When I was in third grade, my siblings and I went on a field trip with some fellow homeschool students. My younger sister brought along her favorite Beanie Baby, a Dalmatian. She set it down once, and while she was looking away I took it and put it behind a box. I didn’t intend to be mean, just pesky.
I walked to the other side of the room, forgot I hid the toy, the field trip ended, and my sister never realized she didn’t have the Dalmatian with her until we were nearly home. My mom asked us if we knew where it was, and we all said no. I was too scared of getting in trouble. My mom called the field trip location to see if they could find it. They couldn’t, and I didn’t share where it was.
For the next few months, I had a hard time falling asleep. I would think about how I hid my sister’s toy, how sad my sister was that her Beanie Baby was lost, and how I was continuously lying about not knowing anything. Eventually I couldn’t take it anymore, and I confessed to my dad. Then I confessed and apologized to my sister and the rest of my family.
As I confessed, I began to fully understand the incredible capacity I have to hurt people.
Sure, I had known that I could physically hurt people. But this was a new kind of hurt, a hurt that sits deep inside and is more intimate.
As I grew older, I became more aware of how much power I had to cause pain, mainly through me causing pain. I could tease people who were weirder than me. I could say mean things to my parents. I could break girls’ hearts. I could cause all sorts of damage.
I never wanted to hurt people. I tried to avoid hurting people. But in the messiness of life, somewhere between wanting to be cool and wanting to be loving and trying to do the right thing and making stupid decisions, I always seemed to hurt people. It seemed inevitable.
I wanted to be perfect, to not cause pain. But instead, I was uncontrollably imperfect, and I caused pain. And for a long time I thought this ability to cause pain made me unlovable, by both God and people.
I remember writing a simple question in my journal my senior year of high school: Am I a monster? I thought I must have been, because only monsters hurt people, intentionally or not. And people and gods don’t love monsters.
Feeling unlovable led to all sorts of problems, from depression to self-injury to anxiety.
The summer after my junior year of college, I went on a trip to Panama with my church. At the end of the trip, I was sitting on a beach on the Pacific Ocean, watching a whale rise in and out of the water on the horizon.
At the same time, a storm was blowing in, bending palm trees and kicking up sand.
And I thought about how the ocean is capable of great beauty, and how it’s capable of great destruction. It brings joy with beaches and sunsets, and it brings pain with hurricanes and tsunamis.
Yet, people love the ocean. They love it because it is beautiful, and accept that it’s sometimes ugly. The ugliness doesn’t drive away the love.
And I thought that perhaps the rise and fall of my chest and the rise and fall of the tide is not the only way I am like the ocean. Because while I cause hurt, I also cause beauty.
I could be kind and compassionate and sincere and thoughtful. I could create and dream and feel.
And like the ocean, perhaps this made me lovable. Maybe someone could love me because I was beautiful, even though I was sometimes ugly. Maybe my ugliness didn’t define me.
That summer after the trip, something began changing in me. The depression left and hasn’t returned. A joy I hadn’t known before started creeping into my heart. I started to believe for the first time that there was something inside me worth loving.
To be honest, feeling lovable is still something that doesn’t come easily to me. It’s a large reason why I still fight with anxiety. I still find myself believing that if I hurt someone or do something wrong, I won’t be lovable anymore. But I’m believing it less and less every day.
Because we are oceans. We hurt and heal and destroy and create. We are beautiful and we are ugly. We are lovable. And we are loved.
We are loved we are loved we are loved.