Remind Me of My Melody

Sometimes…

I feel like

no one knows me.

I can’t find the words

to explain who I am.

I retreat

to the safety and comfort

of being alone

rather than taking

the risk to trust someone

to be there for me.

Yet I long to be deeply known,

down to the core of all

my contradictions and

imperfections,

my bitterness and fear,

joy and sorrow,

hope and grief.

My soul cries out in the wilderness,

is anybody out there?

Can anybody hear me?

Do you know this song?

Will you sing it with me?

And when I forget it again,

will you remind me of my melody?

Room to Grow and to Die

I have sharp edges, shortcomings, past shames. I am deeply flawed, entirely imperfect. I am terribly prideful, sometimes too quick to speak.

My roots and branches are stretching, reaching for nutrients, for light, for fresh soil. The old things pass away, falling leaves as autumn drifts on. I grow and learn. I am not stagnant.

Give me honesty, yes, tempered by kindness, patience, grace, as much as is possible, but let the ground between us be free of eggshells. Don’t tread lightly. Trust me to take care of myself.

Let us bare our wounds matter-of-factly, admit our resentments, and confront our hurts readily, to diminish the risk of poisonous festering or amputation later.

May we be the sky to each other, allowing room for endless possibilities. May we be morning glories, unruly, bold in our growth, and the trellis underneath the climbing rose, supporting, bearing weight, offering direction and shape.

I am being pruned and parts of me thrown into the fire. I stubbornly cling to pieces of me that are long dead or severely stunted or no longer producing flower nor fruit. Do not take your axe to me, friend; Pruning shears will do just fine.

And as new branches grow, as old branches wither, as new rings layer around the core, as roots dig deep and deeper, as we flourish and falter in our own unique seasons, may we grant each other room to grow and to die.

Toilet Paper Arguments

Have you ever had the over/under argument? I’m referring to toilet paper, not sports betting. I read a pointless article this week that included some odd statistic with little context and even less interpretation, something about 70%/30%, where the wealthier respondents preferred over the roll. If I could remember which site it was on or find the link, I would certainly share it. I mean, I did search online for it, but there’s a shocking number of sites about the over-the-roll or under-the-roll debate. Here’s one with an interesting info-graphic, in case you’re curious. Personally, in the house that I live in now, I prefer under the roll, not that you needed to know that.

Here’s what I wonder: How often do we argue or complain about things that don’t really matter very much? Things that aren’t worthwhile or meaningful? We get very attached to our preferences about things like toilet paper, colors, styles, deodorant, shoes, whatever. I mean, at least twice this week I’ve wasted time and energy complaining about dish strainers being piled as though someone is playing Jenga. (I find it very annoying. Just put the dishes away.) And don’t get me started on people who don’t replace the toilet paper roll when they used the last of it.

TP ArgumentsWhat are your toilet paper arguments or complaints? What are the things that drive you nuts though they are pretty trivial?

Most of the time, these TP arguments or complaints that we have are emblematic or symptomatic of other values or issues in our lives and relationships. Let me give an example. In the over/under debate, when you’ve expressed your preference, when someone else who resides with you (like a roommate or a significant other) puts the roll on opposite your preference, the issue isn’t necessarily the toilet paper at all. Sure, maybe it is, maybe it’s some mechanical thing where the toilet paper doesn’t come off the roll effectively a certain way and you’re just bothered by the waste of extra toilet paper squares or something of that sort. But more than likely, you’re feeling hurt or disrespected or unheard because you expressed a preference or desire and it wasn’t observed or met.

When you find yourself getting upset about one of these toilet paper arguments, ask yourself, is the thing that I’m upset about what I’m truly upset about, or does it represent something deeper? What am I feeling? Why am I so mad about something that seems so silly?

For me, the dish strainer issue is something that frustrates me because it represents a place where I have resentment. I resent that other people are lazy. I resent that they don’t seem to respect shared space. I also resent myself for feeling like it’s my problem to deal with. I resent having to share space in the first place. The resentments aren’t pretty, but they are meaningful. The dishes aren’t meaningful, but the frustration about them is when it’s the scapegoat for feelings that matter.

Until we figure out what the underlying issues are, we’re stuck in a cycle of arguments and complaints and rants about things that just don’t really matter very much, and the stuff that does is getting stuffed further and further down under the surface. We’ve got to bring it to light to move forward.

So, let’s do ourselves and our friends a favor. When we’ve got a TP argument going on or we’re privy to someone else who does, let’s try and get to the bottom of it and figure out the real crud so that we can flush it for good.

A World More Kind

Western culture, particularly, is pervaded by media, print, radio, television, film, Internet. We are bombarded by images of airbrushed faces and bodies, constantly told by advertising that we are not enough, we do not have enough, we are not happy. Advertising subtly and not so subtly tells us every day that we must buy more, do more, be more, change ourselves, our surroundings, our cars and their oil, support one cause, sign this petition, boycott this, and on and on it goes. Much of this media, if not all, exists because we consume it, and we consume it because it exists. What are we consuming?

Last night, I attended Paley Center‘s PaleyFest 2014 panels for “The Originals” and “The Vampire Diaries.” Maybe that sentence makes no sense to you because you’ve never heard of PaleyFest and you don’t know what “The Originals” or “The Vampire Diaries,” hereafter “TVD,” are. Stay with me here, I’m going somewhere, I promise I’m not here to fangirl it out over the actors or the shows.

As I listened to the screaming girls in the audience (and shuddered a bit), while I was amused, I was also deeply saddened. These shows give great story, engaging acting, too, but what the audience seemed to be screaming for the loudest were the “prettiest” of the actors on stage. Show the face of Ian Somerhalder (pictured here with Julie Plec)…

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…or Daniel Gillies…

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…and you were guaranteed a round of piercing screams. My goodness, the screaming. During the screaming, a lot of the conversation on stage became inaudible, which was a bummer. When the creator of “The Originals” and co-creator of “TVD” Julie Plec was speaking, there were times where I heard other people nearby complaining about it. They only wanted more of the “pretty” people, the actors, and they got somewhat restless when Julie was talking at any length. Julie and the producer and executive producer who joined the panels received a modicum of applause; the writers in the audience got a smattering, which increased a bit when one of the “pretty” people gestured for the audience to improve upon it.

What struck me last night is something that has been in my consciousness for a long while, but has been building in importance and urgency more and more lately: Every single person has worth and value and beauty and deserves kindness, and it has absolutely nothing to do with anyone’s outward appearance. You have worth and value and beauty and deserve kindness, and it has absolutely nothing to do with your outward appearance.

You have worth

Our culture judges so heavily on the outward appearance and fleeting impressions. We as individuals fall into, grow into, are taught into patterns of approval or disapproval of others based on outward appearance. This haircut is/isn’t cool, we’re told by our society. This clothing style is/isn’t cool. We judge people based on a single photograph, based on a facial expression. We have letter grades for celebrity fashion and people who make careers off of how they dress other people, judging how other people are dressed; we have shows like “What Not To Wear” and “Fashion Police.” We have sites like People of Walmart where one of the main purposes seems to be making fun of people particularly because of how they are dressed. We have Buzzfeed lists aplenty, like this one for the “ugly face challenge, telling us what’s gorgeous and what’s hideous.

We’ve become immune to the preposterousness of this idea that attractiveness equals worth, that “pretty” people have more value. #NotBuyingIt, as Take Back Beauty would say.  These things are all so fickle. We change our clothes. Our hair grows, we lose it, we cut it, we cover it. We lose weight, gain weight, stay the same weight, get stronger, get weaker, get older. External appearance has very little to do with internal humanity; external appearance is incredibly changeable. As shows like “The Swan” (barf) and “Extreme Makeover” have taught us, pretty much everything about our external appearance can be altered surgically or otherwise.

For example, when you judge someone’s clothing, what are you really judging? Their fashion sense? Their poverty? Their whimsy? Their stylist? Their budget? Your judgment of a person says nothing about who that person is at all; it only speaks to who you are. The external appearance may be an easy target, but that doesn’t make it okay for it to be a target.

Not an Okay Target

The haircut you have, the clothes you wear, your body — none of these things define you. You are more than a body; you have worth and value and beauty and deserve kindness. You are worthy, valuable, beautiful, and deserve kindness. Every single person you see or meet is a person. Every single one of us has worth, value, beauty, and deserves kindness. Our eyes may be windows to the soul, but are we using them to look for the souls in other people?

Every time we make a judgment based on a person’s external appearance, we do a disservice to ourselves and to that person, perhaps to humanity at large. We’re judging things that simply don’t matter. So, let’s stop it. Let’s refuse to make or tolerate so-called “jokes” at others’ expense. Let’s stop reveling in other people’s outward appearance and our perceptions of it. Let’s stop being cruel from a distance or otherwise just because we don’t like this outfit or that body type or that person’s teeth. Instead, let’s build a world that’s more accepting and inclusive and that values true things, not just “pretty” people. Refuse to stay in the habit of judging people on things that don’t matter. Refuse to accept negative judgments of other people that are based on outward appearances. Stop judging yourself or other people for these external, fickle things. Start showing kindness to people because people matter.

Your Story Matters

Awkward Elevator Chat

I love awkward elevator chat. This is where I break the code of elevator silence and get other elevatorees to talk. It seems to be an inherently awkward time, enclosed in a small space, often physically closer to other people than you are any other time during your workday (certainly true as far as my office is concerned); many people are hiding behind whatever they’re doing on their cell phones. But it’s such a great opportunity for a moment of connection, even if it’s pretty trivial.

I stepped into an elevator with two guys in it the other day, and whatever they were discussing, the only part of it I caught was one guy saying, “We’ll figure it out.” We were going a couple of floors down, so there wasn’t that much elevator time. Shortly before the doors opened at our destination, I said, “You’ll totally figure it out.” They both chuckled and said, “Yeah, you’re right!” in enthusiastic and amused voices. Winning. Side note: I think we all need to be reassured from time to time that we’ll figure it out.

I love holding the elevator door for someone when they’re not expecting it. It’s a chance to surprise someone, hopefully in a non-creepy, non-scary way. I did this today on my way to my therapy appointment. I was approaching the bank of elevators and the Up elevator opened its doors. A woman was approaching from the opposite direction, and let’s be honest, there was plenty of time for me to just hit my floor and move on up. Instead, though, I pressed the hold button and waited for her. She seemed both surprised and appreciative, and our conversation parted with thanks and wishes for a pleasant day. Winning.

I don’t really love small talk in general, but I do like it when it can make people’s day a little brighter. Sometimes it’s just that little bit of a human connection that people need, yet like in a dusty, tumbleweed-ridden desert, it’s as hard to find as an ocean. Sometimes awkward elevator chat is just a sincere smile and, “Hello. How are you today?” It might incur the bare minimum of polite reply from the other person. Sometimes, it’s “So, what floor do you work on? Oh, really? Is there anything exciting on your floor?” I’m curious like a cat sometimes, and I often wonder about the people in the building. Usually the answer is “Nope,” and we chuckle about that.

Sometimes I even start the conversation like a game show host, with “Hey, it’s time for Awkward Elevator Chat!” It kind of freaks people out, I think, that someone is talking in the elevator. I think they quickly realize that I’m harmless and well-intentioned, if a little odd. They usually smile, at least.

I just want to make people pause, smile, laugh, or think. That’s it. That’s winning at awkward elevator chat.

“Sunday Dress”

Disclaimer: I use the gender-specific He for God out of habit, not because I believe God is gendered. The below comes from a place of privilege as a part of a Western culture. I hope you won’t hold it against me.

Newsflash: God doesn’t care what you look like; God loves you for you, not for your appearance. You can’t buy His love. You won’t persuade Him to love you more by dressing up. No amount of formal wear or nylons or ties or pocket squares or shiny shoes will change how He feels about you. You can’t lose His love by wearing rags or corsets or blue jeans or shorts or tennis shoes.

Yesterday at lunch, conversation turned to clothing. One of my dining companions mentioned that she doesn’t think she owns any dresses except for perhaps one “Sunday dress,” you know, a “church dress.” Frankly, this “church dress” culture pisses me off. There’s a lot of things about “church” that make me angry, really, and this has long been on the list. Maybe this is a nonstarter to you; maybe you’ve never thought about it.

I mentioned to my friend then that I believe you can wear anything you want when you walk in any church, that there shouldn’t be any dress code for church attendance, and that I think it’s absurd that such an implicit dress code pervades “churches.” It’s not a scriptural idea. It’s not a love idea.

My other dining companion mentioned that for her, it’s a sign of respect for God. And I replied to that, yes, because that’s the culture you were raised in. It’s got nothing to do with the great commandment. The backward idea that our outside appearance is an expression of our inner intent or attitude toward God is ludicrous. That’s a Pharisee talking. Or a church member. It’s not Jesus.

The entire premise that the church, as a body of believers, not as a building with members, is founded upon is an unconditional love that came to seek and save the lost, the sick, those who are still sinners. If “church” is to be church, then anyone must be welcomed, loved, embraced, and cherished with complete disregard for what they wear, what they smell like, what their hair looks like, what size they are, what shoes or hat or bow they wear, what jewelry that they accessorize with.

Shouldn’t we wear what we are our true selves in, not disguise ourselves to “look better for Jesus” as some well-intentioned but meaningless gesture to the One who sees our hearts? Shouldn’t we wear what will make other people feel loved, accepted, welcomed, not what will make them feel like outsiders, unworthy, unclean? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with the state of our hearts than the state of our fashion appeal?

This is perhaps just emblematic of a larger problem of “church” having become a building for the “religious,” those who already “know” Jesus, who go to play a part, sing some songs, eat a bite of bread, drink a bit of grape juice, hear a pastor preach, as though Sunday were at all what was asked of us.

I’m not suggesting we can’t look nice at church, but that we shouldn’t make an effort to look better on Sunday than we do the rest of the week. I don’t think we should put on a costume that differs from what we’d wear the rest of the week, because we’re in the presence of God all the time. So, if you think that God cares at all about what you wear, really, you ought to dress that way all the time. So, let me just repeat this: God doesn’t care what you wear. He cares about your heart. You are enoughImage.

Song of Songs 2:4 (NIV), “Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love.”

Isaiah 61:10 (NIV), “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Galatians 3:27 (NIV), “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

Matthew 6:25-33 (NIV)

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

James 2:1-13

Luke 12:22-34

“I’m Okay” Isn’t Only A Pat Answer

What are the most common answers to “How are you?” Probably “I’m okay” and “I’m fine,” quickly reciprocated with your own “How are you?”

Let’s hold off on the part where “How are you?” might be the lamest question ever, especially when it’s just part of a casual greeting, and let’s focus on the “I’m okay.”

Sometimes “I’m okay” is just a pat answer, just an evasive conversational maneuver. Sometimes it’s just offered by rote, a reflex. But sometimes, it’s a sincere, simple response that means something better than okay.

I’ve struggled with diagnosed depression for many years, cycling through varying symptoms and different degrees of severity. I know I’m not alone in that experience. When you’re depressed, but you’re actually doing all right, and you answer “I’m okay,” it’s pretty fantastic. You’re being honest, even if it just sounds like everyone’s trite response to an even more trite question. To be okay when depression is weighing you down, when you’re working really hard to be okay is an accomplishment.

But some people want more. They question your “okay” response. They want you to say good or great or awesome. Maybe they’re trying to cheer you up, to make themselves feel better, to make you see the “positive” side of things. But what it actually does is establish a false expectation, a false standard that says your “okay” isn’t good enough, that you need to be something else, feel something else in order for someone else to be comfortable. The pressure to be okay has never made anyone okay.

If you’re going to ask a lame, often insincere question, accept whatever answer you get. If you’re just being polite, keep on asking the same question that’s less than a question.

If you really want a dialogue, ask a real question. If you want to build relationship or rapport, ask a real question. What are some better alternatives to “How are you?” Try “What” instead of “How,” or try a “Have” question with a follow-up “What.”

  • What’s going on in your heart lately?
  • What have you been dreaming about?
  • What projects are you working on?
  • What are you feeling passionate about lately?
  • What are you looking forward to?
  • What things are you working through?

And when you’re speaking with a friend that you know struggles with depression, try to be accepting and appreciative of their answers; try not to imply that their okay isn’t good enough.

What are your suggestions for improvements to “How are you?” What are good questions you’ve been asked in place of “How are you?”