It has taken me a long time to get to this place, but here I am, ready to confess a thing I had hoped to never admit: I cannot dance. It’s a darn shame to be that person at prom, parties and weddings – the one that has that singular signature move and not a single ounce of coordination – but that is me. In light of this unfortunate, yet true, reality, I’m going to give you one guess at what I spent 5 years of my life doing.
Yeah, I danced. Jazz, tap, ballet – you name it, I practiced it. So much of my childhood was spent in the studio or on a stage, outfitted in lovely costumes such as the one pictured above. I mean, look at me. Does anything about those crooked bangs, huge ears or mischievous grin portray poise and grace? Of course not! But I danced.
As I got older, my teacher grew wiser, and I was placed into more fitting roles, such as that of a clown in the nutcracker. My sister was some kind of pretty, twirling dancer in a pink dress and I was a clown with a red, curly wig. It was fitting, really. I remember the day of the performance. After hours of waiting, practicing and perfecting this performance, they lined up the clowns for our number. This was my moment. As my co-clowns were quietly filtering out onto the stage, I was quietly unfastening the bobby pins from my wig. Just before the lights came up, I took that hideous red wig and plopped it onto the stage floor, because while I was certainly excited to be a clown, I was not particularly fond of the wig, so off it went. My mother was disappointed. My instructor was furious. She ran out onto the stage and shoved that wig back onto my head before the song began. That marked the end of my dancing career.
It’s funny how that distinctive feeling of the pressure of conformity can be traced back to such a young age, and the way it follows us through every stage of life. I remember in middle school wanting to have the same backpack, bracelets and hairstyle as my friends. In highschool we wore homogenous clothing and had similar cell phones. There’s pressure to go to that school, wear those clothes, attend that function, go to that church, fraternize with those people, live in that neighborhood and join that gym.
I admit that that pressure has felt especially prevalent in my life lately. It’s a hard thing, navigating this life, professing to be a woman rooted in Christ, while secretly being swept away by society’s standards. Because the truth is that I want to fit in, and to some degree, I want to conform. At a time when the people that surround me are dating, marrying, declaring majors and pursuing dreams, I feel immense pressure to do the same. I want the things I post on Instagram to be liked. I want the things I write about here to be relevant. I want my outfits to be stylish. Furthermore, I want to be the kind of Christian woman that others esteem, you know, the Beth Moore type. There’s a reason Michelle Duggar is the poster mom among Christian women – she works at home, keeps a home, and maintains a perfectly postured, nurturing and gentle spirit at all times. And you know you’ve looked at her, or someone else who possesses the characteristics that you know you lack, and you’ve thought – if only I could be a little more like her. So we read the books and the blog posts. We join the bible studies. We make “prayer closets” and hastag #1000gifts.
But we so desperately want to be genuine, don’t we? In this world of sameness and similarity, we purpose to live authentic, or at least we hashtag it to our photos (#liveauthentic, anyone?). But the problem is we aren’t really living authentic. We’re living as uniquely as we know how to within the confines of our comfort zones and the comfort of congruency. I’m tired of that way of living. I want to stick a stopper in the drain that leaks with lies that there is only one way, one lifestyle, one personality type that is the ticket to biblical womanhood. I say it because I’ve felt it – that burden of being a woman with a big, bold, loud personality that seems so contrary to the quiet and gentle spirit so highly revered. I’ve wrestled so much through those feelings of inadequacy. I’ve worried that unless I aspire to be a stay at home mom of “however many the Lord sees fit” who cooks and cleans and “whose hands hold a spindle” that my priorities are somehow deformed.
So I prayed and prayed that the Lord would change me, that He would make me into a more gentle woman, a more tender woman, a more graceful woman – and those are not bad things to ask for. But what I really wanted was a completely different make up altogether, because something inside of me felt like when He made me, He must have gotten something wrong. That’s the problem with sin. It takes a loud mouth and makes it a gossiping one. It takes a daring spirit and makes it a dangerous one. It takes a brave heart and makes it a fickle one. But luckily the Lord can work with those things, and as He refines us, He refines all of us – our traits included. He can work with bold, brave, daring and dangerous. He can be just as lifted high by edgy and extravagant as He can by shy and simple. He can work with whatever He’s placed into our hands to accomplish His purposes, and I absolutely love that. So if your thing is lipstick and leotards, be the best dancer you can be. Or if its creeks and crawdads, get as dirty as you can. If you love math and science, use your brain and do great things, or if history and astronomy are more your style, then by all means, be a nerd for Jesus. If your laugh is loud or squeaky or just plain annoying, laugh anyways. If you want to work instead of staying at home, then work for His glory! If you’re messy, disorganized, scatterbrained and busy – He can work with all of those things too.
I think 6 year old me understood authenticity better than adult me does at times. Looking back at a girl who, without hesitation, tore off her wig and danced, unafraid of the consequences or backlash, encourages me to live in that same type of bravery, and to tear off the masks of perfection and poise and walk in raw reality. Because once we strip down the filtered façade, what’s left behind is the truth that sometimes my prayer closet is really just the bathroom stall where I spend my breaks at work wiping tears from my tired eyes. But He meets me there. And the closet full of trendy clothes takes a backseat to yoga pants almost every single day. And sometimes I write blog posts encouraging people to love Jesus better, and then I try to live life in my own strength and for my own glory. But He meets me there. Sometimes I instagram about my family and how much I love them, then I punt my little sister halfway across the room. Sometimes people praise me for being so mature, so responsible, so wise, but honestly I cant even keep my cat’s litter box clean. But He meets me there too – in the floor full of dirty laundry, in the room that smells like a zoo, in the bathroom that hasn’t been cleaned in months, in the car with an apple rotting in the back seat. And that major I declared? I’m not so sure about it. And those boys that I dated? I’m not so sure about them. And that marriage, that family, that job that I dream of – the one consuming my heart and mind? They’re nothing but distractions – idols that invade my heart with the promise to satisfy what only obedience and wholehearted pursuit of Christ can.
That’s what this whole thing boils down to: a sweet desperation for mercy in the middle of this race towards Home. So if we’re committed to running it, I say we run it well and do it real. Because the thing about authenticity, true authenticity that is, is that when we stop yielding, stop conforming, and stop adapting, we’re all pretty similar after all. When we step out of the way, when we cease this need for our voices to be heard all the time, seen all the time, known all the time, there’s room for more of Him.
So whether you’re the girl in the pink, frilly dress or the clown that refuses to sport a headpiece, dance. Whether you’re quiet and reserved or boisterous and dramatic, dance. And if they say you’re too shy, too loud, too short, too tall, too introverted, too self-absorbed, too silly, too much, too little, too edgy, too different, dance. If you’re great at it, dance. If you’re terrible at it, dance. I’ll end with those words so common to the ears but unfamiliar to the heart: it really is okay to be yourself, to embrace your clunky, awkward flaws, your gifts, your talents, your quirks, and your habits and allow Him to render them useful for His kingdom purposes. He’s good at it.