I do not know how to tell my story without Jesus in it.
And I think this is what I’ve been running from. I’ve been running from telling my story to people who don’t understand or don’t want to hear it. I’ve been running from the fear that I might offend, be misunderstood, not be taken seriously.
And in the process, I’ve been running from me.
If I stop to think too long, I have to evaluate where I fit into this world—this world I don’t fit into. I have to admit that not everyone will approve of me or “get” me. That being myself means being misunderstood.
The only way to change that is to tell my story with all honesty: all the messes, all the despair, all the hope that guided me through. If I do not want to be known as a pretty Christian, I cannot hide my story’s ugliness. If I do not want to represent a neat Christianity, I cannot pretend I have no messes.
I am called to tell the Gospel. And I have shoved this idea aside with all its connotations of preaching shame and fear to win mass conversions.
And yet—this kind of message, this message of shame and fear, is not the Gospel. It never was. It is only what it has become known for, as years and years of oppression have been heaped by the church on the very people Jesus loved so much. And it is in Jesus’ name that we have oppressed!
Even today we oppress, using fear and shame to corner people into looking and behaving like us.
Yet Jesus never oppressed people. Instead of avoiding the sick, he healed them. Instead of accusing the sinners, he invited them to eat with him, live alongside him, and he treated them with kindness and respect. And in so doing, he transformed them.
It wasn’t because he shamed them or scared them into submission. It was because he loved them and wanted the best for them. And they knew that because they knew him. He had invited them out of their old lives into lives of fulfillment, lives where they were known and loved. They were his disciples, his best friends. There were no strings attached. They did not have to shape up or get their lives together to be his friends.
That kind of love is what I want to be known for. A love that breaks down barriers instead of building them up, a love that reaches across group divides and says, I want to know you. Will you tell me your story? A love that makes people feel like they belong, like they matter; a love that empowers them to become their truest and best selves.
This is the Gospel to me. When I hated myself because of a depression I could not lift myself from, the Gospel told me I was loved. When I was afraid because of all the things I could not control, even my own obsessive-compulsive thoughts, it told me I didn’t have to be afraid, that God would take care of me and already knew all of my tomorrows. When I thought about death and time and how meaningless my one small life must be, it told me that my life has purpose, that God has called me to this time and place for a reason, and that death can never end what he has promised me.
When I was ashamed because I had not treated my friends or my time or myself with the respect they deserved, the Gospel told me that I had been forgiven, that Christ had redeemed me and made me new. When I felt rejected by friends and young men, it told me I am accepted just as I am. When I felt alone because I didn’t know who to talk to, it told me that God was always with me, always eager to listen and support.
When I compared myself to others and stared at my body with disgust, the Gospel told me I was beautiful and valuable, and that my soul was always the most important part of me. When I felt broken by grief, it promised that God would restore me and make me whole. When I thought I was too distant and too angry at God for him to love me, it told me that He would always meet me where I was at, that I did not need to behave well or masquerade to earn his attention.
And when I was sad, it gave me hope: hope that tomorrow would be new, that God would not fail me, that he would hold my broken heart and carry me through.
This is what the Gospel is to me. It is hope and love, purpose and belonging, healing and wholeness. I cannot tell my story without this Gospel because it is my foundation. It is the one thing that is unshakable in my life when everything else shakes. It is the story I tell to define myself when all my other identities have failed.
To be sure, there were times when this telling of the Gospel was not enough on its own. There were times when I needed friends and family to come alongside me and give me physical, tangible help—to be fed and clothed, to provide money for educational fees, even to get me medication that controlled my anxiety to a level where I could function. (Functioning, of course, is more than surviving; it is the ability to live at the level I want to live, the ability to keep up with college work without frequent breakdowns, the ability to enjoy going out with friends, the ability to thrive fully in this one life that I have.)
So the Gospel has not made me less human. I would say the opposite: it has made me more human. It has encouraged me to become fully myself. If my personality, my talents, my interests are God-given and God-inspired, then I am called to pursue those things and use them to their fullest potential.
I am called to fully experience this beautiful miracle we call life. I am called to live my story without shame or fear, to live fully, bravely, throwing myself wholeheartedly into pursuing my dreams and loving the people God has placed in my life.
For “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” (Isaiah 61:1-2), and “to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:77-79).
I am called to heal, to set free, to forgive, to shine light in darkness, to show the tender mercy of God. The Gospel I tell will not be a message of shame, but of love; not of fear, but peace.
The Gospel is not a story that makes me the hero. In this story, Jesus is the hero—the one who saved me two thousand years ago on that cross, and the one who saves me still every day.
It is not my first impulse to tell this story. In this story, I am broken and struggling and in need of someone to save me. I am someone who has found wholeness and fulfillment in a Gospel that most people don’t understand.
But without this story, my life is incomplete. So this is the story I will tell, the story I will live: the story of the Gospel, of God with us and for us and never giving up on us.
And in this story, this miracle of a life bigger than myself, I become fully me.
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Want more? Wondering where I’ve been? Check out my recent work:
And coming in January 2017 on Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com… The Last Valkyrie by Jeremy Robinson and Tori Paquette (that’s me!), a science fiction novella about the Nephilim, Norse mythology, and overcoming fear. The Last Valkyrie is a spinoff of Robinson’s The Last Hunter series.