I was a melancholy child. The photo albums show a toddler with a woebegone expression peeking at the world through the bars of a playpen. My earliest memory is trailing my mom around the house as she vacuumed and asking her over and over, Do you love me? Silencing the roaring machine momentarily, she’d reply, Of course I do. But some kids never really believe that. Especially if you were one of the misfits, too pudgy or too tall, too scrawny or too brainy.
I was one of the overweight kids. Much to my horror, the neighborhood kids dubbed me Fatty, a nickname that followed me into elementary school, where there was also a tall, skinny girl (String Bean), a little boy with thick glasses (Four Eyes) and a child who lived in poverty and didn’t bathe regularly (Stinky). When Sister assured the class that God loved us, I was skeptical. I could understand him loving the little girl who sat next to me. She had buttery curls, turquoise eyes and a neat little waist. But why would he love someone like me? Someone who didn’t fit in? Someone whom the other kids delighted in taunting? Someone who was always among the last chosen for the softball team?
After a ferocious bout of dieting in my 20’s, I finally slimmed down, and today people marvel when I confide that I was once overweight and dumpy. Still, once you’ve been a misfit, that mentality haunts you all your life. At times you look in the mirror and see the fat kid staring back at you. Your self-esteem seems lower than a snake’s belly, and you have a hard time believing anyone could really care about you.
One night recently I was struggling with a fierce case of the blues. Suddenly I felt as if I’d been thrust back in time to my first-grade classroom, surrounded by the jeering faces of my classmates. I was the fat kid again, lonely and despised. As the old familiar tide of sorrow rose in my heart, I sat on the couch and wept mightily. No one loves me, I roared, not even God.
The next morning, when I checked my e-mail, I was surprised to discover that my best friend, Pam, had sent me a note. Tears came to my eyes as I read her message, which was brimming with affection. You are my dearest and best friend, my sister, and life is better because of you, she wrote. You bring great joy to my life and I want you to know that I love you very much.
I marveled at the timeliness of her message. There was no way she could have known about my distress the night before. What a coincidence, I thought. And then suddenly I remembered Carl Jung’s theory of synchronicity. He dismissed the idea of coincidences and cautioned us instead to pay close attention to the events that seem inexplicably connected in our daily lives. They might contain messages we need to hear.
The next day, when I returned home from work, I saw the light pulsing on my phone answering machine. Listening to the recording, I felt a chill race up and down my spine. The caller was a woman I’d never met, someone who had read my articles in the local newspaper. She said she’d been moved by the Holy Spirit to contact me. I want you to know what a blessing you’ve been to me, she said. I don’t know where you are on your spiritual journey, but I want to encourage you and assure you that I’m praying for you.
I was stunned. My logical mind couldn’t fathom what was happening. Somehow, these two stirring proclamations of affection and support seemed like made-to-order responses to my earlier outburst of despair.
Early the next morning, I was riding the shuttle bus from the parking deck to the library where I work. When all the other passengers had departed, I suddenly felt inclined to strike up a conversation with the driver, a heavy-set black woman in her 40’s. Although I’d taken the bus every morning for months, this was our first conversation. She told me how much she loved driving the little bus. Even though some folks might grow weary driving the same circular route for hours, she told me she enjoyed the early morning solitude. She loved to pray and sing when she was alone on the bus.
What do you like to sing? I asked her.
Oh, just different things, she said, glancing at me shyly in the mirror. Will you sing for me? I asked. At first she just laughed.
Then, as she navigated the bus over a speed bump, she glanced back at me in the rear view mirror and beamed me a big smile. Seconds later, she belted out, Jesus loves me, this I know ’cause the Bible tells me so.
I found myself marveling as I departed the shuttle. I might have shrugged off the first two events as mere coincidences, but this third one wouldn’t easily bow its head to the sword of reason. Something mysterious was going on here.
Then I remembered the one who embraced the lepers, the prostitutes, the broken-down and the despondent. The one who was stripped and beaten. And taunted by the crowd.
O.K., Lord, I whispered in prayer, I get it. You’re telling me you love me. And you’re reminding me you never give up on anyone. Not even the misfits.