We were sitting in my grandparents living room. The room was full of family members cozied up on my grandmother’s overstuffed floral patterned furniture. The kids sat cross legged on the floor. Their wood burning fire was crackling, and the adults were chatting and laughing with one another. It was in this perfect family moment that I had rambunctiously knocked over a glass of juice. The adults quickly scattered for towels and cleaner as I watched the juice soak into my grandmother’s meticulously clean carpet. Now I’m not sure what prompted my mother to tell the story she did at that moment. It might have been a nervous attempt to explain my behaviour or it might have just been a moment to get a lighthearted laugh. My mother began to tell a story. She explained to the group that during her pregnancy with my older sister she drank out of a pink cup and she had a girl, and then during her pregnancy with my younger brother she drank out of a blue cup and she had a boy, but she explained that when she was pregnant with me she drank out of a monkey cup and she got me. The room erupted in laughter. I remember sitting there with a forced smile frozen on my face thinking the story through. I didn’t get it. What was she trying to say? Why was everyone laughing so hard?
While the adults continued their laughter exclaiming “how funny” the joke was, I scooted off to the washroom. I flipped on the bathroom light, pulled out the stepstool that was tucked under the sink and climbed on top. I leaned in closely towards the mirror and took a long hard look at myself. I didn’t “look” like a monkey, so the joke must have been referring to something else about me. They must have meant my personality was like a monkey. Was that it? I wasn’t sure if I was hurt and confused, or just embarrassed. I could feel warm tears welling up in my eyes so I reached down and grabbed a wad of toilet paper to wipe the evidence of pain from my face. I stared at my reflection in the mirror for a long time until I figured out what the story meant.
It meant I wasn’t a “good” girl, or at least not “good enough” and I needed to be one to be really accepted.
Growing up we are often told to “be who you are”, which is great advice unless who you are is a little too intense, a little too energetic, a little too enthusiastic, a little too loud, a little too sensitive, or a little too passionate. Then, you must NOT be who you are. If you are like that, well, then you’ll need to change. You’ll need to neatly tuck those parts of you away so that you don’t exhaust and irritate the people around you. You’ll need to keep those parts of yourself hidden to avoid being discounted and misunderstood. As a little girl my perception was that people love responsibility. They love careful, controlled, calm and routine. People don’t always love passionate, sensitive or intense. I looked at myself in the mirror that day and vowed to be better. I could be a good girl just like my sister. I knew I could! I didn’t want to be the monkey cup girl anymore. I wanted to be the perfect little pink cup girl.
Over the years I forced myself to calm down. I learned to be controlled, slower, quieter. I learned to shrink down and let other people shine. I felt safer that way, and I thought they did too. I began to feel like an imposter though. I was getting really good at playing the “pink cup” part, but deep down I always knew I was really the “monkey cup girl”. She was still there. Buried deep down where I left her and I was always afraid she might come out.
How often are we told through both verbal and non verbal communications that we cannot be who we really are? Oftentimes we all feel forced to pretend at some level. Forced to hide our truth beneath our cautious responses, our cheesy jokes, our sarcastic comments, and the decisions we make from our own insecurities. We present the world with our “pretty pink cup” and we say “this is the real me”. Sometimes we are just afraid to feel too deeply out here. We are afraid of what that makes us, and of what people will say. But what if being yourself, whether in your gentleness or in your intensity doesn’t mean you are weak? What if God created you exactly the way you are to carry out a specific plan and specific purpose in a way that others cannot?
I don’t know where I developed the dysfunctional mindset that I did. My childhood was idyllic and when it came to parents, I truly hit the jackpot. My parents were the kind of parents every child wished for and most children were jealous of. I never wanted for anything, felt unloved or unsupported. And yet, from a young age I somehow convinced myself that I was a disappointment and that I wasn’t good enough. My parents didn’t see me this way, nor my family, friends or teachers, even still, it was a lie I continually believed about myself.
Thankfully by the time I reached adulthood I had a mentor come into my life and identify my imposterdom. She saw me. I mean she really saw who I was and that I was actually a woman hiding in plain sight. She started to question me about my fears and about the things that drove me to make the decisions in my life that I was making.
For me, it looked like a lack of boundaries. It looked like a woman who was afraid to say “no” to people. It looked like a woman who avoided confrontation, who worked too hard and played too little. It looked like a woman nervous and uncomfortable in social settings, a woman who overanalyzed every conversation she had. It looked like a woman who was always thinking and rethinking every decision she made and how it would be perceived by the people around her. It looked like a woman living in a state of constant regret for every word she spoke and every action she carried out that left her feeling like she wasn’t enough.
My mentor started to challenge me in my thinking about myself. She started to uncover the parts of me that I tried so desperately to bury, the parts that I thought were the most annoying and ugly to others.
She saw my intensity and asked if perhaps God had created me with the ability to accomplish projects in a way that most other people cannot.
She saw my sensitivity and asked if perhaps God had created me with an ability to empathize with others in a way that most people cannot.
She saw my energy and asked if perhaps God had created me with a capacity to take on a load that most other people cannot.
She saw my passion and asked if perhaps God had created me with a boldness to speak up for things in a way that most other people cannot.
Little by little my mentor encouraged me to walk in confidence as the woman God created me to be. As I began to shift my focus on pleasing God and away from pleasing other people I began to change. I began to feel free. I realized it is so much easier to please God than to work to please all of the people around me. I learned to lean in and pay attention to my sensitivity, my passion, my energy and my intensity. I learned to stop in the moment and as God “What do you want me to see in this situation and what do you want me to do?” I learned to see these things as strengths that God has given me instead of weaknesses that need to be hidden. In these moments of embracing who God has created me to be, it’s led me to some amazingly bold things that I would have never done before, and it has allowed me to see God working in my life! Trying to live as the person I thought everyone else wanted me to be actually allowed me to enter into relationships and situations that ultimately led to destruction. I realized that in trying to “protect” myself, I ended up doing the exact opposite.
Being who God created you to be is your fortitude. Do not hide yourself away worried that it’s too much for people. It is your light, and you were made to shine in the darkness. You are not a complication. You are not a nuisance. You do not need to shrink down. You do not need to rise up. You do not need to be quieter or louder. You do not need to say less. You do not need to do more. You do not need to polish or perfect. You do not need to have the answer, but if you do you can be heard. You do not need to be stronger or less wounded.
You bring value exactly the way God created you to be.
God did not make you to be stuffed down and hidden away. YOU are His favourite creation! You are His pride and joy. You are His heart on this earth, and He is your safe place.
So rise up and stand tall.
Straighten your crown, raise your monkey cup high, and let the world SEE you! Stand confidently in who you really are.
You are seen.
You are enough.
You are loved exactly the way God created you to be!