I said yes. I simply said I’d love to come. Then, I made plans. I went shopping. I made cookies and Chex mix. I packed. I didn’t think about what that yes entailed. Well, at least not until it was too late to back out.
And for the past few years I’ve been the queen at backing out. I can come up with an excuse lickety-split. You know those books people read about how to set boundaries and how to say no to people? Never needed one. I’d gotten so good at building fences they’d become fortresses. Which isn’t a good thing, it’s just a fact. And even though she’s my oldest friend and I love her dearly, it’s her invitation I have declined again and again. Not when it’s just her mind you. We go to dinner, we’ve talked over cups of coffee, we’ve historically split large Sonic Reese’s blasts with extra Reese’s on too many occasions. But when it came to parties and group events I quickly came up with an excuse. Or I said maybe which nine times out of ten became a no. I’m sure it was hurtful to her at times but that didn’t really occur to me until recently. I’d just been thinking of how I felt at those parties. Small.
Oh, the people where always so friendly and amazing. They were super smart. The kind of interesting, dynamic people anyone would want to claim as friends. But as wonderful as they were they’d ask me all the usual questions, “What do you do? Where do you live? What do you like to do for fun?” Ugh… it’s these simple questions that cause me trouble. Because the answers are never what I thought they would in my mid-twenties. I thought it’d be more exciting. I thought I’d have all the answers by now (What a joke!). Or at least better answers. Instead it’s, “I’m a student (again). I live at home, saving money (still. . .).” I’ve never figured out how to answer what I do for fun. Why do people, especially guys, like to ask this question? I mean I have interests and all but unless you’re a true hobbyist – which I’m not- it just sounds lame to say I like to read, and go to movies, and spend time with my friends and family. It’s true. That’s how I have fun but I imagine that sounds boring or at least predictable. And I wind up feeling small and uninteresting not because of what anyone else thinks but just because of what I think about me.
Today at church the topic of shame came up. Jake said something that just struck me, “Shame says, “that’s not who I am or who I’m supposed to be.” Yikes. Conviction. That’s been me. I know that all too well. The ideal person I was going to be when I grew up was dazzling. She was obviously married to a really great guy, possibly a knock-it-out-of-the-park mom, and a fixture at her church. If she worked, she had a great purpose-filled job. She hosted these great evenings that people talked about for months. She was well-traveled, well-educated, well-rounded, and well-dressed. She was certainly more confident and better looking. Her hair defied humidity.
Man I hate her. Okay, not really, I just so wanted to be her. But I’m not. I’m just me. And for a long time that kept me in hiding much like it did with Adam and Eve when they were ashamed. But lately I’ve felt God’s whispered, “Where are you?” And I’m here. I’m me. For the first time in a long time that’s okay. It’s okay I don’t know where I want to work once I’m out of school. It’s okay I’m at home. I’m so grateful for this pocket of time with my family. I’m blessed to have a family I love that lets me be here while I’m getting my act together. It’s okay I’m single… yeah that last bit I’m still working on and will be as long as I am single. And that’s okay too.
So maybe that was the difference. Maybe that’s why when she asked if I wanted to come to her family’s Fourth of July bash this time I just said yes. And God schooled me in kindness, which shocked me. (Why am I more prepared for God to hand me a live grenade than a gift of kindness?) Having not been in groups much lately, it took me a bit to warm up. I heard someone say that when people don’t know you’re shy you can come across as uninterested or uninvolved. I hope that’s not how it seemed with me. I was so interested. I’m just out of practice. I was trying to wade into the pool inch by inch. How could I forget it’s always better to dive in head first? But my awkward shyness was overlooked and I was graciously pulled into games and conversations and fun.
I never felt like a guest- which is what I was afraid of feeling. I felt like part of the group. A new part, sure. I didn’t know all the inside jokes or stories but that was okay. I got to watch the richness of family and friends and friends who have become family. I was reminded why we’re supposed to live in community. And the truth is even these people, who I find dazzling, don’t have all the answers. They’re all a mess in their own beautiful ways. Aren’t we all? Isn’t that the secret we try to gloss over: that none of us really have it figured out. None of us are who we’d ideally like to be. Maybe it’s time we realize that it’s okay to just be who we are in this pocket of time.
Because in that moment, standing in that kitchen, while caramelizing onions, I can’t keep the happiness off my face, even when the bacon grease starts popping. We’ve all got a hand in this meal. We’re all investing our time into the food and each other. The conversation is all over the place. It’s about running with the bulls, and future baby names, and old stories told again. There’s laughter and relentless teasing. We’re talking over each other and invading everyone’s space. It’s breathtaking in it’s chaotic beauty. And for once, I stop over-analyzing and just be the silly, sweet upside-down-and-backwards girl I’ve always been. She’s not posh or polished but I like her just the same.
And that’s pure grace. Grace from God. Grace from my relentless friend who never stopped inviting me. Grace from this welcoming spectacular crew of people. Grace even from myself. And isn’t that equally hard to accept, your own graciousness? I’m learning slowly to accept it, to look for it, to create it. It’s a work in progress, but then again, by the grace of God, so am I.