Labels

19 09 2012

We all use them.  They’re just useful.  It tells me that there’s milk in a plastic jug, chicken noodle soup in a tin (or is it steel?) can, gas at a random store on the side of the road.  Sometimes, labels are useful for warning people of hazardous things.  Labels tell me what my t-shirt is made of (and it itches!), what scent my candle is, and the contents of a box.  Labels are useful for things, because they describe things, and give us a sense of understanding about whatever it is that the label is labeling.  Whatever the label is labeling rarely changes form and rarely decides to be something else.  Once placed, the labeled objects do not change until an exterior force messes with it.

Human beings, however, are not things.  Remember this.

We like to label people.  We like to label people in the same way that we label boxes in our attic.  If we fill a box with Christmas decorations and write on the outside of the box, “Christmas decorations”, we know that it contains ornaments and tree trimmings.  We know to get it down in November when we are decorating the house.  It is useful to label boxes of decorations, because it saves us the time from having to look inside the box and discover what it holds.   We like to label people like this, probably because it saves us the time from getting to actually know the person inside and beyond the label.  I don’t know if this approach is very accurate.

I hate labeling when we’re talking about people.  The thing is, the labels you put on people do not entirely encompass that person behind the label.  There are tons of other things about me other than just a label.  If you label me according to my job, a cashier, you miss out on tons of other perspectives of me, and you deduce several things about me, and put me in this category of people, whether that is good or bad.  If I play golf, you would also deduce a very different set of characteristics from me.  Being a cashier is only 8 or 9 hours of my day, it is not my whole life.  On a day like yesterday, it is one of the 3 dozen roles that I played in a given 24 hour period.  Even if you call me a lover or people (which is what I most aspire to do), there are days where I do not love people well, and I am selfish and mean just for the heck of it.  I can fit many different labels.  I am a dreamer, a cashier, a lover, a friend, a daughter, a sister, a teacher, a victim, an actor, a dancer, a driver, a reader, a blogger, a facebook-er, an eater, a sleeper, a speaker, an entertainer, a joker, a cuddler, a movie buff…the list goes on an on.  Any one of those given labels are not enough to identify me as a person.  I have so much more in my life going on for me than I can care to label.

But once you label me, much like the box in the attic with the label, you don’t have to look inside of me to figure out what I’m about.  If you label me as a theatre person, you suddenly think you know everything I think about everything.  I’m suddenly a leftist who is also an environmentalist freak and I probably think Andrew Lloyd Webber is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  (Everyone in the theatre world that I’ve ever met, thinks that Cats sucks…just by the way)  Or If I say that I am a believer in Jesus, you automatically assume I’m a republican, voting for Romney and I’m against homosexuals and those who are pro-choice.  A label to a human has far-reaching affects than just that of the label.

Labels are useful, but for humans, they are not true.  There are more perspectives.  I don’t always fit all of the labels, and I bet, if you examined your life too, you’d realize you don’t always fit one of your labels.

As if our fascination with labels for individuals is not enough, we seem really fascinated with making sure that every single relationship has its own label.  People cannot just be friends anymore.  There has to be a label.  If I hang out with someone a few times, it doesn’t take long before I am asked if me and another person are dating, or people assume that I’m seeing them.  They’re so fascinated with that label, that it completely pressures the two people!  But that’s another rant.  Anyways, with the label thing, people always introduce people by that label.  I have a sister.  There, I’ve just used a label.  If I were to introduce you to her, I would say “this is Grace, she is my sister.”  I’ve labeled her.  But, the title of “sister” is not enough.  In many ways, she is a close friend and someone that I know I can be angry with and mean as all get out, but her love and adoration for me is unconditional.  I’ve tried it, I know.  But she can also be my worst enemy at the same time.  If I introduce you to my friend, I would say “this is so-and-so and I know them from ____________(insert meaningful location here).”   And they have just been labeled.  But…the fact that I’ve kept up with them since 1999 means that they’re more meaningful than just that label.
For example, the “friend” label, doesn’t really mean anything, because it can encompass any relationship just about.  But someone who is simply a friend is probably much more to you than a friend.  Take my friend Kayla.  Kayla was much more than a friend.  She was a mentor, a hero, a spiritual guide.  Her life with me was wonderful, and I loved her so much.  When she died, so much of me was lost because it was my first real experience with death.  To label her as “just a friend” really misses out on all of the wonderness of who she was and is.

If people and relationships do not fit labels, why do we insist on them?  The answer is probably something on the lines of making it easy for others to understand the type of relationship that we share with certain people. In some sense, it is a way for us to make “more special” the specific relationship that we may find ourselves in.  I strongly disagree with that.  The older I get, the more I realize that these titles are pointless, because I create a life with people, I don’t create a label.  I don’t subscribed to a prescribed understanding of the course of the relationship that I take with a person, or the set up perimeters that a certain labeled relationship is supposed to take.

Live a life of extraordinary.  Life with labels is ordinary.  Extraordinary means that we are busting the norms.  Bust the norms, live a life of extraordinary, don’t let some prescribed label or notion put you in this little box.  Don’t claim labels at all.  But if you must, claim all the labels and allow the mixture of them all to personify who you are to the world.  Don’t be trapped in the labels other people put on you.  I dare you to live a life without that label.

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Unconditional Love

8 09 2012

My life lately has been nothing short of disorganized chaos.  So many things are happening all at once, but there’s so much that has happened that I don’t know how to reflect on it.  There’s both good things and more difficult things that have happened.  But, I’ve also been learning a lot.  Despite the intensity of everything that is going on around me, I have been a very dedicated student and have been able to attune my ears to what is going on.  If you’ve been living life or have been exposed to me lately, and you know what’s been going on, I’m sure you’ll be able to piece together the events that have transpired lately to teach me these things.  I’m sure that if you tried, you’d be able to put the puzzle pieces together to see what has been going on, and what circumstances have compelled me to learn.  But, for the sake of privacy, I beg of you not to try to piece together these events, because if you did, that would make these events about me, and that is not the case.  I’m just on the sidelines of some very important stories right now, and I do not wish to become the protagonist in these stories.  I just have some reflections from the sidelines that I think are worth sharing and worth drawing inspiration from.  In addition, I am a great respecter of privacy, because I am an extremely private person, and I simply want to be able to allow these events to remain private and to remain anonymous.  I hope you will respect my wishes here.

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I have been learning about unconditional love lately.  I have been learning about it, and have been witnessing it and exhibiting it in my life.  It’s quite exciting, in one regard, to observe moments of it, and to be a part of an exercise in demonstrating that unconditional love.  I have been thrown a lot more than I can handle under pressure lately.  And I am not quilting anyone, because I am partially glad that I have been a part of this moment.  But, the point is, I have been given a lot to handle lately, and I’ve almost cracked under the pressure several times, but I think the only thing that has kept me moving forward in my life has been this entire experience of unconditional love.

What is it?  Dictionary.com defines it as:

 affection with no limits or conditions; complete love.

I really like that.  I’d like to expound on that though.  Unconditional love has no limits.  Meaning the measure of that love is impossible, because if you could measure it, it would be limited.  It’s hard to accurately express and describe the amount of love that you have when you have unconditional love.  Words fail to express it.  I’ve always told people that I love them, but in certain circumstances, I’ve often wished I could say something different than “I love you” because those three words don’t seem to contain all that I feel for them in that situation.  In fact, even if I did find something better to say to someone about my love for them, I would probably realize those words were also inefficient in expressing my affections for them.  I think it’s easy for us to say that our love has no limits.  Remember, when you first fell in love with a person, and it was like they were perfect and the two of you were walking on air, you’re completely infatuated with the person.  And then some small difficulty arises, and just because you hurdled over that difficulty, you can imagine that your love has no limits?  It’s easy to imagine that.  And it is so easy to say that, because you don’t ever imagine what other response you and your loved one would have.  It’s easy to say that love has no limits until you are faced with something that might be a limit, a deal breaker, and then what do you do?  If you have unconditional love, you persevere.

The conditions thing is harder.  Unconditional love has no conditions.  Well duh, that’s why it’s UN-conditional.  That part for me, is not quite so easy.  There’s a part of me that always says “well if he loves me, then he’ll do x exactly this way” or if “she really cares about me, she’ll say y.”  I’ve struggled with learning to not have conditions.  I think it’s part of the control freak in me.  Believe it or not, I used to be a control freak about certain relationships, and it became really unhealthy for me and those relationships.  For some reason, I wanted to control people, and although I realize now, that this wasn’t the response of love, at the time, I thought it was.  Something matured in me and I grew up a little bit, which meant that I began to learn that my control devices were not right.  I began to learn what it was like to love someone and how I needed to change that “love” so that it was more free.  This is something that I still struggle with, and this is something that I am learning.  I am having to practice that in my life right now, with the observations I am making and the experiences that I am undertaking.  To be free of conditions, is to have no expectations or no real set idea of what another person is supposed to do.  To be free of conditions is to realize that the interactions you have with the other person are all a gift, and you don’t get to demand what kind of gift you get from them, you just are given it.

Unconditional love is complete.  From that, I gather that unconditional love has all of the facets of love.  It has care and concern, it has infatuation, commitment, and a little bit of humor.  In that, the love you have from another person, you don’t desire more from them.  You are satisfied with that loved one, the amount of love you give them,and the love that you get from them.  It is complete in that you are secure in that love and you know that it is important, and you know that it is forever, regardless of all things that come at you.  There is dedication and faithfulness that goes beyond all understanding, and you’re special to them.  I don’t know if you have unconditional love without having gone through some pains to demonstrate it, or if it’s just there, and those pains are times of trial that show you that you have this unconditional love.

One thing that church and my friends have always told me is that God’s love for me is unconditional.  That it transcends anything that I can do, and that it is ever-faithful.  I’ve never understood that.  I’ve never quite comprehended this idea that God’s love is unconditional.  The first time I experienced love was undoubtedly from my family.  My family, until I was of school age, was my world.  It is from them, that I learned what love is.  Let me do a disclaimer here:  I love and adore my family very much, and I am so thankful for what they have done for me, and I am ever indebted to them and the ways that they have loved me.  But, my family is very critical of me.  They criticize me, and say things that I need to improve.  Mainly, what I wear or look like.  I know this sounds very shallow, but when you’ve heard nothing but a lifetime of how your family wishes that you were something or someone else, it gets to you.  And the love that I have always experienced has been very critical and “love” lectures or fusses at you for who you’re not, so that you can fit better in to the cookie-cutter mold that you’re supposed to fit into.  Since this is my perception of love, as it has been ingrained in me from a critical family, is it no wonder that I cannot fully comprehend what unconditional love is like?  From my experiences with my family, the unconditional love of “God” tells me that I am not good enough and I need to keep doing good things to show how “good” I am and so that I will be loved by God.  It seems like my family has conditions on receiving their love and being so critical of me and who I am.

It wasn’t until I met my friends that I realized that unconditional love and acceptance is possible!  Lately, I’ve been realizing that the love of God, and the love of my family are two very different things.  And the supposedly “unconditional love” that I have from my family, has those conditions, and I need to realize that this is not so!  This is not the reality of the God that we claim.  This is like an explosion within my soul, and I am learning more and more about that love.

I hope that I will one day be able to show some of these critical family members the kind of love that is from God, but right now, I think that it is best for me to really dive into learning what unconditional love looks like and trying to simply experience that unconditional love.  Not trying to do it better, because I am convinced, that the love I have from God, is already unconditional, and already precedes whatever it is that I feel like I’m supposed to do.  But just learning that I am loved, it’s quite a feat to wrestle with.  To learn that I am loved before I even do anything to try to earn that love.  To be convinced and persuaded that God loves me regardless of what I do, and doesn’t want me to do anything but to know that I am loved.  This is hard for me.  It may not be hard for you, but it is hard for me, because I am so very new at this understanding.  One day, my understanding of the love of God will be more complete, and I will be motivated to do things as a demonstration of my love for God and not to earn love from God.  One day, I hope that I will be able to understand what it means to be unconditionally loved by God.  And then, maybe I’ll be able to demonstrate it to those that I perceive that I don’t have that unconditional love from.

In the words of a favorite North Carolina musician, “How sweet it is to be loved by you!”





Just Be Nice….

6 09 2012

I work at a grocery store.  It is both one  of the highlights of my life, and can be one of the most negative experiences of my day.  I love what I do the majority of the time, because the majority of my customers are really friendly and really nice.  They are super courteous, and they always say “Please” and “Thank You,” which is what I consider the pinnacles of society.  Some of them, because we serve a predominantly (it seems like!) elderly population, some of these people are slow to get their money out, or their member card out, but otherwise, they’re friendly about it.  I don’t mind waiting on people to get their money out and I do my best to be courteous and super friendly, because you never know who is coming through my line and you never know who they know.

Then, there are some customers.  These customers are rude for no reason.  When I ask how they’re doing, they don’t even answer.  If I ask them a question, they may grumble some incoherent response.  Or, if I talk to them too much, they get huffy.  I do not understand why they do this.  Or, there are customers who are in a hurry.  Yeah, I get it, sometimes, you’re just in a hurry.  But many times, I cannot make the customers in front of you go faster, all I can do is wait.  Furthermore, if you’re always in a hurry when you must go to the grocery store, wait until you’re not in a hurry, that would solve a lot of our problems.

I am not paid to be friendly, I am just naturally friendly.  I don’t even have to say anything except in asking for the member card.  Other than that, I am not contractually bound to be friendly.  My friendliness is taken for granted.

And when someone is rude, it is hard not to take it personal, because the customer response is one way that we are consistently evaluated upon.  And if someone is rude just because they’re rude, that reflects poorly upon us as a cashier.  It can sometimes ruin a cashier’s whole day just because someone is really rude to them.  For example, my friend the other day, got a complaint called in on them, because they didn’t pack the groceries the way that the customer told them.  We are told to put bread on top, to avoid squishing it…and so he put it on top of the fish that the customer requested to be on top.  She called in and said she’d never come back because he couldn’t do a simple task right.  My friend, who is usually one of the friendliest people, simply left work that day without saying goodbye, which is something he never does.

Cashiers are not perfect people, and they are not God.  They don’t know all of the prices in the store, so don’t be mad when they have no clue as to what something’s price is.  The store probably has over a thousand different items, and there’s no need to get huffy when they don’t know the price of canned cabbage.  (Did you know there’s such a thing??)  In addition, prices change constantly.  So don’t get upset with your cashier that you can’t get something at yesterday’s price, because it changed today.  It’s not the cashier’s fault.  It is also not the cashier’s fault when they need a manager or someone from the back to come and help them, such as from the market, and that person is moving as slow as molasses.  We cannot force our people to run at lightning speed, when they have probably already been on their feet constantly since 7 or 8 am this morning.

And, do not get upset with me when  you have given me a $100 dollar bill at 8:30 in the morning and I have to call someone so that I can break it down to give you your correct change.  For the record, what’s up with all the one hundred dollar bills lately?  Geeze!  My drawer is not connected to the bank, and I can’t always make change, but I will be friendly about it, if you’ll wait for me to get some assistance.

The people in service industries that I talk to a lot consistently complain about customers and the people they have to interact with.  While the majority of my customers are great, sometimes customers forget that I am human too.  Which I feel like, if I remind them of my humanity a few times, they understand and realize how I can make mistakes as well, and that I am human just like them.  But I am guilty of that as well, because I sometimes forget that the person who is serving me at the restaurant is a person too, and I need to give them the patience that I want from my customers as well.  So I think we can all benefit from understanding of each other more, and having an attitude of cooperation.  Make the world a better place, and all that jazz.





Ending Relationships

3 09 2012

“You keep listening to those that seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They confess their poverty in the face of your needs and desires. They simply ask for your compassion. They do not say that you are bad, ugly or despicable. They only say that you are asking for something they cannot give and that they need to get some distance from you to survive emotionally. The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of as a call to return home and discover there your true belovedness.”

-Henri Nouwen

Wow.  That was the first thing that came to my mind.  When I read that for the first time, I was blown away by the depth of that quote.  The circumstances of the situation was this:  A beloved person in my life, I allowed to walk out, and the relationship was ended because we had some irreconcilable differences.  A friend sent me this text when she heard the news of this ending relationship.  And isn’t this quote just perfect for my scenario?  Although the relationship has been ended for almost a year, the pain of the severed relationship still lives on.  I mean, I pledged my life to this person, and when difficulties in my life with a relationship with another person arose, and I struggled over some very intense things, this person was so helpful throughout that whole journey.  They know things about me that no one else in this world knows.  It is so sad that both of us could not get over these irreconcilable differences and move on with our life together.

Part of me misses this person.  I miss them because of the connection I shared with them, and I miss them because of the deep love I still have for them.  I miss them because our relationship was once a safe place for me.

But then I think about the last year of our relationship, and it was very demeaning.  It was very confusing, and this person did not love me with their words and their actions.  This person did not consider me, and they did not treat me like a human being sometimes.  I have just recently begun to realize and remember how this person hurt me a good portion of our last year together.  It all makes me so very sad.

And then I draw back up to Henri Nouwen’s quote.  Upon thinking about it, I discover a few things:

  1. A person’s inability to remain in a relationship with me, is not entirely due to me, but to that person’s own failures and inability to deal with me.   This liberates me from blame here.  When people leave relationships, it is because they cannot handle the relationship and that they cannot provide what the other person is asking.  However, in this scenario, I also could not handle the other person, and I could not even begin to deal with the issues that the two of us had.  But it is  not only my fault that it ended.
  2. My response to the other person’s shortcomings should be that of compassion.  This is very hard for me right now.  I want to be so angry with this person.  I want to throw books at them every time I see them, I want to physically hurt them.  I am working on that.  I doubt I will see this person anytime soon, as we are probably permanently no longer in the same geographical region.  I need to set this person free of my anger and my resentment for their inability to accept me and get over some things.  I think what makes me so angry is that this person seems to have casually just moved on, and there’s no grieving period.  There’s no time in which they seemed to hurt or in which they seem to miss me.  It makes me wonder if I meant as much to them, as they did to me.
  3. I need to reaffirm my identity in who I am, because they are no longer part of that identity.  Call it God, or spirituality, but the ending relationship is  a call back to the love that first gave it.  People leave.  They may die, or they may have to move, but the sad reality is that people leave.  The only thing that I have found that does not leave is our relationship with God.  Our perception of who God is may change, but God is ever-faithful, and ever-consistent.  And when people leave, they are unable to handle you, but God can.  Just because you return to God once does not mean that the hurt is done, it does not mean that the relationship means nothing, it just means that you have to begin a process of moving on.  Over the past year, I have returned to God several times, when certain aspects of our relationship have plagued me more than others.  It’s a continual process, one that I fear will take quite a while.

Relationships end.  It sucks.  But there are so many layers of dealing with it.  I don’t know that I’ll ever get over this relationship ending, because it was such an important one.  But it may be for the best, that we separate, and deal with God in our separate ways and move forward separately to advance the kingdom.  Perhaps one day, all of our limitations will be ended, and we are finally able to interact once again, as we used to.  But both of us will have a lot of growing up to do in the meantime.

If/when a relationship ends, this does not mean that your world ends, it just means that for right now, you’re hurting.  And right now, you’re lonely, but that is an excellent time to turn to someone who is out of this world, and knows what rejection feels like more than anyone else.  When that happens, please, do not allow yourself to go into the depths of despair, but to move forward, however that happens.