The palm of my hand stopped sweating somewhere around the 13-minute mark.
Finally. I was feeling comfortable and my shoulders were loosening up. He’d taken my hand at the start of the story saying, “Here,” as he stretched it out to me. I’d only known him for two hours but his hand reaching out to me, like a crutch to lean upon as I spoke, was a sense of home in those Northern Georgia hills that night.
I bobbed and weaved and the led the dinner table through a story I’d told to people dozens and dozens of times before about my losing and finding of faith. I know every crook and dark corner of that story, every time a person will let their jaw drop or bury their face in their hands. That story is a clearly marked and weathered roadmap to me, speckled with all the landmarks of other people’s reactions to hearing it for the first time.
When the story ended, our conversation fanned out into people.
People who fall beneath this umbrella word “Christian” and how offensively that one word rings out to the world we live in today. Saying, “I am a Christian” is taking a risk. It’s giving you an open door to not like me because of what other people have told you about me. You’ve read of me in the papers. You’ve seen me on the news. It’s relying on what you’ve heard about me to make a judgement that I am girl who thinks the world is full of this “dirty/clean” dichotomy and that I can’t roam with sinners because I am much too holy for that. That’s what the world will tell you about me and I don’t even blame you when you make the judgement because I, myself, am still trying how to not be offended by some Christians.
But the word “Christian” still stops me. Every time I hear the word “Christian,” my mind can’t shake the image of a massive warehouse filled to the ceiling with tiny glass slippers. I picture them everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Delicate. Beautiful. Chipped. Scarred. And throngs of people coming in and out of that warehouse, trying to wedge glass slippers onto their feet, being so careful to find the one that doesn’t blister them or break when they put it on. And it’s this fragile, scared process of wanting to find the “perfect” fit and the “good” fit and the “beautiful” fit so that they can just be clean & right & dancing with this God who looks more to them like a judge than a father. And all I want to say to that image of perfectly constructed Christianity that breaks open in a world that is messy, messy, messy, is that my gospel is a barefoot one. I don’t wear shoes when it comes to my gospel. And I have no interest, no interest at all, in being perfect or right or blameless. Most days, I just want to feel like I’ve done something right.
I grew up hating the hymns that sat in the pews of my childhood church.
That’s where the hurt started to roar because the lines of those songs always made me feel worthless. Dirty, dirty, dirty. Needing to be clean. Needing to be fit. Needing to be reprimanded. And after years of rejecting those words, I get to tell you with my own lips that I am dirty. I am dirty and it has nothing to do with my worthlessness. I am dirty because I believe in a God who tells me dirt beneath my fingernails, and trudging through the muds of this messy life, is the most beautiful thing I will ever get to do. I believe in a God who tells me getting dirty is my job description. And there is always more work to be done that has nothing to do with condemning and judging and making other people feel worthless for what they walked into this day holding. My God calls me to dirt beneath my fingernails and conversations that crawl into the 3am hour and loving people hard, even when my own heart feels mangled. My God calls me to finger-painting with the messiness of grace and trash-picking in toulle-filled dresses and resting in the assurance that I am a child of God. I am a child of God. I find that title to be earth-shattering as I stand in the thick of a culture that never gives me enough value to hold me past dinnertime.
And despite what you believe, I am not afraid to sit in my corner of the internet and tell you that I think you are a child of God. And please don’t get offended by me because there is nothing offensive about the idea of someone making us perfectly. And there is nothing offensive about believing, if only for a half second, that we were made for victory and better things before we learned to give our little lives away to weaknesses and lies.
I believe in that.
I believe in love. I believe in a religion that never sat pretty in the church the way it raged beautifully when it was out on the sidewalks. In the hands of people who knew how to love on others right. I believe in people who use every shred of their composure to go out of their way to tell someone else how very striking they are. No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, someone should have told you that before. And if you’ve never heard that… well. let. me. be. the. first.
I don’t care that I don’t know you. I don’t care that I cannot list off all your bruises and battles like the backs of my own hands. Because if it took me knowing all of that about you then we would never get to the point where I apologize to you…And tell you that I am sorry that others have judged you. Or misread you. Or hurt you. Or screwed you over.
I am sorry for all of that and I beg you accept my apology for all the harm of humanity if it means you’ll think about moving forward today… because you have bigger work to do than feel the bitterness. You have much bigger work to do. That work is so big, so wide, so far, that it laughs at all those weaknesses and offenses that try to hold you back.
To me, it’s not about damnation.
It’s not about the “dirty sinner.” It’s this heartbreaking, simple, and yet stunningly complex story about a girl in a manger who probably looked up to the sky and asked, “Really? This is your plan for a king?” And she birthed a baby beside cow dung for the weary world to call him royalty. And that little boy grows into a man who illustrates to a broken world how to love people and treat grace like manna falling from the sky and have pretty decent friends and never waste your emotions on jealousy and gossip. And then he dies this horrendous death at a young, young age and he comes out of the tomb three days later and basically says to all the people who killed him, “I died for you. Yes, you. I don’t care what you did. I can’t love you any less. You didn’t know how to come to me. You didn’t have a map. You didn’t know the way. And so I solved all the issues– all your faulty GPS excuses–and just came to you.”
I mean, that’s pretty radical, even if you can’t believe in it. I think that even if I didn’t believe in anything, I’d have a really hard time finding anything more beautiful than thinking that the same guy who created beauty out of dirt is the one who gets all choked up crying over all his children and all the empty things we do, thinking as we watches, “I just love you so much that I will endure anything. Anything to prove it. And I’m going to let you make mistake after mistake after mistake and I’m still going to take you back. Even when you leave me, I will wait.” Because that is love eternal– waiting and staying when the rest of the world walks away. Half of the time, I don’t know what I want to believe in. But that? I want to believe in something as beautiful as that always.