While growing up nearly every child feels the need to be somebody, to figure out his identity. Most children attempt to find acceptance from their peers by the way they dress, the music to which they listen, the people with whom they hang out, the parties they attend, or the other activities in which they participate. While I never really felt a strong need to please others as a child, I still struggled with being shy and lonely, and with not always fitting in. Now, having grown up in many regards, I no longer feel the need to fit in. I have discovered who I truly am.
Whether their parents are separated, divorced, or argumentative, many kids living in America today grow up in broken homes. Fortunately, I never felt such pain. Rather, I grew up in a wonderful home. My parents always looked for ways to build me up, to support me in what I did, and to make me happy. For example, when I was about six years old, my dad built me an enormous sandbox far bigger than any sandbox within miles. Additionally, my parents always took the time to ensure I completed my homework, and they helped me when I needed assistance. In sixth grade when my teacher gave us what seemed like impossible logic puzzles, my dad stayed up late and spent hours with me until we solved the problems.
More important than the material possessions with which my parents provided me, they gave me a strong Christian upbringing. For as long as I can remember, I have gone to church on a weekly basis. My parents tell me that even as a tiny infant, only having seen the world for a few weeks and months, they took me to church. Every night, even to this day (when I’m home), we read the Bible together as a family. While growing up, I knew the Christian message – that I am a sinner and deserve eternal death in hell. Jesus came to die on the cross to take my sins away and I simply needed to believe that fact and trust Him as Savior from my sins. At about the age of eight, I “accepted Christ” into my life – professed belief in Christ as my Savior.
Though I had a firm relationship with my parents and siblings, as well as with God, school wasn’t particularly easy for me. During the first few weeks of Kindergarten, the first year I went to “real” school (as opposed to preschool), I wanted to stay home. When my mom dragged me to school, I cried and clung to her, adamantly proclaiming my intention not to go, thinking that in doing so she wouldn’t force me to enter the classroom. As the oldest child, I had no one to look up to, no one to follow, and the thought of leaving the shelter of my house and the protection of my parents, even if only for half a day of school, frightened me.
Though I eventually adjusted to attending school and did well, academically and behaviorally, I remember always being shy in class. I was a “good” kid – obedient to my parents and teachers – but my shyness lead to trouble interacting with and relating to others. Because of my timidity, I had difficulty making friends, and while in some of the earlier grades I even depended on my mom for help in making friends. Due to a lack of friends, I often felt lonely. I knew Jesus was always there to love me and be my friend, but I would have liked to have had some friends who I could see with my eyes.
The first day of first grade, my first full day of school (as opposed to kindergarten’s half days), I went to class and sat next to a boy I didn’t know. Having heard about a woman who had been murdered in my town a few days earlier, he told me that my mom might end up dead because there was some guy going around killing moms. I nearly burst into tears upon hearing this and had trouble focusing on school the rest of the day. I had to be sure my mom was safe. The day dragged on until it finally ended sometime around 3 p.m. When the bell rang, I quickly grabbed a few folders, went out to the backpack rack, threw my stuff in my bag, and rushed outside. The instant I saw my mom, I was filled with extreme joy and relief and ran up to her and jumped in her arms. As she asked how my day went, the tears began to flow and I told her what had happened. For a long time, I was wary of leaving home without my mom. Finally, after some time and a comforting explanation from my mom, I got over the trauma. The precedent set by the first day of school, though, rather than helping me to get to know my classmates, served to make me wary of both school and my peers.
As I progressed through grade school, I gradually became more courageous, but I was still shy and continued to suffer from lack of many close friends. The fact that as kids grow older they begin to exclude certain others didn’t help me any. If anything, I just felt more out of place at school. In sixth grade, when I was forced to stand up for my beliefs, I began to change. My teacher, Mr. McClurg, had a desire to challenge the students not only academically but also morally, in ways I had not previously felt challenged. On a semi-regular basis, we would have to give impromptu speeches – Mr. McClurg gave us a topic and had us talk on it for a minute. This forced me to become more talkative. I remember one day when I gave a speech on the topic of euthanasia. While many other students argued that the government should not restrict elderly people who had terminal illnesses from cutting their lives short, I got up in front of my peers and, despite my nervousness and timidity, emphasized the value of life and my desire to see these people live the rest of their lives. After all, miracles have happened.
Despite my increased boldness in sixth grade, I was still shy; I still didn’t quite fit in through middle school, during what some say are the hardest two years of your life. Whether I was in PE struggling with dribbling a basketball or in class getting better grades than others, I felt “different.” Despite feeling out of place, I got involved with a few youth groups. We went on winter retreats and studied the Bible frequently and I learned some, but I wasn’t really pushed to my limits. Despite the challenges the speakers at the conferences posed for me, I didn’t make any significant changes in the way I lived my life. Not that that was necessarily bad; I just continued in my shyness and didn’t grow much in my faith.
Toward the end of January of my freshman year of high school, I went to Camp Timber-lee in East Troy, Wisconsin with my high school youth group. While there, I saw a fellow student from my English class who was there with his youth group. We talked a little, mostly about our English class and the morality-related debates the teacher frequently incited in class. That weekend, I really felt God telling me through the conference speaker’s messages that I needed to stand up in my English class for what was right, for what was moral. Often before that point in my life, I had failed to say much in class out of fear that I wouldn’t know how to respond to others’ comments. After reading some verses in the Bible, I became confident that if God wanted me to speak up in class, He would reveal to me what to say. Thus began the largest part of my transformation from a shy and timid child into a more confident young adult.
The rest of the year in my freshman English course, I had opportunity upon opportunity to stand up for what was right in class discussions, and, as the Bible promises, God always gave me the words to say. The summer after freshman year, I went to a conference called SEMP, or Students Equipped to Minister to Peers. At this conference for high school students, the many speakers taught us how to share our faith with our friends and anyone else in general. Not only that, but we were also required to go out into the streets of Chicago and share our faith with random people out and about on Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, or anywhere else they told us to go. I was forced to act in a manner completely contrary to shy. Not only could I not wait for people to come up to me and begin a conversation with me, but I had to go up to others and begin a religious conversation with them that was based on the unpopular belief that Jesus is the only way to God. In an age in which moral relativism dominates society, this was not easy to do. Nonetheless, it helped me to grow.
As I continued through high school, I grew tremendously in my Christian faith, and also in my social abilities. Standing up for the Bible and my Biblically-founded beliefs made me a more outgoing person in general. I got more and more involved with extracurricular activities such as Cross Country and the Student Tech Team and finally felt like I was a part of the school. Not only was I making a difference in my school through my participation in extracurricular activities, but I was also standing up for my beliefs and making an impact in that regard.
Though there’s not much contrast between my life before and after I became a Christian, as I have grown in my faith since becoming a Christian, I have become a more confident person. I have learned more and more the importance of letting God control my life, as “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 ESV).