It was 20 years before Jacob returned to his hometown, to face his brother, Esau, the brother that he had stolen the blessing from, and manipulated out of his birthright. He had much to be afraid of. He had heard that his brother was coming out to meet him, accompanied by 400 men. He hadn’t seen him for 20 years. He had no idea if his anger had abated, or increased.
Jacob, in the meanwhile, had been given a new name, a father-in-law who had done the same things to him that he had done to his brother. Stolen from him. Manipulated him. Used him. He had been tempered and taught by it. He had wrestled with, and had his hip dislocated by, an angel. And been blessed immensely and changed radically, by God Almighty.
You can read his story in chapters 25 through the end of Genesis, specifically in Gen. 25:29-34, chapters 27, 32 and 33. You can read my story on the pages of just about everything I write, because it all filters through.
It had been 20 years for me, too. An impending 20 year class reunion, where I’d have to look old classmates in the eyes, wondering if they’d remember how horrible I had been, how defiled and ruined and broken. Wondering if they’d hold it against me. They may not have an army of 400 marching with them, and I may not have been facing the threat of death, but something about all of this made me feel a little petrified.
It had been a long time since I’d had any fears about telling my story. In fact, I’m pretty bold about it. You should see the look of shock when I tell people I used to be a meth-addict… me, with the bright eyes, and healthy cheeks and jubilant, peaceful presence. My past is intrinsically woven into the fibers of who I’ve become. I love to tell my story… to folks that know me as I am, but these were folks who remember me as I was. The sexual immorality and drug addictions of my youth have become the very things that have transformed me into a woman who loves and embraces grace, both the giving and the receiving of it.
I have been changed into a liberated and dignified woman, unencumbered by the usual concerns that most folks have to carry, the concerns of whether or not they are liked, loved, cared for, how folks perceive them. I just know that I’m deeply loved and walk in that grace, with confidence and courage and hope, and sort-of a nonchalant awareness of it, because it just is, and I don’t have to overthink it.
I don’t carry shame or insecurity, like most people seem to, because I had to learn, deep in the depths of my soul, just how far-reaching and all-encompassing His forgiveness really is, and how much it honestly doesn’t matter what others think, so long as God is pleased. I had to learn that He isn’t pleased because of my performance, but because of my faith, and even that is a gift. And I had to be raw and honest about who I have been, before God, before my family, before hurting folks that I hope to invite into this tender mercy that’s also offered to them. A person can’t confess the things I’ve had to confess in my lifetime, and still harbor all that shame… otherwise, they’d never be able to survive it. That’s the beauty of the cross. It’s the great shame-slayer!
As a teenager, I made such a wreck out of myself and my reputation that I felt completely worthless. The better part of my 20’s were spent learning my new identity, learning what exactly it was the Christ accomplished on the Cross, when He died for all of my sin and shame and embraced me as His beloved. I learned that I am a grace-trophy, if you will. I am a woman that knows what she’s been forgiven of. Not everyone has that liberty. So many Christians come to Christ believing that they have something to offer, and God becomes a thing to be manipulated. I knew I was an unworthy beast. And I knew He had hand-picked me, the least deserving, the least honorable, the least worthy, and bestowed the richest honor one could bestow on any man or woman… the honor of being God’s daughter. A slum-dwelling scoundrel turned princess. Sounds like a cinematic masterpiece, doesn’t it?
These pinnacles of freedom in my soul are not despite who I once was, but rather because of it… or at least because of all the soul-remodeling work of my 20’s, that was required to overcome the damage of my teens. Galatians and Romans. It was those 2 books that finally brought their intended liberty.
But just like Jacob, I knew how I had changed, but I still had to face my fears. And you know what I discovered, that fear can be somewhat of a mirage. I think most of us, crammed into that graduating class of ’97 had some fears to own up to. I remember one fellow classmate saying that showing up was the hardest thing he had done in 20 years. I was shocked that someone else had felt that way. I guess so often the voices in our head are so loud that we assume that everyone else can hear them. And I guess sometimes our own struggles prevent us from seeing or bearing one another’s. That’s another way God has changed me… these days, I look out and up more often than in, and I used to only look in. And the inside was pretty wretched. No wonder I was suicidally depressed.
In the weeks leading up to the reunion, I started to panic. I felt a little like Jacob felt, knowing who his God is, but also knowing that he had desperately wronged his brother and deserved whatever wrath he had to face up to. I started to get a little agoraphobic, which is not an emotion that feels familiar to me. I can walk into just about any crowd and make friends. It’s a gift, I guess. But this crowd made the knees knock. Would they hold a grudge? Would I begin to feel like that broken, self-abusing little girl again? Would I forget my identity?
And you know what I learned, as I battled through those storms, as they flooded me through… that I can face any battle if I simply remember how loved I am.
I have long known that I am slathered with grace, completely forgiven, a friend of God. But this class reunion reminded me of something else. Not only did God give me a new name (I used to be a “Heather”), but He also gave me a new identity. Beloved. I am the beloved. And I can face any and every giant if I simply bear that in mind.
So, here I sit, on my own back porch, back in Ohio, feet propped in one rocking chair, butt planted in another, telling you that I flew across the country to remember this: That I am not only bought and paid for, by that lavish sacrifice of the Cross, I’m also simply, utterly beloved… and that nothing else in this whole, wide, crazy world matters at all, in light of that! Who I have been transformed into, and what He’s liberated me from, speaks volumes of Who He is… He is the passionately forgiving Lover of souls! The sacrificially-wooing Bridegroom of His church. The One who can make us all perfect. And He is the Sovereign One, who literally, honestly, surprisingly, actually does cause ALL things to work together for good for His beloved Church. And I, my friends, am simply the beloved! And this is all I ever really need to know again. He is Love and I am loved.
~Space Welch 8/29/17