dipIn terms of pure romance, no open-shirted, smooth-chested, flowing-haired, pony-riding hero ever held a candle to my grandfather. Though I read and enjoyed all the best fairy tales as a child and spent my fair share of Saturday afternoons sitting through Disney movies, my romantic notions were birthed, formed and cemented at home, watching the way my grandparents interacted.

Clifford loved Mickey — madly, deeply, jealously. Maybe that’s because he found her later in his life (she was forty, he in his mid-thirties). Or maybe it’s because when he met his red-haired beauty, she was just ending her marriage to an emotionally distant, carousing man, and Clifford liked the way she squared her shoulders and lifted her chin in defiance to the choice she’d just made. Whatever the reason, he fell hard and never walked the same again. The power of Mickey kept him staggering the rest of his days.

He was a drinker when they first met; owned a bar, in fact, down on the beach in Mukilteo, not far from where I live now. She didn’t like his drinking but she tolerated it in the beginning, when they first started dating. She let him take her dancing, let him show her off to his drinking buddies and the patrons in his bar. But three or four drinks into the night, he’d grow belligerent, and after awhile she began to wonder if she could live with that kind of energy.

They’d be sitting at a table in some dance joint and the door would open. As people do, those already sitting would glance up to see the newcomers, and those walking in the door would glance about to see who was already there. My grandmother had striking features, the poise of royalty, and that vivid red hair, so it was no wonder that men would often do a double take. Clifford couldn’t stand it. It wasn’t unusual for him to bristle at that second look and bellow across the room, “Put your eyes back in your head! You’ve stared at her long enough!”

Once, he was so enraged at the number of men looking at Grandma that he took a knife out of his pocket and drove it in the table in front of her when he stood to leave for the bathroom, as a sign to anyone looking that if they thought about talking to her while he was gone, they’d better think again.

After years of being made to feel invisible by my biological grandfather, years in which she dried up like sponge, I’m sure Clifford’s furious love was a needed downpour. Even years later, when she’d recount those stories to me, her face would soften and she’d grin shyly. But the drinking was too much. One night, after arguing over his behavior in a bar, she took off her high heel, hit Clifford over the head as hard as she could, and threw his car keys over a rocky embankment down by the beach. Her parting words, as she hobbled back to the bar to call a friend for a ride, were, “I’m not going to spend my life with a drinker.”

Clifford quit drinking on the spot. She waited six months, just to make sure he meant it, and then allowed him to marry her. And they stayed in that sober-but-wild, blissful, romantic state for the remainder of his days — right up until he died, twenty-one years later.

Passionate love is real. I suppose it’s because of my upbringing that I’ve never doubted its existence. Maybe because of that, I don’t have a problem believing that God loves me with that same depth of passion. Reading Song of Solomon was, to me, confirmation of what I think I always knew on some subconscious level — if we mere humans can love someone with that kind of abandon, surely God can do it on a grander scale. When I read in Scripture that He is a jealous God, I thought, Well, sure. When someone belongs to you, you don’t want others staring at them or trying to steal them away when you’re out of the room. Sometimes you have to do something drastic to drive the point home.

In my mind, it wasn’t a far leap from a knife driven into a table to spikes driven into a cross. Sometimes it takes a wild act to let someone know how much you love them — and to let them know your love will last forever.

For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are — high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean — nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when He died for us. – Rom 8:38-39 (TLB)


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