When Belonging Doesn’t Mean Sameness

I don’t like coffee. There, I said it.

I read blogs and listen to podcasts. I’ve seen the memes. Women who are younger than me – a lot younger than me- who write books, wear great earrings, who all seem to know each other. And they all seem to love coffee.

Somehow I’ve told myself if I were ever in Nashville or Chicago or the next blogging conference I’d be able to blend right in. If I wore a cute pair of boots, a long skirt, found some cool earrings from a free trade company and wore my Warby Parker glasses, it might distract from my obvious age. But then someone would say, “Let’s grab a coffee,” and I’d be exposed for the outsider I am.

Even in the photography class I’m taking I try to fit. When I scroll through Instagram to the pictures of others in my group they are full of spring blossoms, of lilacs and peonies, tulips, cherry blossoms and ranunculus- bundles and bundles of ranunculus. I sigh a lament of not having these beauties around me. When the prompt is branches and blossoms, I grab my fake branch with pretty pink blooms on them. It might be a fake cherry blossom branch, but I hope it doesn’t look too fake. I look at these photos and again feel like I don’t belong. What can I do that will look as lovely? How do I fit in with this group of artists?

I’m used to standing out having grown up in the Salvation Army but not always comfortable with the things that make me different. It all sounds so juvenile. Am I still worried about fitting in? At 60, is that still clawing at me?

Maybe it’s my first born, perfectionist tendencies that want everything to be just right. In my mind, “just right” means looking like the crowd. It means not standing out by saying the wrong thing or wearing the wrong clothes. Or perhaps it’s my urge to control life that compels me to be “just right”. If I can orchestrate the setting, the agenda, the music, then I’ll know who to be. I’ll wear the right clothes, I won’t make a mistake (as if being myself is ever a mistake). It’s an irrational fear, but how do I break the constraints I allow to bind me?

My first impulse is to insert Stuart Smalley’s words:

I’m good enough. I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

Or the line that had us all tearing up from the movie The Help:

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.

As simple as those lines sound, they’re what I need to tell myself, and they help more than I want to admit.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

I’m learning over and over again- even at 60- that belonging is more than looking like everyone else, that the only person who can make me feel like I belong is me. I began to understand that more after working in a recovery community. This group of people are a mix of handsome and plain, young and old, successful and unskilled. Some have made a fortune only to lose it, and others haven’t held a job longer than a few months. Their common bound is their brokenness. At their bottom they’ve found surrender and acceptance. When they stopped hiding, they found belonging. Brene Brown talks about this in her book Daring Greatly. She writes,

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” 

As a result of the endless uprooting I experienced growing up, I’ve carried the insecurity of not belonging for too long. It’s time to let go and remember that imperfections aren’t flaws but part of what makes me accessible and approachable. They are reminders that when God knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) he knew my place of complete acceptance could only be in him.

So I’m dipping my toe into joining in. Instead of waiting for others to reach out to me in my photography class, I speak up and share first. I’m willing to risk showing up, to be present in class, in my community, in writing because I know the risk is worth it.

So let’s meet for coffee. Just make mine tea.

Debby Hudson
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