Rediscovering myself

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
Romans 12:2

At some point, I have to tell my story. I mean, I have already told some of it, but not all of it. JC tells me I need to tell my story. She recently told hers and even followed up with an inspirational reaction to the loss of her job. I am proud of her for so openly presenting her story, but the problem is, I am not entirely clear on what my story is.

From the outside, my life before Jesus seemed just fine. I seemingly had it all. A spouse. A good job. A nice house.

In reality, I had nothing. For I did not have Jesus. I did not have love. I did not have fulfillment.

It may have started as early as kindergarten, but it probably wasn’t until third grade that I really began in earnest the process of hiding away the real me. I was in a new school that year. I became friends with a few of the other boys in my class, but eventually distanced myself from two of them when I realized they weren’t very nice to others. Of course, this then made me a primary target.

They began teasing me. I was both the tallest and the widest kid in the class, so their moniker of choice was “Fat Boy.” Unfortunately, the main culprit sat next to me, so he was able to do this all day long. I asked the teacher to move my desk, but she refused. Now, in her defense, the likelihood is I did not fully communicate why I wanted my desk to be moved. She was probably just trying to prevent the entire class from requesting seat changes.

I eventually complained at home about what was happening. Home was always supportive, so it wasn’t until I went to school that I had witnessed anything like this. My mom suggested something out of the kindness of her heart that would have unintended consequences on me for years. “If you make fun of yourself first, then they won’t be able to tease you.”

Her advice made sense to me, so I followed it. I called myself all of the names they wanted to call me. I laughed at myself for eating too much and called myself fat. In so doing, I laid down an early brick in front of the real me. Inside, it still hurt, only now I was the one inflicting the pain.

Unfortunately, I continued the act of teasing myself throughout school and into adulthood. This produced many more bricks over the years. No one could hurt me, because I had already carved myself up better than they ever could. I knew exactly where to strike to inflict the most damage.

I also began to worry about how people perceived me. So, I would lay more bricks around the real me either by acting how I thought they wanted or simply by trying my best to fade as far away from their view as possible. Most often the latter. If invisibility had been offered to me as a superpower, I gladly would have taken it. In many ways, I mastered being invisible anyway.

There is more to my story, though. This blog is about raw truth. So here we go. The day I met (spouse) 20 years ago, I heard a voice say, “You will marry this woman.” Sounds romantic, right? Then, this same inner voice said, “And you will regret it.”

I had the urge to leave right then. Maybe I should have. But I didn’t. I stayed and started dating her.

I was coming off a relationship from the previous year where I fallen hard for a woman that was essentially my first girlfriend. After we broke up, I was sure no one could ever love me and that I would die alone.

So this new woman claimed to love me and seemed nice enough. I indeed ended up marrying her.

I settled.

I never loved (spouse). But I thought no one else would ever love me. If the real me protested, “Wait for true love,” he was drowned out by the addition of another set of bricks.

In the months leading up to our wedding, (spouse) went through maids of honor like candy. (Spouse) claimed it was due to jealousy. Meanwhile, my family dropped out of giving a bridal shower for her due to some words exchanged. I was never clear on what happened, nor do I care, but it was also chalked up by (spouse) to jealousy.

I should note I supported (spouse) through all of this, taking her side despite not really having all of the facts.

The day of the wedding, during the reception, I began to doubt my choice. I accidentally stepped on the train of my spouse’s dress. I am not the most graceful guy. I shot her a smile and said I was sorry. What I got in return was daggers. If looks could kill, I would have been dead right there. “This is supposed to be the best day of your life,” I heard an inner voice say. I tried to act like it was. I even said it was. But it wasn’t.

During the traditional dances, my family and I watched my spouse dance with her father. When I danced with my mother, a moment that was important to me, I saw that my spouse was nowhere to be found. I remember looking around at first in disappointment before finally thinking, “Forget it and focus on Mom.” It turned out my spouse had been snatched away by her parents for photos with their family out in the hallway of the reception area. They soon demanded I drop everything and get in the pictures as well. I wanted to tell them no and leave, but I dutifully listened.

(Flash forward 16 years to the day. My spouse and I are unexpectedly visiting a crowded aquarium. For various reasons, I go into an anxiety attack. She leaves me standing there and runs off in a huff. A revealing moment. JC learns of this and begins finding methods to help me overcome my anxiety. A couple months later, she quietly comforts me in the midst of an attack. Also revealing.)

The point of all of this is to attempt to show some of the red flags I missed.

The first year of marriage went okay. The second year, all kinds of games began. I began to learn more about the silent treatment and other nonsense. All, in retrospect, to manipulate me to my spouse’s will.

“I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.”
from Genesis 40:15

Already an issue, I began to lose even more confidence in myself. Already strong, the wall surrounding the real me from the outside world became a force to be reckoned with as more and more bricks were added.

By the time I met JC a few years ago, only small pieces of the real me could peek out. Last June, she led me to Christ. Then, Jesus saved me. I started looking at my life with fresh eyes. I found that my focus had been on the wrong things.

For instance, I was buying things to fill spiritual and emotional holes. No matter how much I bought, the holes were still there, though.

What did buying all of this stuff get me, then? Debt, lots of debt. And not just for my own useless stuff, for I also became a debt mule for my spouse’s overspending.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal.”
Matthew 6:19-20

Feeling my life was empty and devoid of hope, I wished for death multiple times a day. With that goal in mind, I did not really plan for a future. By the way, the “I wish I was dead” financial plan is not one I recommend.

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
Romans 8:38

Now, I am saved. Jesus changes everything. The whole world is different. I have His love. No one can ever take that from me. I have also found my true love, JC.

Yes, I have inspiration to live. I no longer dismiss the blessings of life. I am grateful for Him and His gifts.

All that debt is still there, though, so it is something I have started working on. I intend to pay it off and thereafter remain debt-free. As I learn and claw my way out, I also want to help others avoid or escape from such traps. I am also deep in the midst of decluttering my life.

As for that wall, JC began relentlessly to pound away at it once she realized it was there. Challenging me. Praying with me. Reading with me. Busting through layers upon layers of bricks with the power of Jesus. Protecting and rescuing the real me, yet always loving both the walled me and the exposed me.

As I move towards who He created me to be, I am in the process of making some significant changes to my life. Some of them are easy, some are difficult, and some are scary in their scale.

I am burning the ships of my past. I have at least three or four ablaze in the harbor. I am learning to move on from the comfortable and trust Jesus. He is my holy savior.

My thanks to JC for being an inspiration and providing editing assistance on this post. I literally would not be here without her. But that is a story for another day.

Thanks to all of you for reading.

May Jesus bless you.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
John 14:27

For Mom

“Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”
Proverb 31:31

Today marks the first Mother’s Day since I lost my mom, who passed away earlier this month after a long illness.

Mom was very private. She did not often discuss her faith. I am blessed, then, over the last ten months to have spent much time reading the Bible and praying to Jesus with her. I learned during that cherished time about Mom’s belief in Jesus as our Savior. I learned that she turned to Jesus for help when I nearly died in the earliest days of my life. I learned that she knew where she would go when she died. I learned that she had no regrets.

If things were different, I would be at her place right now, as I was most Sunday afternoons. We would probably be eating fried chicken and watching one of her favorite movies. We would later play Fish, and I would let her win. If she was feeling up to it, we might even color in our coloring books together. I would read at least one chapter of the Bible to her, and then I would pray out loud for her as I held her hand. Sometimes, on the most special of days, she would then grip my hand and pray for me, too.

I love and miss Mom so much, but I know she is in a better place now. The Perfect Place that we call Heaven. A place without pain, without tears (Revelation 21:4). A place where she can be her ideal self, free of disease and hurt. Free of the chains of this world.

Mom is with Jesus now, but she is still with me. I have felt her a number of times since her death. She sends me unique bursts of joy to say hello. She sent me one such burst when my family and I found what we soon decided would be the final resting place of the earthly body she left behind. She also sent me one near the end of my eulogy celebrating her life.

I am blessed, so blessed that she was my mom, and that she knew and walked with Jesus. I am blessed to know where she is. I am blessed that she is not really gone. I am blessed that I will see her again, for I, too, know where I will go when I leave this world behind – thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus so that our sins are forgiven and our lives made eternal.

Credit: JC

I have so many wonderful memories of Mom. As I was growing up, she was both my number one fan and number one protector. My love of reading comes from her. Going to the public library for books was as much a part of our routine as going to the grocery store for food. She taught me to scrawl my name well enough at the age of two or three in order to get a library card of my own.

That love of reading has made all the difference in my life, Mom. For it has opened all the doors to all of the knowledge I have ever needed – including His Word. Thank you, Mom.

Mom also encouraged me to write. She always thought I would be an author. In 6th grade, I spent three months using an antique typewriter to write a ten-page “book” about the space shuttle Challenger tragedy. As I did not yet actually know how to type, it was riddled with typos and misspellings. When I turned it in to a teacher collecting entries for a young authors contest, she apparently thought it was a rough draft and returned it marked up in red ink. Not a page was spared.

My heart sank. With the deadline looming and my original pages ruined, I knew I did not have another three months to retype my entry in order to make the corrections. Honestly, I probably did not even have enough paper to retype it even if I had the time. When Mom found out what happened, she soon had the teacher on the phone. By the time Mom was done with her, the teacher had agreed to retype all of the pages for me. Mom clarified that the teacher was to include every single one of my typos and misspellings. Thus, I was still able to enter the contest, winning second prize. Typos (including a few new ones) and all.

Mom, thank you for always believing in me. For protecting me. While I did not write a book in time for you to hold it, I still have that dream, and I know you will be with me when I do hold that first book in my hands.

Mom’s passions in life were her children and grandchildren. She had unlimited, unconditional love for them. I have not yet been blessed with children of my own, but I do know what it is like to love someone with such passion. Mom did not get to meet my true love on this side of Heaven, but I was able to talk with Mom about her on Easter Sunday. She was so happy that I had found someone that brings me such joy. Christmas was Mom’s favorite time of year, and she wanted to meet her then. Maybe it is Christmas every day in Heaven for Mom. My love and I know in our hearts they have now met. Nothing is impossible for Jesus.

Mom, I love you. I am blessed the first love of my life has now met the last love of my life. The one who prayed to Jesus that I may live has now met the one who led me to Jesus so that I will live forever. My first protector has now met my last protector. Thank you, Mom. I will always remember. Always.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
John 16:22

The phone call

Mom and I are sitting at the kitchen table of our new home. I am four-years-old. I am eating a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. It is so yummy.

Mom always butters the bread before putting it in the oven, and the grease marks show up on the ever-present white paper plates we use for our lunches. After I eat, Mom sometimes gives me a little felt-tip marker and lets me draw designs in black ink on the plate around the grease marks. I hope she will let me do that today.

The yellow phone on the wall starts ringing. Mom stands up and answers it. I keep eating. It is the best sandwich ever. She does not talk for long and comes back to the table.

There are tears in her eyes.

“What’s wrong, Mom?” I ask. “Who was that?”

Mom looks at me. “It was bad news, son. Julie died.”

Julie lived in our old neighborhood and had been battling cancer since before we moved. Not long ago, one of her legs was amputated in an attempt to fight off the disease.

She was courageous through all the challenges she faced, always smiling. Always nice to me, the little neighbor boy up the street. She was 13-years-old. Until now, I have never personally known anyone who died.

“Will she go to Heaven, Mom?” By the time I was born, my family had stopped attending church for various reasons. However, Mom had taught me about God, Jesus, and Heaven very early on.

“Yes, she will. Remember, no one ever hurts there. She is not sick anymore.”

“Does she have both of her legs again now?” I ask.

“Yes, she does, and she is running again up in Heaven. She is happy.”

I look back at my sandwich, which I had been so joyfully eating only a moment before. Now, my whole world is different. Julie is gone.

“Mom, I was hungry before. But now I am not hungry anymore. Why?”

“It’s because you’re sad about Julie,” she says. She holds me in her arms, and I cry.

I never finish the best sandwich ever.

* * *

Though our families unfortunately lost touch soon thereafter, I still remember Julie some forty years later because of how kind she always was to me.

I do not recall her family’s name, but today, I pray for them.

flowers
Credit: JC

Heavenly Father,

Please bless the surviving family of my childhood friend, Julie. I am sure, Father, they still feel the void of her absence every day. May You continue to lift them up and remind them that she is with You. May You lead any of them who are not yet saved to You, and may You walk even closer with those already saved. May You always provide them with happy memories when their hearts feel sad.

In the blessed name of Jesus I pray.

Amen

* * *

In retrospect, I know now in her own moment of sadness, my Mom had to make difficult decisions as far as how to answer the questions of four-year-old me. She chose right.

Though it was very upsetting, two of the comforts I had about the death of Julie when I was a child were that she would feel better and that she would be in Heaven.

Indeed, I will get to see Julie again in the Perfect Place. That still brings me comfort.

Thank you for reading. May God bless you.

“But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves.”
Malachi 4:2