Open Mouth, Insert Car


It only took one conversation to show me how ridiculous it was to give in to pride.

“Nice pants,” a girl giggled as she walked past me into class. I stood in the hallway of my new junior high school, confused by her sarcasm.

“What’s wrong with my clothes?” I whispered to myself.

It didn’t take me long to figure it out. In this school, designer clothes were the standard, and my jeans didn’t have the right label. I just didn’t fit in.

As the unkind comments grew, so did my feelings of inferiority. Along with my schoolwork, I started studying the other students’ styles. Time and new clothes helped end the teasing. Yet I still spent hours worrying that I didn’t measure up.

My craving to feel accepted continued into high school, where luxury cars in the student parking lot were a common sight. I would rather have been seen careening through the halls in a baby buggy than caught driving our family car. It was a minivan, old and turquoise. A recent accident supplied the final touch—a white hood. The van reminded me of a blue-and-white suede loafer, so I named it Old Blue Shoe.

Since I walked to school, Old Blue Shoe didn’t concern me much—that is, until my parents bought a new car and offered me the ancient vehicle. Was I grateful for something to drive? Hardly—I’d rather walk.

A short time later in history class, my teacher assigned a joint research project. Instead of the usual disappointment, though, I was overjoyed—my teacher had announced that Rick and I would be in the same group. Not only was Rick one of the smart kids, but he was also seminary president and an athlete. This was my chance to impress him, to prove that I could fit in with the popular kids. Before class ended, we’d agreed to do our work at the university library. Then I walked home, smiling the whole way.

That night, my parents dropped me off at the library so I wouldn’t have to drive the van. But I cringed when my parents said, “Get a ride home from one of your friends, okay?”

The library research time flew by, and I felt relieved when Rick offered to take me home. We walked down the library stairs and outside, talking about school. As we reached the parking lot, my insecure feelings poked at me, and I felt the need to explain why I was reduced to begging for rides. “My parents bought a new car and offered me their van,” I said, “but it was this ugly dinosaur, and, you know …” I shrugged, hoping to suggest I was too stylish to ride in a car like that.

I wondered why Rick got so quiet. He pulled out his keys and stopped in front of his car. The reason for his silence hit like Old Blue Shoe’s ghost on a rampage. It was a blue minivan—a newer model, but otherwise identical to the car I’d just ridiculed.

My stomach dropped. I opened the car door and slid into the seat, wishing I could hide in the glove box instead. I wanted to apologize, explain that his car was nice, in much better shape than my parent’s van. Yet I was too mortified to say a single word.

Rick didn’t speak either, except to ask for directions to my house. He pulled up to my curb, then left with a simple “Bye.”

My face burned with humiliation as I walked to my front door. Worse, I knew I deserved every bit of my embarrassment. I went inside and sank onto the couch to think. Until that night, I’d thought self-confidence came from appearance. Although my comment bothered Rick, driving that car didn’t. He had an assurance based not on looks, but an internal quality I lacked.

I realized I’d wasted years studying the “in” crowd, when I should have been working on what was inside. I wanted to change, to be more like Rick—a person who could have a “bad car day” without letting it ruin my feelings of self-worth.

I made a goal to stop just following others and try to become more like our Savior, Jesus Christ. As I looked to Him, I began to gain a confidence based not on how I looked, but how I served.

I learned a secret I wish I’d known before Rick gave me that ride home. I was much happier when I spent my time thinking of others instead of worrying about what they thought of me.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh