Nothing Sweeter than Jesus
The year was 2009. I was eleven years old. I remember the sleepless nights, the sleepwalking, sleep talking, and nightmares. It was an emotional, confusing time for me. I struggled to comprehend the meaning of life, my faith and an especially distinct odor that I will forever associate with the jumbled turmoil in my head.
As I watch my dad take and re-take measurements to cut the long planks of wood (“Measure twice, cut once,” he always said), the sickeningly sweet smell of the maple reaches my nose, and I cringe. I know it’s supposed to smell good, and I always used to like the smell. But today it causes my brain to swim.
At 11 years old, I am entering into a stage of my life that will determine if I choose to live in my past, present or future for the rest of my life. I am a Christian, with an “always-have-been, always-will-be” outlook on my spiritual life. I don’t know it yet, but God is going to test me in a way that I never imagined.
Suddenly, in that moment, and for no obvious reason at all, I begin to consider the possibility that Jesus doesn’t love me. Knowing this causes me to panic, a mixture of guilt and fear. I can’t comprehend why I am thinking like this, or what caused it. And why do I feel guilty? I have done nothing wrong. Or have I? Just the fact that these ideas are coming into my head makes me feel like a traitor. What does Jesus think of me now? What would Mom say?
“Dad, what if the mattress doesn’t fit into the bed frame?” I had always wanted a bunk bed. I was excited, but at the same time, confused. Why does it have to smell like this? I don’t understand why this scent is so unsettling.
The fact that I know I am not fitting into the “good-Christian-girl” mold is almost as bad as the thought of my mattress not fitting into its own bed frame. How can I sleep on a tilted mattress? How can I sleep at all with this smell in my head?
I feel like a disgrace, but I go through my entire day like this. Despair and grief hang over my head like a raincloud ready to burst. I am such a traitor. But didn’t Jesus, God’s own Son, sacrifice himself to take this weight, this burden off my back?
My thought process goes somewhat like this: What if he didn’t really die? Am I being brainwashed? What is my problem?!
My bed is almost ready. All I need now is a quilt and sheets and a fluffy pillow or two. And of course a mattress. First, my mom and I find a quilt with cute little flowers and bumblebees separated into little squares. I want a matching set of sheets, but this quilt is so unique, we’ll never find anything similar enough . . .
Later on, my whole family takes a short shopping trip to find a mattress. What if it doesn’t fit? I can’t wait to bring it home and lay on it to try it out. But what about that smell of the wood? It seems like a force field, pushing me away from my own bed.
We squeeze the mattress into the car, my three other sisters and I holding it, squishing it, smelling the musty dustiness of it, a smell common to some department stores. I hate it, but I’m tired and just want to sleep. I close my eyes and force myself to breathe in; maybe I can pretend that it’s a good smell.
We get home and tackle the feat of bringing the mattress through the front door, through the kitchen, up the stairs, into my room and onto my bed. Oh, look at that. It doesn’t fit, I think to myself.
“That’s okay,” Mom says. “It’s not too tilted. Just lean it towards the wall so it doesn’t tip her out of the bed.” I jump up there with some difficulty. It is officially the highest living space in our entire house. I lie down and close my eyes. The smell of musty dustiness and sweet wood prevails. I jump out.
I want to stall and procrastinate. I will not sleep in this bed. I try to stay up as late as I can. I will not sleep in that bed. Somehow, at some point, I end up going to bed. I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder how I got there. For some reason, I don’t realize how late it is, and I get up and go downstairs thinking that Mom is still awake. I need to tell her something. I don’t even know what I want to say, but I need to say something to someone.
I wait and wait, trying to find the words I need to say. I look in my Bible, hoping to find something uplifting. I pray, I cry out to God, but my voice echoes and goes who-knows-where. I don’t know how long I stay awake, but at some point I go to back to bed.
The next night, during my fitful sleep, I squirm too close to the edge of the bed and slip over the edge, landing with a thud on the carpeted floor. I cut my hand in the process and I think I hit my head too, but I’m still half asleep so I can’t tell. I talk nonsense in my confusion. I’m scared.
This goes on over the course of a few months. There are many nights that I stay up with Mom, talking and praying through the power of God’s Word. In my state of confusion and frustration, I am unable to reason with myself, and Mom provides me with comfort and wisdom.
Is Jesus real? I had always thought so. He was supposed to be my Rock and my Salvation, whatever that meant. For the majority of my life up until now, I had simply lived believing this as the undeniable truth. I suppose that’s why it’s called “childlike faith.” Why would I ever question what I had always believed?
It took me a while to start to love my bed and to actually look forward to going to sleep every night. Yet six years later, I am able to sleep comfortably with no problem. I can’t even recall the last time I had a nightmare. The mattress is still tilted, and as it has gotten older, it’s become squeaky. Oh, and that smell is still there. But I’ve gotten used to it and I barely notice it now.
I have realized that my “relationship” with my bed is similar to how Jesus sees me. The way that I now accept my bed despite its flaws reflects the way that Jesus accepts me for who I am despite my imperfections. The only difference is that, while it took me months to learn to love my bed, He always loved me; no amount of time could ever change that. He never loved me more or less than He does now. His love is constant. My flaws and quirks don’t change the way He thinks about me.
As suddenly as it all began, it ended. I don’t remember exactly when or how or why. Up until now, I never understood why I was plagued with doubt. Looking back, I realize that this process was a rite of passage into a deeper faith; a stronger conviction where my belief met my experience head on. I no longer question that Jesus is there for me. I know that God heard my cry, because He brought me through the dark tunnel of doubt. Jesus remains my best friend and He is still working in my life. I am a work in progress; God is still writing the chapters of my life’s story.
Now, six years later, it is the spring of 2015. It is maple sugaring season, my favorite time of the year. My sisters and my mom and I work together to tap the trees, hang the buckets and prep the sugar house. I love that little shack. It was a dirty, run-down shed when we decided to rebuild it. Now it’s a cozy little house, complete with an evaporator, stone floors, cabinets, a table and chairs. The walls are covered in our artwork and we’ve hung up signs and sayings all over the place for our amusement. Most are souvenirs from our travels, others my mom handmade.
One of these signs in particular comes to mind. I can remember my mom working over it laboriously every day, during the little free time she had. With devotion, she slowly carved it and varnished it. Then one morning, when we got up to start the day’s boil, there it was, hanging on the wall above the first wisp of evaporating sap. A beautiful, masterfully crafted piece of maple, with a very distinct sweet smell, that read . . .
Nothing Sweeter Than Jesus
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