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.
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”.