For Better And Worse


The faith of my childhood gifted me with my moral compass. The importance of doing right was instilled early on and I embraced the concept wholeheartedly. From a very young age I was empowered to seek out truth in the world around me and within myself. It was a gift that serves me well to this day.

I was taught good and evil, and how simple it was to discern between the two. It was as elementary as distinguishing black from white. I found I could very easily divide people onto one side or the other, based on their actions, their beliefs, how liberal or conservative they were. I found great security in judgment. There was safety in surety.

The faith of my childhood taught me to work hard. It showed me the ministry of casseroles and harvest festivals, of tucking candy canes and oranges into brown paper bags for wide-eyed toddlers at Christmas. I learned that there was always something I could be doing to help. I could show up. I could come alongside. And I could bring cookies. I saw that simple gestures were often the most meaningful, and the most memorable.

I learned that my role was a bit different, being a woman. I was important, to be sure, an essential cogwheel that kept the whole operation from falling apart. I saw women everywhere—running the children’s ministry and the women’s ministry and the community outreach. They set up chairs before Sunday service, and did dishes for hours after Alpha. They fundraised for the annual youth missions trip to Mexico and organized meal trains for moms with new babies. But I also saw where they weren’t. They weren’t deacons. They weren’t on the board. They weren’t on stage Sunday morning. And they certainly were never called pastor.

I was taught how to worship. This was quite possibly the best gift of all. I saw what it meant to enter fully into the presence of God, to feel completely enveloped in love. I learned how to fling my arms up to the sky and close my eyes, tuning my restless mind out. Never in my young life did I feel more release, more myself, and more connected with God than in worship.

I discovered my body was something to be policed. I was taught that it carried a mysterious power and that the single most essential mission of my adolescence was to squelch that power at all costs. My body was not strong or capable, or even a miraculous carrier of life. It was a stumbling block, a temptation, a distraction. And so I measured the length of my skirts and ensured my bra straps weren’t showing. These were things I was supposed to be very concerned with. And so I was. I still felt ashamed, but I wasn’t sure why.

The faith of my childhood gave me good people. There were women with crinkly smiles who tried to hug me after Sunday School and a youth pastor with boundless energy and a great passion for teenagers—a spiritual gift if there ever was one. There was a teacher who pushed me to step fully into who I was, who told me I was exactly right in a season I didn’t believe her at all. But she believed in me, and that was all I needed.

I learned that complicated topics were off limits. Well, not quite off limits, but the conversations that surrounded them were always the shortest. Don’t do it. It’s wrong. It’s bad. Because the Bible says so, that’s why. Questions were not encouraged. Only the unintelligent asked questions and so I shut my mouth and nodded my head. And though I clung to those easy answers like a life preserver, they came up short when I crashed headfirst into reality. I desperately needed the space to ask hard questions. I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand. And, for a long time, I thought that desire to want to know was wrong.

This is the difficulty in summing up a life in the church, in the faith: it is often not either/or. At least it wasn’t for me. I could have painted this picture with the broadest strokes, pointing to my scars and bruises as evidence it was all a battle. But it wasn’t. It shaped some of my best traits. It molded my heart and character in ways I cannot ignore. I am grateful for the foundation that was laid. I was surrounded by loving, God-fearing people who did the very best they could. How lucky was I?

Yet, I still carry pain and—honestly—anger. There were words spoken and unspoken that have since twisted their way round my marriage, my life choices and how I see myself. There are issues I am still wrestling with decades later. This same foundation put me into mental prisons I’m not sure I’ll ever be completely free from.

No, it certainly cannot be either/or. Because I can still see the beauty and the glory while I’m fighting against the darkness and regret—the soaring worship and exposed bra straps, the nostalgic orange pews and purity culture teachings are all there, jumbled together for life. The deepest pain and the warmest love are tied into an impossible knot.

For better and worse it all shaped me.

And somehow,
in spite of it all,
because of it all,

Still Jesus.