How to avoid insecurity

Dear Daughter,

This past weekend, I visited the university I attended. I’d been back there several times since graduating, but this time was different. I walked around the whole campus, showing J (which is what we’ll call my husband/your stepdad) the places I lived and frequented. Walking those familiar sidewalks brought back so many memories, most of which saddened me.

J doesn’t understand why I disliked college so much. He asks if I had some kind of traumatic experience or something. I didn’t. And in fact, most of the time I thought I was having fun. But truthfully there was this constant ache deep in the pit of my heart throughout my entire time there. I wasn’t happy with who I was. I felt like I never fit in with my peers, even my closest friends. I was constantly searching for approval from my friends and from boys. I was so wrapped up in a state of insecurity that I became someone other than myself.

I tell you this because I never want the same to happen to you. Insecurity is perhaps the cruelest, most devastating emotion a person can experience. It’s completely natural for everyone to have insecure moments now and then, but it becomes a problem when it takes over the majority of your thoughts, when you spend more time worrying about what other people are thinking of you than you do anything else. Such mental domination eats away at your insides.

The other problem with insecurity is that it’s a vicious cycle. If you’re worried that your friends don’t like you, for example, after awhile they’ll see that insecurity, which is never attractive, and they really won’t want to be around you. So your fears become a reality, which makes you even more insecure, and the cycle continues. This is what happened to me, and it caused a lot of damage.

This weekend I tried to think about what I should have done differently. Was it just that I didn’t fit in at that particular school? If I went to a different college, would it have been better? Perhaps. But that excuse feels like a cop out, because I believe we’re meant to make the best of every situation.

After much thought, it dawned on me that, during those four years of my life, I stopped pursuing the things I was most passionate about, the things that made me who I was. I strayed far away from my faith, for example. All of my life I had been actively involved in church, except for when I was in college. Also, writing became more of a chore than a hobby, because the only writing I did was for school. Everything I spent my time on was other people’s interests and hobbies, not my own.

If I could do it all over again, I would have gone to Campus Life or some other Christian group. I would have worked for the school newspaper. I would have been a part of something bigger than my inner circle of friends, a part of something where I could make a legitimate contribution, which therefore would have boosted my confidence. I would have smiled more and made more of an honest effort to invest in other people’s lives instead of being so consumed with my own sense of worth.

Daughter, please remember these words when insecurity starts to get the best of you. Don’t ever stray from the things that make you, you. Pursue your passions, use your gifts, and recognize your value by doing so. Surround yourself with people who will build you up, and be the person who builds other people up. I don’t want you to look back on a major part of your life and feel sadness and regret, like I do when I remember my college years. I want you to look back and be proud of the person you became during that period of time. I want you to look back and smile.

Love,
Mom

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Never leave the house without…

Dear Daughter,

I’m going to pass along some words of wisdom my own mother gave me when I was in my teens. Are you ready for it? Okay, here goes… never leave the house without lipstick and earrings.

Those were Nonna’s words of wisdom, you ask? Yes, those are just some of many, and while this particular advice may seem superficial, it’s actually quite the opposite.

I wrote a while back about why you shouldn’t wear pajamas to the final exam, the reason being that you should wear clothes that make you feel confident and respectable. The same applies to makeup. When my mother gave me the advice above, she was basically saying, “You can go without foundation. You can go without blush. But without lipstick and earrings, you’ll look and feel unfinished, unkempt.”

The emphasis should be on “feel,” because with all things related to beauty, what’s most important is how you feel rather than how you actually look, right? Clothing, shoes, makeup and accessories have this crazy power to influence a girl’s self-esteem (for that day, anyway). When you wear a clumsy outfit, you feel uncomfortable all day, and your mind is focused more on your discomfort than on other, more important things. But when you wear the outfit that best highlights your shape and color, you feel on top of the world, like you can do anything. Your outfit is an extension of the awesome you that you already are. And when you know that, you stop thinking about your appearance and start focusing on social and intellectual productivity.

According to my mother, lipstick and earrings are icing on the cake of all that awesomeness. They bring that last final touch, that extra boost of confidence, because of their subtle ability to make you look polished and put together. These little extras show that you care, that you take pride in your appearance and therefore in yourself. They command respect and dignity.

I’m not saying you should wear bright red lipstick and huge, gaudy earrings every day (in fact, please don’t). Even a neutral shade of lipstick and small hoop earrings will do the trick. It’s about so much more than looking pretty. It’s about taking the time to feel good about yourself.

Love,
Mom

Why you shouldn’t hate on marriage

Dear Daughter,

We live in an anti-marriage culture. Often, marriage is jokingly referred to as slavery or prison. Some people truly believe it is akin to being locked up, kept from true freedom. Divorces are more common than anniversaries. And everywhere on TV, we see story lines of extramarital affairs, fighting, separation. It’s rare, in fact, to see a happily married couple on TV or in the movies.

I’m not sure how it got this way. I don’t think it’s always been like this but who knows. Some say that people have always been unhappy in their marriages, but until recent decades it wasn’t socially acceptable to get divorced, so they just “suffered” through marriage till they died. How depressing.

I know I’ve only been married for a little over a year now, so I guess I’m still a naive newlywed. But I refuse to fall into this way of thinking… that marriage is miserable, unnatural, a metaphor for bondage. I believe that God created marriage to be a blessing. I, for one, love coming home to my best friend every day. I love having a companion to hang out with all the time. I love that I can make decisions with someone rather than having to decide everything for myself.

Is marriage easy? No, not at all. But I think the challenge of it is what makes it even more special. Kind of like parenting. Nothing about parenting is simple, yet you go through the tough times, figure things out, and then cherish the good times even more. The same can be said for marriage.

I feel it’s premature to give you marriage advice, since I’m so new to it myself, and since you have a long way to go before you’ll need it! But I do encourage you now to avoid falling into the culture’s way of thinking about marriage. In fact, not only should you avoid it but you should defy it. I hope you’ll get angry like I do whenever someone “jokes” about how awful their wife is, or when you hear about yet another celebrity divorce. I hope your generation can turn around the stigma that marriage is bound for failure. Instead of focusing on the negatives of marriage, focus on the many positives, and shout those positives from the rooftops.

Strong marriages equals strong families equals less hatred, violence, crime and greed. Be the generation that understands that equation, strives to make it a reality, and therefore changes the sad state of this world.

Love,
Mom

When to stop dwelling on your problems

Dear Daughter,

There’s a great country song by Rodney Atkins that says, “If you’re going through hell, keep on going, don’t slow down. If you’re scared, don’t show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there.”

I think this is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard.

Basically he’s saying, when you’re in the midst of a trial, don’t wallow in misery. Don’t let yourself get caught up in it; instead just stay strong and forge through. In another part of the song he says, “Keep on moving, face that fire, walk right through it.”

You will go through many trials in life, Daughter. It’s inevitable. I hope and pray that your trials will be minor, but they might not be. Major or minor, however, you have a choice on how to handle them. You can either let them consume you or let them refine you. I advise the latter.

That’s not to say that you can’t go through a grieving process. Rodney Atkins isn’t telling us to deny our problems but rather to face them and then do something about them. If someone you love dies, for example, it’s both natural and necessary for you to take some time to grieve, to be sad and angry and whatever other emotion comes upon you. But after a while, you do need to get on with your life. You’ll never stop missing that person, but you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you don’t learn to live without him or her.

My example pales in comparison to death, but one time I went through a devastating breakup. The jerk I was with for months (which isn’t very long but felt like it to me) just up and left me, without a word. It broke my heart into pieces and I couldn’t go a minute without thinking about it. My poor sister was the recipient of many tear-filled phone calls, when I would go on and on about how horrible I felt and how awful he was and how… how could he do such a thing to me?? Finally, your aunt being the wise, straight-shooter she is, said, “You need to forget about him. What he did was wrong, yes, but that’s just further clarification that he’s not right for you. He’s the wrong guy, Julie. You know that now. So forget about him.”

Her words shocked me at first. Up until then she had been just a patient listener. But she’d had enough. And she wanted me to have enough too. I’d had my time to be sad. Now was the time to move on. And so I did.

When you do healthily progress from such an experience, you become a little bit stronger. You sport a thicker skin that will better handle the next hardship. The next time around, you know that you’ll survive because you’ve lived through it before. You’ll know that good days will come again, and they’ll come even sooner when you choose to stand tall and keep moving forward.

Love,
Mom

The two things to know about bullying

Dear Daughter,

A hot topic in the news lately is bullying, because there have been many instances (far too many) of kids committing suicide as a result of being bullied. It’s horribly tragic and such a shame. I firmly believe that this can be prevented, and that parents are the number one source of prevention. So it’s time I start talking to you about it.

First of all, I must admit that I’m perplexed as to why this is happening suddenly. Bullying is nothing new. It’s been around since the beginning of humanity. So why is it that the results of bullying are so extreme now? Is the type of bullying worse than it’s ever been? Are kids more sensitive? Or is the world just so complex now that kids simply can’t handle one more difficulty? I suppose it’s a mixture of all three.

Whatever the causes, I have two messages for you today: one is to avoid bullying with all of your might, and the second is to speak up if you’re being bullied.

There will always be kids in your class who are “different,” outsiders, not desirable to be around. You will be tempted to make fun of them because of this. Especially when all of your friends are making fun of them. But before you do, I implore you to put yourself in their shoes. Imagine if YOU were the one who was “different.” Would you want people alienating you and teasing you incessantly? Would you want to be the one sitting all by yourself at lunch? There was a time, in sixth grade, when I was the girl with no friends, and I can tell you firsthand that it’s beyond painful. It’s difficult for those kids to even wake up every day, knowing they’re about to face more and more rejection. Don’t contribute to their pain and fear.

I’m not saying you need to be best friends with that person, but I am saying you should treat him or her how you would want to be treated. At the very least, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. They might appreciate your silence, that you’re the ONE kid who leaves them alone. But it also wouldn’t hurt to take it one step further: smile at them or talk to them about something you know they’re interested in every once in a while. MAYBE even ask them to sit with you at lunch. Your friends might be appalled, but chances are good they’ll also admire your leadership and willingness to step outside the box by befriending the unfriended. Who knows, maybe your actions can change the way your entire group of friends thinks about the kid. It’s worth trying, at least.

And finally, if you’re being bullied, don’t just sit there and take it. Stand up for yourself wherever possible, show people that you are unique and that your uniqueness makes you awesome. If it gets really bad, tell us or your teachers or some other authority figure about it, in case disciplinary action needs to be taken. And find coping mechanisms, so you can focus on things other than the bullying. Bury yourself in a hobby or sport. Exercise. Invest in your relationship with God, whose immense love for you will always cancel out the hatred of the bullies.

My biggest hope is that you’ll be loved and accepted and that you will love and accept others. I hope that when the bullied kid is grown and looks back on his younger years and remembers you, he’ll think, “She was different from the others. She made my life a little easier.” Make that your goal today.

Love,
Mom

The right kind of man

To this quote, I say “Hear hear” and ” Thank you” and “Amen!”:

“We need to teach our daughters to distinguish between a man who flatters her, and a man who compliments her …. a man who spends money on her, and a man who invests in her …. a man who views her as property, and a man who views her properly …. a man who lusts after her, and a man who loves her …. a man who believes he is God’s gift to women, and a man who remembers a woman was God’s gift to man.”  -Unknown

Why we always want the next best thing

Dear Daughter,

I don’t know if it’s human nature or just American nature, but it seems that, when it comes to material possessions, we’re never satisfied. We could have the nicest, most luxurious items in the world, and yet we’ll always be on the search for something even better.

This became very real to me just last night. For about a year now, I’ve been wanting a Kindle, or some other type of e-reader. It’s funny because, being a die-hard fan of pen and paper, for a long time I was against e-readers. But eventually I came to appreciate their value and once I did, I really wanted one for myself. So finally I got one, just yesterday. It’s the least expensive Kindle on the market, but still, I was ecstatic to come home to it.

Until I saw the commercial.

While in the midst of downloading books onto my new toy, a TV commercial played about the new Kindle Fire, which is a bright, flashy, touch-screeny masterpiece of awesomeness. It has all the bells and whistles you could ever want in an e-reader. I looked down at the Kindle in my hand. Suddenly its gray screen and plastic buttons seemed dull, archaic. A voice whined in my head: Man, why couldn’t I have spent just a few more bucks for the Fire?

I finally owned the one thing I’ve been wanting for so long, and still it wasn’t good enough.

This is a common way of thinking, especially nowadays when everything gets an upgrade every six months. We’re constantly made to believe we should have the newest, coolest version of whatever product we own. We’re always striving to keep up with the Joneses, to keep throwing our money at these things simply so we can say we have the biggest, best and brightest. Because somehow that determines our worth. It makes us look smart, hip, better than everyone else. Only, in reality, it makes us fools. Because it won’t be long before we’re panicking about having the next biggest, best and brightest thing. And the cycle continues.

Daughter, it would behoove you to come to terms at a young age with the fact that these kinds of material items will never satisfy you, so you might as well appreciate what you do have. I’m not saying it’s bad to have a Kindle or iPad or whatever the “it” product is for your generation. Those things in and of themselves are good, useful resources that will likely enrich your life in some way. But they should not determine your self-worth, and you should not get wrapped up in the rat race of consumerism.

Whenever you have those moments when everything you own seems to be the second-rate version, try to change your perspective. Look at the many blessings you have in your life, like your family or friends, your passions or talents. Even look at the material items you do own and appreciate how fortunate you are to have them, while so many others in the world have nothing.

Be better than everyone else not by having the hottest product on the market, but by seeing the futility in having the hottest product on the market. Escape from the bondage of marketing and consumerism, and enjoy your life, just as it is.

Love,
Mom

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