Image really IS everything

*I’m spending the month of July at Indiana Wesleyan University teaching at an English-immersion camp for international students. Mondays through Fridays I’m staying in a townhouse-dorm with two other teachers and eating my meals in the cafeteria with our international students (primarily from China) and whatever other groups happen to be on campus. This week that included an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) group and the FCC (Fellowship of Christian Cheerleaders). The following story REALLY happened the other night.

Isn’t this an awesome picture! I can say that b/c I did NOT take it. Christi Dithrich, a former student, is starting her own photography business and took some shots of our family. If you’re in the Chicagoland area and looking for a photographer who’s all about getting relaxed, fun, REAL shots of your family–and giving you a good time in the process–you should check her out on Facebook at “Christi Lee’s Photography”: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3740296663377.2150041.1154970204&type=1

I had just dropped my bags at the table and was about to cross the cafeteria to get a tray when an entire group of middle school cheerleaders sitting nearby stood in unison and began to clap and chant. “Beaver one, beaver all; let’s all do the beaver crawl!” they shouted, following it up with an awful “anh, anh, anh, anh” chorus that was supposed to—I guess—sound like beaver teeth chainsawing through wood.

The faces of the college students in front of me—most of them athletes—were priceless, and I had to fight back giggles as I made my way behind the bow-topped, pony-tailed crew still chanting: “Beaver four, beaver five, let’s all do the beaver jive!”

I was just past their table when I saw the cafeteria manager coming, fast, down the aisle toward me. He stopped directly in front, blocking my way. “We’ve had this conversation,” he said. “They are not allowed to do this in the cafeteria. The other diners don’t like it.”

At first I was so confused I thought he was apologizing to me, like “so sorry, I’ve already talked to them, but they obviously don’t get it. What a nuisance.”

But no!

“Seriously, they are not allowed to do this when other people are eating.”

I “got” it then.

“Um, I’m not with them!”

Instant change! “Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought you were in charge of…”

“It’s okay. Really, it’s okay.”

I went on to get my food, and he hunted down the REAL cheerleading chaperone. I had just filled my plate when he found me again. “I’m really sorry,” he said again.
I laughed. “No problem.”

But THEN he continued, “You can understand why I would think that, right?. I mean, you fit the profile. You know. Expressive face,” Then he waved his hand toward my shoulder, “and your…” His voice trailed off then, either because he was about to say something he probably shouldn’t or because my “expressive face” was sending him a pretty clear message.

I got the face under control, reassured him, chuckled (when what I wanted to do was burst into laughter) and then went back to my table and told the other teachers what had happened.

They did plenty of laughing for me.

Then—I’m being honest—we had a conversation about the gigantic bows that many cheerleaders are currently wearing. When big bows died at the end of the 80s, I thought they should never, ever come back. But they have, bigger than ever. Even college cheerleaders are sporting huge loops of ribbon on their heads.

It wasn’t the kindest conversation, and it finally ended when one teacher accused another (not me) of being “cheerleader phobic.”

And I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

Not about being phobic of cheerleaders, though I can still remember being teased as a 3rd grader by a cheerleader-type girl. I sported waterfall-long ponytails in those days, and for some reason my mother positioned them just above my ears and pulled them so tight they stuck straight out like handles—which is probably why the boys grabbed them so much. I look incredibly unhappy in my 3rd grade school picture, and it’s probably a combination of those ponytails, the boys, and little Suzy cheerleader (not her real name 🙂 ) who told me that her “rah-rah” shoes were much cooler than the sturdy, “well made” Buster Browns and Kangaroo shoes that my mother bought me. The “rah-rah” shoes WERE cooler—and Suzy Cheerleader’s cute, single, blonde ponytail was, too, and I knew, somehow, all of that and what it meant regarding my “place” in Suzy’s view of the world.

But, “all that” aside, I haven’t been thinking about cheerleaders or childhood hurts, but instead about my “image” now, and the ridiculous fixation that I STILL have on it.

This topic is really the title and heart of my blog: Who is the real me? And why am I concerned with trying to “be” a particular someone in order to please other people—or to feel good about myself.

Usually my identity struggle is that I’m so busy doing the jobs of mom and wife and teacher that I think of myself as a sum of actions—as in, “well, I do this and this and this, so that’s who I am,” but the struggle is a little different right now.

It’s kind of like I’ve gone off to summer camp, and I’m trying to “find my place.”

Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I’m living with two incredibly grounded, godly—and funny—women, and I don’t even think about my image with them.

But in regards to the camp as a whole, in my interactions with the students and the staff, there is a little bit of the old “rank and file” going on. My thoughts start with, “Where do I fit in? What is my role?” and move eventually to “Oh, my word, I feel OLD! A teacher past her time of relevance! No longer ‘cool,’ no longer ‘hip’!”

Okay, I never was, but at least I was one of the YOUNG teachers.

Not now! Our teaching team includes two professionals young enough to be my children! Six of the teaching assistants—whom we address as “Mr. Aulie” and “Ms. Pivarones—are former students of mine. They’re energetic and full of plans—while

I’m just trying to make it through the month without crashing. Even the students seem younger than ever. When little Phoebe gets six inches from my face because she’s fascinated with my blue eyes, all I can think of is how clearly she’s seeing my crow’s feet and mouth wrinkles!

These are silly, ridiculous thoughts. Worthless thoughts.

God’s made that pretty clear to me as I’ve been studying the life of Jacob yet again this year (that’s what happens when you get too behind on your “read through the Bible in a year” plan and decide to start over; “Hello again, Genesis!”)

Jacob, like me, was a guy who had a hard time figuring out who he was! And every time it seemed like he had learned his lesson, he forgot and relapsed into self-centered, self-promoting ways of acting and thinking.

And I might be tempted to say, “Jacob, that’s ridiculous; you just experienced God’s amazing power—and now you’re doing what?” except that I see the exact same tendency in my life.

So when I read about God’s patience with Jacob’s identity struggles, I am reassured for myself.

Because of Jacob’s story and other promises in Scripture, I can know God will always guide me—even if that involves some wrestling—to a continually clearer, brighter knowledge of who I am IN HIM!

And He WON’T quit on my in this journey! I will become freer and freer from the lies that my value is determined by what I do or what others think of me. I will care less and less about how I “fit in.” I won’t be consumed with any “image” other than that of Christ, and the beauty of thatwill overshadow all else.

Here’s another one by Christi. Love this!

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