Dare to Be Different

Why fit in when you were born to stand out? Dr. Seuss

I knew she’d miss out on a few things when we decided to homeschool her. The crazy hair days, the book fairs, the bus rides.

But I didn’t expect this.

I suppose I saw the warning signs – fewer birthday party invitations, not as many play dates – but it never really worried me. She’s a fun kid, someone who can make friends easily, and we’ve stayed involved in the community, keeping connected through classes, co-ops, and after-school activities.

But recently I’ve noticed a sharp decline in her social life, and consequently, an even sharper decline in her self-esteem.

“No one wants to hang out with me,” she sadly confessed to me recently over a cup of hot cocoa. She’s too short, too young, too talkative, or so her peers say, giving them what they consider ample reason to mock, ridicule, and reject her.

It breaks my heart, especially since I’ve actually witnessed some of them treat her more like a fungus lately than a friend.

“What should we do?” my husband asked me the other night after another exhausting and emotional conversation with our distraught daughter.

“I have no idea,” I responded, hopelessly at a loss for how to tackle what’s become a volatile and tender topic in this house.

But the next morning, as the gears of this mama bear began to grind, I got to work on finding a solution. First, I called my step-mom and asked her to take my daughter out for lunch. Sylvia has always enjoyed Rainey’s company, and the two of them spent a delightful afternoon together dining in one of our town’s finest eating establishments.

Next, I texted my highly talented friend and asked if she’d mind shooting some photos of Rainey since school picture day is another thing she skips as a homeschooler. My friend graciously agreed and captured Rainey’s blossoming beauty in a breathtaking way.

Finally, I made some posters for her, highlighting Scripture that speaks truth about who she is and how wonderfully she’s made. When I presented them to her, she immediately grabbed the Scotch tape and hung them on the walls of her bedroom.

The LORD your God is with you...He will take great delight in you...Zephaniah 3:17

Though she be but little, she is fierce! Shakespeare

But the real clincher came the other night while she was at youth group. I was passing the time in the church library, and as I scanned the bookshelves looking for something to read, one book in particular caught my eye.

It’s a book my mom gave to me in seventh grade when I, too, was trying to navigate the nasty waters of junior high. I remember reading it then, and I credit its contents for helping me turn a major corner in my adolescence. I strongly believe because of its influence, I was able to discover the true qualities of friendship and thoroughly enjoy the rest of my junior and senior high school years.

I checked out the book, enthusiastically recounting its significance in my life to Pat, the sweet librarian subjected to my sharing of too much information, and I quickly settled into one of the library’s wing-back chairs to reacquaint myself with its wisdom. Though the language is woefully outdated and the anecdotes painfully cheesy, I knew after re-reading just a few chapters its message still applied to my daughter today. So on the way home, after struggling to connect with her friends again that night at youth group, I carefully struck up a conversation with my sensitive oldest child.

“Sweetheart, what do you think you need to do to find friends who will accept you?”

She thought for a second then ventured a guess, “Not talk so much?”

“Well, that’s an idea,” I responded, “but I don’t think it’s the right one.”

“Then I have no clue,” she conceded.

So I went on to tell her about my friends in middle school, how they’d include me one day then make fun of me the next, how they teased me for being skinny, for wearing the wrong shoes, for having a big forehead, whatever that means.

“I used to bawl for hours on my mom’s bed,” I told her, “complaining about how cruel and exclusive my classmates could be.”

“What did you do?” she asked, intrigued by my personal story.

“One night I remember sitting on the floor of my bedroom, crying. I was fed up with feeling so sad and alone. So I prayed and asked Jesus to be the friend that I needed in my life.”

Silence fell between us for a few minutes, until I heard sniffling coming from the passenger seat.

I reached over and grabbed her mitten-ed hand. “Sweetie, do you know that Jesus accepts you just the way that you are?”

“Yeah, I guess,” she said quietly through her tears.

“He created you to be the exact size, shape, and age you are today, and He designed your unique personality, too – the one that’s quirky and creative and, well, chatty.”

I saw her smile out of the corner of my eye, so I continued, “When I was your age, and I started to understand that God loved and accepted me, I was able to start accepting myself, too.”

“But what about your friends?” she asked.

“That’s the funny thing,” I chuckled. “Soon after I learned to accept myself as the person God made me, other kids accepted me, too.”

We drove over the bridge with the full moon sparkling on the river below. It’s amazing how its light almost made the darkness disappear. When we pulled into our driveway a mile later, I reached into my bag and pulled out the book I got from the library that night.

“Here,” I said, placing it in her lap. “My mom gave me this book when I was your age. It really helped me figure out all this friendship stuff, and it made me realize it was okay to be myself. Maybe it can do the same for you.”

She wrapped her arms around my neck and gave me a long squeeze.

Finally pulling away, she said, “Thanks, Mom. I’ll start reading it tonight.”

A couple hours later, long past her bedtime, I noticed light spilling into the hallway from the crack in her bedroom door. I peaked inside, and there tucked under the covers, surrounded by stuffed animals and the homemade reminders of her intrinsic worth, was my daughter, devouring the book I’d given her earlier that evening.

And as I turned away, smiling, I prayed that the Truth found between its pages might soon take root in her heart like it did in mine so many years ago.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14

Comments

  1. Many, many mixed emotions! Can only rejoice in who you have become, thanks be to God! And am loving who Rainey is becoming under your tutelage and God’s divine plan. My two very different, very wonderful ladies. I love you both!

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