A Bright Orange Wig and the Death of a CEO (On Loving Unconditionally)

God sneaks up on me. He always has.

I might not be his favorite kid in the world, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out I am. I suppose that’s the way all kids should feel. Special. Loved. Set apart. And I feel all of these things from him.

There are times when I’ve felt if God needed something regarding love he’d come straight to me, because I love a lot of things without much effort, the same way he loves me, I suppose.

Several days ago I stood before a crowd of two thousand people. We sang God-songs and reminded ourselves of all that we believed.

Most of the words we sang were about his love.

Our hands were raised and our eyes were shut tight. But this day was different for me, because it was my worship swan song – because I was leaving behind my vocation.

For twenty-one years I’ve stood in front of large gatherings of people…mouths agape…hallelujahs falling off their tongues. But some time ago I came to the realization that God was no longer asking me to “sing something” but to “love something” instead – or to love someone. So it made all the sense in the world that on my farewell weekend, as I was “singing something,” I noticed someone I was supposed to love sitting right in front of me.

Like I said, God sneaks up on me.

She was eight or ten rows back, and except for the ring of empty around her, you would’ve been hard pressed to find a seat in our crowded auditorium. Had she been better at pretending, like the rest of us, I’m sure people would’ve filled in the seats around her. But we struggle to love what we don’t understand, so it’s just easier to keep our distance.

Her wig was bright orange and matted into large, round synthetic curls. It sat atop her head like a cranial prosthesis. I imagined her grabbing her crowning glory off a Styrofoam head form just before leaving for church that morning.

She was a mess of a woman. A beautiful, gorgeous mess. And in the tiniest moment of quiet, while lights flashed, hands clapped, and music blared, I heard God speak a confirmation into my spirit that went something like this…

“That’s what I’m calling you on to. That’s WHO I’m calling you on to.”

The truth? I loved her the moment I laid eyes on her. How could I not? This gorgeous creature in a bright orange wig, singing for all she was worth, not a second thought for those of us who were so buttoned up on the outside, yet unzipped or unraveling on the inside. She was who she was, and to me, she was everything.

I’m going to tell you something. I think our Christian religious system has been in disarray for some time. We were told to build our faith upon a foundation of love and grace, but we added some of our own elements to the mix – elements that have weakened the structure of the whole: control, power, fear, anger. And as the foundation has begun to erode, our houses of love have become rickety and at risk of collapse.

Rather than rebuild, the CEO of our broken down faith asked us to slather a little mortar into the cracks of the foundation in order to keep the system running. But grace does not need a CEO. It needs something much more practical instead – something we can get a handle on, literally. Like a spigot – three quick turns counter-clockwise, unleashing a flood of grace into the burned-up grass of our lives.

Yes, grace is green, my friends. And lush. It doesn’t make sense. We must stop expecting it to.

Richard Rohr says,

“Each time God forgives us, God is saying that God’s own rules do not matter as much as the relationship that God wants to create with us.”

Christianity hasn’t cornered the market on love like we think it has – which is no surprise to non-Christians. And when they hold us accountable for our lack of love, we often fight back with statements like, “Well, love isn’t free!” But if you believe in the grace of God, it most certainly is.

“But you must be careful with love,” we tell each other, “so people don’t think they can live any way they want.” But people CAN live any way they want. And however they choose to live, it won’t change God’s love for them (or for us) one bit.

So why should our love be any different?

My editor keeps this quote at the bottom of his emails:

“Grace cannot prevail until our lifelong certainty that someone is keeping score has run out of steam and collapsed.” –Robert Farrar Capon

I kept a feeding tube down the throat of the scorekeeper for too many years. And every time he went into cardiac arrest, I started compressions to keep him alive. I was afraid if he left me, my love might get a little out of control. But that’s exactly what love does. It gets out of control. Big time, actually. True, unconditional love knows nothing of fairness. Thank God it doesn’t.

But once I realized that keeping the scorekeeper alive wasn’t working for me, I got brave and pulled the plug on this self-proclaimed CEO of grace.

That’s right, I killed the CEO of grace. And I buried him right next to my shame.

Listen, sometimes pulling the plug is the most compassionate thing we can do.

After my swan song service, I received hugs and goodbyes from people I have loved and worshipped with for nine years. There was quite a line forming in the lobby when I saw my friend with the bright orange wig walk right past everyone – either because she didn’t know better or she didn’t care. And I watched the line of people she had cut in front of bend into a patient smile. They seemed in no hurry, and gave her all the time she needed (or that I needed) to talk.

“I love singing with you,” she told me, grabbing my hand with both of hers.

“Oh yeah! I saw you out there. You were very into it.” And she had been. Hands flailing, legs wide-marching. She needed every inch of that ring of empty around her.

“Well, I do like to dance,” she responded, laughing to herself. Caked on lipstick highlighted her teeth, which had seen better days.

“I love you,” she told me while rubbing my hand.

“Well guess what? I love you, too,” I said back, looking her straight in the eyes so she’d know I meant it.

“Well, that’s good then, I suppose.” And with that, she hugged me the way broken people often hug – close, but not too close – hiding certain affections that had most likely been broken along her way.

I stood for a moment and watched her march through the lobby. She caught a lot of eyes on her way out, same as she had caught mine.

Did God send her my way – a reminder of where he was leading me? I think so. But we can never be sure, can we?

The other night a friend asked, “How do you know God is asking you to do something?”

It would’ve been easy to say, “You just know.” But I told him the truth instead.

“You don’t. You just do your best.”

I don’t think any of us are absolutely sure of God, or of what he is asking from us. But I can’t think of a better time we’d need to be less certain than if we thought he was asking us to love something. Or to love someone.

The truth? God loved me the moment he laid eyes on me. How could he not? He saw everything I wasn’t – everything I might NEVER be, and loved me as if I WERE all of those things. Because his love isn’t fair.

Shouldn’t we be just as unfair with our love?

So please, God…for every one of your children, each person I’ve struggled to understand, every beautiful mess in a bright orange wig (including myself) that I’ve somehow missed along love’s way…

Let my love be out of control – let it be so terribly unfair.

Because grace does not need a CEO. It only needs a spigot. Three quick turns counter-clockwise – Grace, Love, Compassion – and our hearts will be wide open.

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