In October 1995, more than 20 years ago, I journeyed on the Walk to Emmaus, a Christian retreat that is power-packed with 72 hours of food, fun, reflection, food, “true stories”, skits, glue, food, laughter, crying, food, and great friends. Did I mention the food?
This post isn’t about the Walk. Well, not really. It’s about me. No, seriously! It’s about me. More so, about who I used to be. And I’m really surprised I am able to expose this part of my soul to you…
All through my early years and into my teens, I hated who I was. I had zero respect for myself, and I could find almost no redeeming qualities. All I knew was—I was a big nobody, and no one truly cared about me, save my parents, who were supposed to care. I had no confidence in myself, and I had no expectations that I would ever amount to anything. I felt like an ugly person who was not likable. And I also felt like the friends I had only let me hang out with them because of pity. In my head and heart, I was rejected. So, I ignored the pain and accepted it as my “normal”, and lived my miserable life. In order to cope with the pain, I became very plastic and surface level. I hid behind my religion, and behind my façade, and refused to come out from behind my fortress.
Thinking about it all these years later, I don’t know why I was so hard on myself. I have never been able to find a genesis of my self-loathing. All I know is that I had absolutely no self-esteem, and I carried it with me into my adult years. Like a first-year acting student, I walked through life trying to say all the right things, and not bump into the furniture. I hid my true feelings in my sarcastic sense of humor, and prayed that no one would try to discover the real me. Because if they did, they would reject me, and it would be too painful. Sadly, this was what I carried into my marriage, and my dear wife suffered for many years from my plastic, surface level relationship.
Why am I telling you this? I’m not entirely sure, but there must be a reason. It took me decades to appreciate who I was, and decades for me to fall in love with myself. It wasn’t an “ah ha!” moment. It was a long, slow process for me to recover from my feelings of rejection and self-hatred. And the beginning of my healing occurred at Camp Butman, on the Walk to Emmaus.
One of the really cool parts of the Walk involves letters. Friends and family are asked to send a
Recently, we moved from Texas to New Mexico, and my wife has been going through old boxes and trying to get everything unpacked. She opened one very old box and discovered my stash of Emmaus letters and handed them to me, asking if I wanted to keep them. Curious about them, I placed them on my desk and planned to glance at them when I got a chance. They sat there for several days. In truth, I was ignoring them. They brought back memories of how much I hated myself when I was much younger.
I very clearly remember the day I sat down with my letters. They gave us about an hour to read them. And they warned us that we might shed a tear or two. I was not prepared for what happened to me. I looked at my stack of letters and notes, and counted more than 30 of them. I carefully opened one and read it. It was from someone I didn’t even know, but someone who knew who I was. They mentioned how they admired my sense of humor, and my casual demeanor, and my smile, and always thought I’d be fun to hang out with.
My hands began to tremble, and my heart faltered. I set that letter aside, because it must be a joke. No one wanted to hang out with me. They never did, and never would. I was a nobody. I read the next letter. It said pretty much the same thing. My breaths were cut short, and my mind was on fire. Then I read one from a friend, who I’d known my whole life, and he expressed his appreciation for me and said he always valued me as a person, and kindly thought of me as a son. That did it…the crack in the dam broke, and my mind and emotions were out of control. I began to weep. Not simply wet-eyed tears, but full-blown lamentation, all of my brokenness pouring out of me. I managed to open another letter and saw the same thing. Some kind soul sent me a note that they always enjoyed being around me, and they hoped I was having a great day. And then I completely lost it.
Our group leader was watching me, and he was very concerned. He softly approached me, “hey, are you okay?” But, I couldn’t respond. I was crying with such vitality that I couldn’t even nod. I simply buried my head into his shoulder and let the poison in my soul flush out. For more than an hour I sat and cried, and the group even went to lunch and left me sitting there (at my insistence). I simply couldn’t function. I was truly broken, and I couldn’t get control. Never before had I experienced so much love and appreciation, and when it came to me, I was simply overwhelmed. I had no idea that people liked me. And I had no idea why.
It took me weeks to read through all of my letters. Not because there were so many, but because I didn’t have the strength to continually pour myself out like that. Eventually, I read through them all, and placed them in a paper bag, and put them in a box. They have been untouched until today.
It was quite a memory for me to read through the letters. Sadly, many of the people who wrote them are no longer with us. Some of the letters were funny. Joe Kelley wrote one, in which he claimed he was driving down the road in a moving van and had to cut it short. He sent a couple of letters, in fact. Most were very short. But all of them were written with love. Heck, some of them are not signed, and I have no idea who they are. Some of them are from people I’ve never met. And they changed my life. That was the day my healing began. It was a very long road for me, too.
Today, I can say—I really like who I am, and I don’t mind looking at myself in the mirror and seeing that middle-aged man looking back at me. I’m at peace with who I am, and I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished. As Indiana Jones once said, “It ain’t the years, it’s the mileage.”
So, if you were one of those who sent a letter to me at the Walk to Emmaus, I want to thank you. You had a hand in my healing, and I’m truly grateful.
So, let me make some use of this vulnerability. Take time to let someone know that you appreciate them, and you like them. Such actions can really change a person, and it might make all the difference to them. Let people know you care. Because it truly matters.