There it was.
Straight from the pulpit, the hint of a word…the shadow of shame that comes with a history of being promiscuous. The sting of the suggestion that if you were…you are a less than.
And my spine stiffened right there in my seat.
Because like the woman set before Him on the temple grounds[i]…like the woman who spilled her tears on His feet and then wiped them with her hair[ii]…like the prostitute who stood up for His people and wrote herself into His story because she understood His power and decided to choose Him instead of the world[iii]…I wasn’t defined by the shame anymore.
But what if I was? What if I sat there, still working it out…still coming to it…still just starting to understand? What if I didn’t quite grasp the grace yet? What if I didn’t know? What if, even though I may have been taught, there was still a broken inside that hadn’t yet healed?
What if all the men in my past echoed the shadow of that dead word I heard hinted, so that even today it was hard to make eye contact with my new brothers based on the fear that they might bring that word back to life if they were to show me coldness with their eyes?
What if I didn’t have a strong man who loves with faithful steadiness and muscles that protect and patience that perseveres and a servant’s heart that has worked hard over decades to dust corners where dirt sometimes likes to hide and while he dusts he reminds me of what the Creator says…that I am fearfully and wonderfully made…and all his dusting makes me radiant?
What if I wasn’t as strong as some think and don’t we all carry a little bit of fragile deep down and I thought we all knew that words really can bite even when we’re tough cookies.
And what if I had not even noticed that day the subtle hint of scorn over bad choices and confused self-identity and forgotten lessons?
Would she? The pretty one there in the back row who came here looking for a lifeline to help pull her out of the quicksand life she’s stuck in…
Or how about that one over there? The tired middle-aged woman whose husband isn’t as strong as she’d hope him to be, and he only comes to church on big days because he hasn’t realized how lonely she is or how lost she feels or how saved he could be and how powerful that would make him…
Or what about that grandmother? That beautiful wrinkled woman who mourns the lifestyle her precious granddaughter has fallen into, refusing to see the truth she’s been taught no matter how many prayers her grandma offers up…
But I did notice it, and with my back straight and my hope steely, I could only wish they hadn’t. Because how could I look into each of their beautiful eyes and hold each of their hard working hands and tell them that if you were…if you are…if that was you…if that is still you… or someone you love…you are still worthy. That they are still worthy.
That we are still loved.
How could I tell them about the beautiful mama who was once so entrenched in the lifestyle of the streets that she lived for a time within literal prison walls and that she once found herself near buried? How could I express to them her tenacity in not listening to the voices of this world that would keep her down and prevent her from living full and growing strong and reaching still? How could I explain that she listened instead to the voice of her Maker and that because she did, she heard clear the voice of her Savior and eventually found her stumbling grace-filled way to Him?
How could I tell them that sometimes people speak without understanding the weight of their words and that though even those words may sting and make the voices seem demeaning, the ONE voice we need to hear doesn’t bring degrading or condemnation but tender, restorative conviction?
And always hope.
How could I tell them to find that voice, not the voice that battles daily – our own voice – or the voice of the enemy of our soul.
How could I tell them that the voice in my head that resolves and restores is the voice of the One who made me…the voice of the One who spoke the stars into the sky…the voice of the One who reminds me that He, the LORD my God, is with me. That He is mighty to save. That He takes great delight in me and quiets me with his love. And He uses His voice to rejoice over me with singing.[iv]
And that voice tells us that when we hear words that hurt or remind us of the shame, we can remember…we are His.
When we belong to Him, we’re like the woman who’d been crippled for eighteen years. She was bent and couldn’t straighten herself up. But Jesus saw her and called her forward and set her free from her infirmity. And He put his hands on her and she straightened up and praised God.[v]
His is the voice that we need to hear.
And then, no matter what confused messages we may hear, no matter how many times grace isn’t spoken, we’ll know.
We’ll be able to stand straight and remember radiant just like King David did. We’ll remember what we could almost forget if it wasn’t written on the pulpit of our heart and the palms of His hands.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters.[vi]
And if our sisters forget, we’ll remind them too. We’ll remind them that the deep-down fragile is held strong with nail-scarred hands.
We can remind them to be like our ancient sister who understood that even though this world was full of name calling and battles and wars and crippling spirits, we can still choose the right way.
That we can see His might and His strength and the love He has for His people and that we can face our fears and trust the power of the one true God and that when we do, He’ll write our beautiful story and reward us for our faith that follows Him.
We can remind them that when we touch Him, we’ll no longer be bent over. That no matter what we hear…or what we tell ourselves…or what the world tells us…or what well-intentioned friends and family tell us…
…what matters is what HE tells us.
That’s who we are.
We can remind them that all the names from all the men don’t matter because HE has a name for us and that name is Redeemed, and My Child, Forgiven and then…one day when we stand before Him, He’ll give to us a brand-new name, a name that no one else knows[vii], a name that He’s had for us since the second He thought us into His story.
We can remind them that the words that matter are The Word and when we remember that, we’ll remember that we’re healed and that we’re whole and that He made us then and He makes us now and that He makes us new.
When we remind them to remember that, it’ll help us remember it too.
And when we remember, we’ll stand.
We’ll stand tall and we’ll praise Him.
[i] John 8:1-11
[ii] Luke 7:38
[iii] Joshua 2
[iv] Zephaniah 3:17
[v] Luke 13:11-13
[vi] 2 Samuel 22:17
[vii] Revelation 2:17