this is what I’ve learned.

the great big north american adventure is over.

It’s been a wonderful trip. I went there thinking this was going to be mainly about the counseling program and as a consolation prize I’d get to see my friends…well that’s not exactly how things turned out.

The gift and the blessing was getting to see my friends. Meeting new people. Being blown away and overwhelmed by how generous and kind people are. I literally spent $350 CAD during my entire month-long trip (excluding the airfare of course). Everything else was provided for – food, beds, couches, hotels.  I stayed with people I didn’t know. I was toured around by friends of friends. It was amazing. It was something I badly needed – to be reminded of the goodness in people.

A bigger blessing was having the freedom to strip away everything people have told me about myself in the past couple of years and just feel free to be myself. No judgments. No unwelcome opinions. No one speaking into my life telling me what is and isn’t wrong with me. I learned so much about who I am as a person and I learned to stop trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I will always be one of those people that straddles cultures, that is forever in the camp of the outsiders and people who are labeled “not easy to understand”. That’s OK.

Some lessons I learned on this trip:

  1. People that are truly helpful will just help you. I met so many people that were willing to house me, feed me, tour me around. And yes, some were old and dear friends, but some were strangers – friends of friends that had heard that a girl from another country needed a place to stay and someone to host her. It was amazing to hear people say “What do you need? Let’s make it happen.” instead of just “I’ll pray for you.”
  2. Sometimes, the problem isn’t me. During the course of this trip I felt free to just be myself. I would say something about how shitty I felt or how angry or hurt I was…and instead of hearing “well, maybe it’s you” I heard “that’s such a horrible thing to go through”. Or “that doesn’t seem fair”.  Maybe it’s a cultural thing but back home it always feels like people are uncomfortable with “negative” emotions. If you are feeling angry or hurt or let down then you should find a way to deal with it quickly and move on. Never blame the other person. Never hold anyone accountable but yourself. It was so refreshing to be in an environment that seemed to accept the good, the bad, and the ugly. All in all it was great to have my feelings validated.
  3. Standards of beauty are different across the world. Where I live, people freely toss around opinions like “you got fat” or “you look tired” or “your eye bags are so dark!” (because you decided to forego makeup that day). While I was in North America not once did someone tell me to go put on more makeup. I lived in sneakers and leggings for a month and never felt more beautiful and accepted – even when I noticed that I had gained 8 lbs.

The biggest thing that I learned on this trip is to be myself. And to have the courage to fight for that authentic self – that beautifully broken, messy self. So that’s who I’m going to be from now on.

The Middle - Jimmy Eat World

The Middle – Jimmy Eat World

It has taken me 2 and a half months to actually write this down. This trip was so meaningful that it literally took all that time to process and organize my thoughts.

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You don’t have to try so hard.

Today I let my hair do it’s own thing.  Well, for the most part.  I straightened my bangs and then left the rest of my hair alone – which resulted in a beautifully (to me) wavy mess.  A guy friend at work asked me why my hair was wavy today.  I replied that, actually, my hair was really really curly (but now wavy as I’m waiting for the effects of a straightening treatment to wear off).  I just didn’t want to straighten it that day.  I showed him a picture of me with natural curls.  He took one look at it and said “I prefer your hair straight.”  I wanted to hit him.  

I get it.  Everyone has an opinion.  And I don’t need to get upset over every opinion that is different from mine.  Everyone has a preference as far as what they consider beautiful or attractive and that’s fine too.  But here’s the thing.  You don’t have to tell me that what I look like naturally is not appealing to you.  I didn’t ask.  I don’t care.  I don’t exist so I can tailor myself to what you think is aesthetically pleasing.  

This man is a friend of mine.  He’s one of the most unashamed Jesus lovers I know.  And yet, what came out of his mouth was decidedly un-Jesuslike.  What’s even stranger?  He doesn’t think he’s being offensive.  How crazy is that?  That I live in a culture where telling someone you prefer them skinnier or plumper or with straighter hair or fairer skin is considered normal?  Is it really OK to tell people that how God made them naturally is not beautiful?  That they have to change what He had in mind when He designed them?  

I’m a girl – I understand putting your best foot forward.  But I’m talking about natural beauty here.  I was designed by the Creator…who must have thought I’d look beautiful with naturally curly hair!  I have the option to dry, curl, straighten my hair.  God won’t look at me and say “hey, I made your hair curly so you better wear it that way for the rest of your life”.  But He won’t look at me and go “hey, I made a mistake. You really look better with straighter hair” either.  

So, to all the people that want me to have straighter hair, or put on more weight, or put on less weight.  To all the people that tell me that having cellulite and stretch marks are not OK.  To those people that have ever made someone feel ugly by being tactless and not careful with their words…

You don’t get a say.

A Story of Beauty (Part 1): Ugly Duckling Syndrome

swanduckling

Growing up I always identified with the story of the ugly duckling.  I grew up never really knowing the meaning of the word “beautiful”.  Until one day my mom mentioned that our relatives were comparing me to my older cousin and that while she might be prettier, I was smarter.

Since that day I’ve had a tenuous relationship with my self-image.  It didn’t help either that my lovely, thick, straight hair suddenly turned coarse and curly.  Or that my mom insisted I put on foundation and lipstick at the ripe old age of 11 because I needed more color in my “dead face”.  She often told me that while my features were out of place now, she could tell I would grow into a great beauty someday.

The funny thing is, I never thought I wasn’t beautiful, until she pointed it out to me.  I grew up dreaming one day I would be that swan.  I was just an ugly duckling waiting to transform.  A caterpillar whose fuzzy body hid a brilliant butterfly.  A bud that would blossom into a flower.  An enchanted beast whose true form was a handsome prince.  I think you get the picture (and I’ve run out of analogies).