Religion doesn't make you a nice person. It doesn't make you holy. It doesn't even take away the person you were before you were religious -- There is no being born again; that is a concept foreign to Judaism which in my opinion does not make much sense. My hopes with regard to becoming religious were that by learning Torah, and that by submitting myself to a higher power, that somehow I would be protected and shielded from chaotic tragedies this world deals out to people. Nature has a terrible sense of humour; I became religious to transcend nature.
What affects me about being religious are the judgments people make of me because of how I look. It sometimes causes me to wonder why people don't look beyond the beard and realize that there is versatile person here. I am not a rabbi, nor am I simply a bearded face. I am a friendly person with magnitudes of complex levels of thoughts, ideas, and emotions who grasped the concept and understood that if I have an obligation to my creator to act in a certain way, then it is my duty to fulfill that obligation.
Yet people think that I crawled out of my old body and entered a new shell; this is simply not true. I am the same person I was years ago with the same desires, the same goals, and some of the same flaws, but now I have a Jewish value system which refines how I act in public and in private, and which changes what activities I engage in. Maybe people do have a reason for treating me differently, but it should be because the aspects of my character that have improved and matured from my efforts and my struggles, rather than because I have a new appearance.
They are right. I do look different. I have grown a long beard which I keep neatly tucked away so that nobody can see how long it is. I also wear a yarlmukah, tzitzis, a white shirt and black slacks. I look like the ideal yid. Yet on another note, the ultimate goal is to get my personality to match my appearance. I have chosen who I want to be -- now I must become that person. I learned a long time ago that to make changes, one must simulate, and then one must emulate. This was valuable when I was a child - I would look at the most popular kid in class, watch and simulate his actions, his hand movements, his tone of voice, his dress, and his disposition, and then I would emulate him. I would find myself feeling and acting as he would, getting the same results. As robotic as that sounds, it is a practical way to make changes in one's life. The trick is deciding who you want to be.
To the dismay of those I love most, I have chosen to be a servent of my creator. Yet the exception I have chosen is not to lock myself away in heavy dogma and hide from the world, but rather to follow the Jewish laws in the world we live in today because they were commanded to me by my creator and because they are the right way to live. One point I must emphasize is that the fact that we live in a world that is not conducive to a religious life does not (heaven forbid) mean that we have the privilege to succumb to its desires to secularize and to become lax in our observance of the commandments. On the contrary. Because the world offers such adversity, that is all the more reason to respond to the world with equal strength and equal conviction. For this reason among others, I justify being strictly religious and I live in balance and equilibrium with the secular world as my greatest opponent and my greatest ally.