Imagine Me

 In case you have fallen by the wayside of life

Dreams and visions shattered, you are broken inside

You don’t have to stay in the shape that you’re in

The Potter wants to put you back together again

           I went back to Boston in September for a conference. It was so good to be home, soaking up the wonderful fall weather and friendship. My first night back, I was laying on my friend’s couch, sharing life when we started talking about love. I told her how I felt like I didn’t really know unconditional love. For me, love was always something I had to earn and even then, it wasn’t consistent. She stared at me for the longest moment and then said, “Wow, Drea. If anyone else were talking to me about this, I would have told them to go talk to you because you are the most loved person I know.”

(Record scratches) What?? How is the possible? How can the person she views as the “most loved” feel so devoid of it? Narratives and self-identity are so fascinating to me. It’s interesting how, over the years, people develop the narrative of their lives and they cling to it – regardless of changing circumstances or truths- because their identity is wrapped up in that narrative. My narrative has been all about earning my way through life. A graceless existence.

It didn’t start out this way. I used to have a grandmother. Both of my grandmothers died when I was three, too young to have many memories of either. My dad’s mother was apparently really fond of me. My dad once told me that she told him that I had brought back the joy that had been gone out of her life since her mother had passed. My aunts tell me that she loved me a lot and the last thing she did before she passed was to come check on me because I had been ill. They don’t speak about her much- probably because it hurts- but I love it when they do. When they talk about how she felt about me, I always wish that she hadn’t died so soon. How different my life would have been with a grandmother. If she had lived, I think, there is no way I would have grown up feeling so unloved.

I was raised by my mother, a woman of incredible strength and faith, but not very affectionate and attentive. That was my dad, but he wasn’t around as often and when he was, he was often fighting his own demons. There was no one to ask how my day had been. No one to smile at me as if my mere presence brought joy. As a child, I was a fiend for attention and affection and I went out searching for it constantly. At church, I would find someone that I felt could meet my needs and pursue them intensely. It never turned out well. I was Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love when she talks about how her marriage-rebound guy would left her because she became really clingy. After they broke up, she went back to being the woman he admired, so he was attracted to her again, but when they were together, she was like a drug addict for him, so he would leave her again. That was me. It was easy to draw people in because I could be funny and I knew how to people please. But once I got attached and my crazy started to show, people would retreat and I’d be left with unfulfilled longings.

One Sunday after I must have made a fool of myself, my mom tried to have a come-to-Jesus moment with me in the parking lot. “Andre. You’re looking for something only the Lord can give. You need to give that need to Him.” I was so angry with her for saying that to me. If you had given these things to me, I wouldn’t have to seek elsewhere. The LEAST you could do is not criticize me. With the shred of dignity I had left, I turned to her and said, “I’m going to find someone to love me. They will be there for me and take care of me and I will be happy.” She just shook her head, started the car, and we drove home in silence. Ironically, she referenced that conversation recently because she, like my friend, believes that I have succeeded in my endeavor. After Christmas, she was driving me to the bus station. I was headed to Atlanta to stay with my adopted godparents. “Aww Andre,” she said, smiling, “You are truly favored. It’s just a blessing how these people take care of you.” She’s proud of me because she believes I did what I set out to do, but I’ve since come around to her way of thinking. Only God can fill this desire.

I’m not completely oblivious to what they see. I acknowledge that I have people in my life who do incredible and phenomenal things for me. I’m just more cynical about the situation. In my mind, nothing has changed since I was that adolescent running around church, begging to be loved. I’ve just learned how to hide the crazy better. I learned that no one really cares about your drama, so you need to suck all that in and just give the other person what she needs. There are so many issues with this mentality the first of which being, the arrogance that it fuels. I started feeling like I wrote the book on friendship. I earned all of my relationships and since I have so many, I must be fantastic at relationship building. (One of my friends checked me on this recently. “Uhh Andrea, you’re a good friend, not a great friend. And that’s ok, but you need to know that.) Furthermore, this narrative that I tell myself about my relationships with other people affects how I treat them and how I perceive the way they treat me.

I’m so impatient with people. There is no grace around me. I believe in unconditional love in theory, but in practice, I cannot support it and I don’t like to see it being shown to others. It makes me jealous. Who are these people that they can receive love, even when they don’t deserve it? I think about how I’ve worked to be a high-achiever, entertaining, and overall socially acceptable just for this person to come around the corner with his mediocrity,  his awkwardness, and his melodrama, demanding that people love him just because he exists. Unh unh. Ain’t gon’ happen. So then I reach into my bag of pettiness and cruelty and start crushing people’s joy left and right. They need to know that love has to be earned and if they won’t act right, then I’m going to cut them out of my life until they do better. But, the satisfaction I get from trampling someone else’s spirit with my ugly attitude never lasts long. I see how the harshness diminishes people and makes them less than their former jubilant selves and I immediately regret my choices. I’ve been that diminished person too many days of my life. I don’t want to be that oppressive force to others. Plus, I’m ignoring the countless times that I have been mean, selfish, or petty and people still loved me. One of my best friends once sighed exasperatedly, “God, you are mean! I love you, Dre, but your behind is mean!” I do myself and my friends a disservice when I assume that I’m some perfect friend who just gives and gives and receives nothing in return.

I receive so much. There has been so many days that I have been overwhelmed by the kindness that my family and friends show me. The problem is, those good feelings can quickly get overrun by feelings of neglect and disappointment. When people in my life fall short of my expectations, I take it so hard. Because to me, it’s bigger than flaking out on date to hang out or not being there when I needed that person. The disappointment I feel reinforces the old hurt that lives inside of me and gives life to the voice inside my head that tells me I’m always second best. People spend time with me because it’s convenient and if it’s ever not convenient or there is something better to do, then they will do that. And once that feeling is triggered, I’m super hurt and something minor gets blown completely out of proportion. People constantly have to prove to me that I matter to them. I feel like the guy from James 1:23-4 who sees himself in the mirror and as soon as he walks away, he forgets who he was.

 “Aren’t you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don’t you often hope: ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied.

~Henry Nouwen

Searching for this perfect love has made me exhausted. My emotions are on a constant roller coaster. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been up and down emotionally so many times and I’m so tired of it. There is a song by Kevin LeVar called, “A Heart that Forgives” that I have to pray over myself every single day. “I want a heart that forgives, that lives and lets lives. One that keeps loving over and over again. One that men can’t offend because Your Word is deep within.” I’m trying to let this drama go. All of it. Not just whatever is plaguing me in the current moment, but the deep-seated resentment and longing that sits in my chest, ready to rise to the surface at any given moment. I have to forgive my parents and appreciate the blessings they did bring to my life. I was so angry with them even though I didn’t really want to talk about it because I didn’t want to be one of those people I hate so much – one of those adults whining about childhood traumas all the time. But regardless of how vocal I was, the anger was there and I was taking it out on every one I came into contact with. I was trying to get these other people to do what I couldn’t make my parents do and it was too much. The baggage was too heavy and I can’t dance with this weight and all I want to do is dance.

I just want to love. I want to be a person who just loves on others unreservedly. But my fear is hindering that. I’m afraid that I don’t have the capacity to love like that. How can I give to others what wasn’t given to me and what if they take what little I have and destroy it? I try to quell these fears by thinking about one of my best friends. This woman is my love guru. She is the most loving person I know. Before I met her, I thought I had a license to be a jerk. I came to college with the attitude of, “Look, I’m damaged goods. I’m honest about it so if you hurt me, I will make your life a living hell and you will deserve it because you had notice.” And then I met her and she would say, “Dre, you’re mean.”

“I’m not mean. I’m vindictive.”

“All mean people aren’t vindictive, but all vindictive people are mean. You’re mean, Dre.”

Her comments struck me so hard because her life had been just as much, if not more so, tumultuous than mine. She had daddy issues and mommy issues and still, she chose to love. She would make me angry sometimes. I wanted her to cut some of these people out of her life because I felt like they took her for granted and they never apologized for hurting her, but she doesn’t see life that way. She doesn’t hold grudges; she just loves. And, she’s not suffering. She’s not just some doormat getting trampled on by this selfish and cruel world. She is the most loved person I know. She doesn’t always receive it back exactly as she sends it out or from whom she sent it to, but she is loved from the crown of her head to the soles of her feet. I want to be like her when I grow up.

And I think I will get there. The psychologist Williams James would disagree with me. According to him, my personal habits were fully formed by my 20th birthday, so at best, I will always have to be really intentional about showing love. It will never come naturally for me. But, I choose to believe that I serve a God that is bigger than my brokenness. My mother said that at the end of her marriage, she felt so betrayed and heartbroken. She was afraid to look down at her chest for fear of seeing her heart fall out. But, she prayed and asked God to heal her. She would sing Reverend James Moore’s, “I am Healed” all of the time and then one day, she noticed that the weight had gone and she could look at him and not feel pain. If God can heal my mom from the scars of her fifteen-year marriage, then He can heal me.

So, I’m a work-in-progress. If you see me digressing into my old ways, help keep me accountable and don’t despair. He hasn’t finished with me yet.

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