When I was around 6-years old, I would imagine that I had curly blond ringlets and blue eyes (think Cindy Brady). My imagination was so proficient, I can remember being truly surprised to look in the long mirror in my parent’s bedroom and see my boring, brown helmet hair and doo-doo brown eyes staring back at me. What a disappointed and slightly delusional little girl I was!
My imagined identity was just that—imagined. In real life, I was (am) not a striking beauty, not athletic, not graceful, barely in the same species as a runway model. So as child with an active imagination, I would go to a place in my mind where my awkwardness was replaced with cool confidence. I may still do it from time to time. It’s called daydreaming and it’s pretty great.
If you ask a group of 4-year old girls to raise their hands if they think they’re beautiful or smart or fast runners, they’ll mostly all answer with an enthusiastic “yes!” But if you ask the same question to a group of 5th grade girls, you’ll get a lot fewer raised hands. Why is this? Logically-speaking, they should all be more of what they had been 5 or 6 years before, but they often don’t see it that way. These gangly, growing girls only see the flaws and the awkwardness.
As a 40-something year old woman it’s still difficult to not feel out of place in certain situations. But trying new things and putting yourself “out there” where you might fail can be a catalyst for growth.
In spite of what you might think, I’m actually an introvert. I like intimate gatherings above large groups. I like a quiet house with few distractions, although as a mom you have to learn to block out things if you want to ever get ANYTHING done. I am depleted by noise and activity and conversations with lots of people.
So as an introvert, I have to give myself little pep talks telling my “I-just-wish-I-were-home” self to take a chance and speak to a group or say hello to a new acquaintance whose name I can’t remember. Sometimes the reward for stepping outside my comfort zone is immediate and evident. Sometimes it’s a disaster in the produce aisle.
There was a teacher at my kids’ school who I didn’t know well and had trouble reading. In fact, we barely had occasion to speak. Then I saw her at the grocery store. I was in the produce section, picking out some cucumbers. I turned around just as she stepped forward. We exchanged brief greetings and she raised one arm for what I thought was a shoulder hug. I guess I should explain at this point that I am an introvert but I’m also a hugger which is maybe a strange combination. I went in to fully reciprocate that hug—both arms right around her midsection—feeling validated and loved and significant (did I also mention that I am a people-pleasing, middle child?) to someone who I was never sure how she felt about me. Instead of hugging me back, she reached up to tug down one of those plastic produce bags hanging above my head. She wasn’t so much looking for a hug but more like looking for the perfect bell pepper. It was a bit awkward.
I look back at that one (of many!) awkward interactions, and I have to say that I am weirdly proud of myself. I hugged a non-hugger and lived to tell about it. I’m hoping I took a step closer to becoming who I’m supposed to be, even if it was painful.
One of my all-time favorite chapters in the Bible is Psalm 139. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful; I know that full well.”
I love the imagery of God creating us in this special place—a dark and cozy womb. Then what happens next? Our messy and—if we’re being completely honest—gross birth. We all start off in this same way: slimy and bloody and messy. And things will continue to be messy off and on for as long as we’re here. We make mistakes. We feel pain. We shed tears. We stretch and grow and all the while we can live with the assurance that we were fearfully and wonderfully made. What we see as awkward, God may see as progress, purpose, possibility.