God Loves Ugly & love makes beautiful
By Christa Black
FaithWords Copyright © 2012 Christa Black
All right reserved. ISBN: 9781455516599
The Love Bucket
TEN YEARS LATER
The roar of the crowd was deafening.
Well, maybe it wasn’t really a roar. It was more like the ear-bleeding, nails-on-a-chalkboard sound of tires screeching in a high-pitched NASCAR peel-out. I’d never heard anything like it in my life. It was like having to lean into a wind that wasn’t there, as if the sound had fists that kept punching me in the chest as I waited in the dark wings of the outdoor stage. I peered out at the fifty thousand teenagers completely out of their minds in expectation of the vision they were about to behold, said a couple of silent prayers, and prepared to walk out in front of them wearing the shortest miniskirt I’d worn in a decade.
They weren’t, however, screaming for me—or my miniskirt. They were weeping, dripping snot, jumping up and down holding each other, and throwing roses, teddy bears, and sometimes bras at three gorgeous boys with flawless, curly locks of hair and faces so perfectly chiseled, they would later be cast as cherubs in a movie.
The Jonas Brothers were definitely easy on the eyes, easy on the ears, and easy for the heart, especially if you were sixteen or had a thing for dark, Italian hunky types who were raised to be perfect gentlemen.
I had been hired for their world tour after playing one show with them at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. They needed a fiddle player for the gig, but I assured their manager/father when he approached me with the job that even though I was a native Texan living in country-music land, I was just a violinist who could only attempt to fake fiddle. I guess I must have been a pretty good faker, because they asked me to join their band. I have to admit, my lack of cable television left me a bit in the dark when it came to current pop culture, and I had to resort to Google to find out exactly who these teen sensations were and what all the fuss was about.
I quickly found out what the fuss was all about when I was swept up in the middle of it.
This Monterrey, Mexico, show, in front of a crowd so big it could have had its own zip code, was our first stop on a whirlwind of a world tour. The Latin fans were gushing with such admiration, zeal, and insanity, to describe them as “passionate” felt like a gross understatement. In fact, when we drove into the venue, it seemed more like we were in Jurassic Park than at a teenybopper concert. Each tiny, youthful body seemed to morph into Superwoman, rocking our heavy vans back and forth like teeter-totters while pounding on the thin glass barriers that separated them from their beloved obsessions.
I had always dreamed of being in the mainstream music industry. I imagined traveling the globe and filling up my passport with all sorts of colorful stamps, riding on private jets, hanging out in VIP greenrooms, laughing with Letterman and shaking hands with Conan—happily surviving on tiny amounts of sleep to dazzle and entertain millions of people. I secretly hoped for the biggest and best, the grandest and largest, the crème de la crème of tours. Well, here I was, finally sharing the stage with one of the biggest acts in the world.
As I stared out at the expectant fans in a stadium glittering with flashing cameras, a small voice inside my head whispered with pride, “Christa, you’ve done it, girl. You’ve finally made it to the big time.” This had to be it. This had to be the top of the mountain. I had to have finally arrived.
We huddled, prayed, finally chanting, “Living the dream!” before running to our starting positions. Lights spun in strobe patterns, flooding the massive metal rig that held up thousands of pounds of speakers ready to challenge the screaming. LCD screens flashed and twirled with bright images and pictures, taunting the crowd to somehow reach jet-engine decibels. As I stood looking out at the blur of faces, waiting for the downbeat signaling the start of the biggest show of my life, the heart that I had expected to race with exhilaration stopped suddenly.
I swallowed hard, confused, choking back the onslaught of tears building up behind my carefully applied makeup. In the middle of what should have been my crowning moment as a musician—in the midst of the event I had practiced for my entire life in front of my bathroom mirror—an unshakable weight, as heavy as a freight train, fell on top of my heart.
I looked out at the beautiful faces of these frantic girls. They were screaming, weeping, longing for someone to love them, define them—tell them they were pretty and special. They wanted to be chosen, to have their hands touched for a brief moment, to be looked at and noticed as a treasure. I stared into the eyes of pain, of insecurity, and of questioned identity. Empathy consumed me, and familiarity reminded me of the struggles I’d fought for years to overcome. I remembered what it felt like to hurt, to feel like an alien in my own skin, to long for something more, to loathe my reflection—at one point even believing the only way out was to end my own life.
I stopped and breathed a deep sigh—the deep sigh that changed my life.
I wasn’t out there for the glory I once thought I was after. I wasn’t on tour in the hope of seeing my name in lights or gaining the popularity or fame I had once coveted. I wasn’t hired as just another musician, playing yet another instrument and another passing song.
I was there for one thing: to become a friend, a champion, a sister, and a cheerleader for those faces in the crowd. I found myself longing to bestow love on kindred hearts navigating through waters I’d already charted, dying to know the truth that I could clearly see. They were unique, irresistibly beautiful, and powerfully important.
These new feelings were so overwhelming that, as I looked into their eyes, they were changing my heart, becoming my purpose, and completely, absolutely, undeniably taking my breath away.
IN THE BEGINNING
If Webster’s Dictionary defined the term “Great American Family,” you might just find a picture of my family beside the definition. Our checklist was more than complete:
(homemade food, at that)
Easy-Bake Oven: Check
Disco Record Player: Check
Trampoline: Check, Check
By most textbook standards and definitely from the outside looking in, I should have had absolutely nothing to complain about. There was no obvious reason for nightmares, fears, or stumbling hesitations. But there was always one enormous problem that, as I grew older, I could never seem to sweep completely under the rug, no matter how hard I tried.
My first memory of life was sexual.
It wasn’t playing out in the backyard or laughing. It wasn’t learning how to take my first steps or French braiding my Cabbage Patch doll’s hair. Instead of the innocence of a wide-eyed childhood, the discovery of the world with excitement and fearless courage, a few experiences within the sexual realm overshadowed and influenced the enormous wealth of good that came my way.
I’m still not exactly sure what happened—vague memories of a young man working at my mom’s furniture store, fragments of being touched in a way no baby should be touched, and a sexual realm that opened up a secret place of dark shame and dirty emotions.
I felt disgusting. I felt unworthy. I felt, well—wrong. No one taught me as a three-year-old child to hide and be ashamed, but somehow I knew. The core of my humanity sensed that those feelings of sexuality were premature and that I should run and hide when “the blackness” would come rushing over me. Its talons of shame and self-hatred ran deep and hooked strong, frying my emotional circuit board like an electric power line hitting water.
Running and hiding weren’t very easy inside a home supplied with unlimited amounts of unconditional love. The thing was, I had already built a castle of protection around my tiny wounded heart to cope with my experience. My parents continued their onslaught of lavish affection, unaware of the trauma I had encountered, so no matter how much love they gave, I continued to feel completely unworthy of the extravagant gift they were giving.
The truth didn’t really matter. It didn’t matter that my parents loved me more than life itself. It didn’t matter that I was a beautiful little girl with my whole life ahead of me, with pages of my book waiting to be written and uncharted territory explored. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t really tarnished. I wasn’t really ruined. I wasn’t really broken.
What mattered was, I believed that I was.
My worldview had been forged from a circumstance that was far outside of my control, and yet every emotion, every thought, and every action still filtered through that one distorted lens.
I saw the world, and my world was covered in a disgusting black lie.
What I believed wasn’t the truth, but I still lived every moment under its power. I couldn’t help it. Every move that I made, every word that came out of my mouth, the way I treated people, and the way I let them treat me were direct results of an inner list of beliefs written on the fabric of my existence.
My truth was: I’m dirty.
My truth was: I’m ugly.
My truth was: I’m unworthy of love.
So as an innocent little girl, learning the ropes of life, I did what any little girl in my position would do.
I acted out what I believed to be true.
THE LEAKY BUCKET
People cope in different ways when they believe lies about themselves. They act differently when they believe they’re unwanted, rejected, or damaged—maybe believing they’re dirty, wrong, or unlovable. My beliefs about myself might not have been true, but they were the most powerful things in my little universe, and I unconsciously lived through their power every single day. Some cope by giving up all hope. Some try to blend in or become invisible. Some lash out in rebellion and anger. Others become promiscuous.
Well, for whatever reason, I must have thumbed through the coping manual and decided on the overachievement/perfectionist path, dealing with inadequacy through a little thing we all know as performance.
I quickly morphed into a success addict by the ridiculously early age of three. Achieving somehow gave me a small semblance of importance and recognition that temporarily appeased the deficiency I felt within my confused heart.
School was the perfect place to overachieve. I would walk next door to my elderly neighbor’s big white house, crawl up on her afghan-covered couch, and listen intently as she taught me the basics of the English language. Since I’d already learned how to read, teachers quickly advanced me from preschool to kindergarten, and I was instantly labeled a “smart kid” in the class. I loved this label—I loved any sort of attention that led to recognition—feeding my search for new ways to replicate the drugs of success and status.
Then came musical achievement, with violin lessons beginning before some kids are even potty trained. The Suzuki String Program at Texas Tech University accepted children in a wide range of ages, and I was determined to eventually be the best. We’d all pile in the concert hall wearing our matching red shirts—row after row of students of every age playing long concerts in unison as a big orchestral group. The longer the concert continued, the more advanced the pieces became. I was always the youngest kid standing as the difficulty level increased, watching my peers drop like flies around me while I stood, nose held high, to play yet another piece. I hated having to eventually sit down, admitting to an entire audience of people that I wasn’t good enough to play the next song.
Failure was not an option.
I had to win every race, beat the boys at tetherball, and finish every test first with a boasting A on top. I even got detention one time for completing both my assignment and the paper for the girl sitting next to me. She always finished last. I was just trying to help.
Elementary school should have been filled with memories of playgrounds and pigtails. Instead it was a blurry race to the finish. I knew exactly how to perform my way to a quick feeling of success, but the drug would last for only a brief moment—it never seemed to be quite enough. Shame from my past always came barging right back through the door, stronger than ever, as soon as the trophy was won, the play was over, or the concerto was performed and the curtain had been drawn.
One summer Saturday afternoon, my mother and I headed up to a local nursing home to sing for a group of white-haired old ladies in need of some entertainment. We pressed play on the tape player, I proudly climbed up on a metal folding chair—my stage—and with everything I had, my five-year-old lungs belted melodies I had practiced endlessly while standing on our living room hearth. Instead of enjoying the applause that followed, I spent the rest of the week berating myself for forgetting the words to the second verse, which had resulted in a ripple of chuckles and a very loud “Aw, isn’t she cute.”
I didn’t want to be cute. I wanted to be the best.
It didn’t matter that my left brain wasn’t naturally inclined toward science and math. I still had to get first place at the science fair. It didn’t matter that I was long and tall, without a gymnast’s physique. I practiced day in and day out in the front yard, flipping and flopping to keep up with the short girls on the block. I had no idea how to be comfortable in my own skin and with my own abilities. I needed my abilities and your abilities too, and if I wasn’t naturally good at something, I’d slave-drive myself until I was good enough.
Affirmation was my best friend, or so I thought.
Someone would praise me for a performance, but the leaky bucket of my heart seemed unable to hold on to the words. It couldn’t. There seemed to be holes everywhere in my soul, spilling the one substance I desperately wanted to hold on to. I constantly needed someone to tell me that I was a success, that I was good enough, that I was the best, or even that I was just okay. But no matter how much praise I received, it was never enough to fill my deficient heart, never enough to shake the feeling that deep down, my greatest fear was true.
I was really, truly unworthy of love.
On many occasions when I was a kid behaving irrationally, my beautiful mother would bend down, look me in the eyes, and say, “Christa, is your love bucket empty, honey?” I was a walking bucket made for love, but there were massive holes torn in the bucket of my heart by the punches of my past, and the substance of love seemed to slip through me like sand through an hourglass.
The one thing I wanted was the one thing I couldn’t seem to hold on to.
On top of everything, being loved continuously when you believe that you’re unlovable is like throwing salt on a wound. It stings like acid. You want it desperately, instinctively knowing deep down you were wired to need it. In fact, I guarantee you even Adolf Hitler, when he was a baby, longed to be loved and held and cherished. But the more love my parents gave, the more unworthy of love I behaved, constantly trying to find ways to make up for the void and the pain that resided like a monster inside my heart.
I thought surely if they caught a glimpse of what was going on inside my head in secret places, my parents, peers, and teachers would stop their extravagant affection. That wasn’t true, of course, but that didn’t matter.
What mattered was, it was my truth, and I believed it more than I believed the sky was blue.
As a young girl, I would spend hours getting myself ready for school, but the battle was lost before I ever stepped in front of the mirror. I would set my alarm early and spend hours washing, drying, crimping, curling, and spraying every strand of hair, always frustrated that nothing was ever good enough. I was convinced that my reflection was always going to be ugly, that ugly was all I ever saw. I might have felt better about myself some days than others, depending on how well my perm was cooperating, but ultimately, I could never win. I lived most of my childhood feeling sorry for myself, at the mercy of a body, face, and hair that existed to torment me—staring at a reflection that I despised with a vengeance.
My belief created a victim mentality.
Victims aren’t just homeless people living under bridges or people surviving on food stamps. They’re also upstanding citizens, successful doctors, bank presidents, and your neighbor living behind the white picket fence next door. A victim isn’t just a person at the mercy of an unfortunate circumstance. A victim is a person who continues to stay in the mental chains of that circumstance long after the circumstance has gone.
Most people in this world have been victimized in one way or another. It’s unavoidable in our crazy, unpredictable world. You might have been bullied and made fun of growing up, or maybe you were abused in your own home. Your boss might love to embarrass you in front of everyone, or maybe you’re the outcast in your own family. You could have been orphaned, widowed, cheated on, or abandoned.
Whatever has happened to you can never be changed. We can’t reverse time, and we can’t rewrite history. We can’t turn back the clock or jump in a DeLorean, power up the flux capacitor, and head back in time with Marty McFly. What’s done is done. That might sound a bit morbid to some, but it’s the raw, unedited truth. The worst thing victims can possibly do is allow what has happened to them to dictate what is going to happen.
I was a victim of circumstances that led to limitations in my mind for most of my life, even though on the outside I was richly blessed, compared to most. But I believed in pain more than I believed in healing. I believed in what I saw more than in what I could dream. I believed in the past more than I believed in the future. I believed in my limitations more than I believed in my potential. In order to change anything, I had to change what I believed. I had to change my perspective and contend to change my mind.
You weren’t born seeing the world through your personal lens. Your worldview was developed over time, cultivated, and learned from experiences, trauma, parents, siblings, teachers, and peers.
Most of our parents, teachers, and friends did the best job they could with what they had, and some of them didn’t have much to begin with. They yell at you because their mothers yelled at them, or they ignore you because their fathers ignored them. They hit because they were hit. Their behavior is sometimes just a reaction to a wound that never got the chance to heal. People tend to pass along what’s been passed along to them.
These hard cycles of abuse, neglect, rejection, fear, and worry have a tendency to continue their landslide of destruction by passing from mothers and fathers to daughters and sons. We learn these patterns and behavior traits from the environments we were raised in and from the things that have happened to us, and unfortunately these cycles don’t just stop on their own.
They have to be stopped.
WISHING VERSUS BELIEVING
I have two close friends who grew up in terrible situations.
Mark’s southern accent quickly reveals his roots, but you would never be able to tell by looking at his immaculate exterior and pearly white smile that he came from extreme poverty; verbal, physical, and sexual abuse; and a South Carolina trailer park. His dad would introduce him, at the age of three, to people as his “faggot son,” beat him up, push him around, and point loaded guns at the family for sport. Mark lived on food stamps and went to bed hungry. He wore hand-me-downs and was constantly bullied. One night after a few too many beers, his dad decided to set their trailer on fire, depriving the family of their childhood pictures and keepsakes. Any time I meet a member of Mark’s family (or he calls and asks me to pray because his sister is missing again, on another crystal-meth binge), I’m in complete shock. He defies all statistics, logic, and odds to have beaten down the generations of gates that held him prisoner and moved on to be extremely well spoken, loved, stable, and successful in his field. He’s that one friend who is always known to bring a good, deep laugh (and a little bit of crazy fun) to any situation, always looks at the glass as half-full, and has completely dedicated his life to helping those around him who are in need, regardless of who they are and what he can get from the process. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone more selflessly reliable as a friend than my dearest forever-brother, Mark.
At seventeen, completely broke and with nothing to his name except a dream and some extra-strength determination, he hopped in an old car with a friend, left his past behind him, and drove over five hundred miles to Nashville, Tennessee. Now, even though his upbringing should have produced someone destined for the trailer park, he is one of the most successful, incredible, sought-after songwriters I know, jetting back and forth between his three places in New York, LA, and Nashville.
He didn’t just wish for more. He determined in his heart and mind to believe that he was more.
My high school best friend Lacy grew up hating her family. She hated that they were all alcoholics. She hated that they were all chain-smokers. She hated that her single mother would bring drunken men home to sleep with in the room next to hers. Then she hated her new stepdad for watching and touching her in the darkness as she slept. She hated the way no one in her family had gone to college. She hated how they always lived below the middle-class line, jumping from job to job and relationship to relationship, existing in a marijuana-induced daze.
The last time I spoke with her, years ago, I was shocked and grieved to hear that everything she hated and despised about her own family, she had become. She was an alcoholic. She was a chain-smoker. She had four different locks on her front door because of the amount of drugs stashed in her tiny apartment. She was nervously laughing, trying to hide the pain, while telling me about her present situation—her live-in boyfriend had announced to her that he was gay, but they decided to save money and wait until their lease was up to part ways, ignoring each other in the meantime as they coexisted in silent pain. She had dropped out of college and was waiting tables at a local restaurant, jumping into bed with anyone who would take her, girl or boy, miserable and living in the same downward spiral she despised her family for.
We used to sit on her front porch in high school, talking about our dreams for the future. Believe me, not one of her dreams even remotely resembled the nightmare that was going on in the house behind us. She even swore over and over with violent fury that this poverty lifestyle would never be her fate. But somewhere deep inside that sixteen-year-old heart, this hard life was all she truly believed she deserved. She longed to be free from the past generations, who had written a painful, crippling history, but wishing for something and believing something are not the same thing.
Wishing for something never changes anything, but believing produces action.
And action changes everything.
You are a house.
You live in this house; you move in this house; you exist in this house. Continues...
Excerpted from God Loves Ugly by Christa Black Copyright © 2012 by Christa Black. Excerpted by permission.
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