What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

What Did You Want to Be When You Grew Up?

“Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups

Growing up, our family moved every three to four years so books became my best friends. Nancy Drew mysteries, Hans Christian Andersen and George MacDonald fairy tales, novels featuring quirky heroines, and true-life adventures filled with courage and discovery. They shaped who I thought I’d become. As a Catholic, the Book of Martyrs and the Saint-of-the-Month club also made my reading list. Maybe that’s how “nice” trumped “kick-butt courageous.” But true saints and martyrs live and die for a cause greater than self-protection and people pleasing.

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The way I’ve scripted my life, I’d never want to read about me. I’d be my book-best-friends’ nightmare. Pippi Longstocking bowls over nice girls and Ramona Quimby pleads with her parents to not torture her with “Perfect Susan.” Scarlett and Rhett live on forever, while poor Melanie dies and mild-mannered Ashley. . .what did happen to him? Amy goes to France and marries rich Laurie, Jo finds love and writing success, and sweet Beth, well, she dies. There’s a pattern here.

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But there’s still time to edit the story of my life.

I’ve been searching in the wrong places. I’ve been reading other people’s PR hype of saints and martyrs, when I should’ve been going straight to Scripture to find role models. Like the “proverbial” Proverbs 31 woman.

I used to gag and run as people pushed me toward this impossible domestic stereotype that I had no ability or desire to be. I can’t sew, I don’t plan ahead, and don’t even ask about getting up before sunrise. But I’ve been reading it through my new “better-brave-than-bland” eyes and without someone’s else’s agenda and I see her differently. This is a woman who loves deeply, knows and serves out of her skills and passions, laughs at the future with faith, and values strength and dignity. She doesn’t say “yes” without thinking and doesn’t help everyone with everything. Her husband and children don’t think she’s a “tiny gnat, whirring around her family’s edges” as Anne Tyler described the nice wife and mother in The Ladder of Years. They see her, appreciate her, and praise her.

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The Proverbs 31 woman didn’t struggle with my “nod and be nice or they’ll get angry” syndrome.  I envision her as an honest, confident, passionate, and imperfect God-lover. Maybe with a little sprinkling of Anne Lamott (you probably haven’t heard the “Proverbs 31 woman” and “Anne Lamott” paired in the same sentence before). Anne’s warning resonates in my aging, awakening soul, “What if you wake up some day, and you’re 65… and you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life?”

I still have time to grow up to be the person I dreamed of being. But I better get started. Because it’s better to bloom late and loud than never and nice.

“Tell me,

what is it you plan to do

with your one

wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver

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