Our boys have stayed involved in the Cub Scout pack that Woodrow joined back in 1st grade, despite the fact that we moved to a different part of town over a year ago. We make the drive back to east Orlando for meetings and other events. This past weekend, all 4 of us helped with Scouting for Food, dropping off bags in neighborhoods that we ask people to fill with non-perishable food (the bags, not the neighborhoods). We’ll collect those for a food bank this Saturday.
After we finished this task, we went to a “mall area” over there for lunch. We passed a shop with a neon sign reading “Homemake Ice Cream” hanging in its window. This store has been around for years, a local franchise of a national chain. I did a double take when I saw the sign–one, because I tend to notice mistakes like that, and two, because my aging eyes sometimes mix words up. But, no, it was what it seemed to be–homemake ice cream. And it gave me pause as I remembered a time I visited that store with the boys back in 2009.
To give us something to do, I’d scrounged up a coupon for this shop and taken the boys there on a hot afternoon. I was wearing one child in the Baby Bjorn and had one toddling alongside me. I don’t remember what precipitated what came next, but I do remember becoming a very cranky, demanding customer–complaining about the prices or sizes or both. Around that time, I had a similar experience at a smoothie store. Waiting (again with my boys) for my name to be called, I learned my smoothie had been given to somebody who’d ordered the same thing (but had ordered after me, forcing me to wait longer than necessary). Again, I morphed into a disgruntled, indignant customer.
These instances weren’t run-of-the-mill annoyances. I was genuinely frustrated with the people whose job it was to serve me. For several years–from about age 29, when I remember angrily demanding the ketchup I’d requested at an airport restaurant–to my mid-30’s, I observed myself as if watching a stranger from a distance while I gave the reins over to my emotions and scorched and burned whoever had caused me to feel overlooked, whoever didn’t serve me or notice me as I should have been able to expect.
Other people experienced me in a different way. A couple of ladies told me they thought I was one of the kindest people they’d known. And I could be, but I often wasn’t–by choice. I remember having one of these moments in a passport office, at a store in New Zealand where I tried to pay our phone bill once…It hurts to reflect on these, so I’ll stop there.
My husband introduced me to an 80’s band called Big Country after we got married. Their song “In a Big Country” has a line in it that goes, I never took the smile away from anybody’s face. I know I cannot say the same for myself–and not because I had to break bad news to a person or because I had to speak a hard truth, but because I was mean. Or rude. Or angry. Or some combination of all that. Southerners sometimes say, “Don’t be ugly,” in a way that has nothing to do with appearance; that command refers to conduct, and if pretty is as pretty does, I had some moments of dang ugly.
When I look back 7, 8, 10 years into the past, and I see how much the Lord has tenderized my heart and caused me to blossom in His love and assured me that I have nothing to prove, I gain a bit of “critical distance” (as my Political Science professor in college said). And I’m able to understand better HOW I came to respond to so many situations with that level of indignant emotion back then.
To say I wasn’t myself then would be a gross understatement. I’ve always been a passionate person, always have had ‘big’ emotions–sometimes they were (and are) used in unhealthy and unkind ways. Sometimes I lose my temper. But in that period, it’d be more accurate to say that I lost myself. I still sought Jesus and sought friendships, looked for ways to serve others and have adventure, spent time with my husband and precious children. But for a while, I had come to believe God was deeply disappointed with me–and I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, except that I had been gazing at myself through another’s eyes. What I saw reflected to me was ugly, not lovely, not want-able. I began to assume I’d missed the opportunity for abundant life, that this was for other Jesus followers but not for me. I had known and followed Jesus for YEARS, and this struggle not only surprised me, I also concluded my assumptions must be true.
If I were lovely, this person by whom I measured myself would see me, treat me, differently. What’s wrong with me? became a common question. I didn’t feel valued, cherished, didn’t feel noticed or seen or even worthy of any of that. I felt I had nothing to offer, although I desperately wanted to be convinced those feelings were wrong. So when that smoothie salesgirl handed my order off to somebody else, here’s what I heard…”Just like you thought! You’re not worthy of attention, of being considered important. You’re kind of invisible, in fact. Your worst fear? I’m confirming it. I get PAID to wait on customers, and you don’t even make that cut.”
Now, this part-time employee said nothing of the sort. But that time, and all the other times like it, amounted to salt poured into an open wound. And here’s how I responded. “Oh! So you think I don’t deserve the same acknowledgement and validation as everybody else? Well, you don’t get to treat me that way! You don’t get to do things that make me believe that about myself! I know I’m worth more–and here’s how I’ll prove it: I’ll gripe and grumble and argue and rant so you know I deserve better.” And anybody on the receiving end of that would just LOVE to serve that kind of customer, right?
It sounds trite, but I’ve experienced it to be true: Hurt people hurt people. This summer, a friend mentioned something about a long-ago “sketchy” past. I considered that and then thought to myself, “Well, I’ve had a b*tchy past.” A few caveats about that: I don’t refer to myself or other women with the ‘b’ word; I think it’s degrading. And I think we’re all allowed bad moods, bad days, and bad attitudes without being labeled the ‘b’ word. But at the time, in my musings, it seemed to fit.
I still sin–surprise, surprise–but thankfully that season is firmly in my past. I’ve regained myself; I’m more ‘Allison’ than I’ve ever been, I think, more the woman God created me to be than before–and I believe I’m still growing in that direction.
What has helped me heal? Years of continually seeking Jesus, continually going back to the truth of what He says about me, even when it didn’t (doesn’t) feel true. What I gleaned personally from marriage counseling. Believing that a woman does blossom when she’s loved–and I was already loved fully in Jesus, no matter how another person saw me.
The next time we return to that mall area I may stop by the store selling homemake ice cream. Not with a coupon or an apology, just as a customer. With a smile.