When you’ve been through a refiner’s fire or two, you come out on the other side changed. It’s impossible not to be different. Sometimes, even though you know that you are not who you used to be, you wonder if other people notice, too, or if they just think you’re crazy. 😉
The other night I got to spend some time with a dear friend of mine whom I’ve known for nearly a decade. We attended church together when I was very much of the mindset that my purpose in life was to be the hardest-working, model church member out there.
That was when I believed that being faithful to God meant not only being at every church function, but serving at it as well. Why be in charge of one ministry at church when it was humanly possible to be a part of 3-5 at any given time?
That was a time in my life when I would have said and believed, “My identity is in Christ” but I did not yet understand that my identity was a balled up mess, woven into titles, expectations, and tradition.
This friend has known me through the unraveling of my identity. We don’t see each other as often as we used to, but she has prayed me through some extremely dark days. She’s a fellow lover of the beautiful stories that God writes with our lives and has been one of my greatest encouragers as I’ve grappled with how to share it.
As I once again wondered about my sanity while we talked, she made this whole messy process that I’ve been working through a bit more worth it by stating, “You are not the same girl you were five or six years ago, hardly even the same DNA. Now your story is real, and I can relate to you in my own mess.”
There was a time when I would not have considered those phrases a compliment. I’d have much rather heard someone say, “You haven’t changed a bit.” When your works come out as rubble in the fire, however, you have a different perspective. As I continue to sort through the mayhem of what remains after the fires God saw me through, there are times I wonder if it was worth it. Did I actually come out stronger or more chaotic?
I believe the answer is both. Because the truth is, I am still trying to find the balance in what was good about who I was before and what I need to let go of. A prime example of when the struggle was very real was just a couple of months ago.
I forgot to go help prepare a meal for the local homeless shelter because I was helping family. I cried the entire frantic trip across town in hopes that I wasn’t too late. I was. The grace that the sweet women I had unintentionally stood up extended to me was precious, but the old me swam intently to the surface begging for a chance to prove that I’m better than that. The new me, humbled and much more willing to receive grace told the old me to calm down and remember, “You aren’t defined by your mistakes. We all need reminders from time to time that we desperately need grace. In the end, grace is enough. It has to be.”
While we all appreciate people who are real and relatable, the process required to become that ourselves is no easy feat. If you find yourself in that process, let me recommend the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She brings up some powerful points about the value of vulnerability, even in a culture that thrives on shame. I love the passage from The Velveteen Rabbit that she shares on pp. 110-111 of her book. I hope you do, too.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.””Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”