The afternoon was warm under a bright California sun. September was in full swing bringing cooler nights and my first week of Junior High School. I stood in the schoolyard waiting to try out for the flag football team. With the usual banter and testosterone induced posturing, a gaggle of boys began to pull into a huddle as the coach strutted across the field carrying a net bag filled with balls and flag belts. I stood with the others in hope that I would be selected for the team. My challenge was that I was nearly six inches shorter than most of the boys and forty pounds lighter. My hope lay in being able to show that my ability outweighed my perceived handicap.
At birth, I had weighed in at just over ten pounds, but that was the last time I had been anywhere near the size of my peers. I was always the smallest boy in my class. In fact, at sixteen I weighed in at ninety-eight pounds and five feet one inch tall on my first driver’s license. I was stopped thirteen times that first year by policemen who thought I was too young to drive. My senior year band picture captured me in the center front with two rows of girls behind me before the other boys began. That picture had been framed with the shortest to the front. For example, here is my senior picture from high school. I was just a few months shy of my eighteenth birthday!
But this was Junior High and that day I stood with the other boys waiting for an opportunity to demonstrate to the coach that I could legitimately add to his team. He poured out the bag of balls and flags on the ground. My attention was drawn to a pile of white belts with two red or blue flags attached. I may have been small, but I had grown up with three brothers on a raisin farm in central California. I was used to being thrown around and having to prove my mettle. That pile of belts radiant under a late summer sun represented a way to be seen as a peer instead of a little kid, to be accepted as a viable seventh grader.
The coach lined us up across the sideline etched in the lawn by years weed killer. He began by choosing two teams to scrimmage each other. Walking back and forth across the line of eager faces, he chose first for one team and then the other. The line dwindled but I was not worried, I was usually chosen last when it came to sports. In fact, I loved to be on the team seen as the underdogs because I knew that I had some surprising talents that would even the teams. I could run as fast and jump as high as anyone on the field, but my greatest asset was my balance and ability to turn a ninety-degree angle at full speed. I had grit. I would purposefully line up against the biggest boy to use my speed and balance to defeat his attempts to stop me and usually did.
Finally, the coach was down to six boys left. We were all the smallest of the lot. Not to worry I had been here before. It was show time, and I was pumped. The coach leaned down and picked up a football from the grass and threw it to one of the six remaining boys. He then directed us to go play a small game over on the next field, out of the way of the others. It was a certainly a setback, but even now, I felt I could still prove myself. I played my heart out day after day with the six, then four and then two of us playing catch. The coach never even looked our way. He never even gave us a chance. We were not legitimate in his eyes. We were not up to the standard he considered ‘his team’.
Finally, I gave up, realizing it was a hopeless cause. On the weekends I would sometimes play with the boys who had made the team. We would play tackle football in the schoolyard, and even though I would usually be chosen nearly last, I would make plays that showed I was worthy of being on the team. Yet, the stigma of being ‘less than’ put me last again the next game.
I grew up in a home that did not encourage aspiring to a dream. My mother feared us embarrassing her or ourselves more than stretching for our passion. In fact, I was discouraged from such things and called a dreamer, as though it was a bad thing. School was difficult for me. In the fifties and sixties, no one talked about learning disorders or dyslexia, my particular challenge. My three brothers sailed through school as I struggled with teachers who were frustrated with my difficulties. I hear testimonies of peoples whose lives were changed by a teacher who spoke to them words of legitimacy, but that is not my story. I floundered through those years and after two years of junior college enlisted in the Air Force to avoid any more humiliation. I struggled to know that I was legitimate, somehow, somewhere.
Living life feeling illegitimate in the soul is a difficult place to live, yet many live in that situation as our society gives into criticizing more than to give a blessing. However, when our spirit does not feel legitimate before our Heavenly Father, we flounder with legitimacy even when we receive accolades.
I will be presenting other posts on legitimacy and identity. This is just the introduction. I will share about coming to terms with my true identity and legitimacy in God. But for now, I want to leave you with something I wrote several years ago. Maybe it will open something up for you to ponder about your own life.
It is called Graffiti:
Father, I stand before You today embarrassed by how I look.
I feel dirty and defaced by labels that have been scrawled upon me.
They are just words, colors, and symbols, but they box me in.
I wanted to be something attractive,
something that would cause people to like me,
but I am a mess. I am bound by the messages.
I thought the ‘artists’ were clever and wise,
that they would help me color and define who I am
and how I should look. Then others came
and saw places to add their own ‘touches’.
What an interesting word.
It’s like, I don’t have the face You gave me anymore.
My identity just didn’t seem good enough.
So, I let others paint on me how they wanted me to look.
Now, as I stand before You, I am ashamed.
I gave it away!
You made all things beautiful by Your word.
You said that Your word washes and cleanses us.
Let Your Word flow over me.
I do not want to be colored by human words anymore.
I want Your Word to wash me.
You do all things well and who ‘i am’ is who you celebrate and cherish.
Let me find contentment in who You created.
You have a dwelling place in You that was prepared just for me.
Set me in that place in You so that I can shine with Your brilliance.
And please take away my spray can, I don’t want to deface others anymore.
I bless you today to know that despite any feelings to the contrary, we are all His children, born for a life of love and acceptance. He has ways to heal us deeply and re-establish in us who we really are in His eyes.