This is a photograph of my daughter. She is beautiful; and she knows it. She knows it not because she is arrogant, but because we tell her so … day in and day out. We shower her with lovely words, embrace her with confident thoughts, and do the best we can to walk in kindness with her. We tell her she is smart. We encourage her to speak up for herself (or as I say, not be a “damsel”). She doesn’t always want to believe in herself, but we don’t give her much choice otherwise. I’m sure to some outside viewers we are too lavish with our affection, with our words of affirmation and our unwavering attention, but I know what happens later – and I need her to be strong enough now, for then.
You all know “Then,” because you’ve been through it. You’re living in it. “Then” is the “real-world,” trying to steal your joy, knocking down your door to take whatever light you’ve got that makes you special, just to momentarily satisfy the sarcasm, or the shock-value, or the “I-told-you-so.” “Then” is conformity … doing or saying what’s expected instead of what you should have done or said. According to Virginia Woolf “Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.” I think the last line is the one that strikes me deepest … “outer show and inwards emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.” Indifferent – it is such a sad word. To be past caring enough to even feel, what could be worse?
If you want to know why I spend so much time and energy on my kids, on my students, and on the random smile-laden conversations with strangers, this is why. It’s because this life is just waiting for us to conform. To “go along.” To become numb to the callous and dark … and I refuse. I remember hearing my pastor once say that we are to “Do what is best, not what is allowable.” I think the problem lies in people determining what is best in a world where anything is allowed.
This whole little “stream of consciousness” started for me this past Wednesday at a farmer’s market of all things. Would you believe it? Something as innocent as a place to buy organic produce left me shaken, asking what is acceptable versus what I am willing to allow. I was at a stand, buying something for my dog, when a man from another stand with dog leashes asked me to come see his merchandise. I wasn’t in the market, but I looked over his work, and was considering getting one. I was being picky … I’ll give him that … but typically, when you don’t really need what someone’s selling, you have the right to be. I was just about to get the fifth leash I looked at, when I saw it was dirty and asked him for another. That’s when he leaned in, nudging me like we were old pals and said, “You really are a b*%^ch aren’t you.”
Now I’ve been pretty blessed to surround myself with people who encourage me. I don’t think I’ve been called that word more than a small handful of times in my life (and never to my face). Seeing my obvious shock, the guy tried to backpedal, saying, “I know I can say that to you because you’d know I’m kidding around.” And I looked him in the eye and said, “No, actually, you can’t say that to me. And I think we’re done here.” He tried to apologize, but there are some things that just aren’t really okay.
Some might say I was being too stiff. That he wasn’t serious and I shouldn’t take him so seriously, but I guess I think that there are just some standards we shouldn’t disregard. If you know me at all, then you know I love to joke around. I teach middle school for heaven’s sake … I can take sarcasm, I can take a joke, and I can spit a comeback at you faster than you can think of a new one. But I was not raised to tolerate disrespect, and it’s accepting the little things that really are unacceptable that begin to tear down our personal foundations.
I look at that picture of my daughter, and I know that someday someone is going to hurl an insult at her. And I know it might shake her. It might bruise her ego or fracture a small piece of her heart. But it will not break her; because Lord willing we will have given her enough courage to love herself to a strength that withstands the blows of others.
So whether you have been given an upbringing of armor, or rags … I pray you take this moment, here and now to decide who you are and what you are willing to take. Because if God put you in my way today, I would like to believe that it is to tell you that conformity is not your answer … and what is simply “allowable” is not necessarily acceptable.
Do not let others put you down, no matter who you are or who they think they are.
Do not forget that you are precious, and created for a purpose that no one else can fulfill.
Do not forget that you do not have to be okay with things that are not okay.
You are not alone.