Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Learning to Stand Out.

     The Internet is a unique beast in the way that it gives us all a chance to present ourselves however we would like to. It's like we all get our own personal reality show, and like most reality shows, the worlds we create are only part of the whole truth. I could say " I am taking a semester off of school to go on a mission trip to Africa" and that would be true. I could also say " I felt like crying for a while today because everyone else was wearing cute dresses and I was wearing pants." That would also be true. Usually I would choose to talk about the first version of reality, but I guess I'm feeling adventurous today because I want to talk about the second one.
     I am pretty new to working in a "business casual" environment, and I have spent more time these past few days than I care to admit trying to figure out how to update my wardrobe from "casual college student" to "capable adult at work". This process has left me with many questions, ranging from, "Since there are overalls for adults, does that mean it's socially acceptable for me to wear them, because I would really love that on casual Fridays!" to, "When did the whole world go from covering every available surface from kitchen walls to dog collars to dresses in a chevron to suddenly being completely over it? And more alarmingly, how did I miss this? How do I get on the "this trend is now over" mass e-mail list?"
     Obviously I am able to find the humor in this superficial dilemma, but behind the jokes there is a past of insecurity. There are painful memories of years of feeling like an outsider who had no place to belong, and a deep fear of not fitting in that has been suppressed but not completely eliminated. Dozens of other people have written about this topic, and it hurts my pride to admit that I am affected by the selfish desire for acceptance when I know that it is not what I should be seeking.
     Today I felt my insecurities from the past start to creep back in, but thankfully I was able to stop them in their tracks because I remembered how exhausting it is to live under the pressure of trying to fit in, and I realized that's not what I want for my life anymore. So I asked myself, What will happen because everyone else was wearing a dress and I was wearing pants? How is that going to affect my life?  Are the fashion police going to come lock me up, or am I just going to be shunned so severely that I have to cross the border and start a new life harvesting maple syrup in the Canadian wilderness? In reality, there was so much going on today that my outfit was the last thing on anyone's mind. I was the only one worried about it, and my worry served no purpose other than causing me unnecessary stress.
     Not fitting in is uncomfortable. Feeling like everyone else is included in something that you missed out on is disappointing. But conformity, while comfortable, is not the lifestyle I feel compelled to live. So, I'll keep fighting this desire for acceptance by reminding myself that there are more important things, and I'll keep reminding myself that while it's satisfying and fun to look nice, it's much more important to actually be nice. After all, no amount of cute outfits can cover up a bad attitude.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Introvert's Dilemma

     If you know me at all, you've probably pretty easily figured out that I am not an extrovert by any stretch of the imagination. I don't do small talk well, it's hard for me to spend very long talking about the weather or other trivial subjects others can calmly chat about with no problem. I can easily get stressed out in group settings, and I replay conversations in my head after they happen, and stress about how awkward I must have sounded.
      As a Christian, being an introvert poses a unique challenge. It doesn't scare me to go all the way to Africa for a mission trip, but to try to share a personal story in Sunday school or another small group setting makes me stumble over my words and ramble on nervously. I worry sometimes that I must seem odd or even rude when really I'm just thinking things over in my head rather than discussing them with others right away.
     The question that worries me most and makes this more than just a part of my personality is this. Does being an introvert make me a bad Christian? If I don't have an elaborate testimony at the ready 24/7 or if I'm not constantly speaking up about what I believe every chance I get, am I doing something wrong? I've been asking myself these questions recently and I'm not sure I have all the answers yet, but I do have some new insight.
     I'm a big advocate of getting out of your comfort zone, because Honduras was completely out of my comfort zone and it was one of the most influential experiences in my life so far. But lately as I've been struggling with feeling inadequate as a Christian and as a person because I'm so introverted, I've been considering a new perspective. Have I become so focused on getting out of my comfort zone that I'm ignoring the God given strengths that are comfortable to me? Christians are often encouraged to get out of our comfort zones, which is a great idea, but sometimes it can start to feel like if we're not feeling challenged to the point of being slightly terrified at all times, we're not doing enough. We all have things that we're good at, things that make us feel comfortable and confident, and I believe God must give us those talents for a reason.
     I love that I have close bonds with a few good friends, and though there's always a part of me that wishes I were more outgoing and social, I feel like having a small selection of close friends allows me to connect with them on a deeper level. I may not be a good talker, but I try my best to be a good listener, and sometimes that's something people really need.
     I'll never be a social butterfly who loves the spotlight, and I'm working on being okay with that. Extroverts are awesome, and I am friends with some of the best. But that's just not me, and I have to learn to accept that. Maybe by making me a hesitant talker, God is reminding me to be an eager listener. When I think about it that way, being this introverted doesn't seem so discouraging anymore.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Looking Back, Looking Forward

I love to write. It's something that usually comes pretty easily to me and it makes me happy. Since starting this blog, I have learned a lot of things about writing, and one of the biggest lessons I've learned is that when you share your thoughts and opinions publicly, anyone who reads them is entitled to have opinions about them. There have been lots of things going on this summer that I've hesitated to write about it, because they are so special to me that I don't even want to think about someone misunderstanding them or writing them off as unimportant or even wrong.
In October, I will go to Africa. I'm taking a semester off from school to do that, and I know that there are people who don't fully approve of that. I'm traveling alone, and I know that there are people who are alarmed by that. But there are people in Africa who might think God doesn't love them because of the things that make them different, and sharing my experiences in the hopes of showing them the truth is extremely important to me. Looking back on the past few years of my life, I can see how so many things were preparing me for this trip before I even knew it was a possibility, and it reminds me not to worry so much about what's happening in this moment, because if I am listening to what God is telling me, there's no way I will end up in the wrong place, even if I don't always understand the route we're taking.
When I look back at my time in Honduras, I don't remember all of the moments personalities clashed and feelings got hurt. I remember the children I met, and the friendships I discovered. They are strong friendships still, and just this week I've had the chance to spend time with lots of those friends and it was like we picked up right where we left off. 
When I look back on our youth retreat just a few months ago, the first thing I think of isn't all of those moments I was tired and cranky. The first thing I think of is that night on top of the mountain and the conversation it led to, and then I think of our walks to the dining hall, when we would take turns guessing what they would food they would serve, hoping we could somehow make them serve our favorites just by naming them. I think of how at the age of twenty one, I sat on top of a mountain with some people who have become great friends and realized that I truly have let go of my negative feelings about not fitting in during high school. That might not sound like much, but there have been times in the past when those thoughts consumed me and defined how I acted, and the fact that I barely even entertain them anymore is huge for me.
It's daunting to think about going to Africa by myself, but I like to describe it as "roller coaster scary", because the scary is part of what makes it fun. I get that not everyone understands my reasons for going, and that's fine. I've decided to keep writing about it because my desire to share is bigger than my desire for approval. Looking forward to this experience, it's easy to think about the parts that I don't understand or the things that could go wrong, but I think that years from now when I am looking back on my time in Africa, I won't even remember these insecurities I am feeling now about how public this decision feels. Life isn't all mountaintops, and maybe that's what faith is for, so we can believe in the valley what we can't quite see yet. But one day we will, and sometimes that day is sooner than we think. Sometimes that day happens at a lake in North Carolina with a few teenagers that don't even realize yet the things God is going to do with the faith they are still cultivating. But among those people was a person who had already been where they are now and knows that they will do great things with their faith, and I am so thankful to be that person.