A university professor was preparing his final exam. He had taught this course for many years and always prepared an exam of multiple short essays to test students on their knowledge of the material. This year, he tried something different. When his students sat at their desks to take the exam, they found a blank sheet of paper and a notepad. When the test started, they found only these words: Evaluate Yourself.
When the professor received the exams back, he was amused by what he saw. One student had regurgitated the entire semester’s coursework in haphazard fashion on the notepad. Another student had several false starts, with “I am good,” “I am smart,” “I am competent” all scribbled out, leaving only scratches but no words. Several students had simply turned in their notepads blank. One wrote “A+! I am a winner!” in big block letters.
Yet one student’s response made the professor smile. “Professor, thank you for the class. I learned much from it. By the time you read this, I will most likely be at home, reading a book or spending time with my family. This test doesn’t evaluate me. I evaluate myself, and I say that I am not my successes or my failures. I am fine, I am worthy, I am loved.”
A number of people have told me online and in person how much they enjoy reading what I write here. I started writing as a way to share some of the things that I have learned in life. I know I am still young in many ways, but I do know that I have some share of wisdom to offer, and I am glad that people have found it helpful.
One danger however is in entwining my sense of well-being with the popularity of what I write. Although this is always the danger of any writer (“Acknowledge my writing! Acknowledge me!”), it is especially perilous on a social media platform.
This webcomic and the accompanying quote reminds me that Facebook is a platform. It is a tool. It is not my salvation. My hope is not built upon it.
I decided to transfer all of my recent Facebook posts onto Tumblr for record keeping. Sorry for the mess.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.