I’ve spent most, if not all, of my life feeling like I was invisible. Not like nobody-can-see-me-like-I’m-a-ghost type invisible. More like the type of invisible where you’re in a room full of people and everyone is talking around, about, or even to you, but no one is talking with you. The kind of invisible where you are unable to recognize your own potential, gifts, and callings because you are never able to use them. The kind that makes you feel like everyone’s backup choice– a second rate person who will always be stuck living in someone else’s shadow. The kind where you’re seen physically, but not seen for who you are– as a whole, capable, gifted person.
This feeling of invisibility was present in all places of my life: home, school, church, even Quizzing– the one place I had always felt most at home. And I knew even then I was never invisible in any of these places, but, nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling. I always felt I was finishing second to someone. That one girl in youth group everyone loved kept getting all the attention and the leadership position I both wanted and felt I was more qualified for. But I wasn’t chosen because my gifts, passion, and qualifications were invisible. I watched my toughest competitors in Quizzing get praised for their trophies, and their personalities, leadership abilities, and mentorship of younger Quizzers, and wondered why people only seemed to love and care about the winners. I watched my friends get recognized for being outstanding in everything and wondered why I was never good enough. I watched teachers wanting to write college recommendation letters for students, and yet, I couldn’t think of who to even ask because I didn’t think any of them even really knew me or cared. I watched as people I loved, and who knew I spent my entire life feeling invisible, got asked to do everything– from leading, to helping, to running programs, to teaching– while I sat back and wondered how I got into this position again. I was inadequate, unworthy, unwanted, and not trusted. I was never enough.
And words of affirmation are my love language. But, no one ever tells the Quizzer who got 6th place in individuals for the thousandth time “good job!” and sincerely means it. And no one tells the 8th smartest person in the graduating class that they are the best at something. No one tells the kid in youth group who knows Scripture like the back of her hand and who always has a challenge, response, and question for everything that her passion for Scripture is inspiring, that she understands it more deeply than the average person, and that’s not a bad thing, and she could really do something with that. And no one ever tells the youth leader who is doing a good job that she is doing a good job. No one ever tells the person who wants that ministry experience or opportunity the real reason they weren’t chosen. None of my teachers or professors ever said, “I enjoy having you in class and you are just such a genuine and good person,” or, “You are a gifted student and are going to do amazing things.” And, without these affirmations, I always assumed the worst. I constantly felt that I had not gifts or strengths and I was just another invisible face to pass by their lives. I felt like all the effort, passion, and time I poured into just about everything I did went unnoticed. And for words of affirmation people, it’s the explicit words spoken, and the actions taken by the speaker as a support for those words that mean everything. Because saying “I think the world of you” is only helpful if it’s backed up by action. And, not saying anything is just as hurtful as saying negative things. So, in order to feel seen, I need the explicit “you’re doing a great job,” “I love you,” or “you are incredible,” occasionally, and those are often not easy to find – especially from people who have known you you’re whole life.
The moment I felt sure of God’s calling for me was also the moment I felt sure of the need for me to get away from the place I grew up. Which is probably why I tried to run away from God’s calling for a while– I knew accepting one meant accepting the other, and yet, I hoped I could half accept God’s call. But every time I thought about doing ministry in my hometown, studying at the comfortable seminary, and training in the church I grew up in, I began to feel suffocated. I felt like I couldn’t breath, like the walls were closing in on me, and like I was having a panic attack despite how excited I was supposed to be that I had discovered my true passions, joys, gifts, and calling. Because thinking about having to deal with the same people making me feel invisible for another 2 or more years made me not want to do any of the amazing things I know God is calling me to do. So, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I had to leave. Because I knew that somewhere, someone wanted me. And not just wanted me but needed me for some reason. God somehow needed me to go to this unknown place so I could do His work. Somewhere, I wouldn’t feel stuck in someone’s shadow.
So, I searched, because for me to fully embrace God’s work for me, it meant leaving. And, in all the searching, I’ve had more affirmations about myself and this decision from God and from others, that, despite the still lingering feelings of invisibility, I have never been surer of my own abilities, gifts, and calling.
The moment I thought one of the easiest parts about leaving would be my lack of relationships here– the lack of people holding me here– genuine friends showed up. Friends who provided the type of friendship I could have only dreamed about. Friends who not only listen to me, but who hear me and who will drop whatever they are doing to remind me of that. Friends who take time to pray for each other, and who sit in a McDonalds for hours just making sure we all know our greatest strengths. And, while most people may think finally finding such amazing friends less than a year before you’re about to move across the country is a disappointment and a sign you should stay, I found it to be one of the greatest affirmations that I need to leave. (Not that I’m not disappointed and I won’t miss them a whole freaking lot– because I am, and I will). But I am reassured that, if I can find them here, and if I truly am the person they say I am (and I am trying to start to believe I am), then I will find more wherever I land. And, even if I don’t, or even if I do, I will always have a support system here who know that God is calling me to leave, and who will never stop reminding me of, and supporting me in, that.
The moment I thought most of my professors just tolerated me but didn’t actually like me (and would definitely never want to write me a recommendation letter for grad school), I got an email from the professor who had me for the most classes in my undergraduate career. She emailed me my final grade for her class, and in it, she included a personal note of how much she has seen me grow in the past 2 years. And I realized that maybe at least some of my professors liked me—at least a little. I knew who I wanted, and needed, to write my pastoral letter. Except that, how can you have a pastor who knows everyone write you a recommendation letter when you’re invisible? Because he has too much on his plate, too many people asking him to do things, and too many people to care about someone who is only second best. But then he said he would be honored to not only write them but to help me in any way. And, when he finished his letters, he texted me saying he had written too many nice things. And, while I will never get to read any of those letters, (you know, confidentiality and all that), one of the schools I applied to had them before I sent in my application and called me saying they were excited to read my application because the letters written about me were so good.
In the moment I compared myself the most to others, and felt most inadequate and unqualified, the one person who so often made me feel most inadequate and unqualified, and whose shadow I felt I was living in, texted me and said she was insecure and I was making her feel inadequate and unqualified. (Not that I was glad she felt that way. And I made sure to tell her she was crazy because that girl is seriously amazing and way better at her job than I could ever be and more passionate than just about anyone I’ve ever met.) And, in the moments when I didn’t think I was actually making an impact, and that no one would miss me or even notice if I left, or when I felt most like I was living in the shadow of all the Quizzers whose shadows I had grown up living in, and when I was the most tired of finishing second to them, the Quizzers almost cried because they said they would miss me so much. And Quizzers I never worked with directly told me they didn’t know what they would do without me next season, Quizzers who I barely talked to told me I inspired them, and a Quizzer who I never thought I impacted told me she had always looked up to me. And, in the moment I most felt like I was second-rate and not enough, I out of the blue got a text from my roommate and longtime friend reminding me of all that I am and assuring me that I am never second best.
And, just when I was struggling the most to make my decision, and when I was worried I would end up at school where I would just be “another student” and where I would be setting myself up to feel invisible again, I got a phone call from a school offering to pay my tuition expenses in full. Because leaving is fine when you feel invisible, but how can you be sure you won’t feel invisible at the next place you end up? Getting a phone call from a school who clearly wanted me (for whatever strange and still unknown reason) and who clearly didn’t think of me as just another student, is just another God assurance that I am not, in fact, invisible.
Because I spent my life feeling like I was invisible. And I am sure there will be times when I still will. And, I know that there will be times when I feel like nobody wants me– like nobody wants me to minister, or teach, or do whatever. But I also know that this feeling of invisibility is not a truth. Nor is it a permanent state. It can be an indication that something better may be coming. It’s a sign that something in life needs to change– maybe it’s attitude, circumstance, perspective, or geographical location, or maybe all the above. But, regardless, it’s a sign that God is with you, whether you believe it or not. Because no one is invisible. And no one should ever make you feel like you are, or like you are second best. You are a whole, capable, and gifted person. Because you know who’s not invisible? God. And His children shouldn’t be either. They should always be assured of their value in Him. So, remember that you are seen. You are heard. You are loved. You are adequate. You are a whole, gifted, valuable person with strengths and giftings that make you unique and qualified to do whatever God is calling you to.