Friday, April 01, 2005

Belonging

Pentecostals believe that speaking in tongues is the initial sign of being filled by the Holy Spirit. I grew up in such a church, full of hand-waving and tongue-speaking and swaying bodies and incoherent laughter and weeping. Although my mother wasn't as strict as her mother (in their household, no playing cards, no chapstick, no secular music, no shopping or working on Sundays), we weren't allowed to do things other kids did. For instance, "rock music" wasn't allowed, so when we watched "The Donny and Marie Show," when Donny began to sing "I'm a little bit rock and roll," we had to turn the channel. We went to church three times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. We did not swear, not even "geez," or "gosh."

But religious upbringing aside, I felt like an outsider at school. I was the tallest girl in my class. The teacher's pet. I wasn't familiar with contemporary music. I didn't take ballet class. Small things.

Then my parents divorced at a time when divorce was a rarity. From one year to the next, my world stopped spinning and then reversed directions. Everyone else was going west to east--eye make-up, boys, parties, dances--and I was going east to west, hibernating in my room, tending to my wounds, reading books, dreaming. The girls I had played with on the playground were now riding in cars with boys while I was trying to figure out my place in my reconstructed family.

When high school ended, I couldn't move far enough away. I figured no one would ever marry me, so off I went to Bible College. After graduation, I fully intended to suffer for Jesus in some far-flung land. My theology was a bit wacky in those days and I thought that's how God worked.

Even there, though, I didn't quite belong. I couldn't quite fluff my hair up like the Southern belles. I didn't want to take a class for "Pastor's Wives"--I wanted to learn homiletics (preaching). I wasn't religious enough. I balked at using the spiritual slang expected of me. I grew cynical and suspicious and even a little hostile.

I wasn't there to get my "MRS" degree--I was trying to find God's plan for my life. I graduated feeling like I didn't quite fit in the denomination. I couldn't swallow what they were spoon-feeding. I didn't want to play, didn't want to network my way through the church hierarchy. I'd sit in (daily required) chapel and make lists of Christian curse words to amuse myself.

Years later, after abandoning the denomination of my youth, I'm the Pastor's Wife. I shrug off that title and go so far as to "forget" to mention my husband's profession when I meet new people. I've heard maybe a dozen sermons in my almost 18 years of marriage. I'm the cobbler's children without any shoes. I'm a Christian, a devoted follower of Christ, but I don't sit in the pew and I'm not quite one of them. I don't really belong. And I can't really identify with the pastor's wives, either. They all seem so together, so holy, so obedient.

Our family lives in an affluent town where people buy property just to tear down houses so they can rebuilt extravagant homes with a view. People own second homes to vacation in. They drive new cars and own boats. I don't fit in. I don't have a career. My hair will simply not behave.

The past few days, I've heard pundits and politicians and analysts speak and I've thought, they don't speak for me. I read articles about mothers and I rarely see myself in the descriptions. When I hear about modern families, I wonder who these people are, because they aren't us. They aren't me. On television, I never find a representative of me. I don't find myself in novels, either. I'm certainly not in the movies. I'm not even on the religious channel.

I feel isolated in so many ways. Where do I fit? Isn't it pathetic to wonder this at the age of forty? And yet my wondering these days is not fueled by angst, but by a gradual dawning. I suspect everyone feels like an outcast on some level. We're either the wrong color or the wrong height or too fat or too skinny or we live on the wrong side of town or we never did memorize our multiplcation tables or we don't "get" the hype over American Idol. We just don't fit in.

What I love about growing up is that you get to create your own little world. You can populate your world with people who recognize you, who understand you, who make you feel not quite so alone.

And along the way, you discover that it's all right to be the tallest girl in class, the one who is a Republican (even though it's so not cool), the one who likes Barry Manilow and bypassed the whole college-drinking thing.

I don't really belong anywhere. And rather than feeling alone, I feel liberated, the way you feel in a strange city where no one knows you. Throw caution to the wind, because you'll never be back here again.

[*UPDATE and CORRECTION* "Seafoam" asked this: I'm curious as to why you've only heard your husband preach about a dozen times in eighteen years. Have you always worked in the nursery during the church service?

I wondered that myself, so I started thinking back. First of all, my husband's only been pastoring for 15 years, though we've been married for 18. In our first church, I was in charge of the children's church, so I taught children during the sermon. In our second church, I taught two-year olds during the sermon. Then we adopted twins, so I really had my hands full. In our third church, there was no nursery or class for my then-almost-2-year old twins. I sat with them in a makeshift nursery. Eventually, I started teaching the preschool class. Then I had a baby, so I was back in the cry-room with him.

When we moved to our current church, my baby boy was less than a year old and hated to be left, so I stayed with him in the nursery. When he was two or two and a half, I began to leave him in the nursery and I remembered tonight, as I pondered this question, that I actually did sit in church for some months. I did not teach Sunday School. I did not have nursery duty. I sang in the choir and I listened to the sermon. So, I have to retract my previous "12 sermons in 18 years" statement. I must have heard fifty sermons (a year's worth) before I gave birth again to a clingy, noisy baby who still won't stay alone in the nursery without having a nervous breakdown. She's two and a half and the day will arrive soon when I will be able to leave her.

And then I've been recruited to teach a brand-new preschool class starting next fall.

Thanks, Seafoam. I stand corrected and hope that answers your question.]

18 Comments:

Blogger Rodney Olsen said...

I have never felt as if I have fitted in .... anywhere.

Excuse me while I go and put on my Barry Manillow Greatest Hits, The Platinum Collection CD.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Good post, Mel. :)

12:11 AM  
Blogger Square1 said...

Thank you Mel. Though your circumstances are vastly different than my own... I feel like you've once again crawled in my head and extracted something I could have never so eloquently voiced.

7:07 AM  
Blogger Christa said...

As a pastor's daughter who was raised conservative Baptist, I can completely relate. I bent all the rules - went to a secular college, dated all the non-christians I could find, sneered at and despised all the back-biting people who tore my father down even as he was trying to help, trying to reach out.

That said, there's been healing. I've finally found a church that I'm confortable and welcomed in. My now-husband became a Christian 8 months into our dating, and I've found peace with where I'm at. God's hand has been there and present no matter where I was at.

It's not what I was raised with, and I've become ok with that, despite my father's judging. The Bible is becoming a tool to teach, I'm not bashed over the head with it anymore.

Great post, I think so many people can relate. Really, really eloquently stated.

7:59 AM  
Blogger Shelly said...

Mel -

Thank you for sharing this very personal story and this continuing road in your life. I'm there with you - so I guess we're not really alone....

Blessings,

10:22 AM  
Blogger cackmandu said...

Hmmm, very good post! I am probably one of few who visits your blog that has ZERO religion in his or his families life.

Never really was my thing. I am glad that you comfortable at where you are in your life and seem to be happy. You have been a great help of late in my blogging.

I am glad that you know that it's not about the hairstyle you have or how up to date you are on the crazy fads that make this contry go insane. You have made yourself happy and surrounded yourself with like minded people. Just so you know I was rocking out to Barry the other day at work. Not too shabby for a 20-something huh?

11:47 AM  
Blogger Christi said...

I have just recently found religion and where God fits in my life. I wasn't raised w/any religion, as my dad was a miserable alchy and my mom miserable that she was married to him!

I totally don't fit in anywhere, really. I'm likable, and people think I'm normal enough at first. Then they get to know me, and find out that my views are skewed and that I have tattoos, want piercings, and yet live a good Christian life raising my son with manners and morals with the most conservative husband in the world (I'm pretty liberal myself). Why bother trying to fit into a mold, though. God put us on this earth to be who we are, and to be different. I've always thought that if we were alike that the world would be so BORING! As long as you live your life in a good way, and do people right, you'll be fine. The best part of my life is that I found friends in high school that have remained my friends all along. They know everything about me, and love me just the same! I've got them, my husband, my family, and my kid--who could ask for anything more! Just think, you have, like, seven hundred kids that love you! You have everything you could ever need in life!

12:01 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

From a lurker... I think you stated beautifully what most people feel. It is wonderful that in your search for where you fit in you found yourself instead. Many people never make that discovery. BTW... my children all "rock out" to Barry Manilow LOL!

1:18 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

I have an actual 'day' when I realized that I didn't fit in, and never would.

Most days I'm okay with it. But occasionally, it hurts really really bad.

2:32 PM  
Blogger Angi said...

Part of the reason I started blogging a year ago, was because I was trying to figure out who I was. I grew up in that conservative Baptist household, no slang words, no cards, no dancing, no rock, no sports, we couldn't even watch TV most of the time. But unlike you, I tried out the world, and I could always see my dad's face, hear my mom's voice telling me how disappointed they were in me. Every time I took a sip of wine, made out in the back seat of a car, they were there, in my mind. I know it is those visions that kept me from straying too far away.

Then as an adult, trying to make up for the time I spent away, I went totally opposite, legalistic in my views, pretty much, I felt like if it was fun, then it must be a sin.

All this was just me trying to fit in somewhere, somehow. It didn't work. Now, is the first time in my life I feel comfortable in my own skin. It is great to grow up!

5:10 PM  
Blogger Seafoam said...

I'm curious as to why you've only heard your husband preach about a dozen times in eighteen years. Have you always worked in the nursery during the church service?

6:46 PM  
Blogger A said...

Mel, having gone to a Christian college myself and grown up in a legalistic Christian home, I can definitely relate to this post. It takes time to get past a lot of the toxic stuff that sticks after all those years, and I'm finding the process of growing and changing, while holding onto my faith, to be liberating. BTW, I'm sitting here trying to figure out what is on that list of Christian curse words that you wrote to amuse yourself in chapel! lol Sounds hilarious!

7:27 PM  
Blogger Ociferswife said...

Mel,

After reading your post and the comments I was stunned. I thought I was alone in trying to rid myself of all the "legalism" I grew up with. I wonder why it's so hard for me and yet others seem to overcome it. Oh well, guess I'm hard headed.

9:25 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

I think all of us who never fit in just haven't bloomed yet. But when we do, we're not the common daisy or dandylion, but some big extravagant flower that everyone admires. The dandylions and daisies look on with wonder...wondering why they had never noticed you before on that tall, green, plain shoot. Yes, indeed, growing older is splendid.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Seafoam said...

Thanks, Mel, for taking so much time to answer my question. I love your blog, by the way. It's the first one I read every day!

2:16 PM  
Blogger Anvilcloud said...

Been there. Been the misfit pentecostal kid. Not exactly the same experience but some touch points. I'll blog about it too someday -- always have planned to but never seem to get around to it.

7:45 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

I flunked out of the "MRS" degree at my Bible College too (not to mention a fair number of other religious expectations along the way). Still looking for a truth I can hold onto without the accompanying baggage.

6:17 AM  
Blogger Tina said...

I wonder how many people really feel like they have a perfect fit somewhere....

1:35 PM  

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