We were running errands in my dad’s jeep. They were walking on the side of the road: a mother and three small children, all younger than my eleven years. We stopped, because my parents never could do otherwise at a time like that. The adults exchanged words. My father’s face was so soft. We squeezed together in that red jeep, squeezed like family, like friends- like strangers. The children were quiet but I was happy; I was so happy. How I loved to play shepherdess, even then.
We drove to a shelter and the children pulled out the few toys they had held on to through God knows what. I sat down on the rug and we played Barbies while the grownups talked and eventually left us there, safe, to go to the store. Nothing happened, really. I didn’t ask what had taken place that day, I didn’t tell them that Jesus loved them: we just played Barbies together. And maybe it was the first time in my life I tasted the healing wonder of just sitting beside one another, but it wouldn’t be the last.
When my parents said it was time to go, one of the girls put a tiny pair of doll shoes in my hand. Keep them, she said. A gift for you. I didn’t know anything much at the time of dignity or of humility, but somehow I knew enough. I said thank you. I knew that all of her earthly belongings fit in a duffel bag today, but I let her put them in my hand.
I kept those miniature pink high heels for years. Years. Why? The encounter, though certainly impactful, didn’t exactly merit that degree of commemoration, as though the trinkets were some sort of family heirloom.
Maybe I kept them because I sensed they were forming me into who I really was. Through cheerleading and boyfriends and high school drama, the shoes sat in a silver heart case with cheap velvet lining on my bedroom desk. Maybe as I searched and searched and tried and tried and medicated and cut, I kept them there to say, “Somewhere, I do know who I am. Somewhere, I do know what I believe.”
I’ve always been a black and white thinker and incongruities frustrate me. But in my teen years, incongruities were all I had and they drove me right to the psychiatrist’s office in my midriff baring t-shirt and baggy jeans. I knew it was all a lie.
At some point, I just threw the Barbie shoes away. Maybe the beauty I thought I saw in them didn’t really exist, or at least not for me. For a split second I had thought I fit there, cross-legged on a slightly stained rug, knowing I couldn't solve your problems but that maybe I could cushion your fall. I thought I had tasted the possibility of Incarnation, of Communion.
But time told me no, I wasn’t that anymore. Maybe I never was.
I chose the lie.
Deeper and deeper into despair I fell, until I was the needy one. What grace there is in finally being completely broken. Only then can we really know the truth: that you sprawled out beside me on this ugly rug is the only thing keeping me going today. And if there's anything that matters in religion or morality, it's that. The lie is always there for the taking, but so is the Truth.