Moving Beyond Mediocrity: You Are Worth It

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She watched my every move. She noticed. My daughter saw me open presents—for my birthday, for an anniversary, for no reason at all. Small token gifts from my husband, even purchases I had made for myself—a piece of costume jewelry in my favorite color, a pair of jeans that fit perfectly, a pair of socks. I would open them, set them aside, and then return them. Even the jeans that fit perfectly.

I told myself and my family that I didn’t need another “whatever it was.” I said the real gift would be to save the money for some future, never-to-be-taken dream vacation. I told myself I was being a good steward, and while those excuses had a seed of truth, it was my young daughter who saw deeper.

"Mommy, why do you return all those pretty things? That present from Daddy – he picked it out for you. Don't you think he wanted you to have it?"

Her big brown eyes and her wise words pierced my heart. She was right. I wasn’t returning the gifts because I wanted to be a good steward. I was returning the gifts because I didn't think I deserved them. I was rejecting my husband’s acts of love and care, the very actions I once fantasized a perfect marriage would include, because I thought of myself unworthy of that kind of love, that kind of excellence.

That misinterpretation of my own worth spilled into other areas of my life, too. I had a history of misunderstanding what the pursuit of excellence was really about.

In high school, my teachers Mrs. Umlauf, Ms. Johnson, Mr. Studt and Mr. Ciske encouraged me to write and speak; they assigned short stories, essays, speeches, poetry, children’s stories, anything. Just write. Tell stories. And they were right to push me. I won awards for journalism. My public speaking skills helped me win state competitions and scholarships.

But I didn’t see the connection between my own sense of worth and pursuing excellence. My writing and speaking didn’t feel like a gift. Not to me. It was a burden. The push toward excellence seemed like it was all about the grades I received, and the good grades were just a ticket into college so I could have a successful career to support my parents. In fact, I resented my immigrant parents for demanding more from me because I thought they were asking me to prove my worth for their sacrifice. And I didn’t feel worthy. It was easier to resent my parents and to think I was just writing my way to college because the alternative—that my teachers and my parents saw the potential for excellence—was unnerving, uncomfortable, and perhaps sinful.

What kind of Christian thinks she can be excellent? What kind of person thinks she deserves excellence?

Eventually, I had to take a long, painful look in the mirror. Somehow I had twisted pursuing excellence, even receiving excellence, into arrogance. I had told myself I wasn’t worth excellent love. In refusing to be loved, though, I had twisted my husband’s gifts into a hurtful refusal. And though I had convinced myself I was being humble, a good steward, the truth was, I was being arrogant and selfish. I was not living fully into the gifts and skills God had given me. I was telling God the talents he gave me were not worth pursuing, not worth honing and sharpening, not worth my time and effort.

Instead of receiving humbly the gifts from my husband as well as from my God, I settled for a less-than-average love and life.

Recently, God again used my daughter to push me a little further on this issue. I had been wrestling with her desire to pursue dancing in college because I thought she was wasting her academic talent for something she would eventually have to give up. Then, I saw her first piece of choreography, and I was breathless. Her work showed a depth and maturity she could only express through movement. Finally, I understood fully what I had only seen dimly.

As I watched her perform, I imagined her as a young girl dancing and enjoying the moment, and God showed me the potential for excellence in this now-mature woman. God was showing me that His love is extravagant and His gifts of talent and skill are worth our time and His glory. All along, He was offering me a full life, and like the son who squandered his share of the inheritance, I had wanted to live with the pigs.

So my heart has moved. I still request gifts be bought on sale, but I do not return them unless it’s because the jeans truly don’t fit. And I write. Sometimes I write for myself—reflections, journals, devotions—but more often I am submitting my work to the scrutiny and skill of an editor in hopes that my writing also will move from mediocrity to excellence.

Kathy Khang is a freelance writer, blogger, speaker, and co-author of More Than Serving Tea (IVP, 2006). Kathy also is a regional multiethnic director with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and absentee member of two book clubs. You can connect with her on Twitter @mskathykhang.

Image by Chiara Cremaschi. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

Moving Beyond Mediocrity

This article is part of our series, Moving Beyond Mediocrity. How often in your daily life do you think, “I wish I could do better”? It’s the feeling you get when you realize you aren’t really trying. Your job, your family, even your hobbies: they are worth working harder. But what does it take to move beyond mediocrity? How do you quit using your education, your upbringing, your circumstances, even your faith, as an excuse to keep you from doing your best? Join us as we discuss giving it our all in our workplaces and our homes, in our communities and our churches, for the common good and for the glory of God. Also, consider inviting others to join you by sharing these stories via email, Facebook, Twitter, or networks you are part of.