At times I reflect on my childhood and can’t help but shake my head. I was one awkward child and there was nothing that I could do to prevent it….
Take a moment to reflect on your elementary school experience. Are there any classmates that immediately come to mind? Do you remember who the popular kids were? Who was the most popular boy? Do you remember the cool clothes that he wore? How about the toys that he brought to show off during recess? Was he charismatic, talented, and athletic? What was it that made him stand-out, from all the rest, in such a special way? (Let me give you a few moments to think about this)
Now that you’ve reminisced about the qualities of your favorite classmate of yesteryear, I would like to invite you to take a moment to imagine that one classmate that was the exact opposite of the popular one. You know, the one that was the last to be picked to play on any dodgeball team. The one that wore hand-me-down clothes that his cousins had proudly worn a decade earlier. The awkward kid that never got invited to any birthday parties…… That my friends, would have been me.
Childhood was rough for me. No matter how hard I tried, I always stuck out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately, I had several things working against me. To start, although I was unaware of it at the time, I grew up in poverty. Thankfully, with my father’s help, our family grew and harvested most of what we ate. This disguised the severity of our impoverished state of life. However, there were many things that we simply couldn’t afford. Each year I knew that I would get 1-2 pairs of pants, at the beginning of the school year, at K-Mart or Walmart. Everything else that I wore came from the closets of my cousins or my older brother. Thankfully, my uncles from California would send money every year at Christmas time. I’d always use that to buy a pair of shoes or a jacket. I felt like a king when I made my yearly purchases. In addition, aside from an interest in hot-wheels and micro-machines, I didn’t have much in common with most boys my age. In the small farm-town that I came from most boys enjoyed football and hunting. I, on the other-hand, enjoyed singing, playing the piano, and acting. I also enjoyed pretending that I was a dog. Come to think of it, maybe that was the main thing that made me stand out as a weird kid.
I never outgrew my awkwardness. In high school I became the poster-boy for band-geeks worldwide. I also became a Jesus-Freak. Most of my friends were listening to Dr. Dre and Snoop. As a cultural rebel, I found myself lost in the lyrics of DC Talk and the Gospel Gangstaz. I had graduated from being the weird boy, who barked like a dog, and progressed to be the token school church-boy. While most of my friends were looking forward to Friday night parties and seeing how far they could get with their girlfriends. I stood against the grain by lecturing against the dangers of underage drinking and created my own “True Love Waits” campaigns…. (right about now you might be wanting to laugh… but I swear… it’s the truth)
As an adult my choices have continued to go against the grain too. Many of my friends finished school and started careers at a young age. As expected, I couldn’t possibly follow the expected trajectory. I became a foster-parent at the age of twenty-one and became a pastor at the age of 23. I kind of hopped around from job-to-job looking for ways to cover living expenses for the next few years. At the age of twenty-six, I married my beautiful wife. She came along with three-children (two of which were in their rebellious teen years). I also married her knowing that there was a possibility that we would not have children together. As a pastor, I refused to allow the bureaucracy of church keep me in a box. In the corporate world, I was the person who smiled regardless of circumstance, even when it was inappropriate. Such as when I stood in court, as a probation officer, giving a recommendation for the judge to lock up a client. Oddly enough, at the ripe age of forty, I still have never been drunk, and have no intention to change that (that’s not to say that I don’t enjoy a tasty beverage from time-to-time).
My history of chronic awkwardness hasn’t always been a smooth ride. There are times that I’ve battled loneliness, and in my early twenties, I even questioned my reason for existence. However, the twists and turns brought on by my weirdness also brought me a few realizations. Today, I’d like to share them with you.
I don’t need the approval of others to find happiness.
No one deserves to be a prisoner of my performance. Regardless of how advanced my acting skills might be, expecting the approval of others to reach a state of happiness is a very selfish and unfair act. I’ve discovered that I am much happier when I allow people the freedom to be themselves (and at times that means that they might not approve of me). In addition, I have discovered that despite rejection of anyone, I can always find love and acceptance in the arms of my savior. The peace offered by this fact is guaranteed to put a smile on my face regardless how dark a day I may be facing.
I am responsible for my own happiness.
I’ve come to understand that the person that I spend the most amount of time with is, “me.” If there is anybody that has the ability to treat me well, it is “me.” This nugget of truth lets me know that I need to take responsibility to take action and make decisions that bring me happiness. It has also taught me that “personal integrity” is a powerful tool to stimulate happiness in my life. Integrity simply means to be true to your word. Regarding happiness, I have learned that I daily need to vocalize my decision to be happy. My decision to live a life of integrity then causes me to make daily choices that align with my decision to live a happy life. (I dare you to try this. It works.)
The people that I need to have in my life will always be available when I need them most.
Life has shown me, that sometimes, the people that I least expected to walk this journey of life together with me, will present themselves with exactly what I need, at the right time. This truth also lets me know that sometimes the best thing, for me to do, is to walk this journey alone. I’ve learned that sometimes God will choose to separate you in order to elevate you. The process may be painful for a moment, but the end result is divine.
I have the potential to be season and salt in the blandness of life.
I’ve come to terms that God created me this way for a reason. There is a reason why no two fingerprints are alike. There is a reason why every snowflake has its own design. God didn’t intend for us to all be cookie-cutter replicas of one another. And perhaps, the reason why he designed me, to be awkward, is to add a little bit of flavor in this bland world that we live in.
John Eli Garay
John Eli has spent over 15 years mentoring and coaching individuals in life skills, career transitions, and through organizational change. His resume includes pastoral care, behavioral health, and higher-education advising. From an early age, John recognized that God created him to bring hope, healing and encouragement to others. He is currently walking out his purpose by helping others confront, and work through, self-inflicted trauma. His ministry includes blogging, speaking, and personal development coaching. He currently lives in Chandler, Arizona with his wife, mini-schnauzer and an antique piano whom he calls, “Betty.”