I bought a new shirt last week. I know, buying a new shirt is not really blog-worthy; but sometimes it is. You see, six months ago I wouldn’t have bought the shirt. Why? Because “they” might not like it. Who are “they”? Glad you asked.
I’m a theatre junkie. I’ve been known to say on more than one occasion that I wish life were like a musical. I spent my high school years on the stage. I’ve been cast in many parts. It’s fun assuming the personality of a fictional character, getting into costume, grabbing your props and standing beneath the spotlight. There’s nothing like the rush that comes from playing to a full house.
What I didn’t realize until just recently was that I wasn’t just a good actor on the stage, but I was a good actor off the stage as well. And my acting started way before high school.
As the first granddaughter I was adored. My grandmother insisted that I do all things girlie. There was much curling-of-the-hair, painting-of-the-nails and shopping for little frilly things. Then there was dance. I hated dance. Grace and poise were not traits I was born with. My feet and my brain share no connection and dance was a humiliating challenge for me. But I looked cute in my little tutu and when I stood on that stage grandma beamed. Winning her approval was worth any sacrifice. So I laced up my tap shoes and followed the spot light across the stage.
Manners mattered to her. Little girls should be dainty and pretty and poised. They should sit still, speak softly, hold their fork just so. They should say please and thank you and look you in the eye. They shouldn’t run or jump or be loud indoors. And so I performed for her. I became the sweet sophisticated little girl she desired.
As a child we lived pay check to pay check. Everyone who knows my mom would describe her as a hard worker. The oldest of six she started working to help put food on the table for her family at a very young age. As a mom she continued to work hard to provide for our family. She wanted more for her kids then working long hours at dead end jobs to just barely get by. She wanted us to be successful. To go to college. To achieve something with our lives.
So I became a diligent student. Advanced classes and high grades became the focus of my life. Science fair projects, essays, research, studying; they defined me as an older child into my teenage years. If there was a hoop, I would jump through it in attempt to please her.
I became “the smart one”. Teacher’s pet, nose in a book, asking for extra credit assignments... I played the part to the best of my ability. I graduated near the top of my class, earning many academic awards and a full scholarship to college. Mom was proud and I felt empty.
In junior high my circle of friends became solidified. I was the shy, quiet one, but the girls weren’t happy about my lack of social skills. They wanted to laugh and have fun and be silly. So I became the life of the party. I went to dances and sleepovers. Played spin the bottle and toilet papered houses. I took the classes they took. Ate what they ate. Wore what they wore. Conforming on the outside and cringing on the inside. It was worth it though, I was accepted, part of the group. I belonged.
Then there were the boys. With each new boyfriend I became a new me. Changing my personality and preferences to match whoever I was dating at the time. I seemed to be wearing a neon sign attracting boys who’s favorite line was “if you really love me you’ll…” I didn’t really love them, but I was desperate to be loved. Just like Maggie didn't know how she liked her eggs in Runaway Bride, I didn't know who I was in a relationship. So I became a chameleon girlfriend, and wife.
As a teenager I found God, and church, and new opportunities to perform. I learned the lingo, wore the t-shirt, and assumed the role of a good Christian girl. I conformed to the expectations of the church. I volunteered. Joined the choir. Read the latest Christian books. Amened whoever stood in the pulpit. And it worked. I was valued. I was accepted. I was approved.
With each new circumstance, each new relationship I walked out onto a stage and played a part, picking up cues as to how I should perform based on the characters sharing the stage with me. Always longing for approval, hungry for applause, I lived my life as if I were cast in a role desperate to delight the crowd.
Somewhere between the 5 year old little girl in tap shoes and tights and the 40 year old woman in a cardigan and heels I realized that my life doesn’t fit anymore. That’s the thing with costumes, unless you’re the leading lady of a hit Broadway production, costumes rarely fit right. They are generally random articles pulled and pieced together for the actor and the role at hand. Quiet often costumes are held together with safety pins and clips. Why? Because they were never meant for you. The same skirt for Anne of Green Gables to wear in the funeral scene will be used next season for the Wicked Witch of the West’s costume.
Costumes aren’t clothes. And characters aren’t real. And acting isn’t living.
The scariest, and most liberating, thing we will ever do is to walk out onto the stage of our lives as ourselves. Not pretending. Not faking. Not acting. Just being who we are. Flaws, and quirks and all.
“By God’s grace I am what I am, and His grace towards me was not ineffective.” 1 Corinthians 15:10
By God’s grace I am what I am. God’s unique creation. My life planned and formed by Him to be a reflection of His glory and grace. Why would I wear a costume created for someone else and assume the role of someone else when the Creator has already scripted a role for me to fill?
So… I bought a new shirt. Because my life doesn’t fit anymore. And I’m tired of wearing things picked out for me by other people just in hopes that they will be pleased with me. Because there is one who loves me just as I am. And His applause is enough for me.