Being a Neighbor

I grew up in a Christian home in the 90’s and early 00’s, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that I grew up on Veggie Tales. I have seen every single episode, sung along to every weird song, and learned about biblical and social issues as they were played out by animated, goofy fruits and vegetables.

One of my favorite episodes was “Are You My Neighbor?” which retold the parable of the Good Samaritan. This may have something to do with the fact that the “Silly Songs with Larry” song was about Larry looking for his hairbrush, but I watched the entire episode enough times that it left an impression. For those of you who haven’t seen the episode, or haven’t seen it recently enough to remember, I’ll give you the abridged version:

Larry lives in Flibber-o-loo and Junior lives in Jibberty-lot. The residents of each of these towns wear a signature head piece (a shoe and a pot, respectively) and, because they think the other town’s choice in headwear is ridiculous, want nothing to do with each other. One day, Larry goes out on a road and gets robbed, with his attackers leaving him upside down in a hole, unable to get out. Two of his townsmen pass by, refusing to help him because they are otherwise engaged in their own lists of things to do. Finally, Junior discovers him, and even though neither town gets along or wants anything to do with the other, Junior recognizes that Larry needs help, and he helps him. He takes him to safety and pays for his lodging and medical bills. (And then the infamous “Oh where is my hairbrush?” song comes on, which I still sing when I can’t find things, and the episode goes on to its next part.)

When Jesus initially tells this parable, He is asked by a religious scholar what one needs to do to get into Heaven. Jesus asks him what Mosaic law said he had to do and the man recites teachings he had meditated on for most of his life, saying, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Jesus agrees and says that if the man does this, he will live. But the scholar wanted a more precise definition of who he was supposed to be caring for, so he asks, “And who is my neighbor?” He wanted a loophole that let him love the people that looked and thought like him, and could readily be classified as “his people”. He wanted to love the people within his own political party, and within his own religion – and he was hoping that Jesus would give him a palatable answer.

Instead, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. He concludes His story by asking, “Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?'”

I want to pause here for a second. Because the correct answer to Jesus’s question, at first glance, is all three of them. Regardless of city of origin or belief system – every single person who came across the man on that road was, at least passively, his neighbor. You could argue that the Levite and the Priest were more obviously his neighbor. They were all Jews, after all, while the Samaritan was not. It seems like the obvious choice that these two Jews would take care of their own. If anything, the scholar who Jesus is telling this story to has just outlined the reason why they should – eternal life at that point hinged upon loving God with everything and loving their neighbors selflessly.

And yet these two men hurried past him, choosing to ignore his need.

Jesus was not asking which of the three of them was inherently, religiously, or geographically his neighbor. He is asking which of the three men acted like a neighbor to the robbed man. Which of them, given the fact that the robbed man needed help, actively chose to be what a neighbor was supposed to be?

He was, by every definition, the two Jewish men’s neighbor, but they did not choose to be a neighbor to him. It was not convenient to come to his aid, nor did it benefit them in any tangible way, so they didn’t.

The one who acted like, who chose to be, a neighbor to him had every justifiable right to pass by the man. If you read the history of the Samaritans and the Jews – they were two groups that hated each other and treated the other poorly, if they even acknowledged the other at all. There were centuries of feuds and disagreements between the two peoples and it could have provided plenty of ammunition for the Samaritan man to walk by and let the Jewish man die. But he didn’t. He rescued him, tending to his wounds, placing him upon his own donkey and took him to an inn to recuperate, paying for the room upfront for as long as it took for the Jewish man to heal.

The scholar answers Jesus’s question by saying, “[His neighbor was] The one who showed him mercy.”

You all are my neighbors. You the republican, you the democrat, you the pro-lifer, you the pro-choicer, you the libertarian, you the atheist, you the agnostic, you the LGTBQ community member, you the immigrant, you the foreigner, you the Christian, you the Muslim – you are all, by right of being my fellow human beings, my neighbor. But am I being a neighbor to you? Am I the one that shows you mercy?

I want to be. I feel an ache in my spirit to be. I believe that the only way that I know to genuinely love you like Jesus loves you is to be a neighbor to you. And that means that I have to fight past my pride, my tendency to want to hoard my own money and resources, my need to not rock the boat and not step out of my comfort zone – to care for you in a way that is merciful. That is selfless.

I don’t have to agree with you, I don’t have to end up looking just like you – we are working towards unity, not uniformity. But when you need my help, how can I withhold it from you? How can I look at you and not do that which is within my means to help you? How can I say that I love you and not let that love move me to action?

The parable in Luke ends with the scholar having admitted to Jesus that the one who is a neighbor is the one who shows mercy and Jesus’s response to him. Jesus could have gloated that He outsmarted the scholar. He could have further embarrassed the scholar by pointing out all of the ways that the he had been failing to meet the mandate for eternal life. He could have, but He didn’t. He instead reiterated the same commandment that the scholar already knew, that he was already practicing, and coaxed him to be inclusive. To expand the perimeter around those he considered to be his people. To be, in both name and action, neighborly to those who had always been his neighbors.

Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.” }

You Already Are

I’ve always been a little (okay, a lot) afraid that I would end up alone.

Dysmorphia was partially to blame for that fear. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking that I’m simply too much – too fat, too loud, too opinionated, too stubborn, too independent, too “strong-willed” – to attract someone, who I would find attractive, that had a strong character and loved Jesus. Add to that the fact that I have heard my entire life that “someday my prince will come”, and I just kept watching month after month and year after year pass me by with no such prince, and it seemed like the odds were good that I’d end up doing this life on my own.

Which, as one who wanted more than just about anything to be known and loved, sounded like the most terrifying outcome imaginable. Who was I, if there wasn’t somebody in all of the people I’ve met in my life who wanted to take on this life as my partner? What did it say about my worthiness that that significant other box has either been empty or filled with people who didn’t deserve the title? If I pretended harder that I didn’t care, could I force God’s hand and speed up the process? I liked that option, because it seemed like all of these people who were happy and had their fairytale relationship had some variation of “I stopped caring about it, and then all of a sudden, poof, so and so was standing right in front of me.” Granted, it treated the creator of the universe a bit like a significant other vending machine, but a girl’s got to do what she’s got to do, right?

Part of that decision, logically, was turning my focus inward. Discovering Jesus, and starting the process of developing a relationship with him that went miles deeper than the one I’d known as a child. Guys, I know it sounds cheesy, but I fell head over heels. I love Jesus in a way that isn’t logical, because He loves me so, so, so, so much more. Not surprisingly, it took me significantly longer to let myself be fully loved by Jesus than it did to recognize that I was in deep on my end. Letting myself be loved as I am was (and some days, still is) incredibly difficult for me when I knew how far I still had to go on my self-improvement plans and to-do lists. It’s still a bit unbelievable to me that what started as such a selfish attempt to get Jesus to just hurry up and bring a spouse already would have blossomed into what it is today.

And while I would love to one day be a wife, and a mother, I don’t feel like my life will be one iota less valuable if I never wear either of those hats. I’d like to believe that I’ll be a mother in some capacity, even if I’m never a wife, because there are entirely too many boys and girls in this country that need love for me to not dive in headfirst, but even if for some reason that doesn’t happen, my life is worthy now. It is beautiful, it is precious, even if the only partner I ever have is Jesus. Because Jesus is not a consolation prize. Not ever. A life spent with him, even when it detours from what a four-year-old me imagined for myself, is not ever something that has to be settled for.

Hear me please, boys and girls, women and men, who are dutifully waiting on the right person to come so that they can fulfill the need to be truly known and completely loved.

You already are.

You cannot ever be more deeply known or radically loved by an individual than you are right now. God’s love is perfect love. The kind of love that casts out fear, that repairs the wounds we hide away, that makes whole the broken pieces, that calls to life a purpose that is terrifying and all at once exactly right, that extends so much more grace than can be imagined. It is the love. The love that smooths out your rough edges, the love that reminds you that you aren’t doing any of this alone, the love that sees and calls out the very best in you. It makes the fairytale romance look like a knock-off, dollar store version of a Hallmark card in comparison.

Don’t get me wrong, being in love with another person can be beautiful. It can bring out the best parts of you, it can make you want to be selfless, kind, gentle and make the world a better place. But it can also be painful and difficult. It can bring out the worst parts of you. It can shine a big spotlight on the parts of yourself that you aren’t proud of. It is certainly worth doing, because a life spent hidden away from connection and vulnerability isn’t much of a life at all, but no matter how well it could possibly pay off in the end, it can’t complete you.

Jerry McGuire lied.

I have hated that line in that movie (and admittedly, not been the biggest fan of that movie at all because of it) since the first time I saw it. It highlights, along with the Disney Princess culture of my childhood and a thousand other movie plot lines, the myth about love. Finding the person you want to spend the rest of your life with is beautiful, and to be celebrated: but it doesn’t make you any more worthy of love and belonging. It doesn’t add a gold star to your life’s accomplishments. And I think we collectively put a lot of strain on an already difficult thing when we expect it to check the Life Fulfillment box too.

Jesus completes me. He’s the only one who can. That is the only relationship in existence that can weather the strain of all of those expectations indefinitely. It’s the only one that can support my need to be known, seen, loved and unequivocally supported at every level. It’s the only one that can bring utter calm in the midst of a season full of chaos. It’s the one that makes me the best version of myself, and only in loving Jesus, being loved by Him and loving like Him, do I find myself loving other people in a healthy way.

I wish I could tell you that I just decided hard enough that Jesus was going to fulfill me, then there was a fun montage where I discovered how loved I was (to the tune of an excellent song, of course), and then I realized that I was content on my own. That’s an infinitely prettier picture than what actually happened.

This process has not been all rainbows and butterflies, but it has been saturated with Jesus, peace in chaos and comfort in the midst of the most painful of surrenders. There have been no shortage of those. I’m a type A planner, and I’d spent the better part of 20 years placing entirely too much hope and faith in the idea that if I just loved Jesus hard enough, and did my best to go out and love people like He did, I’d earn myself a husband. Breaking down those hopes and surrendering them piece by piece was long, exhausting and bloody. And there were times when the only thing I even knew how to pray was that I wanted to want the Lord the most, whatever that was supposed to look like.

Some days, I still forget. I forget that it’s okay to stay in my lane, and that my life is beautiful, regardless of how many of these boxes I end up checking at the end of it. I don’t think there is any one exactly right way to do any of this, or that any two people have the same journey to the same kind of surrender. I do know that there is so much grace here, and that as difficult as this process has been, I wouldn’t trade this space, this thing with Jesus, for all of the fairy tale endings in the world.

Worth It

I’ve recently discovered that I want to say I love like Jesus, without having to sacrifice the selfish parts of me that don’t actually want to have to go that far to love somebody.

I don’t want to have to put the parts of me I’m not proud of on display so that the other person can think I’m a total hot-mess of a freak. I don’t want to have to sit in uncomfortable situations with them because it will cause the both of us to grow for the better. I don’t want to have to respond with grace and forgiveness in situations that frustrate me. Even more, I don’t want to have to go back after I’ve failed at those responses and apologize while trying to make it right. I don’t want to be in situations where the other person has to respond with grace and forgiveness for my own failures, and I definitely don’t want to let go of my righteous indignation and “I told you so’s” when they fail at doing it right too.

I want to be naturally good at it. Things that I have to work really hard to be good at frustrate the heck out of me and there is always a little voice in my head telling me that life would be so much easier if I just gave up, walked away and walled myself back in my own little room. I’ve listened to that voice before. Oh man have I listened. And I’ve been miserable, lonely, and desperate for someone to know me well enough, to know that I don’t actually want to be left alone, that they are willing to come tear down walls with me.

I want to know all of the answers. I don’t want to put myself out there for a friendship or relationship that may not pan out. That’s a lot of energy, time and emotional effort on the line. What if it full-on blows up in my face? What if I fail? Worse, what if I walk this scary line of trust and give all I have to give and the other person still walks away? What if I’m heart-broken? What if I get all the way in it, and then freak out and run because while I’ve dreamt of being known and loved for most of my life, even a hint of it being real terrifies me? What if God leads me 15 steps down the path, only to present a fork in the road that means that the whole situation looks completely different from what I thought it would?

Except that I’m not promised any of it.

I’m not promised to be led into situations that won’t leave me a little bruised and banged up.

I’m not promised human interactions where I do everything right, every single time and never have to go back and ask for forgiveness.

I’m not promised that I won’t have to be vulnerable with people who may not respond with grace or understanding.

I’m not promised that I won’t get really hurt or have seasons of my life that are flat-out uncomfortable.

I’m definitely not promised that I won’t fail or flail when I should respond with trust.

I’m not even promised the stereotypical happy ending with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence, surrounded by friends who know me well and love me still.

I am promised that I’ll never go at any of this alone. I’m promised that whatever mess I find myself in, God can and will redeem it to something outstandingly beautiful, if I let him. I’m promised that I will never fall too far, fail too many times or wall myself away too often to be outside of grace’s reach. That even when relationships fail, people leave and I forget, I am still treasured, loved and held dearer than I can ever fathom. That the deepest hurt, the greatest rejection, the most painful betrayal, the most profound loss — none of these are the end of my story. That my life, whether filled with sorrow, joy or a mix of the two, will always be about more than me.

Sometimes that means failing at loving like Jesus until I get better at it, even when it’s uncomfortable, difficult and all I want to do is run away and hide. Sometimes that means following Jesus into situations where the odds don’t look that promising. Sometimes that means that my worst fears and greatest joys are realized all in one big jumble of emotion and messy life-experiences.

Sometimes it won’t be pretty, but I’m certain it will all be worth it.

Body Positivity, Weird Trends & Some Backstory

Okay. So if you are just tuning in now to me and my life/blog, there are a few things it could be helpful to know.

I was diagnosed with dysmorphia in college. Long story short, it means that I can fixate on an aspect of my appearance that I view as a flaw, and it distorts how I see myself. If unchecked, to the point that I want to hide from people and the world in general, convinced that they see what I see and will think me hideous. It’s definitely led to quite a few lengthy hermit sessions, a decent amount of self-sabotage in the crazy-vulnerable things known as relationships, and has helped me to cultivate a front of having things totally together and being incredibly confident for fear that if I wasn’t someone might poke around and discover the truth. And then it all kind of blew up in my face one January day, and over the next year and a half I got the help that I had spent a long time needing. Most of the time these days I can manage it well, but it still loves to rear its ugly head up whenever I let my guard down for long.

My confidence in myself is building as my need to handle it all on my own is decreasing (there is an amazing negative correlation there I think), and real vulnerability still makes my heart pound, but it doesn’t stop me in my tracks. I am not fearless (though thank you mom for telling me you thought I was!), I just recognize that everything terrifies me, and if it didn’t yesterday and involves any level of new social interaction, it could easily terrify me tomorrow, so just being scared of things isn’t usually enough to stop me. I am still largely clueless at understanding when a guy is flirting because the part of my brain that told me guys like that couldn’t be interested in a girl that looked like me was the loud part for a long time, and learning to quiet it down has been a challenge. I still fight the urge to replay every conversation over in my head and fixate on the things that I didn’t do perfectly. I still hate talking about all of the ways that I’m still cracked and broken on the inside, because I really like feeling like I’m not actually a hot mess a lot of the time. I still really suck at consistency when it comes to looking at the me before the curling iron and makeup comes out for the day, and not fixate on flaws at the expense of everything else. There are still times (like today) where I almost didn’t leave the house because I was convinced that my knees looked too fat in what I was wearing, and people would see and be horrified.

I still fail a lot at knowing that I deserve to be gentle with myself too. To know that even without makeup, I am still beautiful. To really believe that some guy some day will still want to see me even if I’m in sweats and not all dressed up. That I don’t have to hide from the people that love me on days that I feel like the elephant in the room. To remember that I have so much value apart from the number of guys I catch giving me a sidelong glance when I go out with my friends, or how pretty I feel that I look on any given day.

Okay again. Long introduction.

What really fueled this post was something I read on Buzzfeed about this trend called DadBod. This girl wrote an article that basically said that guys who weren’t fat but weren’t ripped either made girls feel better about themselves because they feel skinny next to guys that aren’t total gym rats. And that the “fluff” makes them better to cuddle. And I can see the silver lining of body positivity here…but to call it openly promoting body positivity is ridiculous. If those roles were reversed, and some guy wrote an article about how he liked girls with the mom-bod who didn’t wear much makeup and were flabby but not fat, because it made him feel better about not going to the gym very much and made him look like the hot one in the relationship…girls would be up in arms.

As I was perusing the comments, I saw a lot of the above sentiment expressed by a lot of guys (a few girls too), but also a lot of weird rationalizations. Things like, “Well some of us don’t like toned guys, we like the fluffy guys.” Who the heck uses the word fluffy to describe a person? That’s not promoting body positivity. That’s saying, oh you don’t meet this standard of beauty and perfection that you may secretly want on some level but just haven’t obtained…but don’t worry, some girl won’t like conventional beauty anyway and find you attractive. Just wait for that kind of girl.

As one who spent a long time fearing (and some days, still does) that there will not be a guy of strong character who is funny and smart and I am attracted to, who actually is attracted to me; because I need to hold out for that guy that is attracted to my body type, rare as he is, so really can beggars be choosers anyway…I am pissed off by this type of “explanation” about why these guys are attractive.

Please tell me that sounds ridiculous to you. I want to look at those guys (and girls + me) and physically erase that logic. Its so freaking pervasive, and it’s so wrong. How can that ever promote body positivity and just listening to and loving your body, when all it does is tell people that they aren’t totally unattractive exactly, there are just a narrower window of other people who will find them attractive.

Guys and girls…some people just won’t be attracted to you. But quite a few people will. Even more so if you are kind and thoughtful and funny without having to make jokes at the expense of others. If this crazy, frustrating and often painful journey with and through dysmorphia has taught me anything, its that you are usually harder on you than anyone else, and that you can’t be really be gentle and kind to others if you don’t know how to be gentle and kind to yourself. So be gentle. Go for a walk. Eat something that makes your toes curl it is so good, but don’t eat so much to make yourself sick. If you have a DadBod, embrace the parts of that you want to keep, change the parts you don’t, but recognize that you are the one with the final opinion on that. No co-ed, neighbor, family member, or random stranger in a bar gets the say on whether or not you are attractive, because its often social norms, hormones and timing that determines most of the facets of attractiveness anyway.

Body positivity doesn’t come from people thinking you are attractive, it’s embracing you and your body and getting up everyday and choosing to do that very same thing again and again. It’s hard, and you fail more often than you succeed at first, but it’s all you. Love your body, take it out for exercise pretty regularly, be gentle with it some days and expect way too much of it others. If beauty or manliness/awesomeness in general are in the eye of the beholder (spoiler alert, they are) anyway, you may as well do things that make you feel beautiful and/or manly/awesome in general.

Life is way too short to do much else.

Things I’m glad I wrote down p1

I wrote this about 6 months ago, and had completely forgotten about it until today. I had a guy I had dated in high school pop back up kind of out of nowhere, and he wanted to dream big and plan a future together, even though we weren’t totally on the same page on quite a few things. While wrestling with the right course of action, I ended up typing out my frustration and feels one night on a notepad application.

“Because I have a feeling I’m going to need this reminder

[Name here] loves me. Like according to him would move across the country and offers to buy me big wedding rings and bank roll the wedding kind of loves me. It used to be that that was literally all I could hope for in the world. I think of where my value and hopes were at 17…and this would have been all I needed. A man I could love who would want me. Would look at me when I’m in sweats, and look at me when I’m dressed up and his jaw would drop a little, and he would just breathe out “wow”. Not loudly, not to gain brownie points, but because he thought I was beautiful, even when I didn’t feel that way. I know there would have been issues with the fact that he cannot understand the part of me that hears that crazy troll jesus voice calling me to do terrifying things…but I would be loved.

Because before I let jesus into the parts of me even I couldn’t stand to remember existed…that seemed like enough. And I admit, there are parts of me that wish I could just be loved until the right guy comes along.

But the louder, much more rational parts of me knows that simply being loved isn’t enough. He doesn’t challenge me in the parts that will make for a lasting marriage. He can’t pull me closer to Jesus, and in our combined pursuit, closer to himself too. That without Jesus…he can’t possibly know the full extent of healthy love.

Though the want to be loved and found attractive has a dangerous pull…I know that God will not ask me to relinquish anything to my detriment. That this man that I pray for is worth waiting for…and the love he will one day offer will be as challenging and often frustrating as it is longed for. That simply someone to love me is not enough because the point of my life and my future marriage is not just to be loved. It is to love fully, be challenged and changed by, to unite our wonder twin powers to love people and change the world. To stretch and grow me beyond what I think I can endure.”