At some point in my childhood for reasons I may never understand, I accepted I was most likely broken. I carried shame inside me like the old stuffed mouse that belonged to me as an infant, one-eyed and ragged and serving no purpose. At some point that mouse simply became part of me. I wrapped myself in guilt like my great- grandmother’s cape, handed down for generations. By choosing to not follow a million unspoken rules as a teen and young adult, I accepted a tarnished crown and the role of a black, broken sheep.

“Look at what you did! What a mess! SHAME, shame, shame….” This was the refrain playing constantly in the background so quietly that, after a time, I forgot it existed. I simply accepted that everything was my fault, that somehow, there was something inherently wrong with me. I accepted what I was told, that I was lucky my last husband took me under his wing, was willing to accept my mess. It was understood that I brought very little to the table. I was told that for a man like that to love a woman like me, he must secretly be a serial killer.My family jokingly told me if I ever left him, they would simply keep him and get rid of me. I was disposable, you see.

It is interesting the role we play in our families, where other people decide to put us. Equally as fascinating are the times we decide to come out of our cocoon and spread wide wings to the sun when those around us still need us to be caterpillars. The process of metamorphosis isn’t just uncomfortable to the person undergoing it, but also to the witnesses. Butterflies aren’t beautiful when they first step outside their shell. They are sticky and wet and it takes a good while for them to get their bearings and realize they can indeed fly. Birth is beautiful but also bloody and messy and sometimes even dangerous. It’s not always pleasant to watch. When new life comes forth, all the living things around it must rearrange their position on the planet and this movement can be scary for those who are happy sitting right where they are. The process of becoming or unbecoming understandably unsettles those in our closest circles.

This is my process now, growing and shrinking, expanding and contracting. This is the spiral of life, always folding back on itself and then growing again. Living in a sort of homeostasis for so many years provided so much comfort for those around me. I could have stayed where I was. My life was charmed by society’s standards. Wealthy and comfortable, willing to accept that for someone as lacking as me, I’d won the lottery. Let us remember there are fractures inside families that no one sees, places in marriages where apparent perfection hides profound hurts. We live in a Facebook world, peering in on others from our glass houses, all too willing to throw stones. For too long, I stood in the town stockade while insults were hurled at me. I realize now it’s because on some level I felt like I deserved it. Now I know none of us deserve judgement, we owe each other compassion and kindness and understanding. Leaving the nest can be an ultimate act of self love. Choosing to hurl yourself into the wide blue sky when you know you may get eaten is bravery. Bravery and self love, these things I embrace and claim each day in my new life.

If I’m the sum of my failures, I’m also the sum of my successes. This thought hit me last night with a ferocity that pinned me to the couch for several minutes. I was a gifted and capable student and a teenager that did drugs and married too young. I was a good yet too young mother, but then I raised the children of other struggling parents and loved those children fiercely. I was an excellent wife but drug my children through divorces and now I’m doing my level best to repair the damage. I didn’t love enough but then my love was perfect. I was absent when I was needed but then I showed up in the nick of time, bearing gifts. I was a storm wrecking everything in my path and then I was the sunshine, making small things grow. As humans, we are dark and light, made perfect in God’s image. Our cracks and broken places are where the light shines through.

So now, two months before my forty-second birthday, I refuse the labels I allowed myself to wear all this time. We too frequently own our brokenness without owning our magnificence. My son learned recently in Sunday school what a masterpiece he is. I too, am a masterpiece, a perfect and precious child just like my son. I choose to see myself the way people who love me most see me. The ones who see me with clear eyes, free of damage that causes them to only see their own woundedness. It is my prayer for the wounded that they give themselves the same gift, see their own perfection, let go of labels and guilt and embrace who they truly are. No one should wear a mantle of shame.

I am guilty of selfishness and stubbornness, anger and unforgiveness. 

I am guilty of discontent and impatience, ego and a sharp tongue.

I love without measure and hold a faith my Grammy would be proud of. 

I work each day to make this planet a better place for the “least of these” that Jesus spoke about.

My hands and mind are talented and create beautiful things for the people I love.

I hold light and medicine within me and share it with this wide, wonderful world. 

I’m the sum of my failures, and the sum of my successes.

Most importantly, now I am free.