I was a flat out walking disaster. My identity split into two, almost diametrically opposed halves: On one hand, I was a survivor. A single mom, with five kids and minuscule financial support, re-entering the work force after a decade as a stay-at-home. I found a job teaching. I managed to buy a house. I kept the kids together and moving forward.
On the other hand, I was filled with shame and feelings of failure. At the end of the day, it wasn't the thrill of victory and survival and accomplishment that infused my thoughts; it was the agony of defeat.
I was a failure. A disappointment to friends and family. Marked by a scarlet letter, an embarrassment to the faith.
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I started attending church shortly after we arrived in this county. A radioactive, hot mess, I snuck into a row by myself and cried by myself for a good six months. Every Sunday. But every Sunday, I heard a constant, consistent message of grace, a slight paradigm shift of what I'd been taught in years past; a continuation of the grace-filled message I'd begun to hear and understand from an influential teacher at a previous church. As a piano player with "Worship Leader" on her resume, church was a familiar place. Contemporary church felt like home.
But I was on the outside, and I never believed I would ever deserve a place on the inside again.
I still don't.
But here's the thing: You don't earn your place in this kingdom. You inherit it.
And bad behavior, though it comes with painful consequences, doesn't negate your inheritance. The birthright is yours.
It was mine.
And here's the other thing: There's no 'inside'.
We're all insiders. We get to open our hands and choose to move a little closer to the center. Some of us weave in and out from time to time, but we're in.
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I have worked in the same place now for nine years; after that first school year, I was offered a different job.
I've never worked anywhere for this long.
I love this job. The people I work with are more important to me than anyone other than my family members.
I wear several different hats. I am on the Senior Leadership Team. I am a manager. I have been ordained. I have been afforded every opportunity to grow and advance in my role. I have been affirmed and encouraged.
There has been resolution to my identity crisis. I have a new name.
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I learned much about resilience and redemption and restoration. I learned about grace and what it means to live and walk and breathe in forgiveness. I am different now.
But it's not because I have a position of leadership. It's not because I have a job, or influence, or that I get to be on a platform. That is not restoration; that is responsibility. It is my burden; my calling.
It is my life's work now, this movement of grace. The great privilege of sitting eye to eye with someone as they release their own pain, promising that the greater good lies within the letting go. The immense and awe-filled joy of putting melody and lyric and rhythm into a room of people, gathered with expectancy. The tremendous implosion of purpose that sneaks up and overwhelms me, leaves me sobbing, after 90 minutes with a young woman who is willing to tell you her truths so that she can find her way forward.
It is what I will do, for all my days, out of gratitude. To serve.
Because I learned what it means to know who you are. I lived in the wretched despair of divorced, broken, failure, unfaithful, liar, betrayer, unworthy, unlovable, ugly, not enough.
And someone came along beside me and said, You are more.
Someone came alongside me and gently pointed my face upward, and there it was - the truth, the miracle, the magic.
I will never stop telling this story.
I will never stop singing this song.
He whispers in my ear, tells me that I'm fearless
He shares a melody, tells me to repeat it
And it makes me whole
It reminds my soul
I am all He says I am...
and He says I am His own
Note: The GREATEST joy I have had with this song was watching my son and his sister - my children - sing this song together, on a Sunday night, filled with passion and conviction. I watched and listened and my heart trembled. I was proud, for sure. Their ardor and commitment inspired me. But I knew this, even as they declared their truth: They will have to learn this again and again and again. We all do. And that's okay. There is always a safe place to land.
We will sing this song on Sunday, as we close our services. I will be looking upward.