Once upon a time, I was a bare-foot, scraggly-haired kid in Florida. So much stems from our childhood hurts and dreams that I have to begin there. I have to start by telling you I was born to a 17 year old mother, and my step father was a house painter, and my two round face little brothers were always having dangerous adventures, and I was the kind of child that would get in a fight with the neighbor girl and run home and crawl out of the hot white light of the sun into the shade of a bush, and dream of the future.
I used to dream that when I was sixteen, I would magically evolve into a Barbie-like butterfly, with a ponytail and a pink convertible and a boyfriend who looked like Prince Charming. Schoolwork was easy for me, and the teachers used to praise me, and so as I grew older my dreams were about success and moving to a city and running for president or maybe singing at the Metropolitan Opera. But I always dreamed. In my dreams, I was the perfect version of myself. Blond, tall, beautiful. Always gentle, lovely, kind. Talented and intelligent- no, wise.
But in reality, I hated myself.
I hated my huge teeth, and the gap between them, and when I grew older I hated that they were evidence that my family did not have the money for “cosmetic” braces. I hated my square hips and my wide feet, and eventually the not-flat-at-all belly I had. I hated how my hair got darker as I got older, and I used sun-in and home bleaching kits. I hated my short nails, and how I kept biting them even though I tried and tried to stop.
But even while I hated those things, I kept thinking that they would all fade away, somehow. I’d grow up and overcome them. They were temporary embarrassments, as was our slight poverty. I was acutely aware that I didn’t have brand name clothes or shoes, and I fought and bickered and gossiped to get into the highest clique at school I could. I leveraged my musical talents and art skills and occasional sharp wit to elbow my way into the spotlight whenever I could, and when I was left out, I was mortified.
I wanted so much. I wanted so, so much to just get through to that magical future where everything was better.
I can vividly see myself, at nine years old, sitting in an orange tree, picking fruit after fruit, slicing them in half, and greedily sucking the juice, and throwing it down for a better one, on another branch. Or at my eighth birthday party, for which there is a two hour long VHS record, where I am rushing from place to place, never standing still. Everyone else sits and enjoys cake and games, and I fly from thing to thing, not enjoying any but looking for more. I think of the walks I took on beautiful Florida beaches, and the nights I laid awake in my pretty pink bedroom, and how I barely enjoyed any of it because all the time, my mind was somewhere in the future- at some distant point in my life where I would be… me, but not me. Happy. Fulfilled.
There was a brief time in there when I had a boyfriend. He slowed the world for me. While he was around, I wanted only him, nothing else mattered. To me, he was perfect- he was the hope of all my dreams in person, and all I wanted was for him to look at me and see what I hoped was there. Time was slow then, really like slow motion. I remember walking on a starry night as rain fell, as only it does in Florida, rain falling with clear sky above. I remember looking up and thinking, Finally. Life has become what it is meant to be.
But you can guess, it was only temporary. Of course, teen romance usually fades away, and mine did, and left me worse than before. As the years went by, there were other things that seemed like they were about to get me where I wanted- awards, school programs, a new job, a move to a new town, a new man on the horizon, or a new diet. Each time I thought that maybe this would be the magic thing that would launch me into that future that I wanted. But time after time, the plan would fail and I would be right back where I started.
What was it that I wanted so much? I wanted to be rich and beloved and perfect. I wanted praise and adoration and glory. I wanted safety and acceptance. I wanted something I couldn’t put into words.
I grew up in the church. Several different churches, but always in church. Because I was quick to learn and competitive, I absorbed a lot in those early years. Memory verses, hymns, bible stories and stories of missionaries. Church was another place to succeed for me, and for a while it was my favorite place to succeed. The game was so easy at church. Dress pretty. Bring your bible. Don’t drink, swear, chew, or party with those that do. I didn’t understand other girls who flirted with the normal teen fun- sex and drugs and rock and roll seemed like silly things that would get in the way with achieving perfection. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been the type who loves fun, and I can still turn my music up and dance as loud as any teenager. But at the time, it was only sanctified music. Only at the correct time for dancing. And it was never, ever, EVER sexy dance. I was a good Christian girl.
But a series of events happened to me in those years. The first thing that happened was that for my birthday, my mother sent me and a friend to a Christian concert, and I bought the cassette tape of their album. It was my only cassette, and I played side A and side B over and over for weeks. One night, as I lay in my bed, looking at the orange light on my ceiling from the street light, I listened, really listened to the words. The man sang, “I was saved by the Mercy Man. He touched my heart, he helped me understand that there was shelter and unfailing love, if I’d just take the hand, the hand of the Mercy Man…”
And as I lay there in the dark, I suddenly knew that I did not know this Mercy Man. I knew God, yes, I knew that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. I knew that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, I knew that God is love, and he who loveth not knoweth not God. I knew God is able, God is great, God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I knew God is the invisible, immortal, the only wise King. I knew of God…. But I did not know this Mercy Man.
At least, not like the singer knew him. Who was he? Was He Jesus? How was that different from God? And how could you know him, and not just know of him?
I don’t know that I was not saved, I mean, there are all sorts of doctrines about when the moment of salvation is, but I had had times, many times in my childhood where I was convicted of my sin and asked to be clean. Where I admitted I believed that Jesus was the Son of God, who died for me. So I do not think that it was a salvation problem in me.
It’s just that I knew, at that moment, that there was more. I saw very clearly that there was a potential for knowing, really knowing, like a friend, this Mercy Man. The God of the Universe was more than an entity- he was capable of being a friend to me. It was new.
My life didn’t change, instantly, in that moment. But my ears were suddenly tuned to a new idea. When I went to church, I was more interested in this strange idea that maybe, just maybe, there was more to Christianity than being good and walking straight.
As I grew older, I still wanted so much that ideal, perfect thing I was trying to achieve. I bought planners and listed my plans. I would go to to college- Harvard, no, Julliard. I would win awards and earn doctorates and do amazing things in the world. I still tried very, very hard to be good and keep all my ducks in a row. But more and more my dreams and plans started to involve things of the church- I briefly dreamed of missions, maybe being a medical doctor and starting a clinic in a third world country. I looked at Christian colleges and Bible schools. I stopped listening to classical music and Joni Mitchell, and spent my nights with Dr. David Jeremiah and whoever else was preaching on the Baptist radio station. My mindset began to shift with the new idea that God was real, and really relevant- and the result was that this “great thing” I wanted to do in the future stopped revolving around the world’s idea of success, and started revolving around what the church’s idea of success was.
In reality, not much had changed in my heart. I was still seeking the same thing. I was still striving for a future where I had what I wanted. What changed was that the means to get it had shifted. I had really begun to believe that God was real, and so my striving to succeed shifted from succeeding in the world to succeeding in God. I still was off base, but I was getting closer.
I was stumbling into something good, and it was completely His plan.
Because He knew me.
Before I was born, He knew me. In the Psalms it says I was knit together in my mother’s womb. Every day I would live, He had written in his book, before one of them came to be. He knew me. He saw me, dirty faced, fighting at the bus stop. He saw me, frightened of a wolf in the dark of night. He saw me blooming under the praise of an adult, and cut down by the words of friends.
He saw my beauty when there was dirt and warts and ugly hatred. He looked down at the gifts he had put in me, and rescued them from the plans of the enemy. He loved me when I was unloveable, and He had a plan.
I don’t know about you, but I struggle with feeling like a failure. Ever since I grew up, and didn’t become president, or wear a size six, or sing at Carnegie Hall, I have kicked myself and hated myself. When I young, there was potential. If I had not succeeded, it was only for lack of time. Or being discovered, or opportunity. There was always the future me. She would succeed.
But when you’re an adult, the future is hazy. There is only now, and danger ahead. There is only 35 year old me, who has not been on the Times Best-Seller List, or managed to grow her nails out, or called her grandma in a month, or weeded the flower bed. Failure is a constant companion. It is everywhere. It’s in the unscrubbed shower and the small savings account. It’s on facebook, as my childhood friends build a beautiful new home or travel the world or promote their beachbodies. It’s closer than my breath.
And I always wanted so much more.
There have been times when I’ve accused the Lord. I’ve said, “Look. I went your way, and look what a mess I am. If I had gone my way, I would have a degree. I would have money. I would have succeeded in something. In your way, I have failed! Or you’ve failed me. You’ve brought me in a way that I’m not capable of succeeding in. You exposed my faults instead of highlighting my gifts. What was the point of going your way?”
I’ve thought, journaled, and even said these things out loud.
What is the point, really? What is the point of going the Lord’s way? What benefit does it even do? What if there is a Mercy Man, who can be known… Why know him?
This is what I write to you. I write to tell you what I know- that there is shelter and unfailing love. I write to tell you that I have come to the other side, and I know failure, and I know peace.
I write to tell you, lovely one, beloved and chosen of God, that there is hope. There is a future where you do not have strive or hide- where you are complete, just as you are.
I have metamorphosized (is that a word?)- not into a Barbie-perfect woman, but into a woman at rest. There is peace in my soul. There is no longer a fighting, wild-eyed desperate child looking to escape her life, but a calm, sure sense in me that I am right where I am meant to be.
I write this to you, desperate, craving friend. I write this that you may see a glimpse of what true life looks like. That the voice of accuser may be silent in your head for a moment, and you may see what you are meant to be- see who you already are in Christ. Beloved, safe, blessed and righteous.
I write to tell you that there is a Mercy Man, and He can be known, and that it is the most perfect, wonderful thing in all of life.
It is where everything begins- knowing Him.
In order to get to know him better, I’m starting up a new series going through the book of John! If you’d like to follow along, Go here.