I am the (proud?) owner of a vivid imagination and a wide range of emotions, which leads to occasional daydreaming (among other things). Most of my life I did not understand this about myself and would not have owned up to the stories crafted in my “rich inner world”. If you asked me how many times I’d imagined being rescued from bullies by Jonathan Taylor Thomas when he transferred to our middle school and we formed an impressive bond in a short period of time, as he shunned the cool kids in favor of a quiet, bookish girl – I would have simply stared at you and pretended to be confused by the suggestion. (Actual answer: a lot of times. My daydream life was elaborate.)
One of my favorite exchanges in the Harry Potter series takes place between Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, after a particularly harrowing conversation where she explains a variety of emotions and thoughts:
Ron said, “One person can’t feel all that at once, they’d explode.”
“Just because you’ve got the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn’t mean we all have,” said Hermione nastily, picking up her quill again.
I have never been accused of having the “emotional range of a teaspoon”.
This combination of imagination and emotional range made for a remarkable experience the summer I was fifteen. It was the late 90’s and my church youth group was staying at the beach for a retreat. My whole life I’d worked to avoid situations where I might be in a bathing suit around boys. I was a classic case of I-think-I-might-be-fat, with the hindsight that I was actually perfectly normal-sized. I mean, 90’s fashion did not help me in this area, but I digress.
Here I was, in the name of Jesus, wearing a bathing suit in the ocean with a slew of other (likely) insecure teens, our laughter coated in a veneer of carelessness. Of course we all cared what we looked like. We loved Jesus and totally wanted to “go against the flow” in our schools, but we also really hoped we looked okay wading out into the water. No doubt it was my insecurity and distraction that contributed to my lack of attentiveness, because this Florida girl failed to do the sting ray shuffle. (For you landlocked readers, the sting ray shuffle is when you slide your feet across the ocean floor, instead of taking regular steps. This shuffling creates vibrations that alert any sting rays to your presence and –bonus!– they don’t have to stab you with their venomous barbed tails, because you won’t step directly on one.)
I did not get to enjoy that bonus, because about waist-deep in the water, I stepped on one of the buggers and it defended itself properly. The sharp pain in my foot initially didn’t register. A regular beach-goer, I assumed I’d stepped on a broken shell or something. (Also, remember: I’m a teen girl in a bathing suit in a coed group. Overreactions would not have been cool.) But within a few minutes, I couldn’t deny that the pain was growing and…was it creeping up my leg? I started making my way back to the shore, with a bit of urgency, trying to coolly explain that I—I was pretty sure that–I might be hurt and–it–seems to be getting–worse.
I got myself out of the water before collapsing in a heap. Tears started gathering in my eyes and as the group formed around me (NOT as in a daydream, I assure you), speculations and diagnoses began to fly. I couldn’t stand, as the pain began to crawl up my leg. We were a good walk away from our chaperones’ base camp at this point and, to my mixed delight and chagrin, two of the guys were going to have to carry me back. Though I would later refer to this as “the best day of my life”, at the moment the fact that I was essentially crippled, fighting back tears, and in mysterious growing pain didn’t help me embrace the reality. If ever there was a daydream to come true, it would have been being rescued! on the beach! by a handsome boy! The reality of this was somewhat different and I vaguely remember the willpower exerted in both trying not to cry and trying to keep my thighs from looking too smooshed together.
Back at base camp my parents and other chaperones gathered, trying to assess the problem. Someone sent for an ice pack. A neighborly woman who turned out to be a nurse arrived on the scene and quickly determined that this was, in fact, a sting ray problem and don’t use that ice pack! The venom is drawn toward heat! If you use ice to soothe the wound, the venom will head straight for her vital organs!
Which, in my mind, translated nicely into: I could die from this. (You can imagine how good this was to hear, for a mildly panicked teenage girl who had ceased to care about her looks and was mostly, at this point, concerned with not dying.) The nurse disappeared to her condo and within minutes, returned with a pot of hot water. This would keep the venom from heading towards the rest of my body, she explained, as she began to pour it slowly over my foot, until I could handle the eat and submerge the foot entirely.
With death no longer imminent, I could briefly consider the fact that I’d been rescued! on the beach! by two handsome boys! But alas – sting ray wounds are fairly serious and further attention was needed.
Let me wrap up the rest of this for you: My parents drove me to the nearby fire station where kindly fire fighters attended to the wound and confirmed its nature. Because there existed the danger of a venomous barb having broken off in my actual foot, I was sent to the ER for an x-ray. As we were loading up, one of the fire fighters looked at me and remarked, “You know – you must have a pretty high tolerance for pain. I’ve seen 300lb men in here sobbing on the floor after stepping on a sting ray. You’re tough.”
I’m tough. They thought I was tough.
The x-ray revealed the best possible news: no venomous barb dwelling within – I would suffer mere soreness for a a few days, but death was not imminent. (Neither was amputation, which my imagination had offered to me as a probable outcome, as it had shown me scenes of my hobbly re-entry to school and the stories I would tell and the trials of adjusting to a prosthetic.) (I told you – Daydream City over here.) With my survival and wholeness secured, I was free to remember with alacrity the fact that I had been rescued on the beach, by handsome boys!
But in the days/years to come, when the rescue part faded, what I remembered was the fire fighter who remarked almost in passing that the fifteen year old girl with the heat pack on her sting ray wound was TOUGH.
When I began to have some awareness of my imagination and how it could be a joy or a problem, I often let that define me. I’m too emotional, I’m too imaginative, I’m too sensitive to others. Self-awareness is a wonder and a horror. Not to mention navigating the frightful halls of adolescence and young adulthood with the vague idea that part of you is too much. I’ve carried that idea round for a long time – my too much-ness, my big feelings, my inner world of thought and imagining and problem solving.
I’ve also carried that “You’re tough.” with me for twenty years now.
Last year during a really difficult time, a friend sent me that quote we’ve all seen floating around the internet: “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things”. More often than not, I don’t necessarily doubt my ability to DO the hard thing – I simply don’t want to. And yet over and again, I have been reminded: you’re tough.
I have been fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s own image. I carry around Imago Dei in my whole self – my imagination, my emotions, my strength. I am finding value in my unique makeup and learning to believe that even my Big Feelings can be used of God to mature me, to connect with others, to empathize. And I am strong. I may have a high tolerance for pain and a low tolerance for emotional upheaval, but the strength required for daily living is mine because of Christ.
I can do all things through Christ, who is my strength. […]
His divine power has given me everything I need for life and godliness. […]
I am created in the image of God. […]
It pleased God to set me apart and call me by His grace. […]
God is pleased to dwell in me. He is pleased to dwell in me and I ought to be pleased to dwell in Him, with grace and contentment for the story He is telling through my life.
Even if that story includes sting rays and wild imaginations.