The day I turned 12 years old, my family moved from our small town in Alabama to a big town in Tennessee. I lived in an unfamiliar house in a peculiar neighborhood and all my friends were too far away. A few weeks later I walked into my new school wearing a new dress because that was the rule. Girls wore dresses and boys wore collared, button-down shirts tucked into their pants. I never had these rules before and this made everything feel even more strange.
My classes went well though. I was late to Mrs. Bradshaw’s 7th grade English class because I had trouble finding the classroom. I listened intently to the teachers and was eager to learn, especially Tennessee History. Then there was lunch. I hadn’t thought about dreading it until I stood in line waiting for the glob of potatoes to fill the square on the top left corner of my tray. As I finished going through the line, I glanced around to see the entire lunchroom.
I stood there. Awkwardly. In a dress I hated. With a hideous hair cut. Holding a lunch I didn’t want to eat in a place I didn’t want to be.
But like every new or uncomfortable situation I’ve been in since then, I made it through and here I am to tell the story.
We’ve all been there. Maybe not in the 7th grade with your hair cut too short wearing a plaid dress, but you’ve been the new kid or employee in training. The first-timer in an obstacle race, a freshman at college, the rookie gym member, or a newcomer to a writer’s conference…….feeling out of place, unsure and less than.
When we’re new to something we ask questions. That’s how we grow from not knowing to knowing. Is this seat taken? Which way to the math and science building? How can I strengthen my back muscles? Where do I get my timing chip? What do I say to the literary agent?
So we learn where to go and what to say and the next day or the next time it’s easier…..we’re not as unsure. We do that over and over and without even thinking about it we know what we’re doing and we’re confident in it. We’re winning the races, or killing our workouts at the gym, acing the college classes, or writing a book.
Changing circumstances, new experiences, and different environments are normal parts of our lives. Some of them we choose. Others we never would.
The best way to handle any of them: moment to moment, one foot in front of the other, with an open heart and a willingness to learn all we can. We’ll do it well sometimes. Other times we’ll fall flat on our faces. But it’s good either way if we’ve learned something, made a friend, solved a problem or faced a fear.
The more we do this, the better we get at it. We remember how we conquered the awkwardness and insecurity and it gives us courage to try other things. We welcome new opportunities. We’re not afraid to ask hard questions and we go against the flow when needed. We’re willing to be different and we don’t mind walking through difficult circumstances. Sometimes we even choose it because it’s the right thing to do.
But we do it with lots of grace and always thinking of others along the way because that’s the point. All of it means nothing……our learning, our serving, our working, our creating……..it means nothing if we’re not loving others.
I wish I could tell you who I sat with at lunch that day. Maybe I found out we had to sit with our homeroom class. Maybe someone called me over to sit with them. I do remember making lots of friends in 7th grade but I don’t remember anything from my Tennessee History class.
Let’s not forget how it feels to be the new kid and let’s make a newbie feel a little more comfortable when given the chance.
“Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matthew 11:29-30 (MSG)