A few weeks ago a sweet friend of mine had a birthday. A handful of us girls rode our bikes with balloons on them like we were twelve. Seriously. How cute are my friends?
We pedaled around town to a few local stops telling stories and laughing, literally, all the way. At our final stop another handful of friends joined us as we sat at a big round table for dinner overlooking the lake. Somehow, someway the conversation turned to high school. Memories. Hair dos. Serious hair don’ts! Insanely funny senior pictures. We laughed so hard our eyes watered and our bellies hurt. Over the next few days many of us went home and pulled out our high school yearbooks. Someone started a text message thread that continued the antics. Oh my gosh, we laughed. I highly recommend it.
I had a few funny photos to add to the mix, like this one…
I mean… Right??! Oh my gosh. In those years in my family, everyone got a perm. My brother actually had a perm mullet! No joke. But despite having a few precious, funny photos, my yearbooks were hidden securely somewhere in my mom’s house in the midwest. That night I realized I hadn’t looked at them in nearly twenty years.
We got home today from being away at the lake cabin for ten days. And when I say “away at the cabin” that means my cell phone doesn’t work and I have no internet service, which is also why I haven’t written here in about as long. Ten days! When it stops being completely foreign, it is absolutely heaven. But when I walked in the door today there was a package sitting on the kitchen counter. My husband arrived home before I did with the kids, and he had brought it in.
Curiously, I went to get a scissors to open it. Something drew me to it before I could do anything else. No laundry or putting things away. I forgot I had asked my mom to look for them…but in a moment I knew: they were my yearbooks. As I flipped through the pages it triggered so many memories, but also a mixture of emotions. There were so many people who influenced my life in ways I could never thank enough. And there were people who hurt me in ways I could never forget. I found so many photos of me and my friend Patrick, who died in Afghanistan. Words cannot express what he, and his friendship, meant to my heart. Isn’t this one precious? I was Little Mary Sunshine in a musical by the same name. He definitely took a piece of my heart when he died.
As I read through some of the notes written on the autograph pages I cringed. In so many ways I’m still so much the same. Older, yes, but deep down the same small town girl who didn’t quite fit. Who didn’t much like going along with the crowd and, when I did, much regretted it. Flipping through those old pages I realized though I’ve always stood out, and it’s never been easy; I look back twenty years wiser and I can say it was worth it.
Because no matter how many places I didn’t fit in, there was always at least one I knew I belonged. And isn’t it so much better to belong somewhere than just fit in? Far too often, fitting in just feels fake.
Looking back on my yearbook brought up so many things today. So many memories I forgot and perhaps a few things I hope I do again! But more than anything, it made me proud. Proud of who I am. Proud of the girl back then who didn’t fit into the crowd and didn’t let it stop her. Because even though my story wasn’t typical or perfect, it was mine. And I ran my race the best way I knew how with the circumstances and experiences that helped write my story. Despite the heartache, heartbreak, laughter and tears, it’s still a good story.
I think sometimes we just need someone to tell us it’ll be okay. We need someone to admit they didn’t always fit in either. Someone to say they struggled or had a hard time too. Sometimes we just need someone to tell us it will all be worth it if we stay true to ourselves and never give up. And that some of what once hurt, will someday make us laugh. Because it will.
So the five things I learned today looking back are:
1. It will all be okay. Someday, even today will be just a memory. Don’t give a day or a season so much power.
2. Struggle makes us stronger. When we have to figure out who we are in the midst of trial, we earn it. We can never go back to being the same. Struggle, hardship and trial force us to grow and that’s a good thing.
3. Some seasons are just plain awkward and ugly. Try to laugh! Some of the photos in my yearbooks capture horrible seasons of life. Acne, chubby baby face cheeks, and incredibly bad hair only name a few. As cringe-worthy as they are, they make us humble. Just laugh.
4. It’s so much better to belong than fit in. I’ve never been good at fitting in. Looking back made me see that’s always been the case. Instead of making me sad, it actually made me proud. Because sometimes it feels harder now to stand out, but I’m pretty sure it was way harder then. And I did it. There’s no reason to stop now. What we really desire is to belong, and it’s so00 much better. Some people won’t like you and some will have to let you know it. That’s okay. They’re not your people.
5. When you remain true to yourself, you win. And it will be worth it. Every single time.
Oh high school. You once held so much power over me. But look at you now. Now, you make me laugh.
Enjoy the journey. And when you get a chance to look back, laugh.