I’m A Two-Bit Dud … and Smiling Ear-to-Ear!

December 29, 2010 | 30 comments

For two years straight, I didn’t smile with an open mouth. More accurately, I tried not to.

I had a mouthful of crooked, crowded teeth. Imagine a picket fence rearranged by a wildly errant bicyclist — or a Mack truck. That’s what my teeth looked like. Or that’s what I thought anyhow.

I had postponed orthodontic care for years, because in my heightened state of teenage self-awareness, braces seemed even more unattractive than crooked teeth. I didn’t want to trade in my picket fence for barbed-wire. That’s what we perfectionists do in America, The Land of Just-So. We weigh our options, deciding which one — in the end — will make us look best.

By my junior year of high school, I gave in. Which meant that I would be wearing braces for my senior pictures. Which meant that I would, under no circumstances, open my mouth to smile for the photographer.

(Though, somehow, I had no trouble wearing three-inch tall bangs and acid-wash jeans.)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a high-achieving, approval-seeking people pleaser.

Back in sixth-grade, I first hear the word “perfectionist.” My English teacher wrote me a note that served as a harbinger.

“You have a perfectionist quality in you that I so often see as a great asset,” she wrote. “Beware of it, however, and try to always view things with an open mind. After all, there will always be tomorrow.”

Trouble was, I wanted to be the best TODAY.

Try, try, try
as I might, I never felt I was the best at anything. That’s what perfectionists in this practice-makes-perfect culture do. We race past the goal of achieving excellence, in a vain search for being number-one.

Truth is, I’ve never been a superstar anything. There’s always been a better writer, a better student, a better cook, a better adjunct journalism professor.

Not-Good-Enough can shackle. It can keep a perfectionist sidelined, with her lips pursed tight so no one sees the crooked mess she really is. Our just-right mantra is this: “If I can’t do it right, then I won’t do it at all.”

But in the midst of my own “I-can’t,” I have been learning the art of “Oh, yes He can.”

Perfection is so yesterday.

I guess you could say I’m in recovery. I’m not cured, but I’m letting go — shedding perfection like a 1980s hairdo.

For years, friends of mine have picked a word to define their year. Just one single word.

For the first time ever, I’ve got mine. For 2011, my word is this: Imperfect.

Roget’s synonyms for the word “imperfect” sting hard. I typed the word into the online thesaurus. Up popped these words:

Below par.
A schlocky, two-bit dud.

Oh yeah, Roget?

Well, get this: My Creator sees imperfect,
and He declares me good.
Very good.

It’s almost 2011. This recovering perfectionist is clinging to a God capable of delivering her from the curse of Not-Good-Enough.

In Christ, I am free to be me.

I am still going to do my best, because God wants us to be people of excellence for His glory.

But when I fall short of perfection (and I know I will) I’m going to laugh at myself more, cut myself some slack, and risk falling flat on my face (or flat on my back) in the name of adventure.

And I am going to put on some big, bug-eyed glasses — and maybe even a pair of cheesy acid-wash jeans. I’m going to open my mouth wide, throw my arms wildly to the sky and I’m going to SMILE.

Because this is the year of Imperfect.

(Mom and Dad — Thanks for the paying the ortho bills.)

“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
— Galatians 1:10

Each Wednesday, I join Ann Voskamp for her Walk With Him Wednesday series. This Wednesday, she asks us to name the New Year. What’s your word?

by | December 29, 2010 | 30 comments


  1. Deb

    Imperfect … can be a great word when we see what God can do with it. Love this post! We had a perfectly imperfect Christmas at our house this year!

  2. Sandra Heska King

    Perfect word!

  3. S. Etole

    I like this …

  4. Ann Kroeker

    My goodness, the "schlocky, two-bit dud" was quite harsh!

    It is such relief to know that my imperfect, chipped-up, cracked, scratched and broken self is loved in that state. Any perfection comes straight from the Lord who loves me.

  5. Andrea

    AMEN, sweet friend. Through my imperfections HE shines brightly.

  6. Jennifer @ Getting Down With Jesus

    Deb — And you know, the first Christmas was that way, too. Rather "imperfect," what with the feed trough and all. 🙂

    Sandra and S. Etole — Thank you, dear friends!

    Ann Kroeker — Yeah. I know. Some of the other harsh words for imperfect included:

    I think this is proof that our culture — even our language — doesn't know what to do with less-than-perfect. We set the bar so high. We tune out God, and we listen to the glossy pages of Teen magazine and Victoria's Secret instead. I wonder if even our language sends the message that anything less than perfect just isn't good enough.

    Julia — I'll be over to check out your word. Cool!

    Andrea — So right, you are. In our weakness, we make room for God's strength.

  7. Melissa @ Breath of Life

    Great word. I'm a recovering perfectionist myself…so I could use this one.

    Mine for this year is GIVE. Come visit & check it out.

  8. amy

    *sniffle* *wipe* *swallow*

    jennifer, might i tell you that this post took my breath away?

    imperfect with you,
    and how sorrowful yet delightful those synonyms are,
    that He takes us as we are,
    and pieces us back together.

    i would hug you if i could 🙂

  9. Debra

    I read this today … "God isn't in love with some future version of you." And it struck me. Wow! I know that which you write of and God continues to work on it in me. Isn't He great! Claiming perfect in His eyes, the One Who counts with you!

  10. Peggy Arteberry

    Gorgeous smile! I've always wanted pretty teeth!

  11. A Simple Country Girl

    Miss Jennifer, Inquiring minds want to know how much hairspray you used on a weekly basis back in the day?

    I rarely give a toothy grin as my cheeks plump and spill over into my eye sockets and I look like I have slits for eyes. It's a grande thing that we are the very people God made us to be, crooked teeth, plump cheeks and all!

    By the way, I loved this story! Psst…while you had lots of hair, I barely had any. And what I did have I spiked with gel and colored with dye. Gotta love the 80's 😉


  12. Dionna

    I love your word for the year. 🙂

  13. David Rupert

    Love your pearly whites! Thank your ma/pa for me! Your smile and your attitude brighten the world. And I'm with you on the imperfect side of things!

  14. Carol

    Well, in this year of imperfections, I am struggling with my front teeth. 35 years later and I am having implants. It is hard to sing and laugh and smile and speak with these temporary teeth, but I am going to do my best and know that HE and a lot of others love me just the way I am!

  15. Jeanne Damoff

    Love this. I can't believe you still have (and could lay your hands on) a note from your sixth grade teacher. Very Type-A of you, Miss Recovering Perfectionist. 😉

    Hmmm. I've never named my year before. It seems far too serious and important a matter to take lightly. I'll have to give this some thought.
    Meanwhile, I hope you have tons o' fun shedding perfection!

  16. Carey

    Great word…I'll have to think on that one!

  17. papa&nanaT

    REUNION is my word.(with my imperfect family) of course. Some I have not seen or heard of for years. It is so wonderful knowing that we are all imperfect and dysfunctional and we still can meet again and love each other just as we are, unconditionally. God is waiting to love us just the way we are and what a REUNION that will be for me.

  18. papa&nanaT

    REUNION is my word.(with my imperfect family) of course. Some I have not seen or heard of for years. It is so wonderful knowing that we are all imperfect and dysfunctional and we still can meet again and love each other just as we are, unconditionally. God is waiting to love us just the way we are and what a REUNION that will be for me.

  19. Lyla Lindquist

    Eh, not imperfect. You just have "a few bugs."

    That's what my friend the online thesaurus says, anyway. I was going to be smart and write you a comment using all of the words in the "imperfect" listing but, well, something was amiss. It turned out to be pretty bottom of the barrel.

    But when I looked a little further to the antonyms section, I left that defective work unfinished. Because look at this:

    Antonyms: excellent, faultless, finished, perfect, pure, unblemished, unflawed.

    Imperfect? You bet you are. (Me too, with sheep poo in my stilettos today, even.) But guess what He sees when He looks at you?

    I guess maybe He's a little cross-eyed too?

  20. Angie Vik

    That's quite a hair-do you're sporting. How long did it take to fix your hair like that? I've had basically the same hair style since second grade. I enjoyed your post.

  21. Shaunie Friday--Up the Sunbeam

    I'm so with you on the asset/affliction of perfectionism! I also get caught in the "If I can't do it right, then I won't do it at all" loop–ugh! Thank you for this post, for reminding me to both pursue excellence for His glory and cut myself some slack when my imperfections show–it's inevitable. I didn't write a Walk With Him post today for fear I wouldn't follow through on my word for the year and be imperfect before the year even starts. However, the word I want to superimpose over all of this year is ABIDE.

  22. Andrea

    what a great word. It will change your life I am sure.I love how you looked it up in Roget's.
    I love your senior picture. Unfortunately, I identify all too well with your big bangs!

  23. Arianne

    Wow, this sounds all so familiar. I didn't realize that I had these qualities until a few years ago. The phrase "If it can't do it right, then I won't do it at all"~~Well I've fallen into ~~if it won't stay done, then why bother….like housework…or even my faith sometimes.
    Loved the photo….must be about the same age as me….although my hair wasn't as long! :o) but just as high!!
    My words for the new year are 'no fear' …'gratefulness'….
    Great post Jennifer!!

  24. Nancy

    That, my friend, is some seriously large hair! I wasn't smiling in my senior picture either–my orthodontist having decided I needed to keep my braces on for six more weeks. In the words of Napoleon Dynamite, he pretty much ruined my life. Haven't found my word yet for this year–maybe it's delinquent? Or maybe I'll just be imperfect alongside you and so many other lovely folks I've met out here in blog world. Happy New Year!

  25. Linda

    Love that picture Jennifer!
    I understand – oh how I understand. I cannot tell you how many times I've complained to the Lord that I'm just so mediocre – never excelling at anything.
    This one nails me. Thank you for your open heart and thanks for sharing this.

  26. Jennifer

    I love this. As a fellow recovering perfectionist, I totally relate! God has used me so much more as "imperfect" than He ever has when I tried to be perfect. Here's to your Year of Imperfect

  27. B His Girl

    Your post reminds me things can get better with the right tools. I pray we let God stamp His approval of us in our hearts. Sometimes we need to quit looking at ourselves in the mirror. We will always see something wrong. Happy New Year Jennifer! Blessings, b

  28. Bob Gorinski

    Great work! And comments here.
    I won't say perfect…

    Rockin' the Bon Jovi hair, back in the day!

    Thanks Jennifer.

  29. Craig Finnestad

    Close to perfect. I may use it for my column some weekend, like next weekend.

    I forgot about the big hair and groovy jeans. I also forgot who the middle school English teacher was – maybe Mrs. Kay?

    Anyway…thanks. That was wonderful.



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