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THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, WE’RE ALL FROM THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS: PART 13

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To present a book and series which refers constantly to the characters from the island of misfits in Rudolph but never individually studies them would be similar to hanging an ornate but empty frame on a wall. The color, undertones, and even overarching picture would be missing from the final product. And yet, the eccentricities which set apart said toys are often so minute that the individual who watched the film as a child may recall the element of the misfits existence without being able to remember what about these made them outcasts.

Therein lies the crux of much of our work in this series: while a collective of playthings may all feature individual peculiarities which make them unique, the truth is, none of them had anything so wrong about him or her that these deserved such a dark fate as to be banished from the outside world. And, while many of us can relate to these oddballs, we are often quicker to see the redeem-ability of these fictional characters than we are to see the loveable parts of ourselves. Yet, we are not so different from these icons of Christmas history.

What we mean is that we each can see reflections of our own shortcomings in the unconventionalities of these toys. But, while we are usually quick to overlook flaws in others—toys included—we will usually, based on the very same perceived flaws, isolate ourselves from others. In a nutshell, we permit other people to be imperfect, but grant ourselves no such luxury. It is through an individualized study of the toys that we hope to bring this self-segregating discrepancy to light and help the reader reverse this destructive habit. After all, many of the quirky tendencies which make each of these characters unlike his peers, when viewed from the right angle, can be recognized as strength rather than a flaw.

Charlie in the box

In the world of misfit toys, it quickly becomes apparent that a simple, personal deviation from tradition is enough to render an outcast. For example, a toy which had always been called “Jack” in the box becomes ostracized when instead, the creature inside is called “Charlie.” Certainly, for the onlooker, this is no big problem: one can play with a “Charlie” in the box just as easily as one could with a “Jack” in the box. So what’s the real problem here?

The question is answered by Charlie himself, who poses the question: “Who wants a Charlie in the box?”[i] The irony of this is that it doesn’t seem to cross anyone else’s mind to be upset that his name is Charlie. The title–shaming here is completely self-imposed. It’s likely that if Charlie simply jumped out of the box and greeted onlookers with a mere “Hello, I’m a Charlie in the box!” Nobody would really mind at all.

So how does this connect to readers? It’s simple: we self–label every day, branding ourselves with names accrued usually through the negative experiences of our lives. We call ourselves “abandoned,” “addicted,” “rejected,” “bullied,” “insufficient,” “unattractive,” “unintelligent,” or just plain “damaged.” And then we stand in proximity to others and ask ourselves, just as Charlie did, “Who wants a <insert self–imposed, self–abasing name here>?” We continually put ourselves through this, when if we would just present ourselves with confidence, most people wouldn’t notice our shortcomings, and those who do, would likely find them relatable.

So, we ask you: what is your self-imposed name: the one you allow to hold you down? What is the label by which you have chosen to limit your own potential? Is it something that derives from victimization of the past? Does it derive from a hurtful label that an abusive parent, spouse, employer, or other individual has placed on you? Perhaps it is the label of a past failure—something you wish you had done differently: school drop-out, divorcee, deadbeat, or quitter. Perhaps it is a physical attribute for which you are self-conscious. Ultimately, the things about ourselves that we perceive as shortcomings don’t matter. In fact, the more we, in our human finiteness feel ill–equipped for a job, the more God is glorified in our success.

Your past failures are no longer important. The label you have painted on your chest doesn’t matter. What does matter is whether God has called, chosen, and thus prepared us for a certain task.

Deciding to step out in faith and allow God to redefine oneself can be the first hurdle one crosses toward forever abandoning a negative marker or self–inflicted, painful name. Understand that the Maker of us all has the transformative power to make us a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). Believing this helps us realize that this promise not only applies to those around us, but is also true about ourselves.

And, here is the best part: God will change the name of the forsaken—the desolate. He will give a new name which will be one of belonging. (Isaiah 62:2-5). He has changed the name of many people in the past whose destiny was rewritten by His mighty hand. Abram and Sarai became Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17); Jacobs became Israel (Genesis 32); Simon became Peter (John 1); and even Paul took on a new name when he began his ministry (Acts 13). And, God’s people will each have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life to spend eternity with Him (Revelation 20:15).

So, what’s in a name?

The same God who has chosen you and ordained you for his work has the power to change the name by which you are defined. And, if the Author of all of creation exercises his prerogative of making such an adaptation—then who are we to argue with that? Will we stand before him, insisting that this can’t be done, stating that we are more damaged and even he realizes? Of course not.

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DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!

Ironically, Charlie in the box is the first on the island to interact with Rudolph and Cornelius. He is presented as the official Sentry of the Island. Despite his erroneous title, he proves to be a capable fellow of esteem: the Guardian, the Sentinel, the watchmen for all those who reside on the isle. The only person seemingly hung up on his name is Charlie, himself. He is blinded by his own inability to see around something as silly as a label, but it is apparent that those who rely on him see an able–bodied and proficient individual whom they trust. Perhaps he should have been renamed Sentry. While the film didn’t officially re-introduce him utilizing this label, for all practical purposes, this is precisely what happened.

Often, because we are unable to see the honorable names placed upon us by others, such as Charlie’s “Sentry,” we confine ourselves within a box. While it may be true that the cubicle itself is a part of the toy’s function that Charlie is permanently affixed to, it doesn’t need to be the darkened place he continually retreats to. Charlie is given a choice: he can open the top of his box and allow his head to come springing out, intermingling with those around him and living life to its fullest capability, or, he can choose to recede into this container, clamp the lid shut, and stay there all alone. Unfortunately, when we hide in this way, we live cut off from the outside. We neither improve upon the world around us, nor gain from it. We find ourselves sequestered, in a shadowy and desolate place. And, many of us live this way each day because we are unable to relinquish a damaging label. We lack the courage it takes to walk with confidence into a world of other likewise damaged and hurting people and say, “Hello, my name is Charlie. Nice to meet you!”

Such an act of bravery may seem easier said than done, but many of the people who do this very thing each day do so because they have intentionally chosen to leave their comfort zone behind, shed the damaging label of their past, and participate in a more abundant life.

Elephant with dots

After a while, one will begin to notice a pattern emerge among the misfit toys. Essentially, each of them seems to have some deviance from their peers which, while not fully impeding function-ability, alters play-style or makes them feel self-conscious enough to render them an outcast. In this way, it seems obvious that this speckled creature is an outcast because he perceives himself to be; bearing the physical branding that makes him feel as though he sticks out like a sore thumb in a world of smooth-toned peers.

As is noted regarding other toys, this unconventionality may not bother a child at all. Thus, the only thing stopping this toy from doing all of the same things as the others is, like Charlie, his own inability to see beyond what he perceives as a flaw. But, unlike Charlie, who at least looks similar to his Jack-named counterparts, our four-legged friend bears a visible marker that causes him to withdraw. This sheds a different kind of light on our self-perceived “label.” And, this can be debilitating regardless of whether our spots are extremely noticeable to those around us.

Such an element can manifest in many different ways. For some, this could be a physical difference or even a handicap that people are self-conscious about. For others, they feel certain that experiences of their past—whether committed by they themselves or some way in which they were victimized—are easily visible to and detectable by others. In order to keep this imprint hidden, they recoil. While Charlie’s hindrance is that of an internal label, the spotted elephant feeds off of something he believes to be perceptibly different about themselves that keeps them isolated.

The ironic element to this is the fact that often, the “differences” we notice about ourselves right away when comparing ourselves to others are things that those around us don’t even see. I (Allie Henson) will pick on myself a bit to illustrate my point. When I was a teenager, fashion-modeling schools were all the rage. I attended one, got some modeling jobs as I graduated, and was actively involved with an agency for a while. People often associate such a claim with fame or wealth, but I never made it much money at it. (In fact, it is not uncommon for newly–starting–out models to be paid in what they are told is “exposure.” Essentially, those in this line of work know that fresh recruits are hungry for experience, and this gets exploited.) Many people subscribe to the notion that if one is pretty, they can be a model. But this is not necessarily true. First of all, there is the rare-known fact that the modeling and Hollywood industries usually prefer women who are, at biggest, somewhere between a size 0 and a 2—regardless of how attractive an individual is. Additionally, there is much more to modeling than being pretty in front of a camera. One must have a unique look, understand the strengths and weaknesses about how their body and face present in front of a camera (thus how to pose), how to walk a runway, have professional mannerisms for such factors as interviews, and access to financial resources to build a great portfolio. On top of this, one must have thick enough skin to be cruelly rejected from such as auditions openly referred to as “cattle calls” over, and over, and over… (Some may contradict my statements about the modeling world here, claiming that it has changed in the thirty years since I navigated it. I certainly hope this is true, but for me to speak from my own experience, it must be noted that the aforementioned pointers were a true representation.)

As a teenager, I was a size 6 at nearly 5’9” tall. This meant that while, by many people’s standards, I was slender, by those of the fashion modeling industry, I was considered pretty chunky. I was, on many occasions, told I need to lose weight; and for a long time I tried earnestly to do so. I’ll never forget one day, when myself and several other would-be models at an audition were told to line up against a wall while facing it. We were to put our hands up on the wall near our heads, almost as though we were about to be frisked by a police officer. The man interviewing us came by and placed his hands on either side of each person’s waist, quickly patting each of us above the hip bone. It was not a lingering contact—rather a quick motion which was over with in less than a second per person. As he made his way down the line, his words to each person being rejected were, “Too fat.” He made his way from one girl to the next: “Too fat…too fat…too fat…” There were a couple young women who, instead of hearing this repeated phrase, simply were told, “okay.” When he had made his line past everybody in the room, he pointed only to those he had not used the degrading “too fat” phrase on. Everyone else was dismissed.

I share this information because, during the teenaged years, many, many young women define much of their value by their appearance. You can be raised in church, have great parents, a loving social nucleus, or any other myriad of nurturing resources, but our modern culture will still—by sheer default of proximity and inundation—begin to make a lot of beautiful young women (and men, for that matter!) believe that their appearance has some monstrosity that devalues their worth. These are often things that peers and family vehemently tell them are not noticeable, but to these individuals, it is glaringly dominating when they look into a mirror. My “spots” quickly became my weight. And, while other people told me that I shouldn’t worry about my weight (which, at the time, hovered between 125 and 130 pounds) all I could see in my reflection was a distorted self-image covered in cellulite and fat rolls. Conversely, I could look at someone larger than me who might be complaining about her appearance, and I could see their loveliness far beyond body type. When I told other girls that they were beautiful just the way they were, I meant it—every time—from the bottom of my heart. It was as though I had two regulatory standards—two sets of eyes. There were those that saw everyone else through a lens of grace; and those critical and cruel eyes, which my psyche saved for viewing myself.

I later learned that during that point of my life, much of the reason I had so much trouble losing weight was the simple fact that I had very little body fat on me in the first place. In fact, I was basically down to muscle mass and bone. I grew self-conscious, but kept up an outward appearance of confidence. I felt as though I were disgusting, value-less, and I was always looking for ways to balance the façade of confidence against my need to shrink. I compared myself to others constantly. It became hard to eat in front of others, because I felt as though I could hear their thoughts as they watched me eat:

“Gross. She’s actually taking another bite. That’s seriously, like the fourth bite. How many does the glutton plan on taking? Ugh. I can’t watch. This is disgusting.”

I can’t tell you how many times I sat at a meal with someone, having an unrelated conversation wherein I smiled, laughed, or otherwise kept up the “I’m fine” act, but inwardly, their words weren’t even registering. All I could hear was the words I’ve just mentioned. All of this tortured me almost constantly, while those around me had no possible way of knowing the mental battle I underwent. I played the “comparison game” in my head the entire time I was in a room were any other women were.

She’s taller. She’s skinnier. She has prettier hair. Her teeth are straighter than mine are. Her teeth were whiter than mine are. Her eyelashes are longer.

I mean really. The list went on and on. You see, it doesn’t matter how many beautiful attributes you have, or how many flaws you have. Reader, please here me on this, because I learned it the hard way: if you only see the beauty on other people and you only see the flaws on yourself, you never when the comparison game.

The continually-deteriorating self-image exacerbated into my early adult life, and by my early twenties, fixing my post-baby body had nearly become an obsession. In fact, at one point, I followed a trending diet so hard and for so long that I had a seizure as a result of low, key nutrients.

What finally helped me—ironically—was not that this health issue manifested as a result of my dieting. It was the brutal lecture that the doctor who diagnosed my seizure event gave me. I’m telling you, this guy pulled no punches. In fact, when I’ve retold the story in detail, people are often indignant at his lack of bedside manners, and the tone he took with me. All I can say is that what he said was precisely what I needed to hear in order to change the trajectory of the rest of my life. He asked me if I was so selfish that I would be happy to let my loved ones (including my kids) bury me as long as I was cute when they put me in the ground. I had never thought of it that way. It never occurred to me that I was being selfish, but that was the word the doctor used. I was stunned—part of me wanted to argue with him, but everything he said to me was fair, and I found myself respecting him for his willingness to speak truth. With this newfound point of view, it also began to occur to me that I had been isolating myself from the rest of the world—many people didn’t know the real me. They knew an appearance of togetherness that I let them see: not the vulnerable, insecure girl hiding inside. I showed them a carefully crafted picture; while simultaneously drawing assumptions about them as well. (Later, there was a landmark day in my life when I began to say “I am secure enough to admit my insecurities.” It may not sound like much to others, but it was a huge amount of progress for me).

For subsequent months, I returned to that doctor several times for follow-up care. On a different visit to his office, another event is etched into my memory which, like his lecture, permanently changed the path of my life. I was sitting in the waiting room, reading a particular magazine (I can’t even remember which one) which featured an exposé on women who had competed in a variety of beauty pageants. There’s not much about the story I remember except that when they talked about one of the main winners, they discussed different physical augmentation that she’d had done, and featured before and after pictures of her. I nearly had to pick my jaw up off the floor when I realized that virtually the only part of her face that was originally intact was her bottom lip; and her “before” picture looked much like any typical lady you might run into at the grocery store, standing there in sweats with her hair scrunched up in a pony-tail. While I don’t remember the names of the competitors or other vast details about their cosmetic surgery, I will never forget the realization I had that day: that each of us playing the comparison game is buying into a grandiose lie.

Now, before continuing, I must acknowledge that both the modeling industry and Hollywood are filled with people who are beautiful. But, these people have an entirely different toolbox available to them than those of us on the outside world. Many of them have cosmetic surgeons, cosmetologists, makeup artists, beauticians, fashion artists, tailors, personal trainers, and myriads of other resources, along with time and money at their disposal which can all be poured into their appearance. And since, for many of these, appearance is directly correlated to livelihood, physical exterior becomes a very high priority. Conversely, a neglected appearance can mean an individual could become ostracized or have difficulty finding work. I’m certainly not faulting people in this industry for their need to place high importance on these attributes. This is simply a cold, hard fact about the world these individuals navigate. Thus, my point is not to pick on the people of that world. However, for years I had tried to look like them when I did not have the resources and tools available to them. And, I daresay, most people could look like part of that world if such amenities were within their grasp.

I realize that my dialogue here has been geared more toward women than men (by default of my living it as a young woman), but it is true that people of both genders and all walks of life can tend to feel a sense of failure attached to a less–than–absolutely–perfect appearance which can literally hinder their ability to mingle in a room full of people. And while my personal story has to do with the fact that I am not a size 0, this same issue can manifest in nearly anything that makes a person physically uncomfortable in a room full of other people. For a man, it could be that he wishes for more muscle bulk. It could be an individual’s height if they are particularly tall or short. It could have to do with acne or obesity. Or, the issue could be something that the individual perceives as visible, but others don’t even notice.

For those of us who are only now recognizing, for the first time, how their own “spots” have kept them divided from other people, the charge is simple: learn a new way of defining your spots. For me, it was that “a-ha moment” wherein I realized that many celebrities look just like we all do before the professionals go to work on them. I never did become a size 0, in fact, I gave that up completely. I’m now a size 12, and have been for more than 20 years. It’s little as I get while maintaining my health, and it’s likely never going to change unless it goes up. It’s just how God created me.

The answer was not found in fixing what I perceived to be wrong about my body: in removing my “spots.” Instead, I had to adjust my perspective about what my true assets were, and decide what priority level my dissatisfaction with my spots was allowed to take. (This came via the doctor asking me if it was important enough to me to be skinny, but to let my children grow up without a mother; all while I realized that the difference in many of us and those in Hollywood was a simple matter of resources.)

But ultimately, the answer came in my ability to finally relinquish the comparison game. I will always be able to find things in other people that I wish for myself, and other people might see things in me that they might wish for as well. But the truth is, that at the end of the day, none of these evaluations matter, nor will they bring fulfillment. Even if I could complete my checklist of things I would love to change about myself today, I would only make a new list tomorrow. A person can run the whole gamut of measures which will make them feel beautiful or successful, and the very next day find a new list of other imperfections. Most of the time, such thing fall pretty low on the priority list when eternal appraisals are being made—and these are the comparisons we should be making. The rest is, not only fleeting, but at the end of our lives, all that matters is how well we lived spiritually, how we served, and who we shared our message with.

I’ve shared much about my own story, so I will also tell of the deliverance that the Lord has brought into my life on this matter. Since this experience more than 20 years ago, I have learned to laugh at myself. I was recently in the green room of a large television network preparing to go on the air. I was brushing my hair, when the lady who came to put powder on me commented on what a pretty color golden blonde my long hair was. Did I mention I have learned to laugh at myself?

“Thanks, it’s Garnier Fructis’ 1000, chamomile.” I blurted as I laughed.

The lady who paid me the complement in the first place appeared confused, while a bystander said “it sounds like you spend more money on your shampoo than I do.”

“Oh no,” I retorted. “That’s not shampoo. That’s my hair dye.” A brief moment of silence followed. As the recognition began to register on both women’s faces, I leaned out to my side so that my hair would hang down loosely, away from my shoulders. I took my hand and opened it, palm side up and placed it near my head. I slowly and dramatically ran my hand—still palm side up—down the length of my hair, gesturing much like a spokes-model holding a cosmetic product in an old TV game show would do. Then I pointed very closely at the darker roots peaking up from my scalp. I smiled sarcastically, and said “see it? This ain’t real…”

After a moment, the women recovered from my unexpected candor. We all enjoyed a good laugh together, but nobody on that day could have understood the kind of courage such bold openness would’ve taken me 20 years ago. The reason I was able to advertise (and even now, put into print!) the fact that my usually–dishwater–blonde–speckled–with–some–gray–hair has such a golden tone is because I regularly get some help from the local drugstore. But, it’s this kind of transparency that will help people playing the comparison game to finally realize that everybody is using whatever tools they have available to them. When we spend our energy trying to size up whether or not we compare to those around us, we focus on the wrong priorities, limit ourselves unnecessarily, punish ourselves undeservedly, and ultimately waste energy that could be spent on something more eternal. We simply must place our flaws in better perspective with their true importance—or lack thereof—because it’s likely we ourselves are the only people hung up on these “shortcomings.”

UP NEXT: Dolly for Sue

[i] Rankin, Arthur, producer. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Rankin/Bass Productions, 1964. DVD, 47 min.

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