Little Things

Let me begin by saying: Don't feel sorry for me.

I preface this post with that statement only because I am going to write a little bit about my past in order to share how much the little things (like dancing with my husband at a wedding) mean to me today because of all the normal, wholesome things that were forbidden when I was young.

I am not angry, bitter, or even sad about the things I did not get to do as a young person. I am just thankful for the freedom and the life I enJOY today! I am completely convinced that I get far more enJOYment and pleasure out of little things (like dancing at a wedding) than the average person my age. And I believe it has a lot to do with the way I've lived in the past.

If you've read my book, you already know how strictly I was raised and how many normal activities I was forbidden to participate in while growing up. But lots of people who grew up in strict religious homes (of various denominations) experienced similar childhoods to mine. I don't feel like the Lone Ranger. And the truth is; I didn't have a bad childhood. I grew up in a home where I was loved and cared for. Every physical need was met and I did not suffer abuse. Oh, that every human being in this world could say that about their childhood! But since I recognize that many cannot, I have never felt sorry for myself about the little things I missed out on.

However, I do feel like I was -- in a sense -- robbed of many of the typical (and enjoyable) experiences of youth. For instance, I was never permitted to attend any school function in junior high or high school. I never got to go to a single football or basketball game with friends. I wasn't allowed to wear the "normal" clothes my friends wore. I could never have tried out for cheerleading. Proms and dances were off limits to me; dancing was considered sinful and worldly. I wasn't even permitted to go into the gym during lunch for a junior high school "sock hop" in ninth grade.

The only thing I ever remember looking forward to as a kid was dating and getting married. And I married the first person I dated. It probably goes without saying that it wasn't a healthy marriage ... even on the best of days.

Perhaps now you are understanding why I began this with "Don't feel sorry for me." I am not sharing this to illicit sympathy. I'm leading up to something.

My life is so different today.

I got my first taste of genuine freedom at the age of forty-three. I am not the personality type to go to extremes in anything. So I have never been inclined to drink too much. I've never taken a recreational drug. I've never smoked anything. And I've never even wanted to. Those indulgences are just not temptations for me. But simple pleasures, like dancing with my husband at a wedding, are to me at fifty-one what Disneyworld is to a ten-year-old. No matter how long I live, I think I will always be making up for lost time. I don't take for granted even the simplest joys in my life today. It feels wonderful to do normal things and to enjoy life without feeling false guilt and the fear of condemnation, judgment and contempt.

It's been years since I have allowed someone to control my life and personal choices. But, believe it or not, there are still days when I open my closet and think, It feels so good to be free to choose my own clothing and dress according to my own conscience without the fear of being judged. In my present life, I never worry who I might run into or how they might look me over if they see me at the grocery store in anything but a long skirt or dress. If you have not lived that way for the majority of your life, you probably can't imagine this. But for me to never give a thought to what someone is going to think of me for wearing earrings or a pair of jeans or a skirt that shows my knees -- well, that is still something I appreciate about my life as it is today. I am fifty-one years old and yet I still think about how much I value and enjoy these simple freedoms.

When I watch my teenage nieces enjoying the wholesome pleasures that I missed out on (playing sports, going to football games, being on the homecoming court, making the cheerleading squad), I feel so happy for them. Just looking at their Facebook pages and seeing how "normal" their lives are as teenagers (compared to mine) makes me feel not only happy, but very thankful. I feel such joy that they are getting to do the things I missed. (And I'm thankful that they are not even thinking about marriage yet!)

I didn't get to have as much fun as they are having at their age, but I am thoroughly enjoying my life today. And rather than feeling resentful, I can't help but be thankful for the contrast between my past and my present. I believe the joy I experience in every aspect of my life today is deeper and sweeter because I haven't always known what it's like to be free.

In all those years, I never thought of myself as an unhappy person. I've had a lot of personal challenges in my life, but my coping mechanism has always been to deal with those challenges by focusing on my blessings. I tried to remind myself of people whose lives were harder than mine rather than focusing on those whose lives seemed easier than mine. And that worked for me. It worked so well for me that I stayed in a very oppressive life until I was 43 years old.

Only in hindsight, and as a result of the stark contrast between my past and my present life, have I fully realized the level of toxicity I lived in for all of those years. But when I reflect on those years, I don't feel like they were wasted. God was preparing me in many ways for the life I have today. And He was equipping me with the insight that enables me to be a greater source of comfort and encouragement to others through all of those experiences. What I missed out on is so miniscule in comparison to what God has done in my life through every challenge.

The appreciation I feel for the life God has blessed me with today is so deep. And the joy I have today -- the joy I always longed for and could not find -- is so very sweet. Tim Keller has said that our greatest joys are birthed out of our greatest suffering. And that statement has been proven true in my life.

Last night John and I attended a very elegant wedding and reception. It was a beautiful celebration of family and friends. And I got to dance with my gorgeous husband. The whole time we were dancing, I was thinking about how much I love him and how glad I am that I found him ... and how much I love my life in Murfreesboro. It still seems surreal. I could never have imagined being this happy. And, ironically, I was never chasing happiness. I did not believe my happiness was what mattered to God.

I know that dancing is just dancing to John. But not me. It's one more "contrast" between where I've been and where I am.

I wasn't a cheerleader and I never danced with the captain of the football team. I didn't get to dance much at all; literally or figuratively. But I think that's probably one of the reasons I feel like Cinderella.

It feels incredibly unbelievable to me that I am living this life, that I have all these great friends, that I have such an amazing husband. It always will. And the reason the little things are such sweet big things for me has everything to do with what I never had in the past.

So how could I ever regret what I didn't have when it has resulted in what I DO have?
The answer is: I can't.