Twenty years ago, when I was wild with wonder about the Lord’s purposes for my life, I sipped café mochas with my college classmates and contemplated the big deals of life: calling, purpose, pain. I asked how if our testimonies had been sullied—occupied with abuse and loss and depression, as mine was—how were we of any value to God’s people?
I don’t remember the name of the young man sitting across from me, but I remember his strawberry blond hair. His eyebrows were thick and almost translucent; they lit up his face. He looked at me and deliberated aloud about the verse in one of the Corinthians. He put down his mug and looked at me, “It says something about how when we are comforted by God in our suffering, God uses us to comfort others.”
I, a believer in Jesus Christ merely a few months, deposited his words into my memory bank and finished the conversation.
When I returned to my dorm room later that night, I flipped open my NIV Study Bible and read the lines from the second book of Corinthians, first chapter:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ."
I closed my Bible and tucked away this knowledge: no matter what I had gone through or would go through, this verse would remind me of the what now. So I lunged headlong into the healing process, of asking God to redeem my innocence and impart his compassion to others through me.
It’s been twenty years of watching my hurts transpose to hope.
They say the thing you’ve always wanted but have failed to receive in life is the thing you’ve been called to. Others phrase it as your misery becomes your ministry.
I’m sure these are true, but I like to think of purpose as the irony of our stories. After all, redemption seems paradoxical: an innocent man takes on humankind’s sin so humankind doesn’t have to bear its own guilt. It’s astonishing, yet it’s the story Christians have lived and told and proven true for millennia.
The irony is that we each have a burden to bear, a struggle we’ve fought against since childhood and barely win every time. If we’ve chosen Christ, and subsequently healing, the burden gradually becomes lighter. The lightness isn’t due to our ability to feel less pain but to our awareness that when we allow Jesus to make us whole, we are able to offer him every hurt. He, in turn, teaches us how to heal.
This becomes our ministry: the cyclical inheritance of restoration. We heal because he first heals us. It’s a lot like love.
My entire life, I’ve battled a deep sense of worthlessness, of trying to convince people that I’m useful, good to have around, not disposable. I’ve wanted to be recognized as beautiful. I’ve wanted to mean something to everyone I’ve met. But regardless of how hard I worked or tried or how often the recognition came, the haunt of failure, of disappointment, of shame, followed me. It crept into dreams and accompanied me awake.
Whether my feelings reflected reality or were the result of my psychological predisposition is hard to say. But now, after these decades of not wanting others to feel the way I have, I recognize my calling: I was put on this earth to bring out the worth in people.
It happened by accident, but you and I know that’s not entirely true. Sure, in college and graduate school I followed my heart toward degrees in English; I accepted the position to teach college composition in 2001 and on that fateful Tuesday morning in September, the first day of my teaching career, I realized this is what I was meant to do professionally. And I’m still doing it: every day for the past fifteen years I’ve reached out to reluctant students and beckoned them to write. I teach them how to do it, and then I show them that they can. Their worth is thus revealed.
In ministry—whether Prism or beyond—my vulnerability isn’t tucked away but offered freely: when I share of myself, others share of themselves. Our united histories form solidarity, hopeful friendship, and healing: when we’re real, we can receive what God has for us. And for the women whom I’ve seen healed through this ministry, their ability to overcome is preceded by their transparency of spirit: they recognize their worth.
In motherhood, I’m still learning how to impart value to my so-young daughters and son not just through my words but also my behavior: Do they witness a mother who believes she is worthy and preaches from that sense of security? I hope so. Every year I get a little better and worse at it.
It occurred to me only this week that although I’ve known my professional calling and even my mission statement [to give people permission to be themselves], the thread that binds the fabric together is this: my calling—in teaching, ministry, and life—is to make others feel valuable, a certainty I’ve wanted so long for myself.
Despite my struggle to accept my own value, that others know theirs gives me tenacity and focus: may we know that value doesn’t come by doing but by being. The fact that we exist presupposes our value; that we are Christ’s deems us invaluable. Greater still, that our ministries are largely determined by our weaknesses redeems us not just of our sins but also of our struggles.
Every time I help someone determine their worth, whether in full or in part, I see that I am rich.
If you’d like to read the story of how I found my professional calling, you can do so here.