Seeking Identity In All The Wrong Places

 

It was crazy hair day. 

Mason and Callum had been encouraged to do something different with their hair. For the day.

Preschool is a time of introducing new ideas, new ways of doing things, learning the value of the distinctive. Children rarely recognize differences; they see another child and they recognize someone like them–little. They don’t put things in categories like adults do.

Challenged with showing up with crazy hair, the response of the two boys was quite different.

Mason embraced his funky hair. It was spiked all over his head, and he relished the fun of it. This is where his personality shines–he marches to the beat of his own drummer and doesn’t care what band he is in.

Callum, however, was bothered by what didn’t look like him. His hair is curly anyway, but putting gel and spray on it made it uncomfortably different. He didn’t want to have anything to do with it.

We’re all a little bit about dealing with one another’s crazy hair. 

Uniformity, so long as it’s our choice of uniformity, is what has been established lately as appropriate. If someone doesn’t like that another’s individuality differs uncomfortably from their own, they dismiss it as unacceptable.

There will always be distinctions between people. God made it that way when He created diversity. Travel from one end of this country to the other and you’ll recognize differences in the way people act, speak and think. Different regions value different things. Travel around the world, and the cultural diversity becomes even more apparent, with people living, speaking, and doing things with an individual bent that reflects their cultural identity.

People who demand that everything should be treated their way, seen through their filter, often appear judgmental and harsh because of their limited vision. 

That reality is at both ends of the continuum. 

If we default to categories, to defining ourselves by just our culture, ethnicity, or our socio-economic status, we miss the beautiful things about our humanity–the commonality of our need for one another, of having genuine connections with others so that we are known, seen, and valued.

Why are we so fearful we’ll lose something of value if we seek unity among us?

There is tension that exists in differences, but that tension causes growth and progress. It causes us to really see one another and value what everyone brings to the table. 

Jesus didn’t come to bring uniformity to the world; He came to bring unity. For us to learn to love and respect one another, to offer dignity to our differences, value to our uniquenesses.

If my identity is only rooted in what I am as people see me–a white, middle-class American woman–they miss out on the depth of my heart and soul, the way I think and look at life.

They miss me.

If my identity is in Jesus, one of His beloved, with a willingness to open myself to see others as He does, I become more than a category.

I become a whole person.

Like the boys, I don’t have to have an opinion about anyone else’s crazy hair.

It would be great, though, if I saw it for what it is.

Unique and fun.

It’s All Mine!

Birders in my state find excitement in the next viewed warbler, the first sighting of a raptor.

The birds of Central Florida are many and varied and a delight to those who enjoy watching them.

Several of my grands have become fascinated with our many feathered friends. So we did what every doting grandparent does.

We got a bird feeder.

I’ve seen so many beautiful birds in our backyard. Their songs are melodious, their coloring is spectacular. They play in the branches of our big tree, darting around the leaves and twigs as if in a game of winged tag.

We have yet to see one of these lovelies at our bird feeder.

We have, however, seen a plethora of squirrels.

When we bought this item it was termed “squirrel-proof”. Not that I totally believed the advertised hype. But I’d hoped it was somewhat true.

I don’t know that there’s a bird feeder out there that is totally squirrel-proof.

The squirrels figured out how to hang from the mesh and pull out birdseed. They take turns. One waits on the ground, eating as much as he can as it’s dumped near him. Then they change places, and the other becomes the eater.

The sandhill cranes have figured out that squirrels are now their best buddies. They can’t reach the bird feeder, but they benefit from the bounty of seeds dislodged by their furry friends. They lift their heads as the seeds come cascading down, benefitting from the squirrels’ cleverness.

None was what I’d planned on.

The plan? To sit on our porch and watch the birds feed, sing, and play around the tree.

This is not our reality.

It’s easy to think that, given a good plan with satisfactory implementation, the results would be what I anticipate.

The challenge comes in taking into consideration the ambiguity of life. We really don’t have control over much of anything. We can plan and do our best, but life happens.

Our best intentions often get hijacked by the uncertainty of this world, by the reality that we are restricted by our own limitations. We can’t do all, be all, understand all. As difficult as it is to live with, we have serious restraints on what we are able to accomplish.

God, however, is unlimited in His power, understanding, and the mercy of His presence.

When plans are derailed, it’s easy to become frustrated and disappointed.

You should hear me talk to those squirrels.

We all have a need to accomplish our goals. Some are more driven than others in their pursuit of achievement. We all will fail at something sometimes. None of us is perfect.

What we can do is trust God with our limitations. He’s aware of what we can and can’t do; He wants to see our character develop and mature, not our competence. Failures and disappointments are avenues of growth that won’t happen when everything works out the way we want it.

God doesn’t see us as failures; He sees us as His beloved creations on a journey to become what He has made us be.

Something will always undermine our efforts.

Even if it’s a squirrel.

How will you choose to respond?

 

Be Bold And Turn The Page

His organizational skills amaze me. He’s orderly, precise, and his follow-through with a plan is exceptional.

He’s two and a half.

Ward has a knack for order. He loves to line up his cars and trucks, and his magnetic squares are all made with the same precision; he purposefully places them with a toy car in each. 

It’s incredible to begin to identify strengths in children, watching as their personalities and temperaments develop. Ward’s enjoyment of structure and precision could be pointing to someone who will one day be stellar at implementing plans and being the mental might behind important projects.

His sister, Sloane, is about as opposite as you can get. Outspoken and dramatic, she knows exactly what she thinks–and knows what I should be thinking as well. She’s the most decisive four-year-old I’ve ever met. She never wavers with a response. She’s self-assured and confident.

I wish I had a little more of both in me.

I have several grands that can carry on conversations with absolutely anybody about anything. Their communication skills and compassion make it easy for them to talk with strangers (in a safe environment of course) and walk away with a new friend.

Several have artistic abilities that are well beyond their years. Others are very good at problem-solving and seeing the end result before I understand the issue.

I marvel at how everyone is born with talents that often are seen in glimpses when we’re young. 

Everyone is gifted.

I used to rail at the school system who insisted on separating “gifted” students from “normal” students. As if one is better or preferred to the other. 

We are prone to attach labels to people who aren’t like us. We make assumptions based on what we see; first impressions can be deceptive and hurtful if we truly believe that’s all a person is. 

Ward wears glasses. They discovered early that he had issues with his vision and have corrected it with the cutest glasses ever. He’s also the only one in his two-year-old class who wears glasses. He’s now the spitting image of his dad.

A young boy in his class, however, focused on him because of this difference. I want to believe it wasn’t out of meanness, but he picked on Ward incessantly. Pulling his glasses off, pushing him off the playground equipment. Every day it was something. 

The problem has been dealt with, but it made me realize how we all, from a young age, tend to view those different from us as less than. Or problematic. 

We’ve all been made with equal love and passion by a God who has known us from eternity past. Each person born, no matter how they look, what their skill set, or our presumption of their quality of life, deserves to live with dignity and respect. Our differences create a tapestry of beauty that adds to who we all are.

It’s easy to label when you feel uncomfortable. Often labeling others makes us feel better rather than describing the worth of others.

I love seeing the beginnings of beauty and talent in the very young.

Every child.

God has invested that beauty into each of us.

If we just choose to see past first impressions.

What Lies Beneath?

The stump that reminded me of the living tree that once graced our lawn is gone. It’s been ground up, mulched, mutilated.

It didn’t go quietly.

Because of problems that cropped up with our 25-year-old tree, we had to take it down. Its stump looked sorrowful, a torso without limbs. It has left a bare spot that is longing to be filled.

It created quite the problem for the folks who did the grinding and removing.

Before anything happened, a gentleman from the utility company came out and drew red lines on the grass where electric lines, water pipes, and internet cables were located. Preventative measures are always necessary to avoid further problems.

It didn’t help.

Our internet connection was destroyed with the grinding up of cables. 

After the grinding, the remains of the tree were picked up, and another gentleman came to level what was left of the mess in the yard.

He was not a happy man. His very expensive leveler came across a very long piece of rebar that the tree had grown around over the years. It messed up the metal teeth of his machine.

He was more than willing to explain (read “complain”) why this was a problem on almost any job he had. When builders are completing a house, there are massive amounts of refuse left over from materials. Most make it into a dumpster, but quite a few things fall to the yard and are haphazardly raked in. Rocks, limbs, pieces of rebar, glass–you name it, it becomes part of the ground. It’s easier to cover it up than to pick it up. It often takes years before problems arise; complications with growth, utilities, or dangerous things that finally work themselves to the surface.

Our lives are full of all the undisclosed junk beneath the surface of our carefully managed images. Stuff that can cause pain and make growth and thriving seem impossible. Things that we’ve become so used to hiding that we don’t even think of them as problems. 

They’re still there.

Our current reality had made us all a little more aware of what lies beneath. Disruptions crop up a little more quickly. Discontent raises its head a little more frequently. Anxiety unsettles us a little more consistently.

With so much isolation, there’s more time for the things that we’ve successfully pushed down in our hearts and souls to surface; our less busy state gives these problems, fears, secrets time to surface.

We’re rarely pleased to see them.

The things of darkness don’t want to be exposed to the light. The light allows them to be seen for what they are–damaging and dangerous.  

Jesus is the Light. His truth shines a spotlight on what is wrong with our lives, our thinking, our attitudes, our world. He does so with gentle love, not condemning but showing us how His love heals us from the darkness.

Many don’t want to deal with the reality of the mess. They do whatever it takes to cover it up, justify it, or excuse it.

The ugly in us will always come out. Just like that ridiculous piece of rebar that surfaced in the lawn. 

Jesus came to release us from the grip of darkness.

Give Him the chance to clean up your heart.

He’s gentle.

 

 

 

 

 

The Rubies And Rocks Of Emotions

Photo courtesy of Tengyart on Unsplash

I’ve always been that person who lives out of the emphatic expression of my emotions.

Growing up, Mom would tell me I wore my feelings on my sleeves. When I was little, I’d look for them there and was confused by their nonexistence.

I’ve been referred to as a drama queen, an actress with too much emotion for many. I’ve been reminded that I need to control my emotions, “calm down”, and not be so quick to let others know how I feel.

I might as well be told to sprout wings and find a home in a tree.

Life of late seems to accentuate those feelings. COVID has been around for over a year. Working virtually, wearing a mask, social distancing have become our national and global norms. Isolation is becoming symptomatic of our current reality–depression, despair, and loneliness are more present in every culture. 

Children are especially prone to these wide pendulum swings of feelings. Their lives have been upended by virtual school situations; friends they used to connect with constantly are seen only on screens.

Emotions are big and messy. We need to figure out a way not to run our lives by the power and force of our feelings.

Growing up outside of Chicago, we’d often take the train into the city for activities or work. Nobody ever invited us onto the engine–the engineer was the only one capable of driving the train. Everyone else filed into the passenger cars. Quiet conversations would happen, people napped, or read. We weren’t invited to drive the train because we lacked the qualifications to do so.

Our global train is now being driven by emotion. Anger, fear, divisiveness, anxiety–none of those are prepared to drive this life train. All our feelings are oozing like an infection over everyone. It takes wisdom, listening, patience, and hope to move this vehicle forward. Not overwhelming emotion.

Emotions are God-given gifts to inform us of our life experiences. They’re there to remind us of the constant ebb and flow of life; the good and bad, the beauty and the unseemly, the joy and sadness. They are also gifts of better understanding our own needs so we have the capacity to respond to others in need as well. They’re meant as gems of insight.

Not burdensome rocks.

Right now life feels oppressive. We’re weary with the heaviness of what’s happening in the world. It’s easy to lose the capacity to respond rationally and instead react emotionally.

Jesus, knowing how the Jews were being persecuted by the Romans of His day and feeling the burden of the heaviness of the religious rulers, invited all to a place of rest. “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.

Isn’t rest what we long for? Release from the crushing emotions that don’t let up because we’re allowing our circumstances to drive our responses?

Jesus is uniquely qualified to give rest. He took on the mess of the world to provide hope for each of us. The chance to stop trying to do and be all ourselves.

He’s offering to take on your concerns.

What keeps you from letting Him do that?