The summer after I graduated high school, I had just ended an unhealthy relationship and, to help with my will power in not contacting said ex, I threw myself into working and college. I took a couple of classes at a community college and worked three jobs. I waited tables during the day at a small restaurant in town that was only open during lunch, taught cheer and tumbling for a family friend at her small cheer studio, and worked to-go at Chili’s.
I was sooo busy, but it more than accomplished my goal of keeping me from making the dreaded “I changed my mind” call to my ex-boyfriend and also helped me to pay for school (I had changed my mind on where to go to college at the last minute and missed out on scholarship deadlines). It was a fun time and definitely satisfied my extrovert needs. I got to talk to people all day and make some new friends. Some of the people I worked with at Chili’s would get together after work (after work=11 pm or later) to play Texas Hold’em at one of their parents’ house in the garage.
It was eye-opening for me. I had never played poker of any kind or gambled (I picked up somewhere in my upbringing that any kind of gambling was sinful… not sure where I got that?). I had also never been around people who legitimately enjoyed spending time with parents. Everyone called the dad “Pup” and the mom “Red” (she was obviously a redhead). Red would pop in and out to play a few hands or provide snacks while she crocheted. We would stay up, late into the night, basically giving away the tips we had just earned and taking turns running to 7-11 to pick up a round of Icees for the remaining stragglers. There we sat, sucking down sugary ice and giving our money to Pup. (Note to self: teach children to play poker… sucker their friends into playing… retirement? Check.)
This was also my first experience at spending significant amounts of time with people who didn’t know me or my background. I had this idea I could recreate myself… I didn’t have to be the annoying drunk girl I was in high school. I didn’t have to be the girl with an awful overbite and frizzy hair I was in middle school through junior high. I didn’t have to be the girl who could not stop gossiping or the girl who never knew the right music or could afford the right clothing (this was when we were all expected to wear tiny Abercrombie and Fitch shirts with our ripped jeans and Old Navy flip flops with the straightest highlighted hair possible). I had goals! I had ambitions! I was going to be someone different! Clean slate.
Unfortunately, I fell right into the same pattern that made me the gossip and the annoying drunk girl (the overbite and frizzy hair were genetic and couldn’t be helped). I tried to be whatever I thought they wanted me to be. They all listened to indie bands I hadn’t heard of… which, once you start trying to stay “in the know” with indie bands, it becomes a full-time undertaking. They were from wealthier backgrounds than I was… they knew how to golf. I had never golfed in my life… so naturally I borrowed my dad’s clubs and tried to learn. I read online about how to get better at poker. They were really into baseball and I had never cared about baseball. Yet, I found myself checking scores on ESPN so I could have something to contribute to conversation.
I had not changed a single bit. Before, I had gossiped so I could be the one with the information… because in my experience I had witness those with the information being the ones people wanted to talk to. I had been the annoying drunk girl… because I thought that being the center of attention, even if it is negative attention, is still better than being the girl no one talks about. Only now, it was pretending I knew indie bands or baseball scores. I still wasn’t being who I really was. I was still trying to define myself by what I thought other people wanted me to be.
I eventually moved on from that job and met other people and continued the same pattern for most of my early 20s. I would like to say God has completely freed me from this slippery-slope… but it continues to be my default. I have to regularly check myself, “am I acting this way because I think this will make people like me? Is this who I really am?” Now that I have, by the grace of God, experienced a lot of healing in this area, it is really easy for me to spot it in other people. I want to grab them by their shoulders and say, “stop it. Just be who you are. It’s ok if you are too loud or have a dorky laugh or enjoy nerdy TV shows. It’s ok if you don’t know what people are talking about. It’s ok to be exactly who you are with your past. Because you are not defined by those things. You have inherent worth and value because you are a person. Not because of what you do. You are created in the image of God. Period. Jesus died for you, you specifically. That gives you value. Stop trying to add to it.”
So, if this is you, please hear me. Embrace your mess. Embrace who you are as you are. Whether you are too shy or laugh too loud or have a dry sense of humor. Whether you really don’t enjoy eating weird food even if all of your friends do or you are the only one who suggests ethnic food every time when everyone else wants burgers. Whether you are really outdoorsy or would rather just binge watch Netflix on the couch all day. It is ok. Stop trying to meet expectations you are putting on yourself. No one is thinking about you as much as you think they are. God’s opinion is the only one that matters. And it was satisfied on the Cross a long time ago.