If you could go back and have a conversation with yourself, 10, 20 or 30 years ago, what would you talk about?
I know I’d have much to say.
When I was in high school, I was extremely lonely. I felt like no one really knew who I was. I was words like “too serious” and “too Christian” and “nerd” would be words other people used to describe me.
Needless to say, I didn’t run in the popular crowd. I never had the right clothes or found myself in activities that achieved instant coolness. At school I only had one real friend. I think depression was something that I dealt with though I didn’t have the words to describe it yet.
But, even with the awkwardness, I had some self-awareness.
I knew I liked encouraging others.
I knew I liked organizing and leading things with purpose and that validated others’ gifts.
I knew I liked paying careful attention to the details of others’ lives so to connect with them intentionally.
I knew I liked public speaking and got great joy out of someone receiving hope from something I said.
But, in all of these good gifts I felt completely defeated because I lived under a value system where none of these heart bursts of mine were assigned much if any value. Women in my church were not even allowed to usher, much less preach.
So, instead, tried to be what others saw as “good.” And you could imagine how well that went over . . .
I really tried, BUT
I wasn’t good at sports. (I even got a C+ in PE once because of my kept falling off the aerobics bench during the routines).
I wasn’t good at voicing my opinions in a crowd therefore I never got elected to student council.
I wasn’t good at telling others that I needed them. I wondered why people didn’t seem to like me as much as I liked them . . .
I just couldn’t find my niche. I sat beside the teachers and the adults on the bus trips. But they didn’t know what to do with me either.
Deep pains from this time in my life still eat at me now, if I let it. So, I could have become full of rage. I could have started living into destructive patterns of behavior. I could have rejected the faith I was given as a child. And, I’m sure no one from outside the bubble in which I lived would have blamed me.
But, in all of this mess, my life was saved, I know, because I was given this grace from God: to write. In my writing, I could figure out life. There might be a better way I could live one day?
Though I didn’t have words to articulate this concisely at all, I knew what direction my life was going. I put pen to paper.
And gradually as I kept living, I found friends, mentors and colleagues who with great patience would beat it into my head that I was loved and that my gifts mattered.
I knew I had to fight for my own life, even if no one else did. Because my life mattered. And, I needed to live out my calling to BE the woman God created me to be, even if the Southern Baptist Church frowned on me. Otherwise my soul might start to die.
And, I’m so glad I did. I’m glad I choose seminary. I’m so glad I married Kevin Hagan. I’m so glad I became a pastor. I’m glad I’m continuing to learn what it means to be the “Preacher on the Plaza” on days like this one.
Consider the writings of Parker Palmer who says, listen to your life.
Let your life talk back to you. Let the divine gift of direction swell up in you and don’t be afraid to believe in your own blessedness.
No matter if no one but you recognizes it at the time and not matter how much you feel beat down, keep believing and soon others will too.
So for me, if I could go back to high school, I’d have a long talk with myself about just hanging in their till the good stuff started.
“Life will get better for you, Elizabeth. It will. I promise!”
What would you say to you?