Month: April 2016

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Knew Me in High School

Dear friend, acquaintance, fellow inmate of the public education system, or whatever other label you prefer,

Last week, an old photo popped up in my Facebook newsfeed—the only musical I ever participated in after a friend conned me into auditioning for the chorus. There we were, the junior class in our outlandish Seussical costumes, grinning for all of social media to see.

I'm on the far right. This angle really fails to capture the towering heights of my Whoville hair.

I’m on the far right. This angle really fails to capture the ridiculousness of my Whoville hair.

Soon, the comment section turned into a heartwarming trip down memory lane…so I decided not to write the first thing that came to mind, which would have gone something like this:

“Seriously, I’m SO SORRY to all of you who were forced to interact with me in high school.”

Apparently I don’t do nostalgia correctly. My bad.

At first, I was surprised by my gut reaction. After all, I wasn’t a bad kid. Creative, overly cheerful, and a little bit weird (fine, significantly weird), but not so horrible that I’d need to apologize for my existence. But as I looked at sixteen-year-old Amy, I kept remembering things I wish I could go back and change:

The fifth period science class where I heard them call the kid behind me “worthless” over and over again, and when there was a pause, I wanted to shout, “He is not worthless,” but I did not do it. I didn’t even turn around.

The summer I wrote, “I hate her” in my church camp notebook, referring to another girl who was chosen over me as cabin leader because she was shallow and beautiful and took duck-faced selfies. And I knew those were not good enough reasons to hate someone and I did not care.

The essay I wrote dripping with wince-worthy bitterness, the lies I told, the girl behind me in choir class with no friends who I never once talked to, the day I made someone cry, and the hundreds of other times I hated and hurt and made myself look good at the expense of others…and no one ever knew.

You might not recognize this description of me if you were there back then. You saw, most of the time, who I wanted you to see, and I was a very good girl. (more…)

Everyone is Lonely

FullyKnown

If you’re within a dozen yards of me at some point in your life, you will probably be turned into a social experiment.

I am basically a mad scientist, but without the science.

This past week, I’ve helped manage a line of Amish fiction fans, often more than 100 people strong, at fourteen different events. In between handing out newsletter sign-ups, holding purses, and taking pictures of people with cameras and phones, I’ve noticed something very interesting.

Random strangers have muscled or tiptoed their way past small talk about the weather and books to share about their lives to me, the person standing at the front of the line holding the camera.

Sometimes personal stories or struggles. Sometimes lengthy explanations of what a good book helps them escape from. Occasionally seemingly unrelated facts like what they think of God’s Not Dead 2 or that their husband hates scraping ice off the windshield.

I noticed, too, that my default when I’m not sure what else to say is to add something about my life that relates. The books I’ve enjoyed, my experience with the Amish, my carefully-worded cautions about the God’s Not Dead franchise.

And in all but a few cases, the people have looked at me kind of askew, as if I’d just interrupted them, and continued right on with their story. It doesn’t annoy me, not anymore, because I realized something:

We all want to be known. It’s one of the deepest, scariest parts of being human.

We are surrounded, every day, by people who are pushing through a constant stream of chatter and buzz, told (implicitly) by the church to keep serving and smiling, all the while struggling with the same sins and suffering as everyone else…but still feeling incredibly alone.

They send out signal flares every now and then: needy Facebook posts, one-sided conversations, half-finished answers, tears, “fine” in a flat tone.

Do we see those cries for help? Do we care?

The problem is, everyone’s talking, but hardly anyone’s listening. We want to be known all the time. Rarely do we want to know others. It’s easy to take (or just ache for connection if you’re the rugged independent type). It’s harder to give, to take risks, to ask questions and remember answers and follow up and love people even when they hurt us or never seem to show interest in return.

It’s kind of like the wave of viral articles I’ve seen recently: “How to Love an Extroverted Introvert” or “The Mind of an Independent Woman Explained Perfectly in Memes” or “10 Ways a Tall, Colorblind Bookworm who Likes Mexican Food is Different from Everyone Else.”

On all of these articles, when you click to the Facebook comments, you see things like “This describes me perfectly!” or “This. Just everything about this.” And the commenter will almost always tag someone else.

Do you see that? The significance of those clickable blue tagged names bringing someone else into a usually-flattering click-bait article?

They say, “Please understand me.” They say, “I’m not the only one like this, am I?” They say, “I feel so lonely sometimes, but I want to be known.”

Here’s the thing: I have heard those cries from others. I have known for a long time that I can be the one to listen and love and understand.

But it still irritates me, sometimes, when I have to give instead of take, because I am an incredibly selfish human being. I want to talk about me, because my life is interesting and my stories are funny, and if I talk enough, maybe you will want to be my friend despite my insecurities and awkwardness and arrogance. Maybe I won’t feel so alone.

Obviously, it’s dangerous to make your whole mission in life giving to others without ever seeking out mutual friendships where you can know and be known, where there’s a balance of give-and-take that’s so hard to find. (I’ve often gone too far in this direction.)

But I think all of us can try to understand one person every day. Just one. Ask a question. Meet someone new. Make a little difficult small talk and see where it goes—and if it doesn’t go anywhere, don’t stress out about it. Follow up a story not with one of your own, but with a prompt for the other person to keep going. Pray for someone—out loud, right there with them. Write a letter or a Facebook message.

As Christians, especially, I think this is one way we can mirror the humility of Christ. It’s a practical, tangible way to love others, and I’d love it if the church was marked not by a barrage of talk-radio, social-media chatter that crafts image and declares opinions and loudly wants to be known, but by the quiet pauses, the simple questions, and the sacrifice of knowing others.

That’s how I want to be known.

Don’t Throw God’s Sovereignty Under the Bus

Sometimes, very rarely, I get mad enough to throw a book across the room.

But I think this week might be the first time I’ve thrown a library book across the room. (Don’t worry, I made sure it had a cushy landing spot, and anyway, the Minnesota library network already has me on a watchlist because I’ve owed seven dollars in fines for over a year.)

Here’s the context: Leticia Burwell, daughter of a plantation owner, wrote a memoir with the riveting title of A Girl’s Life in Virginia Before the War. It was basically a propaganda piece about how happy slaves were, how most masters were ultra-kind, and how slaves hated even the idea of freedom because they needed white people to house and feed and clothe them.

Annoying, yes. Unexpected, no.

My problem with the book was the multiple times it appealed to God’s sovereignty and absolute control over history to justify slavery. Here’s a little sampler. Try to hear them in an exaggerated, languishing Southern belle accent: (more…)