I’m nearly forty years old (wow, that hurts to type), and I can still remember those first days of high school and that awkward, slow walk into the cafeteria. Hoping for a smile launched in my direction, an invite to a table where I’d feel welcome. While my fist-day cafeteria jitters proved to be paranoia more than once, I was never unpopular, but also never the girl people sought out in a crowd, never the person who defined the status of a party. I grew to accept that, and in time wear it like a badge: I didn’t need others’ approval to be cool. But that’s also what uncool kids do: we pretend cool isn’t cool after all, and popularity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In time, even after years of theater in high school and college, I shied away from any desire to be known. I held onto the quiet life.
This is why it came as a surprise when I felt the not-so-subtle nudge from God to go back to writing the book I had labored over for years, picked up, put down, picked up, tossed down, picked up, and then given up. Not only that, but I’ve been obedient in launching a public space where I’ve no choice but to put myself out there.
Each time I write a blog, make a post on my Facebook fan page (does anyone else feel embarrassed it’s even called a fan page?), or film a short video, I feel like that young gangly girl with the big nose stepping into a fluorescent space just hoping someone will look up and notice me, wave an arm and say, “Hey girl, we’ve been waiting for you.” Three weeks ago I sent out my book proposal to nearly a dozen literary agents in the Christian market, and every time I think about it I literally want to hurl. There I am. Out there. All over the place. My heart, my hurt, my past, all of it is out there waiting for acceptance or rejection. Suddenly the first day of high school in the cafeteria doesn’t seem so bad.
When we walk out in faith, when we feel called, we’re stretched in ways that are often unbearably uncomfortable. A flower grows when it’s stretched toward the sun, seeking the light, its blossom opens only after it has had both sun and rain, both darkness and light. Too much of one, or two much of the other, stunts its growth. We can’t grow without stretching. God knows this when He calls us. That’s why I’m at it again, laying out these feelings when my more natural inclination is to snuggle with the cat on my bed. Under the covers, for the record.
It’s a funny thing to start a “platform,” which in my opinion, is really just a place where you can put your calling on display and open yourself up to insecurities, discouragement and judgment. Did I mention these are all within my own head? Building something always starts from the ground up, which means zero, and zero is a lonely number. It’s a discouraging number. We’d all agree on that right? (I did a Facebook Live on our obsession with numbers, which you can watch.)
No one likes the number zero: zero pounds lost, zero friends, zero dollars in our account, zero Likes on Facebook, zero shares. The only time zero came as a blessing to me was when my son’s seizures finally stopped. After upwards of 32 seizures a day, that zero resembled the halo of an angel. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
The young girl inside of me is fixated on numbers. Maybe the girl inside of all of us is. The number of breakouts on our face. Or the number of pounds we need to lose. Or the number of friends we have versus the number of friends we wish we had. It’s part of the popularity crutch. I try to walk with it, but I stumble every time. I get tripped up. Because it’s hard to focus on what’s on the inside – or ever better, what’s on the upside, heavenward – when we’re worried about how people are seeing us from the outside. Just because God called us doesn’t mean our insecurities won’t try to crush us.
I was at church the other day when I realized I like to serve better than just attend. Because I like to be busy, have purpose. But then I realized the bigger reason. As I walked from one corner of the room to another – smiling faces, just-so hair, precious baby bumps, slick manly hairstyles and plaid shirts – I felt that lonely moment of being unseen. Without a purpose like sorting programs or greeting people, I tried to find my place. But I found myself wandering. In my wandering no one came to me. It’s not that my church isn’t friendly; on the contrary, I’ve never felt more welcome or as much a part of something as I feel there. But I was caught in a moment. Maybe we all find ourselves there at some point. When that teenager gangly girl meets the woman we’ve become, and we’re linked in a way we haven’t been in years.
Because no matter what, it’s hard to stand in the center of a room and hope someone sees us. And hope that someone walks up to us. And when we stand open and vulnerable, it’s hard not to desire that our words and thoughts land in the heart of someone who needs them. It’s not about being popular like it was in high school; that was always shallow. I don’t want to be the person that dozens of people swarm to because I’m the life of the party. That will never be me. I’m too practical (even though I do wear fun shoes and jewelry). That person will likely never be most of us. But standing in a wide-open space bares our heart and opens those youthful doors of our past, and sometimes we can’t tell where we end and our calling begins. Where our past becomes our future, and our desire for popularity is replaced with a reality that God would rather search out the one than the crowd.
When you have hundreds of bobby pins lined up on that cardboard sheet in your drawer, you toss them willy-nilly, you’re fearless as you let one rust in your shower, or you leave one on the floor of your car. But when you’re down to one, you guard it, usher it from your hair to a safe place on your nightstand. There’s no value in being popular, in being caught up in the number game – the Likes, the Shares, the number of Facebook friends versus the number of friends who consider you their ONE.
I worry sometimes that I get my God signals confused with desires I didn’t even know I had. Hey, we have tricky hearts and brains that function even when we’re sleeping. Who knows what we miss daily that’s running fiercely inside of us? Doubt is a companion who comes along for the ride when we don’t invite her. Darn that doubt. She kills us sometimes. Like when we’re searching for numbers beyond zero. When we’re feeling like we’ve missed the mark but don’t know where the line is. When we’re waiting for God to shout whether this is about Him or whether we’ve dropped the ball and somehow made it all about us. When we’re standing in the room and no one walks up to us and we wonder: does anyone really see me?
Doubt and popularity can gang up on us, make us question it all. We can feel like that girl on the first day of school, standing, waiting, hoping. Sometimes, in these moments of doubt, a verse comes quick and firm. Sometimes they don’t and I wish I spent more time memorizing scripture so I could be prepared. I was going to leave you with a verse from 2 Thessalonians, a great book about our calling, about stepping into it, and maybe even stepping up onto it – even when we feel unprepared, unworthy and unpopular. But then I took a break from writing to have lunch at school with my eight-year-old, and this song lulled me into peace, a reminder that no matter how unpopular we feel, God has only ever been interested in one. And no matter how invisible we feel, He, the best one, the great I AM sees us:
I know you see me
I know you hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness you have in store
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