Why work so hard to fit in when you were called to be set apart?
(2 Corinthians 6:17)
I recently went on an all-day shopping excursion with one of my very best friends and our daughters. Girls Day Out. It was a wonderful day of shopping for school clothes, catching up over dinner, and then shopping some more. I had a fabulous time reconnecting with my friend and watching our girls bond. We made some new memories and enjoyed spending the day together. We discussed what was going on in our lives and the girls talked about the pressures of growing up. We laughed and we shared. It was only through time and experience that relationships grew and prospered and we knew that it was time well spent.
It was wonderful but my feet were tired by the end of the day. I sat on a bench at the mall, stretched my legs, and circled my ankles. I looked down at my shoes. They were old. Though still in good shape, the shoes showed signs of wear. There was a spot on the heel that was beginning to come off the sole. The shoelace sometimes popped out of the top hole and had to be laced again. The tread was worn along the outer edges of the soles. A few scuffs marked the toe, and the backs of the shoes were bent inward from sticking my feet in them like sandals when I was in a hurry. There were probably thousands of that particular shoe, made by that same company, in that blue-grey color in a size 7; but none of them would fit my foot like these ones did. No one else could slip their foot into my shoe and find that their toes sunk into the grooves worn into the insoles; that the back of the shoe hugged their heel like it did mine. Those were my shoes. They had taken shape because of the steps I had taken.
I remembered a day when an older gentleman was sitting in the waiting room of the cancer center with a clipboard and a stack of brochures, telling patients about a program that assisted cancer patients with non-medical tasks. I wondered why he never came over to me; but after my nurse called me back to the lab for blood work and I returned to the waiting room with my sleeve rolled up, gauze and tape on my arm, the man came over and apologized for not realizing I was a patient. He assumed I was waiting for someone. I took his brochure and explained that I didn’t need the services. As he left, he apologized again for not coming over sooner and told me that I didn’t look like a cancer patient.
In some ways, that made me feel good. I didn’t look like what people thought a cancer patient looked like. I didn’t fit the mold. That was what I wanted, right? I didn’t want to walk around with the word ‘cancer’ stamped on my forehead. I didn’t want my disease to define me. I didn’t want to wear cancer like a glove (or a well-fitting shoe).
In so many ways, I didn’t fit into a mold. As a child, I never had a particular ‘group’ of friends but I talked to everyone. As I got older, I preferred social outings with individuals over a large gathering. When I moved to the city, my small town attributes were often pointed out by my new friends. I never watched the television shows that ‘everyone’ watched and usually picked the movies that never sold out. I loved music but hated crowds at concerts. I never cared about the new trends. I was a cancer patient but I didn’t look like one. When I stopped working, I didn’t fit in with the stay-at-home Moms, but I never really fit in with the working Moms either. My kids were in sports and activities but I usually sat away from the crowd at practices and games. I loved to write and expressed my opinion easily through the written word; but hated attention and remained quiet in a group of people. I loved to throw a party but was never the ‘life’ of one. I was a faithful Christian and often times, within a group of peers, my perspective was different from others. I enjoyed going out with friends and attending social events; but more often than not, I couldn’t wait to get home. I was always up for an adventure; but was just as happy to spend the evening on the couch with a good book. I excitedly made plans for the upcoming weekend; but silently celebrated if those plans fell through. If I was an item in a department store, I believe I might have been marked ‘slightly irregular’.
I didn’t easily fit into specific categories but I never felt ‘left out’. I credited my parents for that. Growing up, I told my Mom everything and as I filled her in on all the drama of my school days; she told me things like, “Just because they act like they are better than you doesn’t mean they are.’ or ‘When someone says something about you, it says more about them than you’ or ‘None of this will matter after high school’. Even though I was too young to grasp the gravity of some of her statements; I took them to heart. Because of her words, I was able to wait out the nonsense, knowing that things would get better. My Dad was more direct and maybe a little harsher in his advice. He told me things like “You give the same respect to the janitor that you give the CEO and you better expect that same respect in return” and “Don’t let anyone look down on you or make you feel unimportant” and ‘Don’t be afraid to speak your opinion, even when others don’t want to hear it”. Just like my Mom’s advice, I didn’t understand fully what my Dad told me until I got older; but it was sound advice, and it had replayed in my ears countless times.
I was so very grateful to my parents for instilling that worldly confidence in me. They taught me to believe in myself. They taught me to not allow the opinions of others to have an impact on my own opinion, especially my opinion of myself. They taught me that I was okay just the way I was and that I could do anything I wanted to do. When my friends didn’t act like friends; when the invitation didn’t come; when I didn’t do as well as I would have liked – I might have been upset, but I wasn’t devastated. I might have taken a punch; but I was never down for the count. That was because of the lessons my parents taught me. I can’t think of a more precious gift that parents could give their children than the permission and the blessing to be exactly who and what their child wanted to be. I was eternally grateful to them for that.
For the Spirit of God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7)
Not everyone grew up with the support of two loving parents. Not everyone had people cheering them on every step they took. That didn’t mean they were on their own. That same confidence was found in God’s love. God created us to be special and unique. The world tried to sway us, to manipulate us, and to change us. We became molded into what the world wanted, what others wanted, or even what we thought we wanted. We judged our worth by the value others placed on us. We looked at ourselves through the lens of the outside world; instead of looking at ourselves as God viewed us. Without that confidence in ourselves, without that knowledge that we were exactly who God wanted us to be; we could so easily be transformed into what the world said we were supposed to be. When God made us perfect in His eyes, why would we want to be anything else?
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
How much easier it was to just be ourselves! How much easier it was when we didn’t have to fake it! How much easier it was when we realized the love God had for us, just as we were, right then at any given moment. How much easier it was when we could walk around in our own skin like we walked around in a pair of comfortable shoes!
We all walked a different path. As we traveled, our feet got sore. Our feet blistered. Our feet stumbled when we got tired. Our shoes got dirty and worn out; but as they did, they also got worn in. They got comfortable. Somewhere along the winding path, through the hills and the valleys; those shoes that rubbed and cut into our skin also started to mold, to form, and to fit us just right.
That was life.
We laughed and we cried. We rejoiced and we suffered. The things that happened to us made us who we were today. Sometimes, we buried our experience deep inside; like the grooves in the insoles of our shoes. Sometimes we got bumped and scraped on the outside; like the scuff marks that blemished our shoes. We showed our ‘wear and tear’ in different ways. No matter how we looked on the outside, no one knew our story. No one knew the road we traveled, the hills we climbed, the hurts we suffered. Only God knew all of our troubles; but He was also pleased with the lessons we learned along the way.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. (2 Corinthians 4:17)
Sometimes, we suffered loss – of loved ones, of dreams, of pieces of ourselves – and things changed. Like that lace on my shoe that slipped out of the top hole, sometimes things unraveled; but when we held on tight to our faith and wrapped ourselves in the love God showed us; we could put the pieces back together again. The more we walked and the more we experienced; the more comfortable in our shoes and in our skin we became. What we looked like on the outside didn’t matter. When we walked a rough path, we stumbled along the rocks and slipped as we desperately tried to find our footing. Our shoes became covered in scuff marks and scrapes and dirt and mud. When we walked along a sandy shore, our shoes escaped visible wear and tear, but sand still settled into the bottoms of our shoes and rubbed and irritated our feet. Either way, we endured the journey, accepted our fate, and carried on. The difficulties we faced along our way weren’t always seen on the outside but they became a part of us.
We lived, we learned, and we survived. It was our experience and struggle that settled us into our shoes with the confidence to be the person we were meant to be. Those experiences were often painful; but, in the end, the suffering had a purpose, the uncertainty turned into strength. A veteran explorer set out for a long expedition in many ways. He studied the trail, prepared for difficulties, and packed necessary supplies…and he wore broken-in shoes. The explorer wanted to arrive at his destination as safely and, preferably, as quickly as possible.
When we walked our journey, we didn’t worry about our destination or how quickly we arrived there. In our case, the destination was far greater than we ever imagined. We were more focused on the journey. We were meant to take bold steps and to leave an imprint on this world just as our toes left grooves in the soles of our shoes. We withstood the scrapes and the things that left us broken; and our resolve prepared us to navigate rough terrain ahead. God didn’t place us on this earth to stand still. He placed us on this earth to travel, to learn, and to spread His message, and to help others; but we couldn’t prepare for our journey — our journey is what prepared us.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God promised to those who love him. (James 1:12)
My path had not been easy, but I was grateful for the strength, faith, and patience I had learned through my experiences. God showed me mercy in the valleys and brought me joy in the mountains.
It might have been a pretty rough road and it might have taken me a little while; but I picked up something else along the way ….
some very comfortable shoes!
How about you?
Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.