Have you ever found yourself on the outside looking in? For me, it’s been like that most of my life.
I never really felt like I fit in. In elementary school, the left-out feelings were fleeting, but they became traumatic in high school. Traumatic may be a bit strong, but I use it because, even to this day, I still get nervous when I know I am going to be around the in crowd. You know the group. They always seemed to have the best of everything — the best clothes, the coolest shoes, the right accessories and perfect make-up. They always seemed to laugh and have fun together. It was like living in an 80s movie, in the 80s.
They were the cheerleaders, the sorority girls, the popular girls. All the teachers loved them, the students loved them, and I loved them and wanted to be one of them. But I just could not make it happen. I felt inferior. I didn’t have the perfectly shaped body. I was more like a popsicle stick, tall and skinny and flat.
Even my hair was flat.
When all my friends had 80s big hair, I had flat-head syndrome. While all the other girls were getting spiral perms and highlights, I was at my mother’s friend’s beauty salon receiving the cheaper perm you could purchase at the nearest Wally World, and being told, “Your hair is too thick for a spiral perm.” Apparently, the thickness worked great with the cheaper version, as I ended up looking like chia pet. Not quite the look I was going for.
I survived the 80s hair problems and today, I might add, I have pretty great hair. I am pretty sure it has something to do with the fact that I did not get spiral perms or highlights in the 80s.
My being-on-the-outside feelings continued after graduation. My few friends went away to college and I stayed behind and worked. My family couldn’t afford to send me to college, and I had spent so much time trying to be in the in crowd, I didn’t pour all I had into my studies. No scholarship for me. I was truly my own worst enemy.
I met someone from another school who seemed pretty popular. He really liked me, and I fell head over heels for him. I felt like I had to keep his attention so he would accept me. I made poor choices and found myself pregnant and alone at 19.
My family, though terribly disappointed, loved me unconditionally. They supported me and my beautiful princess for five years. During those five years, I dove into my relationship with Jesus. I truly wanted to figure out just why I was created. What was my purpose?
I started focusing more on Him and less on them. Slowly, He began to change me from the inside out. I began to allow Him to use me to build others up. I gained my confidence in Him. I was able to speak up and out and share my stories with others. It was a slow change. Even though I knew I had a purpose and knew He would give me the strength to live it out, I still allowed myself to feel inferior to the in crowd.
My now husband, Mike, adopted my little girl one year after we were married. Two years later we had a son. As our children grew up, in the same town where I had grown up, I swore I would never let them feel the way I felt. I wanted them to jump in and get involved in everything possible. However, Mike and I worked out of town and weren’t able to participate in many school activities during or right after school. We barely made it to class plays, class parties and sporting events. When we did, I still felt even as an adult like I was on the outside looking in. And I was an adult!
In a crowd of people I had known my entire life, I felt alone. I could see the interaction and hear the chatting, but it was as if I were behind a glass wall. Whether watching our daughter at a dance recital or at the ballpark sitting on the bleachers with all the parents watching our son play ball, I felt invisible. It was a sickening feeling. On the ride home I would whine, complain and sometimes cry.
Mike would say, “Why don’t you just speak up? Be yourself?” But I was just so afraid I would be rejected by the in crowd.
I honestly can’t tell you the day the fear left; in fact, it still creeps up from time to time. I just know that when I talked to a good friend about my fear several years ago, she said, “Susan, God put you here for His purpose, not to fit in.”
In fact, more than one friend told me that. So I changed my focus. I began living out His purpose for my life and started reaching out to those who shared their own fears with me. I felt my fear lessen. His strength got me through my weakest moments. The more I trusted Him, the less I needed to be accepted by them. The more I spoke of His great love and acceptance of me, even at my weakest point, the more confident I became.
Today, I no longer feel like I am on the outside looking in. I feel like most everyone else is on the outside, and I want desperately to bring them in — into the Kingdom. Being in the Kingdom is my purpose now.
And I am not afraid.
[Image via Thomas Leuthard/Flickr]