When I first met Brandon, at the half-baked age of 19, I tried to woo him with my ten-backflips-in-a-row party trick in the grassy field behind the boy scout building where our church met. I guess it worked? I mean, we are married. But, more likely, we are married despite the flips.
Now, coming up on our tenth year of marriage, I just spontaneously threw my first tumbling pass in a decade.
I was a cheerleader in high school. Not the pom poms and “go team” kind (I didn’t understand football then, and I still don’t today). I did the three hours of practice a day, taped-up wrists, crying and sweating and winning national competitions kind.
Being on the competition team was serious. It was my everything. And if I play out our first national championship winning routine in my mind from start to finish, and remember seeing Jen Granado stick that last heel stretch after having just landed my roundoff-backhandspring-backhandspring-tuck, I can easily trigger a full-blown weeping session of joy and nostalgia.
We all had our little areas of expertise. Jen was our world-class flyer. She full-twist cradled and landed every basket toss like a machine. Amy was the dancer. No matter how perfectly the rest of us knew each motion, Amy was the center of attention as the electronic music with strategically placed “wa-bam” and “wa-pow” sound effects pumped through our little black boom box. Melissa and Charity were the bases everyone wanted because they were fearless and their muscles were made of solid rock and they always, always made sure the flyer didn’t hit the floor.
What was my job on the team, you ask? I was a tumbler.
I did flips. So I was, pretty much, just responsible for my own self – hitting my mark, doing my tricks well, and making the appropriate theatrical, corny faces to go with it. If I really stuck the landing, I would turn to the judge’s table with the biggest, fakest open-mouthed smile I could contort my face into while underlining the “DCS” on my chest with both hands.
I hate myself.
I was really bad at what we cheerleaders called “stunting” – the thing where we throw each other into the air and catch and lift. I hated it. I didn’t want to get my teeth knocked out.
So, I was good at flipping by myself and bad at working with the rest of the team.
In the first couple of years, my coaches would try to challenge me by having me spot the girls who flew in the air. The first time I spotted, the flyer landed on her back, and sprained her elbow. The second (and last) time I was asked to spot, our star flyer landed on her coccyx. I didn’t jump backward and away, covering my face while my teammates were falling to their death on purpose. It was instinctive self-preservation!
Again, I know! I was the worst! NOW WILL YOU STOP TALKING ABOUT IT, PLEASE!
Back then, I loved the buzz of being on the team, but I enjoyed the most isolated role. This wasn’t only a cheerleading thing for me. It was also, really until the last few years, how I functioned in relationships.
As a cheerleader, I liked wearing the team uniform, but only if I could do my own thing and not be dependent on anyone or have anyone dependent on me. In life, I always want to be at the party, but you can count on me having to go to the bathroom or slipping out the back door as soon as you go from small talk to deep talk. No thank you.
This tendency led to me hurting a lot of people. I’d be friendly, they’d misconstrue my friendliness for actual openness and love, and I would either fail to meet their expectations as a friend or tell them upfront, “Hey…let’s not even go where you’re going, because I’m going to fail to meet your expectations as a friend.”
Living this way wasn’t good for them and it wasn’t good for my soul, either. I thought I was okay because my life has always been very busy and full. But, I wasn’t growing. I wasn’t allowing God to use me to do anything in anyone’s life and then I fought the guilt that brought by distracting myself with more business.
This has been my pattern until the last couple of years. I joined a small group at church last year, but instead of being arm’s distance, I actually got involved in these peoples’ lives and let them into mine. When I was afraid to do something that I knew God wanted me to do, I would tell this group, instead of hiding it. I would ask them to pray.
They didn’t bulldoze my walls and force their way into my life. They actually didn’t ask anything of me at all. They just lived like Jesus in front of me, and that changed me and compelled me to put my defensive arms down. Their Christ-likeness caused me to notice my own un-Christ-likeness and want what they have.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
I’m doing things and living in ways that would have scared me to literal death years ago, and it’s bringing me joy. My friendships have deepened and become sources of encouragement, rather that stress.
Letting myself be fully on a team with a group of people – tossing and catching and praying and diving under the person who is falling, and letting them catch me when I fall has proven to be such an extreme joy, it’s worth any head bump or bruised coccyx that has come with it.
After ten years of being right side up, I did a backflip yesterday and realized just how much I’ve changed since the last time flipping was part of my life. No longer am I the nervous show off doing whatever it takes to keep everyone on my team at a safe distance. Now, I’m a nervous show off who does life with people that make me want to be less like me and more like Jesus.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. Galatians 2:20
P.S. – Jen, I’m sorry about your coccyx.