I believe that for most little girls, their first love is Daddy. I hardly remember my dad at all, much less loving the man. But my first stepfather, Kenny, I loved him. While it was a tentative and guarded love, made all the more so by his long illness, when he died my twelve year old heart broke in ways and places I didn’t know existed. Today, February 13, is Kenny’s birthday and, as always, that kind, gentle, funny man is loved and missed.
Love for me has never come easily and so I struggled with this week’s Writing Challenge, My Funny Valentine. Then I remembered a story and thought that maybe, maybe, this little window into the warping and twisting of love in the hearts of children, might somehow, some way, help set you free too.
As a little girl, I always had an older me inside – one who saw and understood things that my unripened vocabulary couldn’t express. Instead, I felt everything, like wordless impressions stamped deep into the soft clay of a sensitive heart. With no Living Water to keep my heart tender and pliable, to fill the valleys and smooth the mountain peaks, I formed my own truth, my own tilted view of life and love and people.
In today’s memory, I am about five years old: I tiptoed from my bedroom up the dark hallway and into the kitchen. Staying close to the wall and probably more conspicuous than I believed, I peeked around the corner and into the living room. He wasn’t there yet. Kenny. He and my mom were dating at the time and they’d recently broken up. I didn’t know what they’d fought about or why he’d left. But the murmured words of adults drifting back and forth above my head hinted of his return. An anxious hopefulness practically oozed from the walls. Everybody loved Kenny.
Anticipation wiggled its way throughout my small body, so I invented a game for the waiting. I’d walk from my bedroom up the short hall toward the living room, one slow, careful step at a time, wondering with each press of the foot: is he here? My hopes would rise with my heartbeat as I edged nearer the light of the living room archway. Once there, I’d quickly pop my head around the doorframe and….nope. Not yet. Deflated, I’d turn around, shuffle back to my room and do it all over again. And again. And again. Slower with each pass. Each time hoping that would be the time I’d find him coming through the front door.
I don’t know what I expected. A celebration? Handshakes and hugs all around? But for all my anticipation, when Kenny finally arrived, nothing exciting happened at all. No one rejoiced. No one gave him a hug or said, “Hey, welcome back!” He just came in silently, sat down on the couch and stared at the TV along with my mom and grandparents. Nothing but nods and awkward “hellos” and silence in front of the television.
So this is how we do it? I mused. Pretend nothing’s happened?
Obviously doing what I wanted most – to jump in his lap and throw my arms around his neck – would be scandalously out of place. And so I pretended. I played along. I became an Actress.
But, refusing to be ignored and refusing to ignore, I did what any self-respecting five year old would do: I picked up a throw pillow and…well…threw it at Kenny. He was, after all, my playmate and my friend. This was our ‘normal.’ We tossed the pillow back and forth. I laughed and he smiled. Kenny was a quiet, subtle guy and his smile told me we were good. Reconciliation by pillow fight.
Yet some part of me wanted more. An invitation to sit with him on the couch? A hug? Words of assurance? For the first time, I became conscious of the fact that I wanted his love and acceptance. Needed it, even. But needing is dangerous. No one likes a needy child. And what happens when what we need becomes something we can’t have?
My stomach filled with a strange, hollow-heavy, sick feeling. Embarrassment, rejection, nakedness of soul, fear of punishment, a desire to hide all wrapped in one little lead ball behind my belly button.
I was Needy and I was Ashamed. Ashamed of needing, of wanting, of loving. Afraid of being unlovable. Hadn’t my own father been unable to love me? Ashamed of being me.
30 some odd years later, I sit, head bowed, eyes closed, in a dimly lit church. I sing the words “Worthy….You are worthy…of a childlike faith and of my honest praise and of my unashamed love…of a holy life and of my sacrifice and of my unashamed love…”
And I think, as I always do when singing this song, of loving Jesus unashamedly – boldly, without worrying what others think, without hiding my Bible at the doctor’s office or avoiding talking about God outside of church.
But then God brings me a precious jewel…the memory of that day with Kenny…and as I sing the words that wash over me, He turns the glistening gem around in His hand to show me another facet of love…
of my unashamed love….love without fear, or embarrassment. Love that doesn’t act or pretend to be self-sufficient. There is no shame in needing love – there is no shame in needing God. That is who we are. Who I am. Needy for the Lord and his Love.
of my unashamed love…love that doesn’t fear punishment or rejection. Love that trusts in the Father who supplies all our needs. I am Safe.
of my unashamed love…love that runs into her Father’s embrace and throws her arms around His neck. Love that is free from falsehood. I am Real.
Full and light is the feeling that soars into my soul and lifts upon its wings the hollow-heaviness of shame and carries it away…eternally away. And my belly warms with acceptance and tender hands upon my face and eyes that see me fully and a smile of adoration…for me. And I am Loved.
UNASHAMED LOVE by Jason Morant