Many moons ago, during college days, I worked part-time for a chaplain. I so admired her — the way she read deeply, was not afraid of hard conversations, and looked at the world with uninhibited compassion. If I had known her at another time in my life, I think I would have taken every opportunity to get to know her better and to learn from her.
But during those months that I spent helping out in her office, I was also going through one of the biggest struggles of my life. And because shame convinced me that I could not let anyone know about my internal crisis, I repeatedly backed away from her attempts to connect.
Looking back, I think she knew that my heart-and-mind reality did not match the everything-is-okay surface I was trying so desperately to maintain. She’d ask questions, offer books, try to engage me in a conversation about more than the day’s tasks. I felt so alone but I didn’t want to let anyone get close, didn’t want to be honest about my mixed-up emotions…and I stayed quiet.
One of the last moments we had together was after a mountain retreat that she’d led over a weekend (one that I was invited to attend but didn’t for all of the above reasons). She brought this stone back for me, a simple smooth stone with the word peace etched into its surface.
After all the turned-away gestures, stunted conversations, quick getaways from the office…still, she reached out. Still, she thought of me.
It was a moment of grace that has stayed with me all these years. I couldn’t find the words to tell her then, but it was more than I felt I deserved. It was more than a simple gift.
It was Love not giving up on me even when I felt entirely unlovable. It was an offer of peace when I had none. It was being seen, just as I was in all my imperfection, and still welcomed…even when I couldn’t find the courage to respond.
That chaplain moved on and I don’t know where she is today…but if I could find her, I would tell her how grateful I was for that simple gesture that felt like a little beam of hope into my darkness.
I still hold onto it when I need to remember that I’m not alone, that God sees me exactly where (and how) I am…and is holding onto me.
I can’t give you a reminder-stone of your own this morning, but I can offer these words from my hands to yours…you are not alone, friend. You don’t have to hide.
I know it can feel so scary to be honest about our struggles. But when we start to share our stories, we find out that we are not the only ones who don’t have it all together. Not one of us does.
And no matter what we have or haven’t done, no matter what other people might try to say, no matter how we feel about ourselves— we are still loved. Our feelings don’t alter His truth — Jesus gave His life so we would know that we have been loved from beginning to end. And in the sometimes-messy-middle, we are still held by the God who sees us, knows us, and calls us His own.
In the light, in the darkness, in the chaos, in peace, in the victories, in the mistakes, in gladness, in beauty, in ashes, when we don’t feel like we deserve it — ALWAYS — we are loved.
We always have been. We always will be.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” -Romans 8:38-39