If you had to tell your life story – your testimony – without offending the people in it or divulging too many private details in a length and format appropriate for a blog, could you do it? I’m not sure I can. I’ve been grappling with how to bring you with me on the journey from pig-tailed oblivious kindergartner through 30 or so years of utter chaos to the current me for days, and all I’ve managed is this fairly disjointed post. But now you’ll know…the rest of my story.
I suppose, though, that if I’m to give my testimony, my story, it ought to be disjointed since much of my life has been that way. Before you read, let me offer a caveat: I wouldn’t change ANYTHING. Coincidentally, we talked in my church small group last week about what we would change about our lives given the chance and the only thing I could come up with was that I’d have avoided the two years of pretending to be a biology major in college so I could have graduated even earlier. Lame. The (trite) truth is, I wouldn’t be sitting in my house in Kailua typing this story without each and every let down, triumph, phase or moment. So, I’ll keep ‘em.
For the sake of blog-appropriate length, I’m breaking this up into two days.
Let’s start with some basics: I’m the youngest of 3 and the only girl. Those of you not similarly placed in a family or lacking brothers will immediately think “oh, she’s a princess”. Those of you who’ve shared my plight know that being the youngest and only girl is tantamount to being a human punching bag and target of torment (and I mean that in the most loving way). Little sisters make excellent test subjects for wrestling moves and scream in the most delightful way when you chase them with spiders. Still my two older brothers are my favorites and I credit them with my love for basketball and NASCAR and slapstick humor and elaborate imagined scenarios and bluegrass music. (And, if they’re reading, why would anyone do that do a monkey?)
Little ‘ol me with my brothers and my dad, circa 19-a-long-time-ago.
I grew up going to church. I sang “Jesus Loves Me” and recited that I knew he was God’s son to anyone who asked and I coveted the little cups of grape juice we used for communion because they were so delicate and cute. But, I didn’t understand what it meant to be a Christian. My most striking memory of church from my childhood is that people who were mean to me at school during the week were nice to me on Sundays at church, and adults slapped fake smiles on their face and recited weird phrases like “God be with you” to each other instead of the usual “see ya later”. Church, to me, was a place where we put on masks and behaved once a week.
I was an outlier as a kid. I think I was a little bit of an odd bird from day one. My mom says I took a longish time to reach some milestones as a youngster, but when I did, I reached them like a pro. I didn’t do unsure toddling steps, but just straight up walked across the pool deck on a summer day. I didn’t carefully sound out a few vowels and eventually get to a word, but went from cooing to reciting Shakespeare. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. It was Tennessee Williams. Stella!!!!!! Anyway, I pretty much lived in my head, carefully observing the things I’d have to do until I [almost] had them down perfect. I have enough memory of my very young childhood to know the feeling of being entirely immersed in imaginative play or pointed observation and being *poof* brought out of the fog to realize a parent or a sibling was talking to me. Usually, I was irked.
A budding introvert, wanting to be left alone with her Christmas loot. Where’d that strawberry blonde hair color go?
Not much changed throughout my childhood. I had lots of friends through my school years and knew everyone. I was never shy or afraid to speak my mind, but I definitely preferred to be by myself most of the time. I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert and looking back I can see the characteristics of that personality like neon signs. Case in point: I looked forward to summer vacation as a grade-schoooler because I could spend hours playing Legos by myself; not because I couldn’t wait to haunt the local pool with my crew of friends or because I’d get to spend a week sharing a camp cabin with my best girlfriends.
Being an introvert AND a girl is tough. Girls like to chit chat and share their every thought and spend days and days together analyzing life and hairstyles and boys. And all of that makes my skin crawl. I’ll take it one step further. I am an INTJ (if you’re lost on that, click here. I also really like this description, thought I don’t always think I’m right…much). Read some more about introverts here and here. Also, here’s a funny about praying for different Myers Briggs types.
And then there’s this quote: “Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense.”(Heiss). Yes. And so when you don’t… The proclivities of my personality type are clearly a soap box for me because they don’t fit with most folks but aren’t, as a result, invalid. I also really resonate with this quote from Wikipedia: “They are often acutely aware of their own knowledge and abilities—as well as their limitations and what they don’t know” What I know, I feel like I know. But, I ‘m keenly aware that I don’t know a lot.
INTJ is one of the rarest personality types in general and is even less prevalent among women, so you can see how I’ve always been a little bit of a fringe person. Don’t get me wrong – I participated in tons of extracurricular activities through school, always had a solid circle of friends and even won school-wide awards for being a rockstar (read: involved in lots of clubs and sports AND having good grades) but I never, ever really fit. I know most young folks feel like this at one time or another, but for me it was actually true. I coped the way most introverts do: by gathering information about how “everyone else” lives life and creating “Public Sarah” who can small talk and network and giggle at slumber parties with the best of them. I still put on Public Sarah (who’s not fake, by the way…she’s just a very narrow expression of Actual Sarah) when needed…but she exhausts me.
The point of all this introvert mumbo-jumbo is that I’ve spent most of my life on the margins, injecting myself into the action when I knew it was “appropriate” or “expected” but finding very few people with whom I could truly bond. The thing is, I didn’t know I was an introvert or that there were other people like me. I just thought something was wrong with me. When you’re the kid who never really bonds with her peers, you’re characterized by one word: WEIRD. And I knew it. And I hated it. I was ashamed of it. Thanks a lot, extroverts (I kid, I kid. You’re weird too).
By the time I was in high school and college I knew that I was “supposed” to do and be interested in certain things and like any gal that age, I was really focused on trying to fit in and be “normal”. When I started dating, I went out with guys who fit the standard boyfriend image whether I actually liked them or not. I hung out with other girls who seemed happy and vibrant hoping their bubbly personalities would rub off on me. And I was miserable.
Sixteen years old and going to a dance…begrudgingly
At this point in my life, I’d been diagnosed with full-blown clinical depression and was put on medication. The pills helped me function, but I still felt like I was floating in space, an untethered observer who didn’t have a role to play in this world. I did manage to make a few good friends in college who remain close to me today and for a moment there was a glimmer of understanding: I bonded with them because they were like me. But the glimmer was shoved out of the way near the end of college. A long-term relationship ended in the utter heartbreak of infidelity and I hit one story up from rock bottom. I finished college, broke up with that boyfriend of three years, watched my fellow-introvert buddies move away, and started a low-paying job and high-cost grad school all in the space of a few months.
God hadn’t been on my radar for quite some time at this point, but some people I knew saw the opportunity of tough times (hey, sometimes that’s when people are ready to hear about God) and starting working on me. Unfortunately, good intentions went awry. Tip: if you want someone to see God, don’t tell that person that she has made many bad decisions but if she will accept Christ as her savior her bad decisions will be forgiven (though they’ll still taint her) and her life will begin to look more like your own perfect existence. Also, avoid intolerance like the plague. When people feel like they’ve been so bad as to be contagious, well, they’re not encouraged. Yeah. That’s how that went down.
Twenty-one years old and graduating (with Jimmy and a job). That was the worst haircut butcher job of my life.
And right there…right in that moment of impressionable 21-year-old youth, my toes, which had been monkey-gripping the edge of a cliff uncurled and I went in to free fall. God was a judge who ALSO thought I was weird and bad AND who was willing to reprogram my soul so I could be more “normal”? Hey, I knew I’d made some bad decisions, but I was feeling sentenced without trial. Those decisions didn’t lead to good actions, but they came from places that were 100% ME. I realized that I didn’t want to have my rough edges fixed or my odd-ballness cured. I wanted to have those things loved, so in classic early-twenties-idiot style, I took that want to an extreme. I wore my rough edges like a badge and crammed my odd-ballness down the throats of the people around me and I set out to prove that people would like me the way I am.
So, Sarah? How’d that work out for you?
I’m glad you asked.
Here’s the part where I’d detail every toxic relationship – romantic and not – that sucked up most of my twenties. I’d tell you about the people who lied to me, cheated on me, manipulated me and used me. I’d tell you about the drug addicts, the felons and the certifiable sociopaths. I wouldn’t exaggerate. I would probably actually leave a lot of dirty details out. You would pop popcorn and put your feet up. It would be like a gritty TV drama. It would be darker because even TV won’t touch some of those things.
I would tell you about what I now know are idols that I chased with unparalleled devotion. How I tried time again to reinvent myself with a new career, new home, new style, new friends, new car. How I pursued money, believing that if I could just make enough I could be happy and comfortable. How I believed the American Dream and pursued happiness, wanted success and picket fences and country club memberships.
And, I would tell you that every ounce of energy I put in to these things, these things in turn took without giving anything back. I was bleeding dry and still weird and still alone. I hated God. If God loved me so much why would he put me in a relationship with THAT guy who’d been a legit psycho, who’d gone entirely Jekyll and Hyde on me and (true story) ultimately became a felon? If God loved me, why was I struggling with money even though I worked my butt off, usually sixty hours a week, while my “friends” spent trust funds on $300 pairs of jeans? If God loved me, why did people take their own lives and leave us no answers? If God loved me, why did I keep making “friends” with people who turned out to prefer a line of coke to a can of coke or who were legitimately suffering from narcissistic personality disorder. Did you know that most serial killers have narcissistic personality disorder? If God was doing anything, he was sending me serial killer friends. God and I were not pals.
Oh to be 27 (I think) again! No. No thank you.
I’ve chosen to leave out a lot of details to protect the innocent here, so I want to give you some image to sum up Pre-God-Sarah. When I look back at my life from where I stand now I see an enormous dust cloud of tragedies and pain that have become so blurred together that it’s like watching a cartoon tornado churn across a farm. Every now and again, you see a cow or a kid who mercilessly made fun of you in third grade or a rocking chair or a verbally abusive ex or a classic Ford truck or an attempt at an identity as Junior League Sarah fly by. There’s no one big elephant in my life’s room. There’s just the unclear, unhappy muddle that comes from feeling knowing that most people will never understand or empathize with you, that you will always be “weird” and that as a final swipe of icing on that cake, you will be the type to feel these insults very deeply.