My brother waved a book at me one hot summer day, as we soaked up the remnants of a family beach vacation. He said, You should read this. This guy is a blogger. He got published. You would like this.
He was right. I did like it; I was profoundly moved by stories like this one, tales written from the heart that seemed to carry all the ache and yearning of what it meant to struggle with faith and life and ministry, all the while clinging to the tiniest seed of hope. It felt a lot like pleading.
I was profoundly moved because I was in a deep, deep struggle, as my marriage blew apart and my carefully built life of accomplishments and achievements crumbled.
I'm not sure I'd be the same person if I had not encountered the writer of "Real Live Preacher," who was a real live preacher, writing incognito. He gave voice to my desperate desire to be real, to be flawed, to be broken, yet to be loved by the One I followed. It was hard, sometimes, to find and see and hold that tiny, magnificent truth that He comes to seek and save the lost; He comes not to condemn, but to love; He offers redemption and restoration because, of all things, that's what you need the most.
It's hard to find that truth sometimes, in the cluttered hallways of church and contemporary Christian culture.
But the Real Live Preacher, he inhabited those hallways and kept the lights on and I read and found encouragement and turned my face upward; and then I began to write, as well.
I started my first blog many years ago; by many, I mean something like 12 years. It was a means of telling my story, to myself, of working out my salvation, of finding myself in that place I knew I needed to inhabit. I wrote long, rambling phrases, seeking out cause and effect. Exploring feelings that were new and raw and real - from passion and love to anger and pain. I wrote, and wrote, and wrote, and it was part of my healing.
It was not on this blog, this grace-filled place; it was the precursor, the path before that I kept private and quiet. I wrote in another place until I found my voice and honored my grief.
Until I could forgive myself.
And so there is this pin dropped at Real Live Preacher, who ultimately revealed himself to be Gordon Atkinson, leading a small community of believers in San Antonio at Covenant Baptist Church. Other folks were reading his blog, and commenting - which is akin to dropping crumbs so that one might find their way to another welcoming place - and so I began reading, and following, and knocking on doors, finding more life; learning how to drop the pretense of who I'd always had to be and simply be me.
I found, along the way, that simply being me wasn't all that different than the theatrical efforts of playing at being somebody like me. They were pretty close to one and the same. The difference came in whether or not I trusted that others would be okay with simply me. Truth is, they didn't much care. It was more my problem, my junk, that caused me to burden myself with unnecessary grief and self-protection.
And carrying that weight is heavy.
Through writing, a shared community of writers and readers, I welcomed the unclenched muscles as I laid down my mask. Vulnerability became a friend.
And in that vulnerable place, I met some women.
We've written one another, sent gifts, encouraged one another. We've supported one another through cancer treatments and other illnesses. We've grieved the loss of loved ones; challenges in relationships. We've done all these things together, in that peculiar way in which you can do things together without ever seeing someone's face.
Last month, that changed. I finally met this tribe of women face to face. I flew to San Antonio for a women's retreat and there they were, all but a few - in the flesh. Alive. Real.
The most striking thing to me was this; to know someone so fully and then to see them so clearly. To build deep, honest relationships without skin on, and then to see the pieces fall into place and take shape in front of you.
To see a car pull up in the passenger arrival lane at the airport and know the person driving, even as you see her for the first time in your life. It is odd and beautiful, deep and rich.
It's not so new, you know; pen pals have existed for decades. It's just easier now, and faster.
And so we met, and we sang together and talked together and shared meals together and did church together; but mostly, I just wanted to watch. I sat and I took it in, took in the faces and the voices and the resonance of lives that have mattered to me for several years.
I shared a story with everyone, on a warm afternoon in a small space. We all talked about where we'd come from, and what we remembered, and I told the story of my 4th grade terror, how I was ostracized and excluded from everything for an entire year.
Here is what I remember: The prettiest girl in class, the popular one with long blonde hair; Jenny Moore decided that no one would be my friend. And, as these things go for 10-year-old girls, the die was cast; I had no friends. For an entire year.
I learned to lean into the grown ups. That was the year I became the proverbial teacher's pet, because no one else would speak to me. That was the year the mold was set for the way a powerful, influential man could rescue me - as teacher Gary Lauderbaugh did when we entered 5th grade.
So many things were set in motion during that difficult era of my childhood, one of which was my distrust of women. If Jenny Moore was the best and brightest of us all, and she had determined my status and value, then - as my childish mind understood it - the best and brightest women got to make the rules, and so it was. And it was highly likely that I would not measure up.
I've done a lot of work to get past this. For a season, I had to literally say to my 40-year old self (about other women), "She's not Jenny Moore."
I have great compassion for these ruts we find ourselves in. It is not easy to dig yourself out. And once out, it seems we never wander too far away from the ditch. It doesn't take much to tip over and into the dirt.
So still, to this day, I have to be careful. I have to remind myself of what is true, of where I am and who I am with. I have to open myself up to trust. In a room full of women who have been light and life to me in so many ways - but always at arms' length, from a distance - getting real, face to face, posed a bit of a challenge that felt unique to me.
They're not Jenny Moore.
They weren't, and I'm a different woman now, anyway; and so I can say this:
Knowing that there are 10 women scattered around this continent who are part of a tribe willing to include me - well, that's kind of a big deal.
It makes me better. It stretches me.
It gives me hope.
There is a built-in safety net, because there is all that distance, and the ability to hide behind the computer; but there is also a clarion call for honesty - up front, in-your-face honesty, in which I can be me and they can be themselves and we can all exist, in the same room, clasping hands and looking up. We are done with nonsense; we want to be real.
The chips, they fall where they may.
And that's okay.
I am extraordinarily blessed, and profoundly grateful, for these women.