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The war on perfection.

Perfection was always the goal. It was around fourth grade that people began going out of their way to teach me just how imperfect I was. We’d moved from New Orleans, Louisiana to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and I was starting at a brand new elementary school – but it wasn’t new to others. Everyone else had their friends, their circles, their inside jokes and I was simply the new girl… an instant outsider. I’d suddenly gone from having fun on the playground during recess at my old school to being taunted while everyone else played together against me. The real shame in this wasn’t their making fun of me – it was letting myself believe that they were right. And it became abundantly clear that if I wanted people to like me, I was going to have to be perfect.

But what was ‘perfect’? Skinny was perfect. Beautiful was perfect. Being funny was perfect. Perfect was this imaginary destination that no one expected me to ever be able to reach, myself included. Those freckles were not perfect. Those triangular chicken legs were not perfect, especially when compared to that imperfect chunkier stomach. That mole on my arm was not perfect. Those teeth were definitely not perfect! I always found myself missing some mark set by unrealistic standards. I can’t blame anyone for those standards. I think standards are a product of what we’re surrounded by and what we’re silently being taught while other’s sneer in our direction and judge us because we don’t look or sound or act like they do. I always felt like I was one word shy of the perfect joke or one straight tooth shy of the perfect smile and was never able to obtain this state of happiness rooted in popularity contests and social circles… because perfect was the destination and I was far from it.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve been able to understand things that happened to me when I was younger. I’ve been able to forgive people of the ways they hurt me. I know that most kids don’t understand the full extent of what they do. Had they known that I went home and cried, had they known how hard I tried to be someone they would like, maybe they would have treated me differently. But what I still found myself struggling with was trying to be perfect. I so strongly believed that I could never succeed at anything that I worked even harder to try and prove to other people that I could do it.

In 2009, I went to the Aveda Institute and got my cosmetology license. Before even graduating, I landed a job at one of the most well-known salons around. People in my class actually told me that I was wasting my time applying there because they would never hire someone like me; they only hire “blonde-haired barbies” was the term. In other words, I was too fat and not pretty enough… but I’d gotten the job! And I could not have been more proud or happier with myself. I honestly loved that job and that salon so much; I treasured the opportunity to grow and learn there. However, because I didn’t believe I was pretty enough or skinny enough to work there, I still found myself trying to overcompensate. I tried to be the perfect assistant, the perfect makeup artist, the perfect hairstylist, the perfect laundry folder, the perfect color room cleaner… I tried my hardest to be in at least three places at once at any given time that I worked myself to the bone. I worked myself so hard, it ended in a very serious back injury that took 8 months to recover from. And I still didn’t feel good enough. I felt as though I had to work a thousand times harder than anyone else there – just to prove that I belonged. I fell into a bad depression after injuring my back.

Although I had forgiven those kids all those years ago for hurting me, I hadn’t let go of all of those imperfections. And in my mind, it cost me the job and opportunity of my dreams…

Recently, as I’ve been redefining success for myself, I’ve been trying to open my heart to healing as well. Part of that healing started to come when I came across a scripture in the Amplified version of the Bible that really struck my soul. I mean, I read this scripture over and over and each time, it cut me a little deeper with the freedom of understanding.

“You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48

The word ‘perfect’ always catches my attention, as you can probably imagine, seeing as I’ve tried to live a lifetime of being perfect. But what struck me the most was the word that followed: growing. You see, I love the Amplified version because it breaks down the actual definition of certain words used in scripture. This term ‘perfect’ didn’t mean a state of being, it didn’t mean some final destination or that someone has it all together. The first word following ‘perfect’ is growing. This term ‘perfect’ means growth. Oh, I wish you could feel the fire in my bones every time I type it! Perfection is not a destination. Perfection is growth. It’s growing into the complete person that God has called me to be and the only way to do that is to find myself in Him. That’s it. There is absolutely no one thing that can make God love me more. There is no amount of work that I can put in to earn His love. It just is. It just exists. It’s there. To Him, I am perfect. Why? Because I’m continually growing in Him, in Who He is and in how much He loves me.

I know I’m not alone in this journey of perfection. I know so many people struggle with wanting to be perfect. If you’re one of those people, please read these words carefully and let them settle deep into your heart: ‘perfect’ is not a destination. ‘Perfect’ is growing. As long as you are growing as a person, you’re perfect. Lose yourself in the Love that freely pours out for you. It’s there. It does not matter who you are, what you’ve done, where you’ve come from, where you think you’re going – it’s always there. And it is a perfect Love because in that Love, you will find yourself growing into who God has created you to be, whether you know it or not. You don’t have to wrestle. You don’t have to war for Love. God has already made war for your perfect, growing heart.

Beautiful things can grow here.

sunflowers in frisco

It’s so funny to me how the smallest things can have the biggest meanings and memories in our lives. Hurricane Katrina, for example, was an awful time for us in southern Louisiana. It was a time of devastation and loss and hopefully lessons learned… but that’s not what stands out in my memory about it. We were living in Baton Rouge at the time, so we did not experience the destruction that New Orleans did (although we still got a beating from the storm). Our family in New Orleans was able to get out in time and head to Atlanta (which was a hardship in its own right but that’s not my story to tell). Once the storm passed, both of my aunts came back to Baton Rouge and stayed with us for a little while until it was certain they could get back into New Orleans.

My mom and I went with one of my aunts back to her home not too long after the storm was over. When I say that it was unreal… that’s only because I cannot find words to describe to you just how unsettling and disturbing it was. I have not traveled to a third world country (yet) but from what I’ve seen in videos and pictures, New Orleans after Katrina was not very far from one. Army tanks lined streets and FEMA trailers filled parking lots and empty fields. Pieces of the city that I’d grown up with were shut off and the parts that were open were covered in fallen branches and the debris of someone’s lifetime of memories. Refrigerators and freezers were thrown at the end of driveways. Boats were caught up in trees in the middle of streets. It was eerie to see the water lines stained along the sides of houses as the water settled and then receded and settled and then receded again and again, my old childhood home included. Sometimes the water lines would be all the way up to the roof and I would have to ask myself how anyone could survive that. Can you imagine your home completely submerged in water? It still gives me chills to think about.

But the most unsettling image was that “x” the army left on the windows of every home after they explored it. I can’t remember what every space stood for now but the bone-chilling one I do remember is how many dead they found when searching the home. I couldn’t believe that this was where I grew up. It didn’t look anything like my childhood recollections any more.

Despite all of the devastation and desolation, there’s still something else that stands out in my mind even more: the entire city was covered in sunflowers. I didn’t understand why at first and then it hit me – it was from all of the bird feeders left out during the storm. Bird feed usually has sunflower seeds in it and the storm had blown them everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere! As we walked around a family friend’s broken and destroyed home, I could see the sunflowers growing tall in their backyard and it was such an important reminder to me that in the midst of tragedy, beautiful things can grow. It didn’t matter where those seeds had been thrown; it didn’t matter who was going to water them. They took root in the middle of that storm, in the depths of the ground, and as the rain poured down, it provided them with enough water to grow strong. They didn’t worry about the sun finding them now that they were buried in a different place… regardless of the circumstances of that storm, they bloomed right where they were planted. And it was truly a striking, life-changing memory for me.

Although we did not have a hurricane like Katrina here in Frisco, in the beginning of the summer we had unexplainable rain storm after unexplainable rain storm. No one understood it. They seemed to come out of nowhere. The storms have been over for a few months here now but there are lakes that are still closed off because the water is not going down. And to my most wonderful surprise, the city is now covered in sunflowers. What an amazing reminder to my blooming heart: beautiful things can grow here. Beautiful things can grow in me. Beautiful things can grow in you – even if you feel like these storms might overtake you. Take root in God and let Him shower the seeds He’s planted in you. Beautiful things will grow.

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30