Betty Lou Parker*** was a girl in my youth group at church when I was in junior high school. She was my opposite in nearly every way - a short, blonde, prima donna who loved nothing more than to be in the spotlight. As a tall, dark-haired wallflower she made me feel invisible and I hated that feeling.
So I fought back the only way I knew how, by competing with her.
First, I befriended the preacher's daughter and made her my best friend. (She and Betty Lou had been friends - if not best friends - before I arrived.) Next, I started making friends with other kids in the group one-by-one. And finally, I ran against her in the election for President of our youth group and I won. At that point she was just another "youth" in our group and I didn't feel quite so invisible.
When I moved onto high school, there was another short blonde prima donna in my sphere and I did the same thing. Made a strategic friend or two. Quietly gathered my strength and support and landed a coveted position that she also wanted. The same thing happened later in my working life. And much later as a stay-at-home mom.
By this time it took me only moments to recognize a Betty Lou and I was able to feel my feelings and dis-engage my competitive instinct almost immediately. I would not say that we became friends, but I was able to be civil and we even had a few play dates with the kids.
The thing is, it never really felt good to compete with the Betty Lous, not any of them, but it felt better at the time than the alternative - feeling completely invisible.
The older I get the more I want to try and recognize this feeling, own it, and find ways to be visible that don't require world domination. Because the truth is, in each of these cases, when all was said and done, I felt awful.
Once my term as as President of the youth group was over, I quit going and distanced myself from that time and place because I didn't want to face the shame and regret of the way I had acted.
Whenever I think about the Betty Lous I feel a mixture of anger, regret and gratitude that is still somewhat painful. There is a part of me that wants to blame them for needing all of that attention. If only they could have shared some of the spotlight with the tall quiet girl standing off to the side, none of us would have had to go through all of that.
But that isn't the whole story. If I hadn't, on some level, needed all of that attention myself none of us would have needed to go through all of that either. And at the end of the day, I am the only one I can change. I am the one who needed to learn that making someone else feel bad never makes you feel good.
So today I am grateful to Betty Lou Parker, wherever she is, and to all of the Betty Lous, for triggering these painful feelings and bringing them to the surface. I can't say that they are gone forever, but I know now that I can recognize and deal with them in a healthier way. I no longer need to project them onto someone else. And for that I am grateful.
I am also grateful for:
1) Remembering to praise God when things didn't go my way at swimming and as a result I created a new workout.
2) "Happy" by Pharrell Williams. LOVING this song!
3) Easy red lentil dhal. Simple and delicious. YUM!
[***Names have been changed to protect the innocent.]
[I took the above photograph of some street art while serving jury duty in downtown Seattle. This is kind of how I felt in the presence of the Betty Lous.]