I was hungover on my wedding day.

I say this not because I think it’s cute—and certainly my mom and sister, who drove me to the salon to get our hair did while I retched into a bucket in the backseat (it was one of the greeting baskets we gave to the wedding guests with the itinerary, bottled water, and snacks! I emptied it first), did not think it was cute either. My mistake was borne of a week of too much anxiety and too little food—along with perhaps too much alcohol? (The jury’s still out on science.) Once our trio arrived at the hairdresser’s, one of the stylists took me under her wing, sat me in a chair in a private room, and gave me a fifteen-minute head massage. I don’t know what kind of black magic pressure-pointed voodoo she performed, but it worked. I left that salon feeling like a new person—one who would not barf all over her betrothed.

I shat my pants in Las Vegas.

Well to clarify: I shat my miniskirt with built-in underwear, the one I did not supplement with additional undergarments because (1) duh, some were already built in; and (2) I didn’t plan on this happening. There I was, sitting at the slot machines (no, not the craps table, aren’t you cute) with my friend one minute, then hightailing it to the bathroom with skid marks the next. I blamed the buffets. And I threw the skirt away.

I know some for whom the “Christian walk” or “journey with Jesus” or “footprints in the sand” is the story of one victory after the next. This certainly seemed to be the rule when I was growing up in church and sat at Wednesday night youth group gatherings to hear the testimony of someone who drank and smoked and screwed their way to Jesus—a Jesus who promptly made sure none of that ever happened again. PRESTO! I wondered what kind of voodoo magic Jesus was performing for them, because while I didn’t start any of that stuff until leaving for college, giving it all up cold-turkey certainly seemed more party trick than struggle. Something rang false.

If established U.S. religion were to have an autobiography, its title could well be Whiter, Faster, Stronger: The Story of American Evangelicalism. And for the first couple of decades of my life, I was all in. Onward, Christian Soldier indeed: I kept the rules like a mother f#@!*r. It was God who didn’t play along, failing to honor my chastity promise ring with a boyfriend and a chance to prove it.

Later, he did…and I didn’t. And that’s where things changed.

I run to music that often has no resemblance to my actual life. The Busta Rhymes version of “My Shot,” for example, is not exactly the anthem of an upper-middle-class white girl from the suburbs of the South. Then there’s “Fight Song,” which blasts in my ears as I still struggle to breathe and remain upright after twenty years of trying to master this confounded form of exercise/torture. “Starting right now I’ll be strong”? Not so much. “‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me”? Sure, right after I veer right and hurl into this bush. It’s comical, the things we tell ourselves, the personal pep talks we use to pump ourselves up so that we can take on the world and be confident doing it.

I’m tired.

In the past year, two of the moms in my son’s class at school have dealt with breast cancer diagnoses. One is battling a health scare that is currently without a name or treatment. Around us there has been divorce and suicide, job loss and big moves, and all this doesn’t even factor in the issues our children face. If being who I’m meant to be means wearing a mask of strength and doing all the right things, I’m tagging out. Life is too damn hard for that nonsense. I have a mere chest cold and have already ordered takeout every night this week and am possibly battling a NyQuil addiction (jury’s still out). Best life now my ass.

There are just some lessons I have to keep learning, and relating, over and over, and I’m not only talking about the one where I will never get my hair to look like my hairdresser does. I keep having to learn that the Gospel is about death before life, that grace isn’t about grasping but receiving. Being weak, not strong.

I spent a recent Saturday morning hungover.

Hangovers are tricky things because they can be full of both regret and insight, in the vein of Kanye’s observation: “I’m trying to right my wrongs, but it’s funny them same wrongs helped me write this song.”

Anyway, I was lying in bed fully prepared to beat myself up as usual over my overindulgence, to wallow in shame. Per usual. Then a voice broke through all that, the kind of voice that replaces being audible with being felt, in a place beyond shadows that I think may be the soul? “Hey,” that voice said, because it wasn’t waiting for an engraved invitation this time. “Hey. You know you’re loved, right?”

I lay there, acquiescing through my headache. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” I thought back, sounding like my kids when I whisper such things to them.

“No you don’t,” it said. “You are beloved.” I opened my eyes and things looked different. “So why don’t you start acting like it?”

It wasn’t a call to arms. It wasn’t a command to different behavior or a stricter set of rules. It was an invitation. This isn’t what you have to do, it’s what you get to do: be loved. See how that fits.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get over not being as strong as I think I am. It’s easier to be like Job’s friends, who called every bit of his suffering a result of sin because if it wasn’t, it meant it could happen to them. Hence the distance and the judgment, the postures of strength and knowing it all. We’re all better than someone, right? But I no longer boast a list of kept rules to bring to the table; I bring a record of bad judgment and skid marks (talk about filthy garments). A buffet of broken promises and sin, you might say, but I’m met with a table anyway. And this is what changes me.

I am constantly between a rock and hard place, but when I look more closely I find they are a stone rolled away, and a cross. It doesn’t look like victory, yet that’s exactly what it is: freedom disguised as weakness.

It seems that all my bridges have been burned
But you say ‘That’s exactly how this grace thing works’
It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart
But the welcome I receive with every start