A couple of weeks ago I was invited to the 90th birthday of one of the former secretaries from the small, private school where I grew up. By default, Mrs. Smith was also the school nurse, guidance counselor and mother. Honored to be invited (perhaps for holding the student record for “most time spent loitering in the office”) I drove down the New Jersey Turnpike to the Harrison House Diner and was ushered back to the table reserved for the select few, which included Mrs. Smith’s sons, a son-in-law and friends.
We reminisced, asked about each other’s summer plans and discussed house hunting. I bragged about my children. After lunch I said goodbye to everyone and Mrs. Smith’s youngest son last, who has about ten years on me. I mentioned that I couldn’t remember how many decades it had been since we’d last seen each other and he said “Neither but do I, but I remember the first time. I was a substitute teacher for your 6th grade class.” His eyes laughed and then he said, “You were… colorful.”
There I was, a middle aged mom, a tenured professional with a mortgage, an office and a closet full of business casual clothes that look okay with a clerical collar. But when Tom smiled at the fifty year old me I could tell he was really smiling at the twelve year old drama queen with wild hair. This man I probably would have passed unknowingly on the street knew about my dancing around the lower school hall in purple and gold socks with granny shoes. He probably also knew another embarrassing thing or two about me I have long since, blessedly forgot.
How many “yous” have you been? The geek, the bully, the sullen, high school student, the lost twenty-something, the weird uncle. Did you shred the poems that pretentious college sophomore wrote for fear one day you’d be dead or too old to do it and someone would find out, while emptying out your apartment, what a pin head you were? Or have you looked at a picture from when you were thirty-three and thought “Why did I think I was ugly? That’s the best I’m ever going to look.” And when you remember that autumn when you first fell in love do you sometimes shake your head and think, “That man is too innocent to realize a tidal wave is about to hit him.”
No matter the number of “yous” you can count, you still don’t remember them all and even the ones you do remember you can’t see perfectly because, like a reflection in the water, they’re all blurred and full of shadows.
But I imagine God knows every one of those yous and She sees that you are neither all shadow or light. You never know, it could be that God loved your purple and gold socks and has your bad poems hung on the refrigerator. And those terrible things you said, those unforgivable things you did; if they feel like led weights in your pockets maybe it’s because you can’t believe Jesus covered your shame in his naked love for you.
Being known and loved like that is fearful. One of the hardest parts of Christian practice is imagining that it’s true, but when you can manage it, you’re free. And when you’re free God’s love spills out of you, whatever “you” you are now.
And God’s eyes laugh with delight.