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>Middle school is God’s preview for purgatory, in my humble opinion. Unless He meant it to be a taste of Hell, in which case: good job, God. It did the trick, I never want to go there.

During my time in Hell, I observed and people-watched so thoroughly that I created in my  mind a PhD dissertation outlining “How to Look Cool.” I knew how “the popular kids” got to their thrones, I understood why it worked for them but not everyone, and I would attempt to implement some subtleties in my own life to stay under par and above water.

Pre-teen Elizabeth avoided subscribing to the big “popularizers” like boasting really low cut shirts, wearing expensive clothes, treating people poorly, and throwing myself at guys (the voices of whom, let’s recall, were still changing). However, I would intentionally walk pigeon-toed.

(I don’t own the rights)

I have no clue why, don’t ask me, but this was a common trait among the popular girls: cute running sneakers, jeans, and a slightly deformed stride. I adopted it blindly.

It became a habit that I still have to correct consciously. Eleven-year-old Elizabeth fell so hard for the middle school message stating a self-conscious, cutesy way of walking would make her more valuable that her mark remains thirteen years later.

This mannerism sprung from a negative mindset, but everyday we can watch ourselves carryout helpful habits sprung from positive or necessary mindsets.

Those who have driven a manual car while sitting at a red light know that, with experience, the driver comes to know the exact moment to lift his or her foot off the clutch. You must teach yourself to pay attention, almost subconsciously, to the engine’s queues and you adjust immediately.

Much like middle school, the first twenty hours behind the wheel of a stick-shift car tests your patience and knocks you down several pegs. These cars are meant to build humility sand castles around your wimpy “driving skills.” Respect the clutch or the world will know what you’ve done.

We learn through our mistakes. In the manual car, no one can teach you to “know” the perfect time to shift; after some practice, your habits take over. In the decade following middle school, I looked down at my daily reminder of the futility of basing my happiness on how “the popular kids” see me.

Keep it smiley (I don’t own the rights)

Make making good habits a habit. The simplest but most fruitful guideline is “Am I Loving if I do this?”

If I get angry at this telemarketer and take it out on her, am I Loving? If I decide I need to teach a lesson to the white BMW who cut me off, am I Loving? When my younger sibling is annoying me by acting exactly as I did when I was his or her age and I just want to squash it out of them, would that be Loving? If I change myself just to appear cooler to the mob of popularity on the other side of the lockers, am I Loving?

We are called to treat all as Christ would. This includes ourselves.

We encounter “Hell” in middle school, develop new wisdom and talents in everyday life, stumble over reasons to be eternally happy, and crash into reasons to feel inconsolably sad constantly over the course of a lifetime.

Keep one constant among all of the variables: make good habits that stick around when you most need to use them.

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