It’s amazing, scary even, how the little moments can be strung together.
How they can create a streaming story. A somehow continual truth. Separate shadows, all mixed together and suddenly, so you think: the real truth. Every deeply rooted fear, confirmed. No myths busted here.
He comes like a thief. Just like that. In the night.
He robs us so blind. Heart and soul and body and strength. Traitor.
I’m not more than eleven. Standing in my parent’s master bathroom, playing in makeup and playing dress-up with my younger sister. We take turns applying a wildly red lip. I catch my reflection and feel my heart shrivel. My mismatched eyes and my too-large-for-my-mouth front teeth break my tender dreams. I stand by the sink, transfixed at my sister’s reflection. Her naturally curly blonde hair, wild and beautiful around her eight-year old face. Her perfect rose-bud lips, bringing out the bright, almost other-worldly blue of her eyes. My hair hangs limp and dark and I’m only a little girl.
A lumpy bead on a necklace that begins to choke.
And then my baby sister is married at nineteen and I stand up with her on that June day and pin her bustle and hold her flowers. Later I hear how someone commented, “I always thought Leah was prettier, but I couldn’t take my eyes off Laura during the wedding.”
My heart jumped. Someone thought I was pretty! But then.... they had also thought I wasn’t.
The beads slide together. Clink loud. I swallow hard and feel the truth against my throat.
In my mid-twenties, another bead on the strand, words from a man, a good friend. He looks me full in the eyes, in the dimness of the moon and a street lamp and he says so tenderly, like he knew I must have been broken inside for so long, “I never could understand why they always said Leah was the pretty one.”
My heart thrilled. Hoped. And then drooped just a little... because even though a compliment was nice, the truth was that someone, multiple someones, had this thought. And felt free to share it. They didn’t see me as “the pretty one”.
Wow. Thanks for sharing that with me. I guess I am thankful I have my musical talent and good humor to fall back on.
I’ve spent a large part of my life (my whole life?) feeling insecure. Compared. Coming up short. I wasn’t brave and I wasn’t bold. I was skittish and anxiety-prone and beautifully introverted. I could write stories and draw pictures for days. If my heart was broken or confused or if I was battling anything, you would find me at the piano. Pounding it all out until it was gone. A prayer sent from my fingers to the keys and beyond. My Mom always said she knew when I was in need of time alone in the piano room. And I would come out changed. I would start out beating those keys to a loud, forceful death and eventually a sweetness, a gratitude almost, would emerge.
Words matter. Words become thoughts. Thoughts become beliefs about ourselves, about others. They propel actions, build up our own self-imposed righteousness. They define us. Good or bad, them or us, truth or lies, they wrap tight. Words can keep you bound forever. If you listen enough to the wrong song, you’ll grow up believing you’re lacking. That you’re weak. That you’re less. That people talk about you, that people compare you, that they tear you up one side and down the other, deciding what you’re worth.
Based on a face, a life, that God designed.
I think of all of this nearly every time I’m getting dolled up. When I apply a bright lip, I’m suddenly eleven and I never leave the house with that color on. It feels forced and scary and all I see is little-girl-Laura with her straight, straight hair and her awkward teeth and her not-quite-right-since birth green eyes. When I have a good hair day, I feel better. Bolder. Like I did on those days when I was told, “Actually, I think you’re the fairest one of all.”
We’ve probably all had moments in our life where we were made to feel wanting somehow. We didn’t get picked for the team. We couldn’t learn the coordinated moves for cheerleading fast enough. We never got off the bench. We were never allowed to swing the bat. We audition but don’t get the chance. We live fearful and small, convinced that’s all we are. We may bolster ourselves, “Well, at least I have a good career.” or “At least I graduated from a good school.” or “At least I know how to make a killer apple pie.”
If not... then, well, at the very least, I have this to show. This crummy medal. But it's something.
Our worth was never, ever meant to be based on our abs or lack thereof. Your ability to mother well has nothing to do with how fast (or even if) you drop the baby-weight. Your gifts may have nothing to do with what you actually know to do. Who can teach someone to be hospitable? To be heartfelt and encouraging? I might be able to make a mean meatloaf, but is that it? Am I really going to reduce myself down to a set list of talents?
Are we only about what we do? Is that how we define who we are?
Is that how we live?
No wonder we are scared and nervous. No wonder we aren’t courageous at all. You can’t live powerfully from a house of lies. You can’t pull from your looks (which fade) or your awesome pitching arm or your computer skills. You can’t dig roots deep into hairspray and makeup. You can’t build your house upon something so shifty and so fleeting as whatever the world cries is, “So NOW.”
Everywhere I aim to dig, let it be near You, Lord. Let me pull out a weed and drown my spade into earth that is rich with soil that will nourish me. That will make me grow. That will give me a new life. Let me struggle, if that’s what has to be done, so that my wild root can twirl and twine down into the earth You carved with Your mighty finger. Bury me so far down and so firm that it won’t ever matter what they say. That it won’t matter how mismatched my history, my story, the compliments may be. They can swing from one end of the spectrum to the other, but I will not be moved.
My truth, every dripping, sopping, bucket-over-my-head ounce of cold truth is that all my fountains... all my blessings, all my deepest bruises, all of my longings, every tiny twig of a dream: comes from You. And You alone can sustain it. Blossom it. Prune it back so that I’ll be ready for the next season. And the one after that.
I stake my claim right here. I’m not moving. I’m not perfect and airbrushed and I don’t have to be. Wasn’t made to be. I was made to be and do so much more than pull together a great outfit, stand still and look pretty. I won’t live another day not draining the life out of that ever-fountain. I will live thankful and brave. I won’t run scared.
I will grow strong and I will grow deep. Free indeed.
It's going to be something. And every kind of wild beautiful.
“She who reconciles the ill-matched
threads of her life, and weaves them
gratefully into a single cloth...
it’s she who drives the loudmouths
from the hall and clears it for a
different celebration where the one
guest is You.”
~ Rainer Marie Rilke