Monday, February 27, 2017

The Freedom Of "I Can't"

Sometimes, it's an extremely freeing thing to be able to say "I can't." Society doesn't like it, though (maybe you don't either). Society wants us to practice positive thinking, to try harder, to always believe we're capable of doing anything we set our minds to. Society wants us to believe that we are being negative if we ever admit weaknesses.

People tell us that we should ask for help and not be ashamed of asking for help. But when we do ask for help, we're given motivational speeches that are meant to empower us. "Just think more positively! Try harder! Believe in yourself! Try harder! Don't be negative! Try harder! Try harder! Try harder!"

So we try harder. We tell ourselves that we have to do these things that we know we can't do, and we try harder and try harder and try harder. We don't ask for help again, because even though it's acceptable, it's not actually acceptable. When we inevitably fall apart, everyone acts so surprised.

But...
There's nothing wrong with knowing your weaknesses.
There's nothing wrong with knowing your limitations.

There's nothing wrong with COMMUNICATING those weaknesses and limitations.

There's really not.

It's just that we live in a society where weaknesses and limitations are not supposed to exist, and we're all supposed to be capable of doing everything. So when we say "I can't," it's not validated. It's negated, and those who meant to help empower us actually help to enslave us.

So we get caught in the try harder trap. And, sorry not sorry, but sometimes no amount of trying is going to make things possible. Sometimes all it's going to do is frustrate and exhaust us and lead to our eventual breakdown.

Sometimes, freedom comes in admitting that we CAN'T. Sometimes, freedom comes in saying, "I don't believe in myself, because I know I just can't do this." Sometimes freedom comes in that surrender.

No more trying.

I don't believe in myself, and I know I make people mad when I say that. I don't care, because it's true, and I won't apologize for being real with people.

But I do believe in God, and when I stop trying so ridiculously hard to do everything in my own non-existent strength, that gives Him more room to work in the midst of my weaknesses. Sometimes it takes a breakdown to get me that point, and that's okay. It might be more than okay.

Sometimes I'm at the point where my prayers are so weak because I'm so weak, and all I can do is pray one sentence, "God, I need You to cover me."

And He does.

Because like Adam and Eve in the Garden, I can't...I just CAN'T cover myself. I can try, but all my efforts will fail. I need Him to cover me. I need Him to cover me with grace and power that is made perfect in my weakness. We have always needed Him to cover us--always.

He knows our weaknesses better than we know them ourselves. He knows we need Him to cover us every moment. And I think it's a mercy when He allows us the moments of breakdown, when we are forced to slow down and realize how much we need Him, too.

I'm so thankful that there's mercy in the struggle.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Forgotten Barren Woman

This is a very sensitive subject.  I'm not trying to be insensitive or offensive to anyone.  All I am trying to do here is shed light on something that I don't hear people talk about.  Ever.

It's considered slightly taboo, in general, to talk about infertility, miscarriages, etc. I don't understand that fully, partly because I've never dealt with it exactly, but mostly because I'm the sort of person who is blatantly honest and tends to overshare about everything whether other people like it or not.  I do understand why people keep things to themselves--sometimes the pain is too much, and it's even worse when people seem so calloused to that pain.  I can understand that, the need for privacy, for the quiet grief reserved for yourself and those who are in your inner circle. What I don't understand is the way society seems to look down on those who talk openly about their pain, as if there is something to be ashamed of.  There's nothing to be ashamed of regarding infertility, and I think everyone should be permitted to share about their pain, their heartache, their loss, the hopes and dreams they still cling to.  I think everyone should be permitted to share what they want to share, without shame, without fear.

But that's not the world we live in, so a lot of people do choose to be private.  That's okay, too.  There's no shame in keeping things to yourself, either, if that's what you want.  I just wish society would allow others to struggle and grieve openly, if those are their wishes.

As little as I see miscarriage and infertility talked about, I have recently seen more people be vocal about their particular struggles.  I am so glad that they've been sharing.  They share, and others are encouraged, and therefore also feel more free to share.  It begins a wonderful cycle of sharing, and ultimately, healing.  The taboo is lessened, the world seems a little less judgmental and a little more understanding.  It's a beautiful thing.

But I wonder if there are others out there who don't feel as though they have permission from the world to talk about their particular struggles, because they are similar, yet different struggles.  There's a similar, yet different taboo.  It's an unspoken taboo.  It's one I wish to break, or at least lessen a little.  So I'm going to share some of my experiences, some of my struggles, and also some hope in the midst of it all.

You see, I am a barren woman.

That sentence alone might offend some people who know me.  How could I be a barren woman?  I'm not married!  I haven't been actively trying to have children!  It's insulting for a single woman to try to compare herself to women who have tried for cried and prayed and payed for years and years and years to have a child.  It's disgusting for a single woman to say she has a right to grieve for not having children when she hasn't experienced the absolute heartbreak of multiple miscarriages!

But I don't really believe it's insulting or disgusting.  It's just honesty.  And I know it's not the same as a married woman struggling with infertility.  It's definitely not the same.  But I do think I, and others who are like me, need to be recognized.  We need to be permitted to grieve, too.

I'm not talking about the young 20 somethings who think they're going to die single and childless because all their college friends are dating and they're not (though I know it can be hard for them, too--I was young once).  I'm talking about those who have spent decades as a single adult, who have very much wanted a family, and who have not been able to have that family.  It's not the same as suffering and struggling with infertility, but it still yields the same result: childlessness, and a loss of much longed for hopes and dreams.

And as an almost 37 year old Christian woman who once dreamed of having a large family, I do have permission to grieve.  I have permission to talk about that grief.  I have permission to think longingly about the children I never had, the children I will probably never have.  And I have heard the arguments: "You have PLENTY of time" or "You can still adopt as a single parent!"  Single parents are just stinkin' AMAZING, but I am very certain that I am not quite amazing enough to be able to handle it, not that I'm in a place financially or logistically that I could consider adoption, or even fostering.  I might never get married (I have no prospects, and haven't for quite some time).  Then again, I might get the shock of my life and wind up married within the next year.  I'm not sure if that matters much anymore.  The thing is, my heart has very much changed as I've gotten older.  I've realized that I don't think I'd make a very good mom, even if I did find myself in a place where I was able and willing to have kids.  I can barely take care of myself most days.

I'm not saying anything above to throw myself a pity party.  I've had a long time to come to grips with the idea that I'll probably never be a mom, even though there was a time when I couldn't imagine NOT being a mom someday.  Still, even now, I sometimes permit myself a little hope that it might be possible, someday.  I find myself daydreaming, thinking up baby names, wishing I could rock a toddler to sleep (or send back to bed for the 100th time), even wishing I had a teenager to teach how to drive or have "the talk" with, or something crazy like that.  I think about having an adult child someday who would hopefully be like a good friend.  I think about having grand kids.  The older I get, the fuzzier the dream gets.  And that's okay, too.  And maybe there are other women (or even men) out there who can relate.  I want you to know that you're not alone.  I want you to know that it's okay for you to dream, and it's okay for you to grieve for the dreams that haven't come true.

But I pray that the grief never turns to bitterness.  As a single Christian woman, I get the stigma.  SOME other Christians, inadvertently (most of the time), put us into one of two categories.  Either we're in a category where we're doing something wrong or sinful and therefore God has not blessed us with a husband and family, OR we're in a category where God has given us the blessed, wonderful, amazing "gift of singleness" so we magically only have a heart to serve others and never ever ever think of ourselves or our own lives or have our own dreams for a husband or children or family of our own.  And it's easy sometimes to think that no one sees that we are really just women, godly women, who are just like other godly women.  We're doing our best to serve God, and we have the same feelings and dreams as other women (in general).  We are allowed, as single women, to want a family.  For some of us, it never happens.  And I pray that if you're still struggling with that, and it's okay if you are, that you come to a place where you can grieve without being bitter.

I'm thankful that I've never really struggled with jealousy.  When one of my friends gets engaged or married (in a godly relationship), I rejoice.  When one of my friends is pregnant or is able to adopt, I rejoice.  There's just no room for any other feeling because I'm so thrilled for what God is doing in their lives.  I can't take credit for that--I think it's just a gift God has given me, and I pray He gives it to others.  I know it's not always so easy for others, and if that's you, I don't want to minimize your feelings.  If you're struggling with feelings of jealousy as your friends and family all have the things you have longed for, then your feelings are valid.  I am so sorry for your hurt.  I just pray God will bring you peace and so much joy for others that there's no more room for that hurt to live.

I am very blessed in that I have worked with kids for years, and even though I'm not a mom and don't have a family of my own, I've been able to share in the lives of a lot of wonderful families.  I have a LOT of fun nieces and an awesome nephew.  I think that's helped me deal with my struggles.  Another thing I do is try to support adoptions and orphan ministries as much as I can.  If I'm not able to adopt a child of my own, I can sponsor a child overseas.  I can give support to ministries that care for orphans or children in need.  I may never have the title of mother, but there are so many other ways to love.  If you're struggling, if you're hurting, I pray you're able to find ways to love that both minister to your soul and give help to others.

Again, the point of this was not to offend or be insensitive.  And you can think I'm wrong.  I've had people tell me I'm wrong on this issue.  That's okay.  If you're offended by this, this post wasn't for you.  It was for those women, like me, who can't have kids because we're single (and not open to  or able to consider, for whatever reason, the idea of single parenting).  We don't have a husband to grieve with us when the pregnancy tests come back negative.  We don't have a husband to fearfully hope with when we are trying to adopt.  We're in this alone.

Hannah was barren, but she had a good husband who loved her through it, all.  But like Hannah, we can pray.  We can hope.  We can dream.  We can wait.  And maybe we'll wait until we get to the point where we don't want the same things we wanted before.  We can get to the point where all the old dreams become fuzzy, and God sustains us with new dreams.  There's nothing wrong with that.  There's nothing wrong with you.

You are valid.  You are seen.  You are loved.  You have permission to feel whatever it is you feel.



Monday, January 11, 2016

It's Only Forever: The Beautiful Tragedy of Jareth

Full disclosure: I'm not a huge David Bowie fan (RIP).  I'm also not NOT a David Bowie fan.  Basically, I'm not cool enough to really be familiar with much of David Bowie's work.  In fact, I'm really only familiar with David Bowie's work in regards to a certain 1980s children's movie by the name of Labyrinth.  And by "familiar with," I actually mean "absolutely obsessed with to the point where I watch the movie at least once or twice twelve times a month."  There are many reasons for this, but the main reason, by far, can be summed up in one word:


Jareth.


Now, I don't care who you are or what your personal style is--I think we can all agree on one fact.  Jareth is sexy.  I'm not commenting on David Bowie himself, per se (that's for you to decide on your own), but the character of Jareth, the Goblin King.  He's sexy.  He's DANG sexy.  I'm not saying I want to marry him and help him steal have his Goblin babies or anything--I've got a personal rule against dating anyone who looks better in eyeliner and leggings than I do, ok?  But it's undeniable that Jareth has this incredible appeal.  And his own 80s theme music.  

So, so sexy.

But his magnetic appearance/presence, while powerful, isn't what I find the most remarkable about Jareth.  On the surface, you have an over-the-top baby stealing Goblin King from a 1980s kids' movie.  Pretty basic, right?  If you look deeper, you find one of the most interesting, tragic villains ever. To look deeper into Jareth's character, we need to look deeper into the story of Labyrinth (spoilers ahead--so go watch the movie if you haven't already).  

It's pretty obvious that Labyrinth is a story about growing up.  You have Sarah, a 14 year old girl who is still clinging on to childish things.  She has a vivid imagination and spends her free time acting out stories.  Even when she has to face reality (at the request of her stepmother), she imagines herself as a heroine in a tragic fairy tale, where she is forced to babysit her infant brother. 

One night, as she is babysitting her brother, she tells him a story about the Goblin King, who is in love with her.  If she says the right words, the Goblin King will take the baby away.  And, inadvertently(?), she says the right words.

And at this point, the viewer of the film isn't sure what is happening.  It's never fully clear if Sarah is just imagining the story taking place, or if the events of the movie are "really" happening to her.  I like to believe that her imagination has become so real that the characters and world she has imagined have actually come to life.  After all, isn't that the hope of any good storyteller?

So enter Jareth (with much sexiness), the fierce Goblin King, who has taken her baby brother.  On the surface, he looks like just a typical goblin child-thief you might see in a number of old fairy tales (only with better hair).  But let's look at what Jareth immediately offers Sarah.  He offers her her dreams, all contained in a beautiful, mystical glass sphere.  He tells her she can have it, but only if she forgets the baby.  What he's really saying here is that she can have all of her dreams if she forgets all her reality, all of her grown up responsibilities, all of the things that are important outside of her fantasies.  

And one of those things that he's offering, ultimately, is himself.  Because, even though at this point I believe he has become "real," HE is one of her fantasies.  She imagined a dangerous, attractive villain, one that a part of her wants to love.

Sarah, of course, chooses to face the Labyrinth, and all her adventures really begin.  Jareth attempts many villainous things to thwart her efforts, but in the end, she "fights her way to the Goblin City to take back the child he has stolen."  

It is at the center of the Labyrinth, when Sarah once again faces Jareth, that we discover something very interesting.


   


Jareth claims he has been generous, that he has exhausted himself in order to live up to her expectations of him.  Once again, we see this idea that Jareth is a creation of Sarah's own imagination--an imagination so powerful that it can bring its creations to life.  And once again, we see Jareth offering her all of her dreams, including himself.  

And although Jareth is just a product of her imagination, I do believe he has taken on a life of his own and become more powerful than even Sarah could imagine ("Everything I've done, I've done for you.  I move the stars for no one.").  And I do believe that he loves Sarah.  Yet, I think Jareth knows, and has known all along, that he is doomed to be without her.  Why?  Because he loves Sarah

And Sarah is only Sarah if she is able to beat him.

You have a character here who is born to play the villain.  He was created from the imagination of his beloved to play the one who provides the challenge for her.  He plays the part he was given to play because he loves her, because it's essential to her story and to her character development that he play the part he was created to play.  If Jareth isn't Jareth, then Sarah can't be Sarah.

And if Sarah doesn't defeat Jareth, then she will never become the Sarah he knows she can be, the Sarah he knows she is, the Sarah he very much loves.

...and the Sarah that he can never have.

"...Though, I do believe in you.
Yes, I do
Live without your sunlight.
Love without your heartbeat.
I, I can't live within you."

Because if she doesn't defeat him, then she's not the Sarah he loves.  She's just a child playing in a bubble of a dream world that is so fragile it could burst at any moment.  She is just a shadow of who she is supposed to be.  And I think Jareth even wants to love this Sarah, but I think he knows from the beginning that he never could.  A shadow of Sarah is not his Sarah.

And if Sarah defeats him, and she does (as he knew she would), then it means she gives up her fantasies...including him.  

I love that scene posted above, where Sarah confronts Jareth for the last time.  One last time, he offers her all of her dreams; one last time, he offers her himself.  She fights to remember the phrase that will defeat him.  The music stills, and Jareth waits, longingly in the pause that is so beautiful and tragic.

"You have no power over me," Sarah proclaims--essentially accepting that she is "putting childish things behind her" and setting aside the fantasies that have made up her entire reality.  She has become the Sarah that Jareth always wanted her to be.

Immediately after her proclamation, he looks crestfallen, lowering the crystal that represents her dreams.  But just a few frames later, after the clock has begun striking 13, Jareth's face is very different.  It's a look of acceptance, of knowing that this was all inevitable, and there is a hint of something else.  Admiration.  Pride.  Love.

He tosses the crystal into the air, and Sarah sees that it was never as real as she thought it was--it was just a bubble that dissolved on her fingertips.  And Jareth quietly disappears, turning into an owl who  can watch her continue to grow from afar, though he can never have her.

And I believe he would rather have her be this unattainable woman he loves, than to have her remain a child, incomplete, not his Sarah.

"...It's only forever.  Not long at all..."

That's the tragedy and the beauty of Jareth.  On the surface he's just a kidnapper in spandex.  "Underground," beneath the surface, he's the lost and lonely, a richly complex character whose story absolutely breaks my heart every time--but in a way I really don't mind being broken at all.

So, aside from all the musical brilliance that David Bowie accomplished in his too-short life, that of which I am regrettably ignorant, I have to say that I will be forever thankful to him for bringing so much life and depth to one of my favorite villains.  David Bowie WAS Jareth, and he was amazing.  

"But I'll be there for you
As the world falls down."



Saturday, January 9, 2016

An Improvement on A Totally Inaccurate Eeyore Meme

This Eeyore quote/meme has been floating around the internet for the past few years.  I don't have a clue who originally made it, but I've seen several different Eeyore pictures all with the same quote.  The internet loves this meme.  Here it is, if you haven't seen it.


Looks like a pretty great thing, right?  On the surface, I'd agree with it and all the warm fuzzies it tries to produce.  It's nice for people with mental illnesses (or whatever you want to call them) to have supportive and understanding friends.  However, if you go beyond the surface of this meme, there are a few problems (if you don't want to read all of this, just scroll down to the bottom, where I've included a corrected meme, which is basically a summary of the whole blog post).

1. It's not even a meme/quote about Eeyore.

Oh, it starts out that way.  "One awesome thing about Eeyore..." but it degrades from there.  If you read further, you'll find that it slips into the passive voice (which I don't have a problem with, in general--but in this case, it changes the whole meaning of the quote).  Eeyore "GETS invited" to do things.  In the next sentence, the meme leaves behind the passive voice completely and just overtly starts focusing more on Eeyore's friends than it does on Eeyore.  This isn't a quote about one awesome thing about Eeyore.  It's a quote about one (or more) awesome thing(s) about Eeyore's FRIENDS.  

One could make the argument that it's because Eeyore is so awesome that his friends want to include and support him, but I don't get that impression from the quote.  Instead, I see that the quote is saying that Eeyore's friends are awesome, EVEN THOUGH Eeyore is "basically clinically depressed."  It's not a quote about how awesome Eeyore is, but rather a quote about how great his friends are for being supportive...EVEN THOUGH he has issues.  If you look at it a certain way, it could even be interpreted as a slap in the face for poor Eeyore.  I'm not saying I take it that way, but I can see how someone might.

2. The quote is based on a lie (or at least a gross misunderstanding of relationships in the Hundred Acre Wood).  

On the surface, that meme looks pretty good--even if it IS less about Eeyore and more about his incredible friends.  I mean, isn't it great that Eeyore's friends are so supportive and inclusive?  Only...they aren't.  Usually this is due to the fact that all the animals in the Hundred Acre Wood have fluff for brains, and not because they're mean-spirited but...still.  Anyone who is really paying attention to the original Milne or any of the movies that were directly based upon Milne can see that, most of the time, Eeyore's friends had a really loose understanding of friendship.




Allow me to give you a few examples from the original Milne:

- When Eeyore's tail was lost, they discovered that Owl had been using it as a bell pull.

- His friends forgot his birthday, and then later on, all they gave him was an empty honey pot and a broken balloon that resembled a damp rag.

- When Eeyore tried to rescue Roo from the river by dangling his own tail in the water, no one bothered to tell him that Roo had already been rescued until after his own tail had gone all numb.

-When "Small," one of Rabbit's Friends and Relations, went missing, Eeyore helped search for him.  No one bothered to tell Eeyore that Small had been found.  For two days.  While he kept looking.  For two days.

- His friends all fell on top of him in an attempt to rescue Tigger from a tree, after it was first suggested that they all stand on his back. 

- When Tigger bounced Eeyore into the river (and lied about it--a fine way to repay a friend for helping to rescue you from a tree!!!), Pooh dropped a large stone on him in an attempt to "hoosh" him out of said river.  Both Piglet and Pooh made excuses for Tigger's bounciness and their own stone dropping, but thought Eeyore was unjustified in being upset about it.

- Rabbit gently scolded Eeyore for not being more outgoing, but then immediately excused himself when faced with the unwelcome prospect of actually having to converse with the gloomy donkey.

- They generally regarded him as someone who was always gloomy, and therefore not to be taken seriously or listened to.

Now, Eeyore's gloominess could get pretty tedious if someone didn't get where he was coming from (more on that in a moment), and his friends did try sometimes.  Pooh and Piglet were actually pretty good friends to him, when they felt like it, and when their fluff-for-brains didn't get in the way.  They thought of him more than the others did, at any rate.  

3. It's up for debate that Eeyore was 'basically clinically depressed.'

There's no doubt about the fact that Eeyore was gloomy, but I've never been one to see Eeyore as being depressed.  Rather, Eeyore is a very misunderstood donkey.  He isn't perfect, but he's not as much of a downer as everyone assumes.  He's a realist--one who sees his circumstances as what they are.  He's an old gray donkey, stuffed with sawdust (gets itchy), who constantly loses his tail, has to live in a house made of sticks (with no proper door) in the middle of the brutally cold and snowy winter, and, as I mentioned before, all his friends have fluff for brains.

I'd be gloomy, too, yo.

The thing about Eeyore, however, is that while he has an incredibly awesome sense of sarcastic humor (that many people don't understand), he also has a way of seeing good in others and in situations.  A lot of people don't see that.

For instance, when he was given a broken balloon and an empty honey pot on his birthday, he treasured the gifts as though they were the best things in the world--because his friends had thought of him.

When Tigger bounced him in the river (and lied about it), Eeyore was quick to forgive him and share with him all his secrets for winning at Poohsticks and life.  

Did he "milk" his gloominess a bit?  Yes.  Did he try to get attention by acting a little more glum than he actually was?  Yes.  Was he slightly arrogant because it was tedious dealing with all the fluff-for-brains?  Yes.  But basically, I think he had a great self-deprecating humor and sarcasm that was often just a little too over the heads of his fluff-for-brains friends, and maybe he should have toned that down a little.  Or not.  Because I kind of think Eeyore did Eeyore pretty well.  

He didn't always appear happy on the surface, but he had joy where it counted.  He knew who his friends were.  He appreciated all their friendly efforts.  And in the really great Milne moments, even the fluff-for-brains saw him for who he was.  It was golden.


So here's my corrected meme.  



I fixed it.  It's better now.  Thanks for noticing me.




Monday, November 2, 2015

It's Ok To (Not) Smile AKA Dealing With Grumpy Cat Syndrome

About ten years ago, I was serving as a preschool teacher on the summer staff at a Christian conference center.  Preschool teachers were a rare breed among the summer staff.  We had the appearance of being cliquish because our hours were so long and random that we didn't always have time to interact with other staffers.  Also, I was the oldest summer staffer that year--some 8 years older than some of the teenagers they had working there.  I was at a different place in my life than most of them.  I wasn't particularly anti-social and did spend a fair amount of time hanging out in the staff center, but I also spent a lot of time in my room resting (after all, I AM an introvert).  When I did hang out, it was usually with my preschool friends because they were the ones I knew the best.

So imagine my surprise one day near the end of the summer, when one of the other staffers--I can't remember which department he worked in--approached me and said, "I've been wanting to say this to you all summer.  You never smile!  You are SO negative all the time, and that's not displaying a good Christian attitude.  Just smile!"  He was extremely agitated in manner, which caught me even more off-guard.

I was absolutely flustered, and tried to offer rebuttal along the lines of, "Actually, I smile a lot, but you aren't around me that often, and you don't know me well enough to make such a claim," which was a pretty valid point.  I also said something like, "Am I supposed to walk around smiling all the time like an idiot, because that's actually kind of creepy"  That was also a pretty valid point, but it only served to make him more agitated.  He "rebuked" me some more, wouldn't let me get much of a word in edgewise, and I finally just walked away from him, went back to my room, and cried.

Good job making me smile more, buddy.

That was probably the first time I've felt accosted about "not smiling," but honestly, it's something I've heard off and on throughout my life.  People--friends, family, strangers, have often told me things like, "Smile!  It can't be that bad!"  One guy actually stopped me in the Walmart one time and said, "You look sad, and I think God wants me to pray for you.  Can I pray with you right now?"  I let him, but I was like, "Thanks, but really, stranger dude...I'm FINE."

In all of these situations, I wasn't ACTIVELY not smiling.  I suffer from a condition that the interwebsnettubes now refers to as "Resting B*1@# Face," but I don't like to call it that.  I like to call it "Grumpy Cat Syndrome" or GCS.  It's when your neutral face looks grumpy (because Grumpy Cat AKA Tardar Sauce is actually a pretty friendly kitty, from what I've seen--she just looks adorably grumpy all the time).  Basically, I'm the human version of Grumpy Cat.  And I like it.

There are several candid pictures from my childhood where someone caught me looking mad at the universe, when really, I was just suffering from GCS.  And in a lot of pictures where I WAS trying to smile, I just managed a weak grimace that made me look as though I couldn't wait for the picture-taking to be over.  

Now that we're in the world of selfies, I do tend to take my fair share of them (and with a crappy cell phone without a front-facing camera, I might add).  In a lot of my selfies, I just don't smile.  No one is standing behind the camera demanding my smiling face, so sometimes, I don't.  I post these unsmiling pictures, and people sometimes ask, "Why aren't you smiling?" as if that's a rule or something.


This IS my happy face.


And I don't think most people mean a single thing by any of it, but it got me thinking.  Why does it seem to bother society when we see someone not smiling?  I don't think most people are intentionally thinking it through, but I think most of us humans have trouble seeing other humans who aren't happy.  Selfishly, perhaps, we want others to look happy, because that makes us more comfortable.  And maybe that's not a completely fair or accurate assessment, especially not in MOST cases, but I do think it's something to think about.

Because I googled "smile quotes" today, and the results were somewhat sad.  I got a few cheesy ones about how "a smile is the prettiest thing you can wear," but a lot of what I saw was about people faking a smile for the world to see, while on the inside they were miserable.  A lot of people have learned how to put on a mask so the world will be able to accommodate them better.

I've never learned how to fake a smile.

That's why my childhood photographs are a lot of images of me grimacing (I'm proud to say I inherited this trait from my daddy).  That's why when I take pictures now, I often tell people behind the camera to say or do something that will make me laugh, because I want my smile to be genuine and not a forced grimace.  

And I do have a lot of genuine smiles.  I laugh.  I sing.  I also cry.  I also have neutral moments where  I might look angry, but I'm probably just thinking about either solving the world's problems or about what I'm going to have for dinner or about how much I just love Doctor Who or whatever.  

No one is perfect.  All of us are going to have those times where we absent-mindedly tell someone to cheer up, and we need to be gracious in those times.  But I think the better thing for us to do if we see someone not smiling is to ASK and not ASSUME (or, you know, just mind your own business...just a suggestion...).

I think it's perfectly fine to ask someone if they're all right, but be prepared for the answer.  If a person says they're fine, they might be lying.  On the other hand, they might be telling the truth.  I am not one to lie about how I'm feeling, so it bothers me when someone insists I'm miserable even when I tell them, point blank, that I'm okay.  I understand that in a society of people who wear masks, it's probably a knee-jerk thing to assume everyone is lying, but listening is crucial.  Unless you have some pretty darn good reasons to believe someone is lying about how they're feeling, please take them at their word.  On the other hand, if you ask someone if they're okay and they tell you they aren't, then you'd better be prepared to listen to that, too.  Don't ask someone if they're okay unless you're prepared to listen to them if they aren't.  That kind of listening often involves an investment of time and caring.  Be prepared.

Also, don't judge.  If someone looks angry/sad/miserable/etc., don't assume that it's because they really are angry/sad/miserable/etc.  Also don't assume that if someone IS actually angry/sad/miserable/etc. that it means they have no valid reason to feel that way.  Telling someone to smile when you think they're sad is like telling someone to just slap a bandaid on an open wound so you don't have to see their blood--you're not helping their problem; you're making it easier for YOU to deal with it.

That misguided, but probably well-meaning fellow summer staffer told me that I wasn't displaying a Christian attitude, but he made assumptions, he didn't listen, and he judged me.  Ironically, the one who wasn't displaying a Christian attitude was him.  HE was the one being negative by judging another.  And unfortunately, I've seen others act that very same way over the past ten years. 

But since I'm not one to just smile and pretend everything is okay, I'm talking about it.  I'm putting this out there to let others with GCS know that they aren't alone, and to possibly let others know that it's not okay to look down on others for not being perpetually happy.

I'm not anti-smiling.  It's perfectly fine to smile.  It's good to smile.  It's also okay, and even good sometimes, not to smile.  It's the "reallness" that's the thing.  I'd rather see genuine tears than a fake smile, any day.  

After all, Grumpy Cat is proof that someone doesn't need to smile to be beautiful.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Ten Years Later

I struggled with writing this.

In fact, I had a couple of false starts and even almost had an entire blog written (and if you know me, they can get looooong), but all that I had written just wasn't right, somehow.

I set it aside a few days.  Sometimes that's all it takes to figure out how to go about this.

Because how does one approach writing a blog about the tenth anniversary of what was one of the worst days of one's life?

It was also my 25th birthday, just FYI.

And I got dumped by a guy I was absolutely and totally in love with.  I thought I was going to marry him.

But I didn't.

In fact, he's married to someone else.  

And, well...good.

I don't mean that in a Grumpy Cat sort of way.  I mean like a real, honest, wonderful good.

The reason I struggled so much to write this blog, something I'd planned to do for about a year now, was that I realized it's just not even that big of a deal, anymore.

I spent a the better part of the last decade thinking of that guy every single day.  I prayed God would take care of him.  There were times when I prayed God would bring us back together.  There were times when I just prayed God would get me over him.  But mostly, I just tried to live my life in the midst of the struggle.  And people didn't always like the way my life looked.  They wanted me to move on or whatever.

I did.  Just not how or when they wanted me to.

This post isn't so much about the relationship I had with this guy that ended ten years ago as much as it is about how God has used  the struggle to shape my life over the past ten years.

It wasn't until about this time last year that God finally let me know it was time to let go.  And there will be people who will argue with me about that and say I needed to let go way earlier, but I can't worry about them.  It wasn't their struggle.  It was the one God gave me.  And He had me struggle with it for years--about 13, all in all, considering the time when I met the guy to the time when I was 100% over all that had happened with him.  I still do love him, really, but oh, not at all in a way that might be considered romantic or even friendly.  I honestly hope I never see him again--not because I hate him or because I'm bitter, but simply because it would be ALL KINDS of awkward.  I wish him well.  I pray for him sometimes, whenever he comes to mind--which is not nearly as often as he used to.  I pray that he and his wife will honor each other and honor God.  And I leave it at that and go on with my life.

I couldn't do that until a little over a year ago.  And it's okay.  In fact, it's good.

And if you ask me why God had me go through all of that, I don't have a definitive answer.  I can give you a few things that I learned through it, a few ways I'm a better person for it, but in the end, that's all rubbish.  The real answer is: I don't know.

That's okay.

People told me right after the relationship ended that God just wanted me to learn something from it.  But I rejected that idea then, and I reject it now.  God didn't want me to love someone just so I could gain some lesson from the experience.  Certainly, I did learn a thing or two, but that wasn't the only reason or even the main reason for the relationship.  God wanted me to love that guy because He wanted me to love that guy.  Plain and simple.  He wanted me to, and so I did.  And He wanted me to wrestle with that for almost 9 years even after the relationship ended.  So I did.

I don't claim to understand it.  Trust isn't about understanding.  Trust is about obeying.

And the same Father who brought me into it brought me through and out of it, and I'm here on the other side a 35 year old (gosh that age sounds so grown up) woman who is still kind of figuring out who she is apart from that struggle.  Of course, I've got about a hundred other struggles that have come into my life since I became free of that one.  It's still okay.  It's still good.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I really hate the winter.  I don't like the snow.  I don't like the cold.  I don't like the stillness of nature, probably because humans are too busy to slow down along with it.  We're still going about all of our business unless we get snowed in or something.  Because humans are too dumb to hibernate.

But spring is my favorite season, and I'm glad that my birthday comes at the very end of winter.  It's not quite yet spring, but the world certainly knows it's coming.  Sometimes we have to struggle through some very long winters before the spring comes.  Sometimes we have to struggle through some very long nights before joy can come in the morning.

It's good.  I don't claim to understand it, but it's good.

So ten years later?  I'm not exactly who I thought I'd be.  But I know myself, and I do like myself.  I think both of those things are pretty important.

It's almost spring again.  There's a lot of uncertainty in my life right now--I have no idea what life will look like in a few months, let alone a few years.  Chances are, I'm going to have some struggles.

But, as I've said before and will continue to say, there's mercy in the struggle.

It's good.




Sunday, March 1, 2015

Insecurity's Biggest Lie

This morning at church, my adult Sunday School class (they don't call it that, but that's what it is) got out very early.  Only a few people showed up, since there was a little bit of ice mixed in with the morning rain, and people down here in the South are paranoid (with good reason, I guess).

Some of my friends were going to be presented to the church as new members at the close the second service (which meets during my Sunday School hour), and I wanted to be there for them, so I decided to just sit in the foyer outside the sanctuary worship center and wait until closer to the end of the service.

I was sitting there, watching the sermon on a monitor.  I had already heard the sermon during the first service, so I wasn't paying all that much attention.  Still, it was nice to note that the pastor's second service sermon wasn't 100% identical to the first service sermon.  He spiced it up a little with different little examples and such.  Nice guy, that pastor.

Then a lady came and sat down next to me.  She was probably in her early-to-mid 60s.  I'd never seen her before, that I recall.  We sat in silence for a few minutes, and I figured we would just mostly ignore each other.

Then she asked me a question.

"Do you have any pets?"

I thought it was a weird opening question to ask a stranger, but I answered politely that I would love pets, but I can't have them in my rental property (without paying a huge deposit).

She told me about her "little Yorkie dog" and her "yaller (yellow) cat."

I nodded politely.  I am not good at making conversation, and I thought it was a little odd how much she seemed to want to talk about pets.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, and then she asked me, "Do you have any children?"

I just said, "No, I don't have any children" and hoped that was the end of the conversation.

But she continued.  "Why don't you have any children?"

I managed to stay polite, I think, which is pretty difficult for me most of the time.  I am pretty good about saying whatever is on my mind, and right at that moment, what was on my mind wasn't polite. I wanted to tell her to mind her own business.  Instead, I gave her the short answer to why I don't have any children.

"I never got married.  I never had any children."

The long answer wasn't something I really wanted to go into with a complete stranger.

She asked me another question.  "Don't you WANT to get married and have children?"

I took a very deep breath and said, "I am at the age now that if I do get married, I'd like to adopt, but I don't know if that's going to happen."

I immediately pulled out my phone and got on the Facebook, mainly to show her that I wasn't interested in furthering the conversation.  I didn't want her questions.  I didn't want her judgment.  The fact that I'm not a mom and will probably never be is something that I've made peace with, but it's not something that makes me particularly happy, either.  When people start judging me for something that has been a struggle, for something that's broken my heart, I really don't like it.

So I shut her out.

As I continued to browse the Facebook, I vaguely heard her mutter something about having tried to have kids, but not being able to.  I heard her say that she even tried to adopt once, but the adoption didn't go through.  Whatever, lady.  The conversation was over, as far as I was concerned.  How dare a stranger judge me for something they couldn't possibly understand.  How dare a stranger pry into my life without my permission.

After a moment or two, the lady realized I wasn't going to talk to her, and she got up.  She crossed the foyer to the welcome desk where one of the ministers was standing.  I heard her ask the minister the same questions she asked me.  She started out by asking if he had any pets.  It still struck me as a strange opening question, but he responded much more graciously than I did.  He also listened more graciously as she told him about her "little Yorkie dog" and her "yaller cat."

Then she asked him about his family, and he talked proudly about his wife and newborn son.  Then she talked to him about the child she had tried to adopt, and even though she wasn't talking to me anymore, I listened that time.

And I realized something.

The lady wasn't judging me; she was just trying to talk to me.

She was looking for someone who she could talk to about the things that had hurt her.  She was talking about her pets who meant the world to her, who were like her children, because she had never been able to have kids of her own.  And when she was asking those questions of me, she WAS trying to get into my life, but not in a prying sort of way.  She just wanted someone to talk to.  She wanted a human connection, to know that she wasn't alone.

Maybe she was a little awkward about it, but then, I know a thing or two about being awkward.

And like a fool, I let my insecurity lie to me again.

Insecurity's biggest lie is that other people don't have insecurities.  Insecurity's biggest lie is that other people aren't speaking from a place of brokenness, but they're speaking from a place of arrogance, from a place of judgment.  Insecurity's biggest lie is that we're the only ones who are hurting, the only ones who are fighting sin, the only ones who fail, the only ones who are needy.  And so we hide, we run, we fight, because we don't want to be hurt by those who are, in reality, hurting just as much as we are.

Instead of letting this lady reach out to me, instead of reaching back out to her, I shut her out to avoid being hurt.

And I missed that she was hurting, too.

I don't know what you believe.  I don't know if you're doing fine, or if you're facing the biggest battle you've ever faced.  I don't know if you feel hurt or judged or neglected or alone.

But don't let your insecurity tell you that you are alone.

No one wants to be hurt.  No one wants to be judged.  That keeps us apart.

I know that there are people out there who are filled with hate and pride and hypocrisy.  They lash out because their sin is greater than the sin they like to imagine and attack in others.  Sin is real, sin is ugly, and sometimes sin is all too easy to see in the hate that other people have towards others.  Those people are out there, and they make me sad.

But there are also people out there who are hurt, who are scared, who are angry, who are defensive.  They lash out because they've been hurt, or they stay quiet because it's hard to trust.  They fight or flee because their insecurity tells them that others don't care, that others will hurt them, that a lack of understanding or agreement means a lack of love.

It's hard to tell the difference sometimes.  Nothing is ever easy.

But I believe that love is the opposite of fear, and I believe that if we make that effort and that choice to love others more than we fear getting hurt, that some remarkable things can happen.  It doesn't mean that we'll agree on everything or even understand everything.

It does mean that we won't be alone.

I blew it today.  I missed the opportunity to make a new friend.  I missed the opportunity to see someone, to know just a little bit of who she is.  And maybe she's a little quirky and loves her Yorkie dog like a child, and maybe I'm a little quirky and eat too much hummus and draw horrible sketches of Dragons in my sermon notes.  Maybe we're both a little awkward and don't know how to have a conversation like normal people.  She, at least, tried.

But like an insecure jerk, I chose to believe she was seeking to hurt me instead of seeking healing, and I shut her out.

So I guess this is my penance.  It's not much, but it's sincere, at any rate.  Maybe a song will come out of the experience and be a better penance than this simple blog entry.  Or maybe my penance will be that next time (and I both pray and believe there will be a next time, because God is far more gracious than I deserve), when I see someone who strikes me as a little bit odd, a little bit rough around the edges, a little bit broken, and I choose to love instead of fear.