Coming out of my shell

Those words would have been harmless, except that over time, even more so as an adult, I adopted them as a definition of who I was.

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I grew up in a church—literally. The church my family attended when I was born was the same church where I would attend Sunday school, children’s choir, youth choir, youth group, college ministry, and even a young marrieds class. I was in all of the massive productions they put on at Christmas and Easter from 6th grade on up. I attended the private school founded by that same church, on the same campus. Six days a week and many evenings for most of my upbringing were spent there, home away from home.

With that came all the retreats, camps, mission trips, and choir tours typically available to us church kids. I signed up for all of them. And I discovered that on those trips, I could let myself be whoever I wanted to be.

Maybe it was the lack of constant adult supervision, the excess soda and candy being consumed, the change of environment, being confined to a bus for long periods of time, or the influence of my peers (probably a perfect storm of all of the above). But those trips brought out a different side of me—a side my family was well aware of but that friends and other adults in my life hadn’t witnessed.

For example, there was the time on a high school choir trip (to D.C., I believe) when my friend Amber and I donned denim overalls (with boxers sticking out underneath, because why not) and backwards caps and performed “Ice, Ice, Baby,” complete with ’90s dance moves, in the hallway of our hotel.

Can you even picture it?

It was totally silly and completely harmless (except maybe to other hotel patrons), but boy did I feel like a rebel, rapping Vanilla Ice in front of a bunch of people on a church choir trip.

It’s a goofy story I know, but I felt free in that moment, being someone different than the girl everyone had pegged me to be. It was fun to shock people.

Quiet, reserved Rebekah had a “wild” side. (I use that word very loosely for obvious reasons.)

I would grow to dislike the phrase I used to title this post. I heard it a lot after that trip, mainly from adult chaperones talking to my mom. “Rebekah really came out of her shell this week!” “We got to see a whole new side of Rebekah on this trip!”

Hearing that made me feel… yuck. I came out of my shell? Had I been hiding in there for the past 15 years? Those bits of my personality had always been there—this can be verified by family photo albums. They were just unfamiliar to this particular audience.

I wondered why adults always had to say things like that. If I did have a shell, maybe I should retreat back into it.

I’m hyper-aware of putting labels on my kids, even positive ones. Yes, I definitely still do it. It’s a hard habit to break. I’m sure if you and I have had a conversation about my girls, you’ve probably heard me say how different they are—one more cautious and reserved, the other… well, not. But I am trying hard to not describe their current traits, in front of them, with the same terms over and over. I want them to know they are free to change and grow and explore their personalities. My parents did a good job of this, but not everyone got the memo.

Growing up, these were the most common words I heard to describe me—from adults, and as I got older, my peers as well:

quiet
nice
good
reserved
well-behaved
responsible

There’s nothing wrong with this list at all. In fact, I’m certain I was proud of these labels.

Maybe a little too proud.

myshell.jpg

A child of the ’80s, I had a small button collection—you know, the ones with cheesy sayings you’d pin on your backpack? One of my favorites was one that read, “Not perfect. Just very good.”

Just very good. I liked that. I wasn’t being prideful—after all, I was saying I wasn’t perfect! But I could sure be close, right? Ha.

Those words in the list above would have been harmless, except that over time, even more so as an adult, I adopted them as a definition of who I was. And if I was faced with a situation in which I might feel led to act in a way that didn’t fit? Until the last year or so, I’ve quietly declined, stuffing down the Holy Spirit’s prompting.

That’s not very good at all.

Truth:

I can be quiet and outspoken for the sake of the gospel. 

I can be nice and speak truth in love. 

I can be good and aware of my inherent sinful nature and desperate need for God’s grace. 

I can be reserved and bold. 

I can be well-behaved, responsible, and free to worship—even free to make a fool of myself for God’s glory. 

Do you have a list? Do you feel confined to it?

God made me who I am, down to the quirkiest quirk in my personality, and I praise him for that. (And God bless my family for loving me.)

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
—Psalm 139:13-16

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. But this passage also tells me there’s more to me than meets the eye. I’m capable of being so much more than that little list I confined myself to. He calls me to be more.

When I truly believe that, I can cast the labels aside. And that is freeing.


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Click here to see all posts from the Grace, Freedom, & the Rules series.

{This series is part of the Write 31 Days challenge.} 

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