I have always been observant of how other people interact with me. There is one word that has stuck in my head since the time I was a child: OVERLOOKED.
As a kid, I grew up as the only girl of my loving parents, on a city block with only boys in my age group, so I didn't have many close friends around on a daily basis. While I was always allowed to play, there reached an age where I started to be excluded, simply based on my girlhood. I am reminded of some of my earliest memories of exclusion every time I see the way kids play here in Ecuador. Girls are rarely seen playing outside, certainly not after age 8 or 9.
When I asked kids during my Community Assessment what they like to do for fun, almost all the girls talked about household domestic chores, while boys listed sporting activities and other outdoor fun with friends. I experienced the same early isolation in the US, so this phenomena cannot only be reasoned along cultural lines. I just internalized from a very young age that I was different, and not in a good way. Othered.
My precious Poppa teaching me to run over cultural norms one tractor at a time.
At the church I grew up in, I felt excluded because of my Dad's position as an active leader. I wasn't aware of the term "PK" or Preacher's Kid, but I knew I was off-limits. Other kids didn't want to hang out with us because we were hyper-visible to adults and automatically called "goody-two-shoes", so my older brother and I just clung to each other. It's why we are so close today, but we both really hated that time period and instead had to navigate balancing two worlds when we turned to people outside of our church community to be around. We both ended up becoming homebodies and pretty introverted. If it weren't for my friends from birth, my siblings and my cousins, I might have been completely alone; hiding in plain sight. We were well known for whose we were, but very much unknown for who we were. For a teenager, I might has well been completely invisible.
Eventually the hormones kicked in and I started liking guys, but found that nobody liked me back beyond my body. Yes, #MeToo. Also, most of the guys with potential I've met have almost always been because of hanging with my brother (birds of a feather, right?!) so I was immediately put into the "Mike's Sister DO NOT TOUCH" box. "You have time!" -- while meant to encourage me -- became a broken record that carried me with a limp all the way through college and afterwards. Today, as a single, 29-year old grown woman living in Ecuador, it sometimes feels like time is all I've ever had. There's only a few times you can hear "girl it's their loss" until the loss becomes your own. Especially when you are actively celebrating other women finding/being found by the loves of their lives from age 16 on up. It's amazing how our brains focus so much on the worst parts of everything concerning ourselves. Alas.
To cope over the years I've wrapped myself in my work and various projects; often times subjecting myself to the background not because I want to be there, but because I was told that being in the background was how I would be noticed. That if I showed humility, that I would be raised up. That if I kept quiet, I would be noticed. To confirm, I recognized that any moment at which I tried to speak up, to be noticed/heard, or lead, was short lived and shut down almost immediately. But what I have found is that I have only been known by the people/projects I've hidden behind. Overlooked.
I was Mike's little sister all through undergrad and in our shared adult environments. Christian's big sister any time I visit home. Rev. Mike's daughter at Bethel. I was the girl that inspired people to join the National Society of Black Engineers. I was the black girl in the chemical plant (I know this because I often got mistaken for the other black girl... hey Larissa!). I was the girl running the church website in Philadelphia. That random girl on the prayer team. And now it often feels like I am just the random Estadounidense living in the "casa grande", teaching bailoterapia, and running in the morning along Calle Principal. I am the character that makes one appearance with no dialogue. No name. An extra in my own movie. Easily forgotten.
Given this history of rejection from people both intentional and by circumstance, I should be depressed. Yes, at times I am. Sometimes, especially when I am reminded of my invisibility, I go down into the very deep dark valley I've dug over the years to commiserate with myself and my thoughts. I get panic attacks. I hibernate. I absorb the negativity as if it is part of me. And when I emerge, I wear it like a cloak on my skin, hiding my true self from just about everyone, probably including you reading this right now.
I can already hear you saying: "but it's not true Arielle! You know how to own a room! You are a natural-born leader! I love you! I notice you! I celebrate you! You matter to me! You inspire me!" But after almost 30 years of observing how people interact with me, the actions they take and not just what they say... your genuine words will fall on deaf ears and a hardened heart. I am currently at ground zero again & the broken record has all but stopped turning.
What I need is divine intervention, and professional help. The good news is that I've started reaching out for both. I sought a counselor in Ecuador and have been working on coping strategies to work towards healing. I listen to sermons and try to read my bible daily. I am creating new community where I live and trying not to be afraid to lean on them for support, though they have recently met me and usually I don't want to be a burden on anyone. Honestly, if it wasn't for Ecuador, I would have never taken the time to do this deep work... I probably would have found another project by now to hide behind, so I think it's ironic that some of the hardest parts of my personal life are being uncovered on a journey where I am being called to give of my professional self to this country. But I trust that it is all working itself out for my good and for the good of these beautiful people in Paján.
Today I heard a sermon from Renew Church LA, courtesy of my big bro... where the speaker invoked the famous words of Dr. Martin Luther King and conclusion of Romans 8 to declare that we are all "Free At Last" in Christ Jesus. It spoke directly to my brokenness, reminding me that I am:
Free from fear because God is for me;
Free from worry because God will provide;
Free from judgement because God sees me as righteous;
Free from condemnation because God has paid my debt;
Free from rejection because God will always love me.
Check out the full sermon here.
Being overlooked is just another word for rejection. So the reminder that God will always love me is enough to carry me today. He ALWAYS loves me because he created me. I cannot EVER run out of his love. Even on days when I do not find it in me to love anyone, including Him, He still gathers me up and ALWAYS loves me through the pain. When I feel invisible as I have felt just about my entire life, I was reminded that I can cling to the hope of His non-stop existence in my life, knowing that He understands the depths of my hurt, even when I cannot put it into words, and loves me anyway. He literally loved me to life, and will love me to life more abundantly. #MoreLife #CueDrake
Combined with a solid action plan upcoming with my counselor, I know that I will be lifted out of the clay and put on a solid rock to stand on my own two feet without the cloak of negativity, shedding the identity of rejection off my back. In the spirit of "Packing Light & Being Light", I'm walking forward in freedom & forever love.
If you're wondering how you can help me, just send me reminders of God's love for me however you think is best. Memes, jokes, photos of you at the Black Panther premiere, music suggestions (ELEVATION COLLECTIVE!), good food recipes, girl scout cookies (Samoas aka Caramel De-Lites or Do-si-dos), scripture verses, prayers. I'll accept it all. (And yes, that was another reference to BP in another unrelated blogpost. I CANT HELP IT!)
Note: If you are in a similar space, there's hope for you too. Even if it looks like a thin thread right now... let me know how I can walk with you & hold on too. Peace.