“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:30-31 NLT
“I loved the way that he looked at you.” That was the greatest compliment my mom could have ever given Tony. She could see how much he loved and cared for me just by the look in his eyes.
He took lots of pictures and videos of me over our 3 and a half years together from dating to his last days on this earth. At the time, I’d tilt my head and politely ask him to stop. I hated pictures of just myself. Those images became treasures in the aftermath of his passing. They now provide a timeless reminder of how he looked at me, how he saw me.
He saw me as dearly loved.
He was the catalyst for me learning to see myself that way too.
This 3rd year of grief has been a turning point for me. I no longer view life through the lens of loosing Tony. Most days, my first thought in the morning is not that of being a widow. I’ve let go of Tony in a multitude of ways; I’ve let go of how life “should have been.”
And in it’s place, I’ve begun to embrace what’s on the other side of my loss. And what I’ve uncovered has been completely unexpected.
I’ve discovered what it looks like to love myself.
I’ve found freedom in settling into my own skin.
I’m embracing myself with open and accepting arms…
for the very first time in my life.
Shocking, I know.
A few months back, I was asked by a woman who I esteem highly for her insight and wisdom, “Melissa, how do you feel about yourself?”
I quickly blurted out, “I don’t like myself; most days I downright hate being me.” There. I had finally said it. I had finally put words around an angst I had carried almost my entire life.
Her next challenge to me was the very verses above. “What do you think about the 2nd greatest commandment from Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself?“
It hit me like a ton of bricks. If I talked to my neighbor the way I talked to myself, I’d have no friends. How could I love my neighbor as myself if I could not honestly say that I loved myself? Years of striving to be perfect, of trying to combat the fear of never being “good enough,” had taken it’s toll.
It all seems so simple, but my life truly changed that day. I’ve never been the same. I never want to be the same.
I’ve attributed Tony over and over these last 3 and a half years for teaching me what it was like to be loved extravagantly, of how that was just a tiny taste of how my great God loves me. What I didn’t realize until now is that was just the beginning. His love, even in it’s brevity, instigated a freedom movement in my heart and my mind.
I’ve been set free to love myself, not in a self-absorbed sort of way, but through a lens of authenticity, of kindness and gentleness for myself….as myself.
I’m finding that loving my neighbor out of this love is so much more life-giving, a natural overflow. And I’m just starting to grasp how God sees me and loves me too.
So, on what would have been his 39th birthday, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to my late husband, Tony. I’m finally seeing me the way he saw me. And that is a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful beginning.
Dearly loved, as myself,