The year I turned five was the year I learned how to ride a bicycle all on my own. It was also the same time I learned how to hide parts of myself to be the girl people liked. I got pretty good at both of these things as the years wore on.
A dirt-kneed and free-spirited child, my hair was forever a wild pile of unkempt hay. While I was a good and proper mama to my baby dolls and loved and spanked them when they needed it (or if I felt like it), I was also a crack shot fisherman and could spit farther than most boys in our neighborhood. There were two rowdy brothers I often played with that lived across the street. We spent most of the summer before school started criss-crossing through the woods from the fishing pond and back. One Texas-hot day the brothers and I headed to their house for a long drink from the hose and more bait. I don’t remember for sure but we probably splashed each other and made a mess. When the boys disappeared around the corner and left me waiting with their mother at the door, she took a long look at me and then bent low and whispered, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Stop running around here like a wild thing and act like a girl.”
She must have been right because I did feel the shame then.
After that day I made sure to smooth my hair a little better and tuck away my wild whenever I saw the boys’ mother. A kid doesn’t always know she does these things but because she said I should, I began hiding that side of me. She didn’t like it and, for causing me some trouble, I started to resent that wild girl part of me too.
This kind of offering up the pleasing side of me became some pattern through the years set slow and hard like wet cement. It was mostly easy to figure out the girl I needed to be that people wanted to be around because it felt like the warm glow of belonging. This good and proper girl would be the one on deck for first dates, parties, and church. That other girl who messed things up and none of us liked was also a no-brainer. This was the one who lost the relay race for the track team, said terrible awkward things that made the class laugh or didn’t get invited to the slumber party. Too much and too little all in one package, I continued to push this girl I didn’t like far behind me.
In a quiet moment one day after many tired years of refusing a seat at the table to the parts of me I didn’t love, I heard the Lord’s soft kind of whisper.
Turn around and look at the girl behind you… the one I love.
He said that surely and gently. It was only because I knew He did that I was able to turn around and view the real mess that was all of me.
And this girl is every kind of jacked up.
She snaps at her kids, is stubborn as a dead mule and assumes everyone is hanging out without her. She gets inappropriate giggles at any sort of fancy gathering, is a first class know it all, and gets mad because she cries when she gets mad. She curses with the same mouth she kisses with, secretly wants to be invited to everything, and her butt jiggles chasing after kids at the pool. She has a barefoot and dirt-kneed wild heart… and I never saw anyone who needed God so desperately in my life before. And I understood He loved this wretch something fierce right where she stood and there was nothing she needed to do about it besides just take it.
Making peace with the girl I didn’t like meant standing in all of my terrible beauty and simply accepting that I am accepted. My hiding any part of who I am would be a tragic denial of God’s grace on my life.
It’s been long years now since I’ve made peace with the part of me that makes me fully human and still wholly loved.
This alone keeps me on my knees, reminds me of grace.
Grace strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you… Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.” If that happens to us, we experience grace.
~Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations