From the time that I was born, it was clear that my personality was bright and bold - eager to meet life with a smile. When I learned to talk, I talked a lot, excitedly sharing things with anyone who would listen to me. Any thing new that I learned would fill me with so much excitable energy, I would feel as if I would burst unless I shared it with someone.
I was confident, direct, and clear with my communications. My mother once shared a story of when I was 3 and she was having a dinner party at our home. When the guests arrived, I grabbed each of the adults by hand and directed them to where they were to sit at the table. The priest at our church had a nick name for me. He would call me "Little Mother Superior".
My extroverted personality has served me for much of my life - especially during my childhood, having to experience several moves with my dad being in the Air Force. It helped me for the most part, to easily make new friends and acclimate to my new surroundings. There were many things I enjoyed about moving - seeing new places, meeting new people, and learning new things. But even with my out-going and friendly personality, being uprooted and having to settle roots in a new place wasn't without challenges.
I remember 3rd grade - we had just moved, so we were in a new place and I was going to a new school. That year was a little hard for me. I remember feeling lonely, unsure of myself, and struggling with a period of chronic stomachaches. You see, even though my outward personality was confident and strong, I was a worrier. I worried about a lot of things a lot of the time.
I will never forget a particular day, where my teacher, Mrs. Dubois, at the end of the school day called me over to her desk. She must have known that I was struggling, for when I got to her desk, she looked at me and said, "You know, God loves you and will always love you." She handed me a heart-shaped sticker that had a rainbow at the top and written on it was, "God loves you."
I remember the warmth I felt in receiving that sticker and message. Being raised in a Catholic home, going to church every Sunday, and CCD (Sunday school), I had always been taught of God's love and his love for each and every one of us. But something stood out to me that day. That moment still with me after all of this time. And I am ever so grateful for my teacher - a simple message, a simple sticker; but one that significantly marked a moment of time.
I am grateful for that day, because I have not always loved myself.
For those that know me, might be surprised to learn that I have struggled with confidence and self-worth. I've struggled with how to love myself, while wanting desperately for others to love me. I was always taught that loving yourself was essential to being able to love others, but the love that I so freely felt and desired to share with others, I found difficulty to share with myself.
This was my inner struggle. It's not something I openly shared or let people know of, except for a small few. There were times where I even carried a secret loathing for myself - feeling that I wasn't good enough, worth enough, or didn't look good enough.
There were many times that I wanted to be anybody but me.
I sometimes think my extroverted personality and eagerness to always be with others, was a way to avoid sitting quietly with myself. Perhaps it was a way to cover up all the self doubt I carried; or maybe a way to work through it. Either way, I struggled with how I could be both things. How could I truly enjoy actively engaging with life and others and at the same time feel that I was an imposter, not deserving any of it.
I can say that in moments, I have felt love for myself, but not in the unconditional, fully accepting way that true love is. I would crumble at the thought of this love, feeling I was not worthy enough for it. That all of my imperfections disqualified me from being able to receive it.
For much of my life, I have tried to "better" myself. Each year would be the year that I would like myself and who I was. Only each year, I struggled with feeling that I had so many faults. It didn't matter that I was successful in school, that I had wonderful friends and family, that I had pursued and landed the job of my dreams since I was 12, or that I was fully self-sufficient and could support myself financially.
All of these things that yes, I could take pride in, but they did not take away the deeper unhappiness I felt about myself. Someone might say to me how beautiful I was, but I would see myself in a picture, or look into my reflection in the mirror, and notice only the things that I thought were wrong. Any wonderful thing that someone might say about me often didn't matter, as there would still be that place inside of me, where I just didn't like who I was.
And then it happened.
Only just a few weeks ago, I found fierce love for myself. I was able to embrace myself in the very way that I have always been so eager to embrace others.
Back tracking for just a moment, I lost my child unexpectedly in January of last year. I had a normal and healthy pregnancy, that led to a normal labor; until things suddenly went very, very wrong. In a short window of time, my son Bo, who always had a strong heart beat, began to die in my womb. We went into emergency surgery - but he came out without breath. The NICU team spent 25 tireless minutes trying revive him, but nothing could bring him back. There is no answer for what happened, no reason that he passed. They found nothing wrong with him and nothing wrong with me - so the why behind our son not being here, cannot and will never be found.
A few weeks ago, I found myself looking for a specific picture in a photo album. A conversation with my 7 year old had triggered a memory and I wanted to find this picture to show it to him. I ended up not finding it, but I did find a lot of other pictures that I hadn't looked at in a long time. A lot of photos of me.
I sat quietly looking through them, and for the first time, I began to see myself in those photos the way others have always said they see me. I saw this pretty, young woman with a bright smile in every photo as I turned the pages. I saw someone who so obviously loved life - the light from her and around her so bright! It was almost as if I wasn't looking at me, but another person.
And I suddenly wanted to hold her. I wanted to reach out into the picture and grab her; to hold and squeeze her tight. To tell her that everything would be okay. To tell her that she was loved. Oh my, was she fiercely loved.
I wanted to protect her. I wanted to spare her from the pain that she had no idea was coming.
And slowly, very slowly, this woman in the photo that I saw and loved so dearly, became one with the woman who was looking at her. The woman who is writing this story.
In that moment, I knew I had finally come to truly love myself. And I understand now, what it means to love yourself.
We are ALL worthy of this love - OUR love for our own self. This precious soul that we all contain, is full of light and is a gift to this world. The things that make us uniquely us, is what we should so proudly cherish and love, and not despise.
Please stop sitting in the dark corners of your heart. Please stop listening to any voices that tell you you are not worthy. Embrace your light and let it shine. Let it cast out the darkness in the corners, the places where negative thoughts like to hide. Wrap your arms around yourself and hug yourself fiercely. Whisper I love you to very vibration of your being.
It is the only way for the purity of this love to exist and for peace to reign in our hearts. For it is this love, the love for yourself, that can sweetly embrace all of our imperfections and magnify all of our inherent beauty - the source from which we all come.
"This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine; this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine; this little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine; let it shine, let it shine, let it shine."