Oh, the pitfalls of equating your value with someone’s opinion.
“You worry too much,” “You should’ve known better,” “You’re too trusting of others,” “Wow, you’re emotional.”
Opinions aren’t always bad. They can keep you humble. They can point out your blind spots, and they can help you improve.
But here’s my problem. I’ve come to dismiss positive opinions and obsess over negative ones.
I’ve also shared deep thoughts and fears with people who may not care, who aren’t ready to hear them, and who aren’t truly on my team.
I’ve never lived a day in a man’s world, but I can tell you this much – being a woman is tough. Women respect emotions. They don’t scare us, they teach us. They help us understand and connect with human beings. But we aren’t respected when we express them.
Women analyze their world and constantly try to determine whether they should trust their environment, especially the relationships they make. Sometimes it can reach self-destructive levels, but we tend to be mocked regardless. We can say we’re worried about a murderous man lurking in the bushes, or that we are worried that a business deal sounds too good to be true. Somehow “worry” delegitimizes either concern.
So far, as an adult, I’ve learned that I should stand up for myself, but not always because that could make me look self-righteous. I should say what I’m thinking, but I shouldn’t be too open or someone might think I’m obsessive, or worse – crazy. I should be confident, but I likely don’t know what I’m talking about. I should be strong, but not have too much muscle. I’m athletic for a girl, but I probably can’t hang when it’s a coed game. I should do the project myself, but I’ll probably do it wrong. I should tough out the pain, not go to the doctor, definitely not take medicine, and there’s probably nothing wrong anyway. I should grow tougher skin but not change who I am.
If all this sounds like I can’t possibly win, then you know how I feel…wait, I shouldn’t say “feel,” that discredits the point I’m trying to make somehow.
My point is, I’m tired. And I’m done letting others get in my head, or worse, influence my actions.
I like who I am. I’m proud of who I am, and even more proud of the woman I’m trying to be.
And the best part is, I now know who to recognize who’s really on my team.
All my life, I’ve been told by father figures that I’m a prize. I guess that translated to me an expectation of how the man who came to love me would act. He would drop his whole world and pursue me. He would make his intentions known absolutely. And he would confess his feelings gushingly…
I truly don’t know where to go from here except to acknowledge that there’s a story and a past on his side too. Whatever he’s lived through, it’s taught him something that has made him think that he needs to hold back. Save a part of him for when it’s not as big a risk. And he gets to have a say in all this as well.
Physiologically, my body says, “Protect yourself. Run if you must. Don’t let yourself be hurt.”
So, what happens now?
I want to be loving. Tender. Compassionate. Patient. I also want to be fierce. Solid. Brave.
I guess it’s our journey, and we’ll figure it out.
And now that I think about it choosing this is brave, compassionate, and patient. I guess I am getting closer to the woman I want to be…
I haven’t been to church in years. I felt the distance growing when I was in college, and the feeling of “this is not where I find God,” never went away.
And one day, I just stopped. That day, when I had gone to see the chaplain. Deployed and alone. That day, when I had stumbled into his office, barely able to breathe because anxiety had overwhelmed me. That day when the ring on my finger scared me to the point of a breakdown. And all I received was cliche upon cliche about what his godly marriage looked like. That day was the last.
I know this may cause alarm and concern to some of my very few readers, but please don’t let it. My faith in God and my love for Him have never wavered. I’ve continued to seek spiritual guidance from family and friends who have an exemplary relationship with God and a deep grasp of both spirituality and humanity. I’ve also continued to seek out and attend Bible studies to work out my faith with peers and Christian leaders.
But the act of stepping away from the church ignited something that took me a while to name. Eventually, I realized it was authenticity. Personal, spiritual, and deep connection with others, and it was so special.
I noticed it first, years before I stopped attending church services. Surprisingly, it was in my conversations with an atheist friend. We were sharing mutual grief together. I shared with her from my faith basis of understanding, and she shared from pure love for me. She never rejected me or my faith-inspired perspective. And together, we formed not only a beautiful friendship, we helped to heal each other’s wounds.
And slowly, my faith began to redefine and refine itself.
I next noticed it in my Catholic friend who came to live with me. She had just left an abusive husband, and she slept on my couch for over a year. My 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment became a home for two friends. With her I could share my inner most thoughts, and she only listened and loved. She could sense when I wasn’t ready to change my ways and did not pressure me. She simply took me as I was and stayed by me on my journey.
I’ve met several similar friends along the way. Most of them also do not belong to a church. Together we found unthreatening environments that did not compel us to be different in order to find approval. We accepted each other’s unique paths, and we helped each other navigate through trials.
Steadily, I began to notice what I have started to call a beautiful collision of souls. A TV show, illustrating the transcendence of love and acceptance across people of different backgrounds, beliefs, and identity. An exchange of raw thoughts concerning the Bible and life experience with trusted persons. The compassionate embrace of a child to a grieving mother. The well-timed assistance of random strangers in a foreign country.
Most recently, my soul experienced healing when I went home over the summer. My heavily tattooed arms couldn’t stay covered under the summer heat. I felt my heart tighten and its rate quicken as I sat near conservative, Christian family members and high school friends. They didn’t know me as this woman. I was afraid they would see me and misunderstand who I had become. But to my amazement and heavy relief, they told me not to hide my arms. They asked curious questions about my tattoos and the story behind them, and I saw that their only interest was to know me better and love me for the woman I am today.
Tremendous healing took place that summer.
Is God found in church? He is for some, and I’m glad for it. As for me, I see Him more clearly in everyday life, and through deep personal connections. And I genuinely notice Him better when I can no longer hear the institutional voices. Faith, to me is found in the most unassuming places. Where souls collide and people authentically express love, provide healing, and accept each other.
I’m not sure I get it. I’m not sure I understand where being right, performing better, and living above others outweigh expressing gratitude, appreciating effort, and extending compassion. What is so righteous about being “hardened?” About being “tough?”
I understand valuing honesty. I understand holding people accountable. But when you isolate those values, you view life through a limited lens. Furthermore, you miss seeing and appreciating other aspects of the human experience. When you live life through such a limited lens, you set an expectation for others to think like you. And that lens becomes perfection from your standpoint.
“He without sin, cast the first stone.” – Jesus
This way of living and thinking, that your logic and decisions are superior to others, comes at a great cost. You miss seeing the intension behind another person’s effort. You miss seeing their heart.
“But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.” – Thomas Merton
I understand there might be fear that extending compassion and gratitude means you dismiss the person’s mistake. That you make excuses for the other person. That you suppress your own thoughts. That if you don’t say anything, they will “never learn.” Gratitude and compassion are not exclusive actions. Gratitude and compassion recognize that a person is more than a decision. They are more than a mistake. And, they are more than what you know about them.
My new daily prayer has become one, simple request: “Lord, please do not allow me get so wrapped up in my selfishness that I miss moments to connect with someone.”
Today I walked through the doors and met Venora for the first time.
She greeted me with a bright smile and welcomed me back to her station. We initiated normal chitchat and polite introductions. I got some recommendations on local restaurants and Venora encouraged me to visit a few restaurants in her hometown.
I’m not even sure how it happened or why. It’s probably not important to remember how the conversation segued. I remember Venora telling me she was engaged and getting marred later this year. And I remember asking her about her plans for the honeymoon. She shared a sweet-sounding description of a train ride across the US. But as she started to share the plans for the wedding, her story increasingly warmed my heart.
“I’m getting married later this year. I met my fiancé a little over a year ago. We met through a mutual friend. At first it was weeks of just talking on the phone and video calls. We’d talk for hours, and fall asleep still on the phone together. Then, I finally went down to meet him in person…and wound up staying there for three months! He asked me to be his girlfriend in May of 2020, and on December 27th, he proposed.
We’d been looking at cost-effective ways to afford this wedding for awhile. Then, my parents came to me one day and offered to host the wedding at our house. In return, they’d cover the cost for the honeymoon. *laughing* They had me at the words, ‘pay for your honeymoon!’
My parents didn’t get a honeymoon. They got married in a trailer. They’ve been married 28 or 29 years. I want them to have a honeymoon. So, I’ve decided to give them a gift as well. Since all our friends and family will be at our house for my wedding, I’ve arranged for my parents to renew their vows during the reception. They don’t know this yet. But then, I’m sending them off on a honeymoon of their own. They deserve this. Of course, we’ll have to find someone to watch the cats, the dogs, the turtle, and our lizard Bagel. But we’ll figure it out!
I wanted to do this for their 25th wedding anniversary, but that was a really hard year. So, it didn’t happen.”
(I decided to be bold and ask her why it was a bad year)
“My grandma passed away. She was my dad’s mother. Then, my uncle’s house, which had all my grandmother’s possessions, burned down. My dad doesn’t have anything of hers left. And…that year, I was attacked.
I don’t like saying the ‘R word,’ so I just say ‘attacked.’ The whole thing sent me into a spiral. I started binging and purging. I became extremely reclusive. I lived with my parents, but I wouldn’t even eat dinner with them. I felt like I couldn’t cope. On top of that, I was in an abusive relationship, which just drove me further into a dark place. To the point…where…I decided I didn’t want to be on this earth anymore. I grabbed a handful of pills and…I was just ready to end it.
I didn’t even tell my dad that I had tried to do that until a few weeks ago.
I tried to go to a church one night and just pray. I didn’t want to go into the sanctuary because I knew someone was going to ask if I was okay. I hate that question. I just wanted to pray and get more clarity on who I was and what I was supposed to do with my life. But, when I sat outside the church, one of the laymen asked me to leave because he thought I was part of a group of minors that had been caught underage drinking on the church property. (*shrug*)
But, thankfully, I made it out of that dark time. I impromptu enrolled in a cosmetology school and wound up getting my degree. And…well…here I am!”
Venora, you are stronger than you know. So grateful that you lived through the darkness and let me have the chance to meet you. The world is better because you are in it.
Meet Louis. I’ve seen Louis a few times throughout my time in Germany. Usually, we wave at each other while doing yard work. Today, turned out to be an exception. I was out in the yard once again, and I saw Louis approaching the fence connecting our two yards. I walked up to him and greeted him.
“You’re American?” He asked in clear English. “I am,” I replied. “You work so hard on this lawn,” he commented. I smiled and explained to him that I enjoyed the work. We exchanged a few lawn care strategies, and he chuckled while telling me that he was taking this year, “off” from yard work as he was turning 90 this year.
And that’s all it took for the conversation to then take a fascinating turn.
Louis grew up in Strasbourg (“Strassburg”), France. Strasbourg was competitive territory between France in Germany. Occupied by Germany in the late 1800s, then taken back by the French during WWI, and then occupied again during WWII. Louis was still a child during WWII, but his father and uncle were drafted into the German Armed Forces. Louis’ uncle was killed during the invasion into Russia. Until his death bed, Louis’ father remained committed to the belief that Hitler was the leader the world needed.
During the war, Louis attended school. They talked about the war in class, which was where Louis was first exposed to concentration camps. He didn’t understand why people were being imprisoned when they hadn’t done anything wrong. He asked his mother one day, and she told him that the people in the camps were Catholic, and because they were Catholic and their family was Protestant, they were better than them because they were closer to the Bible.
But Louis was an observant child. He remembered the day when he saw a wounded Nazi. Bleeding through the blanket he had been wrapped in, Louis remembered the soldier worrying about what would happen to his wife and child. No talk of Hitler. No talk of the cause.
Louis would never forget the day the Allied forces came into town. So many tanks, but he smiled remembering when he received “chocolat au lait,” or milk chocolate, and also chewing gum from the US Army. He began working in the US Army kitchens. He remembered when he first brought the company real eggs from his chicken coup. The men spoiled him thereafter, grateful to taste real eggs after living off the powdered version. In the kitchens, he worked alongside African Americans. He observed no differences in them as human beings, and he remarked that couldn’t rationalize why they were treated so differently.
Then, he learned of the report Charles de Gaulle’s niece, Geneviève, had written from Ravensbrück concentration camp. In reading her account, he took particular note of the presence of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Geneviève shared that this community consistently treated everyone with kindness. They were not hostile, and they were only imprisoned because they would not conscript themselves into Hitler’s army.
From then on, Louis began taking his faith in God seriously. Carefully reading and studying scripture and closely observing the behavior of the world, Louis could not understand how a Christian could be a soldier – Allied, Nazi, or otherwise. As Louis observed the life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the command to “love thy neighbor” resonated so strongly with him, that he could not justify ever harming a human soul. At the age of 18, Louis became a conscientious objector.
The French were not impressed with Louis’ convictions. When Louis refused to serve in the French Army, he was sent to prison for 15 months. Louis got out at 13.5 months on account of his good behavior. Again, Louis was asked to serve, and again Louis refused. The French sent him back to prison a second time, this time for one year. Louis was released after 11 months, again on account of his good behavior. Again Louis was asked, and again Louis refused, this time, he was brought to a military court. At his court martial, Louis was sentenced to two years in a military prison. Each time he was sent to prison, he was only allowed to take one thing with him – his Bible. Louis served 1.5 years in the military prison. Remarkably, Louis was asked a fourth time to serve in the French Army. Unchanged in his convictions, Louis refused, and he went back to prison for another 8 months.
Louis was not asked a fifth time. Finally left alone, Louis went on to become a mechanic for General Motors and Opel. His work eventually led him to live and work in Germany.
Fluent in French, German, and English, I’m sure Louis could share his remarkable story to just about anyone.