Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Red is the New Black

It suddenly dawned on me the other day that I finally like myself.
I could end this post here and be alright with it. (You, dear reader, would probably prefer that I did just that.)
How did I come to this conclusion?
Let's go back in time.

I wonder if you've ever been like me.
And by "like me" I  mean hard on others.
It's the classic "low self esteem" residual effect when you attempt to feel better about yourself by minimizing others. I can spot it a mile away in other people.

"She's just unhappy."
"She doesn't like herself."
"She is crying out for validation."

Having low self esteem, a.k.a. not liking oneself/low self-worth is not an unusual trait. Actually, I suspect it is pretty common. Especially among women.

I grew up with a patient, loving, browbeaten genius of a father and an anxious, demanding mother. B+ wasn't good enough. I wasn't allowed to be a cheerleader or a Girl Scout because that would not further my career or social standing. I was allowed to take piano lessons and singing lessons because that would put me on stage at church. (My piano teacher of 7 years sorely wished I had taken up cheerleading instead.) Both of my parents were raised during the depression. My father thought everyone was poor and enjoyed his barefooted years to the hilt. My poor mother somehow knew there was another class of people out there beyond her South Georgia homestead and for 70 years, to this day, strives to be someone she isn't. (and doesn't need to be) Nothing was ever good enough.

Marry that part of my maternal genealogy with my hefty paternal genes and you get poor self esteem.

It's not like I didn't ever accomplish anything. I dated regularly, was in an exclusive singing ensemble in high school, had friends, clothes, good grades, etc. I was not disfigured or slow witted or particularly weird. (a little weird, yes.) As an adult I snagged a handsome husband, had amazing kids, made some good friends, threw fun parties, loved Jesus, and never got fired from a job. My friends and family thought me wonderful and supported me 100%. However, the chubby kid who was taller than every other kid in kindergarten and had a face full of acne in 10th grade couldn't come to terms with what it means to love herself. She couldn't, in turn, show acceptance to others.

As an adult, I found myself becoming critical of others. Especially those of you who were smart, beautiful, successful, and friendly.
And whaddya know? Those were the very same attributes I found lacking in myself!

In seasons of spiritual growth, I would even pray for God to love others through give me the power to love as He loved because I recognized in myself what I termed a "black heart". I would even joke about it with my husband. Luckily he saw more of my heart than was showing all those years.

I'm tired of having a black heart. It's exhausting holding you to a higher standard than myself. It's destructive to belittle you just because you are amazing. I'd like to say I'm done with that but we both know that there will be days that I am not fully covered with God's armor and a fiery dart of disparagement will make it's way into my heart for a time.

This is how I know I like myself now. I am consistently seeing you for the exceptional person you are. God has allowed me to empathize with your pain and your struggles without judging you. Because you are stunningly beautiful, I am no longer envious, but appreciative of God's handiwork. I am also mature enough to realize that your beauty does not exempt you from suffering.

I can't pinpoint the exact moment I started liking myself because it was most likely a process that started when I went back to college after 30 years of feeling under-educated. That decision entailed sacrifice, neglect , and the painful realization that I should have done this way earlier because you absolutely cannot retain the information you receive at 50 the same way you can at 20. If you go back to school at 50 and major in visual arts and have no tattoos, you will not fit in. If you are a Christian you will not fit in. If you are sensitive to cricism, you will not fit in.

Stretching yourself = liking yourself.

If you see yourself in these words, I know how you feel. I know that you lay your head down on a troubled pillow at night . I know that you enter into a room full of people looking for an exit. I know that you have built a wall around your heart and to be transparent makes you feel nausated. I know that it's difficult for you to believe that you are loved.

As I wind up this post, I can honestly tell you that I love you.
My prayer for you is that you allow yourself to love others.  It's okay. It won't hurt.
People may hurt you but the act of loving won't.
And then LIKE YOURSELF. Because you're pretty d@#& awesome*.

Here's my old black heart being filled with the blood of Christ who showed me the same grace he expects me to show others.

( I'm so glad I went to art school and can draw beautiful metaphors like this.)

There may be a few readers who know me and are thinking, "She's still mean!" That may be true, but it's not because I don't like myself, it's probably because you've been a jerk to someone I love. I most certainly have not overcome that problem yet.

*dang (what did you think I meant?)

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