This One’s Personal

~~I’ll ask your indulgence in a bit of self-disclosure at the outset of my rambling today. My Grandmother died yesterday. I did not know her. I was the product of a lustful encounter outside of marriage. I was not wanted. My existence made a mess of my parents’ and grandparents’ lives, resulting in shame, regret, and public humiliation – I am a living embarrassment. That is the short answer to why I did not know my grandmother.

My growing up years were spent being dragged down a trail of broken relationships like Sherman’s march to the sea. Relatives were alienated. My mother’s “significant others” came and went. Friends proved faithless. You get the idea. In my mid-twenties, my mother and I became estranged (she disappeared and left no forwarding address…literally…I could not make this up) and my sister severed ties with me several times until it finally stuck. In my early thirties, in an effort to find a replacement family, I sought out and met my biological father who had never been a part of my life up to that point and was only a vague memory from my toddler years. The result was not what I expected. It was confusing, and disappointing, and overwhelming, and painful. There was no explanation offered to provide a resolution to my abandonment, and no viable replacement for what I had lost. In the ensuing years, my dad and his family have gone to great lengths to make me a part of their family.  But I resist. Every time they pull up in my driveway, they drag my baggage behind them. “Unwanted”. “Abandoned.” “Rejected.” These are the adjectives that attach themselves to me like lint on a sweater, and my grandmother’s rejection of me unto death has dumped that bag of dirty laundry right in the middle of my floor today. My grandmother died yesterday, and I did not know her. She did not know me. That’s what we chose. And today I cannot stop weeping.

My story is not unique. Remember that I volunteer at the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter (props to them!!), and in every little face I see there, I see me. In every angry teenager there, I see me. It’s personal. I know their pain. And if you’re “one of us”, I know yours too. It’s the pain of not belonging. It’s the pain of constant rejection. It’s the pain of believing that for some reason beyond your ability to comprehend you are a sin and a shame to the people from whom you most crave love and acceptance. You are unlovable. You are un-embraceable. You are an object lesson in being the last one standing when teams are chosen; no one really wants you, but some are obligated to take you, and in that, you become an unwelcome burden. You are guilty of transgression simply because you are alive, and eventually, you will be tossed out or passed along - and that’s only if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you’ll be overlooked and forgotten and invisible.

That’s a whole lot of pity on one page, right there! Forgive me. I do have a point. This kind of life experience messes with your head, and when you begin to truly walk with Christ it messes with your faith. As every good thing is taken from you, what’s left behind is an empty pit that continually belches the sulfur of hell into your life. It’s hard to battle what you’ve learned by experience to be true. Acceptance and rejection. Desperation and indifference. Permanence and instability. These are the coins I keep constantly in the air depending on the prevailing winds of my relationships. I am ready to flee at any moment, heart intact, denying any discernable damage. That includes fleeing my relationship with Christ, or at least remaining safely detached in case he makes a hasty retreat into oblivion on the heels of his mistake in having started up with me to begin with.

Now I’m about to be harsh with us all here – all of us in this common struggle…to continue to live like this is sin. It is the evidence of unbelief. God is not man that he should lie about his promises or renege on them. He is not man that he should walk away from his child and never look back. Nor would he change his address and not tell you, or go to his death before reaching out to you. But we who lived this kind of life before Christ continue to live with the expectation of immanent abandonment and rejection. We work like slaves to earn his approval and acceptance when what we should do is rest in his grace and the truth that nothing can separate us from his love, and that he will never – no, not ever – leave us or forsake us. Faith is being sure of what we can’t see… what we haven’t known or experienced. Instead, we believe what we learned: that good things – lasting things – are reserved for other people. Good people. Acceptable people. Whole people. But faith is being sure of God’s love in spite of ourselves, in spite of what we know about ourselves, what we learned about ourselves. Faith is believing that he can love us simply because he can’t help himself and for no other reason. He sought us! He chose us! He wanted us! He died so that we could always be with him! Not because he had to. Not out of obligation. Not because we temporarily won him over. I know all of this. You know all of this. But believing…ah…that’s another thing entirely.

I shared this part of my story with you because I know you are out there. I know you’re reading this, waiting for answers. I don’t have any. But Jesus does. Jesus knows what it’s like to be a reject, a cast-off, a shame to his family, an embarrassment and a humiliation. And He came to embrace us and bring us into his family. He made himself a mockery to the world so that we could be accepted. He forfeited love so that we could receive it. What no one has ever done for you even in part, he did completely. 

I know you don’t want to – I know you can’t really embrace this pain – but walk to the edge of your pit and just look over the edge. That hole that was left as one good thing after another was yanked from your old life…it isn’t there anymore. Christ has filled it completely. Poured out, pressed down, shaken together and running over. One drop of blood extinguished the flames and filled the crevasse, no matter how deep or how wide. Whatever you missed, it’s there. Love is there. Acceptance is there. Faithfulness is there. Forgiveness is there. Joy is there. Peace is there. Security is there. Rest…is there. That pit has become a well for you to draw from, and to live as if you are empty is to neglect that gift.

I write from the edge of my pit, not from successful experience, and yet with every painful, humiliating reminder that my grandmother would disregard my existence to her last breath, I am drawing strength from the well. I am battling back with the truth that I am a chosen, cherished, and wholly acceptable child of God. I am experiencing the embrace of an immeasurable love from which nothing can ever separate me. I am holding fast to the peace and security I find in those truths. And I am letting it all fill me with joy while I grieve and heal. His truth is sufficient for my need today. It is abundant. It is a generous outpouring from an extravagant Father to his needy and wounded child. I will live today from that well. I will believe. It is enough.
“Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” Psalm 27:10
(I’ve always secretly believed he put that verse in there just for me, but I will gladly share it with you if you need it.)