This summer, Justin and I had the profound joy of standing on holy ground and praying for our friends Blake and Jordan at their wedding. Theirs is a beautiful story that only Jesus could script.  Blake has what I like to call an old soul, and her words minister hope and healing. It is an honor to welcome to the blog my friend and “daughter from another mother,” Blake Blankenbecler. I know you’ll be transformed by her words. –Marian

I fell in love with my husband on our first date. Don’t worry, this won’t be a gushy post about falling in love with Jordan. Although it is a great story, it’s not the story I’m here to share.

The server was taking our orders and we were settling in nicely to our carpeted booths. You heard me correctly. Jordan loves ethnic food and thought it would be fun to test out my core strength for the night by sitting on the plywood blocks covered in gray carpet and pillow cushions that had likely been there since the nineties. (If you’re in Nashville, check out Siam Cafe and all her glory…proudly awarded best thai food in 1996.)

We were having the usual first date conversations where we share the watered down, brief, appropriate stories you tell on a first date to get to know each other. Not too much overshare that it gets uncomfortable, but just enough for some intrigue in hopes of a second date. Us millennials know how to play this game well.

I was sharing about my faith, how I’d been the typical sorority girl in college and then I met Jesus, He redeemed me and I’ve been…

He interrupted me right there.

“Blake, that’s such a cheap story.”

“Cheap story?” I asked, making sure I heard him correctly.

Interruptions weren’t typical at this point in the juncture. Smiling and nodding were appropriate. This? This was unusual and suddenly I was intrigued by him.

“Yea, I mean, I don’t know that much about you, but I know there is a lot more to you than a story like that.”

I’d never heard this before. Normally, I was applauded for having “the great testimony”, not critiqued. My puzzlement got me to thinking…

Were the stories I was telling cheap and degrading?

It’s not that the story wasn’t true, but was it the whole story? I started getting curious about whether or not there was a better story to be told, one that was more honoring of both God and who He created me to be?

I wonder what the stories are that you share about yourself? Do those stories value your worth or do they devalue it?

I thought I needed to hang on to that testimony like some badge of honor. It was how I came to faith, but as Jordan intuitively caught onto, it wasn’t the whole story and it wasn’t the kindest story.

Hear me say testimonies are great and beautiful. They can also be limiting both to us as the story tellers and to the people listening if we are not careful.

I feel really sad when I hear a person list off all the ways they were “bad” before finding Jesus, followed by all the ways they are “good” now that they are following Him. If you look just below the surface, you’ll notice that shame is inherently part of that story. The story certainly serves Jesus’ redemptive qualities, yet it disregards our larger narrative of loss and suffering that I find to be more true of the Christian faith.

There’s the story in Genesis 16 about Sarai, Hagar, and Abram. Let’s pause and remember dysfunction in the home is not something new; we all have our junk. God promises Sarai and Abram a baby, yet it’s been ten years and she’s getting restless. So what’s a girl to do? She takes matters into her own hands and tells her husband to use her servant Hagar as the surrogate mother.

I read this and wince because we all know the likelihood of this working out smoothly is nil. Yet, as we read this, we need not shame Sarai for this. First off, this wasn’t an entirely uncommon practice in their culture and secondly, we too can be manipulative in our foolishness to make things happen.

As the story goes, Sarai’s contempt and abuse for Hagar becomes too much for Hagar to bare as her stomach swells with Abram’s child inside. So she flees to the wilderness. A pregnant woman alone in the wilderness in that day and age was not at all safe. Death would not be a shocking ending to this story.

Then an angel of the Lord finds Hagar in this wilderness. He finds her, not the other way around. It would be wise for us to look back on our personal stories and name the places and seasons God found us too. God is always at the beginning. God is also known to show up in oddly disruptive places i.e. the wilderness, with Hagar.

The angel of the Lord calls her by her name. When you read this text, you’ll notice Sarai and Abram refer to her only by that which she does: “servant”. Shame is clearly a part of this dialogue. God speaks to her by naming who she is first: “Hagar”. From the beginning of this encounter, God interacts with her first and foremost from a place of dignity.

God never strips us of our dignity, it’s our shame that does that.

He then asks Hagar my two favorite questions in the whole bible. “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8, ESV)

Where have you come from?

Answering that question with the bad things you’ve done completely misses the mark. The heart of this question is that God is inviting us to name our loss. God is always going to invite us to the heart of the matter.

To get to our loss, we must first confront our shame. Our shame is about how we hide, cover, and deceive ourself, others, and God into thinking we have it all together. Our shame busies and protects us from having to face our life and grieve. Shame certainly protects our egos, but it kills off our heart and soul in the process.

Loss is about death. The death of life, the death of relationships, the death of hopes and dreams, the death of innocence, the death of your childhood, the death of love, and the death of how life should have been. A definition of trauma I’ve heard is anything that would not have happened in the Garden of Eden.

Your have come from great loss. You have a tragic story. The question God asks of Hagar, is a journey God is always inviting us on as well. Will you give your story back the dignity it deserves? Will you give your story the tears of grief it so wholeheartedly needs? Will you allow others the sacred gift of listening to your stories, naming for you what you cannot see?

There is no expiration date or finish line to our grief. I find that truth to be both freeing and heartbreaking. It is our loss, our grief, and our pain that will be the lantern to help us answer the second question God asks, “Where are you going?”

Where will your loss take you? Where will you dare to hope for change? What can come of your courage to grieve? It is out of loss that our passion is birthed. When we can befriend our stories of loss instead of treating them with contempt, the path we are called to take becomes that much brighter.

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” 

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, quoted from her TED Talk “The danger of a single story”  

I did tell you at the beginning that this wasn’t a story of falling in love with my husband. I lied, it kind of is. The gift that Jordan gave me in calling me out for cheapening my story is that in doing so, he called out my inherent dignity and worth. He said you are more than a “typical sorority girl” and you are worth so much more than a one sentence recap on the life Jesus has given to you. He told me that I had a story and my story mattered.

On our wedding day, I chose the song Amazing Grace to walk down the aisle to because it’s a story of being lost and found by God. God met Hagar in the unlikely place of the wilderness. God met me in the unlikely place of Siam Cafe through my dear husband’s kind and brave words. And the beautiful thing about both those stories is that God had been there all along, since the beginning. Both Hagar and myself had lost sight of that truth.

At the end of Hagar and the Lord’s encounter, Hagar said, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Genesis 16:13, ESV)

We have a God who finds us, we have a God who sees us, and we have a God who looks after us. Let us hold tightly to that truth as we too consider the kindly, disruptive words of our God…

Where have you come from and where are you going? 

Blake Blankenbecler

photo by: Haley George

wedding photos: @imageisfound

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