We should not internalize lies about our value and worth.

by Kristina Diaz

WHEN I WAS 8 YEARS OLD, I liked to paint and draw. Even in kindergarten, when asked to dress up for Career Day, artist was it for me. In third grade, my love for art was still going strong. So, when the art teacher instructed us to make a honeycomb pop-up heart out of cardstock paper—the ones that open up, where the ends are glued to the sides, forming a three-dimensional heart—I was very excited. Even though we weren’t given a stencil, I did my best. It was difficult for me to make all the hearts even. Because of this, my hearts were, for lack of a better word, wonky. But they were mine. At the end of class, we showed our work to the teacher. Instead of praising my attempt, she scolded me; my hearts were the ugliest she had ever seen.

Needless to say, I arrived home a sack of tears. Mom’s blood pressure surely went up. I guess there were words between her and the school staff afterward, but in that moment, my mom chose to sit with me. She listened to my thoughts, let me pour out my feelings and hugged me. When I felt ready, we looked at my work together and, both literally and figuratively, rebuilt our hearts, transforming my wonky hearts into a three-dimensional work of art.

Whenever I feel that my contributions and efforts fall short, I remember that moment. I remember the importance of having patience and pausing when tensions are prevalent and emotions run big. I remember that if I don’t like something I’ve done or made at any given moment, I can try again. Above all else, I remember that I don’t have to do it alone. I can ask for help. I can be inspired by other people. I can have someone accompany me, plain and simple.

I’ve been blessed to love and be loved by mentors, matriarchs, aunts and mothers—both by blood and by adoption. They have taught me a good many things. One of the harder lessons has been that although rejection can be awful, it is in those moments of rejection that we must love ourselves the most. Because the nicest, best-intentioned people in our lives are still capable of hurting us, and these moments of rejection can lead us to learn and internalize lies about our value and worth in the grand scheme of the universe.

Now, on the cusp of turning 40, I still carry those wonky hearts in spirit. When life gets tough, or I meet people who don’t know how to appreciate or value me as a person, I remake my heart. Not to fit what others want, but for my own growth. The greatest gifts God has given me are the ability to create, grow and change my mind.

I believe God is not only creator but creative, and versatile like water. So, when the waters of life rise, I take out my wonky little hearts and cling to what they’ve taught me in order to stay afloat. I offer others a place of refuge, accompanying them the way my mom and God have been with me.

Together, we can tread our way out of the drowning of rejection to a place where, with new hearts, we love ourselves again as children of God. Everything we do carries the beauty and wisdom of our lived experiences. Everything we do can remake the world into a place that reflects our transformed hearts.

Kristina Diaz is a third generation cradle Lutheran, photographer and multimedia storyteller from the Caribbean Synod in Region 9 of the ELCA

This article appears in the January/February 2023 issue. To read more articles like it, subscribe to Gather.