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STICKING UP FOR WHO I AMAnswers to the Emotional Issues Teenagers Raise
By Gwendolyn Mitchell Diaz
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2003 Gwendolyn Diaz
All right reserved.
Chapter OneISSUE #1
So, Who Am I?
It was graduation night at Delsea Regional High School in Franklinville, New Jersey. Like every other girl, I had on a white gown, a white mortarboard (that's one of those square hats with a tassel), and white shoes. I remember being seated on an uncomfortable folding chair in the middle of a row, in the middle of a high school football field, in the middle of a bunch of faculty and dignitaries. Yet in the midst of all those people I felt alienated and lonely.
The co-valedictorians had been caught drinking on the senior trip and were graduating in a state of disgrace. They weren't allowed to make their speeches, and, much to my dismay, I had been chosen to fill in for them. Giving a speech in front of the whole world was definitely not my idea of fun.
As a matter of fact, the entire day had been pretty miserable. My father, who often became disoriented in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, had created several disruptive situations. I had not had any time to review my speech and very little time to get dressed. And, on top of everything else, my car had run out of gas right as I crossed the railroad tracks on my way to the ceremony!
I arrived just in time to hear the band strike up the first few bars of "Pomp and Circumstance" and find my place in line. (Fortunately it was near the end.) My hair, which had spent most of the day in rollers, lay limp and stringy down my back due to the humidity and gale-force winds that preceded a brewing late-spring storm. The band didn't get very far in their song before the wind whipped the music right off their stands. So we finished our procession in silence.
After a bunch of uninspiring rhetoric, it was my turn to step to the podium. I remember thinking how stupid my speech was. I had been advised to go with an uplifting "new day, new world" theme. I heard myself saying things like, "Here we stand on the shores of a new tomorrow... sandy beaches spread before us... a new day dawning." It was a bright, rosy, challenging speech, but I knew that no one there was feeling particularly bright or rosy or like taking on any new challenges. We had just entered the Vietnam War!
As I finished talking, a gust of wind caught my manuscript and blew it off the podium, across the field, and into oblivion. I remember thinking that justice had probably been served on that useless piece of paper, and I trudged back to my seat.
I sat there in misery - wondering if everyone had hated the speech as much as I had; wondering if Joey, who had already shaved his head and was heading for basic training the next day, would ever make it home alive; wondering if I should carry out my plans to go to college, since my father was so sick; wondering what my role was in a messed-up world that was falling apart.
Just then an administrator was called forward to present the Faculty Bowl, a prize given annually to a graduating senior selected by the staff as the student they had enjoyed teaching the most. It wasn't based on GPA or sports involvement or leadership skills, although all of these somehow entered into the decision.
I knew it was going to be presented to my best friend. Everybody loved her. She lit up any classroom she walked into and got along great with everyone in the school. She earned good grades and participated in lots of activities. I was thrilled for her. She deserved it, plus she was going through some tough times of her own, and she certainly could use the accolades.
As they extolled the worth of the recipient and began to unveil her identity, I was even more convinced that it belonged to my friend. In fact, I was so sure that Karen had won the Faculty Bowl that when they announced my name, I just shook my head and remained seated.
The teacher seated next to me nudged me and said, "You have to go up front to get it. They aren't going to bring it to you." "No," I replied. "They weren't talking about me. They said the wrong name."
She laughed and pushed me up front to receive the shiny silver bowl with my name engraved on it.
I was stunned. Over the next few days I tried to reconcile the person who I thought I was with the person who had just received the faculty's highest honor. I wondered how I could have assessed myself so differently than my teachers had. Maybe it really was a mistake. Maybe the engraver had accidentally put my name on the trophy and the principal had made the decision to go with it because it would cost too much to make a new one.
I wondered how differently I would have approached my high school days if I had known what I was really worth to my teachers. Maybe I would have raised my hand more often in class, realizing that I really did have something to offer. Perhaps I would have felt that my opinion held a little more value in discussions with my peers. Instead of creating excuses for why I couldn't attend drinking parties down by the lake or travel to weekend bashes at the beach, maybe I would have stood up to my friends and told them why I really didn't go.
In a world that seemed hostile to everything I stood for or had been raised to believe, I didn't feel that my life held any real dignity or value. I certainly didn't feel secure in who I was or the things I had accomplished or where I was headed in life.
Over the years I have discovered that most high school students wrestle with these same insecurities, but there are many different ways of responding. Some teenagers become angry or react in defiance to what causes them discomfort. Some withdraw or try to hide from potential pain. Others, like me, overachieve in order to find significance.
Almost all teenagers, at some point in time, come to the conclusion that this world is a hostile, unfriendly place. They struggle to discover their identity, strain to maintain their dignity, and strive to establish some sort of security in a world that offers little stability.
But guess what else I've discovered? No one has to feel this way! I want you to know that it is possible for you to feel good about who you are, delight in what you are worth, and rejoice in where you are headed - regardless of what is going on around you.
A LESSON FROM THE LIFE OF CHRIST
Do you realize that Jesus Christ had to deal with most of the same issues that we face? Actually, the challenges He had to cope with were far more severe than anything we will ever encounter. Yet He was able to function with great poise, dignity, and strength. Have you ever wondered how He did it? Let's look at one of the most difficult situations He confronted during His time here on earth and see what we can discover.
According to John 13, Jesus and His disciples were in Jerusalem preparing to celebrate the Passover feast. It was Jesus' last evening here on earth. He knew this, and many times He had tried to prepare His disciples for the upcoming events. But instead of listening to His message, they chose to debate with Him, arguing over which one of them would be the greatest in the new kingdom that they planned to help Him establish. They remained densely naive about Jesus' real purpose and plans.
As Jesus sat down to eat His Last Supper, He knew that one of the men seated across the table would soon betray Him. He realized that when He left that meal He would walk across the valley to the Garden of Gethsemane and would be handed over to the Roman guards. He was aware that He would spend the rest of that night and most of the next day in shackles, shuffled from courtyards to courtrooms to face false accusations and unlawful condemnation. He understood that all of His disciples would turn their cowardly backs on Him and that one of His closest friends would blatantly deny that he even knew Him - not once, but three times! Jesus knew that He would be brutally beaten and maliciously maligned. He fully comprehended the fact that before the sun set the next day He would be led to Golgotha, hung on a cross, and left to die for the sins of the world.
Yet look at what Jesus did:
The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:2-5).
Knowing all that He knew, Jesus, seated in a room filled with arrogant, argumentative disciples, got up from the table, laid aside His outward dignity, and washed their feet. How could He bring Himself to do such a menial task? How could he choose to humble Himself at such a time as this and do what only the least valuable of all servants would be expected to do? How could He so successfully accomplish what God had sent Him to do with such poise and dignity and confidence?
One phrase in the middle of this passage gives us the keys to Jesus' ability to succeed in a world that was filled with hostility and pain: "Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God" (verse 3).
JESUS UNDERSTOOD HIS AWESOME IDENTITY
Everyone in Israel knew Him as "Jesus of Nazareth." And everyone in Israel knew that Nazareth was not the greatest town in the world to be associated with. A Roman military barracks known for its boozing and brawling, it had absolutely no social prestige. As a matter of fact, when Philip ran to get his brother, Nathanael, so that he could introduce him to this man, "Jesus of Nazareth," whom he recognized as the Messiah, Nathanael responded, "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" (John 1:46). Nobody who was anybody would ever claim Nazareth as his hometown - most certainly not the Messiah!
But not only was Jesus looked down on because He was from Nazareth, He was snubbed because he had a lousy occupation. Mark 6:1-3 tells us that the people were offended that a carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon, would try to teach them anything. Who did He think He was anyway? He belonged back in the shop making benches with His brothers.
The crowds went even further in their disdain for Jesus. They accused Him of being born out of wedlock. "Illegitimate" is how they referred to Him in John 8:41. They knew that Mary was His mother, but they weren't convinced that Joseph was His father. (They certainly didn't know who His real Father was!)
The world Jesus lived in was also hostile toward His friendships. In Luke 15:2, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law angrily accused Him of welcoming sinners and eating with them. They even accused Him of being a friend of sinners - an accusation, by the way, which He never denied.
Nothing Jesus was or did was good enough to please the "important" people in His society. Yet He never let His identity destroy Him. That's because Jesus knew that He wasn't really from Nazareth. He knew that He was much more than a carpenter - and the son of Mary. He knew that there was nothing illegitimate about His birth. As a matter of fact, He knew that it had been legitimized by a host of heavenly angels. And he knew that His job was to take the message of salvation to people who recognized their need regardless of their background.
Despite what anyone said about Him, Jesus understood His true identity. He had "come from God" (John 13:3). He knew that ultimately-beyond anything anyone else could think or say about Him or His hometown or His upbringing or His friends - He was the Son of God!
JESUS UNDERSTOOD HIS INCREDIBLE DIGNITY
According to John 13:3, Jesus also "knew that the Father had put all things under his power." In other words, He knew what he was worth.
"Hold on a second," you say. "Jesus wasn't worth very much at all. Judas only got thirty pieces of silver for Him when he sold Him to the Pharisees (see Matthew 27:3). And Jesus didn't even own a house or a bed or anything! (see Luke 9:58). He was totally destitute if you ask me."
Yes, by worldly standards Jesus was not worth very much at all. But in God's eyes, He was worth everything! Jesus had lived and ministered through thirty-some tough years here on earth, and He had one horrific day yet to spend on it. But once He completed what God had asked Him to do, He knew that every single thing was going to be placed back under His control. He knew that He was more valuable to God than everything in this universe put together. And Jesus' dignity came from what He was worth to God - not what He was worth in the society that surrounded Him.
JESUS UNDERSTOOD HIS INDESTRUCTIBLE SECURITY
Jesus was able to wash His disciples' feet that horrible evening in Jerusalem for yet another reason. He knew without any doubt where He was headed when it was over.
Oh, did you think He was going to Gethsemane to be betrayed? Did you hear me say that He was headed to the courtrooms of Jerusalem to be tried and the courtyards of the palace to be denied? Wasn't He on His way to Golgotha to be crucified?
No, these were just uncomfortable stopping places on a much longer journey - a journey that would ultimately take Him back to His real home.
Jesus knew where He was really headed - all the way to the glories of heaven. Nothing, not even an insulting death on a cruel cross, could keep Him from reuniting with His real Father. Jesus' security in life lay in the knowledge of His ultimate destination. "He was returning to God" (John 13:3).
You see, God had prepared His Son to survive in a hostile environment. He had equipped Him with an awesome identity, an incredible dignity, and an indestructible security. That's how Jesus was able to walk into a room filled with arrogant, argumentative disciples, lay aside all His outward dignity, and wash their feet.
AN EXAMPLE FROM "THE SPACE RACE"
Back in the 1960s, in an effort to win what the world referred to as "The Space Race," NASA was faced with the challenge of putting a man on the moon before the Russians did. Though the moon appears so pleasant in the night sky, it is a very hostile place. On the side farthest from the sun, its surface reaches temperatures hundreds of degrees too cold for human survival. And on the side closest to the sun, it reaches temperatures that would toast a man in milliseconds.
Excerpted from STICKING UP FOR WHO I AM by Gwendolyn Mitchell Diaz Copyright © 2003 by Gwendolyn Diaz. Excerpted by permission.
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