The Other Side of Jealousy

I call it “In your face-book,” she told me. “I hate Facebook.”

I nodded, absorbing her reasons not to post updates on a given topic.

She didn’t say it, but I had to guess that perhaps her abhorrence of Facebook was at least partially related to the fact that God had not yet given her the desire of her heart in the form of a baby.

God knows that I know it’s impossible to get on Facebook without seeing “in your face” reminders of un-motherhood: pregnancy announcements, birth announcements…babies, grandbabies…videos, photos…funny sayings, cute faces…pajama pictures, pool pictures…ultrasound shots…maternity photos…My Little Pony cakes—you name it. Kids unapologetically brighten up the world and lighten up the Internet. And I’m glad they do.

Just the same, I could understand why my friend might avoid Facebook like the Gaza Strip. It was a constant assault on her deepest pain. Everyone else has what she doesn’t have. And it hurts.

It wasn’t Facebook’s fault exactly; deep down—deep, deep down—the problem was jealousy. I don’t know what it is about jealousy, but we do not want to call it that. I suspect jealously has worn more nametags than just about any other sin.

Admit it or not, of all the people who have told me they quit Facebook and of all the reasons they have given, I suspect that jealousy is the one unnamed deactivator of many an account.

Because other peoples’ lives tend to be perfect on Facebook. I confess there have been times I clicked through someone else’s photos and thought, She has everything: she’s beautiful, married to a good man, wonderful kids, nice house, nice vacations… and eventually closed the screen with an overwhelming sense of discontentment. My life stinks…

I’ve struggled with jealousy. It has chewed me up then spit me out in worthless chunks like a redneck, tobacco, and a country road. In fact, there have been full weeks—months—years—when the only times I wasn’t struggling with jealousy was when I had given up completely. It can still ruin a good day quicker than my alarm clock.

I know I’m not alone. I remember times when two of my friends confessed to me that they were jealous of me. I wanted to laugh. But they were serious. These were painful confessions for them.

I wanted to laugh because both came at particularly low times for me. I knew if they really, truly knew my life, they would be anxious to take their own set of troubles and go home. If they knew the tears I cried, the pressures I faced, and the mistakes I’ve made, they would probably be whistling on their way to work—thank God, I’m not her!

And when it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t trade with them either. Not even with the gorgeous girls with successful husbands and adorable kids. Not the movie stars; not the world-class musicians; not even the ice skaters.

There will always be someone out there—probably on the edges of my circle of friends—who is prettier, funnier, nicer, smarter, richer, and just happier than me. They will be young and interesting when I’m old and boring. They will be available when I am tied up. They will think of the right thing to say when words have failed my completely. They will make friends when I can’t even make hot chocolate.

But now that perfect girl is affecting me less.

I have a wonderful life. In fact, I am richly blessed beyond what I can ever deserve.

But that is beside the point.

The point is that I am learning the truth about jealousy. If you are jealous of someone, you either don’t know them well enough or you haven’t known them long enough. The fact is, their life either has troubles or will have troubles. Serious troubles. And unless they have chosen an attitude of gratitude, they probably think their life stinks too.

On the other side of your jealousy is a hurting, confused, lonely, and even scared girl that you just don’t know yet.

I thank God that even though I will always struggle, I’m coming to the realization that jealousy is me believing the lie that I would be happier if my life were different; when in reality it would only be…well…different. In the process, God has freed me to see Facebook as God’s brag book—budding romances, happy families, new opportunities, God’s creation, and, of course, God’s amazing gift of new lives in small packages. As friend after friend has gotten married and had kids, I’ve been able to genuinely say, “I’m so happy for you!” Because I am.

Just the same, if it causes you to stumble, or if you just don’t like it, there is no harm in staying away from Facebook. And unless you are truly ready for war, this would be a good time to stay out of the Gaza Strip.

The Girl with a Dog and a Blog

Inspiration for blog posts is entirely unpredictable.  Sometimes I find myself making lists of ideas.  Some times I find myself scrolling those lists with the same feeling as when I’m eyeing the numerous items hanging in my closet and thinking, I don’t have anything to wear!

And even when I have an idea, it’s kind of like riding a bull.  You can lead it anywhere it wants to go.  You never know exactly where it will take you or even if it will buck you off before the end.  It looks easy, but it’s just not.  The fact that you did it before doesn’t mean you can do it again.

So for these and lots of other reasons, I don’t consider myself an official “blogger” although a few people have surprised me–not long ago I was introduced to a group as the girl with a dog and a blog.  Ha!

Blogging has taught me some about what people think about me; usually in the form of tiny bits of feedback.  One friend I’ve known for years even read my blog and said, “Danielle, I didn’t know you were that…deep.”  Hopefully, they were not referring to the taco meat incident.

But my goal here is actually not about me, but wanting to give credit to the three people who inspired me most to start blogging (again).  My dad, who has always wanted me to write; Matt Walsh, whose creativity can make truth that you’ve heard a thousand times still fun to read; and my friend Colleen, whose blog often spoke to me in ways that were exactly what I needed–convicting my hard heart or gluing together broken pieces of my soul.

My dad probably deserves the most credit; I’ve already blogged about him.

Matt Walsh, I’m told, has the best read blog on WordPress, so he doesn’t need my introduction.  While I don’t always agree with him, he has a gift for getting his point across.  Like this one.  And regardless, I’m glad that there are young conservative bloggers out willing to speak out with unapologetic common sense.

That leaves Colleen–we both grew up in the same homeschool circles in Southern California.  She was five years older than me, so I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but I always had a lot of respect for her and knew 1) that she loved the Lord with all her heart; and 2) that she was a lot of fun.

Colleen was gifted in a lot of ways–singing, drama, working with kids, speaking, and writing to name a few.  Everyone wanted to be her friend and so she was forever being stretched in numerous directions, perhaps at the expense of basic necessities like sleep.

Colleen & Eddie Chao
Colleen & Eddie Chao

But despite her gifts, her beauty, and her attractive personality, when God wove her story, He didn’t choose to write marriage into the picture until she was 34–a number that used to seem very old to me.  I had long since moved from California by then, but I was able to catch glimpses of her life through things like Facebook and I read her blog with interest.  (Not dreaming then that I would identify so strongly with some of the challenges that she had faced.)

Her long-awaited dream of motherhood came at age 35 but it has been followed by a severe string of health problems, again altering her story from what she would perhaps have written with her own pen.

But anyone who knows Colleen would not make the mistake of thinking that she is not deep.  Colleen is deep.  And so is her faith.  For as long as I’ve known her, she has shared honestly about the insights that she received from Scripture.  Insights that have come from hours of reading, studying, meditating, and then singing, praying, or composing back to God.

The faith she has clung to in the midst of her numerous health challenges is evident in posts such as  We know Him Best.  And her eloquence is apparent, when, as a new mom she penned posts such as The Weak and the Warrior.  Colleen’s depth is accentuated by the time she will take to condense and organize her thoughts into a short, powerful prose that gives us a window into a quiet but fruitful life.

Although I was often encouraged by her blog, I didn’t write much myself for years–partly because of time constraints, but often because of my fears.  I hate putting personal information on the internet for the world to read.  I fear the combination of evil men and modern technology–call me crazy–but when I look down the road, I see a lot of potential for us to regret we are so free with personal information.

But in the end, I decided it was better to be fruitful than to be safe.  I would rather be a threat to evil and to myself than a threat to nothing at all.  I would rather get to an untimely end with nothing left to give, than live a long life and have buried any little talent entrusted to me.  If there is a chance I can write and encourage someone–anyone–to love God more, I’m going to try.

And if you’ve been even a bit challenged or encouraged, you can say thanks to my dad, Colleen, and maybe even a little bit to the courage of Matt Walsh and the day he wrote the controversial piece, Monogamy is Unnatural.

Joy Bells

As a teenager, my dad took us to a small church across town on Sunday evenings. When I say small, that is what I mean. There would be about a dozen people, and seven were my family. The rest were over the age of seventy.

They were sweet people and they loved to have us join their Sunday evening routine. We would open our hymn books and the pastor would take favorites. My sister would accompany on the piano as we picked the same handful of songs. Despite the age of the group, it was not unusual for us to sing “Arky, Arky” and strain our voices to reach the high notes of “Wonderful Grace of Jesus.”

After we were sung out, Pastor Dana would preach to us and then the “whole church” would go to Denny’s.

I remember all the members of that small congregation. Best of all, I remember the pastor’s wife, Louise Dana.

I first met Mrs. Dana when I was in kindergarten and I had liked her then.

She always dressed smartly. Her two inch pumps would match her dress and her chunky earrings would match her necklace. She was pleasantly plump—she didn’t bother with any diet that came between her and a banana split. And she had an amazing laugh. She laughed loud and she laughed often. Wherever she was would be a party.

When we started attending some ten years later, Mrs. Dana had not changed a bit and probably neither had the evening routine. Mrs. Dana knew the staff at Denny’s by name and they knew her. We would talk and laugh and she would eat a banana split.

Then came the news that Mrs. Dana had Lou Gehrig’s disease. I didn’t quite believe it–she was so full of life and I just couldn’t imagine her anything but her boisterous self. But she seemed to handle the news well. She would be there every Sunday evening happy.

The effects of the disease came on gradually. Her speech became a little slurred and she became less mobile. We never talked about it at church. Everyone knew; we just didn’t know what to say. Things stayed at their “normal” routine, “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” and all.

Her speech continued to get more slurred although she tried hard to communicate. When we couldn’t understand, we’d nod and smile. The evening outing to Denny’s just wasn’t the same though when the boisterous storytelling was replaced by a few laborious phrases. Her mind was still sharp, but everything she wanted to say and every laugh she wanted to laugh was trapped inside and it couldn’t get out.

Then one week we got a new hymn request— “Joy Bells.” And she requested it every week after that. It started, “You may have the joy bells ringing in your heart and the peace that from you never will depart…”

Mrs. Dana couldn’t sing, but she started bringing a bell to church on Sunday nights and she would ring it every time we said “joy bells” and at the end of every line of the chorus. It was her way of letting us know that even though she could no longer laugh, she still had joy in her heart.

One bell was not enough. She brought two…then three…then four…and each week she would ring her bell to make her request and make us ring the bells as we sang. Honestly, it wasn’t very musical. But from Mrs. Dana it was joyful.

Time continued to waste away and so did Mrs. Dana. She had her husband bring Krispy Kreme donuts to church because it was all she could eat and she wanted to share them. Even on a Krispy Kreme diet, she was now less than 90 pounds. She would sit silently in the pew and when we said hello to her, she would do her best to give a slight nod. But when we sang her song, she would ring her bell. That was all she had left.

When I rang my joy bell, it was neither musical nor joyful. I would be too choked up to sing. I felt strongly for this dear woman whose body could no longer communicate in the ways she loved best.

Or maybe it did. I doubt any of us who knew Mrs. Dana will ever forget the joy that was her strength in the most difficult of circumstances. She expressed it in a means and with a fervency that none of us will ever forget.

That was probably 16 years ago, and I haven’t sung “Joy bells” since her funeral. But I’ve thought of it many times—always with the collection of souvenir handbells ringing in the background. And I know that in heaven, Mrs. Dana is talking and laughing again. And on earth, her memory is reminding us that despite our circumstances, we’ve been instructed to “rejoice always.” Even when you cannot talk and cannot laugh—no excuses. Find yourself a bell and let the world know that you are joyful—even when it is through tears.

Pops Goes the Fourth!

bostonWe were fairly new to New England. One of the guys in our church college and career group (who defied all of the rules of single adult living and was actually a planner) had the idea of going to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra live under the hat shell in downtown Boston on the Fourth. Then, of course, to climax the evening, there would be a spectacular fireworks show.

Boston on the Fourth. What could be more patriotic than that?

So while Planner put together all of the important details, college and career groups can turn even the smallest of details into cumbersome and tiring Group Decisions. A characteristic of C&C groups that has caused more people to starve to death than the potato famine. I hate Group Decisions.

In this particular instance, the group of us stood in the parking lot all of 15 minutes trying to decide who would ride in which vehicle. We had one Lady Driver and one Man Driver and there were one too many girls to fit into Lady Drivers’ car. Hence the dilemma.

One girl attempted to solve the problem and volunteered to ride with the guys. Man Driver actually resolved the problem by replying that it would probably be better if one of the “skinny girls” rode in his truck instead. Mind you, we were all on the thinner side except Volunteer.

To say her feelings were hurt would be putting it mildly. Not a great start to the day.

But, as I hinted, he did resolve the issue because we girls suddenly realized that we could all fit nicely in the girl car and we would just see the guys at the sub station. Decision made.

The first stop of the day had been carefully plotted thanks to Planner and we went to the hat shell to stake a claim on the grass with a blanket and pick up wristbands which would later grant us admission to the Pops Goes the Fourth! concert.

It was 7:00 am. It was 700 degrees. It was 700% humidity.

After that we were “free to sightsee” a phrase which herein means “free to debate what to sightsee.” Planner was actually pretty familiar with the city, but he was completely overshadowed by the two strong personalities held by Lady Driver and Man Driver–neither of whom knew the area. And when I say, strong personalities, I mean with a capital “S.” In comparison, I am meek as Moses (and a lot less likely to hit rocks).

Lady Driver trusted no one with the planning of our Independence Day in Boston. She was determined that the first order of business was to procure a map. This was, of course, before Google maps and smart phones. But even then, printed maps didn’t exactly fall out of parking meters.

By the time we found a map, frankly, it wasn’t necessary. We knew downtown Boston by heart. And Lady Driver had blisters. So now we all needed to go on a band aid hunt.

Mind you, there were still other strong personalities expressing other opinions about what to do, but Lady Driver pretty much had her mind made up. Regrettably, Man Driver was still being punished for his unfortunate comment in the parking lot. And since the girls followed Lady Driver and since there were more girls, when we took off, the guys eventually followed. Hence…decision making morphed from “Group” into a dictatorship/democracy with female only suffrage.

It was probably a little before noon before we settled on our first real attraction of the day–the Aquarium. The Boston Aquarium may be best known for its penguin exhibit, but frankly, all we cared about was the A/C.

It was a long, long day but somehow we made it to 7:00 pm and the esplanade in front of the hat shell. Keith Lockhart was directing the Boston Pops with Barry Manilow as a special guest. I didn’t know who Barry Manilow was, but the lady next to us sure did. She looked at him with sunbeams in her eyes and sang every word of every song along with him–hands clasped in front of her and the whole bit. Her husband just sat next to her and scowled.

It was a good concert though–they played all the classic John Phillip Sousa marches and it gradually cooled off to about 600 degrees and for the first time that day, we seemed to be able to relax a little and actually enjoy ourselves.

The fireworks were good enough to make Walt Disney jealous. And by the time they were in full gear, we were starting to think Planner had actually had a good idea. So, when he suggested that we leave where we were and head to an area to the left of the esplanade, we trusted his judgment.

But this one time, Planner made a mistake.

In theory, we were going to be able to see some of the smaller displays over the water better from the new vantage point, but in fact, we could see nothing. The space was crowded beyond belief but by the time we had fought our way in through the crowds, there was really no getting out.

The fireworks ended and when we turned our attention to a way out of the crowds, we realized that we were stuck on a tiny island with about ten thousand other people and one foot bridge. At first, I thought we were making headway, but soon began to realize that the only thing that was happening was that we were becoming more compact. Very compact.

It’s an unpleasant feeling when the sweat streaming down your back is not your sweat. When a fly lands on your head and you can’t free a hand to swat at it. We were so compact that I was in one row, my feet were in the row behind me, and my purse was about three or four rows behind that. It would have been the perfect opportunity for someone to wipe it clean. If they could have gotten their hands free.

I don’t know how long we stood like that, but it was at least two hours because by the time we got off the island and to the closest subway, it was after midnight and the sub was closed. As was the next. The next. And the next.

So it was actually well into July 5th before we found ourselves truly heading for home. We were all in need of band aids, and frankly, by that point, any car would do.

Needless to say, the logistics of that day sort of eclipsed the whole patriotic celebration thing and it’s taken 12 years for the sweat to dry so I could really laugh about the experience. But when I count my blessings and give thanks for the freedoms that so many have given so much for—I count among them the freedom not to go to Boston on the Fourth.