The first time I admitted how mangled up I felt in my identity, I was 28 years old and in a meeting with my boss who was asking me to get together with a group of women. I was working at a church, so that request sounds pretty simple, right? Nope.
I looked at him and said, “Those women won’t want to meet with me. What do I have to offer them? Nope, not going to do it.” He looked me in the eye and asked, “Why?” And not just a simple “why”—he wanted me to explain the real-deal, heart-in-your-throat why. I tried to dodge it and list the obvious stuff that I assumed anyone could see. Those women were all pretty, well dressed, like REAL ladies. They had money. They had their stuff together. What did I have to offer? Just to be clear, I didn’t know these ladies very well. They’d all been super kind to me whenever we interacted, but I made judgments about them based on some rules I had formed in my head about myself and other women from way earlier in life. Being with groups of women was my own personal hell.
Apparently my first round of answers weren’t good enough, so my boss kept pushing. I didn’t want to go deeper because it meant I would have to admit who I really believed I was. I was a fraud. I loved Jesus, but there was this other stuff that I didn’t want to let him know. If he knew, surely he’d be as appalled as I was by it all. Finally, I told him anyway.
Here’s the list I gave him:
The list could go on and on. It was super uncomfortable admitting all of this to him, but then he just looked at me—like really looked at me in a way that made me feel unable to hide—and he challenged me. He reminded me who God says I am: I am a daughter of God, created in His image, 100% forgiven and 100% loved. My list of shame wasn’t my identity, it is just part of my story and the beliefs I built up because of my brokeness.
I was letting this list leash me to a lie. The lie was that my identity was the sum of all my failures, rather than who God says I am. I had been missing out on experiencing God’s redemptive power in all these things because I wrapped them around my neck like a collar, and attached it to a short leash. I could only go so far, do so much, say so much...before the leash pulled me back to my reality of who I believed I was: a failure, a slut, uneducated, financially needy, and an emotionally unstable woman..
You know what happened next? My boss asked me to write down my story, of all the things I identified myself as, and then I had to read it out loud to a group of people who loved me. I read it, cried, wept, felt ashamed, and then I burned that letter. As soon as I burned it those people who loved me began telling me who I really was. They spoke words over me about my identity in Christ. They told me how they received me and the strengths and giftings they see in me. It was a life changing moment. When I burned that paper of all my “failures and brokenness,” it was like God was helping me unhook the leash I had around my neck. And when my community spoke truth and encouragement over me, I knew I was being unleashed. Not just unhooked, but unleashed—like propelling me, a broken but beautiful daughter, into the world with my true identity.
Fast forward 16 years (there are lots of other God moments and growth in there, but this is a blog post, not a book), my current day job is building into groups of women. God has brought me full circle. Me—that same woman with the list of all the reasons why I didn’t measure up, the one who said my personal hell was to be in groups of women, the one who walked in shame because of all my failures—spends my days pursuing “unleashing” moments for other women. God has redeemed all of it. Every single thing I wrote on that paper and burned, He has redeemed.