I was crossing the Hawthorne Bridge, beginning a long walk along the Willamette River, when I passed an older man carrying an over-sized pack on his back and a large bible in the crook of his arm. I smiled and said, “Hello.” As he passed me he replied, “You’re beautiful.” As the distance between us increased, I called out thank you. Then I began to cry.
It had been a VERY long time since anyone has said that to me. I hadn’t realized how much my heart needed to hear it.
This past December I wore a dress every day as a way to raise awareness and support to end human trafficking. To do this, I took pictures of myself in said dresses and posted them on social media. This activity, along with figuring out new ensembles, forced me to look at myself FAR MORE frequently than I was accustomed to and lead to an amount of emotional distress for which I was completely unprepared.
I did not believe I was beautiful.
Some days I did not want to do this Dressember Challenge at all. Then I’d get upset with myself because my emotional discomfort was FAR MORE trivial than ANYTHING the people I was doing this for had to endure. So I would stop what I was doing and pray for the people trapped in trafficking and for the end of the whole system. Soon I was over myself and posted something to which people responded and became more aware and supported the cause.
As a single woman, there are lots of things I don’t get that I firmly believe women in committed relationships should get every single day. Mostly a hug and told she is beautiful and loved; not out of duty or obligation, but out of desire and truth. As a single woman of many years I’ve learned how to live without these things. But, not so deep within me, there is a place that would really like these daily affirmations to be a part of my life.
So when this stranger, who was not being weird or creepy (trust I can spot THAT MESS from MILES AWAY, that is a skill I HAVE honed as a single lady of many a year) said something my heart needed to hear, I wondered why I hadn’t heard it I so long.
For the next half mile or so I wondered why I hadn’t felt loved. Then I thought that perhaps fear holds us back from loving. Fear that we would look or feel foolish. And that’s exactly how fear/the enemy wants us to feel. Fear wants us to withhold love. Fear tells us that love must be reciprocated by the very person it is given or we will feel hallow and lost and left out and, quite possibly, cease to exist.
Fear is a liar.
As I walked further down the Eastbank Esplanade on January 2nd I thought about how people choose a word to focus on for a year. I eye-roll at this most of the time because this a “thing” now and I’m cynical of “things.” Then I realized that I usually do have some sort of phrase I focus on, like in 2010 when I chose “meets, it’s where it’s at” but later changed it to the far less cynical “walk in love” and then another year when I chose “joyful anticipation” to help me not to dread another year of extreme uncertainty.
So I let go of my pride and I thought about how different the world would be if everyone’s word of the year was “love.”
Love is kind, and unselfish, and is about lifting other people up instead of tearing them down and love, by its nature, expels fear. I think that most of our choices as humans are made out of fear of some sort or another.
But what would happen if our choices were made out of love instead?
Sure, love can be complicated and overwhelming but it can also be super simple, like when Jesus tells the disciples to, “start with giving a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty*” or, in today’s increasingly isolated society, when you chose to compliment someone on her teal suede boots or on the Major Tom patch on his puffy coat instead of remaining silent because you fear what that person will think.
It’s not too late. Kick fear in the face and choose love.
*Matthew 10:42 The Message