One of the most crippling self-beliefs I had, was based on a misunderstanding.
A completely innocent failure of communication that ate on the brain-stalk of my confidence from when I was 10 until I was, I’m not joking, almost 30 years old.
The little, munching, lie was this: I, Rachel, am an idiot.
Not in manner or speech, or behaviour or humour.
My intelligence had been measured and undeniably proven to have limits. The kind of limits that meant, no matter how hard my grey matter whirred, or strained, I was going to hit high peaks of a ‘C’ in all subjects (except music because, apparently, God gives His dumb kids a built-in consolation prize).
Before I tell you how that lie was born, and how it died, let me paint a little picture of my life under its banner.
The two worlds I inhabited throughout my academic career: the sheltered path of Frankie’s kid, and the Lairs of the Devil and Pythagoras.
When I managed to get anything greater than a ‘C’ in school or at University, or in any other way excelled academically and thus challenged the crunching belief that I was an idiot, one of two things would happen:
or, ‘God did it’
For, you see, God was my Mob Boss.
He adopted me when I was a child and, ever since, was working to see me shine.
To do this, He broke into computers and fixed grades.
He stayed late in the teacher’s rooms, Professor’s offices, and swayed their opinions of me.
He wined and dined them when they marked my work, made sure all their favourite TV series came on, distracting them long enough for me to slip out from the shadow of my true fate and shuffle into the presence of a higher realm of grades.
Oh, those heady B’s in Science.
That brief, lurid affair, with a B+ in History.
The approving nods of lecturers.
In my English classes, He was my freedom fighter.
The renegade who turned my gobby, self-indulgent, opinions into a glittering ‘A’ with no sign of force or tyranny.
He deafened my teacher’s ears, put scales on their eyes, and let His little Dumb-Dumb bask briefly on an Essay Mountaintop.
So many teachers retired after my class finished, that year, that their replacements couldn’t see what was what.
He had things so turned around that there were rumours I would see stars in my GCSE’s.
But, hey, even Frankie can’t fix every horse race.
When the results came out we all blinked twice, came to our senses, and didn’t ask questions.
A’s in English, so we traded the papers like heavy briefcases.
He’d done it, again.
The Devil And Pythagoras
Genesis is sketchy on the details, but I’m convinced: when God surrendered the territories and powers to His fallen children and their Morningstar Angel, they celebrated with Mathematics.
Who else but those Giddy Fiends could design that stuff?
And I lived in the modern world with their acolytes.
A field of Male teachers, the Sharks to my Jet, and their classrooms were the fields on which I was truly exposed.
Where the lie was proven over and over; a furious ecstasy of evidence.
Where I bounced from Numeracy classes to mainstream classes, battled homework with suppressed nausea, and collapsed on book-return day with miracle C’s or ‘See Me’s’.
My full potential, realised.
But, it was in Exam Halls that I felt the true, daunting, cold of God’s absence.
Where the Devil showed his hand and I prepared by sword fighting: honing myself, with hours of study.
I shackled myself to a desk littered with highlighters and despair. I banged my head against facts and books, covered my wall in formulas and times-table sheets. I sat in the library for 10 hour days. I cried my way down the motorway to deliver assignments fuelled by panic attacks.
It was hopeless.
I was an Idiot in the world of the Academic.
And my misery made sense. The desperate, unrelenting, fear made sense.
If I listened long enough, if I was really quiet and vulnerable, I could hear truth assuring me…
Idiots don’t get the grades they need.
Idiots can’t make their brains work by yelling at them. Crying over them.
Idiots have to accept their limits.
Idiots who don’t know their place, will be crushed into it.
My little Caterpillar was a friend. Not a Foe.
The Devil tried to spell it out for me. So did his mate, Hipparchus. (Fun Fact: I learned Idiots can still use Google).
So did every ghost in the silent, humid, Exam halls.
So did every Exam invigilator.
They weren’t judging me, berating me with their eyes, to be cruel.
They were telling me the truth.
They were being kind.
Dying On The Hill
I rounded out my Academic career at University.
I studied a four year degree that would train me to teach, because it was the only career field anyone suggested I would find success and stability, in.
School placements were hell on Earth.
I struggled to actually achieve anything of worth and was openly mocked by some of my instructors for being such a mess of a person.
But, I had great rapport with my students and that redeemed what a dysfunctional educator I was.
I passed every placement with a shake of the head: a ‘well, you didn’t set anything on fire and you have potential so…’
Or, a Frankie’s kid miracle: classrooms need people willing to coax, sing, enchant, and advocate for the Children in them.
So, by my final year I knew that I was an imposter: standing at the interactive white board and reciting facts, formulas, times-tables that I still had sheets for on my walls at home.
Answering questions with such sparkling, bravado-masked, fear that my instructor had to cut the class short because I was so convincingly teaching them maths that didn’t exist.
Allowed to be there, because I didn’t hate running art classes and I could fill an afternoon with books and music.
I had a breakdown, because I knew it was wrong.
I was a liar and if they passed me, I would be free to go and ruin thirty children’s education every year.
I’d get paid for it.
Despite the breakdown, I finished the placement. Well meaning advice: “You need to finish what you start. You’ll never be this close, again…”
And then I graduated with a First Class, Honours.
In the top 1% of my graduating class.
It was hilarious – there was a little dagger shape by my name in the newspaper.
I asked if I was being targeted by assassins.
They said, “You’re smart.”
When I couldn’t get a job, or get out of bed for consecutive weeks, I went to therapy.
I made two attempts.
I told them I was sick. Done with the folly of achieving everything because I was Frankie’s Kid.
I told them I was Ashamed. Tired of living in the Devil’s house while never feeling at home; trying to hot-wire the system of Worldly success and electrocuting myself in the process.
They saw my Divorced Parents Badge, my Entitled Graduate Card, and told me to go to work.
To pay back society for what I had taken.
And, I swear to you, I tried.
But, I was full of caterpillars.
A nest of merry larvae, eating the roots of my health and wellness. My sense of ‘self’, my perspective on all things big and small.
I ignored them too long and by the time I was married, they had grown too large.
I malfunctioned, misfired, and was so worn that love hit me like shrapnel. Giving it away, was showering bullets.
They finally claimed every ounce of energy.
They leeched the colour out of me, took the marrow from anything I once enjoyed, just to sustain themselves.
To survive, in the garden I had given to them.
And when I was crushed, when I was sick of rotting somewhere no one could see, I knew they had to die.
Because God was my Mob boss, because He held onto me so tightly, crushingly, that I couldn’t deny that I was His kid, I didn’t hit Eject.
I let the plans sit on the shelf and promised myself I remembered where the button was, and tried therapy again.
She was The One (the holy grail of therapists for my sensibility), and I committed to weekly sessions. Appointments to finally slay the dragons born from my epidemic Idiocy.
I told her I needed to break my cycle of Insanity. To stop hurling myself at doors that didn’t open, people I terrified, options that would never be mine.
To stop living in Frankie’s shadow.
To escape the Devil and Pythagoras.
To pay back society and earn my keep.
To be an Idiot. And be happy.
Fortunately, my Therapist didn’t take me at my word.
Even in that first session, she had me write out a sentence I had easily dispensed to her and then look at it until I really saw what it said.
To ask myself if I could taste the difference between Lies and the Truth.
If I was willing to risk finding out.
There were things that took three years to untangle and set right. Some things that are frayed wires I’ll have to live with, until God sees fit to heal me or I high-five Him in Heaven.
But, this testimony is about an old caterpillar.
The lie that grew out of a misunderstanding, that flourished in a war-torn girl, and bore a lot of mislaid-blame for all that came after.
It was born in the corridor of my Primary school.
Children were taking a test and I had skipped in, late, unaware that I wasn’t invited.
The door closed and my teachers told me the test wasn’t for me: that I was going to a school that didn’t ask its Children to pass an entrance exam.
I could go as I was. I would love my music lessons.
It died without fanfare.
When healthier roots sprung up, it couldn’t find a way to adapt to them.
When I learned to evaluate things logically, without the filters of my skewed perceptions, it couldn’t keep itself alive.
Turns out that Idiot is a word that has no place in a healthy perspective.
A word that can’t stand in the place of one like intelligence: a spectrum so rich, vibrant, and all-encompassing, that it looks more like trees in a garden than a whip in someone’s hand.
And then, when I laughed about it in passing, my Mum told me that even Idiots can take the test: the school asked parents to opt into the test and she said no, I didn’t need to.
The local school, the place where I would love music lessons, was the closest to us and she was happy for me to attend.
You Can’t Win The Wrong War
There are places where we fight for our lives.
Strongholds, lies, misconceptions, and so on, that stand like Giants and take God’s perfect ammunition and gracious aim to take down.
In those times, on those battle fields, we need all the things God promises to stay upright and get Free.
But, there are other places.
Places where we hear a crunching, delighted, sound and think the rot has set in.
Moments when we are desperate to throw a tent over our situation and smoke out the culprit, bleach the place sterile, and when we finally re-enter hear a tiny chirrup; a threat of infestation that would have us condemn the whole building and start again.
And, friends, I’m so relieved.
Because there will be times that I prepare to fight, where the old habits in me begin to bang their shields and call, “March! March! Brace for War!”
And a dry leaf falls off one of my branches.
When the God I called my Mob Boss, my Frankie, takes the Caterpillar onto His gardener’s glove and hushes it.
We’re doing brave thing, by living.
Choosing battles, every day, to get the balance between healthy growth, true self awareness, and keeping it All About Him.
In this true war, the one for my life, my renewed mind, my ‘Jeremiah 29:11’ perspective, I’ve learned to ask God about the caterpillars.
To let Him decide what needs sword-thrusts and bravery, and what needs trust and being still.
I’ve stopped calling myself Frankie’s Daughter.
I’m trying to stop undermining God’s kindness with my fear of His goodness.
I’m learning to notice when I chase shadows of ‘Should’ into the Devil’s living room.
I forgive myself for not being Pythagoras and try to celebrate the place where Maths and I make friends.
I, Rachel, was never an idiot.
And He, my God, is making me free.