Have you ever had someone stare you down? Not even a friendly stare; just a look that makes you feel like you don’t belong. Some would tell me if I just did this or that, not so many people would do that to me, but I disagree.

Some people say my life is dull and not worth living. Honestly, that’s just a matter of opinion because I don’t think so at all. Although it’s had its moments, life has treated me pretty well. I am better off than many Americans, to say the least.

Being different just comes natural to me. All my life, I was raised in a Pentecostal church. Like most Pentecostals, I stand out. At one point, my hair was to my knees before I grew a few inches. I live by all the Pentecostal standards. My life pretty much revolves around church, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being different makes my life very colorful.

 

I think the most challenging thing about being different is convincing people I am not forced to be how I am; it is out of choice. Many people think I am the way I am out of force, but I choose to be this way. I could abandon my church and my religion, but I choose to stay where I am. It is my choice—not my parents’—although they play a big role in what I choose to do with my life.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I have a dream. A dream that people understand we should not try to be somebody else but to believe in ourselves. I remember a time in my life when everyone seemed to try to be like one person because she was pretty and funny, and mainly, she was popular. I would try to fix my hair in a fancy hairstyle every day and carefully choose all my outfits to make sure I was noticed. Then one day someone in my class wrote a story on how we should not try to be someone else. I remember it saying we should not try to act like someone else because everybody is different in their own special way, and we should not try to change our uniqueness.

When I just heard that story, my eyes stung with tears, but I told myself I would not cry in front of my entire class. So throughout the next few days, I tried to look as little like her as possible. I dressed in what I wanted to wear, not something she would have picked out. I would just pull my hair in a ponytail, not caring what anybody thought about me. During my time trying to be popular, I was ashamed to wear a skirt. I convinced myself that was the reason everyone stared at me. So I focused on my shirt because my parents would not let me walk out of the house in a pair of pants. I would find my most stylish shirt and wear a pretty scarf or watch to accessorize so I would be more noticed and less plain-looking. Now, I realize that was a mistake.

Throughout this time my family thought I was just wanting to dress up every day because I wanted to, not because I was trying to become more popular. I remember my mom telling me we don’t wear a t-shirt every day because we are different. At the time, I didn’t know my mom was starting to put the pieces together. She soon figured out the reason I was getting up early every morning to fix my hair just right and wear pretty clothes was not just because I wanted to. In fact, I didn’t really like to dress up. I only dressed up for church, and that was it. Now, my mom was starting to catch on. I had a whole lecture by both of my parents telling me I should not try to dress like someone else. They said I was beautiful whether I walked out the door in the morning in a t-shirt or a frilly dress.

Now that I understand what my mom was trying to tell me, I have tried to convince people who get called names like stupid and idiots, that they’re not. They are beautiful inside and out. I have come across people who get depressed from getting called these names. A girl I know has tried to have attention drawn to herself by having several boyfriends at a time, mentally and physically hurting herself, and even once trying to take her own life. I think these people are the people we need to focus on.

Being different, people say I am good with words, and I can give people hope. If that’ s my talent, I want to use it. The Bible says we should love people no matter their circumstance. If we can show people they have purpose in this life, we can give them peace, joy, and love. And to me, that’s what life is all about. Being different is not something to be ashamed of. It’s just one of those qualities we have. It’s not about being someone else; it’s about being yourself. I think that was the message my mom was trying to deliver to me.

Being Pentecostal is not something to be ashamed of—it’s who I am. My pastor once said in one of his messages that being Pentecostal isn’t something bad. It’s the best thing there is, and we should rejoice for having God’s grace. So if we can convince people that life will throw curveballs at us, but God will be us through the hard times and the good, then we Pentecostals will have fulfilled our mission, and we can change lives forever.

This article was originally published as an essay by Whitney Flanigan, which earned her second place out of over 4,500 essays. As of this essay, Whitney Flangan is a seventh grade student at Orangefield Junior High School in Orange, Texas. She attends Pinehurst Pentecostal Church in Orange, Texas where W.W. Smith is her pastor. The newspaper story covering her essay is below.