Some of my earliest memories find me sitting barefoot and cross-legged under a large tree in our neighbor's backyard. My girlfriends and I were making purses out of large leaves, weaving the stiff stems through the fleshy edges. I enjoyed nature and creating beauty with my hands. I was a tenderhearted, very compliant, artistic little girl, who loved beauty from an early age.
Unfortunately, that gentle essence was pretty much out of line with the values in my immediate environment. I was raised in a part of the country whose entire economy was based on the exploitation of natural resources. Refinery fumes invaded our homes and non-air-conditioned schools as well as paid the bills. Our family culture valued important things like thrift, achievement, discipline, academic excellence, and faithfulness, but did not invest much in beauty, emotion, or the more tender aspects of life. There was little money for music lessons, ballet, frilly bedroom décor, store-bought clothes, or musical instruments. Makeup was discouraged; fashion was for others. Nor was there much interest in nature or travel.
Enriched by the family strengths and values present, I learned to be a very good student. Along the way, God provided manna for the more beauty-bent parts of me through neighbors and friends, books, art electives at school, youth group trips around the state, and teachers who encouraged me to write. But by and large, conscious awareness of that beauty-loving, tender part of my personal identity faded almost completely, going underground only to be resurrected at age thirty-five.
For many months, my new life felt unsure and fragile. As the people in my world discovered that something was changing with me, I felt freer to adjust my schedule to better accommodate this massive internal shift. I resigned from virtually all of my ministry obligations and began to see a counselor every other week.
This was a season of intriguing and continual revelation. I spent several years becoming reacquainted with that little girl who loved to sit barefoot in the grass. I discovered that I am a gardener and an introvert. I found out that I am a deep thinker and that's just fine with God. In fact, it's a gift! I recovered my emotional sensitivity, and I learned that I have a large dose of the gift of mercy, a gift my made-to-be-a-corporate-executive thinking had denied completely.
Much of what I discovered had to do with my feminine identity. I began to wear makeup and became more aware of my emotional nature. I curled my hair and designed a new flower garden for our backyard. I became more aware within my relationships and let my deeply compassionate heart lead for a change. I felt both more pain and more joy with each day.