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The bulletin board in my high school English classroom reads “Awkward is Awesome.”

Posted next to it is a quotation from a neuroscientist about how the brain works. When we are learning new things, our brain strives to build new pathways. Once we have practiced and mastered a new skill, the pathway is fully formed, and the process is smooth and easy, even fun. But when we are learning a difficult new skill, we often feel clumsy and slow. Like shaky, atrophied muscles, our brain struggles against the challenge, and this is the exact point when many people give up. The end result is a stronger brain, new pathways, and exciting new life skills, but it requires pushing through the awkwardness and leaning into the discomfort of learning.

It’s a message for my students to lean into the difficulty of learning new concepts, but also a reminder for me.

In many areas of life, awkward is awesome. It takes courage to build the life we want, and part of that courage is being willing to overcome the obstacle of awkward beginnings. We have to push through the vulnerability of learning in order to arrive at the accomplishments we desire. When we meet someone new, it’s always awkward to get through the getting-to-know-you part of the process. Persevering through misunderstandings, squabbles, and tensions yields relationships that last.

For me, I’m learning to push through the awkwardness of relearning a teaching career I abandoned eight years ago to be a stay-at-home mom. It’s completely awkward. I make rookie mistakes, don’t meet my own expectations, get frustrated, and carry my burdens home with me.

I’m my own worst enemy. My frailties take center stage, and my strengths shrink behind them. The story I start telling myself is that I am failing and everyone knows it. I hang my head and isolate myself from others, believing they see the same story I do.

But when I remember that awkward is awesome, and that my brain and my character are growing right alongside my students, I can breathe, give myself grace, and lean into the discomfort. When we push through the awkward, we might find wonderful things on the other side. And we are more likely to push through when we remember that every journey includes some part that is uphill and awful, but it doesn’t mean we’re irrevocably flawed or that we’ve chosen the wrong path. And if we lean in and forge on, we don’t know what beautiful heights and sights await us at the end.

When Christ ushered in the new covenant, He brought with him so many awkward moments as people struggled to reconcile the reality with their expectation of the conquering Messiah. He wasn’t what they expected. At times He embarrassed his disciples with his harsh diatribes and confounding messages. But underneath all that cognitive dissonance, a Savior was being revealed; the Plan was unfolding like butterfly wings. And like all things Christ touches, it was immeasurably more than anyone asked or imagined. The pattern of His life encourages us when things don’t feel right in ours.

If anywhere in life right now, you find yourself clumsy and awkward, unsure and unsteady, take heart. You’re building new brain muscles, and Grace incarnate accompanies you on your journey. You are not alone, nor are you failing. You have the courage to try something new, and that kind of courage will carry you on to new heights.