I was a painfully shy child. Mom says I hid behind her legs but I don’t remember that far back. I can see clearly in my mind being at Nicholl’s pharmacy and begging one of my sisters to buy a candy bar for me. (I may have come out of the womb afraid of my own shadow but those two ladies came out ready to roll.). I’m not sure if I was afraid of the cashier or afraid to be seen with Milky Way loot?
I am blessed with another lovely memory from seventh grade when I had to share a project in front of the class. My skin blushed up and rashed out so badly that one of my classmates hollered, “Jill, are you gonna have a heart attack?!” Forever and ever after that I detested the public speaking aspect of school. It was during those years that I recall sitting outside on my front steps before bed. I lamented not being a cool kid. I looked at the stars and sensed a deep loneliness and personal insignificance compared to the vastness of that Milky Way. One night, I don’t know if I was fussing or praying, but I got a glimpse of being a created child of God. I still felt tiny in the scheme of things but also unique and valued. I see that as the start of my long journey of faith.
A few years after that, I started smoking on the steps at night. For some reason I got the idea to chuck the butts over my head onto the roof. Didn’t have a thought towards fall when Dad would clean the gutters and find my ashtray. I liken this to a picture of a walk of faith. That it is not a place of instant transformation and beautiful pathways. It is a long and winding river with some crooked tributaries that will need to be traced backwards to the streams of living water.
In Luke, Jesus tells those who have come to see them the parable of the lost sheep. In the vast array of the stars I felt like that one lost sheep and came to love the idea of the value of being “the one.” I left the modern church because of the collectivist way of thinking, to be true to the idea of the one. That is, the idea that God loves without coercion and only goes after the one with grace and mercy, to be accepted or rejected in freedom. That His embrace creates wholeness but also allows for mystery and uncertainty.
You know I love Psalm 40, because I experience that over and over.
“I waited patiently for the Lord;
He turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.”
Like David, the writer of most of the Psalms, always expressed, real life isn’t pretty at times, but downright painful. He was, plenty of times, no prize himself. Neither am I. The point isn’t to be wonderful all the time, but to learn to love ourselves and others in the process. I may have anxiety and fears at times. I don’t believe all my diseases will always be healed or my problems always simplified. But He tells me, life is a gift and everything is going to be alright.
“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” Luke 15