Hug me now. It’s over. I love you. I heard the words so often as a child that I grew to despise them. Every time my mother told me she loved me, it was preceded by a black eye, a bloody lip, or a sore scalp from where she pulled my hair. One particular incident has tattooed itself into my subconscious. It’s never far from reach, reminding me of its presence whenever I feel the need to say those three little words. I watch from behind the background of time and remind myself that I have healed and no longer need its hateful clutches of resentment.
We were driving down a darkened road. The car swerved left and right as she tried to stay in one lane. Her left hand was on the steering wheel, her right hand on the back of my head. Smash! Smash! Smash! Her bleary eyes promised death threats as my head connected with the dashboard.
“You’ll w-w-isshh you’d n-nev-never (hick) messsed with meee! How d-d-dare y-you try and telll meee how to l-live! Little brat! Take that!” (hick!)
I don’t remember how we got home, but I do remember the darkness and the pain. In the morning after she’d slept away the stupor of the previous night, she would remind me that she’s allowed to make mistakes. “Pencils have erasers. If you love me, you’ll let this go.”
Hug me now. It’s over. I love you.
I hated it when she said those words but my young mind understood they were necessary. All she knew was anger. I had to endure, for without me, she wouldn’t have anyone. My brother was too small and needed to be protected. Her family just gave her money. I learned that love meant pain. When a person said they loved me, what they really meant was that they either wanted something from me or had already taken it with force. I was a rag doll, easily used for the pleasure of others, easily discarded for my lack of worth.
When I finally moved out on my own, everything I had ever been taught was suddenly challenged. I started going to church and made some new friends. It was with these people that my whole perception of love was shattered in the most amazing way. I was fascinated by how gently they spoke and how giving they were. How strange it was that they never yelled or raised their fists in anger! Whenever anyone had a need, somebody filled it. So odd was it that they never asked for anything in return!
Slowly, my fears started to fade until I was no longer alarmed when a voice suddenly rose in excitement. When they hugged me, the feelings were so wonderfully foreign that I craved them like a hunger- stricken beggar. The most unusual part about it all was when they told me they loved me. I had heard the words uttered a thousand times in my life but never in this manner. How could someone love me without hurting me?
I waited for the other shoe to drop but it never did. These people never raised a hand to me, never yelled at me, never made me feel like I was worthless. My new friends were very gracious in allowing me to “practice” loving them as I had been learning. Many times I got it wrong, leaving a trail of broken hearts in my wake. Gradually, I allowed the Truth to light its way around my heart. It softly explored every cave and cavern, every dusty, moldy crevice of my cold and dilapidated soul.
I saw His love in every act of kindness and in every promise of forgiveness. He was there, scarred hands stretched out and welcoming. I ran into them and never looked back. In all the years since, I have continued to immerse myself in the true essence of God. I know I don’t deserve his mercy and grace, but I accept it freely because I know what it cost him.
The scars from my past have taught me a valuable lesson. If it were not for my mother’s words, the message of the cross would have fallen on deaf ears. Love is the purest form of sacrifice. My mother told me over and over again how much she loved me. Jesus showed me.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. (1 John 3:16a)
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