I don’t know one single person who has listened to Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” and not had some form of spiritual or transformative experience. There is something about the lyrics that cause movement within my soul and the older I have gotten and the more times I have listened to the song the more I realize it could very easily be my own personal anthem.
I used to listen to it driving in and out of the church parking lot on Sunday’s and on Wednesdays when I was leaving MOPS. I would make sure my windows were down and that I had it as loud as I safely could. I wanted my friends to hear it, I wanted to be a little bit rebellious but really I think I wanted them to know who I really was without having to tell them.
I had no identity other than the one that was created for me by the people around me. After becoming a Christian old Bethany, drug addict, swearing, cigarette smoking Bethany was gone and I just became this good little church girl that I needed to be. It didn’t feel like me and I would often say that old me would laugh at new me because it was such a drastic change.
I have lived so much of my life based on other peoples standards of who I should be and why. I fit molds that they created because I didn’t know enough about myself to know what I liked or who I wanted to be. It was easier to be somebody else or to act like somebody else.
I did this from junior high until a year ago. No lie.
I was so many different Bethany’s from 7th grade until I finally gave up trying to be someone else and decided to embrace the me that God made me to be.
I went from being a “wanna be gangsta” in 7th grade to embracing the Seattle, grunge and flannel shirt Nirvana phase to being a cheerleader in high school. That was a lot of different personalities in a short amount of time and a lot of people to try and impress and a lot of lies to keep up with.
Of course the only way that I could keep up appearances was to lie. It became second nature to these personalities I was creating for myself to fit in with people that I though accepted me. I would lie about getting high and drunk on the weekends so that they would accept me into their crowd. I would even lie about getting caught and being grounded so they would think I was cool. That’s how deep my need to be seen and noticed went. I just wanted to belong, to fit in and be accepted. I was not at home. I was hardly noticed at home unless I was getting attacked or yelled at.
In high school I joined the cheerleading squad because I finally found something that I was good at. However even though I was now “friends” with all the popular people I still wasn’t accepted into their crew. There was the occasional party that I went to but most of my weekends were spent telling my parents that I was hanging out with people when in truth I would get in my car and drive…..and drive…..and drive. Listening to the same two songs over and over again; Bette Midler’s “The Rose” and The Eagles “Take it to the Limit.”
Trying to be someone else, whether to hide who you are or to fit in with other people cannot last long so when high school was over and I moved on to college I found new people to fit in with. I continued to my cycle of just trying to be anybody but me. I did not want to look in the mirror and see my face, my body, my hair or feel the feelings I felt. In short I hated everything about the person I was. I asked daily what I had done so wrong to God to deserve the way I felt or what I was going through, and truthfully I felt like this personality crisis had a lot to do with that.
I felt a palpable emptiness that I was able to describe to people but if anyone understood I don’t really know. I was such a mess by the end of my first semester of college that I don’t really know if I had a good grasp on reality.
There was no way for me to have a truth bearing, soul bearing, real relationship with anyone including men because not only was I lying to everyone around me about who I was I was lying to myself. I was starting to believe that these different facets of who I wanted people to see me as were who I really was.
I could be a hippie to be with one guy and then turn around and be a cocaine addicted, 80’s music loving 19 year old living with a 30 year old with the next guy because that’s what was there, those were the people that were there.
When I met Abigail’s dad I became the woman he wanted. I lied about my drug history even though I really didn’t need to but I wanted him to think I was much more of a “hard core” user than I had been because I thought that would make him love me more. Unfortunately the only thing it did was lead us both down a path of serious addiction and I found myself truly for once living out my lies.
Four years later I found myself a single mom, a new Christian and all of a sudden with this “new life” that didn’t seem to fit any of the other lives I had lived before. Because my conversion had been so dramatic (according to those around me) it was deemed such a miracle and now all of a sudden it felt like I had to live up to this miracle. I became the good little church girl who went to church every Sunday, volunteered in the nursery and took every bible study because that’s what I was supposed to do.
Identity is a funny thing when they one you have ever had is the one that has been given to you by others. My parents declared me the mentally ill problem child, men saw me as the woman they could use to get what they wanted and now my friends saw me as this nice, sweet and radically redeemed woman of God.
But none of that was me, and I so desperately wanted to find me.
It started with a pair of Red TOMS and a justice conference.
I had started to become more aware of social justice issues after attended a conference at a local church in Colorado Springs and it blew me away, I knew I would never be the same.
It was also around the same time that I decided I wanted a pair of TOMS. I cannot place my finger on why exactly these shows became an identity sealer for me but they did. In truth I think it was because going to this conference gave me the ability to become more outspoken about one area that I felt was extremely important that no one in my circle of friends was really aware of.
That was just the beginning.
I was involved with a ministry and part of what this ministry did was put on conferences twice a year. I did not belong in this ministry one single bit but I wanted to start my Beth Moore/speaker platform so I figured this was the way. I was the youngest involved, every other woman was over 40 and in a totally different time in their life and my ideas fell on deaf ears.
When I brought up getting a donation of fair trade chocolate, again deaf ears no one could understand why I was so adamant about it. It was more “well this is important to YOU so it’s ok” Not this is important in general.
That’s when I started to see that my new found opinions that were ACTUALLY MINE were not going to be accepted in the circles I was involved in.
Things like this kept happening. I started following more progressive Christians on Twitter and reading their blogs. To say that I was uncomfortable would be an understatement. I would follow and unfollow and follow again.
I was struggling to embrace this part of me that had been begging to be born since the very beginning but my uber conservative side was trying so hard to kill it. If the left won the right was afraid that I would be alone.
The straws were bending and twisting and when I got home from Africa in June of 2012 that’s when the snap happened (in a lot of ways) I started to realize that a lot of these pastors that I had followed were not in fact who I thought they were, that what they were preaching was not healthy and the fact that my friends were so hung up on them frightened me a little bit.
When my views about homosexuality and gay marriage started to change, when I realized that I could in fact doubt and scream and say FUCK you to God because I was diagnosed with a scary illness and I would tell my mentor this in excitement because I saw it as growth in my faith and she would look at me with pity, like I was doing something wrong.
I decided to leave my beloved Tuesday morning bible study because I couldn’t keep up. I was sick, trying to home school still and honesty did not fit in anymore. When I let my mentor know (she was the leader) she lost what I can only imagine to be her final grip of control on my faith. The way she reacted was not in love and took to gossiping about me at the bible study and even as far as stating that I was backing sliding (what does that even mean really)
But the beauty in all of these – what I felt at the time – terrible things is that I finally realized who I AM. I am Bethany Grace beloved TOMS wearing child of God.
I don’t like to match my outfits. I love cardigans and scarves, I am loud and like my presence to be known. I love as big and wide as I can but also pretty imperfectly which is a journey.
Jesus is the core of my life but I am still learning about Him to because it takes time to heal when your faith starts out wounded.
I am a pretty relaxed, spirit led parent and I don’t spank and I take offense to people labeling my daughter and blaming her struggles on behavior and telling me how to parent her.
I still like to listen to my music loud and rarely is it Christian.
I don’t read my bible very much but that doesn’t mean that I do not interact with Christ on a daily basis. I see Him more now than I ever did before.
Every time I listen to The Middle I have this experience of realizing that it does not matter what people think of me. That others opinions and what they want their truths about me to be is on them. I am still learning who I am but so far I like who I have become in this time period of sitting with myself and Jesus and reflecting on what I like and not on what other people want or expect me to be.
I like me.