One would not normally count a screaming child as blessed. One might consider them unhappy, or tired, but certainly not gifted. An individual might spot a crying infant and rush to appease their easily-irritable disposition, but the first word on his or her mind would certainly not be one of positivity.
Yet, when I came screaming and crying into the world, blessed was the only word that could be used to describe me. Despite my perhaps-not-so-joyful temperament at the time, I had been privileged with the gift of two wonderful and loving parents who would go on to give me an equally wonderful brother.
Together, they provided a stable home: cementing early memories in my mind with images of see-saws, comforting hugs and tender kisses, all the while creating a wholesome Christian environment within the bustling city of Houston, Texas. With church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, it would seem that I was living the suburban dream. I never expected anything to change.
Until it did.
The summer after fifth grade, my family decided that we would be moving to Australia. My dad had a job offer there and it seemed too good to refuse. I wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea, but it could be pretty easily argued that I didn’t exactly know what I was in for either.
Soon enough I arrived at my new home, only to realize that the environment was wildly different than what I had expected. All around me were harsh accents, strange words and unavoidable questions.
For many, I was their one example of what an American was truly like. Hence, I was subjected to unattainable and often unwanted expectations. My classmates knew only what they watched on television, so the majority presumed that I would fall into one of two categories: popular or nerd. Others categorized by weight and some categorized by beauty, but the final result remained the same: I became a perfectionistic people-pleaser. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone and I definitely didn’t want to poorly represent my country.
With what I felt was a vast array of individuals watching and judging my every move, I became determined to become the ultimate over-achiever. I joined as many clubs as possible, took up vocal lessons, starred in musicals and maintained high grades. Similarly, I watched my weight, began wearing makeup and took my place in the world of the fashion-obsessed.
Although I was certainly not successful on every count, I soon found that my identity rested more and more in how people perceived me. While this solidified my driven, outgoing personality, it also caused my self-worth to rest solely in the opinions of those around me.
After four seemingly-brief years in Australia, my parents decided that it was time for our family to reclaim our place in American society. I would be heading into my sophomore year of high school, and college was an influential issue on the not-so-distant horizon. Once again, I found myself saying goodbye to the home that I had grown accustomed to, expecting that my new one would not be quite as overwhelming. I mean, I’d lived in Texas before, right? Unfortunately, my assumptions were far from accurate.
Back in Houston, life had moved on without me and I found myself forced to re-acclimate to a culture that I still thought of as my own. Nervous to live up to the expectations that came with being the “girl from Australia,” I tried my hand at the perfection game once more. I jumped into my new high school by joining numerous clubs and other extra-curricular activities, hoping that I would be deemed worthy enough to have friends. I’ve always cared for people so instantaneously, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be good enough to find the feeling reciprocated back in Texas. And if it wasn’t reciprocated – really – what was I worth?
It took the brink of mental insanity to smack some sense into me. Refusing to slow down, even at the peak of my junior year, I began to experience debilitating panic attacks and an accumulation of lingering anxiety. I couldn’t help but fail every now and then; I couldn’t help my imperfection. But every time that I would mess up, I felt as though I risked losing myself. If people didn’t think I was perfectly smart or perfectly athletic or perfectly artsy, what was I?
Finally, I realized that it would be impossible to continue on my current path without further physical and mental consequences. Reluctantly, I started to let my perfectionism go.
Slowly but surely, I began to understand that finding my identity and self-worth in what people thought of me bore so little security. It was unhealthy to always be on guard the way that I was, feeling that those around me ran a constant dialogue of criticism. I wasn’t being myself; I was being what I thought people wanted me to be, and it was killing me little by little. Not only that, I had become incapable of truly healthy relationships. After all, it’s impossible to maintain a good friendship when you are dependent on the other person 24/7. I needed to find myself outside of my reputation and outside of my peers.
It was only in returning to a full acknowledgement of my Christian faith from childhood suburbia that I began to develop a healthy dose of self-worth. In the promise of my God, I found that I had an identity far greater than any flawed, finite being could ever give me. He calls me treasured, beloved and worthy. Not because of anything that I have done, but because He in His unbelievable love decided that I was worth the sacrifice of His Son (2 Timothy 1:9). None of my activities, achievements or abilities were wrong in any way, but I then recognized that they bear no relevancy to who I am: a child of the King.
At the end of the day, I know I still have a long way to go. My journey, God-willing, is far from over and I am constantly changing. Still, I am hopeful in the joyful eternity that I call my own. I am curious to learn more and passionately live my life to the fullest. My adventures and experiences may come with hardships, but they will not come without their beneficial lessons. I am not the screaming child I once was, but I am blessed.
Lead Image Credit: Madi Telschow