We sat on the curb at the edge of the elementary school playground. Five friends huddled around me, my white plastic three-ring binder with the words “Mon Amis” written on it. We were starting an exclusive club — a club where we had things like codes and friendship pledges and anything I could use to grab a group of girls to myself, to tell myself that I belonged. That we belonged together. We weren’t the girls playing horses on the field, the ones chasing boys, or the ones playing soccer or tetherball. We were going to be friends — girlfriends — and use fancy French words to say it.
If I could just put it all in plastic — all in a white binder — maybe then I’d belong. Maybe then I’d find my place, the ringleader desperate to be a part of something bigger than herself — there on the edge of the playground with a group of girls trying to find the long, slow path towards womanhood. But all I had then were a few French phrases, a few bylaws, and a dream of belonging.
In high school we had silky floral shirts and flare jeans and chokers to show what it meant to be “in.” We wore plum lipstick like Claire Danes. Grunge was the sound of our carpools. Being on the edge of belonging — between child and woman — meant illicit conversations in Biology about the weekend, where I listened, yearning to belong, but not sure it was okay. Could I could lose myself so fully in my body, in the present, in all those things that youth group said was wrong?
So to belong, I found an elite to belong to: honors classes, early morning bible studies. It was safer there in the cloak of righteousness — of all I believed, of all I didn’t do, of all I pledged to do and be, forever and ever. I pledged to belong to all the expats, to all the women who were untethered and free, to a narrative of belonging that meant leaving constraints, of always moving upward, like a graph in AP Economics.
But belonging is still elusive.
Now, I walk my elementary school children to school. These moms I pass each morning were children of the ‘90s with me. Now we’re on the PTA. We care about raising money for music, who our kids are hanging out with, and what is this elusive path of “success” we nudge our children towards. Our lipstick color has changed from maroons to nudes and reds. We’re worried about bullying, diversity, extracurricular activities, and what the teens are getting into in our neighborhood. We’ve traded the shiny floral shirts for long and flowy festival wear; we wear waves in our hair and cute booties.
But aren’t we just sitting on a curb wondering how we all get to belonging?
Aren’t we all longing for other women to see us? Don’t we all want some women with whom we can wear our sweatpants? Don’t we just want to belong to other women who have the courage to say “yes,” and “wait, hold on,” and who will call us out when we distance all our own issues and blame others?
Because these are the sweat pant friends. These are the friends who don’t notice when you don’t wear makeup, who show up for a cup of tea when you just need to cry out to a God you’re not sure you always believe in. These are the friends who will laugh with you, accept your odd references to quirky theologians or authors, and go out to an extravagant dinner with you to celebrate another year of getting older. These are the friends who stay — who show you that belonging is never about codes, or white binders, or who fits in, but always, always about presence.
It’s safer to look to those three-ring binders for belonging. We keep wanting to fit in by right angles — the codes, the bylaws, the page protectors — any system that says you mean something. If you follow the rules then you’ll belong.
But “if, then” statements only leave us precariously holding on to belonging. Real belonging is found around tables. It’s found in a God who explodes our categories about what fits, who took on our very flesh to show us that in Christ we all belong: the rich, the poor, men, women, children, clean and unclean.
When you are housed in Jesus you belong.
You don’t need binders or a dress code. Join the circle. You belong.
Here, there’s a table awaiting you. There is a mudroom awaiting you. Join in, find a seat.