I’m a What?!

The best compliment you could’ve given to my 16-year-old-self was by far:

“You’re normal!”

Maybe this goes for most teenagers, but I think the word “normal” holds even more power for those among us who were (whisper this) homeschooled. As one of those people, at the ripe old age of sixteen, I could spot them coming a mile away. There was something about the way homeschooled kids dressed that told you. Maybe it had a little bit to do with how they interacted with adults. That’s a pretty good give-away, too.

But I won’t go so far as to say that it is the actual homeschooling that makes people different – sure, it has its ability to shape us, as all experiences do – but I think its the kind of people who choose to homeschool that has even more to do with that difference.

What was I most afraid of growing up? Being different, sure. But even above that, I was afraid of being weak, afraid of seeming like I couldn’t handle life.

That was one of the biggies.

[Oh, also the part about being unlovable. Whew. That took a lot of my brain time in high school.]

So, in an effort to seem like I had it together, I assumed a posture of higher-than-thou. Everything was a competition. Everything mattered. And I wasn’t about to let my cards show. I held people at a good distance, because opening up and letting people know me looked a little too much like weakness, and I wanted to win!

You know that friend who will always be special because he or she spoke truth into something you didn’t even know needed it?

I have one of those friends. It was my sophomore year of college, and I was fairly happy. I liked my classes, I loved singing, and I had recently learned the art of witty banter with the opposite sex (witty banter, for me, can sometimes turn into slightly mean teasing – I was working on the logistics).

I don’t remember what started the conversation, but I do remember what he said to me in the car:

It’s not like you really let people get to know you.

I had no idea what he was talking about. I dropped him off and parked the car and thought about it all day until I couldn’t take it anymore and called him and made him meet me at the dining hall and sit across from me, look me in the eye, and say (and I quote):

Catherine, I don’t know how to say this, but sometimes you come across as a b****.

I blinked hard. He looked down at his very white hands and seemed sad.

But he was right. In all my years of trying to be strong, I had crafted for myself a woman who didn’t put up with bullshit (I usually try not to swear, but please, allow me this apt phrasing). I didn’t put up with it, and I didn’t care for people who did. I cloaked myself in smart words and flashing eyes, and, like he said, sometimes I came across as a b****.

Back in my dorm on the hill, I didn’t know how to change this fact. I hadn’t even known it until that evening, and I looked at the past few years and felt shame. Shame at my pride. Shame at my ignorance. Shame at how I had treated people.

I also felt gratitude. Even in the midst of this, this man had chosen me as a friend, and had looked me in the eye and told me the truth.

Now, perhaps, some would say that I have gone too far in the other direction. I’m pretty open about my struggles, about what I’m thinking and feeling (sorry, guys!). It can be overwhelming sometimes, I know, because since that night it is as though my emotions have (blossomed? exploded? what is the right word?!), and that can be a lot for those of us who tend to be more cerebral.

It can be tough, but I would choose this way of being over the former any day.

I praise God for friends who know when to speak and when not to speak. I praise God for speaking through them. And I can tell you that the pain you feel when you listen can’t compare with the joy of growth afterwards.