Being myself did not always come easily to me. Well, it came easily, but it wasn’t always welcomed. I came from and earthy, intellectual family. We lived on a college campus in the days of flower power. In all this striving to stand apart, make a statement, sit-in, love-in and march against the machine, I was raised. And from that I went into public school. I read chapter books and could multiply before age five. I was an anomaly walking into Kindergarten where they were listening to Dick and Jane and learning to name their colors and letters. I stood out like a sore thumb. At home intelligence had been encouraged, even subtly required. At school the teachers loved me, but the kids just didn’t know what to do with me. Then I got “the glasses.” They were green tortoise shell and I got teased for them right off the bat. I wasn’t used to being teased. In my neighborhood at home I was the leader of the group. My family had its share of difficulty, but in friendships with my peers I was used to being the leader.
At home things got worse when my dad got diagnosed with a genetically inherited kidney disease that ravaged his body and our lives for five years. We became even more odd as my sister and I had to stay with many different families as “guests” while my mom and dad drove to another city for dialasys, doctors’ appointments and surgeries. I just wanted a normal family and I wanted to be anything but myself. I wanted the life we had before this invader robbed us of any semblance of normal.
My father was suffering from toxins in his blood stream which made him unpredictable. Besides his warm and witty nature, he already had a temper, and the disease — the stress of illness and the fear of his own mortality — made him volatile. The same thing that made him laugh one day would make him fly off the handle the next. I learned to turn on a dime to be what he wanted me to be so that I could avoid that wrath. Sometimes. Other times I was not so fortunate. My mom was often emotionally high-strung and she yelled and condemned me with her words. I was the brunt of her outbursts. I didn’t want to be me — I wanted to be the perfect child they needed me to be.
After my dad died I was left with an inexplicable void and the so many confusing and devastating emotions of grief and adolescence all mixed into a Molotov cocktail in my soul. Then we moved. My mom met a man at her grief recovery group and he was to be my stepfather. We moved across the country to an affluent part of a city where people knew what to wear and how to carry themselves and what was “in” and “out.” I was coming from a small town and I had no clue who Gloria Vanderbilt even was let alone what Preppy people had been wearing in Boston all these years. I quickly learned to play chameleon and morph myself into whatever anyone thought was good enough. I longed to avoid rejection and ridicule. And I lived that way for years — suffocating my own self to become more of what you might want me to be — whomever you were. The resulting years of High School and College were filled with inner darkness and many devastating experiences. Outwardly I was a part of all that was going on around me, but inwardly I was a shell. I no longer even knew who my “self” was let alone how to “be myself.”
God is not satisfied with cloning. He is capable of it and has yet to exercise that option. He rejoices in each of us as we are. He delights in the unique designs and knows the nuances of each personality. He has not only numbered the hairs on each head, but knows our inmost thoughts. It is for each of us that He went to the cross. Each unique one. He did not suffer for a carbon copy, Stepford Wife who knows how to emulate the best fashion magazines and has all the right accessories. He didn’t stoop low from heaven and join His own creation to redeem a false representation of someone else. He came for me — as I am. He came for you — as you are. And He continues to come. He comes right into the places where others reject us and try to remake us and He says “Mine.” He loves the self we are and He calls that self out — created in His image, but created uniquely, like no other. The self you are is not to ever be replicated in all of eternity and never was seen before this moment. If you won’t be yourself, who will? He calls out that self and invites us to be filled with Him and to express Him as only we can do.
It took my healing journey — the one I’m still on — for me to become more and more content in my own skin and to learn to like the me He designed. There is a joy in resigning to God’s will and He wills each of us to be ourselves. He sends others into our lives to help us along. God gave me my prayer partner who is the best sister I have. She prayed for me before my faith got its wings and against all hope she dared to dream that I just might come to believe. She prays with me through all seasons over our boys and for our husbands and one another. We weep together and laugh together and share our fears and joys. She helped birth my return to writing by believing in me and praying when I couldn’t dare ask her for such a gift. There was the small group pastor who was like a brother who listened and stood by me when I hit the dark night of the soul. He did not fix me; he commiserated as he shared his own experience. I was permitted to be me, broken and questioning and struggling to make a way to a more authentic relationship with Jesus. God then sent a teacher who was wise and kind; who spoke truth into my life and helped me see into vistas of hope beyond what my own limited vision could conceive at the time. He led me through his example and by way of his own unspoken and unshakable faith-saturated relationship with Jesus. God brought a woman into my life who accepted me as I was — all bound in perfectionism, trying hard to measure up, frenetic and spinning and hurting, but looking so okay. She has sat with me these long 16 years and held the space for healing. She reflected the love I couldn’t yet accept, though I knew Him and followed Him. Bit by bit He convinced me in sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic moves of His hand and His Spirit that I am worth dying for and He is in love with me — as I am.
This isn’t just my journey. It is the path for all of us. Maybe your life wasn’t riddled with as much darkness. Maybe the pit was way darker for you. But, the road forward is the same. He made you to be you and to reflect Him and enjoy Him as only you can. Be yourself. It is God’s gift to you and your gift back to Him and to the rest of us.