The altar was beautiful even if the stench remained. I no longer cared though. Somehow, I knew what I'd come for. I ran and threw myself onto the steps. Words were carved there, shining dimly in the light. "Cast Your Cares," the steps said, so that's what I did.
"God," I cried, "do I really think I'm that terrible inside?"
I closed my eyes and heard voices, like a multitude screaming for vengeance. They bellowed and cried, every one of them said different things I've heard over my life. They talked about what I'd done poorly, or how it wasn't good enough. Some told me I'd never get a book published, or never be the kind of strict mother who has kids with good grades. I heard how I need to pay attention, or stop acting so tired. Try harder--DO BETTER. Stop being so happy because people think I'm fake. Stop acting so sad because people think I'm depressed!
"You have no follow-through," a woman told me once. I remembered her face clearly as I heard her voice at the altar. "If you don't reprimand your daughters now, they'll never finish high school. They'll have terrible work ethics and children who are just like them."
"What's bad about having children like them? I don't think they're doing anything wrong," I'd said. "Who cares if they want to play make-believe?"
The woman laughed. "In my house, my kids work for everything. They do what I tell them to do, and what others tell them! Your daughters--especially the oldest--WILL NOT obey me. How sad, your kids WON'T have an education or follow-through. But . . . some things are genetic after all."
I stared at her. "Didn't have follow-through?" My thoughts took me to a different time when I had a baby on life support. I held his hand, which was so tiny in mine. The doctors said he didn't have any motor functions, but he squeezed my pointer finger in that moment.
I bawled because he'd only lived a short while and I couldn't believe what I had to do. I'd always wanted a boy, and there he was. His hair was so soft. The first time I'd been allowed to hold him, he stopped crying and nestled into my chest despite all the tubes in his mouth.
I could barely speak as I caressed his soft hair. "Should we really let him go?" I asked the doctor.
"He'll probably be better off if you do," the man answered sadly, refusing to meet my eyes.
It took a while to build the strength, but after multiple infections and then seeing a couple who couldn't take their own baby off life support, we knew what had to be done.
The day we pulled the plug, I felt like part of me died. Have you ever wanted something so bad it hurt? Only to be told you'd have to give it all up--yourself! Take your own child off life support and watch them suffocate because it was the right thing to do.
My own baby died in my arms BECAUSE OF ME, and some woman thought I had no follow-through?!
I looked at her and laughed, being my sweet, non-confrontational self. "You're right. Me AND my kids must be losers. We'll never follow through with anything."
She stood, acting completely offended and she never came over to my house again.
I thought of all those things at the altar. How most of my self-condemnation comes from not thinking I'm good enough. As I cried over everything I've done in an effort to feel like I'm worth something--ANYTHING--(starting a business, releasing my journal), I heard other voices.
"I'm proud of you," I heard the words although I've never heard the woman's voice in person. You see, I'd only read them as a comment on my blog. "I'm proud of you," she wrote. "It took a lot of courage to release your journal for everyone to see. It took courage to do the right thing and let Zeke go."
I thought of something another person wrote. "You're such a good mother. Those kids are lucky to have you."
I sobbed into the altar--huge cries shook my body.
"Oh, God," I cried. "These people are amazing. They've helped me so much, but they don't even know me."
"But I know you," a still small voice said. "Stop looking for self-worth in everything you do. Don't you know I created everyone? I made them special. I made YOU special. Everything you've hoped to see. Everything you've longed for or dreamed of, those things make you unique. Stop looking for self-worth and REALIZE what's always been there!"
In that moment, so many tears came. I stopped hearing the condemnation of others. I focused on the good. I knew. It doesn't matter what mean things people say. God loves me, and if HE loves me, I should love myself.
I remembered leaving my journal at Zeke's grave, saying goodbye, hoping someone would find his story and benefit from it. Then, my thoughts turned to the moment someone DID find the journal. The different times e-mails flooded my inbox because by sharing Zeke's story, it took everything I had, but it'd been worth it--AND it always will be.
I wiped my face and felt so much lighter. I opened my eyes and turned next to me. There were about a million people at the altar and even sitting in the pews. "Everything in the darkness had come to the light." Some of those people smiled and laughed into their prayerful hands. Some sobbed and nodded. I knew they'd always been there, even if I couldn't see them before. I thought I was the only person struggling with self-worth, it turned out, I'd been wrong.
A lady next to me whispered, "Oh, God. You do love me just the way I am."
I smiled at her, because I knew that woman. She was the person I'd seen in my reflection, the old version of myself. The more I looked at her, the more she changed, smelling of perfume instead of death. She seemed beautiful and kind--somehow different in the church's lights. I watched, realizing she wasn't the only person changing. All the others became physically beautiful as enlightenment overtook them.
The church smelled of beauty, because fear and condemnation had lost their hold.
I stood and waved goodbye to the woman who'd been next to me at the altar. I walked from the church and laughed because life felt so much better, not worrying about the hurts of my past and what everyone thought. I skipped from the church with the holey screen door, and I went to look in that special window.
My reflection was beautiful--something it always had been, if I'd just had eyes to see.
"Everything in the darkness will come into the light . . . like the way you truly see yourself," I read the etching in the window and I smiled. It's a good thing God made all of us beautiful.
So, in closing: Life can be hard, and we all have moments when we don't feel good enough. But isn't it awesome how sometimes God can even turn bad times into great moments of realization?
For more information about Zeke and my journal, please go here:
2 Corinthians 5:17
King James Version (KJV)
17Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.