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"As I gave up steering my own ship, I watched God miraculously open doors I had no business walking through; doors that I never could have opened on my own. "

  • Writer's pictureDenise Grace Gitsham



Keeping up with the Joneses

Long before I married into the Jones family, I tried, and failed, to keep up with them.

I grew up middle class, on an apple orchard, the only daughter of immigrants. My dad was a teacher and an enlisted Air Force retiree. My mom had a glamorous career in Taiwan, but chose to be a stay at home Tiger mom when I was born.

My parents drove used (American) cars, shopped at the Commissary on Base, and saved every penny they could, so that I could see, do, and experience everything my heart desired. We Gitshams embodied the American Dream, and our values reflected our priorities: family, hard work, and humility.

In third grade, however, something in me started to shift. Practically overnight, I went from being perfectly satisfied wearing hand-me-downs, to wanting only name brand clothes. I’d changed schools that year, from the quaint country schoolhouse I’d attended in the valley, to a new school in the city of Fairfield that attracted all of the “gifted and talented” students in our region.

My new classmates were very different from my old ones. They had fancy homes, their parents were lawyers and doctors, and most of them were well dressed and socialized. In stark contrast, my beloved previous classmates spoke English as a second language, wore hand-me-down-down-downs, and drove third-hand cars.

For the first time in my life, I felt inferior. So I made up for it by working hard in school, and my reward for straight As was brand name clothes. In a few short months, I became a walking advertisement for Guess?, Esprit, and Swatch, and felt like I finally fit in.

This scenario repeated itself in college, where I went from a large public high school in Northern California, to a small liberal arts college in Maine. Once again, my classmates looked, dressed, and talked differently than I did, and they all seemed to hail from one of four prep schools I’d never even heard of. I was immediately labeled “that Christian girl” by my classmates, and they didn’t seem to understand or care who I was or where I came from.

For the second time in my life, I felt inferior. Vastly inferior. But this time, switching to J. Crew and Patagonia didn’t do the trick. Nothing short of being a Mayflower descendent seemed to, and I couldn’t do anything about my lack of pedigree. So I took a different, more hands-on approach to solving my social woes.

By the second semester of my freshman year in college, I’d figured out how to make friends. Doing so, however, required me to compromise my morals and my faith. Tired of being a non-drinking Christian “outsider,” I become a walking billboard for college partying and moral relativism. All I wanted was acceptance, which I willingly traded for what mattered most: my self-respect, dignity, and God.

Shortly after graduating from college, I moved to Texas to work for then-Governor Bush’s Presidential campaign. This time, I had a whole new group of people to impress. I quickly assumed the most “Texan” look I could; big hair, fake nails, and lots of makeup. I guzzled queso and margaritas like it was my job, and joined the Southern Baptist church that everyone else attended. Everyone around me worshipped Jesus and Shiner, so I learned to do the same. I didn't even like beer, but I wanted to fit in, so I drank it even when it made me sick.

After I landed in DC to work for President Bush, I assumed yet another personality and look. In DC, I encountered money and power like I’d never before seen, and all I wanted was to be embraced by the impressive, brilliant, and worldly people I met. I started reading the Atlantic (then the Atlantic Monthly), John Updike, and Ayn Rand, so that I could talk with anyone about anything. I attended Embassy parties, immersed myself in DC’s social circles, and dated people who could get me further ahead in my career or social standing. I was lost, looking for an identity, and found one in a 24/7 work ethic, impressive titles, and a collection of Louis Vuitton purses and David Yurman jewelry.

I finally hit a breaking point in my chameleon-like tendencies, when I moved home to California at the age of 32. San Diego, in all its laid back, sunshine-y glory, offered a respite for my weary soul. I’d grown tired of keeping up with the Joneses, and was desperate for acceptance for who I was, rather than what I looked, spoke, dressed, or acted like. It took a few years to undo decades of programming, but as I turned towards God to discover His original design and purpose for my life, the desire I felt to be like everyone around me faded away.

With this newfound freedom to be “fully me,” came even greater blessings. As I stepped into my gifting and purpose, I discovered everything I was passionate – truly passionate – about. I dropped out of professional endeavors that were good for resume building but bad for the soul, switched friend groups from the “cool kids” to those who loved and supported who I was becoming, and felt truly liberated … from myself.

The relentless pursuit of my own soul positioned me to meet my husband, Josh Jones, a few years later. I laugh at the irony of my new name, and the fact that I’ve become one of the Joneses I’d worked so hard to keep up with! Now that I am one, I want the world to know that struggling to keep up with us is the single greatest impediment to finding satisfaction in life. Take it from this bona fide Jones: you’re way better off being you.

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wilde

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. - Galatians 1:10

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