Identity Crisis or Crisis of Faith?

(Originally posted on my old blog, Camped Out on Mt. Never-Rest, on September 16, 2017)

Putting fingers to keys and letting these words flow out of my brain for the first time is terrifying to me. It’s one of those things that I really would rather no one know about me, because while it doesn’t matter to me what people think of *me*, it very much matters to me what image I bear of the One in whose image I am created. I’m not a perfect person. I never have been. I’ve had some huge lapses in judgment throughout my life that have had painful consequences–some of them have taken half a lifetime to overcome; I really don’t want this to be another of those poor judgment calls. However, I know that the trials I have faced and overcome through my faith in God and by His sometimes-unbelievable provision of strength can and should be used to help others overcome similar trials; not stuffed in the dark recesses of my memory to never again see the light of day. Certainly God didn’t bring me through all of this for my own sake. I’m just not that important. I may not be able to help the one I wish I could reach, but maybe if my struggle could help strengthen just one … then it will be worth it.

Most everyone who knows anything about me knows that I’m not a girly-girl. I often quip that God was displaying His sense of humor by giving me six daughters. Jeans, baggy t-shirts, and sneakers are my comfort zone. The color pink, glitter, rhinestones, all of those frilly, fancy, fru-fru things that “normal” girls love are my kryptonite. I did have a favorite baby doll when I was tiny–I used to dress up my cat and haul him around in my little doll stroller. But the other stuff? Yeah, no thanks. 

What most people don’t know about me (even those who are very close friends) is that I spent my entire childhood believing I was one of God’s goof-ups. No, I’m not being dramatic or self-deprecating; I truly believed I was not born with the physical body to fit “who I was”. From my earliest recollections of playing house with my best friend, every escape into the world of make-believe had me playing a male role. What’s crazy looking back on it now is that no one ever questioned it; all of my friends naturally assumed whatever character I was pretending to be was going to be male. I remember vividly, at the age of six, going to bed every night praying to God that I’d wake up a boy so I wouldn’t have to pretend to be a girl anymore. 

I *hated* being a girl. I hated dresses, skirts, turtleneck shirts, lace, tights, and those awful patent leather Mary Janes. I hated being told that ‘girls don’t play football”, “act like a lady”, or my favorite, “girls have dolls, boys have action figures’.  I wanted to play with “boy toys”, throw mud around and not have to worry about being dirty, ride a BMX bike with the cool pads while wearing a football jersey, and go fishing. 

As I got older, my disassociation with my “assigned gender” only got worse. Some time during the eighth grade, I came to the startling realization that girls made friends in different ways than boys did. I had never been popular, but that year I somehow lost most of my friends to a hormone-charged beauty contest that I had no interest in participating in. I was suddenly no longer “pretty” enough for the few friends I had, who used their increasing adolescent freedoms to hang out at malls and have make-up and hair parties. I found myself painfully aware that being a tomboy who was described as “plain” and “homely” made navigating middle school a very lonely adventure. I didn’t really understand who I was supposed to be, because what I was being told a “girl” was certainly did not fit me at all.
In ninth grade, I gave up. I decided that I’d enter this new school with a new philosophy–be who I want to be, because obviously I wasn’t going to fit in one way or another. I shortened my name to its androgynous form, started wearing the loose-fitting shirts, jeans, sometimes even dress shirts with a necktie (all put on after I’d gotten on the bus because I dare not allow my mother to know I was dressing like a boy) and guys’ high-top Reebok sneakers that I actually liked. I listened to Bruce Springsteen and Def Leppard while most of my middle school friends were fawning over some boy band called New Kids on the Block (side note–I was so oblivious to teen girl culture that I didn’t know Donnie Wahlberg was in NKOTB till we’d been watching Blue Bloods for almost two seasons. DUH!); I hung out with the guys and other tomboys that I found in the marching band who really didn’t care much for pretense and accepted me with all my quirks. But through that year I encountered what was no less than emotional and mental abuse from the older band geeks because of my ambiguity, and I spent most of the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school thinking I didn’t belong in this world at all because I obviously didn’t fit in anywhere. I found myself praying another impossible prayer–that God would let me just die in my sleep. I didn’t know who I was, what I was supposed to do after high school, how I would ever fit in with the things I was learning at church about what a woman’s role is. I kept thinking over and over that somehow, my brain had faulty wiring somewhere. How could I fall in line with typical women’s roles when I hadn’t felt female for a single day of my life?

What I grew up feeling is currently called “gender confusion”. Were I born into today’s society, people would encourage my parents to allow me to identify however I chose to identify–that clearly it would be healthier to let me change my name, have people start referring to me with different pronouns, and for me to live my life “as a male”, despite whatever DNA biology had randomly stuck me with. HOWEVER … my story didn’t go that way. Thankfully, even though I will admit that the gender stereotypes that existed when I was born (and that still exist today even in this ridiculous world of gender fluidity where there are an infinite number of genders based upon your current state of mind or your feelings/emotions/personal preferences) were the cause of my mental anguish, I came into this world in a time that it was still expected practice to figure things out for yourself and to work through your problems instead of embracing them as your identity. I grew up being assured that God didn’t make mistakes and that the idea that He did was an outright LIE.

It took me a good ten years and a ton of hard-fought, painfully-gained personal growth for me to realize that the lie I was being fed actually came from my own mind. That lie said that because I didn’t fit with what society said I should be, then obviously it’s God’s fault, because He clearly screwed up. DID HE? Did God somewhere say that when He created the female of the species that He also created a rigid, never-to-be-deviated-from set of character and personality traits that each and every female throughout time would HAVE TO have? Or was woman, taken from the side of the image-bearer of God Himself (who, by the way, has three distinct “beings” with three distinct roles and traits), created with the same makeup but with a differing role? Did God determine in that surgical suite in the Garden of Eden that this woman He was forming was to never venture into the Craftsman section of Sears or become giddy when a new Bass Pro Shops opened up, but instead stick to girly things and craft stores? Did He remove from Adam the desire to express himself creatively or to appreciate beautiful things (I don’t guess Michelangelo or Shakespeare ever got that memo)? Did God endow only one of those two garden-dwellers with the ability to be loving and nurturing?

See, given my own personal experience, I tend to halfway agree with the current stream of thought about gender being a societal construct–but not to the extreme that it is taken by the crowd that seems to add another letter to their identity every few months. I firmly believe that gender **stereotypes** are a societal construct. Take for instance that cutesy little childhood rhyme: “Sugar and spice and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of. Snips and snails and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of.” HUH? Now go to a gender reveal party. Blue or pink? Skip ahead a couple of years. Do you get that two-year-old a baby doll or a tiny little baseball bat (or Tonka truck) for his or her birthday? When he’s six, can he take up crocheting? Can she play with action figures and wear a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt?

Society tells us (go ahead, look it up–I did) that gender is “the identity you present to the world, based on your own personal truth and what you believe yourself to be”. God’s Word said that He “created them male and female, and blessed them.” One of those two things is a lie. God’s Word has never changed; society’s definition of things changes like the tides. The big question is where does this lie come from? Think back to the Garden of Eden with me for a second. What did the serpent do to get Eve to sin? All he had to do was to get her to think that God was holding out on her; that she deserved more than what God had given her. She took the bait. All Satan had to do was get Eve’s mind off of what God HAD given her and start thinking selfishly about what she … what SHE wanted.

There is nothing special about me. But looking back, I can see that Satan had me in his sights from the time I was six years old. It took him seven short years to convince me that what God had in mind for me was a lie. It took him very little effort to convince me that I was an ugly, useless mistake that was born in the wrong body. He used passive stereotypes and people’s flippant comments to build layer upon layer of lies.

So what changed for me? Motherhood. I kind of lost the ability to deny who I was created to be when I held that baby that I had carried for nine months and birthed with this body I once believed was a complete mistake. Seven living beings walk this earth because I was born female. To say I am anything but a woman would be the most ridiculous assertion one could make. Do I *feel* feminine? Nope. Never have, probably never will. I’ve also never once in my life felt “pretty”. I’ve never felt “good enough”. I’ve never felt “important” or “nurturing” or “loving” … but I know that despite what I feel, which is an absolutely worthless gauge of reality, I can still fulfill my God-given role as a wife and a mother, as a daughter and a grandmother, and especially as a Christian. What changed was the realization that what I feel has no bearing on who I am.

Unless I let it.

I’m still the same person I was in middle school. I still have the same insecurities. But I don’t let them rule my mind like they used to, because I know that keeping my mind focused on what God wants me doing here in this life will drown out the lies that Satan is trying to get me to believe. I also haven’t let the world tell me I’m not “feminine” enough. That’s not something I see as important, if I am fulfilling my duty as a woman made in the image of God with a specific, unique purpose that no man can fulfill. I still hate dresses. I get to play in the dirt more now that I’m gardening on my own patch of land. I still love the outdoors, although physical limitations have swayed me away from playing sports to hiking and camping. I’m not the huggy, lovey-dovey type that has to fawn on every baby I see. I am admittedly not a huge fan of children, although I won’t deny I have learned to relate to them because I have a responsibility in raising up future warriors for God’s kingdom and my responsibility far outweighs what I “like”. I will never be a girly-girl like my middle child. But even she isn’t “typical”, because she enjoys things that are considered more “masculine” pursuits. And that’s okay. Because God doesn’t use cookie cutters.

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