Fitting In

I have been inundated with school here lately. It began last week when I was taken back to my past… when I remembered who I was and how I felt so long ago. And so, I wrote about it late Wednesday night. And then, I was there. Whereas earlier in the week, the roaming of halls took place only in my mind, it was Thursday and Friday that my size nines actually made contact with real cement and real tile and real hallways. I was physically there… within the walls of where my insecurity first took root. See, there was a field trip and Dare Day, and I didn’t want to miss a thing. But… a funny thing happened. It was in going to face my present (outings with my son), that I ran straight into my past. And the new me was confused when confronted by the old me that showed up through a connection with old acquaintances.

You know, I’m figuring out that the very things I face at forty are the same things I faced as a young girl. Although shaded differently, they’re the same circumstances nonetheless. And I believe there’s a part of the old me that God wants me to meet head-on. Because somehow, I’ve carried that part of me deep inside all these years. And I am just now fully realizing how deeply ingrained it is. And it took coming face to face with some old friends for me to see it. See, I was so surprised at how I felt last week… so shocked at my uncomfortable feelings. And the truth is… I felt plain scared. And worried. The truth is… I cared about what someone else would think about me. And so, the truth is… I have not changed one bit from when I was young and wished desperately to fit in. The truth is, I still care way too much about what people think about me. And that should not be so for a child of God.

It was my last couple of years in high school that I went through some drastic changes. I didn’t know who I was, and so, I tried out another group to see if I fit. And because that group was a bit odd, it didn’t really matter who I was with them. Because they didn’t seem to care about status or popularity or clothing. They were the artists, the intellects, the deep thinkers, the musicians… you know, the unusual crowd. And so, I tried to find my place among them when I was seventeen or so. Eventually, I left town at nineteen (trying out another group – the United States Air Force), to see if I fit in there. It was my last year in the service that I met my husband, and it was through Him that I met the Lord. Because of my husband, I finally found my true fit. But it was last week that I found out the truth about me… and about my true fit. And what I realized is that if I’m not careful, I can be no different than the elite cliques I encountered in high school. Here’s what happened…

I saw a girl who looked familiar. She has beautiful eyes and a pretty smile, and although I had seen her several times before this past year, it was only last week that I decided to take a closer look. And sure enough, I knew her. Not well… just an acquaintance… but enough so that I felt the urge to speak to her. But I was hesitant… I held back. Because, well, she looks nothing like me. She is covered with tattoos from head to toe. And she dresses completely different than I do. But alas, I plunged ahead and spoke to her anyway. And it was nice. However, she remembers me… the old me. And the truth is, she doesn’t really know the new me. And so, as we stood there talking, I was thinking, “How do I do this?” I wondered why it should be so hard to talk to someone I once had a link to. But I knew. I knew it’s because I am different than who I once was. And I didn’t want someone to see the new me talking to someone that knew the old me. I didn’t want someone to think that I was still the same. And the ugly part of that is, I was judging someone based on appearance. And the really ugly part of that is, I thought that someone would judge me and who I was with because I have felt compelled to do the same. How quick I have been to form opinions of those I encounter simply by the clothes they wear or the placement of a piercing.

It was Friday morning that I ran into yet another old friend. And this one, too, has some tattoos and piercings and looks slightly different than my current fit. And then up walks the other acquaintance who is covered with tattoos, and there we stood having a conversation. Please don’t misunderstand me… I am not saying there’s anything wrong with tattoos. I have a small one myself… it’s just that, well, frankly, I tend to hang out with people who look similar to me. And so, I was very aware of how I looked (denim capris and mom top with Teva flip-flops), alongside two very alternative looking women. Honestly, they looked cool with their hair swept back in scarves and bandanas, and I looked so plain in comparison. And that’s when it happened… a woman from my church walked by. And I cringed inside. I worried about what she was thinking. I wondered what she thought about me speaking with two women who look so different from myself… and from her. And today, well, I am ashamed at that line of thinking. Because it’s today that I realize… I’m part of a clique, right? If I am so concerned that I should not stray away from the ones who look just like me then I am just like the ones from my high school days, right? You know, the ones who belonged to the elite group. The ones who didn’t allow just anyone in. The ones who believed themselves to be perfect… and that everyone else was so far beneath them. That’s me, right? And so, I am astounded at this newfound knowledge. I have become what I so longed to be a part of, and yet, I so disdained in high school. I have become rigid in my thinking. And so, I just have to ask myself, “What would Jesus do?”

After these things He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him.  Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, “Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Luke 5:27-32

Jesus would have dined with those who didn’t look like Him. He would have had conversations with those that didn’t quite fit in. And more importantly, Jesus wouldn’t have cared to fit in with the in-crowd. See, the popular ones of His day were the scribes and the Pharisees. They were the cool kids (so to speak), and they called the shots. They did things to get noticed and took seats in high places. And don’t even think about trying to sit with them at their table. If you managed to get close enough, they probably would sentenced you to stoning before even knowing your name. Because, well, you just wouldn’t have cut it. Because you wouldn’t have fit into their mold. Condemnation, and not mercy, was the rule of their day.

And so, the answer is… Jesus simply wouldn’t have fit in. And He didn’t. And He stood out because of it. And as for me? Well, I’m working on that. Perhaps in the near future, I won’t fit in either. And perhaps I’ll finally just not care what other people think. Because the truth is, if you’re simply trying to appease everyone else… and if you’re trying really hard to fit in… well, there’s a very good chance that you’re not pleasing God. And as far is fitting in… well, His opinion is the only one that matters. The question to ask is, do you fit in with Him?

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

History repeats itself… or so I’ve heard.

History repeats itself, right? A popular saying that originated from I don’t know where, but I’ve heard it from more than one person. So it must be true, right? Yes, history repeats. The newest saying I’ve heard more than one time is insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but hoping for a different result. Well… if that’s true, then quite clearly, I’m insane. Because after reviewing my journal from 2010, and comparing it to where I am today, I am doing the same thing again and again. And no surprise, the end result is always the same. The most damning piece of evidence was laid bare yesterday morning. The truth is, I hurt my son. It wasn’t a big hurt, but when it comes down to it, a hurt is a hurt – big or small. It happened during the mad dash of getting ready for school. Time just got away from me, and I cut it so close that I had to dress my son. Because bless his little soul, he only moves at one speed called “taking his time.” As I hastily pulled up his jeans, I felt resistance but tugged anyway. Well, his little foot was caught and it hurt him. And so, because I neglected to manage my time, I caused my son pain in the ensuing madness. And honestly, I think his feelings were hurt more than anything. Obviously, I felt like the worst mother in the whole world. And do you want to hear the most awful part? It was a couple of hours later as I perused through my old journal notes of September 15, 2010 that I realized this wasn’t the first time I had done this.  I read my own confession: “rushed and hurt my son.” It’s a fact that I had the same encounter with my son two and a half years later. Thus, it is a proven truth… history does repeat itself. I felt like a terrible mother then, and I feel like one now. And because I am doing the same thing over and over again (rushing in the morning, but hoping for a different outcome), some would classify me as insane. And I would have to agree with them.

If I’ve learned anything in my journey with God, it’s that there are no coincidences.  And when He wants you to see something about yourself, He’ll bring it right to you. He’ll show you a picture of yourself that you cannot deny. My reflected image came by way of a piece of pottery of all things. It’s the bowl I described in “A Bowl Girl.” I realize that I am the bowl. Just not as it is in its present condition. In no way do I resemble that bowl as it rests on my countertop reflecting rays of light. No, I resemble the bowl as it looked some months ago… when it was high and lifted up on the top of my fridge, collecting so much dust that even if the light had reached its surface, it wouldn’t have glimmered at all. Yes, I am just like that bowl when it was on display… just like a Pharisee. And so, I cannot say I was too surprised when I found notes in my old journal that could have been written by my own hand today. Everything that’s happening in my life today is mimicking what took place then. Again, it is proven… history repeats itself. Because I am struggling with the same thing over and over again. As always, same outcome. This is insanity.

Yesterday morning, I wondered about my being a Pharisee and a hypocrite. Because I had confronted that particular issue last year. And through reviewing my very old journal, it appears it was my struggle two and a half years ago, too. And until this past week, I didn’t really think I was a Pharisee… again. And as I ponder my past, it becomes clear how I arrived to today… to insanity. See, I am a legal assistant and work for a lawyer. The law is important. I’ve always been a rule-follower at heart. Even as a teen and young adult (when I got into things I shouldn’t), deep down I had fear because I knew there was a right and wrong. My fear was that I would get into trouble for breaking rules. And so years later, after I became His and when I finally came to a point in which I was desperate to know God, I sought knowledge. Basically, I wanted to know what His rules were. Because rules I could follow. And although seeking God’s law is not a bad thing, it can be dangerous for someone like me… a rule follower. Because acquired knowledge can cause someone like me to become arrogant and a know-it-all. It can cause someone like me to be prideful. From experience, I know one can begin adhering to one’s own set of scales of justice. And woe to anyone who falls short, because judgment will follow. I know, because this is exactly what happened to me then, it’s what happened to me a year ago, and apparently, it’s happened to me recently. I cannot deny my own handwriting. And so there’s no denying that I am a modern day Pharisee, repeating the history of Pharisees (religious leaders) from long ago. My attitude no different than theirs, and this is insanity!

Pharisees knew the law better than anyone else, and they followed it to the letter… but, their heart’s were unmoved. Pharisees lacked mercy, and when they came face to face with Jesus, they didn’t know Him and His righteousness. Because they had their own self-righteousness. And this is what Jesus had to say to or about them: they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, they despised others, they exalted themselves and thus were abased, they were those who justified themselves before men (but God knew their hearts), they were lovers of money and turned their noses up at Jesus, and they held to what was highly esteemed before men (but was, and is, an abomination before God). A Pharisee knew God’s greatest commandment was to love God above EVERYTHING, and to love his neighbor as himself… but he wanted to clarify and dispute and test Jesus and justify himself. The Pharisee said, “And who is my neighbor?” It’s evidenced that he knew the correct answer when Jesus asked “who was neighbor to him who fell?” The Pharisee said, “He who showed mercy on him.” But head knowledge does not always reach the heart.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be abased, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:10-14

You know, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisee lacked conviction. Because in his eyes, he did no wrong. And it was two and a half years ago when I asked the question within my journal, “Am I a hypocrite… a Pharisee?” One of the most condemning phrases I found to confirm my suspicion was “lack of conviction.” At that time, I knew I judged people. And yet, rather than feel bad about it, I felt justified in my thinking. Because I thought they didn’t measure up. Remember… the Pharisee adhered to his own set of scales.

Like a Pharisee, I know God’s commands and can follow all the outward rules. I can appear very devout, but what about my insides… what about my heart? Like a Pharisee, I am often unmoved, unloving and unmerciful. I’m just like that bowl I kept way up high on the fridge. It was there for display only… cold and hard to the touch. The bowl didn’t know it was useless up high. The Pharisees didn’t know they were useless to God either. And until now, I thought I was. But, history repeats… it’s insanity.

When I was a young girl, my grandfather, Eddie, used to call out to me, “Whoa, Pam!” Sounds similar to what Jesus called out to the Pharisees, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Maybe Eddie wasn’t simply calling to me after all… perhaps God gave him insight as to what my future held, and just maybe he was calling out warning instead, “Woe, Pam!” The good news is, whether then or now, I’ve been warned. Because today is the day I see. And the truth is, it’s not at all about history repeating itself… or being insane. Quite frankly, it’s called lack of repentance. It’s called choosing to live in sin. Because to him who knows to do good, and doesn’t… it is sin. In His mercy, God showed me then, and again today. I can no longer deny the truth of what I am… a hypocrite and a Pharisee. This was true two and a half years ago, it was true a year ago… and it’s true again today. I’ve been doing the same thing again and again, hoping for another outcome. They say that’s insanity but today I know better. And the good news is, history does not have to repeat itself. He gives us the choice. And so, I know what I must do… it’s time to stop the insanity… it’s time to REPENT.