Mom’s Worries

Mom:
When you go to Chicago, I’m not concerned about how well you’ll do in school. You’re smart, so you’ll be fine. I’m not worried about the cold, or about how much work there is, or about your safety, or getting along with your classmates. What I’m worried about is that because you won’t be biking around as much, you’ll spend most of your time studying, and you’ll be stressed out so you might overeat, that you’ll get fat. You used to be chubby, so it’s easy to get fat again. Then you won’t get married, then you’ll get diabetes. Then you will die. So be healthy!

Menial Tasks

I was talking with a friend about doing menial tasks while others are socializing after an event, such as wrapping up sound cables or cleaning up trash. It can be a bit of a lonely experience, taking care of responsibilities while others chatter away happily.

My idea is to find a friend and say “Hey! I value our friendship and want to catch up with you right now, but I need to take cafe of this first. Come help me so that we can chat while we’re doing this.”

Working with a friend turns a chore into a bonding moment.

Giving Care

A few years ago, I went to a church retreat. There, I had dinner with a friend from another church. We weren’t that close, but he started sharing some very deep things with me. He felt alone, as if no one in his church was there to listen. He talked for a long time, and I just stayed with him, listening. It was clear to me that many of his friends felt uncomfortable with his pain, and so avoided him. He felt isolated because he was.

What I find is that many people want to be helpful and loving, but helping another person with emotional issues is hard. We can’t fix their hearts, so we are prone to neglect them. Their pain becomes our inconvenience.

If we remember that we can’t be anyone’s savior, that frees us to give what care we can offer. We are caregivers, but only God is the curegiver.

Sports

I don’t follow sports. When people ask “do you follow sports,” I used to say “no,” and the conversation would drop with an awkward silence. However, I’ve learned that people have an affinity for sports on a personal basis. There is always a reason people root for a team, whether because they grew up watching with their family or because they spent time in that team’s city. Sports is a proxy for a personal connection, so I focus the conversation on that instead. For example:

Friend: Do you follow hockey?
Me: Not really, but I enjoy talking about it. What team do you follow?
Friend: I’m a fan of the San Jose Sharks.
Me: Neat! How did you start following them?
Friend: My dad is a Sharks fan, so I would watch it with him growing up?
Me: What was that like?
Friend: It was fun!

Before long, we can direct the conversation to talking about her dad and sharing parent stories. I get to know more about the person and we can still talk about sports if she wants.

Ugly

“You are ugly.”

There is something uniquely jarring and sinister about this phrase. Hearing someone say this to us may cause us to believe it, or at least respond strongly to it.

If someone said to me “You are covered in blue feathers,” I would say that a conversation defining the terms “covered,” “blue,” and “feathers” was in order. On its face, that statement is a lie. Yet why is it that “you are ugly” has such weight?

Perhaps because it is a comprehensive expression of worthlessness. “Ugly” simplifies the complexities of another person’s physical experience and expression into a sharp, piercing word. No matter how tender your heart, no matter how competent your mind, if you are “ugly,” you are worthless.

Too often, we allow the perceptions of other people to affect our experience of reality. We need other people who will speak truth to us, who see our beauty and declare it. Otherwise, we will believe the ugliness we hear. The one thing more chilling to hear than “you are ugly” is “I am ugly.”

Body Image

People are often surprised to hear that I have a history of body image issues, but it’s true. I was never obese, but I was certainly chubby enough to get taunted as a kid. I fortunately never had a destructive relationship with food, but I carried the cloud of “fat loser” in my head.

Even though I’m much more fit now, that clouded thinking is hard to shake off, and sometimes it creeps back into my head. The word “fat” is still an emotionally loaded word for me. I thank God for a changed mindset, but I know that I have a responsibility to maintain a healthy relationship with my body.

Leah

“It is my wedding night. I am walking to my husband for the first time. I have waited for this night for so many years. All my life I have been told that I am not beautiful. When I was a girl, the ore children would mock me. As an adult, men would treat me with disdain and scorn. My very own father expressed dismay that I was not beautiful like my sister.

Ah, my sister. Always the pretty one. Always the lovely one. Rachel the Beautiful. She would make men turn their heads when she walked past, but they would never notice me.

I have been so lonely for so long. All I ever wanted was for someone to hold me, to embrace me, to call me beautiful. All I ever wanted was tok be loved.

I go to my husband. He is tired from the day’s celebrations. It is dark. He holds me close, his arms tender and strong. I close my eyes as he embraces me and whispers “Oh, Rachel.”

I bite back my tears. For at least one night, I can be called beautiful. Yet in the morning, I know that I will once again be who I have always been. I will once again be Leah the Unloved.”

Envy

A few years ago I reconnected with a friend from high school. I was applying for a job at her company and asked for feedback on my resume. She said it looked good and sent me hers for reference. I was floored by her achievements. Ivy League school, internships with the federal government in foreign countries, started a nonprofit while in school. I felt small and mediocre in comparison, and wondered if I had wasted the past few years.

Several weeks later, we got lunch to catch up. I told her about my trips to Asia, my experience working with special needs students, and all the personal lessons from the past few years. She said “Wow, Joel, I’m really impressed. You’ve had a wonderful few years and I wish I had your experiences.” 

Every person has their own journey and their own lessons. I have wasted too much time wishing that my life would be different and comparing myself to others. It’s good and right to be inspired and challenged by others, but envy and jealousy are unhelpful. I am still learning how to appreciate the accomplishments of others without allowing myself to feel diminished.

A heart of peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones. – Proverbs 14:30

Smug

At coffee shop with a friend, the barista had on a black shirt with “Audre&Gloria&Angela&bell.” in white letters. My friend asked about the meaning of the shirt, and she said “Audre Lorde, Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, and bell hooks.” I said “Oh, the writers,” to which she responded, “Yes, the feminists.” As we left the counter, my friend confided to me “I’ve never heard of these people.”

Truth be told, I felt a twinge of smugness, as if my awareness of these famous writers makes me a better person. However, should that be the case? Simply because I have more knowledge in a specific area does not mean that I can consider myself superior to him. I didn’t choose the school where I learned about these writers. Although I played some role in my education, I didn’t choose my teachers or the curricula or reading assignments. Moreover, there are things that my friend knows that I don’t, such as the thematic elements of the music of Wilco or how to configure a network. I have knowledge in some areas but not all, just as he does.

The general point is that it’s silly to feel superior to others based on life experiences. When someone says “You’ve never been to another country?! What’s wrong with you!?,” the translation is “You’ve never had this specific life experience that many but not all people in this society have experienced and may well not have been available to you? You are diminished in my estimation for not having a life experience that I have had.” Perhaps the other person doesn’t have enough money to travel. Perhaps they were war refugees and couldn’t get passports. Perhaps they have a major phobia of planes.

In short, don’t be smug.