Tuesday, April 19, 2011

30 Going on 13

It really started in junior high. As a 4’7” painfully scrawny, be-speckled and braces-clad principal’s daughter who hadn’t grown into her red curls or out of children’s clothes and was more interested in Shakespeare than snogging boys, I knew what it was to be teased and ostracized. Every day was a circus sideshow act of name-calling, pitying looks, and ridicule. So I got tough. I got good at not caring and letting it roll off me like water off a duck’s back. When girls brayed at me like a donkey in the hallway, “imitating” my singing ability, I’d look them straight in the eye and deadpan, “I’m sorry, do you have something in your throat? Cause you might want to have that checked out.”

That attitude carried me through high school and even into my early college years. I was hard as nails. Disappointing, heart wrenching betrayals by so-called friends and my first real love only hardened me more. I lived up to the redheaded temper stereotype and was proud to do it. I was fiercely loyal to people I loved, but break my trust once, and we were done. Look twice at the boy I was interested in, and it was all-out war. I sussed out other girls’ insecurities and failings with one glance and was quicker with a bitingly snarky (and scathingly true) one-liner than anyone else. Dynamite comes in small packages. You know not with whom you mess.

Then God called me to England as a college junior in 2003. And there, He broke me.

After enduring loneliness like I never knew possible, and then finding an incredible church full of the Holy Spirit and genuine, loving Christian friends, I came back from England humbled and softened. It didn’t happen overnight, though - I was broken for a long time. It took another two years for Him to fully strip away (most of) my volatility and split-second instincts to act defensively and push people away. But He did it…because He brought me, and still continues to bring me, closer and closer to Himself. I pray He never gives up on me.

I recently had an experience where I felt like I was back in junior high. It blindsided me a bit, to be honest. Back amidst those girls who shared despising glances and turned their backs to me. Except now, we’re 30. (Well, I’m not, yet. Heh.)

And it broke me all over again.

My heart ached at the silence, the coldness, the obvious dislike, when I wanted so very much to be liked. I bristled at a “joking” comment about my height. I felt awkward, unwelcome, out of place. Worst of all, I felt it creeping back up again - my old hardness, my walls of defense. It wounded me. I know all too well how to play this game…but I couldn’t. Not now, not again. So instead of throwing out biting, passive aggressive comments shrouded in the fuzzy, prickly sweater of sweetness, I bit my tongue. All I had done the whole day before was pray for God to work through me, to speak through me, to give me grace and maturity and peace. And by Heaven, I was going to stick by that - even if it meant I didn’t say a single word the whole time.

Instead, I stood back and listened. Listened to the insecurity. The fear. But more than anything else, I heard myself in their dialogue. Myself, eight years ago. Myself, trembling in terror. Desperately trying to one-up the other girl. Desperately trying to make myself look better. “You stay away from my future husband!” I know I said that at 20, probably verbatim, about my now ex-boyfriend. Myself, striving to do anything I had to do if it meant my own “happy ending” would just be within reach. It shocked and humbled me.

I couldn’t say anything. I went home feeling numb, with pain and yet also with a strange sense of relief. When I crawled into bed that night, I crawled up into God’s lap and asked Daddy to hold me.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry and jealous and insecure sometimes – a lot, actually – but now, it only hurts. It aches. It’s not right, and God swoops in and convicts me within seconds. I back down from arguments rather than starting them. When snarky comments roll off my tongue, they burn on the way out. If I start getting at all puffed up with myself and my own virtues, God wastes no time in very obviously reminding me of my quite helpless estate and utter dependence on Him.

I know what it is to be that girl. I know exactly how all of that feels. And praise Jesus, thanks to my merciful, loving Daddy and Lord, it’s taken more than two decades, but I’m not that girl anymore.