When I was in high school, the musicals were a huge production and those who starred in them, or played any part at all, were like mini-celebrities in our small, rural community, where our school building was tucked in the midst of a cornfield. We performed to a packed gym, standing room only…for three nights. A dress rehearsal, opening night, and Saturday night. It was a given. Full house.
I remember well, standing behind the curtain, shaking with anticipation, refusing to look on the other side of the curtain. Nervousness. Sweaty palms. Dry throat. When I opened my mouth to speak, would I remember my lines? When I opened my mouth to sing, would I have a voice? Would my body betray me under the weight of the panic rising and the pressure of wondering if the months of preparation would hold up in the moment. One moment. Would my offering be worthy?
I overcame the panic, by reassuring myself that I was the character. It wasn’t me standing on that stage. It wasn’t my performance on the line. I disappeared under the costume. Covered safely beneath the makeup.
It was Minnie Faye, or Mrs. Banks, or Rosie.
It made the pressure tolerable.
Hiding there freed me to soar beyond the crippling limitations of stage fright.
Rewind further back to eighth grade. My memory is poor. So, I cannot tell you why this moment is crystal clear in my mind, as if it happened yesterday. Other than it was one of those significant memories the Lord saw fit to tuck away, knowing it would be relevant to the shaping of the future. Relevant to this moment, standing backstage, wondering if my offering would be worthy. Wondering if anyone would come. Wondering if my knees would buckle beneath the pressure.
We were riding the bus, which was a rare occurrence, being a town student who had always walked to school with friends. Perhaps we were on our way to a field trip to tour the high school. As we drove past the building, I looked over at my friend Nicki…the one to whom I could safely whisper all of my secret, sacred dreams…the one who held them close to her heart, safely, and never mocked the sacredness. I leaned in closer, and spoke one of my deepest “What ifs” aloud.
“What if I never become a writer?”
It was a faraway dream, like the ones I’ve heard boys whisper to and from carpool. Dreams of standing on the baseball field…or football field…or golf course. Crazy, farfetched dreams of making it to “the show.” Becoming a professional athlete. And, yet…I craved it at the time, being an author, as if it were something to be grasped. As if it were possible. Youth…the magical season of life, a time when crazy dreams seem attainable. A time, untainted by the death bed, the dashed hopes, the disappointments of the drudgery of everyday…the grim realities of missed opportunity and regret and not measuring up. A time where dreams come true and Santa just might be real.
In a flash, I traded one dream for another, when I told my mother I was pregnant the week before my graduation from high school. Teachers would be disappointed at the lost potential. Family members were disappointed. My mother was not, or if she was, she tucked it safely away. She knew about trading dreams. I knew instantly, that this dream was far more valuable than any other I had dared to hope for. The trade was not even a blink in my eye. I have no regrets. I knew from day one of being a mother, while life was still being knit together in my womb, that this treasure was far more precious than words on a page, than life on a stage, than any accolades or accomplishments the world could offer. The boy I held in my arms at the tender age of eighteen became my new dream. The sacredness of being his mother. Of creating a family, and maintaining that family. I learned to pray when my knees buckled under the weight of the responsibility. Being a mother was far more significant than any other title I could ever hold, any role I would perform. I didn’t look back.
We filled the years, with birthday parties, and Christmas mornings. We dreamed dreams of a quiver full of children and stood beside tiny graves instead…holding tightly to the one God gave us when we were young and fragile and growing up before our time. We traded our old dreams for new…again and again. Another miracle filled our arms, and we continued on with baseball games and golf tournaments, trading dreams, living life, washing dishes, shaping concrete (Tim…not me), realizing that cheering them on at the sideline was so much more than any dream we dared to grasp for ourselves.
And those in this small railroad town. Those who once filled the gymnasium to receive our humbled offering…prayed prayers for our little family, as we stumbled and held on.
When God said it was time to write the words again, to tell the story that I never dreamed of telling, a story I would never have asked to write, I obeyed. And, the words flowed from my heart like therapy. A healing elixir. For ten years, He shaped and molded, weaving the story through our lives, a tapestry of grief and joy. For ten years we continued on about the business of life, standing by more graves, cheering on the sidelines, blowing out birthday candles, fighting and making up, serving in ministry, building up a dream from our broken, standing on stages again…this time…not to perform…but to give a far more worthy offering. Not to please the audience before us…but to serve an audience of One. To give an offering of hope, redemption, grace, and salvation from the One who gave His life, that we may live.
One of the hardest things to do, was to declare the offering finished. Complete. Worthy.
How desperately, I still wanted to give a worthy offering. How much I wanted it to be perfect. And, yet, the book born of my labor, is gloriously imperfect. Just like life.
The day the books arrived in the mail, I tore open the package and dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor, tears dripping down my face as decades of emotion rose from the depths, emotion I cannot describe bursting forth, like an erupting volcano. It was like giving birth…the myriad of grief and healing, accomplishment, joy, defeat, victory, humbling broken and sweet redemption.
I longed to run across town with the book in my hand, bursting through the door of my mother’s house…to say that I was a writer. To show her my offering.
And, at the same time, I longed to quietly lay the offering at my heavenly Father’s feet, knowing full well that it wasn’t mine…and that any identity I had was not in being a writer, a mother, or anything else…but simply in being His.
And, in the wee hours of this night/morning, when I stand behind the curtain for this next opening night, quivering, knees threatening to buckle under the pressure, dry throat, sweaty palms…wondering if anyone will come…if my humble offering will be found worthy, it isn’t a character I hide behind, or a mask of makeup covering my face, reassuring me that it isn’t about me or my performance. It is the shelter of my Father’s wings I nestle safely under, it is in Him, where my identity finds solace.
If for a moment, I wonder if anyone will come to receive the most of my heart and my Jesus I know to give at my little book signing, or if I take a stage in front of an audience or church, I find comfort in knowing that my God doesn’t measure success the way that we do. He concerns Himself not with a full house, but with one heart at a time, receiving the love and grace He has to give. Each sacred conversation we’ve shared, from those who have stopped to buy my little book at SGM and told me a piece of their hearts…or their dreams…or those who give in various ways to support grieving hearts through SGM. Or those who have written to say how a word on a page spoke to your weary soul. That has already, for me…humbled and blessed my heart more than I can say…that has already shown this tiny offering to be a worthy one. And, not because of me…because of the Author of my life and the Perfecter of my faith…and yours. Because of our great God. From the moment I said, “I will” when God said, “Will you?” the victory was already won.
Of course, I would be blessed beyond words if many of you would come to the Deshler Library tonight (from 6-8pm) to show love and support, and let me sign a book for you. Even though I’m just a little nobody girl from Deshler, Ohio. And, my offering is small and imperfect. (Because let me just say, it is really frightening to put yourself out there…to pour out your heart with the most you have to give, and to wonder if anyone will come.) But know this…whether one of you comes or several, it matters and it is always worth it to have gone when God says to go…because one heart is worth it. Always.
Because in His eyes, our offering, no matter how small or imperfect, is worthy. Because He is the Planter and Nurturer of the dreams placed in your heart…of the abilities you are given for His glory. Because He is the Author of our lives…the Perfecter of our faith…the Redeemer of our souls…the Healer of our broken places.
Because the words I write to comfort a grieving heart are more valuable to Him than anything grand or mighty I may attempt to accomplish in the world’s eyes. Because the song I quietly sing in the hospital room over the tiny babies in the arms of their mother are perhaps more sacred to the One who sits on the throne than those I sing to a full house.
Because every heart…every life matters.
For more about the book, Sufficient Grace, click here.