“You shouldn’t say things like that around them,” she admonishes, trying to be helpful but coming across with a ‘motherly’ attitude, in spite of the fact that I am two years older than her fifteen. “It isn’t lady-like.” She hops daintily over tall patches of grass that sprouted up in three days since the church yard was mowed. Her long hair swings over her shoulder, and I’m struck with jealousy by the picture she makes.
The picture of a modest girl that I had always tried to fit into. The one that I always failed to become.
I laugh, skipping ahead of my friend in the summer heat, trying to let her words roll off my back. My pants hug my legs and I frantically wish that I had worn those shorts that are just a little too tight, in her opinion. At least I would have been comfortable. “C’mon. It was a joke and they know it.” My friend sighs, stomping angrily after me while saying that I embarrassed her.
I continue to laugh, because explaining how hurt I am by her words would only make her angry.
I joke a lot. And I get in trouble a lot, too.
There is a trait that I inherited from probably every ancestor in my history of ever. Rebellion. Ask my close friends and they’ll tell you that I’m rebellious, at least in the words that I verbalize. I say that I’m going to do things my way and if anyone has a problem with it, I’ll tell them to bugger off.
It’s my life, after all. Isn’t it?
When it comes to applying this attitude to my life, however, I find myself unable to be rude. I hate conflict. I hate disappointing people, even if they have disappointed and hurt me.
“You shouldn’t take that off. You’ll get in trouble again,” he says, glancing around for an adult. I shrug the shirt back over the straps of my tank top, trying to withhold a complaint. It’s nine o’clock at night and it feels as if it’s noon in the desert. I can almost hear the jackals howling as they come to eat my shriveled up, over heated body.
“I don’t care,” I mutter, letting the fabric fall from my shoulders again, “Everything important is covered up.”
They laugh nervously and keep a lookout, nodding towards the door when one of the adults step out into the darkness. The fabric clings to my damp skin and I brush my braid away from my neck, teeth clenched as I try not to scream.
I never liked myself much when I was younger. Actually, I downright I hated myself. I hated that even when I was trying to be good, I wasn’t. I punished myself for it. Not physically, but verbally. My love language is verbal affirmation (my second is physical – I love hugs) so I would sit and tell myself how horrible of a person I was when I did something wrong. There was this little voice in my head that would whisper really mean things when I was vulnerable – which was pretty much all of the time. I hated my voice and my laugh and the way my hair was completely straight and how my stomach and thighs looked. I hated the way my brain instantly formulated sassy remarks and the speed with which they made it to my mouth and out into the atmosphere to add to the fog of angry words hanging above our heads. I hated my nail biting habit and the way I automatically counted telephone poles when riding in the car and the paranoia I experienced whenever I was around other people, hoping and praying that I wasn’t making too huge of a fool of myself.
I didn’t like much about myself at all.
“That’s a bad song!”
My nearly sixteen year old mouth snaps shut mid-lyric as my mind desperately searches for the words that offended my friend, who’s eyes are trained on the road in front of us and not paying attention to the tears that spring to my eyes.
“Is it?” I swallow hard and try to sound casual, breathing a laugh. “I hadn’t noticed.”
She glances at me, wavering between annoyed and amused. “You never do.”
I stay quiet for a minute before reaching over to change the radio station, trying to find something less offensive.
To be frank, the fact that I hated myself makes me angry. Because it wasn’t entirely my fault. It was the influence of the people around me who were telling me all of the things that I needed to change. Sure, I could’ve decided to get over myself and stop disliking myself way earlier than I did.
But that mentality is an extremely difficult thing to overcome, and the fight against it never really ends.
Our bathroom closet became my hideout. With the exhaust fan on to make white noise and the door nearly shut, with just a crack of yellow light showing underneath, I would curl up in there with my arms around my knees and my face resting against the white painted wood. It was dark and quiet, and I was alone.
“Why can’t I be good?”
I decided to like myself a few months ago. I started blocking out that little whisper, focusing on something right in front of me and expanding it until there wasn’t any room for the voice. Sometimes it was a knot in the wood of my floor or a frayed edge of an old book. A specific ceiling tile or a freckle on my arm.
I started eating healthier food and drinking more water. I stopped biting my nails. I decided to grow my hair back out. I started painting my nails and stopped wearing makeup, just mascara and some eyeliner except for church or special occasions. I stopped forcing myself into what was fashionable and started wearing things that made me look fashionable, things that I actually like.
It took a lot of thinking to figure out why this change came about. And it kind of hit me like a brick.
I started liking myself when I stopped trying to force myself into one of the two “Perfect-Girl” cookie cutters.
To be honest, I don’t know what acted as a catalyst and helped me realize how horribly wrong my thoughts were. I probably read a book or watched a show or heard a song, or maybe a bit of all three, that wormed its way into my brain and made me realize that life isn’t all bad and that I’m not all bad. Sure, I mess up. There are things that people admonish me for with good reasons, things that I should stop doing because there’s no way those actions could ever make God happy. But at the same time, everyone makes mistakes. It’s part of living. That isn’t an excuse, it’s just a fact.
I’m going to mess up.
And God’s still going to love me, as long as I have a repentant heart and a true yearning to do better.
I have accepted that I’m never going to measure up to other people’s standards. I’ll always fall short – even just by a little.
That’s okay, though.
In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
No matter what mistakes I make, no matter who I fail, and no matter how far I walk away from God, He’s still going to be there with his arms wide open and a heart full of love for me when I get back on track.