Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I’ve changed since I was in high school, since I was in my first couple years of college, even since last year. Honestly, I have to say that the biggest difference is that I’m more confident in myself. Now, people who know me might be surprised and think I’ve always been confident. While that may be true on the outside, I’ve always been pretty insecure about how others think of me and whether or not there were very many people who enjoyed being around me. My mind has always gone into overdrive when analyzing people’s reactions to what I say or do and, unfortunately, it has most often come in negative ways. I generally have felt as though my personality isn’t funny enough, good enough, smart enough or that is too spiritual, too weird, too different or too annoying. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve never struggled to know that God loves me or that my parents were proud of what I’d accomplished. I had a few close friends I’ve always been comfortable around and have rarely felt judged by them. I have never hated myself or anything like that. I’ve just always worried that I would never have as good of a time going to parties or church functions or whatever else I might want to do simply because I almost always ended up sitting by myself on the sidelines watching everyone else have fun. If I was even invited to those kinds of things in the first place. Again, don’t worry – it only bothered me occasionally, and I understand that often friends come when YOU reach out rather than wait for them to come to you. I just struggle to be social and enjoy it. I just wanted to feel accepted by the people around me – at school, at church, wherever I was. But at the same time, I refused to change who I was just to be accepted. So it usually ended up that I had the perspective not many people cared for who I was/am.
That being said, I honestly don’t care what people think of me. Like I said, I didn’t change who I was just to be accepted. But it hurt to know that there were (and are) people who weren’t very fond of me. Everyone wants everyone else to like and accept them (it’s a simple fact – nobody likes to be hated). And that made it difficult to allow my entire personality to be out in the open all the time. It was uncomfortable, discouraging and awkward for me as I grew up trying to figure out my testimony, who I was supposed to be, what my life was supposed to be about and where I was going to go with my goals, hopes and dreams… all while feeling as though I didn’t always belong in very many places.
So why am I telling you all of this? Not for pity or for praise. Not for anyone to feel sorry for me. Not for people to tell me that I am cared for and valued. None of that. No. I’m saying these things because I know I’m not the only one who has ever felt this way. I’m actually probably part of the majority of humankind. And my message for those who are feeling like I’m describing them is this: You are loved. YOU. ARE. LOVED.
I currently live in a singles ward at BYU-Provo and it is the first ward I have ever felt comfortable in. But guess how long it was before I stopped really thinking that other people didn’t care for me because I’m not the prettiest or because I’m not the smartest, the most talented or because I share my testimony too often or am constantly talking about the Gospel. Guess how long it was before I stopped thinking about those things and started to realize how much these people aren’t even thinking anything like that but instead are recognizing how talented I am, how strong my testimony is, how much I have influenced their lives. Go on. Guess.
Before I tell you, let me say this: I’m really not trying to get on my high horse and tell you how great I am. Because I’m not that great (*disclaimer: don’t confuse worth with greatness)… I’m just a normal girl like anyone else who simply knows who God is and who I am. So I’ll tell you. It took me until the last week or two to realize how much I am loved and cherished by the people who know me. It’s easier to see that with those who have known me longer. But for the people in my current ward, especially those I haven’t talked to very much, it took me about 9 months to see that they’re not judging me. They’re not calling me crazy or weird or strange or whatever. Well, maybe they are. But not in a degrading and negative way. They aren’t thinking about how awkward I am or how much I am different from them. Not even close. They simply are taking me as I am and loving me despite my flaws and weaknesses. They look at me the same way I know my Savior would if I could see Him – with love and acceptance and kindness.
How do I know this? Well first of all, because I’ve stopped assuming everyone is judging me. But also because I can feel it and I can see it in their eyes. I firmly believe that the eyes are truly the windows to the soul. People can see the truth when you look eye to eye with them. And there was one particular instance where I was changed and overwhelmed by the love and appreciation the people around me have for me. It was two weeks ago in Relief Society. It was the last Sunday of the semester and the last Sunday our ward would be together before it got disintegrated and everyone put into a new ward for the summer. I had been asked to conduct the music and as I stood in front of those sweet sisters and looked around the room at each of them, I saw how many of them were smiling up at me. I looked a few of them in the eye, and though I quickly looked away, I felt their love and Heavenly Father’s love for me. And I knew that I had made some sort of difference in at least a few of those girls’ lives simply by being me.
So if you didn’t get the message earlier: YOU. ARE. LOVED. I promise you with all the fiber of my being that there are people around you who appreciate you, love you and want you to be a part of their lives. Maybe there really are some people who judge you based on looks or based on what you do that annoys them. But I can tell you right now that there aren’t very many of those people and I can also tell you that they’re wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. You may not be perfect – we’re all human. We all make mistakes and do or say things that we probably shouldn’t. We might dress in ways that others think is socially unacceptable or open our mouths a few times to many in others’ opinions. But I can’t tell you enough that it doesn’t matter because you have at least three people who care about you and love you enough that they want you to stick around and those people are Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ and me.
You ask how I could care for and love someone I probably don’t even know a single thing about? Because I DO know your worth. I know the way Heavenly Father feels about me and about each of His Children, no matter what they do or say. I know that you are worth EVERYTHING to Him. I know that you are important in completing His plan. And I know that YOU. ARE. LOVED. If I, a stranger to you, know this then I plead with you to come to know it for yourself. Because it’s truth and it isn’t changing. Ever.