The past has not defined me, destroyed me, deterred me, or defeated me;
it has only strengthened me. – Steve Maraboli
I could tell you that I’ve been through a lot in my 30+ years of life. The details of what I’ve been through aren’t important to share right now, if ever, but as you sit where you are reading this, I’m sure you too can reflect back on the hardest times of your own life… perhaps you’re going through it now. Whether we share details with each other or not, whether we talk openly about things we’ve been through or not – everyone has a story. It’s not fair or right to compare our stories or hardships with others while thinking, “My feelings aren’t valid because she/he had it worse” or “There’s no way she could understand hardships or pain because she’s never gone through what I’ve gone through.” We can’t mistake constant smiles for a label that says, “I’ve had an easy life.” Sometimes the story is held deep inside, never spoken about, and those people still need comfort and kind words that say, you are okay.
We all have a story. Someone close to me once said, “I was worried it would break you, that it might change you.” And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times I truly wondered if it would. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve also had an incredibly beautiful moments that have made up my life, full of joy and gifts and grace I don’t deserve. I have the most amazing parents, brother, friends. And what a complete life blessing my husband is to me. He has brought so much light to my life, lightness and laughter. And maybe my forever thankfulness for the beauty in my life is only greater because of the storms I have endured. (And darn it, I made it out alive didn’t I?) I think, perhaps by now, you all have a pretty good idea of my personality. I think I’m a positive person and always try to see the good in people and situations. If something seems “doomed” I will immediately come up with 5 things that might “make it okay.” And that’s not an easy thing to do, especially when going through the storm. You have to hold on ever so tightly to the memories of JOY during those times you simply don’t feel it. And during the times it absolutely just breaks your heart? You have to cling to something greater, something higher that whispers deep inside – you are okay, for I have made it so.
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages up their wounds. -Psalm 147:3
I had protected my soul for quite some time. Like, consciously protected it. And not (always) in a defensive way, but in a way that I knew nothing could touch me. Nothing could break me. (Even if I felt like I was breaking.) I was safe. I made it so. It became my job. I got really good at faking a smile. I was a pro, actually. To where even those closest to me didn’t know that I was… tired. Like, really tired. Exhausted. From being strong and protecting myself from the past. From anything that felt sad, whether it was from memories or things that might come up and hurt me in the present or in the future. I had it figured out. In my head, I felt safe because nothing was getting to me. But I was far from free. Those things that had happened to me, while I may not have been some jaded and bitter person because of them, they were still keeping me prisoner from what God really wanted for my life.
Have you ever pictured your soul? Like what it would look like if it was a color or an action or a thing? I did this often when I was young. For me, my soul is a girl with white blonde hair, twirling and twirling in sunlight that sparkles like gold. She is happy. And she is far away from anything bad. Far away from anything that hurts her. She is free.
Years ago, during one of my storms, I found myself in the card aisle of Walgreens. I was just walking up and down, looking at the cards, killing time, finding as many distractions as I could to get a break from the pain in my heart. I didn’t even know what I was doing, looking at the cards. But it was then that I saw it. It was a little girl who was dancing, twirling, and she had the happiest look on her face. I used to be her, I thought. I snapped a picture of the card with my camera and when I went to look at it on my phone, I realized that the flash from my camera had made a bright light – right where her soul would go. It was exactly what I’d always pictured.
So there I was in the card aisle of Walgreens, bawling my eyes out. This picture was a reminder, to remember who I was. Who I still was. How God sees me, no matter what I’ve been though. It’s how God loves my soul. This reminder was a life jacket carefully thrown out to me while I was so, so busy just trying to keep my head above water. It was a gentle and beautiful and strong reminder. God is gentle and beautiful and strong. And nothing we do or go through will ever change the way God sees us. We are so fiercely loved.
For someone who has always wanted to know and understand the reason behind just about everything, to have it figured out (eh hem, understatement of the century), you would think my whole life I have asked that question when it comes to the things I’ve been through. Why? But I have realized that it’s not about understanding why any of it happened. I have realized that I am who I’m meant to be despite (or perhaps in spite) of it all. And I wasn’t meant to be held prisoner by those things of the past. I wasn’t meant to stay hiding in the dark. This whole time I had been needing to dance, to twirl. Through all of the pain I’d experienced, all of the attacks – I’d spent so much energy on protecting myself and being strong, I hadn’t given myself the chance to not think. To be free.
You can light a candle or curse the darkness. – Unknown
The past has passed, and believe me when I say- you are not a prisoner to it. You’re not. I say light a candle. Light a lot of them, and then take that light and give it to those around you- to as many as you can, and don’t ever stop. Because yes, we all have a story. We are all in desperate need to be healed, to be reminded that we can still be a light. We can still twirl with arms stretched wide. Twirl away, my friend.