We want to be known, but sometimes others bestow labels on us that don’t completely define who we are.

I was at Trader Joe’s the other day getting a cart, when a smiling woman waved at me. I didn’t recognize her. But I smiled back.

“You’re my neighbor!” she exclaimed. I live on a very small block. I know all my neighbors, and she’s not one. At my puzzled look, she added, “You’re the lab lady!”

This moniker is one of the more pleasant ones I’ve heard. I thanked her and entered the store with jaunty steps. I’m happy to be known as the lab lady. No doubt, this friendly woman has seen me on my daily walks with Barlow, our black Labrador retriever. One of the reasons I have a dog is so I can meet others in my community.

I’ve had other labels bestowed on me. Growing up, people thought of me as quiet, shy, a bookworm. In college, I thought I was quite witty. Others thought I was sarcastic and sometimes referred to me as vicious. Ouch.

One summer, I worked at Yellowstone National Park. My fellow workers knew I was from California, and with my long, blond hair they assumed I spent my time on the sand laying beneath the palm trees. I informed them that I was actually from Oakland in Northern California, and that I rarely saw the beach. Speaking of Oakland, a college friend expressed surprised the I, a blond, green-eyed, white woman, was from that wonderfully diverse city by the bay.

Fellow journalists at the newspaper where I worked were shocked when they learned I’m a Christian. “But you’re not like him,” they would say of another colleague.

A female pastor at my church (she previously pastored a church in Washington D.C.) would elicit laughter at retreats when she would announce to the audience that Democrats were also Christians. I wasn’t laughing.

During a creative writing class, one writer blasted Christians, basically blaming them for all the ills in the world. Her words were difficult to hear, but I thanked her afterwards and told her I’m a Christian. I hope that she thought more about labeling a group with a broad brush after our conversation.

Each of us is so much more than the names or labels others give us. Our stories reach beyond the boxes others would put us in.

Yes. I’m happy to be known as the lab lady. But sometimes, I also walk my daughter’s beagle.

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