Friday, February 28, 2014

Learning to Love Myself...

Thank you to everyone who read my last post, and thanks especially to those of you who sent me feedback. I really appreciate it. In light of some of your responses, it seems like a follow-up post may be in order...and perhaps a little clarification.

In my last post, I shared my struggle to love myself as Jesus loves me...especially my kid-self. At the end, I wrote that learning to love myself probably started with loving that little boy. As I reflect more on what that looks like, I wonder just how loving it was for me to post that picture and some of those childhood memories for everyone to see.

As a 25-year-old man, I have no problem with you all reading  what I wrote on Wednesday night. All of those memories are in the past. We can look back now and smile, maybe even laugh. I'll smile and laugh too. Who wasn't a little strange as a kid? However, I have to ask myself...if little Stephen was sitting next to me right could I ever explain to him why I did what I did? 

Why did I do it? I wanted to make a point about love. Sure. I wanted to share what was going on in my own heart in hopes that it would encourage some of you in a similar place. Okay. But why else? Why did I pick out one of the most awkward childhood pictures I could find? Why did I wrack my brain trying to remember embarrassing childhood moments--moments that often earned me ridicule as a kid--so I could share them with the world-wide-web? 

Maybe in my honest effort to start loving that little boy, I was still trying to publicly distance myself from him as much as possible. "That was him," I wanted you to see..."but this is me. He is not me." 

Instead of only pointing out all the awkward parts of little Stephen's childhood, why didn't I also point out the cool and awesome things about him too? Honestly, there really was an awful lot to love about him. 

He was a phenomenal artist, and his masterpieces won plenty of art contests. He also loved to write. He'd write skits and stories and even novels...illustrated novels! He loved to perform. Whether it was for the family at Thanksgiving, for the school talent show, or as Mr. Bundles in a local production of Annie, little Stephen loved the limelight. Starting with a tape recorder and working up to a video camera, he and his friends would produce and star in countless radio shows and movies. They took three regular teddy bears and gave them names, voices, personalities, and their very own entertainment franchise. He was fascinated with Star Wars. He memorized all three original movies and knew the names and back-stories of every single character, major or minor. (He was also especially gifted at doing impressions of Star Wars characters.) Little Stephen dreamed of either being a movie star or President...but either way, he wanted to be famous. He was never all that good at physical activity or sports, but he always loved the Florida State Seminoles. Some of his favorite memories were going to FSU football games in Tallahassee with his family...and he was loyal to the end, win or lose. He was fascinated by history and loved all of his family's vacations to places like Washington D.C. and Colonial Williamsburg. He enjoyed school and got good grades. He was well-behaved and sweet and sensitive, and teachers always loved him. He always loved his teachers too.With his interests being so different from most other kids, it was sometimes hard for little Stephen to make friends, but when he did have friends, he loved them well too. He never had any siblings, but he always loved his cousins like they were his siblings. He had a very tender heart, and he never liked to see anyone upset or sad. He had a way of making people laugh. 

There's more that could be said, but that's a start. It feels a little strange and unnatural writing out cool things about my kid-self, but I guess it's the least I could do. It's funny, because most of these cool things didn't really make me cool back then. Some of these things kept me isolated, feeling different and strange and awkward. How easily we believe those lies we hear as kids. They're incredibly difficult to root out. Many of those lies still have their roots in me today...evidenced by my last post. Since when did different or abnormal become bad? Since when did God create boys and girls with cookie-cutters? Our God loves diversity. He creates diversity. I believe He hates it when we try to squelch diversity. 

One last comment on my previous post, and this comment will apply to all my future posts as well. Friends, I'm a feeler...a strong feeler, in fact (INFJ, baby). I'm wired to feel things very deeply, and I believe that's a good thing. Granted, we can't all be feelers...but good heavens, we certainly can't all be thinkers! [shudder] All this to say that my feeling impacts my writing. I write what I feel. I write what I feel because I like to write that way, but I also write what I feel because I believe that's a powerful way to connect with people on a deeper level. Of course, this means that what I write is not always necessarily what I think. When I wrote in my last post that I hated that little boy in the blue shorts, I should have clarified. I'm afraid many of you understandably took me at my word. By writing that I hated my kid-self, maybe it seemed I was somehow endorsing or settling into that hatred. That couldn't be further from the truth, but I see how many of you might have read it that way. 

My goal with this blog is to be real with you guys, and maybe even to encourage you all to be real with yourselves and real with other people. I don't actively, consciously hate my kid-self, but you know what? Sometimes I feel that anger. Sometimes it burns inside me, and instead of stuffing it down and pretending it doesn't exist because anger is bad, I think it's far better to name it for exactly what it is. I'm saddened by that anger. I often need to repent of that anger, but if I don't name that anger, it will only build and continue to control me. 

What are you angry about? What are you afraid to admit that you're angry about because you're not allowed to be angry about it? This is the anger that will control you, and one day, it might destroy you or those you love. Tell someone about that anger. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with God. Give that anger to Him. David certainly did just that in the Psalms. Don't pray for distraction or numbness...a mere absence of anger...pray for healing. Don't tell yourself you shouldn't be angry. Admit that you are, and lean into figuring out why. Repent if necessary. Maybe even be willing to admit that you are right to be angry about something. Evil is real. We see evil all over this world. We do evil, and evil is done to us. All of this should rightly make us angry, but in our anger, we must trust in a God who is far angrier about evil than we are. He weeps over it. He hates it. 

He defeated it. 

I'm sorry if you find this post to be self-important or over-dramatic. Maybe you saw nothing wrong with my last post...that's okay. In fact, that's good. I still stand firmly behind the message of my last post.

But as I seek to follow my own advice and learn to love myself, I felt like I owed my kid-self an apology for using his shame to garner laughs...for dealing callously with his pain in a public forum. That wasn't fair to him, and it wasn't fair to me. It was an affront to the loving Father who created that little me, fearfully and wonderfully...the Father who never stopped loving me, who never saw me as anything other than His. To deny that child dignity would be a great sin. That's why I wrote this follow-up post. I hope you understand. 

Grace and peace to you, folks. Thanks for reading. 

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