What I learned from my middle school self

I found them while I was looking for something else. They’d been tucked away in a storage bin under my bed along with other relics of their time. Shuffling through papers and old mail and doodles, the hard wood caught my fingers and my attention.

There were two of them, one slightly bigger than the other. A dark wooden plaque with a stone protrusion of a basketball and hoop, each with its own engraving: “Most Improved Player.” “Coaches’ Award.”

I’d nearly forgotten that this part of my life had existed. You have to understand: I am a non-athlete from a family of athletes. All three of my siblings play soccer, and my dad coaches. He also used to coach college basketball, my sister played, and my brother plays.

I am a reader and a writer. I carry around books with dragons and molecules on the covers and I like listening to podcasts. I take art classes, have participated in the theater, and am passionate about science and journalism. Gym class was my least favorite and when forced to play soccer, I was always goalie. My mile run is a number I’m ashamed to type.

I don’t remember what compelled sixth-grade bookish me to sign up for basketball. It wasn’t something I’d ever done. I do remember my dad taking me aside to ask me if this was really what I wanted, and I said yes.

I don’t remember this either, but my dad has told the story enough times. We were well into thee season–a losing team–and he asked me, “Are you enjoying basketball?” I said yes. “Do you think you’re good?”

I laughed. “Oh, dad, I’m the worst.”

All of this came back to me as I looked at the awards this week. It wasn’t that receiving them meant that much–winning “most improved” is easy when you started out as bad as I was–but they sparked a question:

Why don’t I do this anymore?

Not basketball. There’s a good reason I don’t do basketball anymore. But in middle school, I wasn’t afraid to try. I wasn’t afraid of being humiliated, because I was eager to learn. I wasn’t afraid to do something I’d never done before with people who weren’t “my people,” because the point was to do something I’d never done before and all people were my people.

Why don’t I do that anymore?

I don’t have a good answer. But I’m thinking of taking those silly sixth-grade plaques to my college dorm room until I think of one.

a

Cleansing

I need this, as I embark today into uncertainty. I take comfort in knowing that God has a plan, but I guess I still need to…let go.

Letting go is hard. I don’t like it. Because I want control. I need it. I crave it. My humanity seems to starve without it.

But He demands it.

All I want is a little piece. I can try to hide it from him, my little corner of my life that I refuse to give over to him. The area that I continue to hold onto with clenched fists and white knuckles for fear that my grip will slip. But that’s the thing–God doesn’t want just a part of me. God wants my all.

I guess that’s why it’s so hard.

And I mean, I’ve been down that road before. I know that a lot of times, it’s a struggle. It will be hard. I know that a lot of times, following God means the road might feel broken and twisted and thorny–but I also know what it feels like to bask in the light, what it feels like as he chisels away to be made new. And, well, that’s the one thing I want more than control.

It’s beautiful, really. For those of you still searching, take it from me: it is worth it. It is so worth it. And he will come through. That’s the glorious thing about God: God doesn’t depend on how I feel, but on who he is. And he is faithful, and he is in control.

But surrender, it does have to be intentional. These feelings of closedness, these walls around my heart–I have to lower them on purpose. Sometimes I hold onto my own pain just because I want to feel something, not wanting to risk letting him in even though I know that he brings something so much greater. Something holy. Something powerful. Something that will make me whole.

Sometimes I call it love.

But these are the same feelings I was having a month ago when I wrote this poem. It’s not much of a poem, really; it doesn’t rhyme or anything. But I need this, as I embark into my mission this summer, sharing God with kids all season–I need a cleansing. I need to know my heart is whole and wholly his. I need his refining fire to make me pure. So I let go, and call down the Name of God in this place today. Change me.

Take all of your guilt;
hold your shame in your hands–
and squeeze.
Draw out your fears,
and condense all your grief.
Take hold of despair
and crumple your worry,
hidden in your clenched fists,
like a ball of newspaper.
Throw your sin on the pile too.
Hold them.
Gather them and cup them in your open palms and shape them into a leaden ball.
Heavy.
Dense.
Compact.
But at least, at last outside of you.
Feel it’s weight–
and like a lantern, let it fly.
Release it all into the sky.
Relax your tight and desperate grip.
I know you’re afraid to lose it,
for it feels like all you have.
You thought it was a part of you,
and, yes, it was:
it’s made you stronger.
But now it’s started crippling you.
And it’s time
to let go.
Release.
Light it up and watch it disappear
like a blue balloon.
And now,
breathe.
Unfold, and let your colors loose upon the world.

Blessings,
Bre

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