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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The sickness of a "me first" culture

[caption id="attachment_4464" align="alignleft" width="279"]021 Danica's dream home[/caption]

I posted the other day about being an introvert. The truth is, if I could find a way to make my life work this way, I would be one of those crazy ladies living on top of a mountain and never leave my house. That's right. Never. Because as much as I long to travel and see new places, people terrify me.

Today I had a terrifying experience out in public. I went to the library on the way to the girls' piano lesson. That shouldn't be a scary experience, but it was. We pulled up to the drop off lane, just as we normally do when dropping off a book. My daughter returned the books as normal, and then I went to leave. I was parked normally- legally- and there was about half a car length between me and the car behind me. A lady, who decided that her need to return her books was more important than decency, parked crookedly in that spot, making it seemingly impossible for both me and the car behind her to leave. I surveyed the situation. There was a line for the book return computer. The people in the car in front of me had gotten out and were playing in the grass. I would be stuck for at least ten minutes. We had a piano lesson to get to. So I decided to see if I could wiggle my way out.

As I started doing the back up, turn the wheel, go forward, turn the wheel, go back, thing, the lady who'd parked so inconsiderately jumped between my car and her car and started pounding on the back of my car. She was lucky I'm good on the brake. She then came around to the driver side window and started pounding on it, demanding that I roll my window down. Um, no. She's already demonstrated that she's crazy by her banging on my car stunt, there's no way I'm going to not have a big sheet of glass between the two of us. Lady starts screaming at me.

Hadn't I noticed that she was parked crooked behind me? Um, yes, actually I had. Let us examine who was parked illegally here. But I didn't say that. Because my heart was pounding and my kids were terrified that some crazy lady was banging on my window and screaming at me. I told her to get out of my way. She responded by saying that she wasn't leaving until she got her books returned. Okay, fine. But you can't return your books standing in front of my car, blocking it from leaving. She told me that she was just trying to keep me from getting a ticket. Actually, no. She was trying to keep me from hitting her car, but I would say that if there was enough room for her to walk between my car and her car and pound on my windows, I still had enough room to back up and get out.  But hey, what do I know?

This lady kept pounding on my car, screaming at me. Now here's what I want to know- now that I'm not in the middle of the situation and not extremely scared of what crazy lady is going to do, and thinking that my kids are in the car, and God only knows what crazy lady is going to do- what exactly did she think she was going to accomplish standing there, screaming at me?

Finally, after the second time I told her to move, I realized that she thought I still wanted her to move her car. So I said, well, okay, yelled, because I did have my window up, and I was a little freaked out, "move your body." After the third time, she finally got out of my way, I backed up a few inches, moved forward a few inches, backed up a couple more inches, cranked my wheel, and got the heck out of there. As I was pulling out, she was still standing on the sidewalk, screaming at me.

Please note: I did not hit anyone's car. No one moved their car but me. Which is to say, all the bad things going on in this lady's mind did not come to pass. But she did scare the crap out of me and my kids.

I try really hard to remember the cute little pic going around the Internet about not knowing the battles people are fighting. And I get it. The lady was driving a nice, clearly new, car. Obviously she was terrified of some minivan momma hitting it and causing her precious baby damage. Or maybe the car wasn't hers. Maybe she didn't have insurance (then buy a cheaper car!). Maybe she'd once been hit by someone without insurance. Maybe she'd just had a bad day. Maybe everything else in her life was falling to crap, and I was the easy target for her rage.

But here's the thing: Why is it okay for innocent people to become the punching bags for someone else's nightmares? Why do people like this woman think their need (to have a close parking spot to return her books) is more important than the needs of two other people to get on with the rest of their day? She could have parked another four car lengths back and still returned her books. But she had to be first.

It's this whole "me first" culture. Every time I leave my house, I run into one of these "me first" people. Whether it's the lady who thinks it's just fine to go through the ten item line with her full shopping cart, cutting in front of the person with two items, or the guy who cuts you off in traffic, or the people who push ahead so that they can get the magical spot first, I feel like I am bombarded with people who want their own way at any cost. Most of the time, I'm pretty nice about it. I've tried to have the attitude that I don't need to be first, and I can let the other person go ahead of me. I've gotten to be pretty fast on my brakes. I've learned to shrug my shoulders and put up with the bad behavior of others.

But you know what? I'm also really tired of being legitimately afraid for my safety, or the safety of my kids. I'm tired of getting into my car and wondering if some crazy whose need to get to whatever place they're going to is going to end up injuring me or my family. I hate having complete strangers getting in my face and yelling at me over something that amounts to a temper tantrum.

And sure, I know that I'm not perfect. I've made mistakes, and I can own that some of the "complete stranger yelling at me" moments are the result of my own carelessness. I can even admit that I've been a jerk at times. So maybe all the crazy people who upset me- those are their few crazy moments, but the rest of the time, they're really great people.

I don't know what to think. It just seems like, more often than not, when I leave my house, I run into people like the lady, who thought that her need to protect what she thought was hers outweighed common sense and common decency. I try to pray for people like that, although I admit that in the moment, I didn't even think to pray. I try to let it go. I try to be kind, although again, I admit that in this situation, I was yelling right back.

Still, sometimes, I'd rather just not leave my house. I'm tired of being caught in the crossfire of other people's selfish needs. Maybe that's me being selfish. Mostly I'm just tired. And sometimes, like today, scared. Whoever that lady was, I hope that her day goes better. I hope that God will heal whatever wound is in her that is making her so full of rage.

How do you handle the "me first" strangers you meet?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Confessions of an Introvert

215I am an introvert. Those of you who only know me online or via conferences are thinking, "liar." I've had arguments with friends about whether or not I am an introvert. I am a really big introvert, I promise. While I can be friendly and nice online or at conferences, the truth is, being around people is absolutely draining and exhausting for me. The reason I don't have a smartphone (other than not wanting to fork over the extra $) is that I LIKE being able to close my laptop, and if I don't want to deal with anyone online- whether it be Facebook, Twitter, email, work, etc., I don't have to. I get no notifications, and until I turn on my computer, I have no idea what's going on with the world, and I LIKE IT THAT WAY! When I go to conferences, I literally plan time in my schedule to go to my room and hide. Or nap. Or read. Or whatever I want, as long as there are no people involved.

The past two weeks have been rough for me. First, I was at the ACFW conference, and while I truly love seeing everyone, I really hit my people limit. And it was hard for me, because I wanted to socialize and catch up with my friends. But I hit the wall- several times. Usually when I come home, I get a day or so to rest. But because of the conference schedule, I came home and worked a major online event. Plus had needy children and husband, plus had needy dog, plus had needy chickens, plus, had two major events for the kiddos.

Which brings us to today. I finally got my introvert recharge day. I've been told by a therapist that I'm a strong enough introvert that I really need at least one a month (HA!) for my sanity. I've had none in a few months, so today, I took my day. I hid (literally) in my bedroom and ignored my family. I read old journals. I goofed off. I napped. I drank tea. I took my daughter to the library, so I guess I cheated a little, but when we got back, I went and hid in my office and wrote. I hadn't planned on writing, but I had a new story idea I wanted to play with, so I did.  I finally did a little work, mostly because I do have job responsibilities, but I've kept my online interactions to a minimum. Oh, and I did weird OCD cleaning stuff. Which is what I do when stressed. Weird, but effective. Plus, if my family sees me cleaning, they avoid me, because they're afraid that if they engage, I will give them a job. :)

So... here I am... at the end of my day. My "me" day. I admit, I didn't even go to church, which is sad, because I've really been missing my church. But I honestly couldn't face speaking to one more human being and being forced to be nice or talk or smile or interact in any way. I woke up this morning feeling dead inside, like every bit of life had been sucked out of me. Now that I've indulged my need to be alone, I feel better. Not 100%, maybe 50%, but definitely capable of facing the world, taking care of my family, and doing what needs to be done.

If you're an introvert, it's okay to take the time you need to recharge. If you're an extrovert, please understand that when us introverts are grumpy or hide from you, it's not that we don't love you. But sometimes, when we've been too long without our own company and the stillness of not having other voices crowd our heads, we just aren't capable of being what you need.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? What helps you recharge?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The biggest lesson I learned at a recent writing conference- forgiveness

012I didn't want to go to this ACFW conference. Everyone kept asking me if I was excited, and my honest answer was, “no.” My closest friends were not going. I felt pretty meh about the class offerings. I wanted to go for one class, and to be honest, I wasn't terribly excited about the rest. But I went.

Years ago, I had a situation with a person that tainted my conference experience. This person had been spreading rumors about me and there were a number of people who were unkind because of it. Someone once asked me, “what did you do to this person,” and my honest answer was, and still is, “I don't know.” I tried finding out, and I tried fixing it, but I learned that there are some situations and relationships that can't be fixed. However, because of what I knew was said, I have felt for years like there was a target on my back. I was afraid to talk to people because I didn't know if these people knew the things said about me. I didn't know if they believed the rumors.

Several months ago, I had a moment when I realized that I forgive this person. Truly and deeply. I used to have to stop and pray a lot that God would help me forgive. I wondered if I would ever be free. It felt really unfair that to my knowledge, I had done nothing wrong, yet I was stuck with this deep feeling of ick and no matter how hard I tried, how many times I prayed, it wouldn't leave me. But since my moment of true forgiveness, I have not felt any ick about the situation or toward this person. I even feel, dare I say it, compassion.

When I arrived at the conference, it felt different. I realized, upon my first interaction, that I felt different. The target I thought I once bore with the silent pain borne of not wanting to share for fear of being seen as a gossip no better than the person who'd gossiped about me- that target was gone.

I was able to enjoy the conference- and the people- in a different way. I felt free to be me. I had so many beautiful moments running into friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, and realizing that they accept me for who I am. I spent most of the conference fighting a headache, and at times was disoriented and probably even a little crazy. But the responses were not the ones I feared- so many people showered me with grace and mercy and love.

Even now I have a hard time writing about it. My chest is tight with so many things I can't express, and my eyes are full. In some ways, I am still too close to the story to tell it. And yet, I need to tell it or else I think my heart will explode.

Here's why my story is important to you- I know that so many people out there are hurting. You're bearing the weight of things you don't know how you came to bear, don't want to bear, and don't know how to get rid of. The hope is this: I have spent years praying, struggling, wrestling with this issue. Knowing that what I'm feeling is wrong, but not being able to control it. Those moments have had me on my knees more times than I know how to count. But if you continue drawing near to God and letting Him into those hurting places, He will set you free. I think we sometimes think forgiveness should be an instantaneous thing, and we're disappointed when it's not. Continue to press on. It will be worth it.