Of Hypocrites and Grace

“But sometimes a hypocrite is nothing more than a person who is in the process of changing.”

It has been a couple of weeks since my fiancé sent me this quote from the book he is reading (Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson), but I cannot seem to shake these words from my mind.

I have been guilty of judging hypocrites too harshly more often than not. When I find that someone’s actions do not align with their words, I am more likely to write them off as insincere than leave room for the possibility that the person they have been in the past has simply not yet met up with the person they strive to be. And I wonder, as I fight my own battle of becoming, just how much of a hypocrite I appear to others.

If you have followed me for any length of time, you’ll know I tend to live by the words of Jesus and Hannah Brencher. I think we all know that Jesus is a huge advocate for redemption, but here’s what Hannah has to say about it:

“Leave space and room in every sentence you write for grace and redemption. The most beautiful thing about characters is their ability to change. Don’t ever steal that from someone by writing a story they can’t grow out of one day.”

When I look around my world today, I don’t see a lot of space for grace and redemption. While the potential for growth remains in the heart of each and every individual, it is as though the world in which we live has become the enemy of grace.

We are a people divided, each declaring the other side to be wrong, never stooping to anything so low as empathy. We cast accusations regardless of the lack of evidence and rally people to our sides because heaven forbid we hold our opinions alone. Now we have to feel justified in our hatred.

I was on Twitter the other day and stumbled across a post about a well known author who had allegedly admitted to an accusation of sexual harassment last year. The person sharing this post was appalled that the author in question was still publishing books and essentially called for a boycott of both this author and the agent who represented him. If that were the end of the post, I probably would have kept scrolling past without much thought, but it didn’t stop there. The person posting went so far as to call out the people who were seeing this post and not sharing it because apparently everyone needed to be outraged that this author was continuing to try to make a living despite his past sins.

According to that post, I am a horrible person for not forwarding this information to everyone I know, despite there being no actual information shared. I have no idea what this author said or did to merit such an accusation, therefore I have no idea whether or not this punishment fits the crime, yet I am supposed to blindly accept that this author is the actual worst and convince all my followers that they should hate him, too. (Interestingly enough, I had read one of this author’s books and didn’t love it, so I guess I’m boycotting the author anyway, but just because he isn’t my cup of tea, not because I’ve been convinced that he is a sexual predator.)

Sadly, this incident is not isolated. We are crucifying people for the sins of the past. Things that were said or done five, ten, twenty, or even thirty years ago are being dug up and judged by the masses to determine the character of the person in question. “This person said or did X. Proceed the public campaign to ruin their lives/careers!”

Don’t misunderstand me. It’s not that I think sin should go unpunished, but I do sometimes wonder if the punishment the public prescribes appropriately fits the crime. I wonder if, after all that time has passed, the punishment has already been paid in some fashion. I wonder if the person being accused today does not also condemn the person of yesteryear.

Mostly I wonder if we have removed the space for redemption in their stories. If, by refusing to accept that a person can change for the better, we are molding them into the very villains we imagine them to be.

I fear we have become a society that would cast stones first and ask questions later. Worse yet, I fear we have become a society that casts stones without ever bothering to investigate the truth. That we blindly accept the cries of the masses to crucify an innocent man, never questioning his lack of guilt. Never regretting the role we played in his downfall.

Jesus said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.”

Even as self-righteous as we’ve become, it takes only a little introspection to realize we don’t qualify for that privilege.

We are all hypocrites, trying to reconcile new beliefs and old habits. We are all on a journey of becoming, often failing to uphold our own standards, but pressing onward regardless of how many times we’ve fallen.

So please, for the love of all that is sacred, drop the stones to make room for grace. If we covet second chances for ourselves, I think we should afford others the same privilege.

Instead of striving against our perceived enemies, let us strive to redeem the world in which we live.

The Weight of Worthy

I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear the words, “You are worthy,” until I found them in my inbox on a Thursday afternoon. Just a random Thursday afternoon, in the midst of chaos and confusion and stumbling to figure out how exactly I was going to make it through this valley of death’s shadow.

This wasn’t the first email I had received from this reader. It was, in fact, the second—her response to my response to the email where she said she was so grateful that my words had traveled across the internet to find her.

Apparently, without my knowledge, a guest post I had written three years earlier had been recycled into an e-devotional that made its way into this girl’s inbox. And then, carrying with it the sting of conviction, it found its way into mine. Because of course I had to look it up to figure out what exactly this girl was thanking me for. In a way, I wished I had simply accepted her thanks and let it go, because the post I found when I went digging sang the bittersweet tune of loss.

I had lost the girl who wrote Beyond Waiting. The girl who determined to redefine the purpose of singleness and live the journey of once upon a time was long gone and I did not know how to recover her.

I don’t know why it is easy for me to be honest in the inboxes of strangers—I can’t say what it is about a screen with a cursor blinking against a backdrop of white that feels so safe—but I wrote this girl a most truthful reflection of who I was then versus who I am now. I wrote her of lostness. Of the valley of the shadow. Of how far I had fallen from the pedestal I once fancied myself to stand upon.

And she responded—like an angel in my inbox—to tell me I was worthy.

“God’s grace is sufficient for us,” she quoted, in the joyful exuberance of one who has been redeemed. “Not just some of us, not just sometimes. For every person in everything!”

And then she hit me with this truth-bomb: “I can sense you don’t feel worthy of the message you once wrote. I want you to know that that is not true. God makes us worthy. In his eyes every one of his children is worthy. You are worthy.”

Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.

It’s not a word I would choose to ascribe to myself. Not because I struggled with a low self-esteem or self-loathing, but because it seemed such a lofty title. Though I’ve long said I have the gift of vanity, calling myself worthy seemed a bit too much, even by my standards.

And yet, here the words settled like a cloak upon my shoulders.

Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.

I am undeserving; God chose me anyway. I guess that makes me worthy.

Because if that is all it takes for something to have worth—just for someone to scoop it up and deem it valuable—then I am worthy indeed.

There’s me in the mud, thick in the grime of unrepentance and God still chooses to say, “That one. Yes, that little mess right there has immeasurable worth. More than the sparrows. More than the lilies. I choose that one to wrap in the weight of My love. She’s worthy. Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.”

That thought clung to me so tightly—moved me so deeply—I cried real tears to the tune of “Would You Still Love Me the Same” on my way home from work that night:

“If I showed You my flaws, if I couldn’t be strong, tell me honestly, would You still love me the same?”

“Yes,” God replied. “A thousand times, yes. I choose you again and again. Every minute. Every day. You are worthy. Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.”

Though I don’t always feel it—though I certainly do not understand how such depths of grace could exist—I wrap the weight of that word around me like a blanket, like a shield.

Worthy. Worthy. Worthy.

I am undeserving; God chose me anyway.

I guess that makes me worthy.

Absence and Other Tangible Things

“Absence has a presence, sometimes, and that was what she felt. Absence like crushed-dead grass where something has been and is no longer. Absence where a thread has been ripped, ragged, from a tapestry, leaving a gap that can never be mended.

“That was all she felt.”

When I first read those words in the midst of Laini Taylor’s Dreams of Gods and Monsters, they jolted me from the story as I realized, yes, this is a thing. A thing I have never heard described so aptly or beautifully.

Absence has a presence, sometimes. I’ve experienced it throughout the course of my life. Dying dreams, crushed hopes, and insufferable loss steal everything and yet leave something with you.

Absence. A great, gaping absence.

Words like these sing to me, making their way into my journals quite often. Maybe I just like the poetry of them, or maybe I have deeper issues that would require years of extensive counseling to unravel, but these are the things that come to mind when the world rocks crazy and I am at a loss. These are the words that resonate when my knees hit the carpet and the floodgates release the tears from my eyes.

But this morning, as the absence started creeping into my soul, something else crept there, too.

“All she felt,” the quote said.

But wait. That doesn’t have to be all.

But wait. There is more than absence like crushed-dead grass and tapestries ripped ragged.

As I found myself on my knees, in the beginning stages of grieving a gap that can never be mended, I remembered something…

God is, and always has been, the God who gives and takes away. He is, and always will be, good. And if He is good, then every single detail He has orchestrated in our lives is designed to bring good. Every joy. Every sorrow. Every tragedy that rips the very breath from our lungs.

The absence is intimidating. Its presence is strong. But is it all I feel?

Sometimes it is. Sometimes I find myself wanting only to sink down into the depths of it and never resurface. Sometimes it tries to swallow me up forever.

But it is not all there is.

When I turn my face toward the heavens, I find there is peace. There is grace, and joy, and hope.

And the absence? It’s a lie.

Crushed-dead grass can be renewed by the breath of the Creator. Tapestries can be remade by the hand of the Master Weaver.

Absence is not the only thing that has a presence. Not the only thing that can be felt.

Hope has a presence just as strong. Joy is a tangible thing. And grace is always there for the grasping.

Even in this. Yes, even in this.

like crushed-dead grass

 

All the King’s Horses, All the King’s Men, and Other Broken Things

“Rebekah, you have one hour to let it all out and pull yourself back together.”

Those are the words I whispered to the girl in the mirror right before she completely fell apart. Right before her face dissolved into a puddle of tears and her whole body ached with the weight of her sorrow as she sank down onto the floor and wondered how this could have happened.

It’s so easy—the letting it out part. The taking of that deep, shuddering breath that releases the floodgate of emotions. The grief and heartache and confusion and despair. That stuff comes easy. But the pulling it back together…

Is that even possible? When your shoulders are wracked with sobs and your face burns red from the sting of your tears? When what seems like a vital piece of your life has just been cruelly and suddenly taken from you?

You can fall apart in a heartbeat.

A single phone call.
A simple phrase.
A life-altering event.

But can you ever pick up the splintered shards of your heart and hope for a moment that the pieces will somehow resemble what they once were?

It makes me think of Humpty Dumpty having his great fall. As we all know, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.

“But the King can,” someone once told me. “The King can.”

That’s the part of the story Mother Goose forgot to tell.

There’s still Someone who can make sense of the pieces where others have failed.

There’s Someone who can make beauty from ashes.

The realization I had to come to on the day that phone call wrecked my heart is that there is one, simple fact in life:

Either God is good, or He isn’t.

We have a choice to believe what we will, and I choose to believe that God is good. Even when life doesn’t make sense. Even when I’m left reeling in the wake of a sudden and tragic loss.

I choose to believe in a God who can pick up the pieces and make something beautiful from the chaos of my life.

And, no, I’ll never be the same. Because this event has changed me. This tragedy has taken something beautiful from me that will never, ever be recovered.

But those fragmented pieces of my heart still fit together somehow, and there is a God who is lovingly and tenderly putting them back into place. And I’m marveling at the work of art I’m already becoming.

Because we’re all just broken pieces. Like a kaleidoscope or a stained glass window. The most broken parts of us—all our flaws and cracks—are blended together to form something beautiful. Yes, we still reflect beauty. Even in our heartache. Even in our sorrow and grief and despair.

There is a God who makes beautiful things from broken things.

And that is the knowledge I cling to when the world rocks crazy and my heart lies in fragments on the floor.

beauty in brokenness

Encouragement Hurts

Encouragement hurts.

Maybe you laughed when you read that. Or maybe you scratched your head and said, “Wha—?”

Because “hurt” doesn’t follow our definition of encouragement. Somehow we’ve come to believe that encouragement is to agree with someone. So we tell them they’ll be great at something when, in fact, they’re probably not cut out for the job. We feed their fantasies because that’s what we think they want.

We think we’re being encouraging.
We think we’re being a good friend.

But what we’re really doing is selling each other short.

I think that’s been the main problem in most of my friendships. I get tired of people who claim to be my friends telling me what I want to hear in the moment, only to find that their “supportive” claims are detrimental in the long run. Because they should have known that my gifts weren’t aligning with the shape of my dreams. And they should have been the ones clear-headed enough to see that he really wasn’t that into me.

en·cour·age

a : to inspire with courage, spirit, or hope : hearten
b : to attempt to persuade : urge

I always needed someone to encourage me by the standard of Mr. Merriam-Webster.

I needed the kind of friend who would try to persuade me. The one who would inspire me with the courage to find a new dream instead of letting me cling to that hope, that chance, that slight possibility that something may come of this.

I needed the kind of friend who would help me pack up and move on when my heart is still longing to linger in a place that was only meant for passing through. The kind of friend who would sit on my over-packed suitcase as she rips the zipper into place.

“Move on, Rebekah,” she would say. “It’s time to move on.”

She would be the kind of friend who would not only take me to the airport, but walk me to security and sit there and wait until she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wouldn’t go charging back out those doors. Because I would keep walking if I knew she was waiting. I would keep walking and not turn around.

And I might get upset with her for a moment. I might tell her she isn’t helping when really she’s helping more than anyone else ever dared.

Because, while she didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, she gave me what I needed. And I would always much prefer the friend who would give me what I need.

And, deep down, past the part of me that wants to stay here, I know that she’s right. The skies hold brighter things for me. There are uncharted lands that wait to be discovered. And maybe I’ll circle back to this place sometime in the future, but it wasn’t meant to hold me now. There’s no way it could hold me now.

So I’ll sit with my head pressed to the window, watching my dreams fade into clouds.

And, yes, it hurts right now, but it will be so much better in the long run.

In the long run I’ll be thankful for that painful encouragement that sets me free.

watching my dreams fade into clouds

The Victim Song

Hannah Brencher has done it again. She has blown up my heart with a series of syllables scattered across a page because she’s magical like that. And, really, I think you should bounce over there and read the whole thing because it is, after all, 25 things every woman needs to know. Things like leggings are not pants (can I get an amen?), and confidence is sexy, and maybe it’s good to actually know your geography, girl.

But the message that tripped me up today was Hannah’s final point—Number 25:

“Darling, darling–the victim song is never going to fit you. It will never be good enough for your lungs. It will never be good enough for your time. You are stronger than you know and more graceful than you know. Don’t let the parts of you that want to be a victim live on any longer. You’ve got a voice… you’ve got a story… Do us all a favor and use it. Without any apologies. Without any stepping back. If ever you need a listener, come find me…”

And I wonder how many of us live with that victim mentality. I wonder how many of us cut ourselves off at the knees because we’ve been cut off before. I wonder how many of us live with the lie that our voice is not strong enough. Our story is not big enough. Our words are not powerful enough.

I wonder how many of us drown out the song of our worth with the mournful refrains of the victim song.

vic·tim

Noun
  1. A person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.
  2. A person who is tricked or duped: “the victim of a hoax”.

We. Are. Killing. Ourselves.

And maybe we were harmed by someone else. Maybe we were tricked or duped or injured as a result of actions that were not our own. And if you were the victim of some horrible crime, I’m terribly sorry for that.

But in the past, you were a victim. Today, you don’t have to be. Oh no, you don’t have to be.

You don’t have to keep reliving the moments that destroyed you. You don’t have to keep repeating the words that wounded your spirit. You don’t have to be the victim of your memories.

Darling, darling, that victim song will never be good enough for your lungs.

There’s a better tune out there, waiting to whistle through your windpipes. Waiting to show the world that you are so much more than a victim. You’ve got more worth than that.

And maybe you’re thinking, “Rebekah, you don’t know. You’ve had it so easy. You’ve never experienced what I’ve experienced.”

And you would be right. I’ve shed plenty of tears for loved ones, but I don’t know what it is to be a victim. Not like that.

So let me introduce you to someone who understands. I want you to meet a girl who knows the lyrics of the victim song more strongly than she does her own name. This is the girl who has been on the receiving end of a crime so terrible I hate to put words to it. This is a victim of India’s sex trade.

ValuableBut see the bends of her smile? That soft knowing that she doesn’t have to be a victim anymore? See the new lyrics she holds close to her heart because someone sang them into her when they pulled her from the brothel that had long been her prison?

That victim song doesn’t fit her any longer. To be honest, it never did.
Because she was valuable all along.

All those nights when her heart cried with the horror of it, there was a song that hoped to fill her with its beauty. A song of redemption and value and worth.

That’s the song she was meant to sing. That’s the song she would pass on to you.

So take a deep breath and let it fill your lungs.

You are a Beautiful Woman

distorted reflections“You are a beautiful  woman,” he said.

A sigh wrestled with the smile on my mouth as I told him to play the cards. Just play the cards already.

Three hours later, I stood before my bedroom mirror in my Easter dress with my curls undone and I repeated his words aloud. “You are a beautiful woman.”

It’s funny that those words can have such an impact on me even when they are spoken by a guy who is gloating that my discard just helped him effectively triple my score in gin rummy. But they do. Because they remind me of something I’ve always known, but have a hard time remembering:

God makes beautiful things. I’m a firm believer of that. And yet, I don’t always let that knowledge slip from my head to my heart. I don’t always feel beautiful. But I am.

I am a beautiful woman.

And it’s crazy how simply speaking those words aloud can leave me breathless, reeling with the possibility that maybe, just maybe they’re true. Maybe I am beautiful. Maybe I am desirable. Maybe I’ve got more worth than I ever ascribed to me.

I don’t think of myself as an insecure human being. I’m not one to string lies into titles and lay them upon myself, but I do sometimes struggle with the word beautiful. With my vision of it and God’s vision of it. Because I often see beauty as that illusive image even the most desirable woman in the world can’t hold onto for long.

But that’s not what beautiful is.

Beautiful is any vessel God has crafted for His glory, even though they’ve long forgotten to find beauty in the curves of the clay that gives them form.

Beautiful is the colors cast upon the floors of God’s house by a stained glass window that is comprised of all the broken and flawed pieces of you.

Beautiful is the bride of Christ dancing in her Lover’s arms.

Beautiful is you.

Yes, you.

You are a beautiful woman.

And maybe that thought has been elusive for too long, but today I encourage you to take hold of it. Cradle it close to your heart. Roll it around and around on your tongue until it finds a home there.

Because you are a beautiful  woman. And you’ve been forgetting that far too long.