Standing in the living room of my parent’s house, my dad handed me his phone, showing me a picture he had taken while on vacation. The photo was of a bus billboard that read “The world needs you to be who you are.”
“Isn’t that neat?!” he exclaimed with excitement. “You should write something about that.”
The conversation moved on and I didn’t give it much thought until several days later when a podcast I was listening to reminded me of the quote. I allowed those words to sink in and I realized how deeply they resonated with my soul.
Throughout the years, I remember wanting to fit in or to be “just right,” but I never seemed capable of garnering the affirmation I desperately craved. My heart grieved at the feeling of being unseen, yet I equally despised the sense that I could only be of worth to those around me if I fit the cookie cutter mold. Stubbornness flooded my very core and I vowed that if I couldn’t fit in then I would strive to be different than everyone else.
Looking back, I can see all the places where I went out of my way to intentionally and unintentionally be different. I read Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order, drowned myself in all of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, prided myself that I loved Star Trek vs Star Wars, and listened to less popular indie musicians such as Augustana. I would even joke that I was Lady Gaga in a sea of Taylor Swift.
I staunchly pushed out an image that I didn’t need anyone to like me. If someone did, awesome, and if they did not, oh well. But I was afraid to acknowledge all the tender places where my heart secretly longed to be liked, to be found interesting, to be found worthy. My ache was so great that I fought to find solace in uniqueness versus uniformity.
Somehow through this determination to march to the beat of my own drum, I discovered different shapes and colors of my personality that were truly me. I learned to value and embrace my unique variegations as a gift. I also began identifying and releasing the messy succession of survival methods forged by insecurity and loneliness.
Finding grace and admiration for the woman I have become has taken years to put into practice. I am unequivocally, unapologetically who I am. I value authenticity in my words and life, I write personal essays and dabble in poetry, and I still remain a proud Trekkie. Those voices that have insidiously whispered how pathetic I am and how I have nothing to offer those around me still tune in on a weekly basis. Some days they win a landslide victory of self-contempt and open wounds, filled with vicious lies that break my heart and dampen my spirit. Some days I am able to stand strong in the face of evil and brandish every ounce of my quirky personality to combat the onslaught, finding peace and truth about who I am and what my heart is longing for in the moment.
In our independent search for uniqueness, are we hoping that someone will finally see us? Are we waiting for someone to find us interesting enough that they would slow down and be curious about us?
Is showing off our gloriously messy selves too big of a risk to take?
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each of us could hear on a daily basis that the world, our homes, and our people need us to be exactly who we are – nothing more, nothing less. We don’t need to struggle and fight so hard to shape our selves into the right image and hope somebody will notice. I want to be the wife, the mother, the friend who gently cups a face with my hands, looks them in the eyes, and says “You are enough. You, dearest one, are worthy.”
My heart pauses while writing this and I wonder, wouldn’t it be breathtaking if I could learn to bless all the pieces of my kaleidoscope self and speak those words to my own aching heart?
Mal Arnold is a passionate Latina wife and mother who is a chaser of dreams and believes in living life with abandon. She writes to pour some of herself out for any who care to experience her heart, but is also an avid reader, lover of old movies and going on journeys with family as well. She has seen heartache and trauma in her past and is learning to let her Maker heal her broken places.