A Bench, a Book, and a New Song
I’ve always heard of how God leads us, his Spirit within us a guiding light. I have journals scattered with stories of such leading. A few years ago, I learned that his love also follows us. Into mundane, darkness, pain, sorrow, and doubt.
It was fall of 2016.
I was living in a manor house nestled in the countryside of England, where the footpaths lead you through gardens and quiet forests and fields of sheep facing century old churches and thatched-roofed homes.
I had gladly quit my job and pressed pause on “normal” life as a single 29 year-old, packing my few belongings into an attic space in Nashville, TN, not knowing when I would see them again. I showed up at this manor house a few days late, after 35 others from around the world came. I later learned I missed the guided tour. When I googled “L’Abri Fellowship” months earlier and spent hours reading through their website, I didn’t realize people would aim to show up on the same day and stay for the entire term. I thought I was the crazy one— perhaps others would drop in and out, and I’d be there, in a corner somewhere sipping tea, quoting Pride and Prejudice, and people would introduce me as “the girl who won’t leave".
When I walked up to the door and read the sign “Welcome, Please Enter” I dropped my umbrella and stood in silence for a moment. I had navigated a two mile walk with suitcase in hand, walking through villages and cow pastures, even crossing the A3. As I stood there, I have never felt more like Maria von Trapp in all my life. The door creaked open and I threw the words “hello?” out into the stillness.
A month into my new life in the Manor House, I was engulfed in books by Henri Nouwen and Annie Dillard. The trees were starting to shed some skin, and I was too. One day, after a particularly hard conversation with my mentor, she suggested I go on a walk. I left the manor and took a right. Tears were smearing across my face while the chill in the wind forced me to pull my sweater tight across my chest. I made it to the corner of Forest Road and decided that walking and crying proved more difficult than I thought. I needed space, and saw the bench as an invitation to rest.
I immediately noticed a bag attached to the edge of the bench after I slumped down. I scooted over and saw the inscription In Memory of Theo and it beckoned as an invitation, so I opened it. There was a note. Theo passed away at 6 months old from a rare disease. Then I found the book and pulled it out: Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You. I opened it and began to read. I could taste the salt in my tears as they reached my lips.
And if someday you’re lonely, or someday you’re sad,
or you strike out at baseball, or think you’ve been bad…
just lift up your face, feel the wind in your hair.
That’s me, my sweet baby, my love is right there.
In the green of the grass…in the smell of the sea…
in the clouds floating by…at the top of a tree…
in the sound crickets make at the end of the day…
“You are loved. You are loved. You are loved,” they all say.
Three months later, I arrived back in the States just in time to hold my newborn niece and unwrap Christmas presents. My mother had a book waiting for me at the bedside table. “I bought this a year ago. I was drawn to it and felt compelled to give it to you, but the timing wasn’t right,” she explained. As I pulled the wrapping from its cover, I heard her continue, “I know it’s bizarre to gift you with a children’s book…” I recognized the author, Nancy Tillman, as I gasped at the title: Wherever You Are, My Love Will Find You. She didn’t know of my encounter with the book a few months prior. She just knew I needed it.
A year later, I entered into a darkness I feared might be permanent. This darkness was different than valleys I had traversed before. I wasn’t led there— I did the leading. Would God follow? The pain felt delicate, as if the tectonic plates of my heart shifting inside me were palpable. The question “Am I loved?” began to rise up through every waking moment. My favorite bedtime reading became replaced with the children’s book, the one that found me on the bench in England, in my Mother’s house, and again in my own home. For months, I read it consistently every night before falling asleep. “You are loved, you are loved, you are loved” I began to hear as God’s answer.
During this season, I woke up one day with the phrase Your love is older than the hills rattling around in my brain, and I saw the English countryside. I remembered the tree that offered safety from the classic English rain one afternoon on a hike with a friend, and felt deep in my bones that dreams were coming back into my heart. I began to notice the sun again, to feel it’s warmth as invitation to play. The light always breaks in through the darkness.
The deeper I go/ there you are down below/ your love is everywhere I go