I went out for fresh interviews this past weekend in downtown Toms River. I didn’t have a lot of time, as I had a family event on the schedule, so I had a little less than an hour to meet people and hear their stories. Some days it can take quite a while to get a handful of interviews. Other days, it seems like people are searching for someone to talk to them, and I get interviews one right after the other.
On this particular day, I came across two young women, each two streets apart from the other, each very willing to be interviewed. But the similarity didn’t stop there…. Both grew up in abusive homes, both had parents who were addicts, and both had to learn to raise themselves.
But then there was one very significant difference in how they viewed themselves.
Each had a different sense of self-worth as they came out from the shadow of their childhood. Alanna told me, “I learned that I am worthy of love, and I learned to give love to myself.” She was confident, self-assured, and in a very loving relationship.
The other young woman, Amanda, with tears in her eyes, shared, “I just want to know that I am worthy of love. Amanda means, ‘Worthy of love.’ I just wish I felt that I was worthy of love.” She was homeless at the time of the interview, had lost custody of her son, and told me how much of a target she was from men while she lived on the streets.
Two women, similar childhoods, both reflecting on their self-worth—and both with completely different conclusions.
Those three words, “Worthy of love,” I am convinced, is what we all are seeking to feel. Every one of us has unique stories, unique childhoods, unique coming-of-age experiences, a unique ways of seeing ourselves. And yet we are all, each one of us, reckoning with the cry of our soul that longs to know that we can be loved for who we are, that we are enough as we are, that we are valued.
Please know this: You *are* worthy of love. There is a famous book that I love reading almost daily, and in it is says how we are made in “the image of God” Himself. That we are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and we have been known and loved since before the world even began. Isn’t that an incredible, wondrous thought: that we are KNOWN, and deeply LOVED?
My dear friends, your past does not define you. Your mistakes, your failures, your broken promises and dreams unrealized do not define you. And the sins of others against you do not define you. God’s love for you is what defines you, and no mere human can ever take that away.
I shared that with both Alanna and Amanda. I share that with many people I meet. (By the way, I have been working with several others, including churches and professionals, to help Amanda in the middle of her crisis. Things are moving in the right direction for her.)
In fact, I started Portraits of the Jersey Shore, because I myself am no longer a homeless alcoholic, because I learned that there is a God who loves me, and he loves everyone.
And that knowledge changed everything. I sincerely love others unconditionally, without judgment, because I know how deeply loved each of us are. And that unconditional, no-judgment love I have for those whom I meet doing interviews for Portraits of the Jersey Shore, is what defines this page. Every person who has ever been featured on this page has dignity, and is worthy of our love.
I don’t know everyone’s story, but if I was betting man, I would venture to say that there is someone among you that needs to read this: you are deeply loved by God, and you are worthy of the love of everyone you meet. Don’t settle for less than the love and kindness we all long for in this fascinating, mysterious journey called “Life.”
Oh, and by the way, I love you too. ~ Gregory Andrus