I ascended the dark stairway at my childhood home to retrieve a toy I knew was in the upstairs closet for one of my children. As the creak of the steps sounded beneath my weight, memories from my childhood came rushing back. I reached the summit of the staircase and surveyed the room. To my shock in the far corner there was a person sitting there I was not expecting to see.

Dirty Teddy.

With a blank stare he looked at me, right through me, and somehow not at me all at the same time. He was a rougher looking character than I remembered. His hair matted and filthy, his arms bore the scars of a hard life. I took a step closer and noticed he looked worse up close. His nose had a nick out of the bottom side. There were patches where it looked as if his insides would spill out at any moment. If he had not been placed carefully, one of his eyes would droop and dangle near his mouth.

The more I looked at Dirty Teddy, the more my heart was moved. I had not seen him in ages. To me, Dirty Teddy is a masterpiece. The masterpiece of my childhood. I had held his hand as we ran together through the back yard laughing. He had sat with me as I played trucks in the dirt. I had held him close when I would wake from a terrifying dream. I had tucked him away in my bag when I would sleep over at a friend’s house. I had won many wrestling matches against him, and at other times he was my tag-team partner. He had been dragged through the dirt, had fallen off my big wheel, and had been thrown through the air as high as I could to see if I could catch him before he hit the ground. Dirty Teddy had lived a good long life. He had gotten his name one day when my mother would no longer allow him to sit at the dinner table with me. “Teddy is just too dirty,” the name stuck.

I never intended for Teddy
to get dirty or hurt.

Now as he sat there with his stuffing nearly coming out he looked awful but beautiful. In that moment he was the most wonderful thing I could look at, because this bear was the object of my complete affection for the first six years of my life. He was a mess, but he was a mess-terpiece.

Then all of the sudden my heart heard a whisper from somewhere far away, “You are Dirty Teddy.”

I am Dirty Teddy?

I am Dirty Teddy.

To anyone else Dirty Teddy would look like a used up, mistreated bear that needed to be thrown away long ago. But to me, it is the mess that makes him beautiful, even alive.  This mess is the story of our lives together. It is every memory; Dirty Teddy is what he is because I made him that way. A pristine teddy bear is not a well-loved bear. To me, in the grime and scrapes Teddy comes alive.

To God, I am Dirty Teddy. The bumps, bruises, scuffs, scars, dirt, and grime that I carry around are part of the masterpiece of grace that God is painting in my life. Just like Dirty Teddy is the masterpiece of my childhood, to the entire universe, I am God’s masterpiece of love.

Why dirty then you may ask? Why not Pristine Teddy? Dirty Teddy didn’t get dirty because I hated him, or didn’t care. Dirty Teddy looks the way he does because of a great love, and a great adventure in a filthy world. I never intended for Teddy to get dirty or hurt, but in this life what Teddy became was more about a great love. A love that grew greater, a bond held stronger with every bump and bruise.

Dirty Teddy looks the way he does because of a great love, and a great adventure in a filthy world.

Many of us believe the lie that tells us that if God loves us there should never be any scars or dirt. As I stood looking at that bear I can testify to the fact that when there is a great love there will always be scars and dirt.

I wish I could go back. To live in the innocence of childhood is such a blessing. I wish I could have written it all down with my tiny hand so I could look back at it now and remember all the love that made that bear look the way he does.  But…

I have something greater.

I have the story of One who loves me far more than a child could love a bear. I have the whole story written in a book with beautiful gold trimmed paper. Every line, every chapter, every verse, is the story of God’s great love toward man, and ultimately me. Within this Bible is an illustration of God’s masterpiece of grace, and it looks like dirty old, beat up… me. And this love story is a greater love story because Dirty Teddy could never love me back. But as I look at myself, and see my scars, and the dirt and grime I carry, my heart explodes with an adoration far too great to put into words.

If we are to ever make it, if we are to really see, if we are to ever really love, and feel loved, one interest must prevail, “O, How I Love Jesus, Because He First Loved Me.” We must never believe our scars, bumps and bruises make us unlovable, because what I learned from Dirty Teddy is that it is within these scars true love is born.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” says God.

Dustin Hall

Dustin graduated from ARISE in 2004. Upon leaving he went on to plant a church in Upstate New York. He now pastors three congregations that have experienced dynamic growth and has written three books for young adults. He and his wife Kelly have four children.