When I was in 8th grade, a new boy moved to Carl Sandburg Jr High. His name was Mike, and my friend Cyndi and I really thought he was cute. Cyndi, however, had a boyfriend already - so we decided I would invite Mike to the upcoming Sadie Hawkins dance. Unbeknownst to me, Cyndi struck up a conversation with him in one of her classes and told him I would like to invite him to the dance. She later reported this to me - along with his answer. He told her he was going to watch me the next day and then make a decision. Cyndi brimmed with plans and ideas to help me behave in such a way as to encourage Mike to want to attend the dance with me. She told me what to wear and how to do my hair.
I followed her advice, and the next day came to school looking my best, well, according to Cyndi, anyway. It was an incredibly miserable day. Cyndi stuck by my side like glue and watched for Mike constantly. She would whisper directions to me - like, “stand up taller”, “smile and joke with me, he’s looking”, “fix your hair”, and, “for heaven’s sake, don’t let him see you reading that book!” I felt like a puppet, being yanked first one way and then the next. And I really started to question Mike’s character, too. What the heck was he looking for? And did I really want to go out with someone so shallow? I didn't feel like me and I didn't feel like I could be me because of Cyndi’s continual corrections. At the end of the day, I was exhausted, and I told Cyndi even if Mike wanted to - I wasn't going to the dance with him. I never spoke to him, or smiled at him or had anything to do with him after that day.
I was thinking recently how much of life is spent worrying about what other people think and making decisions and choices based on that. For many years of my life, I was in what I almost feel was a “Christian clique”. We talked the same, projected the same images, condemned the same behaviors, built each other up, served in the same ministries, voted the same way and lived rather sheltered lives. We comforted ourselves when other people got upset with our ways, by convincing ourselves we were on the narrow road, and, of course people would hate us - they hated Jesus, didn't they? I have to admit, it felt good to belong somewhere. We all want that, I think. To belong. But sometimes the cost is high because when we worry too much about what everyone else will think or say or do, we lose who we are created to be. And we can miss out on relationships with other people who are wonderfully, creatively, beautifully made - yet have different viewpoints, ideas, and thoughts from us.
I am at the point in my life now where I don’t really care what people think about me. I am following God and sometimes He prompts me to do things I would never have done before - and that is a good thing; I didn’t show much love and compassion before. And I don’t think people saw much Jesus in me - I think they felt judged instead. By allowing the people around me to dictate how I should act and who I should be, I missed out on opportunities to be light and salt to the world, and in my mind I can still see the pain in people’s faces when I rejected them so coldly in my zeal to be “spiritual”. I was wrong, and I have changed. I know who I am, and I know who God is teaching me to become. I won’t be jerked around by the fear of rejection or controlled by what people think any longer, because I want to be me.
I will love and try to bless others. I won’t get drawn into judgmental attitudes or adopt the most popular “Christian” approaches to problems in our world. I will be myself. And I won’t stop to worry what anybody else thinks. I will admit I have problems and struggles and that I am quite far from perfect. I won’t act like I have all the answers or even delude myself into thinking I do. I will work hard to understand where others are coming from. I won’t reject them because they are not me. I will be patient with those who cannot break free from tradition or legalistic thinking. I won’t waste time arguing with them, either.
My heart is changed. My life is changed. My relationship with God is changed. I cannot go back to being the person I was because that person was more of a reflection of what other people wanted than she really was me. I am loved and at peace.
The Torch is doing a fundraiser with The Shop, a tattoo shop located in Fowlerville. I have been asked repeatedly by a multitude of people if I am going to get a tattoo. I see the disapproval in some eyes. I have heard all the warnings about how bad it might look when I am older. I have been asked if I am too old now. I have been asked if I worry about what other people might think. And I have spent time thinking over all of those things. The thing is, I have been blessed and even overwhelmed by the generosity of the people at The Shop, and I have always wanted a tattoo. In the end, I guess I just don’t care if people don’t like that. I know my heart. I know my motivations. I know my God. And I know my freedom.