The cologne was as thick as the insecurity. I remember the huge ads hanging inside the store—group shots of young adults sitting around a campfire or playing a wildly amusing game of pickup football. Some showed shirtless guys with six-packs, not a single strand of body hair in sight. The thin, young women stared out of their frames, not smiling per se, but bemused. I was fourteen and had just come out of that middle school stage. I stood and wondered what secret these beautiful people were privy to.
The photos with couples seemed to capture my attention the most. I knew the embraces and wide smiles didn’t necessarily reflect real life. But I also wanted to be like those people. I realized that buying a particular pair of low-rise jeans wasn’t going to give me the life shown in those oversized stills, but I also still believed that wearing that logo would make me more likeable. And I wanted to fit in.
Back-to-school shopping felt different that year. Attending public school for the first time and starting high school felt as natural as eating caramel apples with my braces. The Christian school I had attended all of my life was in the same building as my church, which I had attended equally as long. I knew it like the back of my hand. I had clomped down every staircase, raised my hand in every classroom. I even knew where the boiler room and storage closets were. The teachers all knew my family. Everything and everyone felt familiar. Standing in that store, practicing the charade of confidence, I knew that familiarity was about to fade. So I wanted, more than anything, those jeans with that logo.
As a mother now, I can only imagine how it felt for my mom to listen to me beg for that overpriced denim. It’s no easy task to teach our kids how to be in the world but not of it.
Amidst floral prints and massive perms, my parents were entrusted with the task of raising two daughters. With all of her heart and all of the resources available to her, my mother taught my sister and I about the creator who set our identity and defined beauty. Scripture uses agricultural analogies for good reason. I barely noticed the seeds of truth my mom’s words were planting in my heart. The sights and smells surrounding me felt much more real. But decades later, those seeds have grown into fruit-bearing trees. My mom reminded me of what truly gave me value, while also buying me a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt.
We can obsess over a moment’s right or wrong decision, while forgetting the countless, unnoticed moments that create life’s backdrop. The scene of my adolescent desire for popularity was set to the same score that played throughout the film of my entire life—“Seek first the kingdom of God.” Before I heard a friend describe cool clothes, I had observed my mother clothe herself in dignity and strength, studying God’s word and serving those around her. Even while photos of models intrigued me, I already had an underlying picture of what the family of God looked like.
The riptide of people-pleasing doesn’t automatically abate over time. I’m still tempted to feel the pull of popularity, even at age thirty six. The anchor to my soul is the truth that I am chosen and wanted, by the all-powerful and all-knowing God who knit me together. I know now that the brand of clothing I wear doesn’t matter at all. One day we will disrobe from these bodies of clay and dust. And as I wait, I live aware of Christ’s robes of righteousness that cover me, having replaced my tattered rags of shame.