I remember the first time I experienced the fear of my own goodness. Her name was Lynn, and she was an eccentric woman. She was heavy-set, very tall, and her brunette hair was wild and wiry. She talked loud, had an appetite like a truck driver, and she could weave a great story. Her stories were about her, her life- her crazy life before she was saved. She went to our a Pentecostal Church, where words from God were as common as they were bizarre. But we didn’t know it. It was considered a good Sunday when the Spirit got to movin’ and the preacher had to skip the sermon in favor of the praise and worship. It was in this atmosphere that we might see and hear something other worldly. And we did. We saw things, and we heard things. It was spectacular for sure.
Lynn was one of those ladies in our church that had a prophetic gift. She heard things, and she spoke them. But it was her real life stories I remember. I cannot retell one prophetic thing she ever said in church, but I do remember a million details from her stories. They are little treasures that I find here and there as I go about piecing together my own story.
On one occasion Lynn told me a horrific tale about her days of living with the mob. She was in her twenties and her man of the hour was a bad dude…a mobster that had many enemies. You can imagine me, a 12 year old school girl, from a small town, raised on a farm, barely had TV, and the awe with which I might listen to a story like this. And I did. Lynn fascinated me. She was kind and real and happy and awesome…and I loved her. Outside of my mother, she was my first spiritual mentor. When she told me that another mobster crashed into their bedroom late on night and shot her lover, while she laid right there in his warm blood, I was not surprised. I was fascinated. Her story of redemption was so real to me. Here was a lady that was truly saved from something. Jesus had transformed her. I envied her eccentricities, her side-ways looking at things, her ability to identify with pain and shame, her way with the unlovelies.
It would seem like a woman like this would be too much for a twelve year old. But I had known her since I was very young. She was my grandmother’s best friend. She was a part of our family. I am so very thankful my mother didn’t shelter me from Lynn and her stories. I am so very thankful for the opportunity to know a woman like her at a young age.
On another occasion Lynn told me that she worried for the good people in the Church. She worried that good people would never know God’s love, His infinite mercy, His healing power. At twelve I am sure that I did not understand the full implications of her words. All I know is that as a young woman I was keenly aware that I was one of the good people she was referring to, and it scared me for some reason.
I am grown up now, and I have stories to tell of my own- mistakes I have made, people I have hurt, moral failures, religious failures, parenting failures. But somehow these failures never seem to live up to the life Lynn lived, and I wonder if what she said is true. Do good people ever really get saved? Do good people ever know the real Christ?
I am not convinced that we do.
Is there hope for all us who believe we are morally gifted? I sure hope there is. I am still trying to find my way. One thing I do know is that we do not have to sin to know God’s mercy, but we do have to work hard at being real. We do have to work at embracing the Lynns of the world. Those whose reputations bring reproach, admitting that we are not separate from those we are tempted to judge. Lynn never really escaped her past. And what was great about Lynn is that she didn’t care to..she lived real. Her life was not a before and after photo shoot…she made sure of that by telling her stories in her eccentric way. A way that helped this good girl be afraid of her good reputation. A way that made me question what good is, and made me admit that I am not really good. There is none good but God.
In her own way Lynn was like Saint Mary of Egypt.
In her own way Lynn preached the Gospel.