So this is a warning right from the start. I may be about to make significantly less sense than usual. And if you can bring your mind to imagine that – kudos!
Today was the London Women’s Convention. It’s an awesome event filledwith Christian women learning and worshipping together. I do realise that it might sound like many people’s idea of hell, but it’s generally one of the highlights of my year. I have a very precious friend called Johanna. We both tend to live our lives at warp speed, and since we live 60 miles apart, it’s difficult to see each other. This has become our yearly time to be together and learn and talk and pray and just enjoy being together, and it’s pretty precious.
That having been said – I wasn’t sure I wanted to go this year. I’ve been tired and it’s a long train journey and…well, the list of excuses I was finding was getting pretty epic. I think, to be honest, I was scared. I knew the conference was going to focus on issues of sex and relationaship, and it’s an area I feel pretty damned broken in a lot of the time.
Sometimes, I feel really uncomfortable in writing about Christian “experiences”. I can hear people talking about the way God has met with them, and it makes me cringe. I guess it’s because – well, because for me at least, the vast majority of the time, life isn’t like that. The Christian experience for me doesn’t mean bouncingfrom one ecstatic experience to another – for most of the time it’s a long hard trudge. And I worry that when the unusual does happen, it sets up an unrealistic expectation of the Christian life – and, into the bargain, sounds completely mad to non-Christians. Having said all that, I am going to write about today, and actually aboutsome stuff that’s been going on in the last couple of months. So you’ve been warned…
So I spent most of the train journey extremely stressed, and got off the train and belted it down to the Emmanual Centre – I have never walked that fast in my life, made more remarkable by the fact I was wearing the most ridiculous shoes. The first session looked at Revelation. It was the bit about the Bride of Christ, and the speaker emphasised what the bride was like before Christ – filthy and entirely unloveable. But with Christ? With Christ she’s tranformed. With Christ, she’s beautiful. With Christ, she’s redeemed. And the thing is? We’re the bride.
I feel filthy far more often than I feel redeemed. And afterward, we went to listen to a lovely lady called Gillian Russell. Gillian has experienced more in her life than most, to say the least. From an abusive relationship to drink, drugs, homelessness, and finding solace in all the wrong places, to finding her identity in Christ.
It was hard to listen to, because – well, because some of her story is mine too. I’ve done the thing of mixing up what has happened to me with my identity – believing that because people have hurt and abused me, I am not worthy,or lovable. And i’ve looked for love in the wrong places – not in drugs or drink, but in dodgy relationships, in hurting people, in running from God. That’s my story. And whilst all this was going on, I still looked like the perfect Christian.
One of the things that’s been happening to me since the miscarriage in July has been (very slowly) getting to realise what God thinks of me. I guess I’ve always had this image that He thinks of e with resigned toleration – at best. Don’t get me wrong, I could talk of God’s love, and passionately believe it. Just – well, just not for myself. God couldn’t love me.
And through having that experience, I guess I’ve begun to realise that that’s a lie. God doesn’t tolerate me. God isn’t resigned to have me as his child. God loves me with a passionate, all consuming love. Growing into believing that has been – and is, a great challenge, and recently I’ve been feeling down, and discouraged, and wondering again whether it really was for me.
And sometimes I really can’t hear the things God’s telling me. I have slightly damaged hearing from menigitis a few years back, but wow – my physical hearing is pretty damned marvellous compared to my spiritual hearing! God showers grace upon undeserved grace on me, and yet I still hide in my corner, refusing to look up, not daring to hope there’s a saviour with a smile on his face, rather than a judge with a frown. Sometimes, God has to use a megaphone.
And he did. The last session of the day – well, no offence to the speaker, but I’m goingto admit it – I didn’t actually clock part of it. That was because she started with a passage in Corinthians. It talks about the wicked – the people who won’t inherit God’s kingdom. It’s a scarily long list. But then it goes on to say something remarkable. The verse is 1 Cor 6:11 if you want to look it up, but basically it says – some of you – me, for example – were that. But now? Now you are washed. Now you are sanctified. Now you are justified.
And that hit me. Hard actually – I spent the next half hour crying.
Because I’m not my past.
I’m not that confused and hurting girl.
I’m not the scared young women, manipulating everything and everyone around her to stop people getting to know the real her.
I’m not the tiny girl in the dark bedroom scared of what will happen.
I’m not the one who would never let people close in case they hurt her.
I’m not my past, and I’m not my mistakes.
God doesn’t look at me with resignation. He looks at me with a deep, abiding love.
I’m His daughter.
His little girl.
I call Isaac a lot of silly names. The one he loves the most, and that always makes him smile, is when I call him my present. Because he is – he’s a special gift. He’s precious and adorable and wonderful, and I love him – not because he’s good or does or says the right things – but just because he’s him.
And that’s how God looks at me. Not because I’m perfect – I’m not – but because I’m me, and that’s precious to Him.
I’m home now, and already the convention seems far away. It’s a year til the next one. I’m already missing Johanna and her ability to make the hardest of things feel safe just with a touch and a smile.
But as we left, she prayed. And she prayed that what had happened today wouldn’t just be kept to today, but would impact us over the days and the weeks and the months ahead. And that’s a really important prayer, because it’s easy to have faith and hope when you’re with tonnes of Christian women and one of your best friends, and you’re in that intentional space that’s all about God. When you’re back in ordinary life and the same old shit is wearing you down, it’s a lot harder.
But – and I’m writing this as my commitment – what I plan to do is to try to spend time living in some of the grief of today. Because it was grief, to a large extent – grieivng the broken heart and the broken dreams and the death of innocence. It’s important to acknowledge that. But – and please, those of you who are Christians and who know me well, please keep encouraging me in this – I also want to live in the hope of today. The hope that one day, it will be renewed, and it will be glorious. There will be no more tears, and I’ll be able to stand up and bellow with the best of them – “whom the son sets free – he is free indeed!”
Today, I mostly sobbed those lines. Right now, it’s not always true to me. I don’t feel free. But I am. I’m not my past.
And, through Him?