We were on session three of Momnipotent, a wonderful study geared towards life as a mom today. I won't go into it here, but seriously, find one of these in your area or bring it to your parish if you can - it's so good and it's lead by the talented Danielle Bean with amazing guests (like Lisa Hendey). Last night's session was on the competition we women create for ourselves...of feeling like we're failing if our meals, house, friends, family, holiday decor, and style aren't Pinterest worthy. In a world that offers only highlight reels of others' lives, it's hard to remember that there are more than twice as many moments where these moms are down in the thick of it, just like you and me. As we were sitting in small group, we worked through the discussion questions - and then we came to IT. The question I thought I had a short, simple response to that ended up turning, for me, into so much more. "Are there times in your life where you feel inadequate? Who makes you feel that way?" Yes. Yes, yes yes - and the person who does that isn't my family, or my friends, or my neighbors. It's me.
We all grow up with personal, individual experiences that make us who we are today.
I was fresh out of Catholic school and new to the public system. My first day of school immediately put me in my place - I had no idea what to wear, where to go, what to do, or how to fit in. The outfit my mom helped me pick out, which I was so proud of wearing to my first day of school (out of a uniform), fell tragically short of what the other girls were wearing. The language the spoke was different - the bubble I had lived in felt like it popped. My bad perm, red glasses, and braces stood out in the wrong way. I felt so lost that first year, and the cruelty that others - just 13 years old as well - can verbally inflict on others is unimaginable. That first month, I found myself lost and on egg shells, constantly trying to find a way in. Instead, I found my way to a small lunch table at the back of the cafeteria.
There were four of us at the lunch table*. Kay, who came from a absent-father broken home; Liza, who barely spoke out of fear of others hearing her thick accent; Grace, who was sleeping (in 7th grade) with any older man she could as she sought to find her self worth by giving herself away; and me - someone who fit into none of these categories, yet felt just as outcast as they. I remember one afternoon, while watching the cool table sharing plans for the dance later that week, Grace snapped, "Jen, let it go. We'll never be like that. We're the leftovers." WHAM. There it was. I felt like she hit it on the head...she was right. We were the leftovers. We were the friends no one wanted to be friends with. We were the last to be picked at dodge-ball and the first to be pegged with the ball once it was game-on. We were the ones that bonded not over make-up and after school activities but over a shared sense of uncool. We found in each other a tenderness, understanding, and acceptance.
Life changes, and people grow. I ended up finding a really wonderful friend in high school who - though I still manage to miss her birthday every year - still stands by my side and she probably has no idea how much I truly love and value her. I have several women now who are becoming an integral part of me and my family's life, and I enjoy spending time with them more than they'll ever know (and I hope to still be sitting with them, sharing a glass of wine, in forty years). But that feeling...that feeling of being the leftovers, the only-friends-until-something-better-comes-along, never completely goes away. It still shows up - I work to always be at all the social events we share for fear of being forgotten about if I'm not there. I worry when I leave a message that goes unreturned for fear they don't like me anymore. I don't ever want to be leftovers again.
...and then I remember what a gift having been a leftover is. It's given me the chance to be a friend to people who had none (and them the chance to be mine). It's created this INTENSE need in me to make sure no one else ever feels like that - as a result, my husband and I are always having new parishioners/families over for dinner to make that connection with them and become a friendly face at Mass. It drives me to strike up small conversation and look into the eyes of total strangers, just in case no one else has stopped to talk with and smile at them that day. It leaves me writing lists from sign-in sheets at events I go to, making note of who is absent, and checking in with them later that night to make sure they're ok and let them know they've been missed. It inspires me to seek out the gifts in every single person I meet, because I know they have worth. It drove me to start a Moms group at our church, just in case there were other moms who were looking for other women out there to share this journey with (turns out there were over forty). It's given me this amazing ability to excel at individual sports - I've competed in countless bike, swim, run, and triathlon races, including the half Ironman and a bike tour across the state of Iowa (I still hate dodgeball). I have little issue speaking up or being silly...if I fail or look odd, well, I've developed a thick skin. We all have different experiences, and we are all broken...and that's where our faith steps in. We each have our own challenges, our own unique circumstances - and if we just ask, God will show us how to work with them. It's through my growing faith that I can see this gift as a gift and begin to shed the insecurities that come with it, keeping only the good. I'm thankful to have my gift...and I hope that you are thankful for your gift, too - whatever it may be.
PS: *totally not their real names
PPS: After the breakout group was over, and I had managed to pull myself together (drippy mascara and all), the session ended. So many beautiful amazing women came over and told me they had been/still are where I was. It amazed me, because most of these women are the most charming, confident people you'd ever imagine. Then, the Cool Girl came over. Come on, you know that even in your thirties and forties (and beyond, I'd imagine) there's still the cool girl. So she walks over to me, gives me an amazing hug, and tells me that is exactly how she feels. Wait, what? She shared HER challenges in finding intimate female friendships, of finding other women she can connect and share with on that deeper, more meaningful level, of difficulties in moving past that "we're more than acquaintances and perhaps even friends but I don't know if I can really call you if I'm going crazy and need someone to talk me off a ledge". For me, it was such a huge mental shift - here I was, seriously getting middle school jitters when she would say hi to me, and here she is sharing that she experiences the same struggles I do.
I am so blessed to have the beautiful women there as part of my friend family. I'm learning that a wrongly-perceived swimsuit or an ill-timed phone call doesn't mean they don't want to be friends. I'm thankful to know that they probably look past the thousand insecurities I have about myself - and perhaps don't even see them, just as I don't see anything in them except how amazing & inspirational they are. Seriously, ladies, you rock. I hope you know how much.
PPSS: If you know someone who could use a hug, please share this with them. There's strength in numbers, ladies. Besides, I promise - I'll always be your friend.
PPPSS: My head is a bit swollen right now...but since we're friends I'm sure you won't mind me sharing. Thanks for being cool like that. Had to share - the host of Momnipotent, Danielle Bean, and her guest host Lisa Headey (of Catholicmom.com) shared this article! Truly, I'm humbled. And honored. Thank you.