There was something wrong with me but I didn’t know what it was. I was ten years old and sitting on my twin bed, trying to figure it out. For days, I had been burping far more than a tiny ten-year old should, and the smell that came out of my sixty-pound self was…foul. There’s no other word to describe it. Something was wrong, really, truly wrong but I did not know what it was.
As I sat there, staring at my red and blue plaid polyester comforter, I felt intense shame, and I wrestled with it and tried to come to terms with what I knew was an inherent deficit, now made known to the world through a disgusting smell I could not prevent. It was in me and now it was coming out. No more hiding. Sitting there on my bed, I devised a system of mouth-covered breathing that might mask me in most school-based scenarios, but mostly I just sat there and came to terms with my level of wretchedness. My state of perpetual less-than. After all, I had never seen another kid struggle with anything like this, so I fully accepted it as just another me issue.
A totally unrelated development: a few months later, I discovered I had extraordinarily good vision, like super-hero level sight. As I looked up at a spring sky, I found I could see individual sky cells, round and transparent, dancing around each other, and I enjoyed it immensely for a minute before quietly agreeing with myself to never tell a soul. After all, I wouldn’t want to make anyone with regular vision feel bad. This was a gift that was visited upon me, so I winked up at God to say thanks, and stood up a bit straighter out there in the grass. No one else needed to know.
Now, these are cringe-worthy stories, I know, and I apologize. I guarantee you my Dad stopped reading after the second sentence, and had I read this aloud, my son would have run out of the room in an overload of empathetic feeling. I have so many stories like these, stories that reveal the roots of a self-image that is still occasionally inaccurate, at times still tending toward the polar opposites of abhorrently negative or quietly grandiose.
As a ten –year old, I had a stomach disorder that was likely either a gastrointestinal infection or stress-related acid reflux, but I never told anyone including my mother and it resolved on its own after a couple of weeks. I also had the beginnings of floaters in my eyes, concentrations of collagen that caused shadows in my vision. They weren’t sky cells after all, whatever those might be.
I was neither wretched nor a super hero, and I’m still not.
The lens through which I see myself these days is both kinder and more realistic. I’ve lived long enough now to know that everyone has embarrassing stories from childhood. Everyone’s body betrays them at times, sometimes in horrific ways, and these experiences give us needed boosts of humility and empathy. At the same time, I see my own gifts and the gifts of others in a more practical, utilitarian, and rational light, and that has everything to do with what I now know is a divinely ordered plan. If I can sing, it’s because my singing might be of use to someone else. If you can play an instrument, or knit, or encourage, or manage, or bake, or teach, or lead, or help, or whatever it is you’re good at, there’s a reason for that, too. If I had been able to discern and identify sky cells back then, it would have been wrong to keep it to myself. Similarly, I should have told someone about my ailing stomach because I would have gotten help. Gifts are always meant to be used and troubles should be shared.
My most balanced, accurate view of myself is probably how God saw me as I sat on that twin bed back when I was ten. That kid was hard on herself, but filled with potential. She had some stuff to work out, clearly, but she always tried so hard and that was really endearing. Her value came in her belonging to Him, beloved, a uniquely gifted daughter walking and holding His Hand through life, and her knowledge of that reality would come slowly over time and bring with it much needed peace and clarity. She thought she was alone. She thought everyone else was somehow better or more worthy. She thought she was less than, and she still does sometimes, but thank God she was wrong.
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