So you know how when you’re a kid, you can’t wait to move onto the next stage? Specifically if you grew up in church, do you remember being in 6th grade just completely stoked to leave the kids department and go into the youth department?
I didn’t want to do that. I dreaded joining the youth department. I loved Girls in Action (G.A.s) on Wednesday nights where we learned about missionaries. I had wonderful Sunday school teachers. I just loved everything about the Children’s Department and did not want to leave. I can’t really remember why I dreaded leaving except that I was comfortable where I was and was shy and insecure. But time marches on. “Ready or not, here I come,” said the youth group. And so I went.
In spite of my fears, I had a pretty great Sunday school class. I still missed G.A.s but I adjusted. Things weren’t great but I made do. Still, I never felt like I quite fit in because I was homeschooled and unathletic in a group where the majority went to the same school and several were passionate about sports. My talents were (and are) more private and less showy. I was a voracious reader and often knew more about the Bible than adults I was around. I loved being creative and using words. I was into theater and music not being athletic. Subsequently, I often felt overlooked, but I was close to a few other quiet, unathletic girls.
Then sometime when I was in the 7th or 8th grade, my church youth group ran a contest to name our youth group. If your idea was picked, you won a free trip to a theme park for you and a friend during the next youth trip.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a contest at any other time in my life. I was on fire to create a name for the youth group. Not because I cared about the prize but because it gave me the chance to use my talent to stand out and be seen and noticed and accepted the way the athletic, outgoing students were every week. Finally, this was my chance to shine and use my love of words and puns and my extensive knowledge of the Bible. Unlike playing put out in the gym after church, this was something I was good at. It was my domain.
So create I did. I think I came up with 42 names. I don’t remember for sure but I know I made a folder of ideas, and the names were divided into categories. I came up with silly ones, serious ones, biblical ones, song inspired ones and acronyms.
I only have vague memories of them but I’m pretty sure there were some solid choices in there. But since it was approximately 10 years ago, I asked my mom if she remembered if they were good or not. Her immediate response, “Yes. Impressive even.” Take it with a grain of salt since she gave birth to me, but my mom has never been one to sugarcoat the truth or think I’m flawless. She’s told me where I need to work on things. I’ve done things where she’s told me not to get my hopes up because I’m not going to win. So chances are some of the entries were decent—good even.
I was so excited to turn my entries in, sure that one of them would win. There were somewhere around 70 entries which gave me around a 1 in 2 shot. Then came the big reveal, and it wasn’t me; I wasn’t chosen.
I didn’t even get second place.
The creator of the winning entry was anonymous and the second runner-up was an older, more popular youth group member.
I was devastated. The grief I felt over this as a 13-year-old seems to need a bigger word than “devastated.” I was wrecked by a chasm of darkness. I was forlorn and hopeless and in retrospect, I felt worthless by comparison. As a writer, every word I form is infused with a bit of my soul. It’s a hard but manageable amount of vulnerability at 23. It was unspeakably traumatizing at 13. It crushed my soul a little bit. I believed the lies my hurt said:
“Your creativity is not valuable.
It is not needed here.
Quit trying to be seen.
To be more.
You are only worthy if you are loud or good at things other people value.
Your words aren’t worthwhile.”
And now I spend time every week with 10-15 ten-year-old girls. They are full of life and sweet and kind. Their personalities are wildly different and unique and all so worthwhile. I see them look to me for approval, to be noticed, to be loved. And I hope that they all feel noticed and loved by me because they all have special places in my heart.
But I worry for them. I worry for what is coming. I do not want these girls to experience the heartbreak of puberty I went through. I want church to be a safe place where they are polished into gems, not a place where they let their souls get crushed even a little bit.
I want to tell the loud one not to listen to the voices that tell her to be quiet and sit down. I want to tell her she is a force to be reckoned with and that she can use her voice for good in the world. She does not need to fit into the box society has prescribed for her.
I want to tell the quiet one that her sweet spirit is wonderful and a needed balm in our loud, over the top world. I want to tell her there’s nothing wrong with standing back and observing life at her own pace.
But most importantly, I want to tell each of them that life will be hard and try to break their spirit in unexpected ways, but they can look to Jesus and find their worth there. They can serve him with their creativity, loudness, quietness, quirkiness, normalness. They can serve him with whatever he has given them.
I am trying but it may not stick. Hormones, peer pressure and insecurities may outweigh my kind words, so this is for the 13-year-old in me and the 13-year-old in you.
Your differences are worth exploring. Do not try to fit into the box they give you if it’s not right for you. Use it as a table or a stepping stool or a chair. Paint it. Make it yours.
Tell yourself it’s okay to be emotional and get your feelings hurt as long as you learn from it and use it for good.
Quit chasing popularity. Just quit right now.
Go, do and be what sets your soul on fire.
Explore your individuality rather than trying to fit in.
I was always meant to be a writer for God. That incident couldn’t stop me any more than health problems could stop my sister from becoming a medical professional. It’s what we are called to do and God will make a way.
For a while, I let that experience and other things inhibit my creativity. But then one year for Christmas a boyfriend gave me a journal. I wrote letters to him in it. I journaled about my love and learned who I was through words. And when we broke up, I did the same thing. I wrote through my hurt. I wrote the words until the words became bigger than I was. I wrote until I became a writer again. And let me tell you, my dears, being who God created you to be is much better than fitting in the box society gives you.