Maybe it was something I said, I remember thinking, as the camp counselor called for lights out and the room went dark. I slipped into the navy blue sleeping bag I bought from home and turned my face to the wall to hide my embarrassment, though the room was already dark.
Or, maybe it was the way I said it, my nine-year-old thoughts continued to spiral. I shouldn't have been so forceful. She might've thought I was being too aggressive. I consider the possibility. Maybe I could've toned my approach down a bit.
Perhaps I approached her at a bad time, too, I sink deeper. She was with her friends, after all. Maybe I bothered them. Her FRIENDS like me, though. Don't they? They said they liked my idea. I ponder a bit more, biting my lip. ...But, maybe they won't like me now. They probably think I'm weird. What if that's what they were talking about when I walked away? Maybe I was the one they were laughing at earlier.
And, so it continued for the rest of the night—the room quiet, my thoughts loud.
And, it followed me into the next day, too...
And, the day after that...
And, the day after that...
And, the day after that...
...until twelve years had passed, and I realized that the nine-year-old girl in that top bunk bed at camp still lived, and she's still paralyzed by her first haunting encounter with rejection. She still can't figure out what she did wrong. She still fantasizes about what she could've done to make it right. She's still trying to find what it is about herself that she should change, so she won't undergo anymore rejection. She still hopes she can somehow change the girl's mind, getting her to see that she is a lot better and a lot less aggressive than the girl might think. Because, what my nine-year-old self still suffered from was the embarrassment she experienced in the last moment of camp when one girl a couple of bunk beds down was asked what her favorite part of the week was, and her response was as follows:
"I pretty much liked everyone here," she said. But, then her nine-year-old eyes met my nine-year-old eyes, and I knew right then that she was going to redact her statement—to make one small edit, one huge exception. She stretched her arm out, pointed her finger at me, and with no shame, announced: "Except for her."
And, one-by-one—all 30+ girls in the room—stretched their necks and turned their heads to take a look at me, who was sitting on the top bunk, the last bed in the room. And, when they saw me, they all seemed to look me up-and-down and blink at me at once.
My tongue felt too thick to speak.
I had no recourse. No comeback. Not even a nervous laughter.
I just stared back—horrified and confused.
What could I have possibly done to make her not like me?
Before I could find time to answer, the camp counselor quickly concluded our last moment together in the cabin by calling for lights out. She flipped the switched, and everyone went to bed. Just like that. Seemingly unbothered, unmoved by the rejection I had just underwent, all the girls shuffled in their beds for the last time and slept. But, I—alone with my thoughts—was wide awake, unable to deny the awful reality that the girl everyone admired in our cabin didn't like me, for a reason I never got the chance to find out. And, little did I know that that unknown reason would haunt me for many years afterwards, and I would give the exception she made for me the power to bully me into my young adult years.
It explained why after finding it easy to make new friends in my younger childhood years, I had suddenly become so afraid to meet someone new.
"They'd like anyone here," I'd tell myself, "except for me."
It explained why would I exclude myself from diving headfirst into great opportunities.
"Anyone else would be amazing for this!" I'd exclaim, later adding, "except for me."
It gave some reason behind why I had a hard time believing that God's love for me goes deeper than I could ever imagine. "Well, of course, God loves everyone," I'd preach. And, whether or not I would say this out loud—deep down—the nine-year-old girl would mutter that same line, "Except for me."
And, it wasn't until this year in 2021 that I realized I still gave, "Except for me," power. I still fed it with faith. I believed it was true. And, it's where I found myself at the beginning of this year—in January 2021—battling the lies that came with, "Except for me." I replayed that tape over and over, as I had done for years—always assuming I didn't belong, I was the exception, there was no room for me. And, having believed that, I also behaved that. I acted like I didn't belong. I acted like there wasn't a space for me. And, after many years of never understanding why, The Lord in His lovingkindness figured that 2021 was a good year to tell me. He took me back to that camp I attended in 2009—back to that cabin, back to that bunk bed—to show me where all of my insecurities came from, how all the lies I had believed about myself over time got there in the first place.
In other words, He exposed the mentality I had adopted over time:
"Everyone...except for me."
But, this past summer of 2021,
He changed the narrative.
When He took me back to that 2009 camp, I didn't see the nine-year-old little girl crouching in a fetal position on that top bunk bed, confused and humiliated, that lie beginning to take root.
This time, I saw Jesus there with me. He was standing right next to my bed, tall enough to see me perfectly on that top bunk. Though it was dark and I was intentional about keeping my face towards the wall, He was in perfect view of me, and you would not believe the way He was looking at me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the moment, "except for her," left that girl's lips, He was already speaking a different word. He was declaring the opposite. He was proclaiming His truth.
And, this summer, He let me hear it.
While I was wide awake that spring 2009 night, overthinking the reasons why I was the exception, He was holding me tightly in His arms and whispering these words in my ear:
"Yana, I don't like everyone, except for you.
I love everyone, especially you."
And, can I tell you, reader?
After years of thinking the opposite, years of letting myself always be the exception, God's truth about me was everything I needed to break free.
And, something tells me, it's everything you need to break free too.
It's true that Jesus died for everyone, but He died for especially you.
It's true that He loves everyone, but He loves especially you.
It's true that He has great gifts for everyone, but He loves to give them to you—especially you.
He does not exclude you.
He does not overlook you.
He. Loves. You.
You matter to Him. You belong with Him. You are loved by Him more than you know.
He knows that you are trying to figure out what's wrong with you because you believe if you can find the answer, it will explain why they rejected you, hurt you, talked about you, overlooked you. But, according to His Word, there is no flaw in you (Song of Songs 4:7). Before the world even began, He already chose you to be without fault. You were made in His image. You were made in His likeness. And, The One you were made to look like is perfect. He is beautiful. And, from the beginning, He pre-destined you to look like Him.
So, don't enter a new year thinking what I thought for many years prior—that I am the exception. I'm the one the world can do without.
And, I declare that this way of thinking is over.
Let's leave "except for me" here, and walk into "especially me" now and forever more. Let's receive His love for us, so we don't have to be concerned about whether or not we are liked.
He loves us, especially us.
He died for us, especially us.
He is for us, especially us.
Let's walk into this new year believing it.