Sunday, September 29, 2013

on feeling marginalized

mar·gin·al·ize: treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral.

Most of my life I’ve felt like a social pariah.  In high school, I was never pretty enough or athletic enough to be accepted. (I wish I’d known then the importance of music and that it would one day become a career for me, so that I would have felt less horrible about it. None of the popular kids in school use their athletic ability or good looks in their career, which makes me sound petty and small, but let’s face it, all us social pariahs think this way. … if we’re being honest.)

And I really thought the social pariah status would go away at some point in my life. But then this happened.  And two big emotions caught me as a result: in the moment, complete relief. As my post says, I actually felt a weight lift from my shoulders when I was told that there was a reason no one understood me and it wasn’t my entire fault. In the years since, though, I’ve also settled into a rather unsettling emotion: insecurity.

Now that I understand there is little I can do about my status as a social pariah, I am far more aware that I ever have been in my life in how others see me. And since I am the rarest of all personality types, others see me and go, “huh?” Or others see me and dismiss me, which causes me to crawl into the dark corners of my heart and ask, “Is it something I am?” all the while knowing there is little I can do to change how God wired me. All of this equals a lot of insecurity.

I’ve reached a point in my life that when moments of marginalization occur towards me, I can step back from the situation and do my best to be objective. Though my emotions are often intense and deep, I know this happens in part because of my past experience with being that social pariah. And some of it now is also because I am a social pariah. It’s just so… confusing. People don’t get me.

So I process. Part of this is simply trying to give people the benefit of the doubt and think the best: that they did not intend to make me feel the way I do. I have to own the feelings I have and figure out which are justified feelings of marginalization and which simply stem from past experience.

(I’m starting to wish I’d taken my professor’s advice and taken the degree in counseling. Perhaps I would be less of a mess.)

But here’s the rub, and I think this is true for just about everyone:  We all just want to be known.
And when you break that down, all that means is that you want to find your place. You want to belong. I am in a place in my own life where I just want that to point to Jesus. But I also want to stop these feelings of sadness, frustration, acceptance, vulnerability and insecurity.

This last May, I was told by a blogger I admire greatly and love reading, that of just under 100 submissions , I was one chosen to guest post while he took a break from blogging to write his book. Week after week I watched a guest post go up… and four months later mine is still not up. I still have the email where he told me I would be one of the few, so I have to remind myself I’m not delusional. But there is also part of me that finds herself feeling like that 14-year old girl who cries and says, “Why is it always me that is rejected?” Left out? The freak?”

Being vulnerable is never easy; it’s especially difficult for someone who struggles to suppress her idol of reputation. (Ahem, me.) And what I hate is that my idol here is most likely A DIRECT RESULT of being a social pariah; marginalized, and seen as “less than” most of my life.

To be known. What is it, really? How does it happen? Why is it so important? We want to be people who matter. And it is hard to see that outside of who we are. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

beauty, mess and being left out

Being left out is one of the worst feeling in the world.

Yes, as an adult, I still really believe that.

Perhaps it's because of how often I was left out of things in my childhood that makes this still a challenge today. And there is such a part of me right now that is screaming, "Won't you ever grow up? Won't you ever just get over it?"

As children, we are told by our parents that being left out is "their loss" and the familiar, "they don't know what they will be missing" and then, of course, "You're too good for them anyway" would often come from the mouths of friends. Which means nothing when you are at your grandmother's house after school and her next door neighbor is a classmate having a birthday party that she did not invite you to. My 4th grade heart was crushed. I still remember standing in my grandma's driveway while I watched all the other girls in my class run around in the yard playing games, without me, birthday hats on. I was just stuck waiting for my mom to pick me up.

I wonder what it takes to grow out of that tiny child inside of you that says, "Not fair!" "Why is it always me?" "Why doesn't anyone like me?" - when all that is truly happening is a heart aching and some tiny little tears welling up in the corners of my eyes.

"When will I overcome the hurt and pain of not being included?" is really what my heart is asking. A far more interesting and pensive question for a Thursday night.

Today was a fascinating day. I was asked a powerful and challenging question that I'd never considered before. Fellow introverts join me in saying, "Oh, no!" Because, as a general rule, we just don't do well on our feet. But this person often asks me these kinds of questions, and what happened today is what I find happening every time I'm faced with such a challenging question: the Holy Spirit intervenes.

As the words tumbled out of the mouth and I didn't even realize what I was saying, I just closed my eyes and my memory went back to a place of rejection. A place where several people treated me as less than because I was not part of their denomination. (Yes, being left out can happen in places such as this.)I recalled one moment where I was conversing with a fellow seminary student about difficult question, and I raised one that I'd heard recently in the membership class I was attending. "Who created sin?" the person had asked... so I ask my fellow student the same one.

Now, I realize this is a bit of a loaded and pretty three-dimensional question. I also knew how I would answer it if I was being asked. My fellow student did not know that. For all he knew, I was genuinely asking.

"Well, now that's just a stupid question. The issue is really this..." was his response. He went on to repeat something one of our professors had no doubt said at some point.

 At that point, it didn't really matter to me what he said. All I could think was, "I really hope that's not how he addresses a future congregation member when he is the pastor of a church."

I went on, for the next year and a half of school learning how to ask great questions... how to make connections between things that people don't always see... how to care for my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and what that really means in educational ministry. "Making Room"

But most of all, I learned how to look beneath the surface of what was really going on.

And that is how the Holy Spirit worked today. When asked such a challenging question, posed by a congregation member to an elder, who then in turn asked me, I was able to say that perhaps the better question to ask was something else. That painful experience with my fellow seminary student was redeemed by Christ today. I do not believe the experience was given to me just so the conversation today could happen and the wisdom could be passed on. I do not believe God works like that.

But I do believe he makes beauty out of mess. How lovely. How wonderful.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Remnants and Stories

One of the most interesting aspects of my job involves remnants.

It's amazing what you find when you are cleaning and sorting through a church cabinet or closet. Everything from old bandages from a first aid kit to curriculum from 1987 to pictures of kids in the nursery from 10 years ago to construction paper scraps are discovered. There are keys to things we don't know about (see above pic) and crayons. Each person who touched those items, each kid who used them in Sunday school… they are part of the larger story of the body of Christ and the kingdom work God is doing in this place.

One of my favorite ways to decorate any space around me, whether it be my office at work or my home living space, is to fill is with things that have memories attached to them. I love looking up from my desk at work and seeing a frame piece of parchment paper with the lyrics to Amazing Grace on it. I love it because it causes me to remember the church I served in Nebraska for many years that gave it to me when I left to attend seminary. The reason why they chose “Amazing Grace” is a particularly sweet and wonderful story (that will bring my dad to tears if you tell it.)

These are the remnants we leave behind.

When I find an old craft from VBS, or a unknown key to a cabinet, guitar chord sheets from songs in 1998, I am reminded of the many that came before me. I am reminded of the faithful souls who serve the people of this church far before I ever arrived. And thus, I think of those who will come after me when I am long gone.

These remnants, as well as the items we place around ourselves that mean something sweet to us, are identifiers in a way. They represent a small part of who we are, who we want to be, and who we were. They represent a season in the life of a church and who it used to be. The phrase “standing on the shoulders of giants” could not be more appropriate here. I am here because Jesus loves me and has given me the grace to be able to serve in this place in this time. If you were to go back to Nebraska or St. Louis, I’m sure there are a few remnants of my time there as well. I guess I don’t see that as a “legacy” or “making my mark” but more as leaving a piece of myself behind, and this is far more for myself than for the sake of others. These remnants tell a story, an important one, about the body of Christ.

May I never loose the importance of these stories.