sitting by the pool

“What do you stand to gain by returning to your illness? There must be some potential payoff. How do you suppose remaining sick will serve you? What does disorder offer you that wellness doesn’t? What scares you about being healthy again?”

These are the words of a counselor in the book I read yesterday, Hollow: An Unpolished Tale, by Jena Morrow.  He asks tough questions, because Jena is struggling with one of the toughest of demons–anorexia. If he’s unwilling to ask, and she’s unwilling to face the answers, she will die. And truly, she’s not sure which is the more appealing scenario.

To say I enjoyed the book would be an odd sentiment. To say I was engrossed and emotionally intertwined with the “characters” (though this is nonfiction) would be absolutely accurate. For a blog devoted to facing fears, I feel that telling you about this book is the best thing I can do today.

One in 200 women lives, or dies, with anorexia nervosa. You may know, or be, one. Jena’s story will haunt you, but that’s a good thing. You want to find out what happens to Jena. You desperately want her to be OK. Through that, you also come to understand and care about all girls (and there are some guys) who are trying to climb out of the deception of eating disorders one nail claw mark at a time.

I came away with a far greater understanding of what drives a young person to self-destruct and what can bring one back from the edge.  That’s saying a lot, since I’ve lived with one of those young people and known others. Jena will break your heart–which is where we all need to be if we really want to help other people heal. 

One of the main points, though, is that those people need to choose healing. We all do. In fact, Jena’s therapist asks an old question, one Jesus also posed. 

Soon another Feast came around and Jesus was back in Jerusalem. Near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem there was a pool, in Hebrew called Bethesda, with five alcoves. Hundreds of sick people—blind, crippled, paralyzed—were in these alcoves. One man had been an invalid there for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him stretched out by the pool and knew how long he had been there, he said, ‘Do you want to get well?’” John 5.1-6

Do we? It seems an odd question, but it’s the right one. Let’s expand this beyond eating disorders. We allow a lot of things to keep us at the side of the pool. Is there something holding you there, saying you want change, yet really content to remain where you are? Why are we sometimes afraid to be well?

  • What we’re doing is comfortable. It may not work; it may cause us pain. But it’s known. If we decide to be well, we venture into the unknown, and it’s scary.

  • What we’re doing gets affirmation. We don’t know how to ask for what we need. We’re afraid we don’t deserve to ask for what we want. It’s scary to put our feelings out there and run the risk of someone saying, “I really don’t care.” It’s far less risky to find affirmation that we matter some other way. 
  • What we’re doing avoids letting go. No matter how bad it is, we control it. And feeling in control gives us the false security we think we need. 

Jesus knew the first step, just as Jena learned it. Want to be well. Want it with all you have, putting aside all fears that it may change life as you know it. It will. But, as Jena figures out, 

“Maybe the victory is just in showing up for life, one day at a time, and learning and growing and discovering and exploring and messing up and saying ‘sorry’ and moving on and loving and living. Maybe the victory is in the living, and life is supposed to be messy sometimes–and that’s OK. The plan is to keep on squeezing tightly to the hand of God and go on to focus my life and energy on other things.” Amen.

dirty words

She goes for the layup, the toss, the big finish, and . . . nope. Nowhere close. Once again, I have to actually walk over to the recycling bin, pick up the spaghetti box or whatever ill-aimed piece of detritus it was, and place it where I thought I had aimed it. In the recycling. Because my throw was not close. It wouldn’t even have counted in horseshoes. The sad thing is, it would not matter if I had been standing two or twenty feet from the receptacle. I would miss. Every time.

This bothers me. I feel like I should  be able to hit a two-foot wide opening from two feet away. I think this is a skill I should have mastered by this period of my life. I should not still be that girl in high school who would rather spend her time on a balance beam or a badminton court, or, best scenario, in a corner with a book, than playing a team sport. Any team sport.

But I can’t, and I am.

Then, the last time I lamented that fact, I remembered something. I have never actually aspired to be a basketball player. This is a good thing, since at 5’2″, despite American attitudes and Hollywood folklore, it is simply not possible to be anything I want to be. There are limits. Why, then, do I think I have to be able to make a basket, and why do I feel some small measure of self-worth evaporate when I can’t? Why would I ever allow the fate of a tossed milk carton to determine any part of my value, no matter how minuscule?

I believe there’s a larger question. Why do I think I have to be able to do everything and do it all well? Why is there no room for me to be “just OK” at anything? Don’t smirk. You know you have the same issue. And heaven forbid I am far less than “just OK”; perhaps I’m just plain sucky at whatever it is (like basketball).

I need to be comfortable being just OK. Even bad. I want to stop feeling inadequate when I feel incompetent. Because sometimes, we’re just going to be incompetent. We need to stop seeing that as inherently a bad word. “Incompetent” conjures up all kinds of negative images, doesn’t it? But what does it mean? To be competent, according to the dictionary, is “to have suitable or sufficient skills, experience, knowledge for some purpose.” To be incompetent, then, is not to have the skills needed for some purpose. What’s actually negative about that? Where is the moral judgment, the stamp that makes you less than you were before if you don’t possess those skills?

The problem is, we have wholesale adopted’s second definition, “adequate but not exceptional.” And “adequate” sounds like a dirty word to our purpose-driven society. We all want to be exceptional, and we all want to be exceptional at everything. Which, if you dig deeply enough, you have to realize is ridiculous. I will never be exceptional at basketball. Or hang gliding. Or quantum physics. And why should I be, because–here it is–I don’t want to be. I don’t like those things, and they aren’t what matters. To me.  I realize quantum physics matters greatly to some people, and I’m probably very lucky it does. But not to me.

I’m incompetent. There. It’s true. Let’s be OK with that. Let’s stop fearing being adequate. It leaves more room to pursue being exceptional in the things that really, really matter.

Photo by StuSeeeger on Flickr.

It’s a Conspiracy

A while back, a friend emailed me a photo of a theater prop from her phone. She sent the picture and apologized that it came out upside down, claiming ineptness with her new iPhone. The odd thing was, it came out upside down on my desktop PC. But it came out right side up on my Mac laptop. 
Which led me to wonder—did the Apple electronic devices talk to one another to get the picture right side up in spite of the human beings involved? Clearly, the phone refused cooperation with the inferior life species known as a PC. If this is possible, is it also possible that my computer talks to other random Apple products I am unaware of? Does my phone, for instance, have a good laugh with its friends over my iTunes playlists? Do they make a habit of talking to one another? If so, do they sit around chortling their keypads off, and saying things like, “What fools these mortals be?” 
With all the talking behind our backs we mortals already worry about, now we have to worry about our electronic devices having confabs about their owners? Or do they call us owners? Maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe as I type this thing is planning on going all G-Force on me and taking over the world. Or at least the living room. It’s welcome to it if it plans on cleaning up. 
I know this computer already has a lot of goods on me if it chose to use it. I’ve seen my image on Skype. That gorgeous under-the-chin angle? I would pay whatever blackmail it asked to keep that from going public. 
OK, this is not truly a fear of mine. You don’t have to get concerned and consider blocking me from your Facebook account. But irrational fears claw their little roots into all of us in one way or another, and one person’s irrationality is another’s perfectly logical fear. 
My daughter runs for cover whenever birds fly overhead. She is certain they’re going to do their business on her hair. This seems rather irrational, though it is a great source of entertainment for us. I used to be unnaturally afraid of seaweed. I could not swim anywhere the stuff might reach out its slimy arms and touch my defenseless leg. I don’t know what I thought it was going to do with my leg. The same daughter has a friend who is afraid of . . . fruit. Not kidding.
A lot of irrational fears center around animals. Bats, birds, rats, snakes, mice, spiders, wasps. Many focus on the unknown—darkness, murky water, tunnels, and the possibility of life in our toilet pipes waiting to come up and bite our unprotected derrieres. Another common set revolves around what we view as unnatural. Clowns are a big one here. As well as puppets, mimes, masks, and Snookie.
So last year I decided to tackle one of my biggest fears head on and actually allow someone to put a tarantula in my hand. A living one. And you know what? We both lived through the experience. You know why I did it? Because I decided I don’t want to allow anything to control me. (Except God. He’s good at it.) But I did not want to remain at the mercy of spiders or anything else that could control my choices but shouldn’t. We spend way too much of our lives giving over control to fears that don’t deserve it. Do you want to quit? Me too.  
So what’s your best irrational fear? Why do you think it’s so scary to you?