My kids are always belting out showtunes—in the shower, at the kitchen table, on the way to school, in bed when they are trying to fall asleep (when we are all trying to fall asleep)! It is a never-ending medley of Newsies, Seussical, Les Mis, and whatever else has taken their fancy at the moment. Lately, it has been a string of songs from The Greatest Showman, a movie loosely based on P.T. Barnum’s life, where he gathers a band of misfits—human oddities, viewed as freaks by the public—and starts a circus with them.
Truth be known, it does something to this mother’s heart of mine to hear the lyrics from the song “This Is Me” on the lips of my young girls:
I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts
I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are
I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious . . .
. . .This is me
It makes me pause and ponder: what sorts of broken parts, what sorts of scars, will my girls want to hide from the world? And where will they find the strength and the courage to overcome that impulse?
In the movie, this song is sung primarily by the character Lettie Lutz, known to the circus-going public as the Bearded Woman. During this powerful anthem, we see a life-altering transformation take place in her character. Up to this point she has been an insecure, broken-down, social outcast who’s been taught to be ashamed of her appearance. But as she sings this song, you can see a confidence rising in her. You see a resolve in her eyes that she is no longer going to be afraid. She is going to embrace her identity, find strength deep within her, and be who she was created to be. It is a profoundly powerful scene. Lettie takes what the world views as her greatest weakness and boldly displays it as her greatest strength, singing at the top of her lungs, “This is me!”
This declaration speaks to me on so many levels. As a woman of color, I have felt insecure. As a mother, I have felt inadequate. And as a pastor, a writer, and a speaker, I have felt unqualified. Sometimes these anxieties have been so overwhelming that I’m left feeling paralyzed, my heart betraying what I know to be true in my head, exposing me as an imposter in my faith, my relationships, and my leadership. I have begged the Lord to take it away, to take away all my feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, my imposter syndrome—to no avail.
Yet, thankfully, I can have the confidence to stand strong and boldly speak the truth. Why? Because, with the same words the Lord used to comfort Paul over the tormenting thorn, the Lord comforts me. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). God, in his infinite wisdom, knows that if he takes away all our weaknesses, he strips away the dependency we have on him. Our weaknesses are opportunities for God to strengthen and empower us with his Spirit.
God knows I would miss out on those precious interactions I have had with him, leaning up against his shoulder, too weak to stand on my own. I would miss out on his intimate presence, his comforting words, when he whispers my name, telling me who I am.
I homeschooled my kids for almost ten years. There is nothing like homeschooling that will sanctify you as a mother! I have told my kids that at the end of our homeschooling journey, we were all going to need a little bit of therapy. I remember at the closing of one school year, I asked the kids to bring all their work to do an inventory of what still needed to be done before summer vacation officially started. My daughter, who couldn’t have been more than nine years old at the time, dragged her feet and was taking an eternity to retrieve her work. She finally set her notebooks down in front of me and suddenly burst into tears.
“What?” I asked.
“Every night, like forever, I have cried myself to sleep because I haven’t been doing my math homework! I lied to you every time you asked me if I was done for the day. I just can’t handle it anymore. My life is too hard. Every night I think about running away!” was her impassioned response.
Now, before I describe the ensuing events, please know that it had been a tumultuous season in ministry. We were going through the process of adopting a second campus, and both my husband and I had been clocking far too many hours too allow an adequate margin to homeschool our kids properly. I was feeling tired and a great degree of guilt for not investing more time in their studies. I responded as well as can be expected.
“Run away? Run away? You lied about your math, didn’t even bother to attempt to catch up, and you thought the best solution was to run away?!” As you can see, I was the perfect picture of cool and collected. “Then go! If you can’t even appreciate how blessed you are to be part of such a healthy and happy family, then go! Run away!” It was a Kodak moment, a stock-photo-worthy snapshot of a healthy and happy family.
My daughter gave a strangled cry and ran out the door, barefoot and all. My son, the eldest, shot me a look of angry protest and ran after her. Then child number three burst into tears and ran out the door to follow them.
My heart suddenly filled with fear and anxiety. What if something happens to them? What if someone takes them? What if I lose them? Yes, I felt real fear and anxiety, but was I going to give them the satisfaction of chasing after them after they had the audacity to walk out on me? Absolutely not! My maternal instincts lost in the battle against pride and anger.
Then, after a few moments of agony, my pride and anger lost the battle against my irrational and fatalistic imagination. As I was getting my shoes on, I heard the click of the doorknob. I kicked off my shoes and settled onto the couch, casually flipping through a magazine.
With remorse-filled voices, all three of them apologized. I sat them down and calmly talked about honesty and integrity. I talked about the many blessings they had and how they shouldn’t take them for granted. Then I apologized for my temper, gave them each hugs, and told them I loved them. After sending them off to their studies, I went to my bedroom, closed the door, and cried and cried. Physically exhausted and emotionally drained, I cried out to the Lord. I was failing in everything, both ministry and parenting. I felt weak and useless.
Then the Lord whispered to me, “My power is perfected in weakness.”
Then the Lord whispered to me, “My power is perfected in weakness.” I took a moment to sit in his presence. I let the Holy Spirit minister to my broken heart. I chose to believe his promises that, when we are lacking, he is more than enough.
I remember confessing this story to a mentor. With a smile on her face, she said, “What a beautiful story!” I looked at her, puzzled. “Your kids learned to be there for each other and share in each other’s hardships. They learned that, no matter what, they always have a loving home to return to. And you learned that, no matter what, God has your back, and he will always be enough.” God is good, all the time.
Would I endure my insecurities, my inadequacies, my feelings of being unqualified for these identity-defining moments with the Lord? In a heartbeat! For when I am weak, then I am strong!
Imagine Moses, flat on his face when the Spirit of God was blazing in the fiery bush. Imagine him feeling insecure, inadequate, and ashamed, feeling completely unqualified for the task being asked of him. God was sending him to rescue the people of Israel from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. He was sending Moses, the cowardly murderer who ran away from his problems.
“God, do you know who I am? Do you know what I’ve done?” I imagine him asking.
Then God did something totally unprecedented. He told Moses his name. “I AM WHO I AM!” God says, “I AM is sending you.”
I AM ___? Most of us would be thinking, You are . . . what? What does this even mean? God’s name doesn’t need to finish the sentence. I AM points to God’s existence, his self-sufficiency, his transcendence, his immanence. Volumes of books can be (and have been) written about the theology behind these two words.
It can also be translated as, “I will be what I will be” or “I will become whatsoever I may become.” To put it simply, we can say that it is a promise and a pledge that God would be everything his people needed him to be, now and forever. Amen.
And he says to you, wherever you may go in his name, “I AM is sending you.”
Let’s not miss the significance of this. When God says he is the great I AM, he is not only defining his identity, but he is also forging our identities with his. God is saying that he has been and is and will be everything we need him to be at any time and in any context. Wherever we go, whatever we do, God is there, and his grace is sufficient for us. His power will fill our every weakness. In him, we are secure, we are adequate, and we are qualified! THIS IS US!
This declaration speaks to me on so many levels. As a mother, pastor, wife, speaker, daughter, and friend, I am not going to allow the world to define me. I’m not going to let my own weaknesses and insecurities draw boundaries around where and how God can use me. God says that my body is the temple of his Holy Spirit. My female body that is mother, pastor, wife—this body is the temple of his Holy Spirit. And I will offer this body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Whenever I stand at the pulpit to preach, whenever I shape the hearts and minds of my children, or love on my husband, or anything else I am called to do in his name, I know he will be pleased. I will not let my weaknesses define me. God’s power and sufficiency, his qualifications, will define me.
And something else I have just lately been learning . . .
As a woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer, I will not allow the cancer to define me. Because even this body is a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to the Lord. When I am weak, he will be my strength. When things seem bleak, he will be my hope. I will walk bravely and boldly because the GREAT I AM is sending me.
Where has God been sending you lately? What unsteady waters? What untraveled path? What insurmountable obstacles have left you feeling insecure, inadequate, and unqualified? Hear the Lord whisper, “My power is perfected in weakness.”
We are indeed glorious when we step beyond the paradigms of this world and into all that is possible with the Lord’s anointing upon us. Let us honor him by embracing the identity of a cherished child of the Most High King. Let us sing out with the confidence of our Lord, “This is me.”