So, I'm doing this whole Integrity Project thing and making this vow to be completely honest in 2014 . . . and something just occurred to me. I've been blogging since the summer before high school, for about 4-and-a-half years now, and I feel like you don't really know me at all. I've done all those little blogger challenges and posts so that you can get to know "a little more about the one you follow" but all of the information you've received has been remarkably surface-level; it's shallow. I talk a lot about the passionate, over-dramatic writer girl who loves the Lord and wants to run away, but do you even know how I got here? How I became who it is that I am? Of course not. Because I never even thought to tell you.
Readers, I cannot truly be honest with you about my life, about everything, until I tell you who I am. Who I really am, and how I became her, rather than telling you about who I want to be perceived as. So, for those of you with a bit of time on your hands and nothing better to do, this is it.
This is my story.
I was born in southern California in the middle of July, and I like to think that's where my ridiculously hot-blooded personality comes from. I was the first child born to parents who were both the youngest of six, raised Catholic in the 1970s, who found Jesus in their early adult lives. I've done a ton of study on birth order and how it affects personality type, and I certainly followed the pattern. The parents of a firstborn are stoked to have a child. They get them involved in all types of activities and pour all their energy out into making sure that this one kid is the greatest thing to ever walk the face of the planet.
I naturally grew up thinking that this is what life was going to be like. I became a perfectionist, working so hard to be the smartest, most adorable, most talented child in the entirety of the universe. And I'm not kidding when I tell you that I was thoroughly convinced that I was exactly that. Honestly, I can't really remember many scenarios during my childhood in California when anyone told me that I was anything but good. Surely, I was disciplined and talked down to by a few kids that I knew, but for the most part I was praised and affirmed. I didn't receive any words that countered my view of myself. In my eyes, I was perfect.
I didn't know any better. I was home schooled. My sister was 20 months younger than me and my brother was born six years after she was. The small number of my friends who were girls were all younger than me by at least a year, so the only people who were better than me at anything were "grown-ups" and my friends who were boys - all older, taller, and stronger than me. I legitimately thought that I was the best at everything. I was involved in a ton of different activities. I wrote, I drew, I performed on stage, I danced. I was creative, smart, and always ahead of the game. No one could touch me, and I was going to rule the world.
When I was nine, my dad got a new job and we moved to Colorado. I started attending public school and for the first time, I encountered people my age and even younger than me who were better performers, stronger writers, smarter students. I was no longer the best. At first this didn't phase me. I figured I just needed to work harder. I already believed I was perfect. I just needed to prove it to myself.
Then when I was in fourth or fifth grade, I took my sister to a park near our house where we met three kids about my age, a girl and two boys who we'd never seen before. The three of them took it upon themselves to verbally abuse my sister and I, calling us ugly and stupid. I get it now - they were bullies. But that was the first time I can really remember someone telling me that I was anything other than good. I didn't care when they picked on me, what did they know anyway? But when they started picking on my sister I decided to bring her home.
That one interaction shattered my world. My little, naive world that I was the queen of fell to pieces when these kids who didn't even know me criticized me so relentlessly. If these strangers could see my flaws so easily, then obviously they must have been there. Were my imperfections really that obvious to those around me? Had everyone else just been lying to me about how good I was? I know that logic doesn't make much sense, but I was a kid - not even eleven years old. And so, if I wasn't perfect, I switched to the only other logical possibility for who I could be - not good enough.
This idea plagued me. It was such a change of viewpoint, I didn't know what to do with myself. But I figured my reputation was still salvageable. I knew I wasn't perfect, but nobody else really did yet. I could very easily try to convince everyone that I still was. And so, during my transition into middle school I began formulating a facade. I feigned self-confidence to the point of an overwhelming arrogance and challenged anyone and everyone who dared talk about me as though I was anything less than the best. I became over-competitive and even more of a perfectionist. I lied about how I saw myself.
And I lied about it so much that I bought those very lies.
The lying and the mask were really just coping mechanisms that I used as a means of dealing with my own raging insecurity, but by eighth grade, I wasn't even using them as that anymore. I was no longer a liar. I was the lie itself.
My dad lost the job that had uprooted us when I was twelve, and naturally there was unrest in my family. I took it upon myself to be the strong one, the one who was certain that God would pull through like He'd always promised, but inside, I was a mess. I often wondered if He could even hear me.
After junior high, I dropped a lot of the "fun" classes in things I was really interested in - guitar, dance, art. I claimed that I quit because I had so many talents and passions that I didn't have the time or money to pursue them all. The reality was that in all of those environments I had encountered people whose talent so surpassed mine and people who criticized me. I couldn't tolerate either. If I wasn't the best, I wasn't involved. End of story.
High school came (a part-time school program which would allow me to graduate with my diploma and my associate of arts), and with it, expectations. I had become so good at faking my way through life that everyone really believed that my life was a breeze. My academic intelligence came to me naturally and my talent was never rehearsed. I had a ten year plan for my life and backup plans through the letter E. I could be insanely busy and still play it off as though I was totally fine and willing to take on more. So everyone began to expect this of me. Family, friends, teachers, youth leaders, all of them thought that I was insanely confident and had it all together. I was naturally smart, so when I brought home a C first semester in Biology class, my parents got on my case about it.
So I tried harder. I so desperately wanted to make people happy, so greatly desired to please everyone that I pushed myself to every limit I had, mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Wanting to keep my grades up, my schedule full, and my relationships strong, I started eating and sleeping less. I would stay up cramming to get my overload of homework done, and then I would skip breakfast so that I could get a few hours of rest in. Often, I would skip lunch at school so that I could work to finish whatever had been assigned so that I wouldn't have to skip out on extra-curricular activities. This caused my blood pressure to drop and I almost passed out in the middle of a math class, which should have been a wake up call for me. It wasn't.
I transferred to my high school's full-time program and switched campuses at the beginning of my sophomore year and I encountered even more people who were smarter and prettier and more talented than I was. My parents got frustrated when I got a B in English at the end of my first semester and so I pushed myself even harder with my grades. I ate and slept less, the dizziness and headaches persisted, I brushed them aside as though they were nothing. I became more involved in theatre and volunteer work. I developed an obsessive desire to run away from this life that was suffocating me. My arrogance grew.
It was also around this time that I decided not to get married. Living the lie that I was, I convinced myself (and everybody else) that I was making this decision so that I could devote my life to mission work and not have the distraction of a family. But deep inside, even then I knew that I didn't feel deserving of a man. I didn't think anyone could ever willingly choose to spend his life with me. I had lost so many friends at that point, and husbandry is so much greater of a commitment than friendship. I knew that thirty years down the road, when I got asked why I didn't get married, I wanted to say it was because I didn't want to, rather than have to explain that no one wanted me.
The summer after my sophomore year, I went on my first mission trip to Cambodia. This was probably the only really good thing about my high school experience. For once, I wasn't doing anything to benefit myself, though this ended up benefiting me more than anything else. I fell in love with missions.
Come junior year, my schedule was jam-packed. I was taking seven classes a day and working at Chick-fil-A part-time, all the while heading up my school's community service club and rehearsing as a major role in a play with a theatre company I had discovered. I also attended church and balanced a social life. I had spread myself thinner than I was capable of being spread.
I began having mental breakdowns, the first which came two weeks after school started. My occasional habit of skipping a meal for time's sake had developed into an eating disorder and I didn't even know it*. I became so sick and dizzy and weak that my parents started taking me to doctors to figure out what was wrong with me. A pediatrician, a chiropractor, a nutritionist, and finally a cardiologist who told me that I had Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (which, mind you, is not nearly as severe as it sounds. It was a fancy way of saying I was drastically dehydrated).
My heart was broken so many times by friends who just up and walked away and guys who didn't share my romantic feelings for them. I got two concussions. God told me that He didn't want me to go to college and I flipped about it. If I didn't go to college, how could I possibly ever make something of myself? I thought I was only good if I was smart, talented, beautiful, successful. My worth came from what I did, rather than who I was.
Then when I had just about reached the end of my rope, Papa dropped Ekklesia in my lap. Dallas had been encouraging me to attend for months and I figured I had nothing to lose. What I encountered there blew my mind. Here were people who really loved Jesus and really cared about me, people who were living church the way I'd always thought it should look like. Because of this group, I began to heal. I realized that my physical problems were tied to emotional trauma and I was able to start letting things go.
When my senior year began, I came to realize how my arrogance was a mask that I wore. Papa stripped that away and revealed to me all the lies I was believing about myself. But had built my identity on the idea that I was arrogant. When He stripped off my facade, I realized that I had no idea who I was anymore. I had been living a lie.
Come February, I spiraled into depression. Exposure to all of my insecurity left me vulnerable to it. I had to deal with my problems now that I wasn't shoving them down and covering them up with the version of me that I thought I was. I'd been on the verge of depression for years, but it didn't fully take over until I realized that I hated myself.
The depression showed up out of nowhere, and with it, thoughts of suicide. I didn't want to talk about it because I didn't like acknowledging that I needed people to help me through my life. But Something (obviously the Spirit) prompted me to tell my best friends, Melissa and Dallas on a Monday night. They stayed up with me and encouraged me over social media that night and I went to bed feeling better. But the next morning it came back and wouldn't go away. Dallas was relentless, ridiculously insistent on talking to me, to the point where it almost annoyed me. Melissa continued to be her wise, encouraging self.
That Thursday morning, I got sick. I threw up six times, every hour on the hour until there was nothing left in my system and then I drank some water and threw up twice more. Dallas told me he was coming over that night after he got off work. I remember laying in my bed. I hadn't eaten or had anything to drink in over twenty-four hours. I was shaking, hurting, to exhausted even to cry. I wanted out so badly right then, I didn't care what it took to get that. I didn't even know if I would make it the few hours before Dallas arrived without just quitting.
And then I heard His voice, soft yet firm.
I had no such desire. I had no energy, no voice. "I don't want to."
He'd been trying to get through to me that whole week, I just didn't want to hear it. I was so darn tired of all those repetitive phrases He was using to comfort me. I was done listening to Him.
But for whatever reason, sick, tired, with nothing left to lose, I did. I sang, as much as I was able to anyway. I sang any random worship song that came to my head and before I knew it, Dallas was there.
He sat on the edge of my bed and let me cry and vent about what I was feeling. He prayed with me and helped me break off all those freaking lies that had clung to me for years. I rejected the idea that I wasn't good enough and when I did, I was healed. I was free.
I was able to eat that night. Papa had me quit my job at Chick-fil-A without a safety net and I did, completely certain that He would take care of me. I went on a youth retreat not long after that and Papa completely rebuilt my identity - my true identity. I realized my spiritual gifts and began to use them. I graduated high school. I got a new job as a housecleaner for a company owned by the mother of two of my friends. I replaced all the lies with the truth that I am beautiful, powerful, capable, talented, intelligent, ready to take on the world. But most importantly, I realized that though I may not be perfect in the traditional sense, I am perfect in His eyes.
He saved me. He really did. I realize now that if Dallas and Melissa hadn't been as persistent as they were in February, I would have ended my life then. Even when I wanted nothing to do with Him, He went out of His way to put the two of them into my life and give them His words of life to speak over me so that I could be rescued. I love Him.
Which brings us to where we are now. I still sometimes wrestle with self-confidence, but now I can combat it with the truth. I still forget to eat sometimes but I have been blessed with many friends who I can trust to always get on my case about it. And though I have absolutely no idea where my life is headed, I know it's in His hands. Goodbye, ten-year plan.
*It wasn't like I stopped eating entirely because I thought I was fat. I literally forgot to eat or refused to when I became stressed. My default setting was stress at the time, so this happened to me often.