The gift of a woman’s story is often what God uses to speak hope into the stories of others. My friend, Dr. Michelle Bengtson has told such a story. It is my honor to share it with you today!
Dr. Michelle Bengtson
We’ve all heard the childhood rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break by bones, but names will never hurt me.” I knew from a very young age that that was a lie. Even as I said them on the playground in response to a peer’s cruel taunts, I knew it wasn’t true.
Scripture tells us that the tongue has the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21), but do we teach our children that? Or do we perpetuate ignorance by reciting simple rhymes?
Having worked in the field of psychology for over 20 years, it’s evident to me that children don’t realize the long-term significance of what they say. They behave toward others in the very same way that’s been modeled to them.
As an adult who has been wounded by the words of others since early childhood, I probably err on the side of not saying enough—not wanting to draw any more attention to myself or risk further rejection.
Only three years old when I was stricken with an undiagnosable and life threatening illness, I was left to deal with the physical and emotional ramifications the rest of my life. What doctors could only now hypothesize was “like” polio or Reye’s syndrome, left me of very petite height and with a physical deformed leg and foot. My feet two different sizes: one a normal woman’s size and shape, and the other a little girl’s size and deformed like the Asian feet that were bound in order to remain small but very much disfigured.
Perhaps peers didn’t know any better, or maybe they did. It didn’t matter either way – words still wound. Their taunts, jeers, and name calling served to solidify the lying whispers of the enemy: “You’re ugly,” “People won’t like you because you’re ‘different,’” “You aren’t as good as everyone else,” or “Since you aren’t perfect, you’re worthless.”
I didn’t know I was any different from my normally formed and able-bodied peers until they and the enemy of my soul painfully pointed it out. Then there was no going back. From then on, all I knew was that I was “less than” everyone else.
We can perpetuate the cliché “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” but that doesn’t make it true. Names did hurt and still do. “Peg leg,” “Slow poke,” and “Shorty” wounded my heart making me wonder as a child why a loving God would let such a thing happen to an innocent child He supposedly loved.
Even recently an adult who “should” know better, commented on one of my social media posts that I resembled a midget! Really?!
Being “different” affected my self-esteem in many ways. I never wanted to be the center of attention at the risk of my flaws becoming the focus. As a child, I believed the enemy when he warned “Others can’t and won’t love you unless you’re perfect, so surely God won’t either.” Unknowingly, this started a cycle of becoming driven and very much a perfectionist in my efforts to become acceptable and lovable in God’s sight. Until I couldn’t…
Afflicted by a devastating illness in adulthood that required me to be bed-ridden and sustained on IV-nutrition and hydration, I could no longer be the “go-getter” I had become. In those devastating days of illness, I could not “do” or “be” and was forced to “rest”—not something this driven work-a-holic knew how to do. I found myself at the end of myself; my identity was stripped away.
As I cried out to God like I had never done before, a change started taking place. He showed me that He never loved me because of what I had done for Him. He simply loved Me. Me. Such a profound revelation for this “do-er” who could no longer do.
As my health slowly returned and insurance deductibles met, I underwent reconstructive foot surgery. My hopes were high for a new foot. A beautiful foot. A “normal” foot. That was not to be. When the surgeon allowed me to ditch the surgical boot and return to wearing my regular shoes, I spent hours one Sunday morning prior to church trying on every pair of shoes in my closet only to find that not a single shoe fit my foot. The surgery left me unable to even wear the few shoes I had been able to find in both sizes and served as a daily reminder of my flaws and inadequacies.
Not one to ever really express my anger to God (I had read the book of Job – I knew how God responded to Job when Job asked “Why?”), I had never felt safe expressing to God my hurt and anger for my disfigurement. Until that day. That day I cried years’ worth of tears in despair and frustration.
As my sobs slowed to a stream of tears flowing down my cheek, an image was seared in my heart of Cinderella as she lost her second shoe running from the palace at midnight. Seeking God about this image, I sensed Him saying, “You are not your deformity. What I see is your heart, which is beautiful.” The enemy was the one who taught me I wasn’t beautiful–but that didn’t line up with God’s truth.
At a friend’s recent “Bucket List” party, she encouraged us to dream about our deepest heart’s desires. We each wrote down 10 things that would make this the best year ever if they came true: some jotted down dreams of travel, others shared desires for creative pursuits to flourish, and others longed for a more simplified life. Initially my list included hopes for deeper relationships, vocational pursuits, and ministry endeavors.
We then shared our heart’s greatest desire: number one from our list of ten. When my turn came, I couldn’t see through the tears that flowed from the depths of my heart down my cheek and onto my page. Nothing on my list mattered anymore, as the Holy Spirit seemed to whisper “share your deepest desire – give a voice to it. I know it anyway, so acknowledge it. There’s nothing wrong with the desire of your heart except that you’ve given up on it.”
I had given up on it…so much so that it didn’t even register in my mind as a consideration for my list. There would be no forgetting it now, as the pain of unfulfilled desires lodged a knot in my throat. Barely above a whisper, I made my heart’s desire known to this group of onlookers: “Beautiful Shoes.”
None of them understood, so I explained. I exposed not only my deepest desire, but also my biggest insecurity—the one I always tried to cover up and hide. They didn’t laugh or stare, instead they prayed and confirmed they wanted it for me too.
That Sunday after surgery on my closet floor, when my heart felt broken and despairing, the Lord shared with me the verse,
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” Isaiah 52:7 NIV
The Lord reminded me of that verse through the encouraging words of one woman at that party. The thing that the enemy used all those years to condemn me to others and myself, was the very thing God would use to teach me in whom my security must rest.
One day I will wear beautiful shoes! And more importantly, one day I will dance with my Father God free from any shame and insecurity.
(A portion of this post was previously published on March 10, 2015 on http://comparedtowho.me/2015/03/10/when-words-hurt/ )
Bio: Author, speaker and board certified clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Michelle Bengtson is also a wife, mother and friend. She knows pain and despair firsthand and combines her professional expertise and personal experience with her faith to address issues surrounding medical and mental disorders, both for those who suffer and for those who care for them. She offers sound practical tools, affirms worth, and encourages faith. Dr. Michelle Bengtson offers hope as a key to unlock joy and relief—even in the middle of the storm. She blogs regularly on her own site: http://www.DrMichelleBengtson.com
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Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/DrMBengtson (@DrMBengtson)