People Are the Gifts

Sometimes people are the gifts. I’ve often gained what I lacked via a relationship. So much of what has enriched my life can’t be bought in a store or ordered online. Instead, my most valued resources have been the care, … Continue reading

Disappointment to Hope

I’ve discovered disappointment is sometimes a path to hope. Whether a relationship or a job prospect falters or fails entirely, regret can lend itself to optimism within me. How? Sometimes it’s just the possibility I need to be reminded of for my faith to be renewed. Sometimes I don’t need the actual dream to come true; I simply seek evidence that it’s not hopeless or impossible.

A disappointment can remind me that opportunities I couldn’t have previously conceived of can arise anywhere—even if I see no means before me. When I am staring into a future that seems devoid of possibilities and not even a glimmer of hope hangs on the horizon, that is when even a failure is promising.

I first learned this lesson of the disappointment-to-hope connection through matters of the heart. At some point in my mid twenties I gave up on love. It wasn’t that I stopped believing in the truth of love, I simply stopped expecting to find it for myself. I saw plenty of examples of healthy relationships around me. I had the love of my friends and family. But when I tried to imagine myself in love or being loved romantically, it seemed as impossible as finding a talking unicorn on my next trip to Narnia.

It wasn’t hard for me to give up on love. First of all, I’m an introvert. I was quite amenable to the thought of being single for life and having my own room/apartment/home indefinitely. To an introvert like me, the best part of living alone is the ability to close myself behind a door and know with certainty that no one can disturb my bubble of silence and solitude. To this day I have to periodically change the tone of my phone’s ring once I’ve become conditioned to cringe at its sound. That’s how much this introvert hates interruptions.

Giving up on love was also easy because I just couldn’t imagine it happening. Who out there in the world could possibly put up with me—let alone love me? I’m quirky. Odd things matter a lot to me. I need to surround myself with a level of organization and order that most find either unnecessary or puzzling. Even I sometimes find it exhausting (though no less necessary).

I care deeply that things be put where I think they belong. And I can’t always explain why something should go somewhere, only that it must. I cannot leave my bed unmade. I cannot do serious work in noisy conditions (and by noise I mean anything other than silence). And if there is going to be noise, I need to be in control of it or able to cover over it. To drown out disruptive ambient sounds, I’ll wear headphones and listen to minimally distracting music.

I’m also serious and goofy and mature and completely childish. I am a lover of the arts and athletics. I’m strong and sensitive as well as conceited and insecure and generous and selfish. I’m not girly, but I am feminine. Oh, and I’m always right and a bit argumentative.

I could not conceive of the man who would sign up for all of the above. And if The One did exist, could I find him? And I can’t emphasize this enough: That was a very big “if” in my book. But assuming The One was real, how would we meet? My life was pretty insular: school/work, church, volleyball, and home—not much else received my time, energy, or attention.

School: After preschool, I never again shared a classroom with boys—aside from teachers and professors. I was busy being a good student and playing volleyball, so I didn’t care then that I wasn’t exposed to much dating material. But seventeen years of all-girls education also meant I didn’t graduate with any guy friends that might become boyfriends later—or introduce me to some.

Work: Nope—even though it was coed. While my various workplace experiences were sometimes a good source of crush material, I would never date a colleague.

Volleyball: I did play on a few coed teams, but I never had so much as a crush on a teammate. Most were beyond my scope of interest (i.e., much older and/or married). Besides that, when I’m in a competitive mode, the part of my brain that processes romantic interest gets turned off. Even if “Mr. Right” walked onto the court, I’d be too busy trying to win to notice him.

Church: Seemingly my best option since I wouldn’t marry someone who wasn’t a Christian. But as I looked around my congregation, I didn’t see anyone I was interested in. (Some time and a few congregations later I ultimately did meet my husband at church. But I didn’t see that love coming at all, because we were platonic friends first.)

I say all of that to say, I had given up on love, and I had my reasons. And then one day, I met this guy. The sky seemed bluer and the sun shone twice as strong. I was sure he was The One. I kept waiting to fall in love. And just when I thought we were at the threshold of happily ever after . . . he ended our relationship. For a few days I was incredulous. When he didn’t change his mind, I felt disheartened. Eventually I let go and the regret settled down. I took a look around, and what I saw was that my disappointment had opened a door to hope. (Mercifully, I was also able to see all the reasons I was better off without him.)

Before I met the one who turned out to not be The One, I’d thought finding love would prove impossible. However, although that relationship failed, I wasn’t left empty-handed. The mere fact that it had happened gave me a renewed sense of optimism. If I could meet this guy, then I could meet another out of the blue. My faith in love grew on that truth. Hope was unlocked by my disappointment. And so when opportunity knocked with the man who would one day become my husband, even though I wasn’t expecting love, I was open to it.

I’ve had similar experiences in my professional life as well. I’ve felt discouraged. I’ve been tempted to give up in despair. Whether I was unemployed or self-employed, I have found myself wondering if I’d ever work again. And then a job prospect would appear. It would seem perfect for me—a sure thing. I’d get my hopes up, confident that it was going to work out. But then, for one reason or another, the opportunity would fall apart. First I’d feel sad and less than. But again, once the dust settled on my disappointment, I’d take a look around and see that hope was left. I’d be reminded that a job could come from anywhere—even places I hadn’t looked.

If something can arise where I saw naught before, then seeing nothing doesn’t mean that nothing will ever come. And that’s why even setbacks and failures can bring me to a hopeful place. A disappointment is simply the prologue to something real that awaits.

Version 2

Hope can be the silver lining in a cloud of disappointment.

My Bad Habits

I have only successfully broken one dependence-level bad habit—sucking my thumb. When I finally decided to quit (at an age that I won’t mention because it’s too embarrassingly late), I had to sleep with a glove on my right hand for weeks. I’m sure Freud would have had his theories on my oral fixation, but all I know is that breaking the habit was traumatic for me. The self-soothing sensation proved to be irreplaceable. Once the habit was successfully broken, the desire for the comfort it brought remained, but I could find nothing that made me feel the same way. And trying to return to it no longer produced the same effect. The shape of my thumb had changed. It no longer fit into my mouth like the right key. The emotional ache was there, but the means to sate it had been rendered ineffective. Falling asleep became and remained harder. It took a while before I again felt moored within myself—years before the interior disquiet faded.

As an adult, I have a number of bad habits that I’d like to break—chewing at the inside of my mouth being at the forefront. It’s a habit I’ve had for as long as I can remember, and one that became worse once I stopped sucking my thumb. (Go figure.) I also have a patch of hair that I can’t stop pulling at. It’s the shorter, weaker hair that grew in the wake of a chemical burn I suffered years ago. Probably because of some mild nerve damage, playing with that hair produces a unique sensation, and I can’t leave it alone—which is probably why those hairs are still shorter and weaker than their neighbors are.

Some of my bad habits are actually the absence of a good habit. I don’t floss daily. Some nights I don’t brush my teeth at all. I don’t always eat fresh food—I buy and consume things that are processed, dyed, or deep-fried. Every now and again I turn the burner on the stovetop to “lo” instead of “off.” That would bother me less if my apartment building hadn’t burned down a few years ago. (Please note: I was not the cause of the inferno.) I take a lot of good things (and people) for granted. I sometimes forget to be grateful for the blessings in my life—not to mention the many hardships God has helped me to avoid.

Some of my bad habits are emotional. I have a short temper. I can go from content to irritated in the blink of an eye—be it due to a driver cutting me off or a loud conversation I can’t ignore on the subway. I’m easily frustrated when situations don’t go the way I want them to, when people don’t act as they should (or promised they would), or when someone else ignores, dismisses, or derides my point of view. Not surprisingly, I can be very judgmental and critical of others. Sometimes I turn that inward and berate myself for perceived errors.

It matters too much to me when people get away with doing something wrong—especially if it’s something I’ve gotten into trouble for doing—or been tempted to do, but refrained. I spend too much time worrying about what others think of me—as a Christian, writer, woman, athlete, friend, relative, or stranger. I care more than I should when I fail.

There are some bad habits that I’ve been fighting for years—the subjugation of which I imagine will last the full length of my life. Hand in hand, my attempts to be (or compare myself to) someone I’m not or be flawless hold me back in every facet of my life. I know perfection is an illusion, but I still spend a lot of time pursuing it (sometimes consciously, sometimes thoughtlessly out of blind habit). I know that I can’t live anyone’s life but mine, but I still find myself comparing my talents, accomplishments, experiences, relationships, et cetera to those of someone else. And when I spend too much time comparing, I’m opening the door to let jealously in.

While I don’t make formal New Year’s Resolutions, I do pause to think about what I want to invest in and any bad habits I want to break. This year, I will try to be less judgmental of others. I want to remember that not everyone remains an angel in hellish situations. I want to be inquisitive before I’m critical—to seek understanding instead of making assumptions. Because even though it’s easy to forget, we’re all human and flawed. Each one of us is endeavoring to endure or enjoy the day-to-day experiences of our existence. Regardless of whether a person appears to be mastering or damaging his or her life, no one is trying to fail. Everyone is doing the best he or she can—and has a unique combination of internal and external resources and restrictions to navigate.

Just a few days ago I went though my box of cards and letters—those I’ve received and saved over the years. They ranged from birthday and Christmas greetings to congratulations on my engagement/marriage to notes of thanks to letters of encouragement. Some had accompanied gifts; some were expressions of sympathy. A few were written by friends; others were penned by members of my family. Some of the authors are still a part of my life; some, sadly, are no longer living. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, support, and generosity those missives represented. I was reminded of the faithfulness of my family and friends. They have shared my joy, celebrated my accomplishments, encouraged my dreams, and supported me through my losses and disappointments.

After reading those cards and letters, I had to admit to myself that I had failed some of my friendships. I had let seasons pass and kept things too superficial—allowing the majority of our connection to remain in the shallows of Facebook. I had gotten distracted and busy. I hadn’t made time. I had forgotten to visit, call, or write. I felt convicted by my neglect, and became determined to remedy it.

It’s easy for me to get so caught up in the routines of life and trying to earn a living that I forget to carve out time to nurture friendships, especially those that will diminish without intentionality—the friends I won’t run into at church, volleyball games, or writer’s group, or the ones who have moved away to other states, cities, or neighborhoods.

I want to do better this year. I want to go broader and deeper. I want to spend more time—and time of quality—with those people who are important to me. I am determined to let more than nostalgia and good intentions support the friendships that have sustained, matured, and blessed me.

This year (and every year going forward) I want to see my best as good enough—and to see the best of others the same way. I want to pursue my goals with hope and grounded motivation rather than resentment or hysteric desperation. I want to criticize less and ask more questions. I want to champion rather than covet others’ successes and blessings. I want to put more of myself (and my time) into my friendships. I want to waste less energy attempting to be perfect or someone else. After all, why should I try so hard to be someone I’m not when it’s hard enough just being myself?

I Think Therefore I Rant: Anti Social Media

The more time I spend online, the more I find myself less and less willing to believe things. There is so much misinformation being spread around—innocently and intentionally. Is that image genuine, or was it digitally altered? Is that reality in progress, or are those people performing? So much of what is presented as candid is actually choreographed. So much of what is reported as news is a distorted or exaggerated truth—or completely fictional.

I don’t want to be naïve, but I also don’t want to be an impermeable wall. I don’t like being overly skeptical. I want to be moved by heartwarming stories without wondering if someone is trying to manipulate me. I want to be impressed by feats of kindness, strength, or intelligence without worrying that it’s all an illusion staged to deceive.

If I’m not skeptical, then I’m annoyed. To get through my Facebook news feed I must regularly wade through mass marketing muck that reeks of spam. My experience with social media is that it’s becoming decreasingly social. So much of it now is derivative or vaguely commercial. I miss the days when Facebook felt more personal than viral. I joined for an online connection to real people, not corporate advertisements, shallow trends, or pseudo-news.

I’d like to see more insights into the minds and lives of the people I know instead of more memes or some stranger’s mildly amusing video. I want to see you, your loved ones, and your vacations, celebrations, and milestones. I’m not trudging through any “upload all” image dumps, but I’d love to see a carefully curated selection of photos. I’d rather read what’s really on your mind than see another shared article (unless it really changed your life, really made you think/laugh/cry, or is in some way genuinely special). And if you are quoting someone else’s words (even if just by way of introduction), please remember to give the author credit or at least use quotation marks. If another person wrote them, they shouldn’t look like your words.

If I’m not skeptical or annoyed, then I’m shrouded in apathy. My Facebook feed is full of emphatic entreaties. Watch this video; it will make you laugh or cry. Read this article; it will fill you with ire. Look at these pictures; isn’t the world beautiful/crazy/cruel? Visit this website; this is stuff you absolutely need to know. Basically what they all boil down to is the following: You must click here; it’s very, very important! And more often than not, no it isn’t.

I do it too. I admit it. I regularly link to this very blog hoping my Facebook friends will read it. And I’d love to go viral. I’m that kind of hypocrite. It’s the imperatives, not the invitations, that I mind the most. Especially distasteful to me are the ones with a manipulative approach. Make this your profile picture if you’re a decent human being. Change your status update to the text below if you don’t want to appear uncaring. Join my cause or my rant unless you’re an uninformed fool. I have all the facts, so you should think and feel the way I do. It all reminds me of those chain letters that used to be popular when I was a kid. I’ve never been one to do something just because others are doing it. And if it starts to smell like peer pressure, then I get even more stubbornly resistant.

I don’t come to Facebook to bait, debate, or attack. I like to keep my social media friendlier than that. I can’t—I don’t want to—keep up with all the viral items and trends. And viral is a good word them, because they’ve begun to feel like diseases infecting my time—little digital pathogens of acute procrastination. With so many of them clamoring for more and more of my attention, I feel compelled to defend myself and ignore them. Apathy is my vaccine—a means a self-protection.

I’m not anti social media. It has benevolent qualities too. I just prefer to keep my social media civil, less viral, and more personal. Facebook isn’t perfect, and it isn’t entirely bad. It gives me cause to complain. It regularly compels me to rant. I’ve even considered quitting in the past—and I’m sure I’ll consider it again in the future. But right now the good (even if only marginally) outweighs the bad. It’s still an opportunity to catch up on the thoughts and lives of my friends. And sometimes I’m even in the mood to see that viral video of _______ [fill in the blank].

Love Is

Love is an exquisite ache—a beautiful agony. Love is pleasure and pain and soothing. Sometimes my heart is so replete with love—so thoroughly swollen with tenderness and affection for a friend or member of my family—that it is pleasantly excruciating. I can barely bear it, but I must…I want to.

Love is hard. Love hurts. It opens us to the deepest depths of torment and loss. It removes every layer of armor until only our vulnerabilities are left. It disarms us—often catching us off guard.

When my mother passed away it was an amputation without anesthetic or forewarning. I hurt to the very core of my consciousness. I suffered existence. I tolerated living. My pronounced pain was directly proportional to my massive love. A part of me died with her.

Love is a captivating liberator. It frees us to be ourselves. It opens new territories in our hearts, and can repair the parts that others have left damaged. The love of my parents gave me courage. It planted seeds of self-confidence and self-worth.

Because of the good love I have received from family and friends, I have dared. I have pushed beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone. I have taken a firm stand. I have spoken up.

Love has freed me unto life. It has released me from self-condemnation and doubt. It has eroded my insecurities and facades. It has given me to myself.

Love is a satisfying craving. It consumes and fuels simultaneously. It is the water and the thirst. It is the extinguisher and the fire that burns.

Love goes beyond passion and attraction. Love is more than just the provocative or the dazzling. Love is the hearth, not the strike of the match. Love is persistent like water. It is not just a flash. Love is not lust. Love lasts.

Love is a well-cooked meal—flavored just right. It is that perfect pair of jeans—comfortably worn in—not too loose or too tight.

Love is an unknowable certainty—easy to understand, but impossible to fathom. Love goes too far to be shortsighted. Love is too deep to be shallow.

Love is universal, personal, and unique. It takes everything we have, and yet it is free.

Love is, and love creates. Love gives, and love cultivates. Love is how you know you are home. Love is everything—all of the above.

Love is love.