Something happened in the 7th grade that was pivotal in mapping out the rest of my life. I grew up middle class in the nice part of a smallish town in the Midwest. I moved from a private Christian school to public schools in the 4th grade and was lucky to have made a few friends that made the transition easy. Good thing because a few years later I was an UGLY DUCKILING. The end of the ugly duckling story results in a beautiful swan but sometimes that swan still feels like the frizzy-haired, braces wearing, awkward, insecure, acne-faced, unfeminine giant. I would look at the beautiful, outgoing, popular, skinny girls in my class with admiration and envy. Their skin was clear, their teeth were strait, their hair was Disney princess and they all wore Abercrombie. Their picture perfect families would get together on the weekends, the dads playing golf and the girls painting each others toenails like a Ralph Lauren commercial. The handful of them had gone to school together their whole lives. For two years in a row they cheered together on a community squad for the football team of all the popular boys in the school. Some of the girls were in gymnastics, making them highly valued in the cheering community. And then there was me, trying to find where I fit in. I was a smart and my favorite class was band.
At the end of spring semester were cheerleading tryouts. Despite how much I hated the cliché valley girl persona cheerleaders were associated with I was considering it for a few different reasons. For one, my mom was a cheerleader in high school. She was very different from me. She was outgoing and I was painfully shy. She, too, played the saxophone, and to follow further in her footsteps I,too, became a nurse. I was motivated to compete and do more and be better than my mom. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about it. But I also just really wanted to show those snobby brats they weren’t the only awesomesauce in the school. I wanted to prove to them and myself that I could do it.
So I showed up. I went every day to learn the routine and practiced it at home until it was flawless. The final tryout day was Friday. I felt ok about my performance despite my voice being shaky and nervous.
The results were posted on a piece of paper in the window of the front door at the school later that night. I searched desperately for my ID number on that list. I found it. There it was. I made the squad. Take that snobs.
Then reality set in. I was going to be forced to spend 3 days a week and multiple games, pep rallies, and events with these girls I had little in common with. I ended up making friends with two other girls and we became inseparable through high school. To this day I still think it was an important year of growth and putting myself out there. It gave my self confidence stretch marks and gave me the courage to go after bigger things later in my life.
As part of my conservative Midwest upbringing it was expected that we would attend every church service and event offered. Just like any other Sunday evening we went to church, but this particular day I decided to bring my fundraiser for cheerleading in case any of those giving Christian ladies needed any chocolate or Fancy Christmas wrapping paper. I was not a salesperson so my best tactic was a sweet smile and asking if they had a moment to take a look at my pamphlet. Didn’t always work but that was all my shyness could muster. I made the rounds and then approached my Sunday school teacher. This woman bravely took on the task of teaching hormonal and emotional middle school girls why exactly boys and short skirts are not everything in life. I walked up to her and said “Hi Mrs. J would you like to see what I’m selling for my cheerleading squad?” She didn’t smile much and this was not one of those times. She looked at me and replied, “I don’t support cheerleaders.”
I’m sure my body and face coordinated the visible deflation of shame. I don’t recall if I gave her a dirty look before I walked off but I said “ok” and retreated out of the pews. I was so hurt and not emotionally equipped with handling rejection or shame or oppression based on false stereotypes. Am I something bad? Did I spend so much emotional and physical energy to be something Christians shouldn’t be? Is my mom bad? What is so bad about cheering?
I’ll never forget what happened a few minutes later. A woman who overheard the encounter came up to me and told me to forget what my teacher had said. This was odd because they actually were good friends. She smiled and gently said,
We need disciples in every corner of the world.
Wow I went from shamefully wrong to a called disciple!
I’ve thought about that moment a lot. What would happen in this world if we looked at whomever we deemed as not “Godly enough” and just left them alone to stay in our perfect Christian bubbles?
“You are the light of the world. A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
So that they may see your good works and give glory to God. Are people won over through oppression and judgement? NO! We are won over through love- good works. Being treated with love, dignity, and respect, especially in the presence of controversial opinions and bias, is what makes undeserving sinners feel worthy. I love Brené Brown’s quote from her book Braving the Wilderness: “It’s hard to hate people from close up; move in.” We are all unworthy of every good thing based on our deeds. But it is not through deeds that we have won the kingdom of God. It was an unmerited gift.
“A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more? ” Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” He told him.” Luke 7:41-43.
Perhaps those who have experienced oppression, or been shamed for their identity are more likely to extend invitations of belonging to others because they know what it feels like to be rejected for being human. Humility is the birthplace of acceptance. Acknowledging that we are all broken, all struggling, that we all have had to overcome something difficult is what binds our humanity. To deny this is to deny true love for one another. Once we can grasp this concept then follows true empathy, compassion , and mercy.
If we do not go into all the world looking for disciples then who will? We sit at home and pray “God send someone to save the people of the world” but we forget it’s up to us.
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”