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.

Share the Light; Be the Light

This past week has been incredibly hard for me personally and also for my family. A dear friend tried to take her own life and came close to succeeding. Another friend’s son was killed. And our nephew ended his life, leaving the whole family blindsided by shock and grief.

How do you process so much sadness? How do you get through to the other side? And most of all, how can you keep someone from making that irreversible choice?

Mary had some things to say about it on Facebook, so I can’t link to it here.

And so did Lucy: http://alookthroughmy3yes.blogspot.com/2016/12/an-open-letter-to-god-for-nathan.html

One thing that I keep coming back to is the innumerable times I have heard of someone who came perilously close to taking his/her own life, and what stopped them? Someone else being kind to them. Just that. Did the other person know that the recipient of their kindness was suicidal? No. In some cases, the two people barely knew each other. Often, the truth doesn’t come out till years later, if at all, but do you realize what that means?

What it means is that if you are consistently kind to the people in your life, you may be shining a light into a dark place you don’t even know is there. You may never know. To me, this is wonderful news! As I like to tell people, kindness is free! It doesn’t cost you anything.

If you are young and you know a girl at school who sits by herself, why not be her self-appointed guardian angel? Be kind to her. Talk to her and show interest in her life. Of course, you should be kind to everyone, but go to special effort for those who don’t seem to have a support system in place. What if they try to push you away? Just remember that often the people who need love the most work hardest at pushing it away. Don’t let them prove their belief that no one cares by letting them be successful in pushing you away. Don’t give up on them.

Last night at our Christmas party, one of my friends showed up with a teenage girl who was a total stranger to me. I was a little puzzled until my friend had a chance to tell me her story. She (my friend) had signed up for a mentorship program to benefit kids from difficult backgrounds. This girl was her “mentee.” She lives with her grandmother (her mom’s not in the picture) and her father recently got out of jail. They spent the afternoon baking cookies to bring to the party. This sweet young girl had never made cookies before. She had also never been to a party, never got to sing Christmas carols like we did last night. I am SO glad my friend brought her. To everyone else there, it was one enjoyable party among many. To that girl, it was the only party of her life. My friend’s kindness is making a huge difference in that young life—maybe the difference between life and death, someday. It takes so little effort to shine the light of kindness into another person’s life. So little.

What if you’re the one contemplating a final escape from your seemingly endless misery? That is a tougher situation, for sure. I almost never mention this, but I walked right up to that line once in my youth. I stood there for hours, and obviously ended up stepping back. Two things stopped me. One was that I chose to spend my final hours listening to my favorite hymns. Listening for hours to various assurances of God’s love and care for me definitely had an impact. The other factor was my realization that my mother would most likely be the one to find me, and I found I was unwilling to do that to her.

For me, that was a one-time decision. I wrestled with whether or not to follow through all night, and when I made the choice to live, it was made for all time. When morning came, I felt like my life had been handed back to me. I went through some very deep waters after that, but I always hung on to my certainty that God loved me and would not let me go. I never had to go through that particular struggle again–but some people do. Over and over and over.

To some of them, no assurance of God’s love and care is going to seem real enough. They need to interact with someone who has skin on. That might be you. If you’re the one who feels that the only way out is all the way out, please reach out and talk to someone. Call a suicide hotline, your pastor, a sympathetic relative, anyone. Fight to stay alive. If talking to one person doesn’t help, try someone else. No valley, no matter how deep, is permanent. It’s hard to remember that when you’re there, so you have to fight to get out. Please fight. Reach out to someone else who is struggling and help them in their own fight. Don’t give up. Get help. Fight to get help if you have to.

That same friend who brought her young mentee to the party last night once tried to take her own life too. Once she had been stabilized physically, she had to fight to stay alive. She checked herself into a mental health facility and got some help. Please, if you need help, do whatever it takes to get it. Don’t give up. Promise me you won’t give up. If you know me personally, call me. Call someone.

 

Keeping It Weird

Here are three true stories from my actual life:

#1: Many years ago now, when my husband and I were actually young, we befriended a student at the university named Marlan, who was from Alaska. Three years into our friendship, I was talking to my mom on the phone one day, and she said, “You know, if you ever think about it, you should look up a student named Marlan Ball. He’s the son of our dear friends Virgil and Annette.” I remembered the Balls, and the fun I’d had playing with Marlan’s older sisters. The fact that he belonged to that Ball family had never come up in the three years we’d known him! Accidental mult-generational friendship!

#2: When our son Flynn was a student at the university, he was good friends with two guys named Chris and Joel, who were both missionary kids from Japan. They were often at our house. After we had known them for three years, they were over at our house one night and Joel mentioned in passing that his mother had also been a missionary kid from Japan. I did some mental math and asked him if his mom had gone to the Christian Academy of Japan. Yes.

Me: “I bet she must know my friend Mary, who also went there. They would be close in age.”

Him (looking stunned): “Yes, we know Mary. In fact, she and my mom were roommates when they lived in Indiana.

Me (I met Mary in Indiana and knew both of her roommates): “So what was your mom’s name?”

Him: “Flossie.”

Me: “Oh, I know Flossie!”

Him: mind blown. His expression could serve as a definition of the word “gobsmacked.”

 

#3: Over the last few weeks, Mercy has often invited her friend Daniel over. He helped decorate our Christmas tree. Mercy has known him since her semester in Korea a couple of years ago. So anyway, he spent the night with us last night because he had to get out of the dorm yesterday. Yesterday evening, he mentioned that his mother had grown up as a missionary kid in Zimbabwe. Today at lunch, I was thinking maybe my parents would have heard of his grandparents, so I asked what his mother’s maiden name was. Him: “McCloy.” Hmmm . . . We knew a Danny McCloy who was a student at the university many years ago. He was an MK, and I started to ask my husband if Danny had been from Zimbabwe, when Daniel volunteered, “Danny is my uncle. My mom’s brother.” Mind blown. Daniel and Mercy have been friends for over two years, and this was the first we heard of an Africa connection, let alone that his uncle was an old friend of ours!

Does stuff like this happen to you? Stuff like this happens to us all the time. The older we get, the more it happens. It doesn’t hurt that we both grew up overseas and have friends all over the world. But we’ve found that at least for us, there are significantly fewer than six degrees of separation between us and others!

P.S. I still have no idea what Daniel’s last name is.

The Power of Love

This afternoon, as you know, we were at the airport waiting to greet Lina and bring her home. We had to wait for nearly an hour. I spent this hour watching people, because I was afraid if I tried to read I would miss the magic moment when my daughter walked through the doors.

If you are feeling grumpy or jaded or cynical, I highly recommend hanging out at the international arrivals area of a major airport. Here are a few of the things I observed today:

  • A large family where each younger sibling was paired with an older sibling for crowd control. Just like we used to do!
  • A tiny tot who cried in terror when her newly-arrived grandmother hugged her, much to the embarrassment of the mother.
  • A young man tenderly lifting his grandmother up from her wheelchair so she could be standing to greet her husband. At least I think he was her husband judging from the warmth of their greeting.
  • A grinning young father trying to carry one excited child on his shoulders and another in his arms.
  • A middle-aged man waiting eagerly for someone and carrying a bouquet of lovely flowers.
  • A young woman who came barreling through the doors at a full gallop, pushing her luggage cart in front of her. Shrieks of excitement from a woman who ran forward to greet her. The arriving girl just let go of her cart and left it to crash into a barrier while she leapt into her relative’s arms and much fierce hugging ensued.

The air in that place was so laden with love it took my breath away. I was already pretty teary-eyed by the time my own tall blonde daughter walked through the doors at last. There is nothing better than the heartfelt hug of a loved one.

I hope, if you have your loved ones with you all the time, that you hug them often and savor your time with them. When you are separated, celebrate reunions joyfully! Everyone wants to know that they are loved and welcome. I saw that over and over today.

 

A Review and a History Lesson

One of the things we did yesterday was to watch the new Tarzan movie. I have never been much of a Tarzan fan, and never read the books because I figured they would just annoy me, seeing as they were written by a man who never set foot in Africa (from what I’ve been able to find out). I have not changed my opinion about the books. There are so many hundreds of books to read that I know I would enjoy; the Tarzan books aren’t on that list.

However, I did enjoy the movie, at least to the point that it piqued my curiosity about some things. One was the background of Jane. In the movie, she is portrayed as having been raised in Congo by a father who was a professor who taught English to the local villages. To me, this was laugh-out-loud funny. I guarantee there were no noble Americans teaching English to Congolese tribesmen during the time when Congo was the personal property of King Leopold of Belgium. If any language was taught, it would have been French, to make it easier for the Belgians to exploit the Congolese.

It would have been much more believable to have Jane’s parents be missionaries, because in fact it was missionaries who alerted the rest of the world to what was going on in Congo at the time. So,  before casting aspersions on Edgar Rice Burroughs, I did a little research and found out that the Jane in the books, though indeed an American and the daughter of a professor, was shipwrecked on the west coast of Africa as an adult (just like Tarzan’s parents) and therefore was not raised there. Whew! Burroughs gets points for that one and it was the movie makers who screwed up.

My research rabbit trail also led to the interesting fact that the movie’s antagonist, Léon Rom, and the Samuel L. Jackson character, George Washington Williams, were actual people who were in the Congo during the time the movie’s story is set. So of course I had to look them up too!

Rom was a Belgian official known for his brutality, a man who adopted the quaint local custom of decorating his garden with the severed heads of his enemies. Sadly, he was not killed by Tarzan. Instead he was rewarded for his barbarous leadership and lived to a ripe old age.

George Washington Williams, on the other hand, joined the Union Army under an assumed name at the age of 14. After his fighting days were over, he became a minister, one of the details the movie left out. He did indeed travel to Congo to investigate the treatment of the tribespeople under Leopold’s regime, and he did indeed write an “open letter” to King Leopold calling him out for the deplorable situation in Africa. However, he never confronted the king in person and he died of diseases caught in Africa when he was on his way home to the USA. He was only 41 when he died.

I applaud the makers of the movie for making the effort to place the Tarzan story into the context of actual historical events. Thanks to their efforts, I learned something new from this rather cheesy movie about Tarzan! Now maybe you learned something new too.

Supply and Demand

As already mentioned, I have refrained from airing my political opinions on this or any other online platform. I don’t believe for one minute that anything I say could change your opinion, if you happen to disagree with me. I have friends on both the left and the right, and would like to keep it that way. All I’m going to say is please vote!

However, there is one election-related issue that has gotten a lot of airplay lately, and that is the issue of abortion. I have written about it before, briefly, but I feel compelled to revisit this topic because I don’t see anyone saying what I wish they would say.

First, let’s be clear: I am a deeply committed pro-lifer. I believe life begins at conception and that every baby deserves to live, whether or not his or her life is convenient for the adults who conceived it. I am staggered by the statistic that some 60 million young lives have been snuffed out in the years since abortion was legalized. I am horrified to think that I live in a nation where this kind of ongoing slaughter is considered okay. It breaks my heart.

However, what concerns me is the decades of single-minded emphasis on reversing Roe v. Wade. After forty years of readily available abortions, does anyone think that making it illegal will somehow put an end to it? Did Prohibition put an end to alcoholic beverages? No, instead it created a vast underground black market economy and gave far-reaching power to organized crime. Of course the same thing will happen if abortions once again become illegal. There are always people who are more than willing to be paid to provide a service that is in high demand—whether or not it is legal.

Does that mean I am in favor of keeping abortion easy, cheap, and legal? Heaven forbid. But it does seem to me that we have been desperately grabbing the wrong end of the stick. The only thing that will ever have a real impact on the number of abortions is a decrease in demand. As long as people want to kill their unborn babies, they will find a way, whether it is legal or not. So what I can’t help wondering is this: why aren’t we, as a pro-life movement, doing more to reduce the demand by promoting the value and sanctity of human life, by playing up the positives of parenthood, by facilitating adoption more, and by applauding women who choose life in difficult circumstances?

Why have we accepted the notion that babies are burdens which we must bear as some kind of onerous duty? If even we, as pro-lifers, see babies as burdens to be prevented (via contraception) whenever possible, how are we going to convince others that they should keep the babies which they conceived but then didn’t want? In my mind, there is a disconnect here. Abortion advocates don’t realize how truthful they are when they say, “We want to live in a world where every baby is wanted.” They think the answer is to kill all the unwanted babies. I think the answer is for people to want their babies!

This is something that has changed dramatically in the last hundred years. If you read novels written in the 1800s to early 1900s, you will be struck by how desperately every married woman wants children, and how they mourn if it seems they will be denied this ultimate blessing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book written during that era where a wife is glad to be barren, or where she is dismayed by motherhood—and when a character finds out she is expecting, she goes into overdrive to knit and sew precious little clothes for her longed-for baby.

All that changed with the advent of easily-obtained contraception and the massive entry of women into the workforce that occurred during and after the second world war. I have no argument with women who choose career over family. I don’t understand their priorities, but that is their choice. I can’t help thinking if their career is their priority, it might not be much fun for their children anyway. However, the truth that so many seem to ignore in this debate is that almost every woman now has the choice whether or not to conceive a child. We all know what activity leads to conception, and that’s the time when a woman needs to exercise control over her body, assuming she hasn’t had the forethought to avail herself of contraceptive measures.

I’m not sure what the answer is, how we can convince people that all human life is a divine and precious gift. How do you convince a teenaged girl that the child inside her is a gift from God, a gift that would be eagerly welcomed by someone else if she herself does not want it? How do you convince a career woman who “accidentally” gets pregnant that maybe it’s time to reassess her priorities and channel her formidable energy into raising a human being who will be an asset not only to her personally, but to her community? I don’t know, but I think these are the sorts of questions we should be asking ourselves at least as often as we search for ways to chip away at the legality of abortion.

To me, it is kind of like taking ibuprofen for a headache that is caused by a brain tumor. The pain might lessen for a while, but it will be back because you’ve only treated the symptom, not the cause. In my opinion, abortion is a symptom of an underlying illness, and the illness is a callous devaluation of human life—not only in the womb, but in old age, in terminal illness, etc. We can’t hope to cure the illness by only trying to ameliorate the symptoms. The only “cure” is to bring back a reverence and respect for human life generally, and I fear that reversing the current trend toward assisted suicide and euthanasia, in addition to abortion, will be very difficult if not impossible, at least on a national scale. I like to think, though, that those of us who value life may be able to inspire a handful of others to value it too, by showing compassion and setting a life-affirming example. In service of that goal, how about if each of us, you and me, choose to live our lives with such ferocious enthusiasm and joy that others will catch our vision and love of life. Live like you mean it!

An Observation About Cutting Apples

You may have noticed that I have virtually ignored the upcoming election in this space. You’re welcome. I will not be airing my political opinions here—or elsewhere. However, lately as I see my newsfeed flooded with other people’s strong opinions and bitter recriminations, I keep thinking about something that happened many years ago, when Lina was a preschooler.

We were traveling for what used to be called “deputation,” wherein we visited friends and churches in hopes of raising financial support for our missionary career. Along the way, we stopped to visit our college friends Rick and Dawne, whose son was Lina’s age (4). One afternoon, the kids got apples for snacks, and Lina watched as Dawne cut the apples up.

Lina: “That’s not the way MY mom cuts apples.”

Dawne: “Oh? How does your mom cut them?”

Lina: “The RIGHT way!”

Fortunately Dawne thought it was hilarious. And we had to explain to Lina that there was more than one way to cut up apples!

What concerns me at the moment is that so many devout Christians are yelling all over Facebook and other social media that their take on this election is the “right” one, and that anyone who disagrees is not only stupid, but also a bad Christian. How did we, as Christians, get to this point where we can’t disagree with someone respectfully, even if he or she is a brother or sister in Christ? Why do we judge their commitment as Christians based on how closely their political views mirror our own? I can’t tell you how this grieves me.

Imagine what this looks like to the older, more seasoned civilizations in Europe and elsewhere. We Americans must look like a bunch of unruly children brawling in the grocery store, while all the adult onlookers roll their eyes and wish someone had the guts to smack the kids into submission.

What I wish people could do is to recognize the one common concern we all have: we want the best for our country. We may disagree on how to achieve that, or even what that would look like, but I honestly believe that all of us, no matter where we are on the political spectrum, want the best for our nation. Why can’t we accept that? No matter what your political views are, surely you can see that those who disagree with you are not hoping to see our country go down in flames, any more than you are.

My high school government teacher used say, “Democracy is messy.” That is supposed to be one of the strengths of our political system. Everybody gets a say, even if you think their opinion is stupid or misguided or even evil. And, in the end, the majority opinion is the one that wins, even if you think it is a disaster. (And of course, it really could be a disaster!) That’s how the system works.

What worries me is that no matter how the election turns out, there will be finger-pointing and recriminations both inside and outside the Christian community. One of my cousins has said he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to tell anyone how he voted this year. Christians will accuse other Christians of “wasting” their votes, of contributing to catastrophe. Friendships will end. (I think some have already.) People will leave their churches—or be forced out. And a certain supernatural being will be filled with glee—but it won’t be God.

Is Introversion a Sin?

I almost never mention in this space a traumatic event that changed our lives forever. Twenty-two years ago, we were forced to leave the mission field and subsequently fired from the mission we were with (which has since been absorbed by another mission). Our dream of spending our adult lives serving God in Africa came to a screeching halt.

I will spare you the details, because they are still very painful to recall, and because it might taint your view of how mission organizations operate, and I’d like to think they are not all as bad as ours was.

The reason I’m bringing it up is to discuss the fact that the primary charge against me in particular was that I was an introvert . And fat. I was a fat introvert and that was treated as a sin so monstrous that we had to leave the mission field. Now, of course, it was not put that way. Nobody said to us, “Well, you are introverts, and introversion is a sin, so you must be punished by being sent home.” But that’s what it all kind of boiled down to.

In retrospect, the charges against me still seem so ludicrous:

“At potlucks and other social events, you focus on taking care of your four young children [including a baby] instead of socializing with the adults.”

“Sometimes when someone comes to your door, you just call ‘Come in,’ instead of going to the door to greet them.” (Eg. when I was sitting down nursing the baby.)

“Sometimes you knit when you are taking part in a conversation.” (I thought people would be impressed that I could be productive while talking.)

Over and over the point was made that I was not friendly and outgoing enough, despite the fact that I hosted a group of young single missionaries in my home one evening a week, and despite the fact that I led and hosted a ladies Bible study/sewing class in my home every week also.

As an introvert, I could enjoy having small groups of people in my home much more than I could tolerate taking part in very large social activities. But, I was told in so many ways that being an introvert was sinful and unacceptable. (My husband, who is a much more extreme introvert than me, was off the hook because unlike me he is really good at small talk.)

As I have pondered this over the years, it has made me more rather than less angry, because I don’t believe that anyone’s personality type is inherently sinful, or more sinful than another personality type. What about someone who, like the apostle Peter, runs his mouth and says things he later regrets? Should he also be kicked out of a Christian organization for being too impulsive or too volatile?

Of course, as Christians we strive to interact with others in a loving way and avoid offense whenever possible. But we do that in the framework of our God-given personalities. What outreach looks like for an extrovert is quite different from the approach that an introvert will take. Yet I’ve always believed that God can and will use us all, if we are willing. Some people respond better to a quiet one-on-one conversation than they do to participating in loud, embarrassing group activities, and that’s how it should be. There is no one-size-fits-all human personality, no one true way to have a ministry.

What do you think? If you are trying to serve God in some capacity, is it wrong to be an introvert?  Do you see it as a handicap that must be overcome?