Do you have older siblings? If so, like me, you probably spent your younger years clothed in their cast-offs, that were too big, too small, too long or too short more often or not. They weren’t your choice or your preference. They didn’t fit you as they should and didn’t have your stamp on them. Someone elses name was in the collar. My big sister went through a major tom-boy phase where she cut off all her hair and wore only items of clothing featuring the ‘teenage mutant hero turtles’. Four years younger, I was also a kid who spent a childhood up trees and down holes and hanging from bars and falling off fences – but I was happy doing it in dresses, too. I didn’t want her old ‘boy’ stuff. I hated that I only got to wear her clothes. I hated having her old school jumpers and her old jeans. I hated that I wore t shirts for camps I hadn’t been on and places I’d not visited. I hated it.
What made it worse was that people confused us so much, as we were both academic girls in a non-academic school, with brown hair and a tendency to be picked on, who both played the clarinet, both were involved in Girl Guiding, etc etc, ad infinitum. I went through school as ‘bigsister’sname-nowaitwhat’syourname?’. Her name was written on my school reports and in the labels of my uniform. Looking back, my teenage years were a mess of a long-played identity crisis- she drowned me out. Even now, I often define myself as what she is not, rather than what I am. When my families problems kicked off, I was left muddling through, and made the mistake of defining myself on circumstance, not substance. Through all my counselling, it’s become clearer that I chose the wrong things to define myself with, when I’m able to at all. One of the things that most awes me about God is that He is who He says He is; I am that I am. If I asked you, ‘who do you say you are’, would your answer be the same today as it was ten years ago, and will be ten years in the future? Unlike God, e change, we grow, we alter, we question. God is not someone who has ever had an identity crisis.
When it comes to my faith, sometimes I kind of feel as though the grace set aside for me is just grace that someone else first in line didn’t use – that I’m a left-over Christian standing at the back of the queue, waiting to see if someone else before me has some scraps I can scavange to save my soul. It doesn’t feel like it fits me and my issues and my anxiety and my doubtful nature. It feels as though it should be worn by someone clean and sure and spotless. It makes me feel as though I’m wearing a robe that’s so long I trip over the hem, or a hood that falls down over my eyes so that I cannot see – and item woven for someone else that I somehow stumbled on and inspite of all my hoping, all my longing, still marks me as an outsider, without an invitation, standing in the dark at the back amongst the brooms. As a late comer to faith, often I make the mistake of thinking that God will only get to me after he’s dealt with everyone else – that my prayers haven’t racked up enough church-time to be taken seriously, that until I can list the books of the Bible forwards, backwards, and upside down, I’m stuck on hold. My hand-me-down attitude to grace is hard to shake.
However, sometimes I remember, again, that the grace God gives me has been reserved for me since the beginning; it’s not second hand, or second best, it’s not handed down or man-handled, it’s not too big or too small or too long – it’s just the right size, the right fit, and would not match anyone elses need the way it matches mine. This reminds me that even when I’m feeling small and vulnerable, more hedgehog than eagle, God has me written in his book (an address book? I think so) and in his story. His Goldilocks grace gives me a firmer place to stand and the courage to stand there. This is one of the reasons I hate it when people talk about the ‘unchurched’ – because they might not be destined to stay that way, and God has their grace cut out and on hold, until they get there. We’re all born ‘unchurched’ at the end of the day. Our grace is enough.