I was in third grade when I figured out I was… different. My beloved teacher, Mrs. Sands, made me stay in from recess to clean out my desk. She showed me the other desks, pencils neatly lying in the pencil tray, notebooks and a couple papers stacked inside. Then she showed me my own desk, crammed so full that things were falling out: permission slips unsigned, assignments completed and never turned in, worksheets undone and long forgotten, library books lost. None of the papers could really be called a rectangle any more, mashed and crumpled and folded things. In the very back, much to my surprise, we found an orange, covered in penicillin. After recess, I gave all of the other kids a lick — hey! Free vaccinations!
I am still different. The mess that whirls around me never fails to take me by surprise. How did it get here? Where did it come from? I still lose library books. I still forget doctor’s appointments. My friends are baffled.
I write books, and one after another, no two fit in the same genre. I cannot choose a category. This blog — is it about writing? faith? family? I struggle with identity questions. I am not like my homeschooling mama friends, who bake bread, make curtains, keep orderly children. I am not like other writers, who send the kids off to school and settle down to work, meet deadlines, develop marketing strategies. I am maybe most like my Christian friends, slogging upwards and inwards, sitting down with coffee and Bible and bringing my mess to God for divine intervention.
My daughter sits by me, angry tears unwiped. She is again comparing herself to big brother, for whom it all seems so easy. He understands things right away, dashes off assignments. She does not see: he also loses the library books, forgets to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. He has to do things twice. He is not bothered by sloppy, incomplete, slap-dash. You both have your struggles, I tell her. It’s not about fair. We’re all different.
But I don’t hear the words I say, because after she mopes away, I sit on the couch and brood. Why can’t I be more like so-and-so? Why can’t I choose just one thing to be good at and do it really well? Why so scattered? I am mad, too, mad that I am doomed to fail. Why didn’t God make me better?
I flip open the Bible and am startled by what I read. “Oh, Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me. You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought from far away… You know what I am going to say even before I say it… I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night — but even in darkness I cannot hide from you… You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous — and how well I know it… You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” (Ps. 139)
Could it be I am what I am on purpose? Can I, in my weakness, somehow be strong — in my failure, be open to grace?
You are different, too, I’d wager. Maybe you love math, and you realize that’s a little weird. Or you hate games. Maybe you are really private, and can always be trusted to keep a confidence. You’re fierce, you stand up for justice, but you have a hard time forgiving. Maybe you are empathetic, but also easily wounded. Or in your perfectionism, you do things well, but can’t do grace. Maybe your strength makes you weak. Maybe your weakness makes you strong. Maybe the weakness of the people who drive you crazy has a paired strength you haven’t noticed.
Maybe different isn’t so bad after all.
And for you writer types, maybe fitting in that genre mold, so important to the agents and publishers and powers that be — maybe that pressure is stifling. Maybe you’ll “be your best you” if you ignore them all and write what’s on your mind, different notwithstanding. Course, you might drive them crazy, you might never get published. But if you do, maybe it will really matter.
When did you figure out you were different?