Tag Archives: identity

When It’s Not Safe To Be You

 We have learned to be the greatest pretenders from the moment we wake till the moment we lay our head down.

photo cred: Art of Street

photo cred: Art of Street

On some days I let myself go there.

I unwind all the pretense and crack open the door to fresh air. Crisp thinking that hasn’t been judged by years of experience and well-meaning advice. All the voices along the way who have confirmed to me what I always suspected. What I always dreaded.

It is not safe to be me.

A scene went down when I was fourteen and it replayed through my mind for years. I was on the lawn of my church with another friend who happened to like the same boy I did. Let’s call the boy we liked “Josh” and my friend who liked him too “Amy”. We were outside obeying Josh’s friends who told us to go wait for them because they had something to tell us.

I remember standing there on the grass trying to stomach what I knew was probably coming. In true teenage fashion, some of our friends had taken it upon themselves to mention to Josh’s friends that Amy and I thought Josh was cute.

Now, let me say this. I wasn’t even allowed to date. I just thought the boy was cute. Which was big for me to admit because I was never the girl picked. I stood on the sidelines of my eighth grade dance never – not even once – being asked to dance the whole night. I’d like to submit a motion that we do away with junior high dances altogether.

When our friends mentioned that we both thought Josh was cute and told his friends not to say anything, they didn’t exactly follow instructions. Off they went to spread the word of our attraction to none other than Josh himself. Which can I just say, in hindsight is hilarious because Josh wasn’t really attractive or cool. I prefer to chalk that crush up to groupthink gone wrong.

Next thing we know, Amy and I were outside waiting to meet with Josh’s friends. Awesome.

A crew of boys came bounding down the stairs with smiles on their faces. “We talked to Josh.”, said the ring leader of this motley crew. ” Told him that both of you think he is cute. And guess what? He thinks one of you is cute too. But just one.”

I’m sure you can guess where this is going.

“So, Josh wants to talk to the girl he thinks is pretty.”. Josh’s friend continued, ” …and it’s not YOU!”.

As the words fell out of his mouth, he turned to me and his finger pointed right at my face. It wasn’t me.

Just like that my friend Amy squealed and ran inside to meet Josh. I stayed there on the lawn alone watching the swarm of them rush back up the stairs. I didn’t cry. I just swallowed it. And then – as easy as that – those words became something I carried around in me for a long time after.

It’s not me.

The sentence rattled through my mind over the next decade. Who I am is not enough compared to who they are. It isn’t safe to put myself out there because it will neither be wanted nor valued.

Fast-forward to college. I had a friend who I had been close to for years. Hours of conversations about dreams and hopes had been invested into our friendship.

One evening she sat me down and told me something that shocked me like nothing else had.

She thought I had a mental illness. I had let someone into the inner workings of my mind and instead of seeking to understand, they judged. And I felt betrayed in a way that shattered so many things I once had thought to be stable. I was embarrassed and exposed.

I bawled for days.

It’s not me. I’m not the one with the beautiful ideas or creative mind. I am the girl who sounds crazy – who no one will ever believe in. It isn’t safe to be me.

There are few things which can create such a desperate feeling inside as when being yourself doesn’t feel safe. If your ideas scare people, your motives are misunderstood and your actions continually rejected then you slowly begin to morph into something that feels less painful.

Something other than yourself. It holds the illusion of safety. Like an internal Switzerland.

And so all the walls go up to shut out the haters. We put on masks so the one pointing the finger saying “It’s Not You” can’t find us. We put our best foot forward trying not to mis-step and bring attention the person that actually lives inside of us.

It is in that place of hiding the miraculous happens. God seeks us out. He finds us. He heals us. Our terror is exchanged for a holy confidence. The whispering lie of  “It’s Not You” is replaced with a steel reinforced truth. That you are fearfully and wonderfully made. That you have in fact, been chosen.

To all of you, who like me, have learned to wear the disguise and cover up the authentic. Who are afraid that the things inside you are not enough or the way you think is overwhelming.

Those of you who don’t feel like you have an invitation with your name on it… Welcome to the world of doers and dreamers.

It may not be safe out here this side of heaven, but we can’t let the words of people shut us down. The world needs people who are willing to take risks and love even when it hurts. Don’t back down. Light up. Dream harder. Go bigger. You’ve been created by a Maker who has your back. With Him you are always safe.

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Filed under Faith, Fire, My Life Thus Far, something bigger, Uncategorized, Whimsy

A silver box came from Russia. What was in it made me cry.

Sometimes we create our story, and other times it creates us…

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I was just like every other kid in junior high. Twelve year old Liz with big red glasses, shoulder length sandy blonde hair and teeth that were begging for some braces. My arms and legs were too lanky for my body and everything I did was awkward. Painfully awkward.

I was just like any other junior higher, except for one thing. I lived in Irkutsk, Russia. My family moved to Siberia when I was eleven and it remained my home until I was thirteen. Those long Siberian winters and their stories are preserved deep in this soul. The food, the smells, the sights. The people. Mostly the people.

I don’t think you could separate those experiences from me. They are so woven into my perspective, thoughts and dreams that to remove them would be to unravel me altogether. Russia marked me.

But something has happened since I’ve moved back. More and more years have gone by since those days, and it seems smaller and smaller. Not to me. Never smaller to me. But when people learn that I used to live there, I get riddled with questions. And the answers go something like this:

I only lived there for two years. 

No, I don’t really speak Russian anymore. If I am around it then it will come back, but sadly I am no longer fluent at the drop of a hat.

Umm, no. No I haven’t gone back. Yea, I know it was a long time ago.

I bet you are right. A lot has probably changed since I’ve been there.

Oh, really? You lived in Spain for eight years. Yeah, I’d love to hear about it. 

At the end of the conversation I am left feeling a bit small. Like people expected more from me. Or I am surrounded by people who have lived overseas longer, currently speak Russian or have visited since I lived there years ago. I don’t remember the answers to their questions. Suddenly, I feel a bit disqualified. Probably like a guy who played junior high football would feel surrounded by college players. Still a football player – but not really compared to them.

And it hurts when something so significant to you seems insignificant to someone else. So I don’t bring it up all the time. I hate feeling that it wasn’t that big of a deal. So I hold it tucked next to my heart and only share it with the people who make it that close.

But yesterday something happened.

A friend of ours, Ryan, visited Russia this summer on a mission trip. While there he spent time in Irkutsk and he came back with a gift for me – a gift from Natasha. After trying to figure out which Natasha, cause there are like a billion of them there, I learned it was from my friend who lived near us in our first apartment. She was one of my very first friends in Irkutsk.

Now as an adult, she attends the church that my family moved there to start. And when Ryan came to work with that church, she sent back a box for me. A box that made me cry.

There was a sweet note that was written in English, but with that distinct Russian handwriting – “ To Elizabeth with love from Siberia.”.

Each item brought back a flood of memories. A beautiful box made of birch wood – carved by the hands of a people I love so much. A Christmas ornament that will go front-and-center on my tree this year, I assure you. Some yummy chocolates to have with a cup of hot tea. And then, I opened the silver box. Inside was a bag of meringue cookies.

I just stared. How could she possibly remember that? Tears came. She remembered. Natasha remembered.

Those cookies were one of my favorite things in the world. Any time I passed a stand or kiosk selling them I would always stop. There was a bakery down the road from my house that sold them and I went nearly every afternoon after school. And she remembered.

Peel back the layers of time, the change of government, the loss of language, the nineteen years since I had seen Natasha… and it was all still there. Because it happened. Because I was there.

So, what if others have more international experience than I do? Or more language skills. Or more up-to-date information on the country. So what if in a conversation among expats my experience doesn’t compare to theirs.

It is my story. And Natasha knows it.

All of us feel the same way to a degree. Our story is big to us, but compared to another’s it seems to lose a bit of its glitter. Making the rounds at parties we don’t feel we have anything interesting to say, because sometimes we fear that the things that have become part of us are only average.

We look at people and decide within our minds that our stories are not worth telling. At least not loudly.

If I had a magic wand, I would do what Natasha did for me. I would send you a silver box and inside would be that thing that helps remind you of your story. The love you lost, the book you started to write, the college degree you loved but didn’t set you apart. You would pull out your junior varsity swim jacket and rock that thing in front of Michael Phelps himself. Or that high school basketball trophy? Shoot I’d send that to you with a chain so you can wear it like a baller. ‘Cause it’s your story and it is worth telling.

And while your life may not be the thing of best-selling novels or Oscar-winning films – it matters to you and to the people you shared those stories with. And it matters to God who composed the whole thing Himself with a beautiful vision that we can’t even begin to touch in our wildest imaginations.

Natasha, who I haven’t seen in almost twenty years, sent me cookies and it tells my story. I don’t know what is in your silver box, but you know what? I hope you tweet it, Instagram it, share it with the world. ‘Cause it’s your story and it’s worth telling.

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Filed under Fire, Global, My Life Thus Far, something bigger, Whimsy