By Tom Zuniga: Though blessed by a fantastic family with loving parents, my journey beyond their front door has been long and treacherous.  As an introvert, that’s okay some of the time, if not most. But it’s still hard.

I didn’t have many friends growing up. I was the smart, shy guy in high school. Forced to suffer through acne’s onslaught, I felt overwhelming shame from the attention that came with simply opening my mouth. Of course I wanted friends, but I wanted to be ignored too.

I wasn’t loud enough, athletic enough, funny enough, or vulgar enough for friends. This was my reality. My normal.  Needless to say, I was ecstatic to graduate and leave high school’s halls far behind.

Moving into the dorm of a small college drove me to tears, however; I had no idea how to connect with the other guys in my suite or with my fellow students in general.  And even after I eventually started experiencing friendship, I felt called to move closer to home after my freshman year. I was simultaneously saddened and relieved to cease the process of relationship-building and the stress that often accompanied it.

Returning home to a large state university, I retreated into a safe, secluded, relationship-less hole. Grades were my thing, not people. Scoring high on tests was how God had gifted me ─ how I found fulfillment. Not with friendship. Not with community.  And not with love.  I believed I wasn’t good enough for those things.

That inadequacy defined so much of my life from then on.  I sought out church groups, but my insecurities raged over my relational ineptitude.  I tried for a desperate change and moved two-thousand miles across the country, but was still left feeling isolated and incapable.

At 24, I felt like a pathetic infant unable to transition from milk to meals, from crawl to toddle.  I didn’t know where to find community or how to even do it. I was socially incompetent.

It took the love and grace of others to finally change things.   Last summer I worked with a youth missions organization and met some of the most genuine people I’ve ever met.  I experienced violent seesaws of relational hope and hopelessness, and was a broken mess by the second week.

One night my fellow staffers, sensing my turmoil, gathered around me, and I exposed the deepest, darkest chasms of my soul.  I wept bitter tears into each of their necks, feeling deeply loved by friends for the first time. Their support was immediate and constant, beyond anything I’d ever experienced with others. Beyond any semblance of love I’d ever thought possible for me.

For 24 years, I’d lived beyond the reach of community’s taunting ─ and loving ─ arms.   But I’m finally mending the scars of fractured friendship and embracing my desire to be sheathed in community’s arms once again.  With the help of community, I’m done with shame, and no longer believe I’m beyond the scope of friendship and love.

I am, indeed, good enough.