The pastor’s message on this particular Sunday morning had opened a floodgate of emotions my fourteen-year-old self had so carefully kept at bay. “He loves you—exactly the way you are!” I could hardly keep it together, so I made my escape.
Please stop crying.
As I sprinted down the aisle, I caught the eye of two elegant women whispering. I smiled the best I could and kept walking until I reached the doors to the foyer. “You have purpose,” my pastor kept preaching. “God has plans for you.”
I need to get to the bathroom. Now!
I pushed the door to the ladies room and barely made it into the last stall where I proceeded to weep. The pastor’s words, “You are His workmanship . . .” now loudly whispered God’s message through the intercom system.
“Did you notice her? Her family is just a disaster.”
“What can she do with her kind of background?”
“No legacy. No nothing—just misery. What a mess.
Those words came out of the two women whom I had seen. They hardly knew me. I stood there in the stall of the bathroom wiping the black mascara lines off my face, listening to every word that now drowned out my pastor’s voice.
“Did you see her dress? How embarrassing.”
“I think I heard her mother has eight children. I suppose she’s a . . . .”
“Oh, you think so? One can only hope none of our sons marry such a piece of trash.”
“Those Mexicans . . . .”
“My mother is a prayer-warrior!” I yelled deep inside me. “What do you know?!”
They kept talking—saying horrible things about me. The words that came out of their mouths that Sunday morning would haunt me for decades.
As I stood there waiting for them to leave, I made a drastic decision. Up to that moment, I had silently listened to each of the women’s judgments. I no longer had tears. Instead, I had a fiery sensation come over me. I want to think it was holy anger stirring something deep within my soul. I don’t know, but I no longer felt.
Slowly I slid the lever of the bathroom stall door.
As I walked out, I noticed one of the women standing in front of the sink, lipstick in hand placed up to her lips. Her dyed blonde hair did not move. It haloed around her face as she leaned over the counter to slather the top right portion of her upper lip with bright orange. The other lady had a paper towel crumpled in both of her hands. Her pretty pink sweater sparkled in the light. As soon as they saw me, both women stood frozen, with their blue eyes wide open, watching my every move.
Do you even see me?
I proceeded to walk to the sink until I stood between them. I lathered my hands with soap thoroughly, turned on the water, and rinsed. My hands felt cold. My eyes, swollen from tears, could barely focus. In that instance, however, I felt a sense of peace knowing I had just taken my first step in learning how to walk on water.
Turning to my right, I reached over the shoulder of the woman with the paper towel to grab one for myself. I smiled.
Lipstick lady had not moved. Paper-towel woman now stood in front of me.
“You’re wrong,” my voice echoed loudly in the bathroom. And like Peter in the Book of Acts, I bravely shared the most important message of my life.
I proclaimed what I had come to understand just ten minutes before making my way to the bathroom: “God loves me exactly the way I am!”
My future, I explained, did not belong to them or their judgments. I had committed my life to Christ, and even though people saw me the way they did and believed what they thought they understood, God said not so!
God commanded it the moment He chose to create me. He designed it when He made plans for me. And He said my life had meaning when He breathed life into me. Never mind my history, background, or the sins of my parents. I explained that God had a purpose for me—a plan they will never understand. And it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone, not even me.
Yes, of course, the odds of “making it”—whatever that means—were against me. A child of divorced parents? Check. Raised by an overwhelmed single parent who mothered eight children? Check. Lived in deep poverty? Check. Home in the projects? Check. And while most kids my age would go on extravagant vacations, I traveled from Dallas to far destinations like California and Minnesota to labor as a migrant worker. Check! Check! Check!
But God chose me! Despite it all, He predestined me knowing everything about me. And Christ died for me because He loves me.
What other person has done that—laid down his life for an imperfect, poor in spirit, sinful, deceitful person? Yes, my situation according to a worldly standard was hopeless. But I decided to look beyond the now—at another reference point to draw strength from the Good News.
How am I a disaster?
Looking back, I realized—even at fourteen years old—that my circumstances didn’t matter because I believed God had a purpose for all of it. And unbeknownst to me (or even the women in the bathroom), God would use experiences like these awful ones to push me to see myself the way He sees me.
Strangely, that moment with those women clarified something for me. Position, the amount of wealth, and titles mean nothing to God. All of it, in the end, gets flushed down the toilet.
Culture, on the other hand, pursues ambition with a passion. Humanity tries to find its purpose in all kinds of things as it seeks significance. People fixate their gaze on appearance. The right car. The right brand or label. Proper education. Pride struts in with its bright colors shaming all that stand in its way. It’s got to look pretty. It has to have the right pedigree. It has to match the standard.
I wish I could say the church is different.
Unfortunately, I’ve had too many conversations with other believers who still refuse to see me beyond my history. While I’ve had my share of harassment and assaults, nothing comes close to the destruction others have tried to make in my life with their harsh words, presuppositions, and expectations. Both my brothers and sisters in Christ in one way or another have shamed me into dark places. You’re not like us girls. You’re too light and too educated to be a Hispanic. Gosh, I really like you, but my parents will never approve. You’re too pretty to be this smart. We needed to diversify our department, so congratulations, you have the job! Discrimination, prejudice, misogyny, and slander exist in both genders. And it’s not how God wants us to treat each other.
I don’t believe it is loving to identify others by their circumstances, sins, or past. It’s important to separate behaviors, weaknesses, inclinations, and personal issues from identity. Christ has commanded His followers to love one another. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:16). In other words, love others to grow and build.
Love. It is what has helped me heal from the harsh words of others. Godly people have surprised me in the most loving ways. With kind words, encouragement, or making time for me, I’m thankful for the outpouring and investment of others who, despite what they heard or saw, trusted the work of God in me. Where would I be without these people?
I’ve come to understand that how I see God—what I ascribe Him to be, in my wrestling, through His Word—will determine my identity, and it impacts how I live my life and how I love others.
Not long after the “bathroom” incident, I wrote in my journal, personalizing something I had read from Charles Spurgeon:
The more unworthy I feel myself to be, the more evidence I have that nothing but unspeakable love could have led the Lord Jesus to save a soul like mine. The more disapproval I get or feel, the clearer is the display of God’s abounding love in choosing me, creating me, calling me, befriending me, and making me an heir of heaven.
A holy God created me. Where He leads, I follow. God is love, and I love because He first loved me. He is powerful; therefore I’m weak. God is everywhere so I know I can’t hide anything from God—He sees it all. He cannot lie; His promises hold true. My faith in God’s character and faithfulness to me has indeed revolutionized my life in ways I could have never imagined.
And it is in these revolutionary moments that the message of grace rings loudly. No whispers here, just a clear message of hope that will always open up the floodgates of emotion. Again, reflecting on Charles Spurgeon:
Now, if such love exists between God and me, let me live in the influence and sweetness of it and use the privilege of my position. I should not approach my Lord as though a stranger or as though He were unwilling to hear me or see me—for I am greatly loved by my loving Father. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, with him, graciously give us all things?”
Run boldly, believer, for despite the harsh words of others and the doubts of my own heart, I know I am greatly loved. Meditate on the exceeding greatness and faithfulness of His divine love, and then write it all down. Don’t forget—ever—the unmistakable grace of God.
Greatly loved—that’s who I am! And I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to keep it together or try to escape it. Indeed, God loves me exactly the way I am, and that’s enough. His grace is sufficient for all.