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001palmsCan a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
“Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;” (Isaiah 49: 15-16a NASB)

My devotion this morning brought back a painful memory to my mind. I’d like to tell you about it. It may seem trivial to you, but let me assure you, it has colored my thinking for years.

So when I was in high school, you know back in the dark ages, I was a music nerd. I played French Horn in the band and in the orchestra and I sang bass in the choir. I actually took MULTIPLE band classes (on my)! My junior year I volunteered to play horn in the pit orchestra for our annual school musical, “Guys and Dolls.” People wanted me to try out to be on stage, but I was too shy to be up in front of people at that point, which is odd considering now I have zero problems getting up in front of people and giving a sermon. But I decided to be in the orchestra.

Anyway, every year for the musical the band, choir, and drama teachers would order sweatshirts for all of the cast members and the orchestra folks. The logo for the musical was on the front, and a list of everybody’s names (cast, orchestra, and crew) was on the back. It was like a prize, a tangible reward for all of your hard work. We all waited breathlessly for the shirts to be handed out the day before the play opened.

So that day, I was quite excited to get my shirt. The band director handed me one, and I ripped open the package in anticipation. I unfolded the shirt and flipped to the back. Since my last name is “Carter,” it’s usually toward the front of any alphabetized list. I looked right where it should be, and it wasn’t there. I ran up to some of my friends to see if mine was just a misprint. No, it wasn’t on any of theirs either. I scanned the list over and over again hoping maybe it was just misspelled or just placed out of order.

It wasn’t. It wasn’t there. My name wasn’t there and everybody else’s was.

I was absolutely crushed.

My parents were upset as well. They called the band director and asked how it could have happened. He checked, and my name was on the list that he submitted to the printer. He just didn’t know what happened. They asked if they could order another shirt with my name on it, but that was impossible. It was a one time run.

Again, this might seem trivial to you. Let me assure you, it was not trivial to me. It was devastating. I suspect most of us remember being teenagers. The slightest hit to your ever fragile self-esteem can be something that can consume you for a long time. I was an awkward teenager anyway. I wasn’t good at sports. I wasn’t “popular,” though to be fair I wasn’t a total outcast either. I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time. The one girl that I had actually gotten up the nerve to ask out had said she would have loved to, but her parents forbade it because I wasn’t LDS (that’s Mormon for folks who don’t speak Utah). While very few of my classmates actually looked down on me for not being LDS, I was often viewed as kind of a curiosity, like some weird animal in a zoo. Though again, to be fair, 16-17 year olds rarely know better.

The only things I was really good at were academics and music. Now I was looking at the biggest accomplishment in music so far for me, and I was left off.

As I said, this put a dent in my psyche for years. In fact even today, 21 years later (wow) it’s a bit hard to sit here and write about. Every time I’ve failed at something I’ve set out to do, which has been plenty of times, the accuser* has played that little movie for me in my head, where I open that shirt and my name isn’t there.

Failed at being a pastor? Well, yeah, you’re such a failure that your name didn’t make it on the shirt!

Your marriage was an abject disaster? Of course, you’re such a disaster that your name didn’t even get on the shirt!

Got passed over for that promotion at work again? Well duh, you’re too insignificant to even get your name on the shirt!

You get where I’m coming from?

Only recently have I begun to deal with this, and without God involved, I don’t think I’d be able to. You see, my entire self worth has been wrapped up in what I do and the recognition I get for doing those things. On the surface, I don’t like the limelight (hey that’s why I was in the orchestra instead of on stage) but deep down, I crave affirmation. I think we all do. But for me it was worse. One of my driving forces, since I was old enough to recognize my own motivations, is to make something of myself more than just a guy who came from some dusty old town in Utah. I haven’t wanted to be famous, but I’ve wanted to be significant somehow. So you can see how this affected me! Not having my name on the shirt told me I was insignificant.

But things have changed. Over the last couple of years, as my walk with Jesus has grown more and more personal and wonderful, I’ve come to see that my worth is not wrapped up in what I do. I have worth, I have value because the same God who formed the stars and placed them in their courses made me and loves me for who I am.

Do me a favor, on a clear night, go outside and stand and look up at all the stars. Take glory in the beauty of the night sky. Then remind yourself that as spectacular as that view is, it pales in comparison to your beauty in the eyes of God, who made you in His own image. It may take doing that many times for it to click, but keeping doing it until it does. It will. God is Love. God loves you. He loves you so much that he became man in the form of Jesus and died for you and for me.

That makes us uniquely valuable. By his grace we are redeemed, not just from petty sins, but from all the expectations that we place on ourselves. When we see ourselves as truly valuable in God’s sight, then it’s a starting point on the road to love and peace. Now yes, it’s not all flowers and sunshine on the way, things will still be hard. We are still human after all, but when we stumble, when we fall from lack of thirst on our journey, Jesus is there to raise us up and refresh us with living water once again. You can count on it.

The next year our school did My Fair Lady. Again, I was in the orchestra. I’m happy to report that yes, my name made it on the back of the shirt. So that was nice. But now, as I read through the Bible I see that my name is inscribed in a much more precious place than the back of a shirt, but upon the hands of God, as Isaiah says. Those hands were pierced with nails for me because he loves me so much. Your name is there too, and I promise you that he loves you just as much.

*I used the word “accuser” with a small “a” very purposefully here. Some people would say Satan, or the Devil, or that kind of thing. Of course “Satan” means “Accuser.” I’m not dismissing out of hand the idea of evil or even evil personified in some kind of “being” for lack of a better term, but I think far more damaging to us is often the things we say to ourselves in negative self talk and the things people say to us to damage our self worth. Sorry, it’s my psychology degree coming through there. Yes, some kind of accusing spirit may very well have a part to play in those things, but I think far more often it’s forces at play in our own psyches or our personality. Saying it’s all the devil’s fault decreases the need to work through the issue and lends itself to magic, easily solutions, in my opinion.