I’d fallen out of the habit of clicking on the Facebook app, “Message from God.”   I don’t want to think too deeply about the reasons why because I might lose sight of what I intended to say and go onto another tangent entirely but, suffice to say, I’ve always found this particular app to be… interesting… and usually full of reminders that totally speak to me.  I’ve not donated funds to the app, but I haven’t seen a repeat message yet either.  Overall, I like the app but, for a variety of reasons, had neglected to check it lately.   Until this morning.  Since I haven’t donated funds to the app, I don’t have the ability to save my messages and I didn’t take time to copy and paste it into word or email.  So I don’t have the exact wording of the message any longer but, paraphrased, my message today said:

“Love doesn’t always have to be extraordinary.  Your hug or smile can show true love.  Sometimes the simple things are the best pictures of real love.”

I read it, exhaled deeply, read it again.

We all know this.

I mean, who hasn’t been told or even said herself half a dozen times that simplicity is sometimes golden?  I’m reminded of the song that says, “You say it best, when you say nothing at all.”  Sometimes the most meaningful conversation is that in which no words are necessary.   Holding hands can speak volumes.  Playing a light-hearted game can draw people together more than a candlelit dinner.   Someone I did not know once held a door open for me and forever altered my life without saying a single word.  I’m not saying any of these things guarantee love or even mean it — sometimes it’s just a game, sometimes you hold someone’s hand out of habit or necessity;  I did not love the stranger who changed my life.  But all of these things can be the way in which love is displayed and, if maintained over the course of many years, these are the things that likely lead to real devotion and marriage, not a fancy ring or elaborate proposal.  I’ve watched episodes of The Bachelor.  Some of those dates make my heart melt and I can easily see how the women become attached in the midst of so many fairy tale-like nights.  But the reality is almost none of those “engagements” ever end in an actual wedding, let alone years of devotion and love.  The things that truly sparkle are smiles that warm the heart, conversations that mean something, devotion and respect.

I know all this already.

But, if you want the truth, sometimes I suffer from a case of perfectionism.  The perfectionism is mixed, however, with a deeply rooted sense that, at my core, I’m an amateur, an apprentice–not good enough.  I’m good at things but that does not make me a good person.  No matter what someone tells me, I don’t see proof that states otherwise.  Jesus dying for me says He loves me, but even He said that He loved the unlovable, the sinners, the ones that didn’t deserve it.  Jesus loving me doesn’t necessarily prove I’m a good person, either: it just proves that He’s an awesome God.  If you don’t believe you’re a good person then you can’t understand why someone you think is a good person would voluntarily choose to remain your friend, or your lover or become your husband.  You know the person isn’t perfect, but you love them and you honestly believe that he’s good, despite whatever flaws exist.  If he’s good, and you’re not, then the only way he’s going to maybe like you is if you prove you can be…. well…. perfect.  Right?

That’s what I’ve thought my whole life.

I tend to go overboard trying to make up for the fact that I’m not good enough, trying to keep up with the people I admire and believe to be really good people.  I do this by giving gifts, by personalizing everything,  by taking note of the details and using them to surprise those I care about, by using my training in psychology to read minds so that i can actually anticipate a need or a want, and give it, before I’m ever even asked.  I’m a peace-keeper and I know how frightening ghosts are, so I try my best to keep mine private.  If you notice the shadows behind the bright blue eyes and engaging smile, I’ll usually allow you to coax just enough from me that you’re satisfied I truly am just fine and then, at the first chance I get, I’ll switch tracks back to you.  Contrary to what readers of my blog probably think, I’m actually really light-hearted and carefree in person — but mainly because I know that otherwise I run a serious risk of being abandoned.  In other words, I am really good at making all kinds of fireworks, I know how to make people smile and shake their heads in amazement.  Not to sound conceited, but I know what it’s like to have others look at you in awe.  But that’s actually a sword because I don’t see the same image they do;  instead, I see…  me in all my ordinariness.  I see the me that exists at three thirty in the morning, haunting my own house, checking doors and fine-tuning work that’s already ready because I can’t sleep.

In other words,  I don’t believe in me, not really.  But I am pretty good at hiding that.  I can make you a gift you’ll never forget.  I can write you a letter that will make you cry and question everything you believe in.  I’m great at  organizing really big surprises.  I’m very adaptable so, if you need me to learn about football in order to be happy, I’ll learn about football with enthusiasm.  I can give some really good things, things that you will care about, things that I hope show all the admiration and love I feel in my heart.  If there’s something you want, and I know it, I’ll do everything in my power to make sure it’s yours.  If you need me to be a great cook, I’ll learn how to cook.  If you need me to learn how to dance, tackle or speak Indonesian, I will do it, happily.  I know how to accept the blame,  even when it’s not mine to accept, and  I’m usually more than willing to do so.  I read people fairly well, usually, and I make it a point to be whatever it is the people I care about want, and/or need.  I’m fairly adept, then, at “extraordinary.”

But.

I’m not very good at remembering relationships are not one-sided.  A professor once told my class that when we dismiss a compliment by shrugging it off or saying, “Oh, no I’m not,”  then what we’re really do is dismissing the other person’s opinion—in essence, we’re insulting that person’s thought.  That made me almost immediately stop shrugging off compliments because I didn’t want someone to think I didn’t value their opinions.  Despite all the things I can give, I always forget that the thing about me  I don’t believe shines is the thing that real friends want… and need:  me.  I feel this enormous weight of shame, this huge coat of dirt, this black shadow that wraps around me.  It’s like a black monster that resides deep in my gut and it’s constantly shouting that I have to be careful because no one could ever like me if they saw what’s inside of me.  “If they knew what you think, they’d disappear like thin air.”  That’s the lie that scares me senseless and that I’ve battled my entire life.  When I try to put the black monster to the test, when I fight back, saying things like, “What exactly is it that I think that’s so bad?”, the only answer is “everything.”  I know opening up is what others need of me, but that means putting myself on a tight rope a thousand feet in the air, it would be standing as a small woman in front of this black monster and saying, “You’re lying. You’re wrong.”  And it’s not that I don’t want to do exactly that; it’s not that I don’t want to trust—I do.   I don’t hate men.  I don’t hate humankind.  I don’t even dislike men, or humankind.  Truthfully, I like the lot of them.  And I think most of them are actually good ones.  So it’s not a lack of desire that makes me keep most of myself locked away: it’s that I’m not as strong as many seem to think I am and, honestly, I’m just scared to death.  If what I see is the same thing that this black monster sees, then, in order to open up, I have to overcome the black monster’s laughter and my own “logical” mind as well.

There’s a lemon law, you know.

Car dealers cannot sell you a car they know is bad.  It’s against the law.  Grocery stores are not allowed to sale you products that have expired.  If something’s rotten, you throw it out.  If, then, I don’t believe I’m truly worthy of love, then how can I expect anyone else to, either?  I can’t.  You see, it isn’t just my father someone would have to get past.  There are also huge ghosts on both sides of my crazy family to contend with.  My girls love Taylor Swift and in one of her songs, there’s a line that says, “ghosts from your pasts are gonna jump out at me” — that pretty much sums up my whole world.  Inviting someone else into a madhouse is crazy.

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But then I remember my “message from God” and I start to think about all the little things, the gifts from others that I remember.  A stranger once held a door open for me and changed my life.  A game can sometimes bring two people closer together than a lavish date ever could.  I once got a letter from a teacher that rocked my world.  Little things.   Tanya Tucker sings a song with the same title.  “A single rose, a kiss hello, that smile upon your face;  the tender way you say my name takes my breath away…”  These are the gifts that I remember the most.  I can’t tell you everything those who have loved me have given me for holidays.  But I do remember, in vivid detail, nearly every tender word I believed, every soft moment that penetrated my heart, every passion etched line on the face that convinced me I was needed and wanted.  I remember the small things and I place a greater value on those gifts than I do the expensive, elaborate ones.  It’s the day to day treasures like these that, over time, build the trust until it wears down the fear and even the black monster believes it’s safe to say  “That really hurt me” or even “I don’t agree with that.”   All my elaborate gifts and surprises and personalized memos can’t replace the look on my face when I see someone after an absence.  All my elaborate gifts and surprises can’t measure up to a meaningful hug, or obvious excitement over spending time together.  How many times have I forgotten that I can give until I’m empty but if I don’t allow the other person to give in return, then I do more damage than good?

I too often believe that to allow someone to do something simple for me, something as little as, say, rub my shoulders (another blog entirely), or carry the heavy item to the car for me or buy me something small is to be selfish.  I thought that to accept any gift at all was to prove that I was everything that black monster said I was:  selfish,  dirty,  worthless.  I could give forever, but I couldn’t accept anything in return.

The “message from God” reminded me of two things.  One, I don’t really have to try so hard.  It’s okay if I don’t plan a gourmet meal every night, or the best trip in the world, or if I admit the rock band doesn’t do anything for me.  It’s okay to have an opinion, too and, while my past may be full of ghosts, it is my past and if someone really cares about me, the past won’t make them leave the future.   The other thing it reminded me of is that not only do I not have to try so hard to make others like me,  I have to remember that taking the gifts others offer isn’t selfish or not allowed.  In fact, it damages not only myself, but the other person and the relationship as a whole.  Others give smiles and hugs, they open doors and ask for lunch not out of charity or gratitude as I have so often believed, but because they see something in me that I don’t see.  It’s not for me to question what that something is,  my job is just to gratefully accept it and trust that it’s real.  If I consistently deny help,  if I insist on drawing the door shut to myself, then sooner or later, everyone will do what I most fear they will: they’ll stop asking, they’ll stop inviting, they’ll walk away believing I’d rather be left alone.  They’ll walk away, feeling as though they had nothing to offer me when, in truth, the exact opposite is true.

We teach our children that sharing is a fundamental, critical part of play and of life.  We insist on it.  If they don’t share at the playground with other kids, they don’t get to play.  Why is sharing so critically important?  Do we even stop to ask that question of ourselves, to ask ourselves why what we’re teaching our children matters?  I do.  Sharing matters, it’s critically important, because we can’t thrive, we can’t flourish, without relationships and the very essence of relationships is the sharing of ourselves with another person.  The sharing of smiles is a significant gift, in fact, it’s more of a gift than an expensive present that I unwrap.  The gift of a simple hug can be monumental and infused with more meaning than a sparkling ring.  We know that if someone does nothing but take, then that person is doing a disservice to the other.  What’s harder to remember is that doing nothing but giving is also doing a disservice to the other.  It’s not sacrificial, it’s an issue of control and of trusting the other person’s words and actions as much as they trust yours.

This morning, I woke up and decided to do something I normally don’t do until evening:  I checked my blog stats.  It tells me what countries people are clicking my blog from, and what search terms they’re using to find my blog.  This morning, it stated that three people had found my blog by searching the term “ugliest person ever.”   Now, I know that those people probably didn’t even know who I am.  They probably were not searching for me, or my blog.  I don’t know what they were searching for.  But, after typing that in, something made them click on the Google link to my blog.  Irrationally, I was stung.  The black monster seemed to smile smugly and say, “Uh-uh, see there, told you so.”  Harsh words ring truer to me than compliments.  I believe the negative, I dismiss the positive. But when the positive is offered, it’s a gift of love that I cannot forget to accept.

I always replay in my mind conversations, words, facial expressions that made me believe someone cared about me.  It takes effort to make me believe that you genuinely care and aren’t just “being nice” so, if I truly trust that you mean the compliment… I never forget it.  Years later, I can recall an entire conversation verbatim, if it made me feel special or important.  What would it feel like if I took at face value every smile aimed directly at me,  every hug, every compliment?   Today, after reading the “message of God”,  I reminded myself that I give smiles every day, all day long.  I hug everybody.  I usually dismiss these things when I give them, thinking that the people to whom I’m giving them dismiss them.  Maybe they do.  But maybe, somewhere along the line, someone to whom I’ve offered a hug or a smile or a pat on the back remembered it and felt uplifted by it.  Who am I to assume otherwise when I know for a fact that such gifts have transformed and shaped the person I am today?   I also decided that I’m going to keep a running list of every compliment, every nice word, every smile, every hug that I’m offered and then I’m going to review them and tell the black monster that these things, these extraordinary treasures, are true and that, because they’re true, my scars and flaws are balanced with grace and positive attributes too:  for as many reasons as someone might have to walk away, they’d have an equal number of reasons to keep me as a part of their lives.   The image I see reflected in the mirror was made in the image of God and thereby displays some quality of His.

Who in the world am I, and who is the black monster, then to reject genuine, sincere, positive complimentary treasures?

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