It was only a dream.
But it was the kind of dream that wakes you up feeling like you need to stare at the scrolling credits of a movie long enough to process what just happened.
None of it was real.
But the truths were all to real.
I was me: same person, different back story. I lived with my mom and siblings in a split level condo. From the living room, there’s a narrow set of L-shaped stairs that lead up to a platform which receives the front door. There is a doormat.
I don’t have a father. I mean, I know I do, but I don’t know him. I don’t know what he looks like. I don’t know his name. I wonder if he knows mine.
Here’s where the narrative of the dream begins – my father is coming over.
I scurry around, cleaning and preparing. I’m distracting myself from the fear and anxiety that grips my heart. “What if he doesn’t like me? What if he leaves again? What if I’m not good enough?” I’ll carry the burden for my siblings, I’ll face him first. I’ll protect them.
I consider the fact that he’s missed out on over two decades of my life. He doesn’t know what I’ve done, what I’ve accomplished. There is no basis for his approval.
I fold a blanket and put away a dish. There’s a knock at the door. I look around at my family; we freeze.
I walk up the stairs to the landing. Opening the door slowly, I peak out as soon as I’m able to glimpse the man whose genes are a part of mine.
He looks kind.
I open the door wider and he walks in slowly.
He looks at me, carefully. Then he sighs. “My daughter, you’re beautiful.”
I’m stunned. My brain races to make sense of this. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know what I’ve done, where I’ve been, who I am. And yet…
“You’re mine. You’re beautiful.”
I wake up.
My mind is alert and my eyes still closed. I am loved simply because I am his daughter. I think of my own dad, the man who loves me more than I know. The man who gave me his curly hair and taught me how to fly a kite. He loves me just because I am his daughter.
In The Message‘s translation of Psalm 5, verse seven says: “And here I am, your invited guest – it’s incredible!” I read it and I’m that girl again, the girl from my dream. Now I’m in the banquet hall, looking around at the spread of the feast and the elaborate decor. I catch a glimpse of my Father and I know that I belong. I’m His invited guest. And I’m here not because of anything I’ve done, but because of who He is and who He says that I am. I’m not an impostor trying to prove my worth. I belong.
But I spend many days trying to prove myself. I feel the burden it in subtle ways: when I compare my life to others’, when shame cripples me from trying to speak this new language, when I struggle to say no to things that aren’t mine to do and I thinking my value depends on it.
In those days I’m not living as the girl in the end the dream or the girl in the banquet hall. I’m missing out on the joy of the spread of the feast and the elaborate decor. I’m missing out on the freedom to embrace what I have, to fail, and to say no. And I’m not able to truly extend that grace, that truth, to those around me as my energies are spent on striving toward worthiness myself.
During a season filled with those days, the dream comes to mind. The words of the father – not my earthy father, though I know he would say the same, but what if, instead, those words came straight from my Heavenly Father.
It’s been years since I woke up with those images fresh from the dream, with joy and a heaviness from another world. I’m reminded of the words spoken and the freedom felt. I’m reminded on the days I forget it, when I need to hear it, when I need to remember that my worth isn’t based off of how I compare to others. And that the worth of others isn’t based off of how they compare to me.
…when I need to remember that my worth isn’t determined by how well I accomplish something or how many times I fail or don’t measure up. And that the worth of those around me isn’t based off of how they succeed or fail either.
…when I need to remember that I can say no to things, since my value isn’t determined by what I do for others. And that the people around me can say no too, because their value is based on what they do for me.
While I may keep these truths in my head (though they’re so easily forgotten), how they take root in my heart? How can I live from them rather than striving to them? How can my first response be grace to myself and to others?
The first step, I think, is to try.
To accept and offer grace, without fully understanding it.
To offer forgiveness, to someone I don’t feel completely deserves it.
To write about it, to create something from it, when I don’t adequately live it myself.
And to live fully now, in the banquet hall, practicing gratitude for who I am, Whose I am, and leaning to live in the freedom that comes from knowing that I don’t have to prove anything.