I was the new kid a lot growing up. My dad was a pilot in the Air Force for 24 years. He retired a couple of years ago and makes guitars and mandolins now. Quite the change, I know. Due to his job we moved about every 3 years. I was born in NY state, moved to Ohio, Japan, Delaware, Illinois, Delaware again, Mississippi, and ended up in Maryland while attending the University of Delaware. It was a different sort of life, but I’m thankful for it. I had the opportunity to experience the distinctly different cultures of the mid-west, deep south, east coast, and even Japan. Most people don’t get to do that.
I was a bashful kid. I won the senior superlative for “frendliest” down in MS and I have no idea how that happened. You might think that being the new kid would get easier after you do it a couple of times, but that’s not the case. It never gets easier.
I think that part of the reason it feels so hard is because deep down I have a desperate need for people to like me. In third grade I spent recess reading novels (I LOVED the Redwall series. Anyone else?) and didn’t have many friends. In fifth grade I met Meghan Benear and things began to change.
“We’re all going to see I Know What You Did Last Summer, you should come.” Meghan said. We were eleven. Meghan’s parents didn’t seem to care about what sort of movies she went to, but mine did and I knew they wouldn’t let me go to a rated R movie with my friends.
“I can’t,” I said. “My mom won’t let me.”
“Well then don’t tell her,” Meghan reasoned.
“How am I supposed to do that?”
“Just tell her we’re seeing something else and get her to drop you off.”
I’d always been a tender-hearted girl. I was that little kid who always wanted to do the right thing. Most of my memories are of moments when I felt like I’d screwed up. When I was about six I had a friend named Rebekah whose mom was white and dad was African American. One day when we were playing at my house I asked her if she was half black and half white. She said yes. Later my mom told me that I never should’ve asked that and that I needed to apologize to Rebekah. I was so worried that I’d hurt my friend’s feeling that I sobbed uncontrollably. Looking back at the moment it’s clear that I was just a six year old little girl who was curious about her friend, nothing more. Back to my conversation with Meghan:
“I really can’t do that, Meghan,” I insisted. In addition to knowing that I couldn’t lie to my parents I really didn’t want to see the movie. I scare easily, but my middle-school self didn’t want to admit that to Meghan.
“Gosh Jenny, you’re such a baby. I don’t know why I even hang out with you,” Meghan slammed the phone. I felt hurt and alone again.
But as with most adolescent friendships things were better the next day. Later that year Meghan called for a different reason.
“If you could choose between three ice cream flavors: vanilla, chocolate, and chocolate chip, which would you pick?” Meghan asked.
“Chocolate,” I replied. I thought it was a funny question because we weren’t going to eat ice cream. I also realized that anyone who knew me knew that I have a deep love for chocolate.
“Ok, cool. Are you still good to sleep over on Friday?”
“Yup,” I said.
“See ya tomorrow,” Meghan said and hung up the phone.
Friday night I went to Meghan’s and found her and our other friend Caitie waiting with a birthday cake and balloons.
“Surprise!!!” They shouted. I huge grin came across my face. The like me, they really like me, I thought. I felt so much value in that moment. I was so happy.
Later that night we laid our sleeping bags out on Meghan’s living room floor and cozied up to watch a movie together. Meghan and Caitie wanted to watch Striking Distance, a movie starring Bruce Willis. It was rated R. I told them I didn’t want to see it, but they insisted. Before I knew it the screen was filled with dead bodies and a river, and a creepy song about Red Riding Hood was coming through the TV speakers. I was horrified and left the room. Meghan and Caitie didn’t seem to care.
Isn’t this MY party? I thought. And in that moment I knew that they didn’t really care about me that much. They weren’t real friends.
I think that most people will let you down at some point or another. That’s why living for and putting my hope in people is futile and ultimately disappointing. It’s also exhausting. Caring about what people think takes a lot of time and effort. I think that wanting to live for people instead of the Lord is still one of my biggest struggles. I think that comes, in part, from living such a performance based life – which I think most of us do in different ways. I get so focused on what I’m doing that I forget who I am – a daughter of the King. When I find my identity in Him I can rest there, and those thoughts of what people think of me begin to fade.
As they say in this classic hymn: “What a friend we have in Jesus.”