Redemption is not alchemy. The blood of the Lamb does not transform us into shimmering, perfect, pain-free morning people who never yell at their kids or get cancer or commit adultery. The blood of the Lamb doesn’t change our story, it makes it a story worth telling.
So I’m just sitting here, trying to untangle this red thread. I run my fingers over the knots, study how they twist and loop. It is tedious, infuriating.
At the start, I am four years old, finally curious about the saltines and grape juice and why I don’t get any. I kneel down with my Mama and Daddy and a King James Bible, say the Sinner’s Prayer, and call Preacher.
I’m 22, laying hands on strangers in a crowd, praying in tongues, following the Spirit as he marks watchmen to be houses of prayer. I am a teacher, a preacher.
Over and under, through.
I’m 12, being nudged by my Mama on our first Sunday as Episcopalians, “That boy up there with the guitar! That’s the boy you’re going to marry.”
I’m 20, hauling boxes out of the apartment I shared with my drunk boyfriend.
I’m 31, leading worship with my husband, that boy with the guitar, after years of maternity leave.
I’m 19, manically praying in an olive grove on a hill outside of Rome where I’ve locked myself out of the house in the pitch black night. I beg God to open the door if he really loves me. Even though I cannot work the key, I cannot even find the lock, it opens.
I’m 11, traveling the world with my Daddy as he preaches to ever growing crowds. He is anointed. He is on tv.
I’m 21, calling the board of directors of my father’s ministry to tell them he’s run off and left us all, unrepentant.
I’m four again, shivering in my royal blue baptismal robe, my Daddy’s fingers pinching my nose, his arms dropping me down into the water, “Rachel, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…”
This is Beatrice June. Her name means Bringer of Joy. She’s three and a half.
She loves the color yellow, shoes, older kids with clear direction, imagination stories, books, dancing, painting, seeing the moon in the day time, planting seeds and watering, whole milk, female vocalists, and sparkly, pink, fancy clothes. Most days she goes by Fairy Tale Name (Cinderella, etc.) + Mary (mother of Jesus). Today she is Thumbelina Mary.
Thumbelina Mary has a large collection of notebooks that she fills with lists and stories and amazing illustrations. Some mothers spend too much money on cute clothes for their kids, living vicariously through their amazing wardrobes. I have this same problem, but with pens and paper.
Bea desperately loves her friends, real and imaginary. Every day she wonders aloud, “What do you think Wren and Jane are doing today? Is Henry eating breakfast? Will you put my hair in braids? I think Landry and Everett would think braids are so cool. I just love Everett.
When we get to the gym, I’m going to put on a hat and play kitties with Lyrica because it’s her favorite thing to play in the whole world.” And when we get in the car, “Oh Mama, you can’t put your bag there, my imagination friends Jesus and the Steadfast Tin Soldier are getting buckled in over there. It’s not kind to squish them!”
She is compassionate, gentle, inquisitive, resilient, joyful, and sensitive to the Gospel. She sits with her Bible every day, just turning the crinkling pages, running her hands over the letters. She likes to find Jonah and tell the story to her baby sister. It’s the one habit of mine I’m happy to see in her.
This is Leona Agnes. Her name means Lion and Lamb. She is almost 15 months old. She loves animals, doing anything for herself, water faucets, ripping out her sister’s hair in chunks, kissing goodnight, and, surprise, writing in notebooks. She likes to dance, stack stuff, and eat sand. Leona loves books. She studies.
Leona is aggressive, demonstrative, violent, and yet profoundly sweet. She never gets hurt, always gets right back up, eyes on the prize. She is deeply wounded by the word “No”, which is unfortunate because she hears it a lot. She is learning gentle touch, and goes out of her way to hug tightly, stroke softly, and give real kisses.
These are my kids. These are the people that keep me out of my head, and miraculously sane. Aren’t they wonderful?
It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Just talk about your life. Tell everyone what happened, how you felt, who was there, who wasn’t. What hurt? Did it heal? Did you learn?
I have been looking my story in the face, running my hands over it’s edges, feeling it rise and fall with breath, remembering that it is a living thing. I’d much rather tell a story with a tombstone. That morbidly obese mentally ill girl? Dead. Done. She found Jesus and the Paleo diet and now her life is awesome. THE END!
I want to tell the story from a distance, preach around it, insert perfectly italicized bible verses throughout to show you how clearly I see the redemptive hand of God in my life. I want to stand on top of it, proud, victorious. I want mastery. But what I have is the story, the one I am still in.
It is my face I see, my edges I feel, my breath heaving in this chest. Surprisingly, there is no distance between this charismatic mother of two and the fat girl with the knife up to her neck.
The year after I left the mental hospital is mostly erased. It’s an old manuscript that’s been underwater, pages stuck together, ink washed away, whole chapters drowned by the magic of mania. I am not intentionally vague, the memory is simply not there. I used to think it was such a waste to have been so free only to come away empty handed. Now, I thank God for the mercy of forgetting.
After I left the hospital, my mood steadily climbed. It climbed and climbed until I was on a plane to Rome, where I wandered for months in a manic haze. When I ran out of money, I fled to London, where I could stay with family friends and recover. Instead, I just rode trains all day, back and forth through the city. Like a crazy person.
My mother sent me care packages full of books, Dr.Pepper, and lithium. I read my books, drank my Dr. Pepper, swallowed my lithium, and decided to move to California.
To this day I do not know how, but I connected with a metal sculptor based in a little town outside of San Diego. He offered me room and board and my own studio space in exchange for administrative work. He was an old man with a reputable business and I was just so homesick and tired and lost.
The manic whooshing gray noise of the London trains followed me to Temecula. I worked furiously day and night, making and making and making until my mind was finally empty. I woke up at the table in my studio on a Tuesday night with wood glue and tissue paper pressed into my hands. It was clear they had been there for a while, but I was just now noticing. At first I thought the power had gone out, jarring me awake with the sudden silence. The lights were on, but there was no buzzing, no grating background static, no rushing ambient electricity pulsing in my head. Everything was just still.
I went outside and looked up. The stars were still. The moon was still. I was still.
Peace that passed all my understanding filled me up like a first breath. Still gasping, I went inside and called my father, told him I was ready to come home.