Faith, life, relationships
Comments 14

The Mallet and the Measuring Stick – May{Be} I’ll Choose Grace

Shamed bloomed up my neck in poppy-red streaks.

Tears, of course, threatened to fall.

Anger, formed into a tight fist in the back of my throat, choking my very breath.

I knelt, knees to cement-hard tile floor as my teacher measured the length of my skirt.

Measuring up – getty images, museum of london

Her wooden ruler had a red line at the exact spot where a proper skirt, worn by a proper girl, should reside. This was the shortest length allowed, so of course, a proper Christian school girl would never dare tip-toe on the edge of this ruler’s hashmark. A proper Christian school girl, who loved Jesus and followed the rules would never be questioned for skirt length.

Nervous sweat made my required-to-be-worn pantyhose scratchy against my legs and teary snot nearly dripped from the tip of my nose. I refused to sniff– for that might betray my facade: the strong, flippant, nonplussed version of me that I hoped to present to the class.

The version of me that said with a lip-glossed pout: Dress-code, shmess-code.

But the damage had been done. The measuring stick permanently imbedded in my spirit, rigid and unyielding, always reflecting the usual reality: I fail to measure up.

I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of times that the stick was pounded with that well-intentioned mallet of legalism into the soft and pliable parts of me.

Shame still blooms red on my neck when I think of the instances  I’ve seen this stone-throwing equivalent:

The tank-topped School Administrator who shut the spirit of a young middle school girl for her attire with the instruction: “Go to the lost and found closet and find a sweatshirt to cover yourself better.” This said, in front of me, a prospective pre-school parent.

I turned heel and walked.

Or the little-thirteen-year-old mother-to-be who stood wide-eyed with fear while our head pastor revealed her private sins to a roomful of her peers because he feared “that the attention she was receiving might inspire the others down a path of ill repute”.

Inside I screamed because I saw the mallet striking her spirit. My helpless hand held hers.

God, where would she find love if not here?

But as much as the bride of Christ has betrayed the grace that her veil of innocence happens to be pinned to, I cannot myself betray her. I am her.

I am part of this bride, so the times I’ve turned heel and marched out, I always have found myself in the dirt of my own pride, clinging to the foot of the cross.

That place is the only place of freedom.

That place is the reckoning spot. The great equalization of institutional and personal faith alike.

People say that our sins, my sins, drove the nails that hung Christ to the cross.

But it goes deeper than that.

The very hill of Calvary is a landfill of the detritus of our collective pride, our love for control and powering over the weaker, the dumber, the damaged and our ignoring the “least of these” for whom God cares so deeply. And the hole for his wooden cross was dug into our rubbish.

Paul, the great apostle, knew the truth. He called the righteousness that framed his life and the measuring stick of legalism that ascertained his value “rubbish”–not the office wastepaper basket variety, but the dirty-diaper, soiled rag, rotting stench that fills the dump and repels us.

Is there a measuring stick for that much filth?

So when I speak of “grace, grace, God’s grace, greater than all our sin”, when I sing of it and pray for it and offer it with hope to others, sadly it comes from a hard place, lesioned and scarred over from hurt.

And I’m glad for it.

Because my life has been marked by sunshine and laughter much more than pain. I had a family who loved me; I was not forced to yield to myriad abuse that destroys the soul and warps ones sense of value; I wasn’t date raped or abandoned by a careless husband.

But I know and love people who have this pain. I love friends who have wrestled with indefatigable strength the monster within named Unforgiveness.

I know many who live with spirits impaled by the measuring stick, who long for it’s extraction and the grace to heal.

So, had I measured up, back there in my Christian School Days, I could now be the disillusioned leader holding the mallet and the measuring stick.

And I’d much rather be the loser clinging to the foot of the cross.

Because there, and only there, can I find the “wonderful, matchless grace of Jesus”.


Philippians 3:7-15

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.
Linking up with dear Emily and the amazing writers who scribe faith here


  1. This is a great post. I too want to be the one clinging to the cross with my face in the dirt. I love the stories from our childhood that have lasting impressions on our lives. The stories of kids making fun of me for not having the means for nicer or more clothes. The teachers that bet me that I would be a complete loser, I cherish them all. The tough times is what helps us figure out through God’s wisdom that what we need first… is to cling to the cross.

    Excellent Alyssa

    • thanks floyd 🙂 I know we often have to dust off our tails and keep moving, yet the hurt is formative. Thank God for the grace of the cross and the truth that there is no shadow of turning with him — his truth, his love for us never changes.

  2. Well can you take those lies… those evil lies that you may have nodded and agreed with… perhaps took vows with… can you break them…can you tell that girl, this woman the Truth…. that Jesus loves you any which way.
    You are worth it to Him.
    You are His bride and HE loves you.
    Every time…EVERY.SINGLE. time they told you that you didn’t measure up..He was standing right there saying you were enough just as you are.
    You are worth so much… You are the ransomed one.

    • Beth — I hear your heart — read T’s comment above and remember it’s your truth too — Jesus said in John (I think chapter 14) that believers are God’s gift to the son — We are a gift! Sure, we’re troubled by sin and in need of salvation, but THAT is taken care of. We can lean into his lavish love.

  3. Larale Compton says

    I too have been hurt…abused by legalism. Rules that people wrap around Gods holiness. How sad. Yet what matters to God is our HEART. Does our heart love Him…? Yes!

  4. tara pohlkotte says

    wow, alyssa. i have been, am still right there with you. hands balled tight against the legalistic ways in which we limit God. when what has been extended, by others, or by myself, has been less than the grace we have been given. you speak of it all so beautifully here.

    • Tara – you’re right it is “less than”. Oh to chase this beautiful grace and share it with others generously. Jesus never withheld an ounce of grace. Nope, he poured it all out on Calvary.

  5. wow. i was just reading this morning about Jesus and the adulterous woman, and how he just bent in the sand and refused to judge her. how he would have wept over how that pastor treated the 13-year-old mother.

    • Em, it’s heartbreaking. A redemptive bit of loveliness: I see that young mom from time to time — at church. We are part of a truth-filled, grace-giving church and although she’s been through so much (in the world and in the church) she loves Jesus still and has found strength and peace. God overcame the legalists! Yay! He always finds a way to our hearts. Praise him. 🙂

  6. Lori says

    What a beautiful – and heartbreaking – post. You walk (write!) that line so well and I can feel your heart for others, for loving them just as they are – no matter their skirt length. Thank you for sharing.

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