Are You Safe?

In the past couple of years, I’ve given a lot of thought to my acknowledged status as an introvert. I’ve blogged about how for most of my life, I have been told that my introversion is a sin or a defect in my personality. I disagree very strongly with both of those points of view. My introversion is just a part of who I am, like my love of the moon or my dislike of oatmeal.

To a certain extent, I am a bit of an unconventional introvert. I don’t have a tiny circle of friends. I have a vast, far-flung network of friends, many of whom I feel “close” to and all of whom I actively love and adore. I invest considerable effort into maintaining those friendships despite the distance of miles and/or years. I am actively interested in my friends’ lives and I love to hear from them or better yet, see them in person. I don’t see friends as temporary but as permanent, and I mourn over every friendship lost.

Over the last year, I have become more and more aware of safety as a component of relationships. I’m not talking about safety from harassment or physical attack. I’m talking about the safety of being able to talk to someone and know that no matter what I say, they will still accept and respect me. I think this is a huge part of being an introvert. Introverts like me are not going to allow a conversation to become serious unless they feel certain the other person is “safe,” and the only way to figure that out is through lengthy experience and observation.

This is why, if you’ve only been around me in a group setting, you may assume I am all but mute. Unless I know everyone in the group well, it is not a “safe” environment for me and I am not going to venture to express my opinion. If pressed, I will be noncommittal.

There is one sure way to alienate an introvert, and that is to ridicule something that he or she holds dear. It’s bad enough if you do it unknowingly, but it’s virtually unforgiveable if you do it intentionally. From that moment, you will never be seen as “safe,” no matter how much time goes by. You are unlikely to succeed in getting to know that introvert on any but the most superficial level.

Extroverts react quite differently, in my experience. An extrovert will simply laugh it off: “Haha, you just made fun of my most favorite thing in the world. That is so silly. You’re such a joker, bro.”

An introvert doesn’t find it funny at all. To an introvert, disparaging or making fun of something important to him/her means that you are likely to make fun of his/her very identity, so therefore you can’t be trusted with it.

Because I am so much more aware of this phenomenon now, I have been interested to note the occasions when I have and haven’t felt “safe.” My class reunion last year surprised me by feeling very safe, despite the fact that I hadn’t seen most of those people for forty years—whereas people at church whom I see every week might not feel safe at all. I haven’t gathered enough data on them to know whether I dare speak my mind in their presence.

My recent trip also was a foray into safe and trusted relationships, which was one of the things that made it so enjoyable.

Which brings me to my point. I recently was mulling over my relationship with someone in my life, and I began to suspect that perhaps I had transgressed against a fellow introvert. I hadn’t verbally attacked or ridiculed something this person values, but I had perhaps managed to communicate my disapproval nonverbally by my use of body language or lack of outright affirmation. I had failed in my personal goal to always do the kindest thing.

It upsets me to think that to this person, I may no longer be viewed as “safe.” Knowing myself the way I do, I fear it may be impossible to move myself back onto this person’s “safe” list, and that grieves me. Since safety in relationships is so vital to me, I try to make a point of being a safe person for others.

What about you? Have you even thought about whether or not you provide a safe atmosphere for your friends to express their deepest desires, goals, and opinions? I find that I am less and less willing to openly ridicule even things that are patently ridiculous, because I’d rather not run the risk of permanently turning off someone who may be listening and who may need me to be a “safe” listener at some point in the future.

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At a Crossroads

As I think I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we have left the tiny, struggling church we’ve attended for more than a decade and are now looking for a new church home, a process my husband and I do not enjoy. We have chosen a church we plan to attend for a few weeks and see if it is a good fit for us, especially for Jasper.

This forces me to face certain truths I have been avoiding for some time, one of which is that I’m not going to find a church where I feel “at home,” soon or ever. The only way to achieve that is to change my definition of “home,” because the kind of church I’d love to attend does not exist in our community.

What kind of church am I talking about? I’m talking about a church that still believes in the participation model for congregational singing, led by a song leader instead of a worship band, using hymnbooks with all the musical notes in them, and accompanied by an organ and piano, and maybe augmented by the voices of a choir singing in four-part harmony.

The truth, I know, is that if I were to find a church like that, it would almost certainly be populated exclusively by people even older than me, and be waiting for enough of them to die off to justify closing down. (I know there are exceptions in other parts of the country, but I haven’t learned of any around here.)

But the point of this essay is not to decry the death of real congregational singing or the ubiquity of performance-based worship bands. This transition has already occurred, so there is no point in my searching for something I know I won’t find, and which is not even one of the essential elements of a “good” church.

So what else do I want from a church? I’ve had to think long and hard about the difference between my preferences and what is actually important. Obviously (I hope) I want to be in a place where the word of God is preached in a way that helps mature me as a Christian and deepens my understanding of God and His word. I want to be able to go home with something to think about and mull over and apply to my life.

I would love to see a congregation with a wide range of ages and ethnic backgrounds, with a vibrant community and a passion for reaching out to their neighbors, both locally and globally. A congregation where people volunteer willingly for kids’ ministries because they love kids, not because they feel obligated or pressured. A congregation where people form deep friendships and hang out with each other during the week as well as on Sundays. (This is an especially longed-for feature for me, after going for so long to a church where I never felt accepted and never formed a close friendship.)

Some of these characteristics are more likely to be found at large, mainstream evangelical denominational churches, yet I resist that choice because I don’t want my identity to belong to a denomination, especially if it’s one that believes its particular brand of Christianity is the only “true” one and that everyone else is hell bound. Or that its missionaries are the only ones who preach the true Gospel and all other sincere people sacrificing to minister in the same area are irrelevant. Most mainstream evangelicals hold to the same core beliefs, and I don’t understand why they won’t acknowledge this and can’t seem to appreciate each other’s efforts.

I’ve come to realize this is another loss experience for me. We all experience various losses throughout our lives. The really big one for me was losing Africa, having to face the reality that I am unlikely to ever live there again, which was all I wanted from my adult life. The grief has lessened, but it has never gone away—nor do I expect it to. The churches of my youth, the vibrant congregations with their sublime traditional music that I would love to find—they are even more unreachable than Africa is, and rather than exhaust myself searching for something that doesn’t exist, I mourn their passing and look for something different.

By “different” I do not mean “inferior” in any way. Last week, we went to Spencer’s church and I saw a vibrant, enthusiastic congregation with a real passion for reaching the community.  There is nothing inferior about a church like that, even if it is not an environment where I feel at “home.” It is a wonderful example of a living body of Christ and I am so glad Spencer is a part of it.

This week we went, as I said, to a church we are going to try out for a while. We know quite a few people there, if not many of the songs. It has some wonderful qualities. I don’t know if we’ll ultimately choose to stay, but I do know that regardless of where we end up, I’m going to have to set aside my grief and my longing for a vanished reality, and learn how to embrace something that is real and powerful and vital, even if it’s not what I’m used to.

Coffee Shops & Hospitality

If you know me or have been reading my blog for very long, you know I tend to shy away from controversy both here and in person. I have opinions, about which I am passionate, but I mostly keep them to myself, because I know it is extremely unlikely I will change anyone else’s opinion by airing my own. That said, I fear this essay might spark some thought or discussion—and if it does, it might be a good thing.

My kids and all their friends (and many of my friends too) love to go to coffee shops. It’s a habit, a hobby, a fixture in their lives. They think nothing of spending $4 or more every day for a drink of fancy coffee. The price, all by itself, would keep me from adopting this particular hobby—but this is not about the cost of fancy coffee drinks. I am willing to pay for the expensive coffee in order to spend time with my kids in the venue of their choice, even though I rarely order anything myself.

What I’ve been noticing more and more is that coffee shops are where many people choose to do most of their socializing—including my own generation. When friends talk about getting together, they often agree to meet at one of the trendy coffee shops in town. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, except . . .

Except I am beginning to suspect these coffee shop excursions are more and more replacing actual hospitality instead of just augmenting it. A coffee shop is a neutral location, which sometimes, of course, is exactly what one needs. But I can’t help wondering, what kind of friendship blooms when all the interaction takes place in a neutral location? What happened to hanging out at each other’s houses and being present in each other’s lives?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, sure, you don’t like going to public locations because you’re an introvert, and you don’t like going to coffee shops because you don’t drink coffee! Both of those things are true, but they are not the whole truth.

Others of you might want to point out that coffee shops virtually always serve tea as a way of throwing a bone to tea drinkers like me. It’s a good thing you can’t see the face I just made after typing that statement. I have yet to have a single cup of tea in a coffee shop anywhere in the USA that even comes close to being as good as the tea I can make for myself with minimal fuss or expense at home. And drinking lukewarm tea out of a paper cup is just . . . not okay. For me, anyway.

When I want to visit with one of my friends, I invite her over for tea—at my house. Although I always make an effort to tidy up, she will walk in my door and see clutter. She may see a sock lying in a corner somewhere. She will see dirty dishes in the kitchen and possibly baskets of clean laundry lying around. She will see my current knitting project piled up beside my chair and maybe a sewing project and some junk mail too.

She will also see my smiling face and maybe get to say hello to a couple of my kids as they cruise past. She’ll get real tea served in porcelain or china cups, and it will be hot enough to be enjoyable. It won’t cost her a single cent, and she can have as many refills as she wants! We can have a private conversation, and we won’t have to shout over anyone’s loud music or listen to someone else’s phone conversation or worry about being overheard.

On rare occasions, one of my friends will also invite me over to her house. I always love to visit a friend in her own home, almost as much as I love having friends in my home. To me, it’s a vital component of participating in each other’s lives.

Not so long ago, visiting each other for coffee or tea was a common thing. People did it all the time. They did it in their own homes. Sometimes it was fancy. Sometimes it was just a mug in front of the fireplace or at a kitchen table that was piled high with stuff, with a little spot cleared so you could put your cup down. It wasn’t about showing off your pristine house. It was about sharing life together.

I’m not saying you can’t share life together in a swanky coffee house—of course you can. But I don’t think it is as personal or as likely to lead to a long-lasting deep friendship, which is why the trend is beginning to concern me. Over the last decade or so, people have often expressed surprise when they hear I still invite people over to my house, especially for meals. Apparently this is not “done” very much anymore. If true, I believe we have lost something we should have held on to—the joy of hospitality, of sharing our homes and our lives with others.

The past month has been greatly enhanced for me because we had dinner guests on five occasions (not counting family). On none of those occasions was my house “company ready” even by my very lax standards. I got over that hurdle decades ago. I do what I can, but I also assume that when people come for tea or for dinner, they are coming to see me, not critique my house. If I waited for my house to be perfect before inviting someone over, I’d never have guests at all, and my soul would be the poorer for it.

I’d like to timidly suggest that if you are someone who has a deeply-ingrained coffee shop habit, maybe you could try inviting a friend over to your own place for coffee once a month. Make the coffee yourself. Choose the mugs. Light a candle. If you really want to step it up, make cookies! But try it. Once a month, save the cost of a designer caffeinated beverage and share your homemade version with a friend. Maybe you’ll like it. Maybe you’ll want to do it more often. I hope so.

Disclaimer: After reading through this again, it occurred to me that some might think this essay is a thinly-veiled criticism of my grown kids and an attempt to spur them to be more hospitable. Actually, I am very proud of how open-hearted and hospitable they all are. They all regularly invite friends over to their homes and I can only hope they inspire others to do the same!

No Internet & My Unfashionable Opinion

Spencer works for the cable company now, which means he gets benefits, such as free cable and internet, so today he had to cut off our internet for a day so he could switch it over to his much faster employee service. It’s amazing how much we use the internet every day. I kept thinking of things I wanted to look up—but I couldn’t. It was such a relief when he came home from work and got things set up again!

Today, I had a brief errand to run, and I saw a couple of eye-popping outfits that I literally would not be caught dead in, and that made me think of the occasional fashion article I read or watch, where some of the clothes are so outlandish that I fear for the mental health of the designer. But on further reflection, I think the following scenario is more realistic:

Two famous fashion designers go out for drinks after a successful show and get thoroughly smashed.

Designer 1: “How long do you think we can keep doing this before people figure out we’re just trolling them?”

Designer 2: “As long as people have money and a fear of not being in style.”

Designer 1: “I bet you half a million dollars plus a week in Tahiti that at the next show, I come up with an outfit so hideous even I won’t be able to look at it, but I’ll get a model to wear it on the runway without laughing, and at least ten people will actually buy it.”

Designer 2: “You’re on. But I get to say if it’s actually repulsive enough to qualify for the bet.”

Designer 1: “Deal.”

In case you haven’t guessed, I have zero, and I do mean zero, interest in fashion . . .

Get Used to Disappointment

Having just recently watched The Princess Bride again, this quote came to mind today.

When I was young, I developed this hilarious theory that if I wanted something badly enough, I would get it. My belief in this ludicrous premise was strengthened by the fact that it often seemed to hold true. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that I must have been so obnoxious in pursuit of my desires that my parents gave in out of exasperation!

When I grew into my teens, I had matured to the point where I believed prayer could help get me what I wanted, so I would pray fervently that God would supply me with whatever it was, whether being allowed to attend a specific event or a good result on a test—but I still believed there was some kind of magic that translated my deepest desires into reality. And of course God is not a genie who simply grants wishes.

In reality, if this puerile belief had any validity, we’d all be rich and radiantly happy and also gorgeous, right? And I personally would have been living in Africa for the last twenty-five years and also have become a bestselling novelist.

Still, I am immature enough to feel rather sorry for myself when something I deeply desire is denied me. There is still that inner child hoping desperately that if I just want it badly enough, I will somehow get it. Instead, I find I must get used to disappointment—over and over and over. It never gets easier, does it?

Maybe it would be easier to take if at some point we could look back and say, “Oh, now I get it. God didn’t let me have that thing I wanted because it would have kept me from experiencing something even better.” However, I have not found that to be true very often. Many of my biggest disappointments remain meaningless in terms of long-term outcome, and sometimes the grief comes back when I least expect it.

So . . . yeah. Right now I’m facing two separate disappointments, and it may take me a few days or longer to reach a place of acceptance.

A Dismaying Sign of the Times

For the last six years, my husband has had a contract cleaning for a local daycare center/preschool. He works there every weekday evening, starting as soon as school is “out” at 5:00 and staying until the place is clean three hours later.

Usually, there are still some kids there waiting to be picked up when he arrives, along with multiple staff members. Over the years, he has of course gotten to know the staff and many of the children. Often, they greet him with glee, running to give him hugs and exchange a few words with him. He gets such a kick out of his interactions with them.

So you can imagine his disbelief yesterday when he was informed that he must now arrive at work later—when all the children have left and the building is empty. Some of the parents were unhappy to see their kids running to hug this “stranger,” and they were uncomfortable enough to demand that rules be put in place to prevent it.

Now, if he should happen to arrive while there are still kids in the building, he is not allowed to interact with them at all. No doubt they will wonder why their buddy now avoids them.

It breaks my heart to think that we as a culture have reached a point where every relationship, no matter how innocent, is now suspect. Nothing even slightly questionable has ever happened during the years my husband has been working around those kids. Any time he has interacted with a child, it has been in a public setting with staff members and others present. He has just enjoyed this chance to bring smiles to those adorable young kids.

He had a talk with the lady who runs the place, and she was very regretful, but she also understands the power of the kind of pressure she’s under, and she knows if she doesn’t satisfy the concerned parents, she will have to cancel my husband’s contract when the pressure is increased. So she is doing what she can to save his job, and I understand that. It just makes me incredibly sad that this situation is even occurring.

 

Jumping To Conclusions

Back in the Pliocene Era, when I was in college, I was talking to a friend I liked and respected, when he said something that left me speechless. He casually mentioned that someday California would split along the San Andreas fault and fall into the ocean. He explained that this would be God’s judgment on Californians for all the blatant sin they have allowed, condoned, and even promoted over the years.

I thought maybe he was joking, but he wasn’t. That conversation has been brought to mind many times over the last few days as I have seen people on social media claiming that hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, and other natural disasters are God’s punishment of mankind for various transgressions. To be honest, this response to ongoing tragedy horrifies me.

First, it assumes that the speaker/writer knows what God is thinking and what His motivation might be for allowing these disasters to happen. The reality is that no one knows the mind of God. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9) I find it incredibly arrogant that so many people believe they have this proprietary knowledge of God’s plan that has been denied to the rest of us.

Secondly, it assumes that God routinely punishes thousands or even millions of Christians in His perceived drive to exterminate the ungodly, and this “collateral damage” is okay. What comfort would I have, as a Christian, if my town was burned by wildfires or submerged by floods, if I believed that these disasters had been sent by God as punishment? Would I believe I deserved to be included in the punishment? Do babies and children deserve to be punished? Would I be destroyed by guilt, believing if I had been a “good” enough Christian it wouldn’t have happened?

Thirdly, I can’t help wonder what kind of Christian takes delight in the misfortune of others, because what I’ve seen is people who seem to revel in the fact that so many are suffering right now. It’s almost like they’re laughing, saying, “Ha ha, serves you right! You deserve it. Hope you die! Too bad you’re not perfect like me.”

What happened to the Biblical injunction to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep? What happened to having basic compassion for fellow human beings who are suffering, whether or not we agree with their politics or their life choices? Instead of judging the victims of disaster, shouldn’t we be first in line to help them? If I, as a professing Christian, publicly shame victims of a disaster by telling them they brought it on themselves, what chance do you think there is they will ever want to have anything to do with Christians again?

And finally, I can’t help thinking of the warning that our treatment of others will be equated with our treatment of the Lord. And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) Shouldn’t that inspire us all to help those in need whenever we are able?

I’m still shaking my head over this whole phenomenon, even as I anxiously watch for updates from my friends in Florida. I can’t imagine taking pleasure in another’s suffering, and I don’t understand it.

Note: if you are a personal friend of mine, you can rest assured I am NOT talking about you. Many of my friends have gone to great lengths to help those suffering in the wake of recent natural disasters. That’s how it should be, and I’m proud to know all of you.

A Victim of My Own Success

My maternal grandparents were very courageous people. They prayed for something most people wouldn’t dream of asking for. They prayed that all four of their children would become missionaries. And guess what? They all did. One to Zambia, one to Guatemala, one to Japan, and one to Papua New Guinea. As a kid, I thought this was normal. I thought it was normal to go five years without seeing your grandparents, to barely know your cousins.

In December of 1977, I arrived early at my grandparents’ mobile home in Florida in advance of a family reunion. The morning after my arrival, I sat with them at the breakfast table and watched tears stream down my grandmother’s face as she talked about the joy of having the whole family together for the first time in 15 years. Until that moment, I don’t think it had occurred to immature little me what a sacrifice my grandparents had made in encouraging their children to go out to the ends of the earth to serve the Lord.

My prayer for my own children has been less specific—just that they would find what God wants them to do and then do it with all their heart, no matter where in the world it might be. I have tried to raise them with the notion that there is a big, wonderful world out there, and anywhere in that world can be a possible place of service for them. Unlike some of my friends, I have not begged or demanded that my kids stay close by once they leave home. This does not mean I don’t delight in their company, because of course I do—it just means I wouldn’t dream of standing in their way or making them feel guilty if God is calling them somewhere else.

I might also have forced them to take my geography class, which generally has the effect of making my students want to visit every single country in the world. And it doesn’t help that I regale them with stories of my own youthful travels and how much I enjoyed them. (My kids are very envious of all the traveling I got to do when I was young.)

So, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that my kids are adventurous. I raised them that way on purpose. I actually put effort into teaching them to boldly go forth and experience new places and cultures.

When you teach your kids that the whole world awaits them the moment they step outside the sheltering walls of their childhood home, you can’t be surprised or dismayed when they take flight; when they soar on wings of love toward distant shores, hoping and believing they can make a difference there.

Still, it’s not easy when the day comes, even if you knew all along it was coming. As of today, my offspring will be in three states and on three continents. We have three still here in Texas, Mary and Jordan in Tennessee, and Flynn in Colorado. Lina, of course, has been in Africa for the last seven and a half years—and now Mercy is on her way to St. Petersburg, Russia, where she will be living and working for the coming school year. We had our last phone conversation yesterday. I am so happy and excited for her.

At the same time, there is a new ache in my heart. For the first time ever, she won’t be with us for Christmas. She can’t show up and surprise us with a random visit. She is there, and we are here, and it seems likely to be the new normal from here on out. I am so proud of her.

Reunited and It Feels So Good

Last Friday, I did one of the most courageous things I’ve ever done. I got in my car and drove from Tennessee to Kentucky to see people I hadn’t seen in forty years. I was absolutely terrified. My hands were shaking on the steering wheel. Every moment during that drive, I considered chickening out. I wanted to chicken out.

I had known this would happen, had known I would look for any excuse to back away. So I cleverly made it harder on myself by promising to contribute cookies and breakfast casserole and chai to the reunion. (I genuinely wanted to help out, but I’m being very honest when I tell you that it was also a sort of insurance policy. It’s one thing to let myself down, but I am very unlikely to let anyone else down if I can avoid it.)

When I reached the ranch where the reunion was held, I drove right past the entrance. I thought maybe I would just drive all the way into town and buy the groceries I needed, and then go back and face my classmates.

I got a few miles down the road before getting a grip. I turned around and went back to the ranch gate, and this time I went in. I drove all the way to the lodge and parked my car. I got out and walked into the building, believing in my heart of hearts that I was walking into extreme emotional danger.

As I stood palpitating inside the door, looking into a room filled with my former classmates, my friend Sally came forward to greet me. She was soon followed by others, and my fear began to drain away. It was replaced by incredulous joy at getting to be with this particular group of people for the first time in forty years. I had a wonderful time for the rest of the weekend.

This, of course, does not answer the question I know many of you have, which is: Why on earth was I so terrified? What was I afraid of?

I would really love to not answer those questions. I hate exposing the real me to the entire internet, and I rarely do it—but it has occurred to me that somewhere, sometime, someone might benefit from knowing what went on inside me on this specific occasion.

First, though, I have to explain a thing or two about being an MK (missionary kid) and going to boarding school. It’s not like “normal” life here in the US. Your classmates are your only social group. They’re the people you draw your friends from, go to church with, play games with, study with, and socialize with (and if you’re like me, they’re also the people you get in trouble with and get punished with). They live in your dorm with you, eat all your meals with you, and of course also go to classes with you. In short, they quite quickly become your adopted family.

Because of this, friendships tend to be deep and long-lasting. Remember, I also went to boarding school for elementary school, and am still close to many of my friends from those years.

This reunion, however, was a reunion of my high school class. I went to Rift Valley Academy (RVA) for my junior year and half of my senior year. It was a very intense time for me, coming on the heels of eighteen months when I had studied at home in almost total isolation. I wanted to be friends with everybody in the world. (I know. I’m an introvert. But even for me, there is such a thing as too much solitude.)

I do not wish to discuss my experience at that school. It was deeply colored by pain, anguish, and betrayal. There are good reasons I have not written a second memoir detailing my experiences there. However, at the same time I was experiencing so much misery, my life was also filled with joy and delight at being around people again and having the opportunity to make new friends. I threw myself into relationships with an enthusiasm that I have not matched since. I made some mistakes. I was, after all, a teenager whose head was full of immaturity and stupidity. Still, I loved my friends with an intensity born from my months of extreme loneliness.

So why did I then avoid them for the next forty years? My excuses were legion, and some of them were lies I told myself. For the first decade or two, I honestly thought I could not emotionally survive the experience of seeing my high school friends again, and it was very helpful that I also could not afford to attend any of those early reunions. It’s not that I didn’t want to see my friends. I desperately wanted to see them and connect with them again—but I was afraid all the wrong memories would come back and I’d be a quivering basket case after the first few hours. I feared that I’d be asked questions I didn’t want to answer, or that people would judge me unfairly, not knowing the reasons behind some of the things I did. In short, I was a coward.

I wish I could say that was the worst of it, but it wasn’t. There was a much bigger sin that came into play as the years went by, compounding my cowardice—and that was the sin of pride. I did not want my classmates to know how fat I was, how very mediocre in my achievements. I thought the day would come when I’d look svelte and glamorous and be a bestselling author, and then I’d turn up at a reunion and not be ashamed of myself. It never occurred to me that I was judging myself much more harshly than my friends do.

For four decades—forty freaking years!—I let fear, stupidity, and pride keep me from staying connected with people I cared deeply about. I had opportunities from time to time to meet up with one or more of them, and I wriggled out. If I had not been such a spineless coward, I daresay I could have figured out a way to attend at least one reunion before now.

So what happened when I gathered up every last molecule of courage I still possess and walked into that group of people? Instead of finding myself in danger, I found myself in a place of safety; a sensation that is very rare for me. My classmates shared details of their lives with the rest of us, knowing that they’d be met with acceptance and encouragement. I did not see a single instance of someone being judged, as I had always feared I would be. Believe it or not, not one person came up to me and said, “Boy, are you a big fat disappointment.” Everyone just seemed glad that I was there. There are parts of my life that I do not share here or with any of my local friends, but I felt quite sure I could have shared them with that group had I wanted to. We all shared some experiences that tend to make us empathetic and compassionate toward each other.

I had feared that going to the reunion, seeing all those people again, would be like knowingly drinking a glass of deadly poison. Maybe it would have been—35 years ago, but I doubt it. After forty long years, I found that the misery and bitterness of the past had evaporated away, leaving only the sweet clear wine of joy.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is what so many others have said in different ways and about different things: don’t wait. Don’t wait till you look skinny and fabulous before you let someone take your picture. Don’t wait till you have achieved some cherished goal before you reunite with old friends who just want to enjoy your company. And most of all, when you do meet up with old friends, be a safe place for them. All they really need from you is your love and acceptance—and your presence.

Group Shot 1

 

The Mendacious Myth of Moderation

I’m going to say something here that I fear some people may disagree with—but others are going to maybe find it helpful. I’m going to talk about “moderation,” and how my feelings about it have changed.

For all my life, I’ve been taught that if you’re a good person, you do everything in moderation, whether it’s eating, exercise, hobbies, etc. Moderation has been held up to me as the gold standard of prudent behavior. The implication has always been, if you can’t do something in moderation, then you are morally deficient.

My mother loved to point out how wonderful her father was at doing things in moderation, especially when it came to eating. He knew exactly how much he could eat and still maintain his svelte shape, and he never overindulged. If we had sandwiches at lunch, he only took one piece of bread—but he would cut it into four pieces and spread a different topping on each tiny square. He was the kind of person who could count out and eat six potato chips—but no more.

I am not that kind of person. I consider myself a smart and mighty person in many ways, but I have not been able to master moderation in some areas. After more than half a century of striving for moderation in those areas, I have recently admitted defeat. Maybe it makes me a bad person. Maybe it means I have glaring personality flaws that are unfixable. But, when it comes to certain things, I have become much more pragmatic. I no longer even have moderation as my goal.

For the purpose of this essay, I am referring primarily to food. The unreachable goal of moderation has done me no good and has caused a great deal of harm over the decades. I have gone sugar-free for years at a time, and every time it has been the seductive dream of moderation that derailed me. People would say, “You don’t have to pig out. You can have just a few bites of dessert.”

So I would have just a bite or two. After a few weeks, I would be indulging in four or five bites. Then a whole serving—but a small one, and only once a week. Then twice a week. Then it would be Halloween or Valentines or Easter and there would be candy. By then moderation would be so far behind me I couldn’t even see it from where I sat on my big pile of sugar.

So part of the journey I’m on right now involves admitting and accepting that for me, moderation does not work and will never work. There can be no “cheating” on sweets or starches because I know my body can’t handle them and I don’t want to go back to needing insulin. Some people can do things in moderation—but I am not one of those people, and I no longer am willing to keep trying. I am so done with that.

In a way, it’s a huge relief. For me, it is easier to just do completely without certain foods than to try and enjoy them in moderation. It takes away massive amounts of stress. No more dithering about whether I should indulge in a few potato chips or a brownie or a baked potato. The decision has been made, and moderation is not an option, now or ever.

I feel like I need to have a big sign on the wall saying “No Moderation.” In case, you know, I forget and start thinking I can do it again. Because I can’t. Not ever. For me, there can be no compromise.