Face of a Stranger

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    I stared at my reflection in the mirror. Without warning, the color of my skin no longer mattered to me. I’m Jennifer, a child of God.

    My family and I moved to Layton, Utah, from Georgia during my senior year in high school. As a black teenager, I hated the thought of moving. I liked it in Georgia where I fit in quite well with my peers. The idea of attending a different school in a very white community didn’t appeal to me, even though I was a member of the Church. When I arrived in Utah, adjusting to life there took a great deal of time, and I only managed to make a few friends.

    One night I was paired up with a guy my friend and her boyfriend set up with me. I would have enjoyed the night more if my date hadn’t said his parents would freak if they knew he was out with a black girl. His words hurt, but I hid it well. I’ve hid a lot of my feelings.

    After graduation, I began to hang around three girls who weren’t LDS. As our friendship grew, I started smoking. I felt like life had no meaning, so I didn’t care that what I was doing was wrong. I couldn’t understand why I was on the earth, and figured I was probably better off dead. After a while, we went our separate ways and I vowed I would never smoke again. But many of my other feelings didn’t change.

    I knew I wanted to marry in the temple and raise a family but wondered if I would get the chance. It was rather annoying when people I knew would become engaged, leaving me to question if I would ever get a date in this lifetime.

    I wanted to blame the way I felt on something, so I blamed it on the color of my skin. It was stupid of me, I know. But I figured it was the only reason I didn’t have many friends.

    By the time I was 20, I wanted to change. I decided to fix my appearance. I lost a little weight and bought new clothes and glasses. I found it helped me feel better about myself. But the actual change started when I began attending the single-adult ward and decided to go to college. This gave me the confidence that I could do things I had been too shy or scared to do before.

    One day in sacrament meeting, my bishop spoke about the importance of attending church, the importance of paying tithing, reading scriptures, and praying. I felt the Spirit so strongly that I had no doubt the Church was true. It was at this time I decided to read the Book of Mormon.

    For a month, I read my scriptures every night. Afterward, I would pray. I continued to pay my tithing and attend church, and I received a calling in the ward. My life couldn’t have been happier.

    One day I looked in the mirror and stared at my reflection. “I’m pretty,” I said to the image before me. Tears welled up in my eyes that suddenly seemed to be looking at things differently. I saw myself, but it was as if I were looking at the face of a stranger. The fact I saw myself differently filled me with a happiness I can’t describe.

    Without warning, the color of my skin no longer mattered to me. I’m Jennifer, a child of God. If God can love me, then I can learn to love myself, I thought. I now understand why they say you have to love yourself before you can show love to others. Today I can say I’m proud to be black. Four years ago I couldn’t even say it, much less mean it.

    My promise now is to live the gospel and put my trust in God. After all, he’s given me the thing I needed most—a sense of my own worth.

    [photo] Photography by Matt Reier