I’ve been thinking the last few days about some of the lessons I’ve been learning over the past few years. I think one of the biggest ones is simply that there are many, many times in life when you don’t get what it seems like you “deserve.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my habit of trying to earn things, trying to prove my worth through good actions.
As a child I tried to be invisible, and when I had to be visible, to be helpful. I stayed in my room and I read. I played make-believe games with my dolls and toys and dress-up clothes and sometimes with my imaginary friend Sammy the Squirrel. I was afraid to ask for things. Though no one ever said these words I somehow believed, “You are in the way,” “You are a burden.” “It’s your job to keep others from being stressed at all costs.” When I visited my dad (my birth dad) I stayed in my room or watched tv. I often made his breakfast or lunch for him, set the table, folded the napkins nicely, cleaned up after myself.
In high school I was a model student. Certainly I had moments of being a moody teenager or moments where I spoke disrespectfully, but by and large I was a teenager most parents would kill for. I didn’t sneak out, I didn’t party, I never smoked, never drank, never so much as held hands with a boy, never said a curse word. I made straight A’s without being hounded about it. I got into several great colleges with full scholarships. I chose the best people available as my friends. I never broke my curfew. I never lied about where I was going or who I was going with. I was grateful for things and I was mostly respectful. I helped around the house. I was kind to my sisters. I served at my church. I genuinely loved the Lord.
This is the sum total of my obvious sins during those four years: There was a boy I liked very much, although I never told him and nothing ever came of it, I liked him. I totaled my mom’s car the first time I drove alone, not because I was being wild…I somehow am the only person I know who could manage to total a Volvo while going 20 mph. I was sometimes disrespectful or had a bad attitude. I loathed my English teacher. And for three weeks I had a secret blog which I then felt guilty about and deleted.
And yet…I spent most of high school with my stomach in knots. I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells. No matter how badly I wanted to make everyone happy and how good I was trying to be, I would inevitably do something wrong, make someone angry, disappoint someone. And whether it was wearing too much make-up (while wearing the same amount I wore every day) or disagreeing with a pronouncement, or forgetting something I was supposed to remember, the overwhelming feeling was that no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.
It’s not as if I think about these things regularly. In fact, I rarely think about them. And it isn’t that good things never happened to me. I have great memories of special times with my family. I have a mom who is one of my dearest friens. I had a prom dress that made me feel like Belle. I went to a wonderful college. I made good friends. I married the love of my life. I had the most beautiful wedding I could have imagined. I was able to take some amazing trips. I got to spend the last year helping to raise some of the sweetest kids imaginable. And these are the things I hold onto.
I am twenty-four years old and it’s time for me to stop believing that if I’m good enough I will eventually have the things I want. That if I’m smart enough I can have a job I love. That if I’m kind enough I will have friends and won’t be lonely. That if I’m generous enough I won’t have to worry about money anymore. The reality is, sometimes, I am good enough and helpful enough and my dad (my birth dad) still doesn’t love me. Sometimes I work hard enough and I’m still not the best or the smartest and I don’t get the job I want. Sometimes I am as generous and giving as I am capable of being and that isn’t rewarded with financial stability. Sometimes I am as kind and friendly as I know how to be and my coworkers still all go to lunch together and don’t invite me. Sometimes I am disciplined with my eating and work hard with my body and run more miles than I’ve ever thought I was capable of and I am still ten pounds overweight and I still can’t sleep some nights from stomach aches.