First Love

“It was a flower,” writes Denise Levertov in the opening line of her poem “First Love.” She goes on to describe falling in love with a pink convolvulus at a tender age—“barely / old enough to ask and repeat its name.” 

It looked at me, I looked 

back, delight

filled me as if

I, not the flower, 

were a flower and were brimful of rain. 

And there was endlessness. 

Perhaps only children and poets fall in love with flowers. But surely there’s some piece of the natural world that delights each of us. For me, it’s clouds. A Pacific Northwest native, I feel most secure on those days when a snug gray blanket hurries over my head. I could watch those busy clusters of windswept water molecules for hours—and sometimes, I do. 

Clouds are my favorite, but the truth is, I love the whole created world, with all its buds and worms and berries. Out of a lifetime of natural beauty, though, there was one moment in particular when I gazed at the wonder of the earth and seemed to see the face of Love itself looking back at me. 

I was a teenager at camp. A lonely teenager, enduring an awkward week in which I was never quite sure if the other campers wanted me to join them in the swimming pool or at the boat dock. I had changed schools over and over again throughout my short life and had never learned to feel at ease among my peers. I spent most of the week hanging around the edges of other people’s conversations. Then, there was a moment of quiet. 

It was a Young Life camp: the whole week revolved around the afternoon of the fourth day when the speaker presented the Gospel and sent us all out to spend half an hour in reflection. I was already a Christian. I’d accepted Jesus into my heart years earlier, had been schooled in Bible stories every Sunday morning for over a decade. So I didn’t expect anything special to happen when I chose my perch on the boardwalk near the swimming pool. I was happy simply to have a few moments’ relief from social anxiety. 

Then, I looked up. This camp was nestled in a fjord in British Columbia, just where the mountains sweep down to kiss the water before bursting up again across the inlet. My view from the pool deck took in a stretch of azure water bounded by a massive swath of tree-mantled, snow-capped mountains on the other side. I had noticed the view already, of course, but somehow I’d been too consumed by anxiety to really see. Now, the majesty made my breath stop. 

“Other people’s boyfriends,” I thought with wonder, “give them flowers or write them cards. But God made all of this for me.” I breathed out with awe.

It might seem silly that I compared God to a boyfriend. I’ve heard people snidely dismiss certain worship songs with the label “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend music,” as if the categories of “Jesus” and “boyfriend” would only be conflated by the extremely superficial or the extremely confused. 

But I was a teenager. The love of a boyfriend was the strongest love I could imagine. (It was a love I had certainly never experienced for myself.) All week, my cabinmates had been giggling and gossiping about who was liked by whom. Throughout those conversations, I felt invisible, certain I would always be ignored. 

And then, there were the mountains and the water and the sky and the trees. And when I saw it all stretched out before me that day from my seat beside the pool, somehow I knew: the One who created all this loved me. I was seen, and I was loved, and the whole earth wanted me to know it. There would be exactly one boyfriend, and he would become my husband, and he does give me flowers and write me cards. But my first love will ever be the One who made it all. No, God was not my boyfriend, but the love of God was deeper and stronger and more startling than any love I had previously imagined. 

And in it was endlessness.

Sarah L Sanderson is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, and mom of four. Find more of her work—including updates on the memoir she is currently writing about abuse, mental illness, faith, and her great-great-great-great-great-grandmother—on, or follow her on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter

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