The Sweater


I was an awkward kid.

And by awkward, I mean that I was pretty normal ("awkward" is a word used by your peers to make sure you know that they know that you don't fit in. The jig is up!). I was a kid who didn't know that it was weird to read entire encyclopedias or discuss politics instead of boys while rolling pastry at Grandma's Club. My interests weren't about Snooki or Paris and the words I used were too big. I didn't wear Lulu headbands or own gel pens, I spent most of my time outside or reading, and my mom taught us about healthy eating and fitness long before they became a Pinterest staple lifestyle. That's right, I ate quinoa before it was cool. And heaven forbid, I wasn't allowed to get MSN on my parent's dial up.

The pre-teen angst is too real. (it got worse after this, I've just gotten rid of most of the picture evidence) 

And maybe those things wouldn't have been so weird if I didn't already have acne and braces and bad haircuts - especially in a world where it's expected that twelve year olds have perfectly proportioned bodies, shiny hair, and exclusive use of their mom's Lancome mascara. 

One of the things that shocks me most when I talk to people now is that they assume that I don't know what its like to be bullied or feel insecure and weak. (Newsflash guys: just because I'm good at making people laugh and giving eye contact doesn't mean I have it together)

When I was in middle school, the coolest item of clothing to have was a Bench sweater (I've searched for the last 20 minutes on Google to find a picture of what they used to look like in 2009 - no luck. Hopefully they've erased all evidence that the hideous things ever existed???). And I needed one. So that everyone would like me, obviously. Because that always works. 

For the next few months I worked, doing extra chores or helping my mom out with her cleaning business. Eventually, I saved up the $114 (!!!) it took to buy that elusive Bench sweater. And when I got it, I was stoked. Finally. So I slipped the thing on, as it tugged closely on my pre-puberty love handles, and faced myself in the mirror - ready to be the Amanda Bynes from She's The Man I always knew I could be (after Channing Tatum realizes she's the one he loves, the mysterious and quirky yet effortlessly gorgeous girl that's been under his nose all along). 

And you know what? The group I was trying to be a part of still didn't like me. The guys still made gagging noises when I walked by to let me know that I was undesirable. Unworthy. Not good enough.  I was still the last one picked. I was still the one who hovered around the group near the back, wanting to be a part of it all so badly. One-hundred and fourteen dollars poorer, I went to bed that night feeling just as lonely and ugly as I had the night before. 

Now, in my twenties, I'm not that little girl anymore. I don't have a problem making friends or finding a place where I fit like I did in middle school. When I hear gossip about myself or people put me down, I rarely flinch. And you know what I've learned? Confidence is not being happy with your body, having perfect skin, shiny hair, or fitting into a size two dress. Confidence is not having a boyfriend or a best friend or a talent that nobody else has. Confidence is not being better than or smarter than or prettier than. If it were about all of that, then none of us would be confident or secure in any way. I started feeling confident when I realized that I couldn't find my identity in all those things. Because sweaters fail you. Middle school popularity only takes you so far (thank goodness.)

And all of that doesn't mean I don't still have days where I feel like middle school Beth again. She's come back to haunt me a little bit more than usual these days. But I don't let myself wallow there. When I find my identity in my purpose, my redeemability, and my saviour, that's when all of the things I don't have matter less and less. My ability to comfort and pray and listen has nothing to do with whether I have a pimple on my chin or not. Being kind when it hurts has nothing to do with six-pack abs. And becoming Christlike has nothing to do with how well connected you are to the up-and-coming pastor. 

Your lacking isn't where you'll find your identity. Your achievements still aren't your identity. Your identity is found in belonging to Christ, and that's where unshakable confidence lies. 

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