Spelling Bees, Identity, and God's Grace

When I was six years old, I moved into a little victorian on Washington Street. Sour grapes grew up against the fence in the back yard and the wooden floors felt delightfully hollow underneath my feet when I ran through the living room. I went to second grade just down the street at Emerson Elementary: a stoic brick building where my teacher Mrs. Carlson hung a big paperboard caterpillar on the wall at the front of the classroom. All of our names were hand-written on little paperboard leaves, and we got to move them around the tree that was also drawn on the wall; we used them record which chores we were responsible for in the classroom.

One day, I was talking with two other little blonde haired girls in my class. We were in the back of the classroom, during one of those shuffle-around times between lessons. We were chatting, and I confided to them about the crush I had on a certain little boy in our class.

They looked up at me, and I knew immediately I had made a huge mistake.

They looked up and me, and their faces said plainly: “You fool. You’re not allowed to have a crush on him. Look at you. You’re not that kind of girl. You’re not pretty enough; you’re not popular enough.”

Later that year, I remember looking at our pictures in the little paperback yearbooks they gave away for free in our elementary school, and I realized they were right.

"They're right. I don’t look like them. They’re different than me. They're prettier, girlier, destined for lives filled with little blonde-haired boyfriends. That’s not who I am."

There, pouring over those little black and white postage stamp portraits, I knew that I had to become someone else instead.

And luckily for me, that was when I discovered I was good at spelling.

***

The next year I was selected for TASK, an accelerated academic program in Owosso Public Schools, and being a smart kid has been my primary identity ever since.

I use big words and get good grades and always finish my homework.

Always.

***

And I think my life in that identity is at an end.

I think God is calling me to be somebody new.

My smart kid identity spends her time obsessively counting ribbons and awards, keeping track all her proof that she's worthy of love and respect.

And I just don’t think the world needs her.

I don’t think we need another straight A student, even one that shape shifts into an entrepreneur and moves to Detroit to start an fancy new ethical business.

I believe that God is calling me to the death of that identity, the identity that thinks that my strength is mine to claim, that its source lies within me as opposed to within God’s love and grace.

I believe that God is calling for that death, and I know (even if I don’t always feel or believe it) that God will send new life into me.

And I'm scared because I have no idea what that new life will be like.