“You are not broken! Nothing about you is broken. There are lessons to learn so you can become the best version of yourself possible, but YOU ARE NOT BROKEN. There is nothing to fix.”
I nearly choked on my crepe.
Thank heavens the restaurant was closing soon, and there was hardly anyone around, because tears filled my eyes.
“Do we need to talk about my shoes?”
No. No we do not.
“I’m giving you an out.”
I don’t think I want one.
I think I want to sit with that for a while.
I AM NOT BROKEN.
No one had ever said that to me before.
On the contrary, I’d heard my entire life that we are a broken people, that we are all inherently in need of ‘fixing’ – some of us more than others. Fixing the brokenness was the path to holiness.
I sin, therefore I am broken. Flawed. In need of the elusive “god –fix.”
I’ve always felt like I’ve never measured up. Like I’m especially broken.
Too short. Too fat. Too loud. Too gay. Too awkward. Too independent. Too proud. Too stubborn. Too strange. Too liberal. Too unwilling to conform.
It’s a terrible way to think about yourself. Constantly chasing the elusive “fix” that will never come this side of heaven. It’s a futile endeavor. It’s exhausting. And for me, it created this insane fear that I’m never going to measure up to God’s standards, and s/he wouldn’t possibly be able to love me – all my knowledge of grace be damned.
Lord knows I tried to measure up. Tried to live up to the overwhelming notion of grace that I grew up singing about, sharing with other, and fighting with my whole being to believe for myself. I’ve always been warned about being wary of “cheap grace.” Grace has always been something of a paradox for me. On one hand, I was brought up to believe that grace is unmerited favor – something that is given freely, especially when we don’t deserve it – and on the other hand, because we have been shown such grace, we have to live up to that standard – we have to live as broken, repentant people, constantly striving to ‘live up’ to that unmerited love that Christ paid so high a price to give.
We sang a lot of Sunday School choruses about this very thing.
“He paid a debt he did not owe/I owed a debt I could not pay/ I needed someone to wash my sins away/ And now I sing a brand new song/ amazing grace, the whole day long/ Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”
That’s the one that comes to my mind most readily.
What a heavy burden – the burden of a costly grace. Sadly, the guilt of that costly grace swallowed up the joy of it for the bulk of my life up to this point. How could I ever repay? How could I ever live up? I couldn’t. I can’t.
Living with those feelings of guilt, of inadequacy, on such a visceral level – especially being in so deeply in the closet that I would have sworn I’d have found Narnia sooner than the door to the outside – left me wanting in the love department. Not romantic love, but the “if anyone really knew the darkest parts of my soul, they would surely abandon me” kind of love – the “I had better work my ass off to make up for all my shortcomings/defects/brokenness because clearly, I’m on the deep end of god’s ‘hard to love’ spectrum” kind of love.
This past Sunday, I quietly became a UU officially. I didn’t really say anything online in advance, or even to anyone in person, except my sister Mary. I’m not really sure why I kept it so quiet, except that it was so close to my heart that I couldn’t bring myself to verbalize it. I wanted to be selfish with this one, to hold it, sit with it for a while – quietly steep myself in the idea that I’m finally HOME, until I actually believed it.
I’m finally home.
I can feel a slight grin creeping across my face even as I typed that sentence. HOME.
For the first time in my entire life, I feel completely at home in a church….and I was a pastor for 12 years.
For the first time, I feel like I don’t have to ‘measure up’ or ‘prove myself’. There will be no ritualistic renunciations or shameful, public punishment for infractions. [In the Army, you could always tell if someone had really sinned and screwed up because they’d be stripped of their uniform for a time, usually asked to step out of the band if they were a musician, or moved to some god-forsaken awful appointment if they were an officer.]
Yes, there is a covenant that we strive to uphold, and there are behaviors that aren’t acceptable – but for some reason here, it *feels* more like grace.
And that brings more weird feelings out in me.
Sunday was an interesting day. I woke up feeling really unsettled because of a doozy of a dream I’d had. I’m going to share the Reader’s Digest version, simply because it’s fascinating, from a psychological perspective [and it’s darn weird].
I dreamed that the Army offered me my rank back, and an appointment here in Carlisle with the option of never being transferred again. So I took it.
I was sitting in the front pew of the Carlisle chapel on my installation Sunday, listening to the Divisional Commander [the Army equivalent of a bishop] drone on about repentance and grace, and restoring me to my place in the fold, when I looked down and realized that I was wearing Aija’s vampy mauve, tan, and teal heels with my uniform. [A BIG NO NO – shoes have to be non-descript, black, and with no more than an inch heel]
And suddenly, the band started to play the song “here together” [which we sing every week at UUCV to begin and end our services]. The words were wrong, the tune was awful, and I found myself leaning over to the officer beside me and saying, “we sing this at UUCV and this isn’t right.” Her response: “you need to forget about UUCV and be a good Christian.”
I began to get uncomfortable, so I looked at my [aija’s] shoes.
Then, it was prayer request time, so people stood and stated their requests, as is typical in the army, and instead of sitting down, they walked up to the holiness table, wrote them down on slips of paper, and crumpled them into a water bottle full of water [like the UUCV joys and sorrows ceremony, but weird].
I got up to add my own request to the water, and caught a glimpse of myself in the full length mirror that was hanging, inexplicably, where the crest should be behind the pulpit.
I looked like I’d been through a war.
My hair was disheveled. My uniform dusty and torn. My off-black pantyhose full of runs.
But the shoes were intact. Go figure.
I stood there, shocked at my own appearance, realizing that, yeah, I HAD been through battle…so why was I reenlisting?
I looked at the clock – 10:24. I would be late, but I could still make it to UUCV in time for the new member ceremony, and maybe even before I had to sing. Maybe no one would notice the uniform.
I took off, but when I got outside, all the churches were lined up, and looked exactly the same. I started flinging doors open, looking for Aija, looking for the congregation I love, but all I found were strangers, startled by the battle-grubby officer standing in their doorways.
Yep. My unconscious was working overtime.
The part that really stuck with me was the way I looked in that mirror. It didn’t scare me, but it was jarring, seeing reflected on the outside how I’ve felt on the inside for so long.
And that’s what is so bewildering to me about UUCV – both the congregation as a whole and Aija as a pastor – that they haven’t recoiled. That they don’t think I’m damaged or broken, even when I “outed” myself as a former pastor, even when I literally “outed” myself, even when I have a hard time making eye contact [I’m getting better at that] or feel like a spaz because I’m still so freaking nervous sometimes.
Sunday morning was wonderful , as most Sunday mornings are at UUCV. And as usual, the sermon rattled me [in the best way possible].
She spoke of love.
“There is nothing you can do – NOTHING – that will make us stop loving you; every single part of you.”
My mind immediately went to the picture of the battle-grubby officer [this time sans shoes. Hey. It’s my head. I get to take them off.].
I’ve said often [and to her face] that Aija slightly terrifies me because it feels like she can see straight into my heart. I know that she can see that battle-grubby, sword-broken-off-into officer.
And she loves me anyway.
Accepts me anyway.
Keeps telling me the truth until I believe it myself anyway.
I realized that’s the truth of UUCV. That we all have “stuff” that we bring with us. Some of it is more visible than others. But as UU’s, we strive to accept one another anyway.
And yean, I’m battle-grubby.
But I’m not broken.
And I’m still sitting with that – trying to believe it. It might take me a while.
But I’m working on it.
And that feels like grace.