Where you belong

Every once in a while in life, you might find yourself full of uncertainties of where you’re supposed to be.

It’s during these times I quote a movie about a beauty pageant contestant.

When I was in high school, my sister and I really loved quoting a line from the movie Beautiful. The movie itself wasn’t bad, but I’m pretty sure we liked just this one line more than we liked the actual movie. It stars Minnie Driver as Mona, a woman who spends her life caring about not much more than beauty pageants. There’s a part in which this cute little girl named Vanessa (who is actually Mona’s daughter, but Mona can’t let anyone know that, otherwise she couldn’t compete in pageants) begins connecting a few dots and looks Mona in the eyes and says, “I just want to know where I belong.

It hits you right in the heart.

I think it’s easy for a lot of us to feel like Vanessa sometimes. Life can be so big, and we are so small, and suddenly you can find yourself spinning around and around and not sure where to go or where you best fit in. It can be exciting, frustrating and downright frightening all at once.

I had a tremendous problem with this in college. I went to four different colleges in four years. I started at Texas A&M, transferred to UNT for a semester, transferred back to A&M for a year, transferred to SMU for a semester, transferred to TCU for a semester (worst semester of my life) and then transferred back to SMU for all of my senior year. It.was.draining. College was rough for me, and other than when I was at A&M, I never truly felt like I was a part of any of the schools. I frequently found myself saying, I just want to know where I belong.

I remember when the end of last school year was approaching, and I was looking for a new job, I had no idea what the future held. I didn’t know what my next step was supposed to be. I had no answers when people asked me what I was going to do instead of teach. I had no answers for myself when I wondered the very same thing. I had the constant thought, I just want to know where I belong.

My lease for my apartment is up in December, and for a variety of reasons, I’m not planning to renew again. The problem is, though, that I have no idea where I’m going to live. I want to feel safe—the kind of safe that doesn’t require undercover cops to “hide” each morning in gas station parking lots near you because the crime in the area has gotten so bad. I want to be able to go running each morning and not have to pray for protection the entire way until I can at least get on the other side of the highway. But I also need something affordable. And it seems the safer places are always pricier.  I also don’t want to be so far away from people that it’s hard to connect. It’s been somewhat of a discouraging task. I just want to know where I belong.

To add to that, I’ve been struggling with a decision involving where I want to go to church. I’ve been at my church for almost 10 years—with a brief year or so period that I went elsewhere—and I really love it, yet I still don’t feel like I’m truly part of it. I show up every Sunday, and I see some familiar faces, but I don’t feel like many people actually know me there. I’ve tried different ways of getting involved, but I don’t want to hear anymore that I need to join the young adults group (I’m 30, not 24) or the singles group (I don’t come to church to talk about being single, to hang out with people exactly like me or to pick up a man). I’ve attended another church the past two weeks and am trying to discern if it’s where I’m supposed to be. I want to feel like part of a church community—to feel like I belong. I just want to know where I belong.

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Even if you’re in a child’s car seat, just be you

The more I wonder this about a number of things, though, the more I hear this truth repeating in my head: It’s not where you are—it’s who you are. Sure, the place you are or the people you are around often impact you in big ways, but they don’t have to change who you are. Wherever it is you’re called to—whether it’s a new church, a new school, a new job, a new neighborhood, a new relationship, a new community of friends, a new place you find yourself hanging out at a lot—is a place where you are also called to be yourself.

It can be challenging when you’re trying to figure out where you belong, but it’s also comforting to know you don’t have to be anyone other than you—the you you were created to be regardless of where you are or what your circumstances may be. Wherever I’m living at the end of the year, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever church community I’m a part of, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever friend circles I form throughout my life, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever (if any) man sweeps me off my feet and wins my heart forever, I’ll be Natalie there. Whatever happens anywhere and everywhere, I’ll be Natalie there.

Because He made me Natalie, and the only place I truly need to be concerned about belonging is in His arms, and everything else will fall into place as it should. With Him, everything makes sense when nothing makes sense.

And I know just where I belong.

You can’t truly capture the moon

Things in space are so far away, but I think some of them are a lot closer and similar to us than we ever imagine.

Like the moon.

I was running one morning recently and noticed how beautiful the moon looked. At first I wished I had a camera with me to snap a picture of it, but then I remembered all of the times I had tried that before and how unappealing those images had turned out.

There have been many instances when I have attempted to take a quality picture of the moon and completely failed. I’m convinced it’s not really possible—especially with just an iPhone. I read an article that credited the reason for the moon not being so photogenic to the fact that the moon doesn’t shine on its own and is instead illuminated by the sun, which is a lot more powerful. This results in a tremendous glare, and your picture of the moon looks like a floating blob rather than the beautiful depiction you see in real life with your eyes.

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Looked better in person

I think the moon is a lot like people in the way it’s portrayed in pictures: what you see isn’t an accurate representation of the truth. A lot of this has to do with social media. It’s so easy to cover up who you really are and let people believe you are someone different.

But why?

Why is it so tempting to be people we’re not? We can post pictures of us when we look our bests, and we can convey these positive images of ourselves, but why are we so ashamed to hide the truth? Rather than posting anything at all, wouldn’t it be better to be your true self in the real world? I mean, the moon has proven it’s a better sight, anyway.

It can be a real challenge to be authentic all of the time. Because it’s scary. Being completely transparent is a bold thing to do—people will know who you really are. You won’t simply be a portrait of what you want to be or how you want others to see you. You will genuinely be you.

And I honestly believe there is nothing wrong with that.

When I was in middle school (quite possibly the worst stage of life one must endure), I tried so hard to fit in and be like everyone else. I only wanted to wear certain brands of clothing and thought I was only supposed to hang out with certain groups of people. I was even afraid of saying certain things or not saying certain things—I mean, if I wasn’t using the “cool” lingo, then it meant I wasn’t “cool.”

Looking back, I really don’t like the person I was then. I wasn’t even content with being in my own skin all of the time. Thankfully, somewhere along the way I learned how to be me—and I’m perfectly comfortable being the flawed individual I am. I don’t want to try to cover up who I am and try to fit in with others. I know it can seem a bit easier to feel this way once you leave those adolescent days when you’re constantly surrounded by peers and the pressures of growing up, but even adulthood brings with it struggles and influences of its own.

Think about how many times you’ve heard the answer, “Fine, thanks. How are you?” when you ask someone how he or she is doing. But, is that person really doing that well? Or is that individual hesitant to share the truth that life is actually really rough right now, and every day is a battle? I’m guilty of this at times. I’ve always had trouble showing my emotions—I can barely even cry in front of myself—and don’t always want to let people know when I’m going through a difficult time. But why? The people who truly care about me are going to love me regardless of my faults and help me through whatever I’m facing in life. And the people who don’t really care? Why should I care one inkling what they think?

You were made to be you at all times, and it makes no sense to try to be someone else, whether it’s online or in person. The moon’s radiance can’t be captured as well in a picture as it can be seen with real eyes. Your radiance just isn’t the same when it’s seen through rose-colored lenses and not authentic eyes.

It’s good to be like the moon—people would rather see the real you than a blurry version, anyway.

Because we don’t live in Neverland

No, we cannot live in an imaginary world with Peter Pan, win battles against Captain Hook, and never become real adults, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sometimes act like kids again.

I still color in coloring books–judge me all you want.

I recently gave my students a journal topic that had me thinking, as well. Are you afraid of growing up? Explain why or why not.

Of course it was interesting to get all of the different perspectives of teenagers, because they actually have a lot more wisdom and insight than people often give them credit for. As I anticipated, many of them are apprehensive because of that one thing that adults are supposed to have: responsibility. But one answer really stood out to me and made me think quite a bit: I’m afraid of getting so caught up in work and other real world stuff that I forget who I really am.

Wow.

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Grow up, but don’t grow up

To me, what’s so scary about that statement is how easy it is for it to become true. Sometimes life becomes so full of tasks and goals and ambitions that we lose ourselves in “stuff” and forget how to enjoy just being us. When you’re a kid, you don’t have as many worries and concerns, and you just do what you want when you want. You play soccer at recess without stressing about the spelling test you just bombed; you climb trees in your neighbor’s yard without worrying about the grumpy woman who lives there yelling at you to get down; you wear whatever you want without really caring about what it looks like to other people; you don’t know the words “gluten” or “organic” and certainly don’t care what they mean; you simply ask people for the things you want or need without concern about what responses they will give you; you tell people you love them and mean it, because you don’t question the things you feel in your heart; you believe in things with an innocent faith without needing any scientific proof; you tell the truth more often than you probably will at any other point in your life; and you act like you all of the time (even when you’re pretending to be a superhero), because that is the only person you know how to be.

And then you grow up, and things change.

But what if they didn’t have to? I know that being an adult carries with it a lot more responsibilities and stresses that you don’t have as a child, but what if we still let ourselves live a little? What if we still let ourselves have those moments when we throw all of our cares out the unwashed window to do the things we really want to do? Sing that song out loud; dance; splash in those puddles; eat that cookie; tell that guy you think he’s cute; climb that tree in the middle of the park; take that art class you’ve been hearing so much about; say “I love you” with no hesitation or regrets; go out in public even if you think you look disheveled; have the fruit snacks with the high fructose corn syrup; be the you you want to be–and never forget who that person is.

I know there are bills to pay, I know there is work to be completed, and I know there are a countless amount of things I have to do in life that are necessary in this thing called adulthood. But I also know that there are relationships to build, joy to have, and love to spread.

And I hope we all remember which list is more important.