The First Love Letter
Every man struggles with what it means to surrender. While many men will attest to being followers of Christ, precious few have demonstrated the courage needed to surrender to him.
I was one such man. While I readily surrendered to others, ac-
quiescence becomes an artform when you lack courage, Jesus was, for much of my life, hidden in the background.
At the same time, I knew something like courage. Early in my life, I possessed an overpowering sense of God’s love. God’s existence was a certainty, that was without question. That same existence set my life on the strangest trajectory; I would realize this love in the eyes of a woman. Of this, I was equally certain, though I lacked any kind of context, or identity of just who this mysterious woman might be. At no time in my life did I reason that, on a planet of nearly four billion women, such a thing was inconceivable.
In my childhood, my relationship with Jesus was unparalleled.
In time, that relationship changed. Like Santa, God started to become a myth. Most certainly, as I will explain in the letters that follow, I felt myself drifting from the safety of his presence by the time I made it to college. The world in which I lived was very physical and material. A hard world. A world of division. A world of haves and have nots. I learned to be selfish with my affection, even as I searched for a woman I knew was out there.
As a man, I saw the disparity in the world. I competed, delight- ing in my victories over others, and beating myself up when I lost.
4 | BOOK ONE: DARKNESS THE CREATION OF SILENCE
Through my upbringing, I had developed a mindset of scarcity; take what you can, as there isn’t enough to go around. As I began my military career and traveled the world, meeting people from different backgrounds, cultures, and faiths stirred my imagination; how could one God account for us all? It was a distressing cocktail of curiosity and doubt, hammering at the increasingly weak foundations of my poorly tended Christian faith.
I still believed the reservoirs of love inside me would find their release, even as I sacrificed my integrity at the expense of fitting in.
I had no idea how to find you, nor did I know that it was for you I looked. I hadn’t thought to look in the Bible for romance. Why would any man?
The idea that the mere picture of someone could make me question my belief in God was something that had never crossed my mind. Yes, I people watched. With unconscious assessment, I looked at everyone I encountered. I scoured the internet, blindly driven by some unseen force, without understanding what I expected to find, or when I would know it had been found.
The moment I saw you in that black dress, I knew my life would be forever altered.
As the pandemic settled over the world in the Spring of 2020, I had the first real sense of who I was. I also had the oddest sense of orchestration, particularly as I reviewed the tumultuous events that saw the end of another relationship as 2019 came to an end. It felt like my life was unfolding for me on a scale I could scarcely comprehend. From this wellspring, I drew such rich waters. I felt in command of my destiny.
You were more than I could imagine. Some days, I would look at a post you had shared, or revisit one of your stories, awestruck by what I saw. My heart sang with a vibrancy I did not know it possessed. The spectrum of emotions I began to feel exceeded my greatest expectations.
Seeing you elicited in me a happiness, a joy, that was rapturous. How could I know such abundant bliss? Yes, bliss was the word. As the
pandemic exhaled its terrible pollen over the earth, I was adrift with possibility. How could I fathom what I was witnessing?
Over the course of my mortal life, though I was unconscious to the fact, I had sought my own destruction.
What else can account for all the broken relationships, failed marriages, and infidelities?
Looking for you, I lost myself.
I initiated my divorces, and hardly contested their proceedings. I sabotaged my moments of happiness, forfeiting material possessions and financial stability. I lost friends and pushed family away. I twisted my life in knots, losing myself in desperate bouts of drinking, uncertain why lasting happiness was so elusive, even as each broken relationship strengthened my belief that such happiness was out there, waiting to be found. Destruction.
I lost my faith.
That reality would express itself in the starkest terms in the sum- mer of 2020.
That would be the summer I began to face the truth; I had started the war in heaven. I had declared war on love.
A sheep, in wolf’s clothing.
I didn’t consider “God” as family. It was just “God.” This...entity,
something very much outside me. The creator of heaven and earth. Ostensibly, Jesus’ Father. The only catch was, Jesus’ Father didn’t have a name. Jesus was just...Son of “God.” God...some mysterious figure that was all-knowing, and everywhere and nowhere at once, or sitting on a throne, passive and unmoved by the struggles of his creation. I did not find myself alone in this thinking, and found refuge with likeminded people, who questioned the existence of God from a great distance.
I cloaked myself with the shame of my missteps. No one ever enters a relationship, hoping it will end. Invariably, after a few dates,
the first love letter | 5
6 | BOOK ONE: DARKNESS THE CREATION OF SILENCE
a few months, a few years, I would come to the same conclusion; this relationship wasn’t it. Something was missing.
It has been hard for me to acknowledge a relationship with our Son. The reason for that is quite simple. I was looking for his Mother, without knowing it...not until I saw you. And yet, unable to find you, how could I ever accept him?
The truth was, I never could fully understand how Jesus fit into romantic love. Honestly, his isn’t the first name that comes to mind. It wasn’t just that. It was praying to a God that seemed impersonal. That was how I addressed many of my prayers...“Dear God.” I was like an ape, praying to “Human.” It didn’t make sense. I didn’t appreciate that developing a personal relationship with Jesus was the only way to get to Heaven, and it certainly took me a long time to gather that Jesus’ Father must have an identity, and that his path to believing in his Son would need to be unique, and quite purposeful. What would be required for the Father who sent his Son to die on a cross to accept responsibility? How would Jesus’ Father become a Christian?
How would that Father explain his existence?
When my mortal life was spiraling out of control, and there were at least three good occasions where it went sideways quite severely, I would just think of or cry out to God. But what good is there in praying to an abstract entity?
Jesus is a name. An identity. The Son of God. No man comes to the Father except through Him.
For much of my life, it never dawned on me to look at the story told from the Bible and how that story might have continued to evolve throughout modern history. Yes, Christianity advanced. Islam was born. Countless wars have been waged in the name of these religions. Could the story of Jesus’ Father be explained through history?
The answer seems obvious now, but in truth, the journey that led to this understanding had its share of trials, consequences, and blunders. All because of love.
I knew, in some vague sense, that Mary was the Mother of God. Easy enough to digest. Mother of Jesus. Jesus, Son of God. Mary, Mother of God. God, the Father.
But looking in the Bible for romance? The King David of the Old Testament existed a thousand years before the time of Mary and Jesus. Even when the archangel Gabriel appears before Mary to tell her she’s going to give birth to the Son of David, most people...most Christians...don’t take Gabriel’s statement at face value.
The funny thing is, why would an angel tell a woman she’s pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit, name someone as the father, and not name the Father?
It’s the idea of one. It’s difficult enough to comprehend that Jesus died for all the world’s sins. It’s as equally as hard to believe that some- one sent him to die on the cross.
So then, who is King David? And how is it possible, that he could have a story to tell in the twenty-first century? Going back three thou- sand years, he was the shepherd boy who felled Goliath. He wrote poems. He was a brilliant strategist. He was a king. He also had an affair, and sent the woman’s husband off to battle, where he was killed.
I have had the strangest fascination with love, ruled as I have been by my heart. When I was a boy, it was cute. When I was a teenager, it became something both odd and somehow, I believed, admired. By the time I became a man well, you would have thought left-brained practicality and pragmatism would have won the day. No. Not entirely.
I have spent my entire mortal life, walking on a beach, looking for a single, specific grain of sand.
I was a romantic...I just didn’t know I was literally, the biggest one ever created.
I was convinced there was one person I was destined to be with.
My friends humored me in my youth. When I was an adult, people appealed to my sense of reason, especially after my first divorce.
You know there’s not really one person meant for another, they’d say. I wanted to agree with them; I knew what they said made sense. There
the first love letter | 7
8 | BOOK ONE: DARKNESS THE CREATION OF SILENCE
are billions of people on the planet. The odds that two people share something so grand a story as ours is beyond astronomical. It borders the farthest reaches of existence and imagination.
I understood what my friends said, but I couldn’t believe it. Logical- ly, I agreed with them. In the U.S. the divorce rate is on the high side of 50 percent. Still, there was something inside me I could not vocalize that resisted such an idea with absolute certainty.
As a result, I kept looking. In some odd way, it was as if each broken relationship was preparing me for something. As I grew older, I took relationships more seriously. In my late thirties, I felt like it was time to settle down. When my second marriage didn’t turn out to be the “one." I went looking again. This time, I was in my mid-forties. The Persian poet Rumi once said, you have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.
Breaking my heart open took fifty long, very mortal feeling years. April 4, 2020. A week before my birthday.
I will remember that day for all eternity.
I was exhausted. My life had gone ridiculously off track because I
refused to settle on mortal love. It seems ridiculous to say. I so enjoyed watching couples who genuinely liked being around one another. I wanted what they had, yet contented myself with their company. I wanted the nice car, the fancy house, the vacations to nice places, and the warm sense of family. I wanted to live without worrying about life.
What did I have? Most would say I had commitment issues.
I’d say, I had the grandest expectations of love one creature could ever possess. I’d seen so many things on my travels around the world, much of them while in the military.
But I’d never seen anything like the picture of the woman I saw on April 4, 2020. The woman that made me question what I believed.
It was the first time in my life I saw absolute certainty.
At my age, with my track record in love, I’d had my doubts. So many doubts. Tearing relationships apart was painful. I drank. I agonized. I tried my best to forget what I had done by focusing on what was in
front of me. It sometimes felt heartless, but I knew to some degree, each failed relationship was burning a layer off that wasn’t serving me. It wasn’t serving anyone.
I was consumed with the material world. Own stuff. Make as much money as you can. Plan for retirement. Physical pleasure and comfort. Stay healthy in the hopes of putting off death as long as possible. But something, someone, always vectored me back towards love. Love was my prime directive.
That seems so obvious now, but I couldn’t piece it together. I was looking for someone without ever bothering to look to the Cross. For romance? The Cross seems to be the absolute last place one would think to look for a romantic love story. If Google is to be believed, there have been more than one hundred billion people throughout human history. The odds are nothing, if not extravagant. Faith can be extravagant.
I felt like it took me a long time to come to Jesus. I was fifty years old when I first saw you. Fifty. And I felt it.
Reconciling visual proof of absolute certainty is no easy task. Quite literally, for the first three or four months of the pandemic, I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I looked at you with sheer awe. It took commitment, perseverance, and dedication just to reconcile myself to the fact that you were real. It demanded an introspection that was uncompromising, and sometimes, downright scary. I would learn that absolute certainty, once realized, is non-negotiable, inviolable.
That is the price of an eternal soul. That is the cost for everlasting life. Yes, these things demand the removal of all our limiting beliefs, our prejudices. Someone must bear witness to the journey needed to remove these deficiencies.
Yet, you are real. You have a life. Friends. Family. You own a cat.
I see you every day. Separated by an ocean, you are as close to me as heaven will allow. For so long, that felt so very far away.
It has been more than two years since you posted that picture. Given what preceded the viewing of that post the week prior, I hope you can forgive me for struggling the way I have in writing to you.
the first love letter | 9
10 | BOOK ONE: DARKNESS THE CREATION OF SILENCE
I started work on this story instantly. Gladiator. Maximus.
I have his armor next to me, on display, as I write.
When I saw your picture, I thought of his wife. There was no
hesitation, no bothering to address the implications of the journey I would have to take, and whether it was worth taking. You were the wife of Maximus, wearing a black necklace with a black dress, drenched in a field of golden wheat. Black and gold. Two of my favorite colors, together. The writer in me danced at the idea of finding a story there.
But there was something so odd about the picture as well.
It afforded me the strangest sensation, as though I’d seen the picture before.
I did not know what I had done. How could I?
Gladiator was one of the first movies to come out that really seemed to take advantage of computer-generated special effects in a realistic setting; it didn’t involve spaceships, outrageous creatures, or wizards and magic.
I remember watching an HBO special on the making of the film. This must have been in the early 2000’s. They showed the rendering of the Colosseum, and the computer-generated people that appeared, cheering the combat taking place in the arena. With the magic of Hollywood, filmmakers also showed how they could virtually take us back to the glorious past of Rome at the time of Marcus Aurelius. Pillars of marble and stone. Imperial flags and banners flapping in a majestic breeze. Gladiators engaged in mortal combat. The grandeur and splendor of the empire near its zenith.
Where do the ideas for our stories come from? Every story comes from the mind of imagination, a limitless wellspring of possibility.
The story of Maximus, like the story of William Wallace in Brave- heart, resonated with me; those kinds of stories always had. There was something about losing love and then being compelled to fight for it in the most magnificent of ways that appealed to me, even if this appeal was unspoken.