When I was in seventh grade, I walked around the indoor hallways of my junior high school clutching my three-ring binder tight to my chest, along with my hardbound textbooks, and kept my eyes on the orange-and-black-speckled carpet or gray lockers as I walked, never looking people in the eye. I couldn't have told you why that was, nor could I have found a safe place to admit that it was true, but I remember feeling something like apology for my mere existence each day that I walked those halls.
Have you ever felt this way?
The summer before that seventh-grade year, I'd attended a summer camp with my church in the Angeles National Forest about an hour or so from home. And during that week, I'd inched my way toward the re-dedication of my life to Jesus. It was the first time I'd heard that following Jesus meant inviting him into my heart and making a public profession of my faith. Though I'd always known Jesus and had been baptized in the fourth grade at my church, something about this felt different.
On the last night of camp, I went forward in the decision for re-dedication.
And a few weeks later, when I entered the halls of my junior high, I promptly allowed myself to become invisible.
I remember that the theme for that summer camp week was "Fight the Good Fight." The population of the camp had been divided into four teams, and we played various competitive games throughout the week -- pool games, obstacle courses, etc.
I was on the magenta team.
I took the magenta-colored team shirt I'd been given home with me from camp -- it had the camp theme graphic for "Fight the Good Fight" emblazed in neon yellow and orange on the front -- and I wore it often, feeling that the wearing of it was part of my public profession of faith in Jesus.
But when I walked the hallways at school, I covered up the front of the shirt by clutching that three-ring binder and those heavy textbooks to my chest.
Sometime in my seventh- or eighth-grade year, the youth pastor's wife at my church asked to interview me for the youth newsletter. She called me at my house and asked me many questions about myself and my faith that I can no longer remember.
But one question, I do remember.
"What is your favorite verse?" she asked.
And I told her it was Matthew 5:11-12. It reads:
"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
I was not someone who talked openly, much less boldly, about my faith with those outside my circle of friends at church, and so it is quite interesting to me that I named my favorite verse as one that speaks of being blessed through persecution.
I was so afraid of persecution, and so I hid my faith from others outside my faith.
From where I stand today, in a relationship with Jesus that has become more precious to me than I can express and living out a vocational calling that asks me to stay close and present Christ, it makes sense to me that the areas in which I carried so much shame -- in being free to be who I really am and in sharing my life of faith with others -- would be the same places Jesus would come in and heal me and then seek to use me.
He is calling me to be visible now, and he is asking me to share him with others.
I have felt such a greater sense of breaking open in this way over this last year.
Really, I think the breaking open began in 1998, when I first asked God to teach me my need for grace and my need for Jesus. That's when my journey into the truth of my heart began and when my journey of healing began. That's when Jesus began to teach me about my de-formities and began to re-form my heart in truth.
Slowly, over the last fourteen years (has it really been fourteen years?!), I have seen Jesus come near and make himself known to me. I have experienced his healing touch upon my wounds in so many ways. And in that healing, he has set me free to love others with an increasing love.
This last year, though, has been one of increasing freedom to live out loud.
I shared the beginning of this "living out loud" journey when I took my 5-day silent retreat last May. There was a moment of recognition of lived dissonance -- of being my true self in safe places but hiding that self in circles where I didn't think my true self would be welcome.
"I'm in love with Jesus," I told a friend right before I went on my retreat. "That's simply who I am."
And ever since then, Jesus has been setting me free to simply live the truth of that and offer it to others.
Last Wednesday night, Kirk and I attended a Lenten study at All Saints, where we've been making our way through Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. On that evening, we were discussing the practice of lectio divina -- a way of reading the scriptures for transformation rather than information -- and we practiced lectio divina together using a passage from Isaiah 43:
But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name;
You are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I gave Egypt for your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your stead.
Since you were precious in My sight,
You have been honored,
And I have loved you."
We were invited to pay attention to the word or phrase that jumped out at us during the first reading of this passage, and then we walked through several more readings of the passage and were invited to interact with God in prayer regarding the word or phrase that had been given to us.
Redeemed was the word given to me in that reading.
In the time of reflection built into that time of reading, as I turned the word over and over on my tongue and kept tasting it, I noticed something about that word for the very first time:
Redeemed = re-deemed
I thought of the ways the word "re-deemed" would be used. We often hear the word "deemed" used in the sense that something or someone is deemed worthy of something -- that they are accounted worthy of the grace or blessing or honor being bestowed upon them.
When someone or something is "re-deemed," then, it would imply that a period of veering from a person or thing's original purpose had happened. A lived dissonance, perhaps, had entered in, and the "re-deeming" would only come about once a process of being reconstituted and re-formed into one's original purpose had happened.
I have been "re-deemed," God showed me.
That seventh-grade girl who clutched her notebook and textbooks to her chest so tight, walking in shame down those hallways and hiding the truth of her love for Jesus, has been reconstitued and re-formed into the person she really is, bearing the name of Jesus.
Thanks be to God for his grace.