A few weeks ago, my husband and I volunteered at an English camp our friends run every summer in the Czech Republic.
When I was asked to share a part of my story as part of the afternoon program designed to introduce the students to the Christian faith, I actually found myself afraid.
I'm not a huge proselytizer, and find myself uncertain how to talk about my faith and what I believe with others without coming across as pushy or narrow-minded. [The fact that I am concerned about this probably indicates that I am not pushy...hopefully.] My desire in general is to speak about my faith in a way that invites others to feel comfortable talking to me about it, sharing their thoughts and beliefs, asking me questions and hopefully finding in me a person who values them deeply and firstly as another human being.
Anyway, as I sat down to type my story around the topic of the day, "Voices from Society: Truth/Falsehood", I founds words flowing from my fingers and was actually excited to see the ways that God has shaped my understanding of what "normal" is and means in my life.
I don't usually share about faith on the blog, but I wanted to share this part of my story because I think it's valuable and because my faith is part of who I am, part of my "normal" and I want to be more comfortable with sharing and talking about it "normally".
So here it is, a part of my story and the voices that I heard (and hear) about being "normal".
Do you guys have a picture in your minds of a "normal" person? Do you find yourself thinking to yourself how not "normal" you are? I certainly did. And definitely still do a lot of the time. Somehow this ethereal idea of "normal" seems always out of reach. And it seems to me that if I could just achieve "normal", then everything would be ok. I would have friends. I would be liked. I would be confident. I would be pretty. I would be happy.
I don't even know if anyone or anything ever uses the word "normal" to get us to feel bad about not being normal, but somehow it sneaks in and upsets our identity.
I was very shy when I grew up. I had three brothers. So I was the odd one out in that situation. I had unbelievably curly hair - my mom had no idea how to take care of it, so in order to not go around with frizzy hair framing my face I mostly braided my hair. I was this tall when I was 12 [5 feet 9 inches]. I felt huge compared to my friends and other people around me. I was homeschooled, and that was generally regarded as quite strange, so that didn't help. My family didn't have a tv, so I didn't know all the funny lines and popular shows that everyone else knew. I was very smart, but that didn't seem to be a positive, it seemed to set me apart in yet another way.
Now, none of these things are actually inherently a problem. My difficulty was that I was looking around me at friends and peers and noticing all the things that seemed different. All the things that seemed to make me not "normal".
I assumed that everyone around me looked at me and immediately thought that I was boring, huge, plan and unattractive, abnormal. I was lonely and didn't know how to make myself into the imaginary "normal" that I thought I should be.
I let my identity be determined not by who I was, what I liked and was interested in, the things that I was good at, but by some created standard that I didn't (and couldn't) achieve. I went to church and learned about a God who created me and loved me, but I didn't connect that to my lived experience.
When I was 15, my family moved to a new state because of my dad's job. I was actually really excited about this because I thought this might give me the opportunity to redefine who I was, to try to be the person that I thought was "normal", to try to fit in and find happiness and acceptance. I could wear the right clothes. I could watch some movies and shows so I would know what was popular. I could try to fit in.
To some extent, I was able to be more "normal". But I was still really tall. I was still homeschooled. I still had curly hair (that I was learning to control and shape). However, slowly it began to dawn on me that the people around me who I thought were really popular, confident, happy, and "normal" were actually quite a bit like me. I was shocked. I remember the first time I actually thought "That person actually wishes that she was like me."
"What?! But she's normal! I'm not normal. What would she want to be like me?!" said the voice in my head.
And that was the beginning of me starting to grasp that "normal" is just a setting on your washer. That who I am is wonderful and special and worth something to the rest of the world. That actually much of what I felt like as rejection and ridicule from the society and community around me was rejection and ridicule from myself. That I lacked the believe that what I learned in church was really completely true - God has created me and loves me - me; not normal me. He's not waiting for me to be someone else. He's not disappointed that I'm the way that I am. He wants me to love me. And as I bask in his love towards me, I can turn around and show that love to other people. And that is what is truly normal. Or at least what I want to be normal for me.
I'm still not normal. If you spend more than 2 minutes around me, you'll figure that out. But I'm learning to embrace me and not worry so much about the voices from media and advertisements and culture and inside my head. One day at a time.