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”:

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!

Legalism and heartbeat

I’m a recovering legalist—with lots and lots of lapses. My determination to pull everything together in one neat little bundle (I see it all the time in my blog and journal entries—I like tidy endings) is my attempt to find answers and figure things out. I hold onto this hope that at some point I’ll “get” it, I’ll “arrive.” I run around like I’m in a funhouse mirror maze, looking for the reflection of the “me I’m supposed to be,” but all I find are distorted images, and my heart races from the stress and the disappointment.

I’ve been trying to focus on a different image lately, that of Christ as the Lamb of God. It’s less elusive than the “me” image I can’t find, but it’s still puzzling because HUMANS are described as sheep in Scripture, and the implication isn’t a compliment. Sheep are generalized as dumb, easily duped, following whoever promises the shiniest deal of the moment, unable to distinguish what is best, rushing headlong, hearts racing and straining, into destruction. Not able to defend, attack or run away, not able to do much of anything. Just dumb, helpless beasts VERY, VERY much in need of a shepherd, but unwilling to submit to one.

And Christ became a sheep like us—like me. He put on limitations and weakness; He became defenseless, open to temptation.

But He is also a sheep UNlike my kind of sheep, because He accepted His Shepherd as His Shepherd. He drew near to Him like a beloved lamb.

This reminds me of the lamb in the story Nathan the prophet told David after David stole Bathsheeba. “And he (the owner of the one lamb) brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him” (II Sam. 12:3). Is that how Christ grew up with God? Like THIS lamb? Not going astray or reaching outside his limitations (self-imposed in His case), just resting in the arms of His father, growing up with Him, waiting, following and trusting like a small child.

That’s hard for THIS poor, stupid sheep. It’s not only hard to DO, it’s hard to see, even though God’s given me four very immediate examples. My little sheep don’t spend hours worrying about how to please me. They don’t look over their shoulders constantly wondering if I’m going to disapprove. In part this is because they KNOW me—because they’ve spent a lot of time with me. It’s also because they are free-er than I am. They know there is restoration, there is love. When they “mess up” (or when I do), we get it all sorted out, end with hugs, and move on—knowing better and better what really DOES please and honor each other. This brings to mind the statement Christ made: If you humans know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more the Father in heaven. If our flawed human family (with me, Mrs. Legalism, as its mom) has somehow bumbled into some good knowledge of what love really looks like, then can’t I trust that God knows, that God loves?

I spend more time trying to figure out how to please God than I do just getting to KNOW Him. One of my friends pointed out that there is a huge difference between seeking God’s will and seeking GOD. The object is very important.

I’d like to be the little lamb in Nathan’s story, curled up next to God’s chest, listening to His heart beat its steady thump, thump, thump, its neverending message of love. “Stay here, stay, stay, stay,” is the message in the beat of His heart  Bit by bit, my own heart’s racing, skipping arrhythmia gets overwhelmed, smoothed out, settled. Bit by bit, I’m no longer consumed with some image of myself because my heart is becoming more like God’s—which, as I know from another time in King David’s life, is not concerned with appearances.

I am a little lamb, being brought and grown up along with God’s other children. I am eating from His morsel and drinking from His cup. I am lying in His arms. I am His daughter.

May my heart beat like His.