These words have been simmering for almost three weeks now, and even as I sit ready to tell the story I’m not sure they’re ready. It’s a story that must be told, though, and because time has a way of smoothing out the edges of what cuts us deeply – in good or bad ways – I need to make sure to get these words down while I can.
The dictionary says “redemption” has a connotation of rescue and deliverance. In church settings, we say that on the cross, Jesus redeemed us – bought us back from the clutches of sin and evil and restored us to right standing with God. It’s both the completed work of Christ on the cross and a process by which we are being brought into a new life. It’s both already done and awaiting its finish with the return of Christ. In essence, the redemption of a believer falls in that gray area between “already” and “not yet.” I am already saved, but I am not yet who I will be one day.
Already…but not yet.
This undergoing of change and rebirth and emergence into our new selves is not a quick one. There is a lot about this renewal process that goes unnoticed: the gradual change in character, for one, and the shift in our internal compass away from the things of the world and toward the things of God. It can be like the slow and sudden growth of a child, during which we may not notice the subtle changes until we pull out a pair of pants or a dress that once fit their frames perfectly, only to find its seams binding and its length too short for their new bodies. Sometimes the changes are undetectable in their own time. Sometimes we don’t even notice until it’s pointed out to us.
Occasionally, it’s God Himself who pulls back the curtain to give us a glimpse of the change we’ve undergone. Those moments come among the mundane but become sacred as we peek behind the scenes and see both the already and the not yet in one breathtaking scene.
I recently had just such a moment. It took my breath away then and I continue to shake my head and choke back tears, thinking of the infinite grace of God in allowing me to see some of His indelible fingerprints on my life.
Several months ago I was contacted by a woman from the church of my childhood, wondering if I would be willing to speak at a women’s luncheon in early February. At the time, October was leaning into November and the leaves were making their annual change, so February loomed far in the distance. As the calendar pages flipped, though, the Saturday of the luncheon came ever nearer. And with every week that passed, my nervousness increased.
I was going to be speaking at the place where my faith found its roots and where much of my younger self was formed. My history within those walls is long, spanning from an invitation to Sunday services from the family down the street (whose son I would later marry in that same sanctuary) to preschool programs for our daughter to, now, speaking to my former Sunday school teachers about living a life of Biblical womanhood in praise of God. How would they receive me? What expectations did they have of me? Would they be proud? Disappointed? Surprised?
While the route was a little convoluted, the circle had nonetheless been completed. I was right back where I began, and yet….not. I’m different now, and not just because the passing of nearly two decades will do that to a person. The girl who walked those halls many years ago is unrecognizable to me now; I think, in retrospect, that is probably reason enough for God to pull back the curtain the way He did on that day.
Lunch was just finishing up when I scooted to the restroom a few minutes before I was scheduled to speak. (Nerves make that a necessity a few dozen times, it seems, before every up-front appointment I have. It is what it is.) As I unlocked the bathroom stall, I had to stop. My breath caught in my throat and my hand rested on the door as one word passed through my mind: redemption.
The timing could not have been more perfect, and the location was anything but random. Within a few minutes I was due at the podium, but the dwindling time was of no consequence as I stepped back into the stall and took a picture.
(As I prepared this post, I texted some writer friends and said, “Writer life is weird. Why else would I be editing a picture of a church bathroom?” I’m sure it was weird to take the picture (in panoramic, no less), and even more so to edit it and include it here. But this bathroom stall? It has a history. And this picture? It’s a glimpse into the “already” of my story.)
The thing is, these rose-colored half-walls were the backdrop for nearly four years’ worth of Sundays, between my ninth and twelfth grade years of high school. Every week, my younger sister and I would part ways with our parents at a bend in the hallway between the fellowship hall and the Sunday school wing of our church. They walked to the right toward their class, and we would wait just long enough for them to step into their classroom before we would backtrack and duck into the women’s bathroom.
Every week. Every week we would bring a book or – if we forgot – would doodle on paper towels or would just sit and talk for the hour during which everyone else was in Sunday school. We had our own little meeting space there on the floor of the bathroom, and if we heard anyone approaching the door we leapt to our feet and claimed a stall until they were gone. This stall – the wheelchair-accessible one at the end of the row – was mine.
When it was just the two of us again, we would resume our positions on the cold tile to await the freedom call of the Sunday school buzzer.
It’s sad and almost comical to think about it now – two teenaged girls, dressed for church, sitting on a bathroom floor for no apparent reason week after week, month after month. The thing about it is that given our choices, there was literally nowhere else we would have been.
The only other option was to walk the maze of hallways, cross the courtyard, and enter the lime-green youth room. Had we done so, we would have been among many others our age, but would have remained in our two-person huddle until our grade levels forced our separation.
We were outcasts: bullied, teased, and – on good weeks – completely ignored. There were a lot of reasons for this, and a lot of them were our own doing. We weren’t innocent victims, really; we were never mean to anyone, but we certainly didn’t make an effort to connect with any of the giggling, chatty teenagers piled on the couches and bean bag chairs. Our whole lives, our fifteen-month age difference has given us a special kind of connection; it wasn’t until later in life that I realized maybe our bond came across as exclusive and possibly *ahem* snobby.
On top of the social roadblocks, we simply weren’t interested in what the whole Sunday school thing was about. I won’t speak for my sister, but I spent my Saturday nights making questionable – albeit only mildly so – decisions with my friends and boyfriend. Being at church on Sunday mornings was not the highlight of my weekend, but it was never optional. It was Sunday, so we’d be at Sunday school and church.
Or….the bathroom, as the case may be.
I could write a book, probably, on my upbringing and thoughts on “religion,” but for now it will suffice to say that reading my Bible and doing the whole “Jesus thing” had no appeal.
Fast forward twenty years or so, and I’m the keynote speaker at the annual women’s luncheon. My quick duck into the bathroom before I was introduced turned into a true revelation of the “already” redemption work Christ has undergone in my life.
I used to hide in that stall, wanting nothing more than to be invisible and pass the time until I could just go home.
This time, as I opened that stall door, though, I was moments from stepping into a spotlight. All eyes on me – microphone poised – for me to speak to these spiritual giants of my childhood about the same God they tried to teach me about so long ago.
As I paused in the doorway and tried to catch my breath, a phrase passed through my mind and hasn’t left me since: “You are not that girl anymore. Don’t think for a second that you are the same person. You are not.”
I had to breathe deeply and fan myself with paper towels to stop the tears from ruining my makeup. Even now, tears are clouding my vision. The grace of God is phenomenal, not only in completing that work, but in allowing me that moment to see what He has done.
And the thing is, I know He’s not finished yet. He’s just begun, and who knows? Any number of years into the future I may again find myself walking those halls and ducking into that stall. And who knows who I’ll be when I do?
He’s simply not finished. I’m purchased and belong to Him, and He has changed me in undeniable ways. Even so, I’m fully who He is making me….who He has made me to be.
Redemption. Not yet.
One day, once upon a time, I was another person altogether. One day, someday in the future, I’ll be yet another person – unknown to me now but recognizable to my Father as the daughter He has known all along.
Journeying with you,