Today is Friday, February 12, and Valentine's Day is just two days away! Oh, boy, a day to celebrate love. What could be nicer?
Well, I'll tell you what could be nicer than celebrating love: actually feeling love. Knowing, down in the very core of your being, that you are loved. That's what could be nicer.
There's a catch to that. The catch is that, to feel loved, you need to feel lovable. You need to know that you, the real you, the person in your body who lives and breathes and moves and does life, you--are lovable.
If you're like me, that's not so easy.
I'm a lucky woman. I've been married to my college sweetheart for nearly 25 years now. I have three wonderful children. But for most of my life, I've struggled with difficulty in feeling loved, in being secure in love.
I wrote a little bit last summer about my struggle to accept myself just as I am, and I shared the fact that I was born with an extremely rare disease called Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome. It's so rare, in fact, that my parents could never find out exactly what was wrong with me. Only after I was an adult and had two children of my own did I learn the name of my disorder. All I knew was that I was deformed.
I had the largest birthmark in the world, or so it seemed to me. My right foot, leg, hip, and trunk were covered in a massive port-wine stain. And to make it worse, that same part of my body was also enlarged and misshapen. My right thigh was 2 1/2 inches larger in circumference than my left thigh.
Oh, how I hated going swimming. Not because I didn't like to swim, but because I had wear a swimsuit. When I wore long pants, no one could see my birthmark. But in shorts or a swimsuit, I felt like a freak.
People can be cruel. I particularly remember one summer day when I was about 30 years old. I was at the store, pushing my little ones in a cart, when a woman stopped me, pointed to my birthmark, and shrieked, "What is wrong with your leg?" Outwardly I kept my cool and politely answered her question. Inwardly I shrank into a tiny ball, humiliated.
Never did I realize, though, just how much I had internalized my insecurity about my appearance. After all, I had a husband and three children; life was good. I was able to have my birthmark treated with laser therapy, which lessened its intensity a bit, and I felt fairly comfortable in my own skin.
And then I went through a difficult period in my life, a time when everything seemed to crash around me. Desperate, I sought help from a therapist. Patiently, kindly, she peeled back layer after layer of insecurity, finally landing on the fact that I just couldn't quite believe that anyone--not God, not my husband, not my family or friends--could really love me. Not really. Not when I was so imperfect. I knew that I loved them; I was certain of that. But that they loved me? No. I hoped they did, but I could never quite believe it.
I had to learn that, even though I thought of myself as deformed and ultimately unlovable, that wasn't the truth about me. The truth of the matter was that the only person who didn't love me was me. And in that state of not loving myself, I was unable to fully enjoy the love of others. I didn't trust anyone's love for me, because I didn't believe it could be true.
Here's what I've learned: I am lovable. Not because I'm perfect, because I know I'm not. All it takes is a quick look in the mirror to remind me of my physical imperfection, and a quick look into my heart to remind me of my spiritual imperfection. But I have finally learned:
I can know that I am lovable because I am loved.
God loves me. He's loved me since I was in my mother's womb, already deformed but not yet exposed to the world. He's never held my shortcomings against me, never withheld his love because of my imperfection.
"We love because He first loved us," the Bible tells us (I John 4:19). Do you see? Not "we love because we're so full of goodness," or "we love because we're so overwhelmed with emotion," but "we love because He first loved us." I was certain that I loved others, but I missed the fact that my ability to love came directly from God's love for me.
I always believed in God. I trusted Jesus for my salvation. But I didn't fully believe His words; I didn't quite trust what He said about loving me. I felt unlovable, and I transferred my insecurity into disbelief. Still, He persisted. He kept loving me, kept blessing me, kept waiting for the day when I would understand that He, the Lord of all Creation, the King of Kings, declares me--me! the deformed one!--lovable. He sees every bit of me, every piece that I try to hide--and He finds me lovable.
So I celebrate this Valentine's Day with joy because of a precious bit of knowledge, still new to me: I really am loved. I can let go of my insecurities, drop away my self-protection, stop berating myself. It's been a hard lesson; it's taken me a long time to learn. But now I know the truth, and the truth is that I am loved.
And I want you to know that you are loved, too. You are. Do you know?