last thing I remember is falling asleep with my Bible in my hands, and that simple phrase repeatedly pouring out of my mouth, “Wow, wow, wow.”
Even in the midst of sheer paradise, nothing on that island in the days that followed quite took my breath away nor held my attention like this revelation of God that came through His Word. It taught me that even where there is abounding beauty on earth, He is more beautiful still. And as far as the implications of this notion to abide in the love of Christ…what profound freedom this brings! I am free from worrying myself sick over whether or not I am in His “will.” I am to abide in His LOVE. This can take place no matter where or how I find myself serving in ministry. I can abide in His love in the highest and lowest of economic conditions. Even in those times when my flesh wins out and I feel like a complete failure as a disciple, the door to this abode yet remains open. It probably would have been much easier if He had said to abide in His power or strength, for those qualities are not as personal and require less vulnerability. But His love…His intimate, endless, unconditional love…it is in that place with God which we are to let go and allow ourselves to feel the warmth of His embrace.
Love is a universal necessity and is an applicable factor in every situation and moment we encounter in life. Perhaps this is why, above all of His other infinite qualities, God chose His ability both to be and give love, as the primary part of His nature in which we are to abide. We abide in His love so that we may in turn know how and what to give as we obey His command to love one another. But the choice must be made to abide there, for He will never force us.
So, fellow traveller, where are you choosing to abide today? Is it in your performance for God? In the love you have for Him? These are well and good, and you are free to choose them, but they are not His love, and they will never be enough. The greatest travesty in life would not be that you or I would never have the chance to experience such places as Maui and other extraordinary destinations. But rather that we would never say yes the opportunity that Christ has already placed before us to abide in the one place which promises to trump all others in comparison…His love. You don’t need a plane ticket or a passport to get there today…only a prayer.