On the Outside Looking In by Darlena Drake Fields
My longest standing desire in life, as far back as I can remember, has been BELONGING.
To belong in this little intimate friend circle that did everything and shared everything together...even their deepest, darkest secrets.
My earliest memory of wishing I could fit it was at recess on my first day of kindergarden in small-town, Texas. Let me take you back there with me to 1971...
The kindergarden I went to was in this tiny little schoolhouse outside of the teacher's home, Mrs. Thompson. We played in the beautifully, groomed backyard of Mrs. Thompson's house, surrounded by pink rose bushes. But, I don't actually have any memories of playing. Just of standing at the edge of the yard staring at all the other kids jumping around, giggling and having what seemed like as much fun as you could have in a well-groomed backyard. My memories tell me that I did not even know how to join in. But silently hoped that one of those happy kids would pull me into the big middle of all the fun, which seemed to evade me so.
I've pretty much felt this way my whole life -- one backyard recess scene after another -- same play different actors.
I've been standing on the outside of my life looking in.
Now, before I go any further, let me make this clear...I have had and have lots of friends.
In fact, I have so many friends that I can't keep up with them all! Not anymore, anyway.
Like, I used to be The Queen of Keeping-in-Touch. I mean I never missed a birthday. And after college, I personally signed, addressed and licked roughly 250 Christmas picture-cards with juicy, annual update letters!
Okay, back to the point...
So, yeah. I have a lot of friends and know lots of people.
In fact, I have a couple of friends that joke about how they can't go anywhere with me without me seeing someone I know. BUT...
Outside of my not-so-little family of 6, I do not belong to a small group, bunch of peeps, tribe, clan, band, flock or whatever you wanna call it, of friends that I feel would miss me if I killed over tomorrow -- no huddle of friends who celebrate me as an irreplaceable part of their lives.
I've been a part of different groups on and off since High School, but not anything that ever lasted.
When I was or am a part of a group, there is always something that keeps me feeling like I just don't belong...
My parents are wealthy, I'm not wealthy, I'm too educated, My parents aren't educated, I'm a straight-A student, I'm not outgoing, I'm a good girl, I'm a bad girl, I'm younger, I'm older, I'm new, I'm a Spirit-filled Believer, I'm not a Baptist, I'm the Pastor's wife, I am not a leader, I'm attractive, I have a muffin top, I'm a stay-at-home-mom, I work full-time, I don't eat organic, I color my hair, I don't take anti-anxiety meds, I love McDonald's fries, I'm not a competitive jogger, I'm from the South, I have too many kids, I only have 4 kids, My kids aren't rock stars, My kids are well-behaved, My kids are acting out, My children are knock-outs, My kids aren't award-winners, My kids love Jesus....Agh!!!
You see where this is headed, people?
The list of reasons why we don't fit in certain circles could go on and on, ridiculously, because it's a real thing...not fitting in.
Most people find that they just don't quite measure up in this life of comparison that we live.
I've been caught between being "Too Much" or "Not Enough" my entire life.
Well, we'll have to unpack this topic another day, 'cause I could write a whole other blog on this craziness.
Now, to get back on course, I do have extended family. Yet, we are not close. Here's the skinny on them...
I won't go into great detail here. However, I will say for the sake of helping you get the picture of the kind of family system I grew up in, I haven't been to a family reunion since I was 5. The truth about why, came out after my paternal grandfather died, when I finally became privy to my family's hidden secret -- that he molested all the girls in the family. Henceforth, all the relatives stopped visiting my family, because we lived right next door to him. It's a long, twisted tale of control, greed, addiction, violence, and all forms of abuse that's taken me years of soul work to overcome...and that's all I have to say about that right now.
Research shows that children learn how to connect and get their sense of belonging from their family of origin or from the environment they grew up in by age 5.
So, from my brief history, you can probably guess that I didn't get the highest marks on the score chart.
Here's what growing up in a raging environment did for me and my siblings...
We fit the classic Birth Order Stereotypes AND the Dysfunctional Family Roles to a "T." I was the award-winning, oldest, "Golden Child." My brother, the middle child (5 years younger), was a first-class, "Black Sheep. My little sister (10 years my youth), was a blue-ribbon "Forgotten Child." In graduate school I wrote a paper on what a class-act the 3 of us were and received an A+. I emphasized WAS, because this isn't close to who any of us are anymore. We each have stories of having been to hell and back, and by the grace of God, managed to come out on the other side with redeemed lives and sweet families.
BUT...we ain't close, and it leaves an unquenchable ache in my soul.
They still live in Texas. I live in Georgia. I get to see them 1 - 2 times a year. I vow after each visit that I'm gonna keep in contact better, FaceTime, send more pictures...blah, blah, blah. But it's not long before we're back to texting occasionally, seldom talking and feeling disconnected.
Frankly, after 4 kids, 2 dogs, a big house that's never clean, a ministry to run...yatta, yatta, yatta...I just suck at keeping in touch with people that aren't in my face everyday or see regularly.
Which brings me back around to my point:
Even though I am close with my husband and kids, have more friends than I can keep up with and I have family I can go home to;
Even though I have been a part of churches, ministry school, home fellowships, Bible studies, prayer groups;
Even though I have been a part of homeschool coops, PTO's, Team Moms, Room Moms, play groups, have annual holiday lunches at my home;
I still feel like I don't have the one thing I've wanted since I was a little girl.
I don't have that one thing that I get to watch everyone else have...
A community to belong in and do life with.
A little tribe I can call my own to laugh with, cry with or just hold space with.
A group of gals that knows everything about me and still loves me and believes the best in me.
Basically, some folks, outside my little Fields Fam 6, that would miss me if I were ever abducted by aliens...
At the end of the day, I'm still left standing on the outside of my life looking in.
So...I spent 2017 studying the subject of connection and belonging -- how to do it healthily and how to obtain it.
And of course, learned why the heck I've been stuck in a perpetual state of disconnection.
I have written what I concluded about my plight in life and I'm sharing it in hopes that you might make some discoveries about yourself as well.
Like I mentioned above, we learn how to connect and feel belonging from childhood.
So, each experience we go through after that simply cements those beliefs and behaviors in place.
In other words...
every time I was made fun of in elementary school,
every time I was bullied by mean girls in middle school (or Junior High, as it was called back in my day),
every time I was outcasted in high school,
every time I heard painful rumors about me in college,
every rejection from boyfriend break-ups in between, and
every adult that belittled, shamed or attempted to control me...
just cemented a little more and a little more until this belief became the bedrock of my identity...
I'm not worthy of belonging.
So, I graduate into adulthood and marriage believing that all women are cruel bitches, all men are selfish assholes that just want you for sex, and all superiors are out to dominate you and make you feel like a loser.
Well...isn't that a lovely outlook on which to start life and marriage?
Now, don't forget that I'm a spirit-filled, wanna-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-as-a-missionary, Jesus lovin' Christian at this point.
Then, come the children, God bless them, to which I get to impart my lovely view of the world.
As I tried to do married life and motherhood from this belief system, here's where it got me...
1. The more I couldn't live up to the standards that the world set for being The Perfect Wife or The Perfect Mother -- the more I began to compare myself to other women, hide my imperfections and take stock in the lie that "I'm not enough".
2. When I started struggling emotionally with depression and physically with Chronic Fatigue -- I began to fake and pretend that my life was all together, and take out my pain and exhaustion on my family behind closed doors.
3. When my marriage began to fail and I became a disappointment to my husband -- I started to feel more alone, hustle for worthiness and see myself as a victim.
4. When my children started to act out, do the unthinkable or have the unimaginable happen to them -- I began to lie, became critical and judgemental of others, and put my kids through hell for making me look bad and not living up to my expectations.
5. The more I tried to self-comfort and self-defeating habits formed -- the more insulated and self-centered I became, and self-hatred took over.
6. The 20 years that I struggled with rage -- I lived terrified that anyone would find out my dark secret, felt that my life was one big, hypocritical joke and wore shame like sackcloth and ashes.
7. When other women were producing amazing kids and starting side businesses -- the more I blamed other people for my problems and I became so envious and jealous of others I couldn't be happy for them.
8. When I began to lose my passion for God and get out of touch with my purpose -- I started fishing for compliments, trying to impress people with past success stories and acquired a deep need to be right.
9. When I began to age, lose my attractiveness and get out of shape -- I started to believe that I no longer had anything to offer the world, felt worthless, and posted great looking pics on social media so my followers would believe that I still had it goin' on.
10. After years of being hurt, abandoned and rejected over and over by women -- I decided that I couldn't and wouldn't trust anymore, only maintain surface relationships and just keep blowing sunshine up people's asses!
Oh, my gosh how exhausting! What kind of life is this?
No wonder I haven't felt like I belonged or fit anywhere, for Heaven's sake! And who would even want this kind of person for a friend?
That my dear readers, is how a Lifestyle of Hiding is formed.
Life turned me into a Professional Hider, honestly.
A Lifestyle of Hiding is the breeding ground for shame, fear, blame, loneliness and disconnection.
We all hide who we really are in varying degrees and for all different reasons.
Sad, but true -- this is where and how so many people in America live. Particularly in the South. Even more so, in the Church.
Okay, I know that might have been a hard blow of truth there.
And it might even take a minute for you to wrap your brain around.
So, take a big deep breath and swallow.
Now, allow me to lighten the blow by inserting some glimmers of hope.
You okay? Maybe knowing this will help...
I'm far removed from that person I was in that list up there, since the Lord chased me down with His love during my 2015/2016 Transformational Year of Saying Yes to Hard Things.
But, even after my internal life was transformed, my marriage redefined, my kids lives restored, some ugly past redeemed and our ministry repurposed...the whole belonging-community thing still wasn't happening for me.
So, as you recall, I spent 2017 studying healthy connection, how to find true belonging and what it looks like to thrive is community.
After what I've both learned and overcome these past 2 1/2 years, this is what I've concluded about this whole subject...
"Hiding" is one of the main reasons why folks struggle with finding belonging and thriving in community.
The courage to come out of hiding emerges once we believe
that we are worthy of love and belonging.
It's for these reasons that my husband and I have made it our New Year's resolution to come out of hiding and go after healthy connection, true belonging and Courageous Community in 2018 together.
Now I ventured out here and there with my brave new identity in 2017, experimenting with forming community, seeing what could happen if I put into practice some of the things I'd been learning.
But, let me tell you what the tipping point was for me that lit the fire under my butt to go hard and fast after connection and belonging.
During the holidays, I went to go pick my son up from youth group where they had had a Christmas party in the youth building. When I drive up, I also see all the lights on in the church offices as well, with lots of people walking about, which is unusual.
The closer I get, the clearer it becomes that the church staff, which makes up most of my church friends, is having a Christmas party in Christmas jammies! And my son and his buddies are in there eating the leftover party food!
Oh, my God!!! You mean I am going to have to walk in there where my friends are having a party that I was not invited to, in order to get my son! You gotta be freaking kidding me!!! This was my worst nightmare!
The image that had haunted me all my life -- of me standing on the outside of a house window looking in at a party going on with all my friends that I was not invited to -- was legit happening right in front of me. It was all too surreal y'all!
I froze! I couldn't walk another step to go in go inside. So, I knocked on the window to get my sons attention, in hopes that he would come out discreetly, then we could quietly leave without anyone seeing me.
While I was knocking, about the third time my knuckles hit the glass of the window -- it was like all the feelings of loneliness and rejection I'd felt since kindergarden flooded my soul at the same time, like a cortisol rush.
I became catatonic for what seemed like forever as memories from my life in laser light speed flashed across my mind's eye, and I thought they would choke the life out of me right then and there, because it all felt so suffocating.
While I was frozen and lost somewhere in time in my head, my son saw me, came outside where I was standing by the window, shook me and said, "Hey mom, want a cookie?"
I snapped out of it, just as one of my friends saw me and waved, but all I could muster up to give back was a dazed look and half smile.
When I got home in the safety of my bedroom, I cried and cried, and determined that night that I would never be that little girl ever again.
I am not going to stand on the outside of my life looking in anymore!
I am going to live courageous...show up and be seen!
Fear and lies are not going to steal another day of my deepest longing!
Since my sweet hubby and I surrendered this matter over to the Lord and have became intentional in our pursuits for connection on January 1, we've noticed the Lord starting to shift things around in our hearts and lives, and some cool things are already beginning to happen.
Already, the Lord has divinely connected me with an old friend and a new friend with whom I've started meeting with last week to fellowship around a common interest we all share.
We met again last night...and we plan to keep meeting.
It's been absolutely delightful. Almost magical! I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
Jesus keeps proving Himself and this lesson to be true...
On the other side of risk is great reward.
If you relate to my story and desire healthy relationships or to experience deeper connections, join with us!
Let's go after Courageous Community together!!!
If you feel like you could use some soul work before joining the quest for true belonging, contact us at www.BeCourageousCoaching.com.
We will walk you through it and cheer you on!
If you still feel a little hesitant, ponder this...
"...I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I'm standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen." -Brene' Brown