The year was 1997 and I was in my first (and only) year of public school. Like a good little girl, I had lined up on the sidewalk which led from the playground to the awning. Recess was over and I was waiting behind several of my sweaty peers to go to my next class. As I stood there, minding my own business and doing as Mrs. D. instructed, the unthinkable happened. Have you ever heard the nursery rhyme about Georgie Porgie? You know, the guy who “kissed the girls and made them cry”? Well, I don’t know why those particular young women cried after being kissed, but I know that my own experience was met with such excruciating humiliation, that I immediately burst into tears.
I had been kissed. On the cheek. On the run. By that weird boy from the classroom next door. And I was not handling it well.
In retrospect, the worst part of this story is that I lied to Mrs. D. about the reason for my tears. I told her, as I had heard other crying children confess, that I missed my Mommy. Mrs. D. let me sit in her chair behind the big desk during the next period, a good place to compose myself. This may seem like a funny story to someone who doesn’t know me, but to anyone who does, it looks like a perfectly ordinary day. Not that I get kissed by strangers every day (ha!), but that I cry (almost) every day. I’m a genuine cry-baby.
There is hardly an emotion available to womankind that doesn’t call forth the waterworks. Sadness, happiness, embarrassment, frustration, anger, relief. And this would be manageable if it weren’t for the fact that I feel all of these emotions deeply…within the hour. My childhood was wrought with temper tantrums, tearful explosions and emotional roller coasters that made pregnant women look like perfectly balanced pendulums. It wasn’t that I didn’t have a happy childhood — remember, happiness is an emotion too! But I was constantly at the mercy of my overly active tear ducts and fiery disposition.
At the age of nine, I’m convinced that fate wickedly dealt me a hand of hormones with a side of junior high drama. There’s hardly been a sane moment since. What I mean is, this isn’t a success story of how some pill or prayer or word of advice (and trust me, there have been lots of prayers!) healed me. I am a very emotional person and that’s just the way it is. The success, as is so often the case, lies in the midst of the circus that is my heart.
I was probably ten years old when, like many days before, I had been sent to my room to cool off. My dad came in with a brown paper bag and held it up to my mouth. “Breathe.” He instructed. (Novel idea, this breathing!) Taking the bag in two hands, I struggled to inhale and exhale without hyperventilating. When other kids were memorizing the times tables, I was hyperventilating. It was a long-term hobby of mine.
Between shaky, hiccupy breaths, I cried out to my dad: “Why. Am. I. So….emotional. All. The time?! Why. Can’t. I. Stop. Cryyying?!”
The funny thing is, I have no idea why I was crying that particular day. These emotional outburst had become so common, I don’t have many memories of specific triggers. What I do remember is my dad’s response.
“God made you this way for a reason.” He said. “And he’s going to use every bit of you, even your emotions. I love you just the way you are, tears and all.”
At the time, I thought this was the nicest and most naive thing anyone had ever said. Though I was touched that my dad loved me, even though I was so flawed, I knew that God couldn’t use this part of me, this disability. That was about eleven years ago. During that time, God has asked me to do things I never dreamed I’d be capable of. I’ve led Bible studies, preached the Word on my blog, pitched a book to real live publishers, counseled women through the iron gate of an abortion clinic and reached out to strangers. My words have been my sword and shield, but do you know what they don’t do? They don’t protect my heart.
That most tender of vessels. Doesn’t God know it needs extra shelter? Doesn’t God know that it feels every little vibration in this life? Every harsh review. Every degrading glance. Every piece of good news. Every testimony of grace. Every cry of pain. Every plea for help. It goes straight to my heart and I cannot help but feel.
And yet, instead of protecting it from this world, God has kept it as tender as it was eleven years ago. He sends it out into the world to experience the pain of others. To recount their stories with feeling. To be moved to act. To empathize.
Many days, I still ask myself, “Why don’t I have more control over my emotions?” After all, self-control is a fruit of the Spirit we should all ask for. If I had the ability to control my expression, my life would surely look different. This control is something I still pray for, day-by-day. But I no longer ask myself why I must feel so deeply. God is doing a deep work with this mushy heart of mine and I am thankful.