Monday, March 24, 2014

Labels: Why? Just Tell Me Why?

Labels. You know what I mean, right? You're labeled, slow-poke, late-bloomer, klutz, dunce, and I'm sure you can add a plethora to the list. Why? Why do we have to be labeled? And why are the labels always so mean?

I remember as a school teacher, wrong or right, I chose not to read my students charts. The idea came from learning the hard way, of course. In my first year of teaching I made the terrible mistake of  reading the reports or charts that the previous teachers wrote on each of my new students.  All it had done was place a prejudice towards certain students based on the opinion of their former teacher. After getting to know my students I realized my failure and promised myself that I would never read the charts until the day before 'Meet the Teacher Night.' Things worked out a lot better for me and my students after that.

But speaking on a more personal note, I was labeled. Golly, was I labeled. One such label was that I had the tormenting horror of wearing the invisible dunce hat. Yes, I was labeled dumb by my family. I couldn't get away from it. No matter how many A's or A+'s I received I would forever be known for being stupid.

I'll never forget when I announced to my family, around the dinner table, that I was going to try and transfer to St. Francis Preparatory High School. (It was the top Catholic School in Queens, New York).

My father looked up and said, "Don't bother, you'll never get in."
I said, "But what if I do?"
He responded, "If you do, you won't be able to keep up and you'll find yourself kicked out."
I asked again, "Okay, but what if I do get in and I don't fail out?"
He said, "If you get in...I'll pay your tuition."

Well, the good news is- I got in! How wonderful I felt to have not only made it and kept up a 3.5 average!

I'm grown up now and have conquered the lie and torn off the 'stupid' label. (No pun intended). I'm pretty smart, as it so happens! Anyway, I have found since then, that I have all sorts of other labels that have been placed on me. Friends have labeled me many things that I just don't believe about myself, but once the label is on -it stays on.

So, the other day I found out that I'm still being labeled. I was telling a friend how I found myself in a situation where I was having to confront someone, but before I could finish explaining myself, she cut me off  and she said, "Yup, that's vintage Ellen." The words "Vintage" Ellen" played over and over in my mind. The same old Ellen. The Ellen that will never change. Do you hear the label? I was shocked. I think I have changed. I think that I'm softer now than when I was younger, but to this person, I wasn't.

Yes, I will admit that I am a confrontational person. I want the truth all the time and if I don't understand something I ask and ask questions until I feel I have all the information I need. I have always apologized for it. It has never been meant to make someone feel like they are being  interrogated, but if they have I am quick to say I am sorry. So, the words from my friend really hurt. I felt boxed in. Misunderstood. Labeled.

The truth I have found is this: God doesn't label us. God doesn't put us in a box. He hopes for us. He champions for us to change. He is always hoping for change in us. He is always looking to draw us closer to Him. He always sees the best in us. In 2 Corinthians it says: "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!"  I believe and claim that Scripture for each new day. Each day I wake up I am a new creature in Christ. Why? Because in Christ, my sins are forgiven, I am washed clean, I have the hope of being more like Him today than yesterday. For me, a label will only last a day because God sets me free each day. I love the Scripture from Philippians 3:13, "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." I am not the "Same old Ellen" or  "Vintage Ellen" I'm a new creation each and every day.

It's hard knowing that someone is looking at you through a lens that is ten or so years old. It's hard not being able to take off family members or friends 'glasses' of how they see you, but I know who I am, I know the truth, and their view of me doesn't change that.

                                                So, before another label gets stuck on me, 
I'll tell you a secret. 
I'll admit it.

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